At the war’s 50th anniversary, many in Israel and abroad have commented on how it transformed the country. For those on the left in particular, this was the moment when the Jewish state became “the occupier of another people” and—in this interpretation—inaugurated the era of Israel’s decline. Yoaz Hendel will have none of it:
Three wars shaped the state of Israel—the most important war was in 1948. The big “occupation” starts there. The Six-Day War only changed the borders, not the essence of the battle [between Israel and its Arab neighbors]. . . . Finally, in 1973, came the big victory of the Yom Kippur War (yes, I know that people usually look at this war from its starting points rather than through the great achievements of its ending). . . . These three wars turned Israel into a regional power with greater economic and military strength than any other country in the region. . . .
Whoever claims today that the Six-Day War changed us is talking out of wishful thinking, out of a childish dream in which we could have existed within the borders of small Israel and made peace with everyone around us. If only we had won and pulled out, according to this dream, everything would have been fine. The years before 1967 were painfully beautiful, [goes the refrain]. The most beautiful songs, the most beautiful outfits, the most beautiful girls, the most silent rabbis. . . .
And the best clichés. . . . [In fact,] Israel lived under the danger of extinction for nineteen years before the Six-Day War. Its laws were emergency laws. Its democracy was shaky. David Ben-Gurion, the man without whom we wouldn’t have a state, spied on opposition members. Israeli Arabs lived under tough military rule and Shin Bet supervision. The government Judaized the Negev and the Galilee without thinking twice. . . . The only restrictions on corruption were internal ethics and the values of the [Zionist] youth movements.
Our situation [now] is much better than in those nineteen years—not just from a security and economic perspective but also by the criteria of those who are lamenting [the supposed collapse of Israeli] democracy. Israel, contrary to their claims, is not marching toward a binational state; it is marching toward a separation from the Palestinians as much as it can. In Gaza, we have completely separated from them (we still pay for the electricity and water), and in Judea and Samaria there is a demilitarized semi-state with a political separation, but with no military separation.