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ISRAEL and the MIDDLE EAST to 1979 (1 of 7)

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Israel and the Middle East, to 1979

Joyous Israelis, Resentful Palestinians | continuing hostilities, 1967-70 | Jordan, Arafat and Terror, to 1974 | Yom Kippur War, October 1974 | Terrorism, the PLO and United Nations, to June 1976 | Sadat after the Camp David Accords | Israeli Controls in the Occupied Territories

Joyous Israelis, Resentful Palestinians

Israelis emerged from the war of June 1967 (the Six-Day War) relieved and elated. They cheered, shouted, cried and embraced each other in the streets. They sensed a new power for Israel and new times had started. Israel's victory influenced Jews elsewhere. Israel's leading diplomat, Abba Eban, noticed a sudden proliferation of yarmulkes on the streets of Paris, London and New York.

Israel emerged from the war occupying Egypt's Sinai Desert, the Gaza Strip, Jordan's West Bank and Syria's Golan Heights. On 29 June the Israelis destroyed the barriers and dismantled the checkpoints that had existed between the smaller, western part of the city – dominated by Israel since the 1948 war – and the larger eastern half of the city that had been ruled by the Jordanians. The United Nations had intended Jerusalem to be a united international city. Now it was united under Israeli rule. A century earlier, Jerusalem had been around 73 percent Arab. It had been only 40 percent Arab in 1944. With many Arabs having fled, it was down to 21 percent. For the Israelis, Jerusalem had been overshadowed by their major urban center, Tel Aviv. But by now Jerusalem was acquiring a new significance associated with their religious heritage.

Israelis went to the old Jewish Quarter on the eastern side of the city, from which Jews had been expelled in 1948, and they found their synagogues destroyed. They went to the Western (Wailing) Wall, denied them by the Jordanians despite the armistice agreement they had signed in 1949. There, against the Wall, the Jordanians had built a latrine. The Israelis cleaned their holy place and made the Western Wall accessible to all Israelis. They left the Muslim holy places accessible to Muslims. Israel's Minister of War, Moshe Dayan, announced that they had "not come to conquer the holy places of others. He ordered Israeli troops to take down a flag they had placed above the Muslim holy places, and he visited the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in Islam.

Years before, Jordanian authorities had sent its Bedouin soldiers against Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank Palestinians caught advocating independence had been silenced or sent to concentration camps by the Jordanians. Now, the mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, was allowing Palestinians to build a monument dedicated to their fellow Palestinians who had fallen fighting Israel in the war they had just lost. Palestinians were allowed to visit their former neighborhoods in western Jerusalem. But Palestinian resentments continued, and Israeli soldiers remained subject to hostilities in eastern Jerusalem.

A Greater Israel

In the wake of military victory, many Israelis were looking forward to a "Greater Israel." Some of this was religious, a desire to gain land that had belonged to Jews in the first millennium BCE. Advocates of a Greater Israel rejected the international character of Israel's founding. Many believed that victory had been the work of God. Some of those advocating a Greater Israel spoke against being concerned about world opinion. They spoke of the world being fundamentally against the Jews and of humanity being divided between Jews and gentiles (the goyem). Some of them looked upon isolation from the rest of the world as a reduction of the temptations of assimilation and secularization.

Many secular Jews were also enthusiastic for a greater Israel. Among them, the former prime minister Ben Gurion enthusiastically campaigned for more people from abroad to settle in Jerusalem. Settlements began in Palestinian areas, some of them in areas that Jews had been driven from in recent decades.

In November 1967 the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 242, aimed against Israel's occupation of lands taken during the War of 1967 – without mention of Israel specifically. Israel rejected the claim that they were occupying the territories and considered the resolution irrelevant.

The new prime minister of Israel beginning in March 1969, Golda Meir, refused to stop expansion of settlements, and she encouraged immigration to Israel. She saw "Palestine" as a British invention and recognized that in the recent past Arabs identified with a larger Islamic territory. She bemoaned the fact that the Arabs were unwilling to allow the Jews a little sliver of land while they had so much more land for the Arabs to live on. Golda Meir was joined by Moshe Dayan who spoke of the US Declaration of Independence as containing no mention of territorial limits and said that "We are not obliged to fix the limits of the State" – bringing to mind for some the expansion against North America's Indians. note36

Security remained a consideration for the Israelis. The PLO was active and dangerous. The pre-war borders were described as indefensible – described as "Auschwitz borders" by Abba Eban. While some Israeli leaders favored withdrawal from newly occupied lands, Minister of Defense Dayan, was adamant about keeping control of them for security and as something to bargain over. Dayan was pessimistic about Israel's neighbors, believing that they would strike again when it suited them.

Israeli military commanders were managing Palestinian as well as Israeli affairs in the occupied territories. In 1949, the Fourth Geneva Convention on Rules of War adopted laws that governed the treatment of civilians in territories under military occupation. It had outlawed, among other things, the resettlement by an occupying power of its own civilians on territory under its military control. But Israel was still rejecting the claim that they were an occupying power in the territories.


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