June 7 is the forty-fifth anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. On the third day of the Six Day War, Israeli forces entered the Old City of Jerusalem and cried as they took possession of the Western Wall. The victory came two days after Israel launched a preemptive strike against forces from Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq that had been massing to attack. In the Six Day War, Israel tripled its territory by taking the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Israel also became responsible that day for hundreds of thousands of Arabs in the territory it seized. That population and its descendants are at the heart of the conflict that has existed between Israel and the Palestinians ever since.
There is, however, one thing on which everyone agrees: The Six Day War changed the entire power relationship among the nations of the Middle East. The war made Israel a major military power. It gave Israel control of the most sacred site in Jewish tradition. Israel's leaders allowed Moslem religious authorities to retain control of the top of the Temple Mount with its venerated Al-Aqsa Mosque, but they swore that they would never give up Jerusalem again. The Six Day War gave Israel control, also, of the Golan Heights and the West Bank of the Jordan River, enhancing the nation's security and its ability to defend itself.
On the other hand, the Six Day War also gave Israel its greatest problems to this day—an Arab population that regards Israel as a conquerer and occupier. It gave the Arab and Islamic world a cause to inflame their rage. The liberation of Jerusalem, or al-Quds, became a rallying cry from Morocco to Tehran. Israel's enemies have been skillful in using the occupation as a tool to turn world opinion against the Jewish State.
As Jews in the contemporary world, it is difficult for us not to have some mixed feelings about the Six Day War. It was Israel's most brilliant military moment, one that transported the Jewish State, in the blink of an eye, from the threat of extinction to unimagined victory. It also was the moment that created the uncomfortable world in which Israel has had to live ever since. For forty-five years, Israel has battled internally and with the rest of the world over what to do with the lands it won in the Six Day War, and what to do with the Arab population in those territories.
People will argue—and it's true—that the world already was difficult enough for Israel before the war. Israel's neighbors did not need a humiliating defeat to hate Israel and seek its destruction. That hatred was, of course, the reason why the war happened in the first place.
However we choose to understand the events of the Six Day War, and all that has followed, the real challenge now is to respond to the situation as it is today. The overwhelming opinion of Israelis and of successive American governments, Republican and Democratic, is that the only longterm solution is to have two states—Israel as a Jewish state and Palestine for the Arabs.
Israel and Palestinians need a divorce—one that will divide Israel from most of the territories it captured in the Six Day War and the Arab population it contains. Like any divorce, it needs to be negotiated with terms that will satisfy the most important needs of both sides, but which probably won't make either side happy. The hard part, of course, is how to do it. How does Israel allow a state on its border that will include people who still are pledged to its destruction? How will the Palestinians accept a state that is less than half of what they claim as their rightful possession?
The practical and political solutions to the conundrum far exceed the scope of this blog. I am not going to draw lines on maps, plan evacuation of Jewish settlements, or explain how Jerusalem could be the capital of two countries. I'll leave that to others. What I will say, though, is that the puzzle created by the Six Day War has to be solved according to the values that make Israel, first and foremost, a Jewish state.
There is no point in solving Israel's greatest challenge in ways that defy the teachings of our tradition. If it were to be done that way, what would we be fighting for? A country that happens to have a lot of Jews in it, but which exchanges "Love your neighbor" for "Might makes right"? That cannot be.
We would not be Jews if we did not insist on justice for the Palestinian people at the same time that we take steps to ensure the safety of our own people. We would not be lovers of Torah if we did not give the Palestinians a chance to create a viable state while we defend the borders of our own state. We are still commanded, "Justice, justice shall you pursue" (Deuteronomy 16:20).
The Torah, as has been said, is not a suicide pact. It does not require us to defend people who seek to kill us. On the other hand, Torah also does not permit us to assume that we can never live in peace with people who were once our enemies. We have a sacred obligation to pursue peace, even when it appears unlikely. We are obliged to see all human beings as we see ourselves, created in the image of God.
Forty-five years is a long time to wait. It is too long to remain prisoners of our own fear. It is too long for both sides in this conflict to continue to spill blood and to say "no." It is too long to continue to hide behind the excuse that the other side is more at fault.
We are commanded to pursue justice. If we are serious about that, we will demand an end to the untenable status quo of the world after the Six Day War. Arabs will say "enough" to leaders who make empty promises to destroy Israel, and leaders who would rather play the innocent victim than negotiate. Israelis will say "enough" to leaders who are too cowardly to confront the settler movement and too stubborn to face the reality that Israel cannot be both a democracy and an occupier.
Forty-five years is long enough for war and destruction. It is time that both sides worked instead toward creation.