How the 1967 War Doomed Israel


Avir harim kalul ba’yayin, ve reach oranim…

The opening lines of Naomi Shemer’s legendary Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (Jerusalem of Gold) can still bring goosebumps to my flesh, even decades after I deconstructed and relinquished the mythology connoted by the old Basque lullaby she repurposed as an ode to Israel’s conquest of East Jerusalem in June of 1967. I first heard the song at age 8 in a documentary film shown at my afternoon Hebrew class (ugh!), all gorgeous evening sunshine glowing pink off the old city, as it related the “miracle” of Israel’s “six-day” triumph over its Arab neighbors in that year. And it made me feel good, in an epic kind of way. Already the song had become a kind of anthem, an emotional seduction into the notion of the conquest of East Jerusalem somehow signifying Jewish salvation. Steven Spielberg even planned to include it in the grossly misleading postcard he tacked on to the end of Schindler’s List, in which Holocaust survivors are shown in Jerusalem as if this was somehow a triumph over Nazism, although he dropped the idea after Israeli test audiences found the connection discordant. But rarely has there been a more powerful song in the Israeli imagination, precisely because of the giddily messianic atmosphere that prevailed in Israel in the wake of the war — an atmosphere that blinded Israelis to the calamitous implications of their conquest. But hey, even at age 6, I bought into that atmosphere.

There was no such thing as television in South Africa in 1967, so it was through grainy black-and-white photographs in the evening newspaper that I learned that Mirage jet fighters — the same delta-winged plane flown over my house with great, and occasionally sound barrier-breaking regularity by the South African Air Force to and from nearby Ysterplaat air base, although the ones in the paper bore the Star of David on their wing tips — had destroyed Egypt’s MiG squadrons on the ground. And with those images, and later ones of paratroopers in webbed helmets at the Wailing Wall, that I learned of the “miracle” — Israel, the tiny Jewish state whose map I knew from the blue and white money tin into which we would put a coin every Friday night after Shabbos dinner, had faced down the combined armies of its Arab neighbors, and had dispatched them within six days. And they had “liberated” our “holiest” site, an old stone wall in East Jerusalem pocked with pubic clumps of weeds, into whose cracks and crannies I was told that Jews could insert notes to be read by God — like a hotel message cubby. (Let’s just say that by the time I got there, at age 17, this bubbemeis about holy stones and a celestial post office only fueled my atheism.) Not only that, they’d made Israel “safe” by “liberating” the whole of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights. In six days! A miracle, like the creation story in Genesis! (Of course, many years later, I would learn that it hadn’t even taken that long; Israel had attacked first and effectively won the war in the opening hours by destroying its enemy’s air forces on the ground — Six Days just sounded like a good name for a war given the creation story.)

Even at the age of six, my first year in big school, Israel’s victory had a profound effect on me. The previous year, I had heard my older step-brothers describe a Phys-Ed class being turned into a kind of playful pogrom, in some sort of fighting game that had pitched the Jewish boys against the rest. Being Jewish jocks, they had, according to my brothers’ account over dinner, given as good as they’d gotten, and it was a genuinely playful thing, besides — the sort of playful contest I recall from my older years that often saw a class divide on lines of “Boer against Brit,” i.e. Afrikaans kids against English-speakers, recalling the Boer War. But at six years old, the idea of a small group of Jewish boys being surrounded and set upon by their gentile classmates was absolutely terrifying.

But the news out of Israel in those mid-year months in 1967 was infinitely reassuring. Israel’s dramatic victory had proved that we, the prickly little state or the Jewish boys in their white Phys-ed (we called it PT) vests and shorts, were not to be fucked with. (I remember a similar effect a decade later, after the audacious raid on Entebbe had freed a group of passengers held on a hijacked Air France plane in Uganda — by then, my friends and I were literally accepting congratulations on Israel’s behalf.) And, I know anecdotally as much as anything else, that anyone ever called a “Jewboy” anywhere in the world walked a lot taller after the first week of June in 1967.

We were certainly granted the recognition on the playground that the epic victory demanded. The idea of Jews as being weaklings or afraid to fight was buried; white South Africa with its own narrative pitting it as an embattled minority in a sea of hostile neighbors embraced the Israeli victory as an inspiration. The word “Arab” became synonymous, on the playground and in the classroom, with incompetence and idiocy. “Don’t be an Arab!” I heard a teacher exclaim, more than once in response to a student’s failure to properly carry out his instructions. And, three years after the 1967 war, when the apartheid regime celebrated the tenth anniversary of South Africa’s formal independence from Britain, the ceremony in my school playground saw my Jewish friends and I, in our blue Habonim shirts and scarves and kakhi shorts, line up alongside the boy scouts and the Voortrekkers (the fascist Afrikaner youth movement) to salute the flag and proclaim our loyalty to the Republic (even though the whole point of Habonim was to persuade us to emigrate!). A regime rooted in vicious anti-Semitism and explicit admiration for the Nazis had now come to recognize Israel and its local supporters as a fighting ally in their epic struggle, couched in Cold War language, between white peoples and peoples of color.

Die Vaderland (The Fatherland), a newspaper of the apartheid regime, editorialized in 1969, on the occasion of a visit to South Africa by Ben Gurion, “When we, from our side, look realistically at the world situation, we know that Israel’s continued existence in the Middle East is also an essential element in our own security… If our Jewish citizens were to rally to the call of our distinguished visitor — to help build up Israel — their contribution would in essence be a contribution to South Africa’s security.”

South Africa and Israel became intimate allies in the years that followed the ’67 war, with unrepentant former Nazis such as Prime Minister B.J. Vorster welcomed to Israel to seal military deals that resulted in collaboration in the development of weapons ranging from aircraft and assault rifles to, allegedly, nuclear weapons. I remember well how some products of South Africa’s Jewish day-school system, where Hebrew was taught as well as the mandatory Afrikaans, finding themselvse with cushy posting during their compulsory military services — as Hebrew-Afrikaans translators for Israeli personnel working with the SADF. And that alliance raised the comfort level of the South African Jewish community in apartheid South Africa — while a handful of Jewish revolutionaries had made up a dominant share of the white ranks of the national liberation movement, they were largely disowned by the mainstream organized Jewish community, which had chosen the path of quiescence and collaboration with the regime. Their posture, and Israel’s, were now in perfect alignment.

Fruitful collaboration: The Israeli
military called it the Galil, the SADF
called it the R-4, but it was the same gun

Even as I came to recognize and react to the horrors of apartheid, Israel seemed to me to represent a shining alternative. I remember shocking the grownups at a Pesach seder in 1974, my Bar Mitzvah year, by telling them that I would never do my compulsory military service in South Africa. But they smiled and murmured approvingly when I declared that, instead, I would go to Israel and serve in the army there, because that way “I could fight for something I believe in.” (I had, of course, in my cheesy adolescent way, stolen that line from a Jewish character in James A. Michener’s “The Drifters,” who uses it in relation to Vietnam; but the image in my mind when I read it, as when I said it, was of those paratroopers at the Wailing Wall.)

I could not conceive of Israel as in any way complicit in the crimes of apartheid, much less as engaged in its own forms of apartheid. After all, my connection to Israel, by the time I was 14, came largely through Habonim, a socialist-Zionist youth movement whose Zionism was infused with just the sort of left-wing universalism for which my own anti-apartheid subversive instincts yearned. My Habonim madrichim, bearded radicals from the University of Cape Town opened by mind to Marx and Marcuse, Bob Dylan and Yevtushenko, Woodie Guthrie and Erich Fromm. I was already a Jewish atheist, and considered myself a socialist, but in my mind, Israel and Kibbutz were the absolute negation of all that was wrong with South Africa; as a stepping stone to universal brotherhood and equality as expressed in the idealism of early left-wing Zionist thinkers like Ber Borochov, A.D. Gordon and Martin Buber. It became clear to me soon enough (by the time I was 18, to be specific) that their Zionist idealism — and mine — had no connection to the reality of Israel, largely because it ignored the elephant in the room: the Arab population of Palestine.


The war of 1967 was a continuation of the war of 1948, a battle over sovereignty, ownership and possession of the land in what had been British-Mandate Palestine. Sensing the escalating conflict between the Arab population and the European Jewish settlers who had been allowed by the British, since their conquest of Palestine in 1917, to settle there and establish the infrastructure of statehood — and moved by the impulse to create a sanctuary for the survivors of the Holocaust while avoiding giving most of them the choice of moving to the U.S. or other Western countries — the U.N. recommended in 1947 that Palestine be partitioned, to create separate Jewish and Arab states. The Zionists were disappointed by the plan, because they had hoped to have all of Palestine become a Jewish state. And the fact that it left Jerusalem, where 100,000 Jews lived, within the territory of the Arab zone, albeit run as an international city, was particularly irksome. But the Zionist leadership also knew that the plan was as good as they were going to get via diplomacy, and accepted the plan. (The rest, of course, they would acquire in battle, in 1948 and 1967, in wars that they could blame on their enemies — after all, 40 years after the 1967 war, during which time Israel has been at peace with the enemy it faced on that flank, the West Bank remains very much in Israeli hands, with close to half a million Israelis settled there.)

And, of course, war would likely have looked inevitable, because the Arabs were unlikely to accept a deal in which they were, by definition, the losers. Today, Israel insists that the demographic “facts on the ground” must be taken into account in any peace settlement, and demands that it be allowed to maintain the large settlement blocs built on the best land in the West Bank since 1967. And the Bush Administration has formally endorsed this claim. But look at the “facts on the ground” of 1947/8: The Partition Plan awarded 55% of the land to the Jewish state, including more than 80% of land under cultivation. At the time, Jews made up a little over one third of the total population, and owned some 7% of the land. Moreover, given the demographic demands of the Zionist movement for a Jewish majority, the plan was an invitation to tragedy: The population within the boundaries of the Jewish state envisaged in the 1947 partition consisted of around 500,000 Jews and 400,000 Arabs.

Hardly surprising, then, that the Arabs of Palestine and beyond rejected the partition plan.

For the Arab regimes, the creation of a separate Jewish sovereign state in the Holy Land over which the Crusades had been fought was a challenge to their authority; it was perceived by their citizenry as a test of their ability to protect their land and interests from foreign invasion. And so they went to war believing they could reverse what the U.N. had ordered on the battlefield. For the Jews of Palestine in 1948, a number of them having narrowly survived extermination in Europe, the war was a matter of physical survival. Although in the mythology, the war pitted a half million Jews against 20 million Arabs, in truth Israel was by far the stronger and better-organized and better-armed military power. And so what Israel called the War of Independence saw the Jewish state acquire 50% more territory than had been envisaged in the partition plan. The maps below describe the difference between the Israel envisaged by the UN in 1947 and the one that came into being in the war of 1948.

But maps don’t convey the disaster that befell the Palestinian Arabs in 1948. The war also allowed the Zionist movement to resolve its “demographic concerns,” as some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs found themselves driven from their homes and land — many driven out at gunpoint, the majority fleeing in fear of further massacres such as the one carried out by the Irgun at Dir Yassein, and all of them subject to the same ethnic-cleansing founding legislation by passed the new Israeli Knesset that seized the property of any Arab absent from his property on May 8, 1948, and forbad the refugees from returning.

The revised partition effected by the war left hundreds of thousands of Palestinians destitute in refugee camps in neighboring Arab countries, a drama that continues to play out today in northern Lebanon.

And for the next generation of Arab leaders, pan-Arabists and nationalists who overthrew the feeble Western-allied monarchies, the fundamental challenge of their nationalist vision became “redeeming” Arab honor by reversing their defeat of 1948. They tried twice, in 1967 and again in 1973, and failed. But even today, as political Islam supplants nationalism and pan-Arabism as the dominant ideologies of the Arab world, reversing the defeats of 1973, 1967 and 1948 remains a singular obsession.

For Jews of my generation who came of age during the anti-apartheid struggle, there was no shaking the nagging sense that what Israel was doing in the West Bank was exactly what the South African regime was doing in the townships. Even as we waged our own intifada against apartheid in South Africa, we saw daily images of young Palestinians facing heavily armed Israeli police in tanks and armored vehicles with nothing more than stones, gasoline bombs and the occasional light weapon; a whole community united behind its children who had decided to cast off the yoke under which their parents suffered. And when Yitzhak Rabin, more famous as a signatory on the Oslo Agreement, ordered the Israeli military to systematically break the arms of young Palestinians in the hope of suppressing an entirely legitimate revolt, thuggery had become a matter of national policy. It was only when some of those same young men began blowing themselves up in Israeli restaurants and buses that many Israel supporters were once again able to construe the Israelis as the victim in the situation; during the intifada of the 1980s they could not question who was David and who was Goliath. Even for those of us who had grown up in the idealism of the left-Zionist youth movements, Israel had become a grotesque parody of everything we stood for.

Even those within the Zionist establishment who came through the same tradition were horrified: Former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg wrote in 2003:

It turns out that the 2,000-year struggle for Jewish survival comes down to a state of settlements, run by an amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers who are deaf both to their citizens and to their enemies. A state lacking justice cannot survive. More and more Israelis are coming to understand this as they ask their children where they expect to live in 25 years. Children who are honest admit, to their parents’ shock, that they do not know. The countdown to the end of Israeli society has begun.

It is very comfortable to be a Zionist in West Bank settlements such as Beit El and Ofra. The biblical landscape is charming. You can gaze through the geraniums and bougainvilleas and not see the occupation. Travelling on the fast highway that skirts barely a half-mile west of the Palestinian roadblocks, it’s hard to comprehend the humiliating experience of the despised Arab who must creep for hours along the pocked, blockaded roads assigned to him. One road for the occupier, one road for the occupied.

This cannot work. Even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow their shame and anger for ever, it won’t work. A structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse in on itself. Note this moment well: Zionism’s superstructure is already collapsing like a cheap Jerusalem wedding hall. Only madmen continue dancing on the top floor while the pillars below are collapsing…

Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centres of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated. We could kill a thousand ringleaders a day and nothing will be solved, because the leaders come up from below – from the wells of hatred and anger, from the “infrastructures” of injustice and moral corruption…

Between the Jordan and the Mediterranean there is no longer a clear Jewish majority. And so, fellow citizens, it is not possible to keep the whole thing without paying a price. We cannot keep a Palestinian majority under an Israeli boot and at the same time think ourselves the only democracy in the Middle East. There cannot be democracy without equal rights for all who live here, Arab as well as Jew. We cannot keep the territories and preserve a Jewish majority in the world’s only Jewish state – not by means that are humane and moral and Jewish.

Many pro-Israel commentators today lament what they see as a shift in the Palestinian political mindset from the secular nationalism of Fatah to a more implacable Islamist worldview, supposedly infinitely less reasonable because it couches its opposition to Israel in religious terms. Yet, what is often overlooked is how the Israeli victory in 1967 effected a similar shift
in Zionist ideology away from the secular nationalism of Ben Gurion’s generation to a far more dangerous religious nationalism. Tom Segev, my favorite Israeli historian, writes that the 1967 war resulted in many Israelis coming to see the army as an instrument of messianic theology. The knitted yarmulke of the settlers moving to colonize the West Bank in the wake of the 1967 victory came to replace the cloth cap of the socialist kibbutznik as the symbol of Zionist pioneering. Segev quotes from Rav Kook, the founder of the settlement movement: “There is one principal thing: the state. It is entirely holy, and there is no flaw in it… the state is holy in any and every case.”

The settlement of Maale Adumim, on the West Bank.
Its permanence signifies that whatever their intentions,
the Zionists created a single (apartheid) state for Jews
and Palestinians after 1967

The religious Zionists saw the West Bank and holy land to be “redeemed,” or “liberated” by settlement, and with the tacit support of all Israeli governments since then (and the more active support of some) they rushed to build permanent structures and settle a civilian population there, in defiance of international law, in order to preclude the possibility of returning that land to the Palestians as a basis for peace.

As David Remnick notes in a review of some of the literature on 1967, many Israelis quickly realized that the “Six Day War” had brought about a potential disaster for the Zionist project, because Israel now found itself not only in control of all of the territory of British-Mandate Palestine, but also all of its current inhabitants. He quotes Amos Oz’s dark warning

“For a month, for a year, or for a whole generation we will have to sit as occupiers in places that touch our hearts with their history. And we must remember: as occupiers, because there is no alternative. And as a pressure tactic to hasten peace. Not as saviors or liberators. Only in the twilight of myths can one speak of the liberation of a land struggling under a foreign yoke. Land is not enslaved and there is no such thing as a liberation of lands. There are enslaved people, and the word “liberation” applies only to human beings. We have not liberated Hebron and Ramallah and El-Arish, nor have we redeemed their inhabitants. We have conquered them and we are going to rule over them only until our peace is secured. “

But the religious-nationalists and Likudniks, who had always imagined a “Greater Israel” [EM] the Betar kids I knew in Cape Town used to wear a silver pendant on their chests, depicting a state of Israel running from the Nile to the Euphrates, and they used to sing a song called “Shte Gadot La Yarden” (“Both Sides of the Jordan” [EM] had something else in mind. As I’ve noted previously, it was my South African Habonim elders on Kibbutz Yizreel, in 1978, who first warned my generation that the settlement policies of the new Likud government would turn Israel into an apartheid state — Israel, they said, could not afford to give the Palestinians on the West Bank the vote, but the objective of the settlements was to ensure that Israel did not withdraw from the land it had conquered. The result would be that Israel would rule over its Palestinian residents without giving them the rights of citizens — the very essence of the apartheid regime back home.

And that is, indeed, what had transpired. Today, the West Bank is carved up by hundreds of Israeli settlements, and roads and land reserved for settlers. And they have no intention of leaving, while no Israeli government for the foreseeable future will muster the political strength to be able to remove them (even if that was their intent).

The black and blue areas are Israeli settlements, and the white parts are the roads and land under Israeli control

For an enlarged version of this map, click here.

Today, talk of a two-state solution to the conflict must reckon with the facts on the ground. The 1947 Partition plan left the Palestinians with 45 percent of the territory of Palestine; the 1948 war left them holding onto 22 percent, which fell into Israeli hands in 1967. Even when it talks about a two-state solution, Israel still demands to keep some of the best lands and the key water sources within that 22 percent. A simple glance at the map above should be enough to raise serious questions about the viability of a separate, sovereign Palestinian nation-state. It’s hard to imagine such an entity, blessed with few natural resources and with hardly any independent economic base, maintaining an independent economic existence, even as it is forced to accomodate hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees returning from refugee camps in Lebanon and elsewhere (as most versions of the two-state plan envisage). Indeed, such an entity may well have the feel of an enlarged refugee camp, whose survival is largely dependent on handouts.

When it conquered the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israel put the Palestinian population of those territories under the rule of the Israeli state. For forty years, now, the entire population of British-Mandate Palestine has been governed by a single state. The difference, of course, is that those who live within Israel’s 1967 borders have democratic rights, while those outside are governed by an Israeli colonial and military administration. The extent of Palestinian “authority” in those territories — even Gaza — remains entirely circumscribed by Israeli power.

Suddenly panicked by the demographic implications of the apartheid order its 1967 conquests have created, Israeli leaders talk of “separating” from the Palestinians, as if they can dispense with the problem by drawing political boundaries and building a wall around self-governing Palestinian enclaves (Ariel Sharon himself used the analogy with South Africa’s apartheid Bantustan policy to describe the idea.) But the Gaza experience has made clear the limits of that option.

For the Palestinian population, and their Arab neighbors, the crisis of 1948 has never been resolved. And the Israelis, for the last 40 years, by colonizing the West Bank and East Jerusalem, have squandered whatever opportunities their victory of 1967 presented for changing the dynamic — instead, they have sought to cling to elements of the “Greater Israel” they created in that year, and in the vain hope that the Palestinians will some day surrender in exchange for whatever Israel chooses to offer them.

But precisely because they have continued to expand Israel since 1967, they have dimmed the prospects for a new partition creating a viable Palestinian state separate from Israel. Today, more than ever, the fate of the Israelis is inextricably, and intimately linked to the fate of the Palestinians — and vice versa. The lasting legacy of the 1967 war is the bi-national state it created in the old territory of British-Mandate Palestine.

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110 Responses to How the 1967 War Doomed Israel

  1. abraham says:

    Some commenters have noted the palpable sense of loathing and anger towards Israel that comes through in many of the replies that have been posted, and I unabashedly acknowledge this in my own writings. We may be having a fine and civil discussion here, but I remain painfully aware that in the background Palestinians are dying every day, and Israelis are doing the killing. More over, the Palestinians (the indigenous population) are suffocating under a brutal occupation that is a de facto slow-motion ethnic cleansing. To deny or ignore (willfully or otherwise) the wrong that has been perpetrated against the Palestinians for nearly 60 years is abominable. To then attempt to turn the situation around and shriek “anti-Semitism” is mortifying and obnoxious.

    I shouldn’t even have to explain this.

    The Palestinians, and the Palestinians alone, are the victims here. There are no Israeli victims. (Yeah, you heard me.) If the Israelis feel victimized by Palestinian resistance, perhaps they should pack up and go back to Europe or the United States, from whence most of them came.

    I suppose some people don’t like hearing this, probably because they know deep down inside, in the place where conscience and logic still reluctantly operate, they sense the inevitability, and thus the inherent truth, of these sentiments. And in that truth, they see the future, and they don’t like what they see.

  2. Alexandria says:

    abraham | June 6th, 2007 3:53 am

    Couldn’t agree more.

  3. Danny B. says:

    Bernard, you’re right. That was unfair and inappropriate for me to say the Palestinians are shariah loving fundamentalists. Hamas’s victory was a function of the moment, a failure on Fatah’s part, no nationalist alternative, a certain share of fundamentalists… etc.

    None-the-less, if the current state of disenfranchising a majority of the citizens is impermanent then a new situation must arise. There would seem to be only three choices; a one state solution, a two state solution, or expulsion (and as you mention emigration.)

    Regarding a permanent one-state solution, whether by choice or falling into it I am unconvinced that this is inevitable. The current situation is simply unsustainable. So a choice, seemingly de facto or not, will be made. For the Jews to become a permanent, defined minority seems preposterous given their history as a minority and given the state of government and care for minorities in the countries around them. Perhaps in a century or two, when the Kurds and Turkish are happy together, women have equal rights in Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan is part of the India-Burma-Thai-Koreas. Perhaps it will happen even before any of those associations. But for the foreseeable future it would seem foolhardy.

    The Palestinians self-destructively resisted relinquishing land in 1947. Which is what any peoples would do if told by a foreign group that they must give up their land to another foreign group. The Israelis are doing the same now. Eventually each side will see the futility. I believe polls show something on the order of 80% on each side supporting a two-state solution. (I haven’t read the poll question wording. Perhaps each side assumes the second state is Montana.)

    Some time ago Tony wrote about Mandela giving speeches recognizing the Afrikaner’s struggle and how this gave them a sense of security that played role in the South African transition. Can anyone really imagine the Palestinians giving the Jews a feeling of security? Should the Jews look abroad for protection from the human right’s activists? Just read the representative post here – people who like so many when looking at this conflict can only see the narrative from one side.

    Regarding emigration, the population of Jewish Israel is increasing. Once the states are separated the Jewish majority is assured.

    Abraham, I sympathize with the victims on both sides. I can assure you that the reason I am uncomfortable with what you and some others here say has nothing to do with knowing deep down that you are right. It is my strong conviction that the only way toward peace is for each side to see the inhumanity in themselves and the humanity in the other. Until that happens each side will be defending their right to bring death and destruction on the other. I think your post helps illustrate the difficulty of this happening.

    I am still wondering after this post what Tony’s feelings are? Yes Israel’s actions have made a two state solution MUCH more difficult. But is it desirable? Possible?

  4. Gavin Evans says:

    Wonderful post! Your sweep of Israeli-Palestinian history was extremely useful and impressive. Your blog provides a cogent case why a two state solution is doomed, but I’m afraid the same can be said for a single state solution, not least because none of the competing religious fundamentalists – Jewish, Christian and Islamic – will accept it. In other words, unlike, say, South Africa or Ireland, I’m extremely pessimistic about a viable solution – longterm as well as short – in that part of the Middle East. Just to add to the equation, I think that the implications of climate change will exacerbate conditions there for a number of reasons. It will deplete water resources, frizzle agriculture and, more generally, deplete economies. The effect could well be a new Diaspora of both Jews and Palestinians while those who remained will be condemned to village tap politics on a grand scale – grand, because the competing fundamentalisms are all playing for very large stakes. Another factor to take into account relates to the politics of oil. Bascially, the price will continue to rise in real terms because of declining resources. This will give greater politiccal power, in the medium term, to the oil producing states. If we add to this the shifting balance of global economic power away from the United States and towards China, and China’s increasing thirst for oil, it seems likely that Israel reliance on unequivocal international support will be less certain in the future. It would be nice to think that these kinds of pressures would ultimately prod Israel into the kind of negotiations that led to a single state democracy in South Africa, but I can’t see it, not even in the distant future. Frankly, it is more likely that the apocalyptic futures predicted by the fundamentalists will turn into self-fulfilling prophesies.

  5. Tony says:

    I’ll have to post on this issue at greater length, obviously. My argument above is simply outlining why a two-state solution may no longer be viable. My preference, in a very abstract way — a moral preference, if you like — would be for Jews and Arabs to live peacefully together in a single state in Palestine with full equality and democratic rights. Do I envisage this happening in the foreseeable future? Not really. More importantly, I don’t pose the two options as necessarily mutually exclusive, i.e. it may be possible that some form of separation, ending the occupation of the 67 territories and the establishment of Palestinian sovereignty there could serve as a step, in the very long run of history, towards some sort of single democratic entity. Not that I’m holding my breath for it, because right now even the prospects of movement towards even what may be a fatally flawed two-state outcome are so very grim.

    But I think the Zionist dream is dead — there’s no way a majority of the world’s Jews will ever choose to live in the garrison state that Zionism has created in the Middle East; not only do two thirds of us continue to be very comfortable living in the wider world; already some 750,000 Israeli Jews — nearly 15% of Israel’s Jewish population — is currently living abroad. It’s not hard to see why that trend is likely to continue and grow…

  6. Alexandria says:

    Tony wrote:
    “But I think the Zionist dream is dead — there’s no way a majority of the world’s Jews will ever choose to live in the garrison state that Zionism has created in the Middle East” . . .

    [I dont have the time right now to construct my argument about this cogently, so I’ll ramble a bit.]

    I think you’ve hit it dead on, Tony. Because it would explain so much of the turmoil generated by, and visited upon, Israel. A recent example: Israel’s military trying to make itself relevant as a world power. It demands to purchase restricted-sale American F-22 Stealth Bombers if the US sells missiles to Saudi Arabia. For what? The F-22 would not be out of its takeoff path from Tel Aviv until it was over Iraq.

    Israel refuses to defines its own borders or complete its own Constitution. It enjoys the turmoil. It loves screaming that Palestinians and Iranians want to see it destroyed. It loves its defense contracts. And security systems. The enormous US kickbacks. It even loves importing the idea of its own turmoil here, so that we are now contemplating an Israeli-style fence on our southern border and are about four weeks shy of making Mexicans into our Palestinians. Next it will be convincing us to put its Robo-Snipers in “Auto-Kill Zones” to protect our borders. See:

    Garrison state says it all.

  7. Danny B. says:

    In general I couldn’t agree more with your succinct characterization of the situation. Thanks for clarifying for everyone made curious by your first post! I look forward to further thoughts. I would take issue with one thing you said: “But I think the Zionist dream is dead.” History is a dynamic process so of course reality will change dreams. Some central elements of the secular dream have certainly been distorted as nationalism has (in retrospect predictably) taken hold. The dream of preserving a secular egalitarian Jewish weltanschauung has proven impossible in the real world. And the religious side I in the midst of a somewhat unpredictable mix of religious magical thinking and nationalism. So dreams of keeping a Jewish world preserved forever in the state it was in 1890 have fallen short.

    That said, there is another side to the Zionist dream that has not died. And I think it is as central to Zionism as the vision of creating a light unto the nations. Israel exists as a haven for Jews. It could be true that this “have” is antagonizing relationships between Jews and others in other countries right now. Perhaps more Russian Jews are choosing Germany over Israel these days. Historical irony knows no bounds. But Israel is there in ase Argentine, or Russian, Or American, or British Jews should one day need it. It was there when the Middle Eastern and North African Jews needed it. It’s true that they needed it because of Israel. But who’s to say that if Israel did not exits something would have happened in these countries that would have required a safe haven? Darfur and Rwanda stand as testimony that the world has not grown overly uncomfortable with genocide. One need only consider what would have been the fate for European Jews had Israel existed to realize that an important part of the Zionist dream is alive.

    The part of the Zionist dream that would have required time to stand still has proven as ephemeral as Chalabi’s visions of candy throwing Iraqis.

    On the other hand perhaps after some period of peaceful cohabitation, the Palestinian and Jewish people, having shared the experience of outcasts, and having tortured each other into submission, will come to some shared, secular, mutually agreed upon, egalitarian society that will be a light unto the nations. The final situation will be part of an unpredictable process. If the Palestinians pass through their fundamentalist fervor faster than the Saudis and the Iranians and the Jews figure out how to share the water and land before their fundamentalists take over, it’s possible they’ll find themselves to be natural allies.

  8. Tony says:

    Danny — I think “Light unto the nations” is not a Zionist concept, but a Biblical one, which the more idealistic Zionists appropriated. My own sense is that it can be truly pursued only when Jews actually live among “the nations,” rather than separating themselves.

    As per whether Israel’s existence would have changed the fate of Europe’s Jews, perhaps — the Nazis would have probably been more inclined to simply expel the Jews of Europe, given that they had a somewhat friendly relationship with the Zionist movement in Germany during the 1930s, based on a shared goal of getting Jews to leave Europe. Then again, the vast majority of European Jews had no inclination to relocate to Israel (Zionism was a minority movement), so not sure how this would have worked. Of course, if the Nazis had said it’s Palestine or the gas chamber, everyone would have become an instant Zionist, and the outcome could have been ethnic-cleansing rather than genocide.

    Still, it goes to my point that Spielberg presenting Israel as a triumph over Nazism is misleading — you could just as easily argue that Israel is a monument to Western anti-semitism…

    I don’t agree that the possibility of Jews facing anti-semitic outbursts at some point in the future justifies holding on to territory at the expense of another people as a safeguard. Because, as you note in passing, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy — Israel itself is the reason the Jews of the Arab world in the wake of 1948 came to need Israel. Remember, the Arab Jews were never Zionists; it was an almost entirely European movement. For centuries, our people were a lot better off in the Arab world than they had been in Europe.

    But I do agree that even the immediate future in the Middle East is now very hard to predict, much less the long-term one. And despite my pessimistic views, I can’t forget my mantra “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”

  9. Alexandria says:

    Tony wrote: “Of course, if the Nazis had said it’s Palestine or the gas chamber, everyone would have become an instant Zionist, and the outcome could have been ethnic-cleansing rather than genocide.”

    Well, they kinda did, Tony, which was what Edwin Black uncovered from his use of the FOIA to write his first book ‘The Transfer Agreement.” And in other accounts I’ve read over the years. The recently released Bad Arolsen Nazi archives should shed some light on this, too, in terms of the concentration camps populations.

    But I can put it in more personal terms. My sister-in-law is a Slovenian Jew. Her mother, still living in Slovenia, was an only child when she was orphaned during the war. None of the Jewish charities or Zionist organizations would help her. She survived initially by living in the woods, stealing food from farmers, and sleeping in barns until she found a Catholic orphanage. Her bitterness and animosity about her experience is still so raw that I am sure it has colored her memories. She said the reason why no one would help her is because, as she was told, she wasn’t what the Zionists wanted to populate Palestine with. Her only other choice was to go to turn herself in to a Nazi camp near Brestanica (spelling?). From her telling, the Zionists cut a deal with HItler to give them the able-bodied men and leave the children, old, or infirm for the camps, and that this was widely known then, and feared, especially since Slavs were considered inferior to Germans. She claimed they also looked for German Jewish couples who were willing to relocate and had young female children to aid in the future procreation. So, from her perspective, it wasn’t ‘here’s a boat, jump on it, and we’ll sail you to safety’. She claims to this day that it was highly selective, and that Zionists contributed as much to the demise of Jews as Hitler did. Probably the reason why she converted to Catholicism after the war, although she did marry a Slovenian Jew, my sister-in-law’s beloved father.

  10. Doug Kellam says:

    Ya know, when a people has to be a “light unto the nations” it’s no wonder that their shadow side reacts with nasty things like the occupation, sloppily targetted killings and the like. This notion of a jewish tradition that is somehow intrinsic to jewish culture and not the result of historical circumstances strikes me as another more subtle form of racism. Can we get away from both glorifying and demonizing jews and jewishness? For that matter can we somehow move beyond our manifold tribalisms and proceed with our social and spiritual evolution globally? Stay tuned. As for the earlier post about anti-semitism creeping into the debate I have to say that there was some wierd and questionable stuff posted by mike mann and max cadenhead that could be seen as anti-semitic and not just good old fashioned zionist bashing. Anyway, thanks for another great and thought provoking article Tony.

  11. Tony says:

    Alexandria — wow, hadn’t ever heard that latter allegation about natural — or “unnatural” selection. Can’t vouch for it, either way. But apropos the Transfer Agreement revealed in Black’s eponymous book, it wasn’t quite a case of being offered the Gas Chamber or Emigrate. The Nazis hadn’t yet decided on the gas chamber, but they were certainly happy to work with the Zionists to get rid of German Jews by expatriating them to Palestine. And the Zionist Yishuv, as Black outlines, shamefully collaborated with the Nazi regime in order to gain economic benefit from such ethnic cleansing.

    I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Zionist movement was never there to fight the Nazis or save the Jews of Europe; it had its own agenda, as Ben Gurion made clear in his notorious statement during the war that given the choice between saving half the Jewish children of Europe by bringing them to Palestine and saving all of them by bringing them to England, he would choose to let half die because the colonization of Palestine was some kind of manifest destiny of the Jewish people.

  12. Steve says:

    I’d propose that when someone conflates Judaism with Zionism, you are dealing with anti-semitism. I’d further modify that by including anyone who thinks they enough about the Middle East to publicly comment, and then argues out of rank ignorance that the State of Israel was created because of guilt for the Holocaust. Putting aside the 65 years of Zionist mobilization before the state’s establishment and efforts to displace the British Mandate before World War II, the Soviet Bloc voted in the UN for the creation of the state because they assumed it would be a satellite socialist state.

    Leveraging the opposition of liberal Jews to Israel’s betrayal of Jewish ideals to justify ill-considered views is distasteful.

    My own two cents: it’s clear that Israel will continue to delude itself that the situation is tenable in the long term, unless there is some outside force applied. It’s probably no coincidence that over the past seven years the situation has deteriorated to the point it has.

    Tony — not sure when the last you were in Tel Aviv was, but garrison town it is not.

  13. Tony says:

    Doug — I agree that the “Light Unto the Nations” thing is very open to chauvinist abuse. But I think if it’s understood in context, it comes from a time when anyone could become a Jew; Isaiah was talking about a new system of beliefs based on laws and justice, that would shine as an example to all of humanity for it to emulate. But it wasn’t talking about the Jews as a narrow, tribal group of people, it was an idea based on their willingness to abide by this code of justice and morality. And its intent was to promote this morality and system as widely as possible. Remember, until the Roman Empire fully embraced Christianity a few hundred years after the death of Jesus, Judaism was actively proselytizing and recruiting new adherents. In my sense it’s not a tribal award, as much as an invitiation, specific to time and place, to behave in an exemplary way, and to spread that idea of law and justice among the nations (which at that point were living very much under the sway of warlords and arbitrary monarchs basing their claim to power on religious superstition etc.) But the dangers you raise are important to bear in mind…

  14. Tony says:

    Steve, agree with you about anti-Semites rearing their heads in this comment section.

    Take your points about prewar Zionist mobilization etc, and also that the Soviets believed they were sticking it to Britain by recognizing the new state, also a potential Cold War ally. But if you look at Roosevelt’s lobbying of the Arabs etc. it’s also very clearly a case of a kind of sympathy for the survivors mixed with anti-Semitism – i.e. they need a place to go, but please not to the US (where I believe most would have preferred to go). Also agree with you that Israel will continue to delude itself. Haven’t been in Tel Aviv for three decades, but I think Israel remains a garrison state — it requires its citizens to perform active military service, and finds itself lurching between security crises. Of course you could have rockets falling on Sderot for years without challenging the Israeli way of life, but I think it may be politically untenable — and the rockets are only going to get better. Remember, in 67, Israel was told by U.S. intelligence that it faced no real threat from Nasser, who was signaling the US that he would not attack (and whose army, the US believed, Israel would thrash, as they eventually did) — but it still found the situation “intolerable.” The same sentiment prevails today, meaning it doesn’t take much (as Lebanon last year showed) to provoke the Israelis into further military blunders…

  15. Pat says:

    Hey, how funny, Tony’s reply was just the 67th comment.

    If the secular Israelis suddenly woke up and undertook to put their religious nuts on the fringes where they belong, would they even be able to do it at this point? Clearly there are many millions of people who realize the tragic folly of the occupation, yet the religious dictates of a crazy few are driving policy. The weird thing here is that the American voting public seems to have woken up to the similar ultra-right-wing-minority domination of the country and thrown the bums out (though tragically not soon enough to prevent the mass death and chaos in another country that starts with “I”), while the Israeli Pat Robertsons have been influential and then some for 40 years. What gives?

    I really liked Israel when I visited. Watching its fringe elements corrupt both the Israeli Jews’ and the Palestinians’ futures is enormously sad.

  16. Danny B. says:

    Yes, ‘Light unto the nations” is lifted from the bible. I’m sorry if it I was unclear that it was meant to be read with a bit of irony. Relocating to a “land without a people” that had actually been populated since biblical times precluded any hope of being a bright light.

    It’s not necessary to lump Revisionists in with Hitler to see that Israel may have been a good thing to have around. It’s quite likely that Germany would have sent Jews to Israel regardless if there was any affinity with right wing Zionists considering Wanasee settled on the final solution only after the world shunned Jewish refugees. And it may be worth noting that while both Nazis and Revisionists pulled from 19th century nationalism, and Betar wore Brown shirts, the Revisionists did not share goals of extermination. As revolting as much of his semi-fascistic tendencies may have been I don’t know that Jabotinsky was a racist. He may have been even less a racist in a certain way than the labor Zionists who either pretended the local Arabs didn’t exist or assumed they would be happy being 2nd class citizens in perpetuity. Jabotinsky just basically said there was one land with two peoples and the Jews should take it or the Arabs will. No racialist theory. Just competition.

    The gas chambers certainly would have made instant Zionists out of everyone – or instant Brits or Americans. But none of those were there to welcome them. As you say Israel is a monument to western anti-semitism. And the Palestinians are the ones who suffer. But we can’t return to 1947 any more than we can return to 1933. While it may be correct that Jews were relatively better off in Arab lands than in Christian ones, that’s not much to brag about. The Jews may have been saved many times in Arab havens over the centuries – they also suffered under various fundamentalist Muslim rulers at other times. Sure there would have been no cause to flee Arab countries in 1949 without Israel coming into existence. Would the world really be a better place if the Jews lived as a minority in other countries? Dependent of the kindness of others? Would the world be better off with Jews as a minority in the Middle East? The experience of Kurds and marsh Arabs and others is not encouraging.

    The world is anti-Semitic so we must figure out an answer to the Palestinian question. Nothing sounds right about that.
    As for Israel living among “the nations,” I think that’s what they are doing. Nations exist to define US versus THEM. That’s the bane of humankind. Not Israel. Israel was just the Jews chance to finally join everyone else in the gutter.

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful post. I’m sending around on this rather depressing 40th anniversary of the occupation.

  17. Doug Kellam says:

    Thanks for the clarification Tony.
    Danny, the world was and is better off for having Jews as minorities – contributing and enriching all of our cultures. As Tony pointed out the majority of Jews are outside of Israel and most aren’t living in ghettos. I take your point about the gutter of nationalism – I think that ultimately it’s a dead end.

  18. Bernard Chazelle says:

    Doug: This is true of everyone. The sentiment of belonging to a majority is sometimes reassuring, often empowering, but it’s always hazardous to one’s moral health. Not to mention that it’s an illusion. On our deathbeds we’ll all be minorities.

  19. Alexandria says:


    You might find this article about Robert Sobukwe’s comments on the 1967 war and its participants 40 years ago interesting:

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  21. Doctor Slack says:

    Would the world really be a better place if the Jews lived as a minority in other countries? Dependent of the kindness of others? Would the world be better off with Jews as a minority in the Middle East?

    Well, Jews are a minority in the Middle East, and live in a state that’s heavily dependent on the kindness of others (or at least, the financial and military support of others, especially the US). The world is not perceptibly better off for the current situation — presumably it would have been in everyone’s interests had Territorialism triumphed over Zionism and a European settler-state not been added to the already volatile mix of groups and ideologies contesting the Middle East — but as has already been pointed out, the Jews themselves can hardly be blamed for the world’s indifference to Jewish refugees after WWII. (The unsustainable “facts on the ground” approach that has prevailed since ’48 and particularly since ’67 is another thing.)

    I don’t think Israel is necessarily doomed, though. In many significant ways, the barriers to Israel democratizing the single-state solution it has de facto imposed on Palestine are surmountable. In particular, democratization doesn’t mean suddenly handing over Israel to be governed by a Palestinian majority; no such majority currently exists, and it’s only inevitable in the future if the Palestinians are deliberately maintained as the kind of impoverished underclass for whom high birth rates are the norm. This is one significant way in which the comparison of Israel to South Africa doesn’t hold — Jews in Israel don’t face the kind of leap of faith that white South Africans faced in giving up apartheid.

    Certainly, though, the pseudo-apartheid system that now exists isn’t sustainable — especially not since the July War illustrated that Arab groups are finally figuring out ways to fight the IDF effectively, and not with the US having created the world’s largest urban warfare training ground for militants next door. Something surely has to give.

  22. Jorge says:


    I arrive at this seminar late, as I only now have been able to read your entire essay.

    I should also note that while I am not a Zionist, I am also not an anti-Semite, which I believe is a subject that has been broached by some of your respondents.

    It is patronizing to say, but I would also like to add that while I don’t have “friends” who are Jewish, I have had Jewish bosses and co-workers and classmates. And as with blacks, women and other minorities, I have always sympathized with Jews who are unjustly criticized because of their culture.

    That said, the issue of Palestine is very troubling. After reading your report I was left with several questions. I hope you can answer them as they apply specifically to your point about borders.

    1. What exactly was in the offer Arafat could not refuse that Clinton made before leaving office? Was it, in your judgement, fair – even if it was reported “best deal the Palestinians are ever going to get.”

    2. Have there been United Nations resolutions that Israel has ignored? We often hear about Arabs (i.e. most notably Saddam Hussein) being in defiance of the U.N. Didn’t Israel also ignore the U.N. when it was in its interest to do so?

    3. Why were there so few Jews in Palestine before 1890? Why did Jews leave the “Promised Land”? I know part of it was conquest, but that would only explain why they were defeated, not why they left. If the land was promised to the Jewish people by God, wouldn’t they stay and die in Palestine rather than pack up and leave? What has your religious education said about that?

    I hope these questions do not seem simplistic and naive. And you may have addressed them in some of these responses. I tried to read through a few for some answers, but I haven’t had the time to go through them all.

    Thanks for the article and your time.

  23. Alexandria says:

    Of note: a Canadian article on the differences between the PBS (English) and the French version of the documentary “Six Days in June” by Israeli-born filmmaker Ilan Ziv. “[Producer Ina] Fichman said that PBS demanded entire scenes and sequences come out, and others be softened.”

  24. Jorge says:


    It looks like PBS is trying to get ahead of the controversy.

    I read both the Toronto Star article and PBS’ explanation. I don’t know what to make of the explanation since it doesn’t address any possible remedies (like showing both versions of the film).

    This is such a hot-button issue. It’s like watching a nature film. There is so much brutality in life. Ugh.

  25. blowback says:

    What are your views on the latest reports of Israel preparing for war with Syria, such as this one in the Guardian.

    Talking of peace, preparing for war
    Israel and Syria are issuing contradictory signals about the Golan Heights – hinting at compromise, while readying their troops for battle. Conal Urquhart reports

    Conal Urquhart in the Golan Heights
    Monday June 11, 2007

    In temperatures of more than 40 degrees, Israeli soldiers are moving in formation up the slopes of Mount Hermon in full battle dress, a few miles from the Syrian border.
    Down on the main plateau of the Golan Heights, new army camps are being set up and there are more military than civilian vehicles on the roads that link old battlefields and new vineyards.,,330005186-103552,00.html

    The odd thing is that there is no mention of Syrian preparations for war which the Israelis should easily be able to monitor from their positions on the Golan Heights, The only evidence of Syria’s intentions seems to be speech

    “In August last year, President Bashar Assad of Syria said he was interested in peace with Israel but would consider war to regain the Golan Heights, lost by Syria 40 years ago.”

    I know this appears to be off topic but the way the so-called Six Day War started is relevant. Israel launched it as a pre-emptive war and I wonder if the Israel government is now trying to create an atmosphere in which they could claim that another pre-emptive war against Syria is necessary for the survival of Israel. Having failed to deal with Hezbollah last year, are the Israelis planing to isolate Hezbollah this year by invading Syria? Is Farid Ghadry the “Ahmed Chalabi” of Syria? Is Elliott Abrams behind this?

  26. Tony says:

    I very much doubt that Israel would attack Syria; they’ve now taken on the reality that the Lebanon war had no achievable objective, so what would the obejctive of attacking Syria be? I suspect, if anything, Olmert may be pursuing talks with Damascus because it’s the only avenue in which he can achieve “progress” – Washington keeps telling him to concentrate on the Palestinian track, but there isn’t really one. The idea that Olmert and Abbas can even start a process together is a fantasy that only Condi Rice seems to believe…

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  28. Pat says:

    “Exactly what the Zionists are doing to the Palestinians, in broad daylight. Jews committing genocide. That’s how badly they want all of Palestine.”

    You guys are so wrong!

    Comparing the “Zionist” state of Israel to the oppressive South Africa apartheid regime?

    Look at Slobodan Miloševi?’s genocide on the Muslims.

  29. Paradigm says:

    Why would Israel attack Syria? You have to understand the answer, you should realize there are 3 major parties to the conflict.

    Armageddonists, Israelis, and Arabs.

    Israelis just want to be left alone and live their lives.

    Arabs want their lives back.

    Armageddonists believe that if they can get Jews to destroy their neighbors, that the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ would finally return.

  30. shmorgel says:

    It’s “Avir harim tsalul kayayin”, (which means “mountain air, clear like wine” and not “Avir harim kalul ba’yayin” (“mountain air included in wine”)

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  33. Tom says:

    Dear “Proud to be a Socialist”,
    Jewish Athiest says it all. You’re so intelligent. Too bad when your ideology stands in the way of what is right and wrong.

    Should Israel have allowed Nassar to attack? (As they actually did six years later) Should they have opposed Nassar at all? Perhaps the Jews should all just gather in Jerusalem and commit suicide. Happy then?

    That way we’d be done and Islam could concentrate on all their other targets in the world. Israel and the US are simply the “main enemies”. There are many others after we go down.

    Cut off all support for Israel and just let the Jews die on the vine. That way you won’t be bothered with it anymore. Then would your hatered
    of Judeo-Christianity sated? For how long?


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  38. Jesse says:

    If I were running Israel I would take all the land that is rightfully ours and promised by Yahweh. If the original nation of Israel from Old Testament times would have listened to the instructions of Yahweh, which was to kill and to elminate their enemies, we wouldn’t have these issues today…Instead they raised up a generation who forgot…

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  45. buddy says:

    BTW, the 1967 attack by Israel followed the Israeli 1956 Invasion of Egypt’s Sinia in collusion with UK and France. The later would enable the Jewish state’s Nuclear program. Israel would also conduct a letter bombing campaign against Egypt in late fifties. Israel would further recruit Egyptian Jews to firebomb US and UK targets in Egypt prior to 1967 attack. Captured spy Wolfgang Lotz in early sixties, would be infiltrated into Egypt to plot strike targets prior to impending Israeli attack.
    By 1967 Israel had 2 crude Nuclear weapons as backup for their “defensive war of survival”…..

    Presently Israel’s (Iran) war of survival sees it with a WMD stockpile in the hundreds. That would include Nuclear,Chemical,and Biological.

    See Operation Susannah, Lavon Affair
    Israel attack on USS Liberty

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