Today it is impossible to listen to a news program or browse a morning paper without feeling a pinch. Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Iran, Gaza, the West Bank, Algeria, and I can go on forever. The Middle East is in total chaos and the world is paying the price in many ways. The price can be as little as couple of extra dollars in the gas pump, or as severe as getting killed unsuspectingly on the way to work, or while standing in a hotel lobby or shopping at a mall. This can happen in Cairo or Amman, but also in London, Madrid, Tel Aviv, Istanbul, and New York City.
I still remember the days when news from the region was considered good or bad depending on your political views. Also back then we had the luxury to ignore the Middle East if we wish, because it was somewhere way behind the ocean and it was bunch of crazy people fighting over the past instead of building a future. Regrettably, these golden days are gone, and the world is united in misery.
This week commemorates the fortieth anniversary of the Six-Day war as it is known in the west, or the catastrophe (Nakba) as it is called by Arabs. Forty years ago on June fifth of Nineteen-Sixty-Seven the war broke in the Middle East. It was the third war in less than twenty years. The immediate outcome of the military conflict was nothing short of an earthquake. Many historians and political analysts regardless of their affiliation agree that the Middle East we know today is a direct result of the Sixty-Seven War.
In six short days Israel occupied Sinai, Gaza, Golan Heights and West Bank, tripling the country in size. Also Israel backed by the United States defeating Egypt, Syria and Jordan backed by the Soviet Union was an important regional victory in the long fought cold war. The question of Israel survival in the tough Arab neighborhood was answered forever, while the American Israeli alliance was cemented.
However, it was not all milk and honey. The Israeli seizure of the new land included one million Arabs. Providing the population of West Bank and Gaza with citizenship privileges would immediately change the status of the country to a non- Jewish state, which is not an option. While precluding citizenship privileges would make Palestinians the last occupied people on earth, while the Jewish people who suffered the most from injustice become the oppressors and occupiers. This moral dilemma is still hunting Israel after forty years.
On the opposite end of the battle lines, there was neither honey nor milk. Three armies were destroyed beyond repair, along with the pride of hundred million Arab citizens. The dreams of a better tomorrow advocated by the secular government of populous Nasser in Egypt ended abruptly with a nightmare of resounding proportion. This defeat sealed the separation between the people and their governments, which is still the case throughout the region with very few exceptions. Rejecting the secular governments which delivered the shameful loss, turned into a strong case for a religion based ideology where the Muslim identity replaces the secular Arabic one. This new ideology became the basis for many of the most extremist movements in the seventies and until today.
Immediately following the war Israel and the west predicted a stable Middle East where the Arab governments will abandon the Kremlin and run into the arms of the White House after signing unconditional peace agreements with Tel Aviv. The vision was not totally baseless since Egypt, Jordan and the PLO signed treaties with Israel.
But the sad reality, it is crystal clear after forty years that decisive military victory and even peace agreements don’t bring stability. Only basic human rights to all parties well guarantee peace. It is remarkable but little known fact that the unified victorious Israeli government voted unanimously only eight days after the conclusion of hostility to exchange the occupied land for peace. This courage is what is needed to bring stability, fight extremism, and save our souls.
The solution for the complex Middle Eastern problem is well known. How much more suffering we will endure until it happens is a thought I will leave you with on this anniversary.