Hope and despair in the middle east
5/1/2002 12:00:00 AM - Suzanne Fields
My daughter's middle name is Hope. On my way to the hospital on June 6, 1967, I listened with alarm to the radio descriptions of the bombs exploding in the Middle East.
The Six Day War had begun. Hope was in my heart then, as it is today. Thirty-four years later we're heirs of that war, still caught between hope and despair. (Despair would not have made a good middle name.)
"Rarely in modern times has so short and localized a conflict had such prolonged, global consequences," writes Michael B. Oren in his forthcoming book, "Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East." He draws on new archival material and recently declassified documents. "Seldom has the world's attention been gripped, and remained seized, by a single event and its ramifications. In a very real sense, for statesmen and diplomats and soldiers, the war has never ended."
He argues persuasively that the events that continue to control Israel and Palestinian relations flow from that war, that Israel's success in standing up for itself gave the little democracy in the Middle East the hope and the confidence to believe in the possibility of meaningful peace negotiations.
That didn't happen, and it's not likely to happen now. But it's unfair to blame Israel.
Israel did not set out to take the Sinai, Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. It planned only a pre-emptive strike to destroy Egypt's air force and its ability to strike Israel.
The plan was conceived as a 24-hour mission in direct reaction to the belief, based on good intelligence, that Egypt, Syria and Jordan were plotting to attack Israel, to erase it from the map (the dream that has not died in the Arab world).
With the United States on the sidelines, Israel was, in the words of an adviser to President Lyndon Johnson, "like a sheriff in 'High Noon,'" having to go it alone to achieve not only survival but the self-respect that comes with battlefield success. Though the Arab countries disagreed with each over lots of things, they were united in their hatred of the Jews.
The "High Noon" metaphor was an accurate one. At the beginning of the war Britain and the United States declared neutrality and France embargoed arms shipments to Israel. Israel's going it alone changed the world's view of the Jews as victims, complicit through passivity in the Holocaust. But the change cut two ways.
Jews around the world won a new sense of pride and confidence, reviving the myth of the Maccabees, the heroic Hebrew warriors.
But success revived overt anti-Semitism, based on the stereotype of the aggressive Jew.
By taking back Jerusalem, Jews could once again pray at the Wailing Wall, which had been denied them by the Arabs, and they found the war redemptive both spiritually and physically.
Victory in the war intensified the support of evangelical Christians in America, who saw the success of Israel as linking the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible.
For many Europeans, who have never liked Jews very much, pitying Jews was much easier than admiring them, and victory in the Six Day War made pity impossible. The 1967 war was a tipping point, erasing the sorrow and the pity evoked by the memory of the concentration camps of Europe. The anti-Semitism on the rise in Europe today has many ancient roots, but it flowered again in 1967, as Europe, jealous of its oil supplies, embraced the Arabs.
Obviously, one can be pro-Palestinian without being anti-Semitic, but it's difficult to perceive such distinctions in those who support the suicide bombers and tolerate those who desecrate Jewish cemeteries in Europe with swastikas and slogans proclaiming "Death to the Jews." More than 300 such anti-Jewish attacks have been reported in the past three weeks alone.
Ironically, my daughter with the middle name of Hope lives now in Berlin with her German husband, where attacks on Jewish sites are increasing. Berlin police officials urge the city's Jews not to wear skullcaps and the Star of David, for fear they will become targets of Muslim hooligans. This suggests a lack of will on the part of the Berlin police to protect Jews.
When the Six Day War ended in triumph, it fell to Yitzak Rabin, the Israeli chief of staff, to give a name to the war. He chose from a list that included the War of Daring, the War of Salvation, the War of Sons of Light. He chose "Six Day War" because it evoked the act of creation. Alas, there has been no seventh day. None of the parties has rested.