Andrew Ryder

The 1967 Arab-Israeli war began on June 5 with a surprise assault on the Egyptian air force. By its completion, this pre-emptive Six-Day War more than tripled the territory under Israel’s control. To this day, this area remains under military occupation. The traditional Israeli narrative is that this was an unintended consequence; their leadership was prepared to cede their territorial conquests if peace could be secured. However, the story goes, the other Arab states in question (primarily Egypt, Syria, and Jordan) refused to negotiate in good faith, and the Palestinians, refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli state, preferred guerrilla attacks to sensible compromise. The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War, a recent book by Avi Raz, an Israeli historian, completely upends this narrative. Just as Ilan Pappé and Nur Masalha have demonstrated the ethnic cleansing at the heart of the initial Israeli settler-colonial project first recognized in 1948, Raz documents its permanence and mass expansion nearly two decades later. This clear-eyed analysis is particularly timely, given the failure of the UN statehood bid by the Palestinian Authority last year. Raz shows that Israeli hasbara (propaganda) has often paid lip service to the possibility of an independent Palestinian state, while simultaneously rendering it impossible.

Raz’s title comes from a metaphor coined by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, regarding the territory and its inhabitants: “The dowry is followed by a bride we don’t want.” The result has been a slow uxoricide, as Israel has aimed to empty the land of its people. According to Raz, “As early as 7 June, the third day of the Six Day War, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan told Lt. Gen. Yitzhak Rabin, the Chief of the General Staff, that the aim was to empty the West Bank of its inhabitants.” Because it would be unacceptable to make this basic strategy of ethnic cleansing public, the Israelis maintained sham discussions with King Hussein of Jordan and with various West Bank elites, who were more than willing to agree to a compromise, most likely in the form of a “Palestinian option” (an independent Palestine) or the “Jordanian option” (annexation to Jordan). “We are now an empire,” Dayan declared. While Eshkol inaugurated this policy, Raz demonstrates the continuity of its enactment by Dayan under Golda Meir, who famously denied the very existence of a Palestinian people and who cut off dialogue with West Bank political actors entirely. 

Raz counters the usual focus on the Palestine Liberation Organization, whose position in the late 1960s was characterized by the intransigence of fida’iyyun (self-sacrificing soldiers). He points out that the PLO only became a widely acknowledged political force after the Karameh raid of March 1968 and Yasir Arafat’s subsequent dominance in February 1969. This means that, for some time following the conclusion of the 1967 war, there were other Palestinian political actors. Representatives of traditional elites who had remained in the West Bank, these moderates held a much more conciliatory outlook than figures like Arafat and George Habash, who were exiled. Raz draws attention to these previously neglected West Bank authorities, who were more than willing to accept an independent state within the boundaries established by the partition plan. ‘Aziz Shehadeh, one of the most powerful of these figures, approached the Israelis with such a plan on 10 June 1967. Initially preferring a triple confederation among Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan, Anwar Nuseibeh also eventually suggested a similar proposal.

This is entirely in contrast to the usual narrative that has the chastened Palestinians accepting Israel’s “right to exist” and working towards independence only in 1993, with the Oslo agreements. Drawing on Israeli archives and on records kept by diplomatic missions, Raz shows that Israel intentionally disregarded the proposals suggested by Shehadeh and Nuseibeh, as well as King Hussein’s efforts to find a workable solution. Israel’s negotiators were intentionally scattershot and unpredictable, holding meetings but offering only inconsistent or unrealistic suggestions, such as the Allon plan. Raz’s thesis is that this failure to trade land for peace with partners who were clearly willing to do so can only be explained by the conclusion that the Israelis considered this an undesirable outcome. He describes the overall strategy as one of takhsisanut, deceptiveness. While it was necessary to create the appearance of a sincere desire to resolve the situation, especially in the eyes of the United States on whom they depended for high-tech armaments, this appearance did not need to mirror reality. They held discussions in order to find quislings, and to stall while settlers established permanent outposts, in the hope that this would create a de facto reality making the occupation irrevocable; Dayan spoke of the need for “living space.” This gambit appears to have succeeded.

Rather than pursuing an end to the occupation, Israel redoubled the number of refugees they created, driving as many as 100,000 people out of the West Bank and into Jordan. Additionally, the Israeli Defense Forces demolished villages and expelled their inhabitants, rendering homeless an additional 20,000 Palestinians remaining in the West Bank. Many of these were already refugees, meaning that they were in the unenviable position of having been dispossessed twice over. This substantiates claims by Palestinians that the initial Nakba (disaster) of the annihilation of the Palestinian nation was not only a historical event confined to 1948, but also an ongoing process of theft and dispersal. Israel’s undercutting of any attempt at peace and independence by West Bank moderates resulted in the strengthening of the PLO and their guerrilla strategy, which additionally led to the loss of many Israeli civilian lives. The defeat of these outgunned guerrillas resulted in the eventual abandonment of armed resistance in the West Bank. By 2002, the Palestinian leadership and Arab states offered to concede all of Israel’s original ambitions of 1948, with a demilitarized and dependent Palestinian state the only condition. These concessions were ignored.

A Palestinian child in a refugee camp in Jordan

Raz points out the growth of an Israeli “political theology” subsequent to the 1967 victory, stipulating a “historical association” between the Israeli Jews and the entirety of a “greater Israel” that includes all of historic Palestine. As Yeshayahu Leibowitz put it, “The Israeli public were overcome by the intoxication of national pride, military arrogance, and fantasies of the glory of messianic deliverance.” This led to the need to maintain the occupation in perpetuity, as well as attempting the Judaization of Arab Jerusalem. The Biblical names “Judea and Samaria” were officially applied to the West Bank beginning in December 1967, a designation that is now typical in Israeli state rhetoric. The Israelis encouraged emigration and tried to make life unlivable for Palestinians, particularly in Gaza. This has been countered by little sanction from the international community, but mainly by Palestinian resistance, in particular the tactic of sumud (steadfastedness). Mahmoud Darwish’s statement at the conclusion of Journal of an Ordinary Grief, “waiting is steadfastness and a stand,” exemplifies the cultural imperative to remain on the land at all costs. This unexpected commitment, one suspects, is the reason that the occupied territories have not been emptied. To the contrary, as of this year, the privileged ethnic group has become a minority in the land that Israel controls.

The growing ambitions of the settler movement in the West Bank, including the sharp rise in violence (so-called “price tag” attacks) that have occurred in the wake of the failed UN statehood bid have made the lack of viability of an independent state in the West Bank manifest. Raz’s scholarship reveals that this outcome was by the design of Israel’s leaders in 1967, if not earlier. The scuttling of Mahmoud Abbas’ initiative and its result in the West Bank’s impotent status as a “non-member observer state” was already predetermined by the marginalization of ‘Aziz Shehadeh nearly a half-century prior. Raz’s sober analysis studiously avoids hyperbolic rhetoric, and generally confines itself to the language of Israeli policy makers. Nonetheless, the conclusion that can be drawn from his findings is that excuses for the occupation in the name of security lack plausibility. For decades and by design, Israel has maintained a durable apartheid regime as well as policies of deliberate ethnic cleansing.

Avi Raz. The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012

Andrew Ryder is Postdoctoral Associate of the Department of French and Italian at the University of Pittsburgh. He has written numerous articles on ethical phenomenology, French modern literature, and post-Marxism. He previously taught at Al-Quds Bard College in Abu Dis, Palestine.