The 55th anniversary of the Six Day War merits no celebration

For years, I have feared the damage the occupation will do, and is doing, to the Israeli occupier

May 26, 2022 14:32

What are your plans for next month’s big anniversary? I suspect you won’t be getting out the bunting; it’s hardly a landmark to celebrate. Most JC readers will probably hope the whole thing passes as quickly and as quietly as possible and that, with any luck, the world will scarcely notice. 

No, I’m not talking about the Queen’s platinum jubilee. I have in mind a rather less cheery date on the calendar, one which will be marked with no public holiday. For June 2022 marks the 55th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the territories it gained in the war of 1967: I always know the exact age, because the occupation and I were born in the same year. We have grown up together and we are growing old together.

In the last five-and-a-half decades, there have been thousands of books written, millions of gallons of ink spilled, hundreds of hours of TV news coverage, thousands of meetings, conferences and summits all about Israel’s hold on the West Bank and Gaza, about the steady growth of the settlements, about the plight of Palestinians who cannot vote for their own leaders — the last Palestinian presidential election was in 2005 — and who cannot vote for or against those who make the ultimate decisions over their lives, namely the Israeli authorities. All of that may continue for another decade and another, maybe even for another five-and-a-half. Or more. 

Analysis of the occupation’s prospects can wait for another day. After all, there’s no urgency. The occupation is not exactly going anywhere. But there is a different question that needs asking, and which is asked more rarely. Not what this situation is doing to Palestinians, denying them the only possible site of their own independent state. Nor what it is doing to Israelis, though we know from history that occupations eat away at the occupier as well as the occupied. What I have in mind is closer to home. What is this situation doing to us?

My worry, and it surfaced sharply in recent weeks, is that the sheer intractability, the enduring, stubborn stuckness of the occupation, combined with the ongoing battles over antisemitism — which pressed especially hard on British Jews between 2015 and 2019 — are eroding something important in the Jewish diaspora. They are dulling our sensitivity. They might even, and I hesitate to say this, be numbing our moral faculties.  

That thought erupted anew with the shockingly violent scenes at the funeral of the al-Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Aqleh, who was killed while covering an Israeli raid in the West Bank city of Jenin. The footage showed Israeli police officers clubbing mourners with truncheons, beating and kicking even those holding the coffin until the casket lurched dangerously close to the ground. 

Within seconds, both on social media and on smaller, private channels, I noticed my fellow diaspora Jews donning their armour, firing up their keyboards and preparing for battle. They were ready with their talking points. Just as some had been quick to echo the initial Israeli claim that Abu Aqleh had been killed by a Palestinian bullet, so now they were insisting that the Israeli police were merely defending themselves from mourners hurling stones. One minute it was slowed-down video footage, the next it was stats on the number of journalists killed in action globally, as they pushed an argument that amounted to: “Journalists get killed often and by lots of countries. It’s unfair and even antisemitic to make a fuss about this one.”

I understood all the arguments. But it was such a dispiriting reaction. I see why some people are reluctant to condemn Israel publicly: they fear any such criticism will give instant succour to those who loathe Israel, no matter how it behaves. But even in private forums, I saw the same reaction. Not shock and distress at the conduct of the Israel police, but a reflexive anger at media coverage or the inconsistency of western liberal opinion, an anger that somehow cast us, diaspora Jews, as the real victims here, rather than those Palestinians who had been assaulted as they tried to bury a woman they loved and admired.

Plain anguish at how the Israeli police — an institution with a reputation for heavy-handedness at best, brutality at worst — could believe it was acceptable to club mourners at a funeral was hardly expressed at all. 

Something similar is underway with the case of Masafer Yatta, a cluster of Palestinian villages in the West Bank that are to be emptied of their inhabitants and destroyed, to make way for an Israeli army firing zone, even as Jewish settlers in the same area are to be allowed to stay in their homes. The long-running battle to beat back the BDS movement, or the effort to rebut those human rights organisations that say Israel is guilty of apartheid, have somehow sapped too many diaspora Jews of the ability to see a straightforward case of unjust discrimination when it is right in front of them. So used to defending ourselves, we have become unable or unwilling to see wrong when it is committed by “our side”.

For years, I have feared the damage the occupation will do, and is doing, to the Israeli occupier, the way it corrodes a society’s moral core. That fear has not faded. But now I see that I didn’t need to look so far away. Because the corrosion is in us too. 

Jonathan Freedland is a columnist for the Guardian

May 26, 2022 14:32

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive