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Six days, 50 years ago, that changed the world.


Our world was significantly shaped 50 years ago this week by war in the promised land.  Six days changed the Middle East; a week changed the world.

6World Jewry looks back a hundred years to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, indicating that a Jewish homeland in Zion might well emerge from the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.  It would be another 30 years — and the intervening horror of the Shoah — before the United Nations would vote in 1947 to replace the British Mandate in Palestine with two states, one Jewish and another Arab.  The Jews accepted it, the Arabs did not.

War followed in 1948 and while the new State of Israel survived, the ceasefire left it strategically precarious, with Syrians on the Sea of Galilee in the north, Jordan controlling the West Bank just miles from Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem divided, with the Old City in the hands of Jordan.

The Six Day War of 1967 changed all that.  The Middle East today is shaped more by 1967 than 1947 or 1917.

Israel's relations with its Arab neighbours had not been normalized after the 1948 war and i n 1967 tensions were on the rise.  Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and massed troops on its borders.  Israel launched a pre-emptive strike, disabling most of the Egyptian air force on the ground.  Encouraged by Egypt to enter the war, Syria and Jordan were similarly routed.  The ceasefire on 11th June 1967 left Israel controlling Gaza and Sinai (formerly held by Egypt), the Golan Heights (Syria) and the West Bank and East Jerusalem (Jordan).

It was a stunning victory for the outnumbered Israeli Defense Forces.  Was it a miracle, seen through biblical lenses?  Had God delivered Zion?  It seemed so.  For the first time in two millennia, Jews were sovereign in the holy city of Jerusalem.

The effect of the Six Day War endures still, on both Jews and the Arab nations.

After millennia of diaspora existence, even the 1948 establishment of Israel did not put the new state at the centre of Jewish identity.  It was new, it was precarious, and it was incomplete, for Jews were cast out of the Old City by Jordan, which razed its great synagogue and barred Jews from praying at the Western Wall.  After 1967, Jewish identity the world over became linked with Israel and its united capital of Jerusalem.  The in-gathering of Jews quickened pace.  Natan Sharansky credits the 1967 war with increasing the desire of Russian Jews to return to Israel; eventually 1 million would do so.

The humiliation of the Arab powers in 1967 would permanently discredit the pan-Arab nationalism of which Nasser was the champion.  After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire removed the principal geopolitical expression of Islam from the world stage, Arab nationalism was offered as a way back.

"Are we a people still existentially threatened and under siege or a people who know unprecedented power and faces agonizing moral dilemmas vis-à-vis the Palestinians?  My answer to both questions is yes."

The united Arab nation, backed by the Soviet Union, would reverse the loss of Jerusalem to the Arab and Islamic worlds in 1918.  The Six Day War vanquished that project.  The vacuum was filled, over the next 30 years, by Islam itself as the uniting force.  It took time for the secular Arab leaders to be eclipsed but they were.  While the first intifada of the 1980s was a national struggle, the second intifada of the early 2000s was largely a religious one.  Religious conflicts are more intractable than national ones, which is why the 1967 defeat of nationalism sowed the seeds of a religious conflict that today appears insoluble.

Israel became powerful.  Before 1967, Jews and Israel were not only history's underdog, but its persecuted victim.  After 1967, Israel was strong.  It began then to lose the international support of the global left, champion of the weak and afflicted.  Progressive politics now agitates to delegitimize Israel as a 21st-century apartheid state.  In response, support for Israel has become a hallmark of conservative politics.

Yossi Klein Halevi, the brilliant Israeli journalist, literally wrote the book on the Six Day War: Like Dreamers he called it, after Psalm 126, When the Lord delivered Zion from bondage, it seemed like a dream.  He traces how the Six Day War created different kinds of Israelis.

"There are the ones whose primal memory of May 1967 is the sense of existential fear, aloneness and the world's abandonment," Halevi explains.  "Then there are the June 1967 Israelis whose primary experience from the war was one of empowerment and who insist that Israel needs to take responsibility for the moral consequences of power."

"Are we a people still existentially threatened and under siege or a people who know unprecedented power and faces agonizing moral dilemmas vis-à-vis the Palestinians?  My answer to both questions is yes."

Israel powerful and secure.  A world increasingly hostile to that power.  Jerusalem again open to prayer for Jews.  A Palestinian people who insist upon justice.  A jihadist world that rages against Israel and her friends.

It began 50 years ago this week.



NationalPostFather Raymond J. de Souza, "Six days, 50 years ago, that changed the world." National Post, (Canada) June 7, 2017.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

image:  Israeli troops are seen at Government House in the old city of Jerusalem after they had taken over the Jordan-held part of the city following heavy fighting on June 6, 1967.

The Author

desouza Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

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