by M.A. Rosenblit
A foundational tenet of the BDS Movement (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) against Israel is predicated on the accusation that Israel illegally occupies Arab lands, which they must immediately vacate. The BDS website spells out this demand very clearly:
Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall [i]. https://bdsmovement.net/bdsintro
First and foremost, we must distinguish between fact and fiction where the issue of “occupation” is concerned. Israel today faces not only a daily threat from hostile neighbors, but also a social media war, in which its most virulent enemy is propaganda. One of the main problems is that people (in general) are not students of history, and many fighting against Israel on the ideological and practical level are not aware of the historical facts, but instead are quick to believe the fiction coming out of the media, which is very biased against Israel.
So, what are the historical facts? What happened in 1967 that caused Israel to “occupy” Arab lands, as BDS claims? While I by no means aim to provide an exhaustive account of the history of that time, I will give irrefutable facts showing that Israel did not invade such lands as a hostile army, but was actually fighting a defensive war against hostile Arab armies, and that Israel had no intention of maintaining a military occupation of said lands once they gained control of them in the course of the war.
When we speak of the Six-Day War of 1967, we must first dispel two myths: 1) Israel started the war, and 2) Israel illegally occupied the “West Bank” (from herein I will refer to this area by its historically accurate name, “Judea & Samaria”)[ii], the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Desert, the Golan Heights, and Jerusalem. The first myth, that Israel started the war, is untrue for a few reasons. While Israel fired the first shot at Egypt on June 5, 1967, it was in fact a response to Egypt closing the Strait of Tiran to all Israeli vessels on May 22, 1967. Egypt’s actions were recognized as an act of war by the international community, and therefore justified Israel’s response. (Dershowitz, 92) Furthermore, Egyptian leaders of the time openly admitted that cutting off Israel’s access to the Gulf of Aqaba was a willful act aimed at drawing Israel into a “war of extermination.” (Ibid., 92)
But this was not an isolated incident. Historic records show that Arab armies were preparing a massive attack against Israel (including poisonous gas), and had plans to bomb Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona. (Ibid., 92) Indeed, in the weeks leading up to the outbreak of war, the Arab nations were slowly massing troops along Israel’s border with the intention to once again, “wipe Israel off the map.”(Bard, 82) In fact, the Syrian Defense Minister, Hafez Assad, is quoted saying, “The armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are poised on the borders of Israel…to face the challenge, while standing behind us are the armies of Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan and the whole Arab nation. This act will astound the world. Today they will know that the Arabs are arranged for battle…” (Ibid., 82) Approximately 250,000 troops, 2,000 tanks, and 700 aircraft encircled Israel in preparation for battle. In all fairness, what was Israel to do? What would any nation do if facing the same situation? Clearly, Israel was dragged into a defensive war by the surrounding Arab nations, and was not the aggressor.
As a result of the Six-Day War, Israel (miraculously) gained control over numerous territories (see the above list). While Israel did not immediately annex these territories, it still had legally attained them under international rules of engagement since it had not fought an offensive war. The reason Israel did not immediately annex these lands is that it had no desire to keep them, with the exception of Jerusalem, the millennia-old capital of the Jewish people.[iii] In reality, Israel desired to maintain a temporary military administration over the newly acquired territory only until peace treaties would be signed with the Arab nations. (Glick, 206) Essentially, Israel desired “land for peace” with its neighbors from the very beginning.
But the Arab nations were not willing to come to the table. In September 1967, eight Arab heads of state gathered in Khartoum, Sudan, for the Arab League Summit; in response to the Six-Day War, they drafted a resolution called the “Khartoum Resolution”, wherein the three “no’s” were established: no peace with Israel; no recognition of Israel; no negotiations with Israel. (Ibid., 208) This is when the UN got involved and the Security Council convened in November 1967 to draft a resolution addressing the need for negotiations between Israel and the Arab nations in order to reach a peace deal. What came of it was the UN Security Council Resolution 242.
Resolution 242 states, among other things, that Israel must withdraw from territories it gained in the Six-Day War (but it does not specify which territories specifically as that was to be negotiated in order to give Israel defensible borders). What is generally misunderstood is that the resolution only required that Israel’s withdrawal be dependent upon peace negotiations, and did not demand a unilateral withdrawal in the absence of peace treaties with the various Arab nations. (Bard, 99) The expectation on the part of the Arabs that Israel would unilaterally withdraw from all territories gained is absurd. Even the British Ambassador to the UN Security Council at the time, Lord Caradon, is quoted saying, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.” (Ibid., 98) It is important to note that the resolution says nothing about a Palestinian State. It was assumed that Jordan would seek to take back Judea & Samaria in a negotiated peace treaty with Israel, but instead, Jordan handed it over to the PLO.
Israel immediately accepted the terms of Resolution 242, but the Arabs rejected them. This leads us to the claim of Israel’s “illegal occupation” of these territories. First, let us be clear that Israel has already signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. In doing so, Israel released control of the Sinai Desert back to Egypt, and we already established that Jordan was not interested in retaining control of the “West Bank.” In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip, and has suffered intense warfare from Hamas, the ruling terrorist party, as a result. Clearly, “land for peace” was not part of Hamas’ agenda. Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981 after Syria made it clear it would not negotiate any peace treaty with Israel. While Israel’s annexation was a very controversial move, it was indeed justified by Resolution 242.
The main problematic territory left today is Judea & Samaria. Israel maintained a military administration there until 1995 when it handed over the majority of the territory to the Palestinian Administration (PA) in compliance with the Oslo Accords. This was intended to be the first major step in negotiations with the Arabs for a Palestinian State. However, the Palestinian Administration has stubbornly refused each and every offer for a state since. While they justify their rejection for many reasons, in actuality, they have no intention of negotiating with Israel, for it would require they recognize Israel as a Jewish State. There could have been a viable Palestinian state many times over by now, but the PA refuses.
It is clear that the BDS demand for Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders is tantamount to signing Israel’s death certificate. Israel’s pre-1967 borders are indefensible…but perhaps that is the point of the BDS demand. Israel is entitled to defensible borders just as is every other country in the world. International law does not require Israel to withdraw to these suicidal borders, so why should anyone else for that matter?
Clearly, something must be done for the millions of Arabs in the Judea & Samaria region; they cannot continue to live in the limbo of the past 49 years. But it is an outright lie to blame Israel for their continued suffering! It is long overdue to hold the Palestinian Authority accountable for their propagation of their peoples’ suffering. If the Palestinian Authority really cared for the welfare of its people, why haven’t they jumped at the multiple generous offers for a sovereign state (especially in 2008 when Ehud Olmert offered for Israel to withdraw from 93% of Judea & Samaria)? Let us not fool ourselves into thinking Israel has a viable partner for peace when it comes to establishing a Palestinian State. Sadly, the PA would prefer its own peoples’ suffering to peace with Israel. And that is not something that will change any time soon.
[i] I will address the Security Fence in a separate article. [ii] The term “West Bank” did not exist until 1950, when Transjordan captured the region in 1948 and then renamed it as such two years later. [iii] When Israel annexed East Jerusalem (which was included under Jordanian rule), it offered the Arab residents full Israeli citizenship and benefits included therein. Not all Arabs accepted it, however.
Bard, Mitchell G. Myths and Facts; A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Chevy Chase: AICE, Inc., 2001)
Dershowitz, Alan. The Case for Israel (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003)
Glick, Caroline B. The Israeli Solution (New York: Crown Forum., 2014)
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