Fifty-four years ago this week, the unthinkable happened: Israel defeated Jordanian, Syrian, and Egyptian forces in the Six-Day War, tripling its geographic footprint in less than a week. For Jews, this was unimaginably good news: Jerusalem was won, the Western Wall was liberated, and the myriad of Biblical sites in the West Bank were open to Jewish visitors. As Jewish Israelis flocked to heritage sites long yearned-for, Palestinians continued to lose their own. The West Bank was now under Israeli military occupation, an occupation that has since come to feel indefinite.
It is easy to lose hope fighting to end an occupation that feels never-ending, but in the past days and weeks, as we have prepared to mark the anniversary of the Six-Day War, we have seen another seismic shift in the Israeli political sphere. After twelve consecutive (and fifteen total) years as Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be on his way out of office.
Naftali Bennett, Israel’s incoming prime minister, will certainly not work to end the occupation. Bennett himself is a former leader of the Yesha Council, the chief West Bank settlement lobby organization. He once claimed that the creation of a Palestinian state would be “suicidal” for Israel, and he supports annexing most of the West Bank to Israel.
Yet, the prime minister does not govern alone. Because of the makeup of this “change” government, supporters of peace will find allies in the next cabinet. Sitting around the Cabinet table will be ministers from the progressive, pro-peace Meretz and Labor parties, including an Arab Israeli politician serving as the Minister for Regional Cooperation. And, for the first time in Israel’s history, this government also includes an Arab party, Ra’am, in the coalition.
This coalition also has the ability to open the door for a more honest and discerning conversation in Israeli society about the occupation. We know that our partners at Peace Now in Israel will play a major role in working to do just that.
While we mark the anniversary of Israel’s 1967 victory, the current electoral turmoil reminds us that we – as Jews, as Americans, and as supporters of peace – must also shoulder a more complex role. We now have an opportunity to focus on the injustice that Israel set into motion in 1967 – the as-yet ceaseless occupation – and to renew our commitment to ending it.
Years ago, our partners at Peace Now in Israel produced bumper stickers that proclaimed: לצאת מהשטחים; לחזור לעצמנו – leave the occupied territories; return to ourselves. With this new government, we have an opportunity to begin the process to do just that, to return to ourselves and to what the State of Israel was intended to be.
The dream of the State of Israel was always to be a free people in our own land, not to be oppressors of another. Military occupation does not fit into that vision. Let us remember who we are. Let us turn the dream into a reality.