Tuesday, June 7, 2011

An‑Naksah (The Setback) June 5-June 10: The 1967 Pre-Emptive Israeli War on Palestine that Reset Borders

Nir Elias/Reuters
Protesters pray close to the Syrian-Israeli border
Protesters pray close to the Syrian-Israeli border fence near the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the war and annexed the territory in 1981, a move not recognised internationally. (In Pictures: 'Naksa Day' Golan protests--Al Jazeera)

An-Naksah Day, June 5, this year was marked by Palestinian-Syrian protests at the Golan Heights cease fire line with Israel; and, by Israeli firing on unarmed protesters, who were at the barbed wire fence. 23 were killed by Israeli Forces, including a 12-year-old boy, according to the Syrians. Israel claims 10 dead, and none killed by Israelis. In its official comment, the US states that Israel has the right to defend itself. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

There was further Palestinian protest the following day, June 6, at the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus. Mourners accused the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) of inciting youth to protest in the Golan Heights, and burned their local headquarters. The PFLP accused elements outside of the camp for the violence.

Nir Elias/Reuters
An injured protester is dragged away
A wounded protester is dragged away from the Syrian-Israeli border near the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights. Israeli troops opened fire on Sunday at Palestinian protesters in Syria who rushed towards a border fence and Syrian state television said six demonstrators were killed. (In Pictures: 'Naksa Day' Golan protests--Al Jazeera)

June 7 has been marked most ominously in Syria with the government's threat to retaliate against armed groups it claims are responsible for the ambush and death of 120 members of Syrian security forces it states were on their way to defend the inhabitants of Jisr al-Shughur, at the townspeople's request. However, activists who have spoken with AP and Al Jazeera insist the protesters were inactive on June 6, and that the security forces were killed by gunmen, not those who have been trying to conduct peaceful anti-government protests. According to human rights groups, Syrian government forces have arrested 10,000 and killed 1100 since civilian protests began in March. Among the Arab Spring protests against national dictators, repression has been particularly brutal by Syria's President Bashar Assad. Only recently have international sanctions against Syria begun.

The CIA May 22, 1967 assessment of who would win an Israeli-United Arab Forces war in 1967, released April 2004.

Another aspect of June 7 and An-Naksah struck me when I read the article below. It is based on the author Sandy Tolan's research at the President Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas. He discovered that on June 7, 1967 Zakariya Mohieddin, Vice President to Gamal Abdel Nasser, the President of Egypt, was supposed to meet with the US President at Nasser's request, in an attempt to stave off an Arab-Israeli War. Of course, the meeting never took place, since Israel made a pre-emptive strike on June 5--after the US had warned it of the planned upcoming meeting on the 7th. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

The meeting that did happen: President Lyndon B Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara listen to Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, May 27, 1967.

Journalist and professor Sandy Tolan shares his research, and his interpretation of it, in the article copied below.

Gamal Abdel Nasser was publicly bellicose towards Israel but privately beseeching the US to mediate peace

June 7: The anniversary nobody remembers
A secret meeting 44 years ago today could have changed the course of Middle Eastern history. But it never happened.

Sandy Tolan Last Modified: 07 Jun 2011 09:42

In this part of the world, carrying tragic dates around in your head is kind of like breathing: you do it automatically, without thinking. This time of year, for Palestinians, June 5 marks the 44th anniversary of their occupation by Israel. June 6, in the evening, evokes the darkness when Ramallah fell, and finally people realised that the tanks rolling into town were not Iraqis sent to the aid of the local people: they belonged to the army of Israel.

June 7? That's the morning Ramallah woke up to soldiers calling through bullhorns for the people to hang something white from the windows: unambiguous signs of surrender to the occupying forces. "I couldn't find anything," remembers Rima Tarazi, now 79, a pianist and composer whose family founded Bir Zeit University in the 1920s. So she took one of her child's diapers and hung it from the balcony.

Just two days earlier, as the war broke out, Tarazi had confidently assured a worried neighbour, "Don't worry, our day of victory is at hand." Today, she laughs at the absurdity.

But buried beneath such memories of defeat and illusion for the Arabs in the Six Day War is the story of a momentous June 7 meeting that never happened. If it had, it just might have carved a different path for the Middle East.

All bark and no bite

June 7, 1967, was to be the day that the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser would dispatch his vice president, Zakariya Mohieddin, to Washington for secret meetings with US President Lyndon Johnson and members of his cabinet. The plans for this meeting are found in state department cables and other documents at the Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. From those documents, it's clear that, despite his bellicose statements for consumption by the Arab street ("We are prepared, our sons are prepared, our army is prepared, the entire Arab nation is prepared"), and despite his provocative blockade of the Straits of Tiran, the populist Nasser had been sending repeated messages to the US and the Soviet Union that he wanted to avoid war with Israel. Despite the months of build-up toward war - fuelled by the Palestinian dream to return to the homelands they lost in 1948; by the hunger in the Arab world to defeat Israel; and by Israeli citizens' hair-trigger psychology, based on a palpable mortal fear of another Holocaust - Egyptian and at least some US officials seemed to share a hope war could be avoided.

Already US officials were sceptical of Israel's claims that 100,000 Egyptian troops were poised along the border of the Sinai Peninsula. US and British intelligence agencies had concluded otherwise. The CIA, in a May 22 memorandum, declared Egyptian troop strength at 50,000 men, and characterised Nasser's Sinai forces as "defensive in character". National Security Agency chief Eugene Rostow called the Israeli estimates "highly disturbing", and the CIA concluded that they were part of a "political gambit intended to influence the US". Israel, according to this CIA assessment, wanted the United States to pressure Nasser into ending his blockade of the Straits, or alternately, for the US to send more military hardware to Israel or allow Israel to take matters into its own hands.

And so it would. Following a cabinet shake-up, Meir Amit, the Mossad [Israeli spy agency] director, embarked on a trip to Washington, where he would recall telling Defence Secretary Robert McNamara that "I, Meir Amit, am going to recommend that our government strike". According to Amit, McNamara, preoccupied with Vietnam, asked him how long a war would last. "Seven days," the Mossad director responded. US intelligence concurred with this assessment of Israel's military superiority. As US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach would recall: "The intelligence was absolutely flat on the fact that the Israelis ... could mop up the Arabs in no time at all."

Nasser, in the meantime, was sending schizophrenic signals: publicly taunting Israel, while privately telling US and Soviet envoys that he wanted to avoid war. If he did, then why all the blustering? Nasser confidant Mohamed Heikel said the president's rhetoric was meant to be a "strong warning, not a declaration of war". But if the threats were meant to be a bluff for Arab consumption, under the circumstances, with an apocalyptic atmosphere in Israel, they amounted to "unheard-of foolishness", according to former Israeli General Matti Peled.

The meeting that almost was

At 7:45am on Monday, June 5, Israel called Nasser's bluff, as French-built Israeli bombers roared out of their bases, crossed Egyptian airspace, and destroyed Egypt's entire air force on the ground, before similarly eliminating the air forces of Jordan and Syria. The Six Day War was essentially over in six hours. Soon, ordinary Israelis would be celebrating what, at the time, they considered a miracle of survival; Palestinians would come to terms with life under military rule, while slowly devising strategies to fight the occupation.

Had Israel not attacked on June 5, the June 7 meeting between LBJ and the Egyptian vice president would have remained on the White House's agenda. Could that meeting have led to a cooling of tensions - something the US and Soviet Union had repeatedly advocated for? Of course, it's impossible to say; by then it may have been too late.

But there's one telling detail I unearthed in the LBJ archive in Austin. During the preparations for Mohieddin's visit, Eugene Rostow wrote a memo suggesting that the US notify Israel of the "secret" meeting, since "my guess is that their intelligence will pick it up". And indeed the US did notify Israel of the June 7 meeting, an apparent last-ditch effort by Nasser to avoid war.

But of course Mohieddin never made it to Washington. By the time of the scheduled meeting, it was already day three of the Six-Day War. The Israelis had captured Sinai, Gaza and the West Bank, and Arab forces were beating a humiliating retreat.

And so June 7 will be remembered here in Ramallah not for the meeting that never happened, but rather as the dawn of a 44-year occupation, and the day Rima Tarazi and her neighbours were looking for anything white they could hang in their windows.

Sandy Tolan is author of The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, and associate professor at the Annenberg School for Journalism and Communication at the University of Southern California. He blogs at ramallahcafe.com.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera


“One of the finest existential accounts of Palestinian displacement that we now have.”— Edward Said

Palestinian novelist Mourid Barghouti was a 4th year student at the University of Cairo, writing the final exams for his degree in literature, when An-Naksa occurred. He would be the first in his family to receive a university degree. As one of the Ramallah residents living outside of Ramallah on June 7, he was one of those prevented from returning to Palestine for lack of an Israeli ID card.

Barghouti's much-heralded memoir, I Saw Ramallah, is his reflection on his return to Ramallah after 30 years in exile. An excerpt from Chapter 1, "The Bridge", can be read on his website--here. An abridged version of Edward Said's "Introduction" is available on the same website here. Barghouti's website, and Said's "Introduction" abridged, in Arabic.

While sometimes presented as an act of generosity by the occupying Israeli Defense Forces, issuing Israeli IDs to only those present at the time of capture in 1967, simultaneously gave Israel control over West Bank Palestinians and reduced their numbers--particularly excluding the educated, the young adults, and the wealthy, that is, the likely leaders of rebellion.

Aerial view of Ramallah and al-Bira in 1967. North to the right.

Your comments, thoughts, impressions?

Israeli checkpoint at Ramallah

1 comment:

Susanne said...

Thanks for sharing! One of my Palestinian friends went to the protest the other day. Also I have read "The Lemon Tree" and enjoyed it. I've recommended it to others as well.


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