The aftermath of the Six Days' War

The Israeli people were delighted. The Jewish people, that is. The Israeli Arabs were not delighted. Jubilation was everywhere. It was more than jubilation, it was euphoria. Such euphoria enveloped the Jewish population that it was difficult to utter a word of caution. People were not talking about conquest or occupation but about liberation. Everything that suddenly became ours, was actually ours. Not because we won the war by a stronger military force, but because it was ours long before, and had by some right been given to us by some God. What we did in this war was only to liberate what was legitimately ours. The uniformity of public opinion on this issue was unbelievable. It reminded me of a remark by Tacitus in his book about the Roman Civil War: "And suddenly," he said, "the opinion of the majority, became the opinion of everybody".

To be honest, the uniformity of the pro-occupation camp was not total. There were cracks in it. But the cracks were tiny. Apart from the Communist party and another left wing group known as Matzpen (Compass) there were only few individuals who opposed the occupation of the West Bank. There were others who did not oppose the occupation itself, but the way it was carried out. Amos Keinan, served in the unit that had taken over the villages around Latrun, on the way to Jerusalem. His unit received an order to drive out the occupants and demolish their houses. The order was carried out in such a cruel and inhuman manner, that Keinan, who twenty years ago participated in the massacre of the villagers in Dir Yassin, wrote a letter entitled "A report of an eye witness to the demolition of villages and the expulsion of refugees from Beit Nova near Latrun," and sent this letter to various people in Israel by post. We got hold of a copy, translated it into English and sent it to Private Eye in London, where it was published. When the news about the published letter reached Amos, he was furious. He admitted that he wrote the letter but denounced its publication abroad. "I wrote it," he said, "to let Israeli politicians and high ranking officers of the army know what was going in the field. I would have never given permission to publish it abroad to be used as a weapon against my government". This episode is a good demonstration of what courage means to some intellectuals. They would not mind giving up their life for their country, but to sacrifice their popularity was quite a different matter.

Two of my younger friends in Jerusalem, Dan Omer and Arie Bober, disappeared. Since their bodies were not found, I was sure that they would somehow reappear. I was right. They showed up with a publication which they had printed "underground". This was the most courageous thing ever published in that country. While serving in the army during the war they were stationed along the Jordan River. Many Palestinians who lived close to the Jordan River crossed the river and escaped to Jordan during the battles. When the shooting stopped they tried to return to their villages. Israeli soldiers were given orders to stop them crossing the Jordan and returning home. The order was to shoot if they would not obey. Many were shot. Omer and Bober published the facts and reminded the soldiers that the excuse that they were obeying orders would not save them from the charge of murder. Omer and Buber were so scared by their own courage that they disappeared again and I could not find them for a long time.

I drafted a letter to the editor of Ha'aretz, the paper which employed me, and asked him to publish it as a letter from a reader. Its title was Two Questions. The first question was, "why do we refer to the occupied territories as liberated. I do not recall that anyone in Israel before the Six Days' War had ever mentioned any territories that were in need of liberation". The second question was, "I would like to know if there are other territories that are still in need of being liberated?" The letter was published, and was the followed next morning by many replies, most of them trying to cure me of my naivety.

As part of the victory euphoria (and hysteria), the Israeli jingoism went from strength to strength. A new party was established, Hatnua Le'eretz Israel Hashlema (The Movement for the Greater Israel). The pages of every daily newspaper started to be filled with adverts calling on the government not to return the liberated territories. There was a great need to show that this jingoistic trend was not shared by everybody. I drafted an advert to be inserted in Ha'aretz. The English translation of the ad reads:

Our right to defend ourselves does not give us the right to oppress others.
Occupation means foreign rule. Foreign rule means repression.
Repression breeds terror. Terror is followed by counter terror.
Victims of terror and counter terror are innocent people.
Holding on to the occupied territories will make us a nation of murderers and murdered.
Out of the occupied territories immediately!

Having designed the advert, I looked for people to sign it. I had no difficulty to find close friends who shared my views. There was an opposition but it was not just small, it was tiny. I knew all of them personally. More interesting though than the people who signed the ad, were those who refused to sign it. One of those I approached was the sculptor Dantziger. I had approached him because whenever we met (in the past), he used to look carefully over his shoulder and then bend over me and whisper into my ear: "Shimon, we need a revolution!" Such a keen revolutionary would no doubt give his signature. When I went to see him and showed him the advert, he read it carefully, took out a fountain pen from his pocket, took off the top, put the nib on the paper to sign but as the nib touched the paper, he turned to me and said: "Let us go to Tumarkin and see what he thinks." We went over to Yigal Tumarkin. He was another famous sculptor in Israel, and a famous "peace lover" who had many times proclaimed his sympathy with the Palestinians. Luckily, he was at home. He read the advert, turned to Dantziger and said: "Are you crazy signing this thing? You know what will happen to you if you sign it?" Dantziger did not sign it. I did not ask Keinan to sign it, remembering his reaction to the publication of his letter in Private Eye.

I travelled to Jerusalem to see Uri Davis and Professor Leibovitz. Uri Davies was a pacifist who refused to serve in the Israeli army. He was put on trial and jailed. Davis did not want to add his signature, but was kind enough to take me on his bike to Professor Leibovitz who was a famous scientist and anti-establishment figure. He was a professor of organic chemistry at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, with many doctorates to his name and as a religious Jew he did not like the way that the religious parties were playing politics. For many years he was at odds with the former Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, because of his belligerent policies. When I showed him the ad he also refused to sign. Those were my last efforts to ask public figures for signatures.

I went to see my boss Schocken. I showed him the advert and asked if he would accept it if I paid the going rate. Schocken called in the head of the advertising department and the editorial secretary. He showed them the ad and asked their opinion. The editorial secretary turned to me: "You could be charged with treason, you know?" "Well," I answered stoically, "let them." The advert was accepted. The going rate for such an ad was 500 pounds.

I now had to find the money. Sitting in café Kassit that evening, I was approached by David Ehrenfeld. He was the legendary rich man of the poor left wing movements. He was a member of the stock exchange or the diamond exchange or something like that. He asked me to add his name to the advert and then inquired how much it was going to cost me. I told him. "Why didn't you ask me for the money?" "Well," I said, "If you want to pay, why not?"

Next morning Ehrenfeld appeared at the appointed time and handed me a wad of banknotes. The problem of funding was solved by magic. The advert appeared in Ha'aretz on the 22nd of September, 1967, signed by 12 people: Dr. Moshe Machover, David Ehrenfeld, Uri Liphshitz, Dan Omer, Hayim Hanegbi, Raif Elias, Eli Aminof, Rafi Zikhroni, Arie Bober, Shneor Sherman, Yehuda Rozenshtrauch and me.

The advert was attacked from all sides. It was attacked by other newspapers and also by readers who had flooded the editor of Ha'aretz with letters demanding the cancellation of my column and my sacking too. To give the reader a flavour of these letters, I am translating (verbatim) one of them:

I was astonished to read in Ha'aretz the derogatory and slanderous advertisement "Out of the occupied territories immediately". It is impossible that a Hebrew paper could publish such things which are in complete opposition to the substance of our life in this country and to the pure blood that was spilled in the Six Days' War. Do they really desire us to continue to live in the tragic circumstances in which we lived until the war? How long should we go on with this fake democracy that undermines the foundation of our lives?
Signed: Yehuda Yekhezkel, Jerusalem

Today, at the end of the ‘Nineties, when at least half of the population of Israel is backing the policy of "out of the occupied territories", it seems bizarre that thirty years earlier, the same policy was regarded as treason. One does not have to be a Biblical prophet to realise that occupation and maltreatment of an alien population will foster resistance and breed terror. Victory in war and occupation of foreign territories may serve as a symbol of sovereignty and prestige and may feed the pride of people who have always seen themselves as a persecuted minority. But if one scratches the surface and digs a little deeper, below the pride and sentiment, it is not difficult to see the greed, the appetite for loot, the grabbing of Arab land, their houses and orchards. On top of expediency, there was also the element of indifference to human life and even sheer sadism. In spite of unpublished and publicly denied policy of territorial expansion, this policy was actually official.

One of the things which hit me particularly in the aftermath of the June victory was the revelation of a well kept secret: the existence of Unit 101. Although I was a journalist and had friends in the army and in the Mossad, I never knew of the existence of or had even heard the name of this unit until after the war. Suddenly the presence of this unit had been revealed and its heroic deeds were published in a book. The aim of this military unit was to terrorise the West Bank population. Members of the unit were crossing at night the borders of the West Bank, ambushing cars on the road and murdering the people in them. In this book, which became a best seller, there is a story about one of these raids. The unit crossed the border and when they reached the road they divided into two groups. One group went to the left of the road and the other to the right. The distance between the two groups was about two kilometres. The idea behind the splitting of ambushes was that if a car did manage to escape one ambush, it would be caught by the other. The first ambush caught a car. The driver pleaded for his life. He said he was a doctor and was driving to a patient in distress. The commander of the ambush let him go but the car was caught by the other ambush that shot the driver in spite of his pleas. The commander of the second ambush was the author of the book. He made fun of the commander of the first ambush and accused him of being squeamish and softy. The commander of the first ambush was hurt by the accusation and to prove that he was not squeamish and not a softy, he gave a list of people he had actually killed. The verbal battle between these two murderers was not in the book. This battle was fought out on the pages of the national newspapers.

The confidence and the pride of victory peeled off the thin skin of decency from people's souls. The murder of innocent Palestinians going about their business was not seen any more as a crime to be ashamed of but a badge of honour. This was and still is a bizarre piece of behaviour of not only Jews or Israelis but of many people living on this planet. We had examples of such behaviour in Northern Ireland, in Rwanda, in Bosnia, in Kosovo among other places. Each of us is sensitive to injustice done to ourselves and when it does happen, we cry loudly, but we are detached and indifferent when similar harm is done to somebody else. Moreover, it is so easy and comforting to blame somebody else that it becomes a kind of entertainment. I often ask myself, how come that the survivors of the Holocaust do not see the humiliation and the atrocities they inflict on others? This question haunts me day and night, and it ought to be no surprise if I come back to this issue again later on.