Fifty years later, this legacy is on stark display. The post-1967 fantasy that Israel can simultaneously exist as a liberal democracy and as a state ruling over millions of disenfranchised Palestinians is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions.
The collapse of this fantasy is evident in “united” Jerusalem, which is more divided and undemocratic than at any time since 1967. It is on view in policies in the West Bank that Israel no longer bothers to pretend are temporary, like the two legal regimes it has for 50 years maintained in this single territory: one for Israelis, one for Palestinians, separate and unequal. Earlier this year, Israeli legislation removed even the veneer of respect for this occupation-version of rule of law, in order to launder settler law-breaking.
Within Israel’s recognized borders, an illiberal wave threatens Israeli society and the foundations of Israeli democracy. The most right-wing government and Knesset in history today govern Israel, and have declared war on Israeli civil society. Working hand-in-hand with reactionaries, they are using legislation and intimidation to try to silence those who challenge the pro-occupation, pro-settlements agenda. Peace and human rights activists live under threat; the courts and even military leaders are assailed for any perceived failure to defend the pro-occupation line. Free speech – on campuses, in the media, the arts, and the public square – is under assault.
Internationally, the Israeli government is demanding that the world cease talking about “occupation” and accept a new definition of “Israel,” updated to mean, “Israel-plus-settlements.” Carrying this logic to its most cynical conclusion, it brands opposition to occupation and settlements as “anti-Israel” or even anti-Semitic, and works to enlist other countries in its effort to quash free speech and activism critical of its policies. In doing so, Israel is on a collision course not only with the governing body of world soccer, but with its closest allies, like Germany; Israel’s leaders are also risking relations with Jews in the Diaspora, and especially the United States, as, for the sake of settlements, they align themselves with illiberal forces in other countries.
Israel has realized many achievements in the past fifty years, but all of them are overshadowed by five decades of policies that have allowed those who prioritize keeping the land occupied in 1967 over all else – including over peace, security, democracy – to determine Israel’s future. This is the disastrous legacy of the 1967 War.
In 1968, Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz warned what the legacy of the 1967 War would be for Israel, if it held on to the newly-occupied territories:
“A state ruling over a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel…the Israel Defense Forces, which has been until now a people's army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.”
Lara Friedman is the President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. Prior to coming to FMEP, Lara was the Director of Policy and Government Relations at Americans for Peace Now, and before that she was a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, serving in Jerusalem, Washington, Tunis and Beirut.