By Sherene Seikaly
The last two years have been chock full of commemorations, from World War I to the Russian Revolution and many in between. With each of these commemorations, scholars and observers attempt to put history in conversation with the global darkness of our times. Today we commemorate the 1967 Six Day War. On 5 June 1967, Israel tripled its territory, occupying the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights. The Israeli army had put a decisive end to the power and ambition of both pan-Arabism and the armies that were meant to fight on its behalf. The defeat was rapid and deep. The consequences would be just as deep and continue to constitute of the present.
A group of Jadaliyya editors has come together here to think, not about the war itself but about its historical, territorial, temporal, epistemological, and affective legacies and registers.
Lisa Hajjar and Noura Erakat provide a thorough grounding of the significance of 1967 in the realm of law. They delineate the realities of the iron cage and the horizon of strategy. Omar Dahi reflects on 1967 as the death of one strand of internationalism and possibility. Muriam Haleh Davis reads Algeria and Palestine together as historical myth, lived reality, and tortured present. Maya Mikdashi reflects on 1967 as a theoretical wormhole to think about Michigan and Palestine and the capacious power of settler colonialism that unites them. Ziad Abu-Rish issues a call to dispense with the 1967 War as an analytical crutch in order to interrogate otherwise overlooked questions of its broad-ranging and ongoing legacies. Anthony Alessandrini sheds piercing light on the silence on Palestine and its various temporalities in the field of postcolonial studies; he connects this silence to current attempts to contain criticism of Israeli settler colonialism. Nadya Sbaiti offers a sensory tour through the ubiquitous erasures of the legacies of 1967 in today’s Lebanon. Adel Iskandar ponders 1967 as the death of an anti-imperialist broadcasting project, Sawt al-‘Arab, and its demise into the individuated Arab media of the present. Hesham Sallam gives tribute to the idea of defeat in Egypt’s brutalized present. He characterizes the present as an ongoing naksa, a setback that has molded into permanent defeat. Bassam Haddad traces the misunderstandings of revolution that resulted in Arab authoritarianism’s resilient power, and Syria’s present calamity. Mouin Rabbani concludes the roundtable with a survey of historical trajectories and contemporary imperatives to end the occupation. Together these pieces offer reflections on law, Third Worldism, history, temporality, knowledge, epistemology, and the conditions of the now.
Establishing a Legal Mechanism of Exception for the Non-Exceptional
By Noura Erakat
Following the 1967 War, Israel argued that a sovereign void in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip meant that they are neither occupied nor not occupied; they are sui generis, a legal concept describing unique distinction in law. As such, Israel claimed, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are subject to military control but not to strict adherence of the international legal regime that governs military occupation. Israel as the military power would retain the latitude to determine which laws in the body of Occupation Law should apply. It has used this latitude to steadily take Palestinian lands without the Palestinian people. Doing so has enabled it to both avoid censure for outright territorial conquest, and more importantly perhaps, to avoid disrupting its Jewish demographic majority.
Between June and November 1967, Israel also worked fastidiously within the United Nations to avoid drafting a Security Council Resolution legally mandating its withdrawal from Arab territories occupied in the course of the war. It preferred no resolution at all, but would accept as a sub-optimal outcome the adoption of final language that would be vague enough to allow for strategic legal and political maneuver to enable it to retain as much of the territories as possible.
Israel’s attempts to evade legal regulation of its occupation were not unique. Nearly every occupying power has attempted to avoid such regulation, but only the most powerful states have been successful. Israel’s success is attributed to US intervention. Since 1967, the United States has used its political, economic, and military prowess to systematically shield Israel from international legal accountability and to help normalize its legal arguments as part of a tenable political framework. Together, these pieces constitute a legal and political mechanism of exception that has enabled Israel to incrementally annex Palestinian lands without serious political or legal consequence. The international system has so deeply internalized this mechanism that it poses as great a risk to Palestinian freedom as Israel’s blatant colonial violence.
In February 2017, Israel passed the Regularization Law retroactively authorizing the expropriation of Palestinian private lands by Jewish Israeli civilian settlers. It was met with robust liberal Israeli and international condemnation. In the same two-week period of its passage, Israel also announced that it would build approximately six thousand new settler housing units in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. There was not a peep of protest among Israelis or the international community, despite the fact that the new settler units exceed the housing units to be retroactively authorized by the Regularization Law by thirty-percent. The disparate responses to the Law and the announcement of the new settler units is even more curious within a broader context in the Occupied Territories where the facts on the ground indicate the death of the two-state solution. The explanation to this is that whereas the Regularization Law broke with Israel’s internal logic and threatened to unravel its mechanism of exception, the announcement of new settlements under the existing framework fits squarely within it.
The global backlash against the Regularization Law and concurrent normalization of the status quo indicates the enduring utility of this fifty-year-old legal and political framework. Worse, it indicates that the international community is willing to deliver the same outcome of settler-colonial entrenchment under the semblance of peacemaking.
Meir Shamgar’s Long Shadow
By Lisa Hajjar
In 1967, Meir Shamgar was the Israeli Military Advocate General, and the role he played before, during, and after the war continues to cast a long shadow. Israel had been planning for the occupation for years. These plans were informed by Israel’s brief, aborted occupation of Gaza during the 1956 Sinai War, as well as contingencies formulated when political instability roiled Jordan in 1963. By Shamgar’s own account, in the years prior to the 1967 War, officers in his unit were carrying out “skeleton exercises in military government problems.”[i]
Midway through the Six Day War, the Israeli military administration for the West Bank and Gaza was already being put into place. The military court system was established on the third day of the war, one of Israel’s first official acts in the occupied Palestinian territories.[ii] This timing is significant because it reflects Shamgar’s planning and the high degree of Israeli preparedness for war and occupation.
For the first few years of occupation, the idea of retaining permanent control of the West Bank and Gaza—especially the large Palestinian population centers—was not seriously entertained within Israeli decision-making circles. However, Shamgar constructed a legal doctrine to legitimize permanent Israeli retention of at least parts of the conquered areas. Prior to 1967, Shamgar had conceived that the extension of Israeli rule over any additional areas across the 1949 Armistice Line (the Green Line) deemed to constitute Eretz Israel would not be a “foreign occupation” because Jews had historic rights in those areas, and because no other state had sovereign claim to them. Therefore, according to Shamgar’s reasoning, the West Bank and Gaza were not “occupied” but rather “administered” by Israel, and their status was sui generis. Further, Shamgar asserted that the Fourth Geneva Convention, the body of international humanitarian law (IHL) pertaining to militarily occupied territories and their civilian inhabitants, did not apply to Israeli rule, and to concede that it did apply would undermine Israel’s claims to these areas.
These legal rationales, which were never accepted by the international community, became the cornerstone of Israeli doctrine regarding the state’s rights and duties in the territories. From this flowed the claimed “right” to install Jewish Israeli settlers in the territories, among other IHL-defying practices that have defined the occupation over the last fifty years.
Arguably, Shamgar’s most important and deleterious contribution was the ways in which he made Palestinian statelessness legally significant. By interpreting IHL as applicable exclusively to signatory states (“High Contracting Parties”) and their citizens, he laid the foundations for Palestinian statelessness as a form of rightlessness. This was more than just a denial of Palestinians’ right to a state of their own; it was a contention that they have no such right under international law, and that Israel’s control over the people could be separated legally from control over and claims to militarily captured land. On the basis of this legal reasoning, Israel rejected its obligations under human rights laws to which it is a signatory when it comes to the state’s rule over and treatment of Palestinians in “administered territories.” By casting Palestinians as “outside” the rights and protections of international law, the only legal regime to which they were subject, according to Israel, was that of the military administration.
Shamgar’s other long-lasting contribution, instituted in 1968 when he became attorney general, was to authorize Palestinians’ access to Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ). Palestinians could petition the HCJ to challenge the administrative policies and practices of any state institution, including the military. While this might seem, at first glance, to be a positive contribution, in reality it served to reinforce an illusion that the Israeli occupation was “enlightened” and “benign.” Over the decades, occupied Palestinians and their Israeli and Palestinian advocates have submitted thousands of petitions challenging many aspects of the occupation, from collective punishments to land confiscations, from torture to targeted killing. Rarely, however, did the HCJ rule in a manner that would be beneficial to Palestinians. Rather, the HCJ provided a sheen of legitimacy over the practices of the military and the dubious legal rationales on which they were based. According to Nimr Sultany, the HCJ’s judicial record is “oppression-blind jurisprudence, concealment of the general context, fragmentation of reality, the practice of non-intervention and submission to dubious ‘security’ considerations disguised rhetorically by ‘balancing’ and ‘proportionality’ tests, and declining to provide meaningful and timely legal remedies.”[iii]
Many states violate and deny people’s rights, but few have gone to such lengths to frame their policies and practices as legal, just, and necessary. By devising such a doctrine, Israeli officials—starting with Meir Shamgar—sought to justify the exclusion of international law in this context, arguing that the state has the right to interpret its obligations independently and in accordance with the conditions on the ground, and asserting this interpretation to be legally viable, even if different from (i.e., rejected by) international opinion.
The shadow that Shamgar cast over law and conflict has come to extend far beyond the West Bank and Gaza. The notions that statelessness equals rightlessness and that the state has the prerogative to disregard and deem inapplicable international laws that would constrain its military and security policies was adapted by the United States at the start of the global “war on terror,” which is now in its sixteenth year.
History and Temporality
1967 and Third Worldism
By Omar Dahi
For the past fifteen years, I have been researching and teaching about the past and current realities of economic and political relations among the countries of the South. Viewed through the lens of South-South relations, the 1967 War was a crippling blow to Nasserism and Arab socialism. Given the centrality of Nasserism and the figure of Gamal Abdel Nasser in the Non-Aligned Movement, it was also a big setback for Third Worldism. Third Worldism was contradictory and flawed, and its elites were often obsessed with modernization. Yet it also sought to create an alternative path for the global south.
Buoyed by anti-imperialist and anti-colonial social movements, Third Worldism demanded global political and economic justice as well as a critique of nuclear proliferation, Big Power politics, militarization, and imperialism. Nasser had emerged on a global stage at the 1955 Bandung summit and continued to play a key role in advancing the cause of Third World Nationalism along with Nehru, Tito, Sukarno, and Nkrumah. However just as the 1956 Suez Crisis increased Nasserism’s popularity in the Arab world and the global south, the 1967 War defeated and marginalized Egypt from this global south project.
The banner of the Third World Movement was carried by Algeria, who went on to advocate for the New International Economic Order (NIEO) at the 1973 Fourth Non-Aligned summit in Algiers. There were always multiple and competing notions of Arabism and Arab nationalism. And while Nasserism was not completely free of ethnic chauvinism, at its core it represented a struggle against imperialism and for collective economic rights for the working classes and peasantry. The downfall of Nasserism empowered other notions of Arabism, embraced by the reactionary Gulf monarchies, who, led by Saudi Arabia, created the World Muslim League in 1962 as a counterweight to Nasserism. Their notions of Arabism, which continue today, were far more ethnically chauvinist, elite driven, and devoid of any notion of economic justice.
1967 in Algeria and Palestine: Two Revolutions and the Question of Historical Time
By Muriam Haleh Davis
This May, the French-German channel Arte produced and featured the documentary, Algiers: The Mecca of Revolutionaries. The title riffed on Amilcar Cabral, who led the war of independence against the Portuguese in Guinea-Bissau, and understood Algiers as the hub of national liberation movements. The regimes of Ahmed Ben Bella (1962-1965) and Houari Boumediene (1965-1978) provided financial, diplomatic, and ideological support to many leaders of the Third World.
Among the pilgrims in the film is Yasser Arafat in his signature kufiyah and sunglasses. He states, “We cannot say that Algeria is liberated as long as Palestinian land is occupied.” In 1967, the future Palestinian revolution was imagined in Algerian terms. Indeed, the FLN newspaper, El-Moudjahid, synchronized the Algerian revolution (putatively beginning on 1 November 1954) with the 1967 defeat: “The 5th of June is the 1st of November for the Arab World.”[iv] After all, a proud Algerian army had deployed to Egypt to fight in 1967. Shortly after their arrival, the soldiers returned to Algiers on the heels of a cease-fire that Algiers opposed.
The film moves us to the announcement of the 1967 defeat. Thousands of Algerians crowd the streets, militate for war, denounce Anglo-American imperialism, and sack the American cultural center. A dashing Abdelaziz Bouteflika (Algeria’s current president) laments the defeat. Seven years later, as President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, Bouteflika would recognize Arafat as an official head of state. Bouteflika would invite Arafat to deliver the historic speech in which he offered “an olive branch in one hand, and a gun in the other.” It was also under Bouteflika’s tenure that apartheid South Africa would be banished from the General Assembly. Algeria’s revolutionary credentials appeared impeccable.
The symbolism of 1967 reveals the parallels between two revolutions and their (frustrated) trajectories in Algeria and Palestine. Yet even though Algeria has been a synecdoche for so many liberation movements and Third World countries, the Algerian historiography continues to emphasize exceptionality. The problem is that historians know how the story ended. Bitter internal struggles, the emergence of a military elite, and a slide into corruption position historical writing in the shadows of the revolution’s failure. This is why the Algerian satirical website, Al-Manchar, posted a mock promo for the Arte film’s sequel, titled Alger: the Zawiya of the Corrupt, 1999-2017. The theme was a familiar one: a revolution betrayed and a rhetoric in tatters.
For historians of Algeria, it is 1968 rather than 1967 that draws the most attention. The role of the Algerian War has emerged as an important theme of histories of the “new left” that 1968 epitomized. Yet, European Marxists, or the pieds-rouges, who fought in Algeria in the 1960s mostly sought a blank canvas for their “scientific” socialism. And those Parisian students who chanted in solidarity with Algerian liberation turned a blind eye to North African immigrants relegated to the city of light’s shantytowns.[v] But here too we see a parallel. As Olivia Harrison has shown, the North African diaspora played a crucial role in constructing dreams of revolution.[vi] Thus, the years following 1967 saw two diasporas, Algerian and Palestinian, emerge as crucial sites for imagining the nation. In the Algerian case, it was the aftermath of revolution, in Palestine, it was the hope of revolution-to-come.
The question of the “wandering Jew” is also a main character in both Palestinian and Algerian narratives and imaginings. The influence of Zionism was less direct for Jewish Algerians, who largely left for France, than it was for Jewish Moroccans. Algerian Jews were suspended between the two poles of the settler colony. They occupied a position beneath the Christian pieds-noirs but above the Muslims. The paradigmatic colony of Algeria has been a crucial site for philosophers and scholars to ponder Palestine and the processes that unties both places: settler colonialism.
Finally, 1967 signaled the demise of Nasserism and the rise of an auto-critique that led to new thinking about “crisis” in the Arab world. Shortly after the Six Day War, the Algerian intellectual Malek Bennabi, expanded on his earlier notion of “colonizability” (colonisabilité). He wrote:
The hour of truth rings for the Arab world, as it rang for Europe in June 1940… this is an exceptional opportunity in the tragic situation that the Arab world finds itself in, which is to settle accounts with itself and to get to the base of the problem. If the Arab world did a moral inventory, if it searched in the far reaches of itself, if it examined its consciousness without indulgence, a miracle would follow its mea-culpa and astonish the entire world, as well as the Arab world itself.[vii]
Putting Algeria and Palestine back in conversation can help us recover revolutionary time. It allows us to retrieve the radical potential buried under the hegemony of pessimism. We might recognize that hunger is a tool of radical politics and not just a state of physical want. We might see that want, dismissed as economic “unrest,” is rooted in conceptions of justice. Historians of Algeria know full well that present hopes are conditioned by past struggles. Much like in 1967, then, the past revolution in Algeria can still shed light on the revolution-to-come in Palestine, and beyond.
The Temporalities of Settler Colonialism: Paper, Trees, and Pockmarks of Law and Land
By Maya Mikdashi
The defeat of 1967 evokes the temporal nature of settler colonialism. The loop between the naturalization of history and “crisis” best expresses this temporality. The defeat of 1967 naturalizes the Nakba of 1948, while the Oslo process of 1993 tries to naturalize the defeat of 1967, and the Wall tries to naturalize the failures of the Oslo process. Settler colonial time methodically moves the signposts, the territory, the subject of “crisis,” forward. The more temporally bounded a “crisis” is, the more consolidated and “natural” settler colonial power, and its “facts on the ground” can begin to appear.
These appearances are not confined to Palestine alone. They emerged to me in Michigan, where I recently visited my mother’s family. There, I spent time in closets, under beds, and in drawers gathering papers for new research. Everywhere I looked, in the house where my mother grew up, there was paper—in boxes and envelopes, solitary and in groups, organized and haphazard, originals and photocopies, hand-written and typed. There were letters, maps, census documents, land allotments, testimonials, blood-quotients, and drawings. This paper is the legacy of my grandfather and his relationship to both indigeneity and whiteness. From birth until death, he was a member of the Lake Superior Tribes of Ojibwe Indians, the son of a white man and a woman who the government abducted as a child from her family and placed in a “civilizing” Christian boarding school. The oldest piece of paper dates from the mid-nineteenth century, the most recent from 2017. Nothing is discarded; some nullify or reaffirm those that precede it.
This collection of paper evoked Palestine and Palestinian loved ones who collect, maintain, and protect paper. This paper lives in expectation of law, of displacement, of return. In the absence of recognition or historical redress, there is a material accumulation of paper. Proof—in a box, in closet—just in case. In case of further displacement or further loss of land. In case one must prove a “right of return” or a “right of inheritance.” In case one must prove the right to exist, again.
It does not end with paper. In the backyard where I drink my morning coffee, there are two birch trees. They are intimately connected to the Ojibwe peoples. My grandfather brought them as babies from his family home on the Bad River Reservation in Wisconsin. He planted them in a private housing complex on a lake where he and my grandmother bought their first and only home. The complex practiced “redlining”—the barring of African Americans from owning property—in its association bylaws in effect until the mid-1990s. In this housing complex, my grandfather was understood to be and acted as a white man. He protected this currency. Yet there, in his backyard, were his Bad River Reservation-born birch trees. The birch trees are large today, but not large enough to produce the canoes, medicine, fishnets, rope, art, and food the Ojibwe used them for. The birch tree, here, like the olive tree in Palestine, is a site of capture, resilience, and memory.
Last year, my mother and her siblings sold a parcel of their land back to the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa [Ojibwe] Indians of the Bad River Reservation, of which they are enrolled members. In 2016 the Band won a legal case against the US government. They received funds and the ability to buy back individually held reservation land for communal purposes at market prices. The land my family sold bordered white landowners and was impossible to access without their permission. The US government has allowed (and some argue encouraged) non-Native Americans to privately own land on Indian reservations since the inception of reservations. Today, many reservations are pockmarked and non-contiguous due to non-native (mostly white) land-ownership. This makes the maintenance of the “nested sovereignty” of Native Americans, which Audra Simpson so aptly theorizes, even more contradictory and liminal. Non-native bodies carry US state law with them onto Indian reservations, just as Israeli settlers bring Israeli civil law with them into Areas A and B, producing hybrid legal systems and racial-legal forms of accountability, criminality, and redress. As Sierra Crane-Murdoch explained in the Atlantic, law on reservations, just as land on reservations, is pockmarked.
The erasure of Indian life and presence does not only proceed through legal, religious, and racial power and coercion. It also functions through the brutal logic and realities of capital. My family’s “ownership” of eighty acres of land on the reservation is the legacy of a colonial technology that aimed to make them less Indian through the concept of “individual land ownership.” That concept was incomprehensible and barbaric to Native American civilizations. Today the land is also evidence of a familial resistance. Generations chose to consolidate their land allotments, willing and deeding them to each other, in order to thwart incremental dividing partition and confiscation.
Historical exceptionalism is seductive. These two distinct histories are not equivalents. Yet, the experiences of dispossession as well as the consolidation and naturalization of settler colonialism resonate broadly. The processes that 1967 heightened are venues to think about the histories and presents of Palestine, of Israel, and far beyond. The connections between these histories, like power itself, are not linear, or geographical, or disciplinary. The defeat of 1967 and the realities it consolidated might offer us a trespass, a theoretical wormhole, into a captious analysis of settler colonial power. It might offer a detour from the archives of states in search of the baby olive trees planted in Tetra milk cans in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, or the paper that accumulates and is inherited, the paper that lives in expectation of becoming evidence, the paper that is a signal of the corrosive need for evidence. The paper that is an embodied, material expression of the multiple temporalities and geographies of colonization, dispossession, and presence.
Beyond the Epistemological Crutch of 1967
By Ziad Abu-Rish
One is at pains to find grounded analysis of the legacies of the 1967 War. Research on the war has featured insightful analysis in the last ten years. However, scholars have paid too little attention to the war’s legacies. They have opted instead to assert them. We should separate research and knowledge production on the war from that on the war’s legacies; the former is far more robust than the latter.
Historical and everyday narratives on the Arab left reveal the tendency to assert rather than question 1967’s legacies. Those of us engaged in the politics of the Middle East and North Africa are intimately familiar with the war’s ostensibly radicalizing effects on the Arab left. This radicalization, as the conventional narrative has it, was a function of the immense shock the war’s conclusion produced and the various intellectual and political crises that ensued. We are told that the 1967 War represented the irreversible rift between Arab leftists group and those “revolutionary regimes” with which they allied or identified. We are also told that 1967 forced leftist groups to reconceptualize theoretical frameworks and tactical strategies. These two narrative anchors are one place to begin questioning what scholars and observers have taken for granted. One important example here relates to the details of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s (PFLP) emergence from the milieu of the Movement of Arab Nationalists (MAN). Over the fifty years since 1967, conventional wisdom has depicted this emergence as a smooth, almost automatic, and self-explanatory transition.
However, several questions remain unasked. The convenience of 1967 as a self-evident explanatory moment has produced a teleological narrative about the Middle East in general and the Arab left in particular. How do we make sense of the self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist identity of the PFLP when compared to the ANM’s staunchly anti-Communist and anti-Soviet positions? What explains the ANM’s alleged break with Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime at the same time that the PFLP aligned, though in different ways, with the Iraqi Ba‘th regime and at times with Mu‘ammar al-Qaddafi’s Libya? In what ways should we be looking for continuities rather than ruptures in these cases? These questions do not necessarily challenge the authenticity or veracity of how we have understood the ANM or the PFLP. However, perhaps if we resist the temptation to use the 1967 War as an overarching explanatory force, we may learn more about the ideological, political, and social landscape of both the past and the present. In resisting the war’s explanatory power, we may better complicate our understanding of both the ANM and the PFLP, if not the Arab left more generally.
Over the next decades, scholars must transgress how the 1967 War, and its attendant epistemologies, have served as a stand-in for rather than a source of analysis. To confront the legacies of 1967, we must set aside the war as an analytic crutch.
1967: An Absence at the Heart of Postcolonial Studies
By Anthony Alessandrini
What has been the legacy of 1967 in the field of postcolonial studies? I am tempted to answer the question in two different ways. On the explicit, conscious level: 1967 has left little or no mark upon the field, to the detriment of the field. But on the implicit, unconscious level: 1967 and its aftermath have shaped the field in important ways. The inability of many scholars working in postcolonial studies to acknowledge this split between the spoken and the unspoken represents the problem that remains to be addressed today.
Explicitly, postcolonial studies has had, by and large (I am speaking in intentionally broad gestures here), little to do with the question of Palestine.[viii] This is why the dates that are more likely to mark the field would be, for example, 1947 (the partition of India and Pakistan) or 1962 (Algerian independence from France). These are also indicative of the field’s understanding of postcoloniality: it is marked, in these and other cases, by a form of political independence that has little or nothing to do with true decolonization. The best work of the field helps us to understand that “postcolonial” defines a condition that urgently needs to be struggled towards and achieved, in a world still marked by proliferating forms of neocolonialism.
But most of this work is also premised around the notion that the era of “classical colonialism”—particularly forms of settler colonialism—is at an end. South Africa became the exception that proved the rule. Apartheid rule came to be seen—only as a result, it must be added, of massive popular struggles—as an anachronism, a throwback to a bygone era. Sadly, post-apartheid South Africa has subsequently also fit the pattern of analysis, evolving into an “independent” state marked by a vicious regime of political neocolonialism and economic neoliberalism.
One reason why the question of Palestine constitutes a scandal for the field of postcolonial studies is precisely because it completely undoes this model, since the condition of Israel/Palestine is so clearly one of settler colonialism. As against 1947 and 1962, which mark the beginning of “independence” and the end of “classical colonialism,” the key dates in Palestine—1948 and 1967—mark the intensification of an ongoing settler colonial project. The general acceptance of the re-naming of the nakba of 1948 as the beginning of “Israeli independence” shows the success of this colonial project, at the ideological and cultural level.
And yet: scratch the surface, and 1967 is lodged at the heart of postcolonial studies. Take two of the field’s founding texts: Edward Said’s Orientalism and Frantz Fanon’s Les Damnés de la terre (The Wretched of the Earth). The fundamental effect of June 1967 upon Said as a young critic can be traced throughout his early work, for example in his essay “The Palestinian Experience,” published in 1970.[ix] The massive, and massively influential, work that came to be Orientalism was commenced in his essay titled “The Arab Portrayed,” written in 1968, which Said himself described as coming out of the “smoldering extracts” of notes written during the summer of 1967.[x] I think it is not an exaggeration to say that it would be impossible to imagine Orientalism without 1967, and it would be impossible to imagine postcolonial studies without Orientalism.[xi]
Fanon’s Les Damnés de la terre, which continues to inform and inspire all sorts of theoretical and creative work in the field today, is also indelibly marked by 1967, even though it had been published six years previously, shortly before Fanon’s death in 1961. The book was originally published with a preface by Jean-Paul Sartre. The preface was initially, in some circles, better known—and more infamous—than Fanon’s book itself. Subsequently, however, French editions of the book have been published without Sartre’s preface. Asked about its removal by an interviewer in 1978, Fanon’s widow and literary executor, Josie Fanon, replied:
[I]n June 1967, when Israel declared war on the Arab countries, there was a great pro-Zionist movement in favor of Israel among western (French) intellectuals. Sartre took part in this movement. He signed petitions favoring Israel. I felt that his pro-Zionist attitudes were incompatible with Fanon’s work. Whatever Sartre’s contribution may have been in the past, the fact that he did not understand the Palestinian problem reversed his past political positions.[xii]
Josie Fanon’s quiet but forceful indictment of Sartre—that his failure (or refusal) to understand the Palestinian problem as one of colonialism undermines the power of his previous work—can, I am afraid, be applied quite directly to the relative silence within the field of postcolonial studies regarding the question of Palestine. (I say this as one of a dwindling number of scholars who still define ourselves as “postcolonialists.”) At the same time, like most silences, it also involves a continual disavowal of what would otherwise have to be viewed as a site of ongoing, and ever-increasing, settler colonialism of the most recognizable sort. Is this why, within my own field of literary studies, so many practitioners are so ready to pick up the term “postcolonial” (“Postcolonial Chaucer,” “Postcolonial Austen,” “Postcolonial Dickens”) but so unwilling to address actually-existing settler colonialism in Israel/Palestine—so much so that the Modern Language Association is on the verge of adapting a resolution that would in effect banish future discussion of the BDS movement? Whether this fiftieth anniversary of 1967 will offer an opportunity for an end to this silence, or instead simply be one more “introduction to the end of an argument”remains to be seen.
The Conditions of the Now
The Tendrils of 1967
By Nadya Sbaiti
The legacies of 1967 envelop us and permeate everyday life in Lebanon. Daily we elbow our way through their viscosity, wondering why movement and breath and vision are limited. We take comfort in the invisibility of these legacies, convince ourselves that we have escaped, even as we have spent fifty years wiping the gelatinous tendrils from our very selves.
These tendrils are cartographic, linguistic, and epistemological.
The web of 1967 has spread its tendrils on the land itself. Those six days rent a gash in Lebanon’s southern boundary. The realities of defeat emboldened Israel, known simply as the kayan, or entity, to strafe ever larger swaths of territory, interrupting lives, devastating livestock, and eradicating fish. This relentless military practice, in addition to separating families, has reshaped village life and transformed topographies. And the wounds on the land are not confined to the south. They run along a north-south axis like a C-section scar left unhealed. The wounds shape the grounds of those permanently temporary fixtures: the refugee camps, which greeted a second generation of displaced and expelled. Both the camps and the Palestinian refugees who continue to be confined to them constitute Lebanon, even or perhaps because of, a persistent denial.
The tendrils punctuate language. They inform those utterances when the ostensibly hospitable confront a Palestinian dialect. Your accent is so heavy, they comment. What dialect is that? Are you speaking Egyptian? Because an accent that has constituted the country’s soundtrack for fifty years (and more) is somehow still “foreign.”
And the thick tendrils breed silences, as the penchant for feigning ignorance feeds an actually existing ignorance, an epistemological insistence on being immersed in but denying the existence of a web of 1967’s legacies. I ask undergraduates who grew up in Lebanon what they know about 1967. I am greeted with a resounding silence. They know nothing, it seems. But, knowledge is a fluid process. As the history lesson unfolds, the same students suddenly comprehend an uncle’s suicide, a mother’s defiance, a neighborhood’s layout, a name unspoken; they ponder the tyranny of citizenship, the buoyant torment of resilience, and the laughter of survival that formidable historical amnesia tries to render invisible. As realization dawns, they sit in the viscous climate, stuck between solid and liquid, and the web of 1967 crystalizes anew.
1967 from Cataclysm to Simulacrum
By Adel Iskandar
On 10 June 1967, the deep, commanding inflections of that voice, which made listeners’ hair stand on end and hearts flutter with pride, fell silent. Ahmed Said, the iconic fourteen-year host of the Arab world’s first major anti-imperial experiment in radio broadcasting, had mesmerized audiences from Marrakesh to Mosul. With transistor radios, millions tuned in to Sawt al-‘Arab (Voice of the Arabs) radio station. That June day, Said saw his illustrious career come to a screeching halt. He had spent the previous few days narrating epic stories of unparalleled victory for the Arab armies against their Israeli adversary. When it became evident that defeat for the Arab armies was inevitable and irreversible, the tragedy of learning that the reality was the absolute opposite of Said’s story was too cataclysmic to bear. His career was decimated and the anti-imperial station left in ruins.
The demise of Sawt al-‘Arab was an allegory for the collapse of the state as the once-legitimate source of revolutionary anti-colonial politics. It also marked the beginning of popular disillusionment with centralized media production across the Arab world. Today, half a century later, the state’s opacity in broadcasting has officially been consecrated. Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera hide behind false firewalls to conceal their statist agendas. The proliferation of private and corporate broadcasting run by regime-loyal moguls camouflages the state, leaving it unaccountable for transgressions, defamations, falsification, and disgrace.
Despite the fall of Sawt al-‘Arab, the popular appeal of revolutionary and anti-imperial politics remained a barometer of public interest and trust in media production. To survive the post-1967 milieu of collective disparagement and decline of a pan-Arab imaginary, Arab states replaced Sawt al-‘Arab with aggressively territorial nationalist media. These were operated by centralized institutions that ran contrary to humanist impulses. They manufactured consent through divisive identity politics that pit a once-united region against one another across national borders. The collapse of a common vernacular that could articulate communal ambitions, a coherent project, and unified purpose remains part of the legacy of 1967. Individuation and destitution replaced the notion of common destiny as a presumptive underpinning to imaginations of an Arab future.
An Ongoing Naksa: When Every Day Is 1967
By Hesham Sallam
The 1967 Arab-Israeli War certainly was a transformative moment for the history of Egypt and the entire region. Yet somehow in the year 2017, the naksa[xiii] for Egypt is not merely a legacy of the past or a distant memory that reemerges as its anniversary nears. While regime forces initially coined the term naksa (setback) to minimize the defeat, in everyday practice and use it has come to mean a broad-ranging defeat. Today, the naksa in Egypt epitomizes a lived reality, one in which defeat is experienced daily. It also captures the state of fear that many Egyptians confront as they contemplate imminent threats that could affect their daily lives. In the Egypt of Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, every day is 1967. Thus, we can take a cue from scholars who describe an ongoing Nakba in Palestine, and think through an ongoing naksa in Egypt.
As I write these lines, Egypt’s political leadership is recovering from the aftermath of a sectarian massacre in which armed militants, reportedly affiliated with ISIS, took the lives of twenty-eight Coptic Christian pilgrims in Minya, including several children. President Sisi responded by ordering air strikes against targets in Libya, where the militants who conducted the attacks were trained, as he alleged in a televised address. Interestingly, his speech coincided with a concerted effort by Egyptian authorities to block access to online news sites that offer alternatives to official narratives. The state’s reactions aptly reflect a political leadership that is in denial about the depth and seriousness of the problems it confronts and that is also desperate to conceal the extent of its failures.
What Sisi’s response eschews is the evident reality that Egypt is facing a serious domestic insurgency that security forces have failed to curtail. The recent Minya massacre was the latest of a series of attacks targeting Copts since last December. Some of these incidents exposed the incompetence of security agencies in protecting obvious targets of sectarian violence, while others have brought to light the sheer absence of the state and the rule of law in rural Egypt. That is to say, the road to the Minya massacre started in Egypt, not at militant camps in some distant location.
Most importantly, Sisi’s response to the attacks sidelines a key cause of the violence, namely the extreme politicization of national security agencies, whether inside the military or the domestic policing establishment. The deepening engagement of these agencies in civilian politics—whether in the form of intra-bureaucratic rivalries, competition over state resources and economic privileges, or repressive campaigns against political dissidents—continues to erode their national security responsibilities. No progress can be expected in preventing attacks such as the one witnessed in Minya in an environment in which national security has become synonymous with jailing activists and limiting political speech or with chasing after parochial bureaucratic interests.
With a leadership that sidelines national security imperatives in favor of battling dissent and opposition, and that employs “alternative facts” to conceal the realities of defeat, every day is 1967 in Egypt.
1967, Syria, and the Others
By Bassam Haddad
For Syria, the 1967 defeat had a litany of causes. These included the regime’s underestimation of its enemies’ capacity, a false expectation of its ostensible patron, the Russians, and an oblivious geopolitical approach that facilitated Syria’s isolation, even from the very Arab countries that it would fight alongside. The regime also misunderstood, intentionally or not, what a socialist revolution is in practice. This resulted in a half-baked doctrinaire approach to exacting social justice, one that could not bring about a collective social solidarity.
For the most part, and not withstanding some structural advancements, the approach of the ruling masters of Syria in the early to mid-1960s served neither ideology nor people. The “Corrective Movement” that Hafiz al-Asad led in 1970 was born from an odd combination of a ubiquitous post-defeat malaise generally and a personal resolve. It did not deliver as promised. While Asad and some of his comrades may have learned from the mistakes of the 1960s, they implemented many of their correctives for the wrong reasons. They sought to build a Syria that is less fractious and more independent. However, the tools they employed included “unbounded pragmatism,” to use a euphemism, and staffing the party with careerists, doomed their efforts to eventual failure. Aside from significant accomplishments at various social levels, especially in the countryside early on, the cost of this failure is on full display in the Syrian calamity of today.
The incompetence in 1967 and the narrow-minded over-compensation after 1970 left behind the potential of collective thinking, the people themselves, and the very idea of enduring social justice. The adversaries, not just of Syria and Syrians, but of basic humanitarian principles, social justice, and self-determination survived and flourished. Israel, the United States, and their local conservative and liberal Arab allies won. Everyone else, particularly those in the Arab world, lost.
Eventually, little was accomplished for the Syrian people by the half-baked principles and geopolitical ignorance in the 1960s, and by the narrowly-defined geopolitical acumen henceforth. If the political will to fight was lacking among Arab leaders in 1948, it was their political maturity that was lacking in 1967 and beyond. Besides temporary and uneven empowerment, the Arab people would continue to be left behind. In sum, 1967 was profound, not so much because of the defeat as much as what it indicated: a profound need for a political-economic restructuring, away from both “market” and narrow socialist dirigisme, a need to prioritize and empower people by putting ideology in their service, not the opposite. Both ideology and people were compromised, as the uprisings finally arrived to start reminding us.
None of this is to dismiss the pernicious attempts and effects of past and present colonialism, Zionist ethnic cleansing, and imperialism. Yet that external realm, however implicated, is somewhat out of, or is less amenable to, our control. The tragedy is that even the realms that are within the reach of local elites were gaping wounds of failure that left Arabs bereft of true development and social justice. To use a Trumpian turn of phrase, “the imperialists,” the Zionists, and local beneficiaries/accomplices could not have asked for a better “deal.”
By Mouin Rabbani
Few historical events are inevitable, but the 1967 June Arab-Israeli War was virtually fated to occur.
Its roots can be traced to 29 November 1947, the date on which the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted Resolution 181 Recommending the Partition of Palestine. The Zionist movement accepted the resolution, on the grounds that it conferred international recognition upon the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. A number of Zionist leaders – Menahem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and the other forbearers of today’s Likud Party – rejected it because the territory allotted to the Jewish state excluded 44 per cent of Palestine as well as Transjordan, over which they also claimed sovereignty. Yet for David Ben-Gurion and his associates who dominated the Jewish Agency for Palestine and World Zionist Organization, the territorial aspects were secondary; the boundaries of their state would be determined by force of arms, not a United Nations document.
Indeed, at the conclusion of the 1948 War the newly-established state of Israel controlled no less 78 per cent of Palestine and refused to declare its borders. During the war, Israeli commanders such as Yigal Allon had advocated seizing the remainder of Palestine in violation of covert agreements with Jordan’s Hashemites to divide the country between them, but were overruled by a political leadership that considered it more expedient to use Arab weakness and defeat to achieve regional diplomatic recognition. When such plans were frustrated by the assassination or overthrow of compliant Arab leaders and the ascendancy of nationalist regimes, Israel reverted to the military option. During the 1956 Suez Crisis, it colluded with Britain and France and occupied the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula in a failed scheme to overthrow Egypt’s Gamal Abdel-Nasser. Under severe international, including American pressure, Israel was in early 1957 additionally forced to evacuate the occupied territories. Contingency plans to expel the remaining Arab population within Israel and seize the West Bank from Jordan were not activated.
The statements of Israeli military and political leaders, and a voluminous body of scholarship, conclusively demonstrate Israel’s determination to find a way to succeed where it had failed in 1956. Its objectives were unchanged: to deal a fatal blow to Egypt’s Nasser, seize more territory, and –an Israeli obsession since 1948 – relocate the Palestinian refugee population of the Gaza Strip away from its borders.
The opportunity finally presented itself in 1967. Amidst Israeli threats against Damascus, Israel began mobilizing forces on the Syrian front. Pursuant to its mutual defense treaty with Syria, Egypt deployed forces in the Sinai Peninsula. It also called upon the UN to remove most of the peacekeeping contingents based in Sinai and the Gaza Strip, and closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. As Israel’s chief-of-staff, Yitzhak Rabin, stated before and after the war, Egypt’s deployment was defensive in nature and Nasser sought to deter Israel from attacking Syria rather than initiate war. Had Israel been seeking a reduction in tensions, it could among various measures have permitted the UN to station peacekeepers on its side of the border. Instead, it on 5 June launched Operation Focus, which air force commander Ezer Weizmann among others would freely admit had been in preparation for a decade. Similarly, Teddy Kollek, mayor of West Jerusalem, was before the war told he would soon rule the east of the city as well. Declarations that Israel was confronting existential threats and was initially attacked by the Arab states made for good propaganda, but had no basis in fact. American military and intelligence assessments correctly predicted Israel would rout its Arab adversaries in less than a week, and Israel felt sufficiently confident about the purported threat on the Syrian front that it launched the offensive to seize the Golan Heights only on the penultimate day of the war, after Damascus had accepted a ceasefire.
In six days Israel occupied territory triple the size of its pre-June 1967 boundaries. It immediately incorporated East Jerusalem into Kollek’s fiefdom (the annexation of the Golan Heights would follow in 1981), and almost immediately began establishing colonies in the occupied Arab territories and laying the groundwork for permanent rule. Once again, it refused to declare its borders, erased the Green Line from official maps, and for good measure renamed the West Bank “Judea and Samaria”. Israel’s categorical rejection of territorial withdrawal in exchange for peace until the aftermath of the 1973 October War (Moshe Dayan in 1969 famously quipped, “I would rather have Sharm Al-Shaikh without peace than peace without Sharm al-Shaikh”), conclusively demonstrates this was never a military occupation as conventionally understood under international law, and that Israel’s ambitions far exceeded leveraging the occupied territories to compel Arab recognition of Israel within its pre-1967 boundaries. No sooner had the ink dried on the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, then Israel began claiming it had fulfilled its obligations under UNSC 242 because it had withdrawn from more than 90 per cent of the territories occupied in 1967. To the extent Israel was unable to ethnically cleanse and annex territory as it had in 1948, or fulfill its obsession with regard to the refugee population of the Gaza Strip, this reflected a changed world and international order rather than a changed Israel.
The period since the 1993 Oslo Accords, which rather than producing a suspension of Israeli expansionism or phased Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 boundaries has witnessed an exponential acceleration of Israeli colonization, demonstrates once again that the 1967 War was launched to correct what Israel viewed as the territorial injustice of the 1947 partition resolution. A half century later, we can continue to pretend the Israeli occupation is no different than other instances in which armies seize territory on a temporary basis to improve their government’s bargaining position, and thus continue to promote a negotiated peace, or recognize that Israel’s continued presence in these territories is by its very nature illegal and thus must be terminated as a matter of principle.
[i] Meir Shamgar, “Legal Concepts and Problems of the Israeli Military Government: The Initial Stage,” in Military Government in the Territories Administered by Israel, 1967
[ii] See Lisa Hajjar, Courting Conflict: The Israeli Military Court System in the West Bank and Gaza (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005); The Law in These Parts (Shilton Ha Chok) directed by Ra’anan Alexandrowicz (2011).
[viii] There are, of course, a number of brilliant and honorable exceptions. Two worth noting in this particular moment: Ella Shohat, whose just-published book On the Arab-Jew, Palestine, and Other Displacements: Selected Writing thus marks a major event for the field, and writings of the late Barbara Harlow.
[x] Edward Said, "The Arab Portrayed," in The Arab-Israeli Confrontation of June 1967: An Arab Perspective, edited by Ibrahim Abu-Lughod (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970); see also Said, “The Palestinian Experience,” 11.
[xi] Keith P. Feldman has made a somewhat similar (though much more extended and elaborated) argument regarding Said, 1967, and his effect upon the field of ethnic studies in the United States. See A Shadow over Palestine: The Imperial Life of Race in America(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015).
[xii] Christian Filostrat, “Appendix: Interview with Josie Fanon, Frantz Fanon’s Widow,” in Negritude Agonistes: Assimilation Against Nationalism in the French-Speaking Caribbean and Guyane (Cherry Hill, NJ: African Homestead Legacy Publishers, 2008), 160-61. Said also wrote about Sartre’s position on the 1967 war, and his own rather unsatisfying conversations with him regarding its aftermath
: see Edward Said, “Diary,” London Review of Books (1 June 2000).
[xiii] For instance, in the aftermath of the January 25 Revolution, the Ultras Ahlawy’s infamous song against the police stated, “thawritna kanit bel nisbalko naksa” (“our revolution was for you [the police] a naksa”) to evoke a shameful defeat similar in magnitude to that of the 1967 War. The term naksa in today’s Egypt is taken anything but lightly.