The 50-year anniversary of the June 5, 1967 Arab-Israel war; what Israel calls the Six-Day War and Arabs call Al Naksa, had passed with little ceremony by Arab states and peoples. In fact, the event was overshadowed by the eruption of the latest Gulf crisis; the spat with Qatar over its controversial and provocative policies and suspected funding of what Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt consider as terrorist organisations.
Not that Arab governments had ever marked previous anniversaries of that devastating war solemnly and with reflection. Etched deep into the Arab psyche, the bitter taste of shame and humiliation resulting from the outcome of that swift but demoralising war can still be felt by millions. It is a shame that is kept bottled inside; rarely spoken of in public or discussed openly and frankly even though its aftershocks continue to beset the region until today.
Defeated nations mark the anniversaries of lost battles; to honour their dead and to absorb history’s lessons. We have failed to do both. Our familiarity with the 1967 war is sketchy and textbook like at best. Little has been written about that dark chapter of our modern history. The majority lives in denial or hangs on to titbits of historical trivia without ever letting go. And therefore the non-ending debate goes on: Was Jamal Abdul Nasser a great leader or did he bring about one of the greatest calamities that had befallen a nation in modern times? Our intellectuals are polarised and most find themselves caught in a time capsule where there is only one version of the war’s events. We fail to look inwardly and examine the psychological traumas that had scarred our character as a result of the biggest shock that we had to go through that June, 50 years ago.
Arabs don’t read and their awareness of the world around them is composed mainly through visual/oral reception. Our understanding of history is formed by what we have been taught at school. Few dare investigate other accounts and even fewer are willing to hear/read our opponent’s version of what happened. And in spite of our collective shame, we fail to break that vicious cycle that has entrapped us. How many books, documentaries and investigative reports have been created to understand why we had suffered that horrible defeat? How many studies have been carried out to gauge the relationship between the outcome of that war and our geopolitical reality today?
Hundreds of articles and tens of books have been published in Israel attempting to examine the Six-Day war and its impact on Israeli society, its politics and the future of the state. Many have been daring enough to point to the metamorphosis that the Zionist state had undergone in the last five decades. Some pointed to the social and cultural transformation of Israeli society; to the fact that Israel is now a colonial entity governed by radical colonists who espouse racist policies that threaten the foundations of the Israeli state.
In their view, today’s reality is an outcome of a series of historical events that are connected to each other. That continuity, if it can be examined and dissected, helps provide forecasts and scenarios of where Israel is going next. Not all articles and studies of that war in June are celebratory in nature. There is little gloating and far more scientific treatment of the events that led to war and its conclusions.
A similar approach to Al Naksa is lacking in the Arab world. It is as if five decades were enough to separate us from the aftermath of that epochal defeat that has altered the course of the region forever. But no matter how far we leave that ominous event behind we only have to look forward to see that its calamitous consequences are lurking ahead. In reality there is no escape, as a nation, from the cost that is still excised by that war. The issues at hand have their roots entrenched in that war: The plight of Gaza, the fate of Palestinian refugees, Israel’s unquenched appetite for West Bank land, peace between the Arabs and Israel and the shape of a final settlement.
But there is more. That war underscored our military as well as our cultural and political defeats. It was above all a moral loss that had exposed our weaknesses as a nation. Autocratic and patriarchal systems were no match to a then democratic and industrious Israel. At the end of the day assiduous nations will overcome ones that are riddled with ignorance, injustice, false pride and demagoguery.
At one point in our lives we must achieve closure with the June 1967 war. All living nations learn to resume their lives following catastrophes, having faced the demons associated with them. We must look at our defeat 50 years ago in the eye and overcome the sense of shame that haunts us. But aside from the physical repercussions of the war, we must fathom its every detail and understand the factors that collectively delivered that resounding defeat. Marking the occasion is a small step in the right direction.
Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.