Fifty Years

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on June 2, 2017

Tuesday marks fifty years since the start of the Six-Day War — perhaps the defining event in the state of Israel’s early history.

The anniversary evokes deep emotions among those affected by the war and its aftermath — Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.

If you’d like to explore these reflections, the Anti-Defamation League has put together a wonderful project called Fifty Voices Fifty Years to give space to some of the many perspectives on this important anniversary, with a focus on Israeli and Jewish voices.

I wrote in my contribution that the Six-Day War was my first clear childhood memory.

Given my father’s Israeli roots and vast family there, the run-up to the war caused intense concern in our house — the kind that etches itself indelibly in a five-year old’s memory.

Etched in my memory as well is the thrill of victory. I keep to this day The New York Times with the banner headline proclaiming Israel’s stunning success.

At the ripe old age of five and in just a matter of hours, I had experienced the wildest of emotional swings from existential fear to jubilant celebration.

Looking back, it’s clear today that the moment was every bit as significant for the state of Israel and the Jewish people as it seemed, but in ways that few understood at the time.

Israel didn’t simply survive as a result of its incredible victory in the Six-Day War. It became stronger and more secure than the pioneers, like my great-grandparents who arrived in the 19th century, could ever have dreamt.

Nonetheless, Israel today still faces existential threats — to its democracy, to its values and character, to its place in the world — rooted in the failure to decide what to do with the territory and the people that it conquered fifty years ago.

That failure threatens to undermine not just the gains since Israel’s stunning victory, but the incredible accomplishments of 130 years of Zionism.

Israel must ultimately choose: Either hold on to the land that was won and incorporate those who live there into the state of Israel, or partition the land into two states so that the Palestinian people too may have their freedom and dignity.

Instead of facing up to that decision, we have had decades of indecision that have increasingly divided the Jewish people.

To mark this anniversary, some of my friends and family have taken to the streets to celebrate Israel’s historic victory.

Others have taken to the streets to protest the occupation and vent their rage and anger at fifty years of injustice.

While I can relate to both sets of emotions, what I’m focused on is looking forward and working to build a better future.

As Israel prepares to turn seventy next year, J Street’s thoughts turn to what kind of country it can and will be in its eighth or ninth decade.

Will the story of the Jewish people in the 21st century be one of deepening occupation and conflict? Will we be able to live up to our values? Will Israel’s democracy survive and thrive? Will its isolation grow?

Will it be the story of how Israel overcame its challenges, established permanent borders and gained regional recognition and international acceptance? Will we tell one day of how the Palestinian people gained their independence and lived together side by side with Israel in peace and security?

In the coming weeks and months, as Israel approaches its seventieth year, J Street will focus on the road ahead as we launch Solutions@70. In this series of calls and presentations, we’ll speak with experts and activists to explore creative solutions to the most challenging problems facing Israelis and Palestinians today.

At this vital moment, we need to challenge ourselves to not only think about the wrong turns and missed opportunities of the past, but about the urgent choices of today.

I invite you to join us as we turn our gaze and our energy to the task of building a better future for our children and grandchildren.

To support that effort today, please consider a small donation to J Street.

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