Commemorating 1967—and 1947, 1917, 1897... // JQR Blog

This week was the 50th anniversary of Israel’s Six Day War in 1967, a fact that has hardly gone unmarked. It's also the 70th anniversary of the UN Resolution that called for the partition of Israel and Palestine (1947), the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration that called for “a national home for the Jewish people” (1917), and the 120th anniversary of the founding meetings of the World Zionist Organization and the Bund (1897). 

JQR is commemorating these momentous 7s in the history of Israel with a special forum featuring commentary by Derek Penslar, Liora Halperin, Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, and Seth Anziska, introduced by coeditor David Myers. But while it's in preparation, we couldn’t let this week go by entirely in silence, so we share here a sneak preview of Anziska’s contribution. The f
ull version with notes will appear in late 2017, so stay tuned.  [-The editors]

In the Arab world, the 1967 War launched an intellectual search for answers about the limits of pan-Arabism, the fate of nationalism, and the cultural consequences of defeat. It haunted Arab thinkers from North Africa to the Levant, and underscored profound changes afoot, from the growing influence of Islamism to the persistence of sclerotic statist models of governance. The Palestinian question has therefore been an integral part of—and even a catalyst for—the broader reordering of Arab societies in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

            Introspection by the defeated is perhaps a natural outcome of war, but what of the victors? While earlier phases of Zionist settlement in Palestine were marked by the use of force, the attainment of political sovereignty and the establishment of a state in 1948 signaled a pivotal departure. This revolution was sealed by the 1967 War, which served to liberate Israeli society from a great deal of national vulnerability while also unleashing rival political impulses. Internal struggles for inclusion that marked Jewish and Arab communities in the state’s early years gave way to perpetual external control. And so the year 1967 shifted the focus in the study of modern Jewish politics from powerlessness to unbridled power, an unexamined parallel to changes in Arab political culture.

Jewish power has often been neglected by scholars more interested in its absence, but the sweeping military victory of the war inaugurated a reordering of Jewish scholarly and public attitudes toward the state. A new era in modern Jewish history was unfolding; and there were other shifts underway, most notably changing consciousness about the Holocaust and its legacy, which registered differently inside Israel and farther afield. Taken together, these developments require a rewriting (or writing) of post-1967 Jewish history in a less triumphalist key. “A nation that is concerned for its future must always look back at its past,” Israeli Minister Naftali Bennett said ahead of the planned celebrations in the West Bank. He may not have anticipated the valence of his words. It is easy to look back and revel in conquest, but it is much harder to see the consequences for the vanquished—and sometimes for the victor, even more.

Seth Anziska is the Mohamed S. Farsi-Polonsky Lecturer in Jewish-Muslim Relations at University College London.

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