Given Obama’s obsession with the 1948 borders, this seemed like an appropriate day to resurrect some contemporary coverage of the Six Day War, culled from a commemorative issue that Life Magazine published back in 1967. (For those with long memories, I first published these excerpts back in 2006. It’s a shame Obama wasn’t reading my blog then.)
The commemorative issue opens by describing Nasser’s conduct, which presented such a threat that Israel had no option but to react. It makes for interesting reading, in part because it assumes a legitimacy to Israel’s 1967 preemptive strike. After describing how Pres. Abdel Gamel Nasser, speaking from Cairo, demanded Israel’s extermination, the Life editorial board goes on to say this:
The world had grown accustomed to such shows [of destructive hatred towards Israel] through a decade of Arab-Israeli face-offs that seasonally blew as hot as a desert sirocco. Since 1948, when Israel defeated the Arabs and won the right to exist as a nation, anti-Zionist diatribes had been the Arab world’s only official recognition of Israel. Indeed, in the 19 years since the state was founded, the surrounding Arab states have never wavered from their claim that they were in a state of war with Israel.
But now there was an alarming difference in Nasser’s buildup. He demanded that the U.N. withdraw the 3,400-man truce-keeping force that had camped in Egypt’s Sinai desert and in the Gaza Strip ever since Egypt’s defeat in the Suez campaign of 1956 as a buffer between Egyptians and Israelis. A worried United Nations Secretary-General U Thant agreed to the withdrawal, then winged to Cairo to caution Nasser.
He found him adamant. Plagued by economic difficulties at home and bogged down in the war in Yemen, Nasser had lately been criticized by Syrians for hiding behind the U.N. truce-keeping force. With brinksmanship as his weapon, Nasser had moved to bolster his shaky claim to leadership of the divided Arab world.
In contrast to the fevered, irrational hatred on the Arab side, the Life editors are impressed by the Israelis. Under the bold heading “Israel’s cool readiness,” and accompanied by photographs of smiling Israeli soldiers taking a cooling shower in the desert, listening to their commander, and attending to their tanks, Life has this to say:
With the elan and precision of a practiced drill team, Israel’s largely civilian army — 71,000 regulars and 205,000 reservists — began its swift mobilization to face, if necessary, 14 Arab nations and their 110 million people. As Premier Levi Eshkol was to put it, “The Jewish people has had to fight unceasingly to keep itself alive…. We acted from an instinct to save the soul of a people.
Can you imagine a modern publication pointing out the vast disparity in land mass and population between Israel and the Arabs, or even acknowledging in the opening paragraph of any article that Israel has a right to exist? The text about Israel’s readiness is followed by more photographs of reservists preparing their weapons and of a casually seated Moshe Dayan, drinking a soda, and conferring with his men. Under the last photograph, you get to read this:
The Israelis, Dayan said, threw themselves into their hard tasks with “something that is a combination of love, belief and country.”
After admiringly describing the Israelis’ offensive strike against the Arab air-forces, which gave Israel the decisive advantage in the War, Life addresses Israel’s first incursion into Gaza. I’m sure you’ll appreciate how the Gaza area is depicted:
Minutes after the first air strike, a full division of Israeli armor and mechanized infantry . . . was slashing into the Egyptian-held Gaza Strip. A tiny wasteland, the strip had been given up by Israel in the 1956 settlement and was now a festering splinter — the barren harbor for 315,000 refugees bent on returning to their Palestinian homes and the base for Arab saboteurs.
Wow! Those clueless Life writers actually seem to imply that Egypt, which controlled Gaza for eleven years, had some responsibility for this “festering,” dangerous area.
The Life editors, circa June 23, 1967were both clear-headed and prescient about the refugee problem that remained when war ended (emphasis mine):
The 20th Century’s excellence — and its horrid defects — find some of their most vivid monuments in the hate-filled camps of Arab refugees. The refugees have been supported by the voluntary U.N. contributions of some 75 governments, not to mention the Inner Wheel Club of Hobart, Australia, the Boy Scout Union of Finland, the Women’s Club of Nes, Iceland, the Girls High School of Burton-on-Trend, England, and (for some reason) a number of automobile companies including Chrysler, Ford, G.M. and Volkswagen.
The philanthropy, governmental and private, that has aided these displaced Arabs is genuine — and admirable. The stupidity and political selfishness that have perpetuated the problem are appalling.
Down the ages, there have been thousands of episodes in which whole peoples fled their homes. Most were assimilated in the lands to which they fled. Brutally or beneficently, previous refugee groups were liquidated. Not until our time have there been the money, the philanthropy, the administrative skill, the hygienic know-how and the peculiar kind of nationalism which, in combination, could take a wave of refugees and freeze it into a permanent and festering institution.
In the wake of Israeli victories, the refugee camps received thousands of new recruits, and there may be more if, as seems likely, Israel successfully insists on some enlargement of its boundaries. Thus the refugee problem, one of the main causes of Middle East instability, is about to be magnified.
The early Zionists, looking toward a binational state, never thought they would, could or should replace the Arabs in Palestine. When terrorism and fighting mounted in 1947-48, Arab leaders urged Palestinian Arabs to flee, promising that the country would soon be liberated. Israelis tried to induce the Arabs to stay. For this reason, the Israelis do not now accept responsibility for the Arab exodus. Often quoted is the statement of a Palestinian Arab writer that the Arab leaders “told us: ‘Get out so that we can get in.’ We got out but they did not get in.”
After the Israeli victory, Arab leaders outside of Palestine reversed their policy and demanded that all the refugees be readmitted to Israel. Israel reversed its policy, [and] refused to repatriate large numbers of Arabs on the ground that they would endanger the state. Nasser, for instance, has said, “If Arabs return to Israel, Israel will cease to exist.”
Now 1.3 million Arabs, not counting the recent influx, are listed as refugees. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has an international staff of about a hundred and spends nearly $40 million a year, 60% of it from the U.S. government. UNRWA services are performed by 11,500 Arab employees, most them refugees. Obviously, this group has an interest in not solving the refugee problem.
So have the host governments. Consistently they have refused to go along with any plan or policy for the resettlement or assimilation of the refugees, preferring to use them politically. In 1955 the Arab League scuttled a Jordan Valley development project precisely because it would have reduced, perhaps by 250,000, the number of Arab refugees.
It’s about time this dangerous deadlock ended. The inevitable reshuffle of the Middle East ought to include a plan to phase out the refugee problem in five or 10 years. Israel, to show goodwill, should repatriate a few thousand refugees per year. All of the 1.3 million could be absorbed in underpopulated Iran and Syria, provided their governments would cooperate in internationally supported developments projects. Persuading Arab governments to adopt a policy of resettlement should be central to U.S. policy, and it would be worth putting up quite a lot of A.I.D. money to get the job done.
History has shown the Life editors to be correct when they predicted that UN economic interests and Arab political interests would leave the refugee camps as a permanent blight on the Middle Eastern landscape. They were naive only in believing that anyone had the political will to solve the problem. They also could not have anticipated that, in a very short time, the same situation, with its same causes, would be plunged into a looking-glass world, where the Arab governments and the UN were absolved of their sins, and the blame was placed on Israel for not having engaged in an act of self-immolation by taking in these 1.3 million (and counting, and counting, and counting) hate-filled refugees.
These same editors understood the Cold War aspects of the 1967 War. They editorialized about the Soviet Union’s UN fulminations (an editorial I’m also quoting in its entirety):
As the Arab soldiers and refugees made their sad and painful way from the scenes of their defeat, the Soviet Union threw its heaviest oratorical gun into the United Nations in an effort to salvage some of what it had lost in the Mideast. Premier Aleksei Kosygin arrived at the General Assembly with an arsenal of invective.
Kosygin put all the blame on Israel and its “imperialist” backers (i.e., the U.S. and Britain). As he saw it, Israel’s “atrocities and violence” brought to mind “the heinous crimes perpetrated by the fascists during World War II.” He demanded the Assembly’s approval for a resolution — rejected earlier by the Security Council — that would condemn Israel as sole aggressor in the conflict, and he proposed that Israel not only be made to pull back to her prewar borders but also to pay reparations to the Arabs for their losses.
He was answered by the Israeli foreign minister, Abba Eban [his speech is here], whose detailed documentation and eloquence told how the Arabs had given his country the choice of defending its national existence or forfeiting it for all time. Then he put Kosygin himself in the defendant’s dock. Russia, he charged, was guilty of inflaming passions in a region “already too hot with tension” by feeding the arms race and spreading false propaganda. He called Kosygin’s reference to the Nazis “an obscene comparison . . . a flagrant breach of international morality and human decency.” As for the Russian demand that Israel pull back to her prewar lines, that, he said, was totally unacceptable until durable and just solutions are reached “in free negotiations with each of our neighbors.” The Arab states “have come face to face with us in conflict; let them now come face to face with us in peace.” Israel was determined not be deprived of her victory.
Did you catch that the Soviet speaker used precisely the same rhetoric about Israel that has become normative throughout Europe and in most Leftist publications? He castigated Israel as an imperialist entity and claimed that her tactics were “atrocities” that were identical to those the Nazis used. Unlike today’s MSM, Life’s 1967 editorial team appears appalled by the tenor and falsity of those accusations.
My Mom was quite the packrat. In addition to the Life magazine that I quoted from above, which was published at the end of the War, my Mom also saved the June 16, 1967 edition of Life magazine, which was written within days of the War’s abrupt beginning and swift end. The news reports are pretty much the same as in the commemorative edition (sometimes verbatim), but there’s still something new and surprising, making it an enlightening glimpse at a different era of reporting. How’s this for unimaginable journalism , which appears in the magazine’s opening editorial?
The tremendous discrepancy between the competence of Israeli and Arab armies is the most obvious fact from which to start [in searching for meaning about the War]. The Israelis are very patriotic, brave and skillful soldiers, brilliantly led. But that only gives half an explanation of their huge — and mounting — military superiority. The other half may yield to an impolite but unavoidable question: what is the matter with the Arab armies? Was there ever a people so bellicose in politics, so reckless and raucous in hostility — and then so unpugnacious in pitched combat — as Nasser’s Egyptians?
The editors than take on what they perceive as the canard that the U.S. blindly allies itself with Israel. Au contraire, say the editors. The fact is that the U.S. allies itself with the moral side, and that side is Israel (can we find some editors to write this way now?):
The error [the belief that the U.S. unthinkingly supports Israel] arises out of the fact that in most disputes the U.S. has been found on Israel’s side. That’s because it is the Arabs who challenge the existence of Israel, and not vice versa.
I really can’t add anything to that, can I? This is how normal people once viewed the world, before Leftism overtook academia and the media. People had a fundamental understanding of right versus, and they understood that, whether one viewed Israel from a historic, legal, military or moral perspective, Israel had the high ground.