This was our first post-1967 narrative, the story we told ourselves to explain who we were and why we were in our corner of the Middle East. Our strength, our power, and our intelligence won us territory to settle, and that was what we were going to do.
In 1967 I fought in the Red Sea, and I continued fighting our enemies during the War of Attrition, the Yom Kippur War, and innumerable commando operations. Meanwhile, many of my friends from the Kibbutz establish settlements in Sinai, the Golan Heights, Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. If I hadn’t been a commando, I would surely have joined them, a 2000-year-old deed of ownership in pocket.
For me, and for many Israelis, the contradictions in this narrative of 1967 became apparent during the First Intifada. In 1987 Palestinians in a refugee camp shattered my dream of Greater Israel by storming my jeep with rocks and Molotov cocktails. We had reached a dead end, I realized. If we kept it up, we’d be like the French in Algeria.
When Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo agreement in 1992, like others I adopted a new narrative of June 1967, not as a war of conquest but an opportunity: by returning the territories in a land-for-peace deal, we could free our children and grandchildren from perpetual war.
I began my work as head of the Shin Bet with this narrative in mind. True, we wanted security and we received Hamas-inspired terror. At the same time, the Palestinians, instead of getting their own state, saw more and more settlements and increased military presence. But for me, the disappointments of Oslo only highlighted the basic choice we face: do we continue the occupation that began in 1967, or do we end it for the sake of peace.
Since leaving the Shin Bet, I have focused much of my energy into promoting what can be called a Third Narrative, a narrative that predates the Six Day War. Before 1967, Israelis debated what were the humanistic values we wanted our country to embody. How were we going to use our national independence to enhance our society and humanity? The hubris of victory disrupted this, but by ending the occupation and turning Israel's eastern border the border of our collective identity, we can return to the spirit of our Declaration of Independence. We can vigorously defend our self-determination by building a more just society for all Israelis, Jews and non-Jews, and hence return to the discussion we were having before it was interrupted by the euphoria of 1967: What have we come here to be?
In the wake of the 1967 War, Barbara Tuchman described Israel as having won "the most perfect military campaign of modern history." We Israelis couldn’t have agreed more. What we didn’t read in Tuchman was her follow-up question: "What will the Israelis do with the occupation and what will the occupation do to the Israelis?" We didn’t read this because we were too busy actualizing Israel's March of Folly – to expand from the Jordan River to the sea.
Admiral (ret.) Ami Ayalon is the Head of the Center for Democracy and National Security at the Israel Democracy Institute. Admiral (ret.) Ayalon is a former Director of Israel Security Agency (the Shin Bet) and a former commander of Israel's Navy. He has served as a cabinet minister and a member of the Knesset. Ayalon is one of the founders of Blue White Future, a non-partisan political movement, committed to securing the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state through facilitating an inclusive discourse to promote a two state solution.