On June 10, 1967, the Israeli army completed its occupation of the former British Mandate of Palestine (the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean) as well as the Egyptian Sinai and the Syrian Golan Heights, and imposed martial law. This was the start of a new era in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which had begun more than a century earlier. The historical import attributed to the date indicates the critical change it is perceived to have signified, seen by many as a fault line separating tiny, pre-1967 Israel from its current position as occupier of Palestinian territories and oppressor of nearly 4 million people. Those who emphasize the decisive importance of the day are essentially seeking to divide the annals of the conflict into two markedly different periods: before and after the Six-Day War. In this view, conditions before the war changed dramatically on the seventh day.
A widely held opinion among the left wing is that the period between 1948 and 1967 was a “golden age” for “little Israel,” the homogenous Jewish nation-state in which, for nineteen years, the Palestinian problem that had existed was replaced by “the Israeli-Arab conflict,” while the Palestinians became “refugees” and “infiltrators” (fedayeen). In this view, the root of evil began in the “occupation of the territories,” a new circumstance that caused the moral corruption of Zionism, which was transformed from a national liberation movement into an oppressive colonial force.
Among the right wing, conversely, the occupation was perceived as the final victory of Zionism–the “liberation of the homeland.” Outside “Greater Israel” circles, those unwilling to accept the obligations imposed by international law on an occupying force referred to the territories as “administered,” a nonobligating term. “Occupation” gradually morphed from a legal idiom describing the forcible seizure of enemy territories by a foreign army into a concept with political significance. The term “occupation,” like others in the conflict vocabulary, became a shibboleth–a code word whose use obviates any need for argumentation or inquiry: Those who say “occupation” are enlightened, while those who avoid it are on the dark side. Similar terms include West Bank (as opposed to Judea and Samaria), settling (as opposed to building communities), liberated Jerusalem, Arab terror, Palestinian state, partition of the country, separation, disengagement, security fence (as opposed to wall). These code words have taken over public discourse, and they enable an avoidance of the complex predicament.
Defining the condition in the territories beyond the Green Line as “occupation” is seemingly unequivocal. Those who subscribe to this definition regard the occupied territories as foreign land, fundamentally different from the areas inside the Green Line, which are perceived as “sovereign Israel.” But this distinction is not without its complications: Where exactly is the border between the occupied territory and the mother-state? Has Israel ever clearly defined the confines of the mother-state? What happens when the mother-state’s capital, the seat of power–Jerusalem–is partly in occupied territory (East Jerusalem) and partly in the mother-state? And how do those who use the term occupation define the “settlement blocs” of Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel, whose residents are considered, by public consensus, to be as much a part of Israel as those of Tel Aviv or Haifa and live as Israeli citizens in every way: Are they in occupied territory or in the mother-state?
The decades since the war have proved that 1967 was not a disjunction but quite the opposite, a union, and that the preceding period was merely a reprieve. The Six-Day War was the final battle in 1948’s War of Independence, and the partition dictated by the armistice agreements–which lasted for almost nineteen years–was eradicated by the Israeli occupation. The time between 1948 and 1967, during which Israel/Palestine was divided into two discrete geopolitical units, was not sufficient for an emotional separation to emerge between the two communities and the territories “beyond the border.” The dynamics that define political and administrative borders as “homeland,” artificial and absurd as they may be, are familiar from Third World countries. There, colonial borders drawn in the service of imperialist considerations determined the national identity of the communities that lived in them, not the other way around. This dynamic was also realized in the Middle East. Although the Palestinians of the West Bank began to develop a “Jordanian” identity in the years between 1949 and 1967, when the West Bank fell under Jordanian rule, they continued to nurture their affinity with the regions from which many of them had been deported in 1948. The Jews, the vast majority of whom accepted their severance from the West Bank, returned almost immediately after the 1967 occupation to nurture their own national and religious kinship with the regions that were the “cradle of the nation.” The political and physical conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians did not change but rather adapted to its new circumstances.