July 9, 2017
This article was written by Alicia B. Chandler
I have been traveling in northern Israel when our trip had to be diverted because of rocket attacks from Lebanon. I have been in Jerusalem when bus bombings caused us to be put on lockdown in our hostel. But in truth, I have never feared that Israel — my ancestral homeland — was under imminent threat of immediate destruction. Fifty years ago, however, Israel was on the brink of destruction.
The Six-Day War took place from June 5-10, 1967. Preceded by a buildup of Egyptian troops in the Sinai, the blockade of Israeli shipping in the Red Sea, and escalating threats by Arab leaders against the Jewish state, the war commenced with the Israeli Defense Forces attacking the Egyptian Air Force. For the second time in its short modern history, Israel was at war with all its neighbors and its survival was precarious. In the end, Israel prevailed in one of the most astounding military victories in modern history — a seemingly unqualified triumph.
The impact of these fateful six days on the past 50 years of Middle East history cannot be overstated. The Six-Day War reunited Jerusalem — the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and Muhammad’s ascent to heaven.
The Six-Day War also resulted in Israel capturing significant territory, including the Sinai Peninsula. The Sinai would later be given back to Egypt in exchange for peace. But while the concept of land for peace prevailed between Egypt and Israel, and peace was later negotiated between Jordan and Israel, the Six-Day War also left Israel in possession of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. While the past 50 years have had moments where the possibility of achieving a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians seemed close, those moments vanished into war and violence. Today, the two-state solution seems no closer to reality than it was in 1967.
As we mark 50 years since the Six-Day War, we both commemorate the victory while also lamenting the missed opportunities for peace. As we look back on the time when Jews were denied access to the Western Wall and celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem, we must all commit to the preservation of access to holy sites for every faith. Wars in Iraq and Syria and the rise of the Islamic State militant group have caused the destruction and desecration of many holy sites, and earthquakes and other natural disasters have stolen away others. Just as the Israeli government has provided access and security to the holy sites of all religions within its borders, every country must make the same commitment.
However, the celebration of the reunification is tinged with sadness that peace still has not been negotiated with the Palestinians residing in the West Bank and Gaza. For the 19 years before 1967, these areas were under the control of Jordan and Egypt respectively. In the years since, we have witnessed the signing of the Oslo II Accords giving the Palestinian Authority administrative control of parts of the territory. This was followed by the unilateral withdrawal of Israel from Gaza, which led to the unintended consequence of Hamas, a U.S. designated terrorist group, controlling the territory. In these and many other events, hope ceded to violence which led the descendants of 1967 to fight the same war over and over again.
If we learned anything 50 years ago, it is that the impossible can occur. A nation no bigger than New Jersey prevailed over the armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq.In the subsequent years, peace was negotiated with Egypt and Jordan. Now, 50 years later, we have to reinforce our commitment to a two-state solution where Israel and the Palestinians can live side-by-side as neighbors. This may seem like an unattainable dream. It will take bravery and perseverance, but the cycle of violence and destruction must be broken to allow peace, security, prosperity and democracy to flourish for two nations that will one day reside in the current borders of Israel and the territories.Fifty years from now, let us hope that we can reflect back on the peace that has been achieved and the generations that will benefit from that peace, instead of continuing to mourn the opportunities and lives that have been lost.
Alicia B. Chandler is president of the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC in Bloomfield Hills.
This article was originally published in The Detroit News.