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Norman Finkelstein on the Six-Day (June1967) Middle East War…

November 7, 2021

Yahya Sinwar – sitting amidst the ruins of his home in Gaza destroyed by a recent Israeli missile attack


(In 1967) Israel had won a major public relations coup worldwide by learning the fine art of “playing the victim” while in fact it was little more than the aggressor, an image it has been able to cultivate and refine since, regardless of the facts on the ground. This was, I would argue, its greatest political victory.

My Introduction: (November 7, 2021)

This war, or at least the result of it, has fixed the narrative on Israeli relations with its Arab neighbors, and the nature of Israeli-Palestinian relations, ever since… That is a 54 year old narrative, the main outlines of which are somewhere between half truths and pure fiction.

Be that as it may, it’s a powerful narrative – the supposedly, small, weak Israel surrounded by its Arab neighbors ready to destroy it. After the 1956 abortive British-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt, it was important for Israel to reshape itself as the victim rather than the aggressor in war, and thus ever since, if the Israelis excel at anything its playing the victim while strangling- or trying to – Palestinian resistance and trying to keep it’s Arab neighbors “in line.”.

There is another myth – common place on ‘points left” that is equally, if you pardon my language, a load of crap – often referred to Israel as “the tail wagging the dog” – that Israel controls and manipulates US foreign policy. No, the “dog” wags its own “tail.” Israel and its committed U.S. supporters DO have influence on U.S. Israeli policy, but when it comes to overall U.S. Middle East (or other) policy, it’s Washington that calls the shots and Israel that at least on the level of geo-political security, follows the orders.

Such thinking by the way, hides the role of the genuine policy makers of U.S. Middle East policy: the arms merchants, energy and construction companies, financial interests who are at the center of both short-term (who should be attacked, overthrown, sanctioned, etc) and long-term U.S. strategic thinking. It buys into the notion – frankly anti-Semitic at its core that the Zionists – and by this many people mean “the Jews” control and dominate U.S. Middle East policy, and not only that, but U.S. global politic… the old myth encapsuled by the Protocols of Zion, a pretext for the pogroms of the late 19th and early 20th century…itself a pretext for greater tragedies.

By a fluke of fate, during the June 1967 War, I was not in New York City commiserating with Jewish friends, but in Tunisia where I was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer (and later, for six months, staff member). I was  talking to a few of the hundreds of thousands of Tunisians on the streets, among them many of my own students protesting both the Israeli war against Nasser and the U.S. role in supporting that effort. It was a different vantage point to follow the war from shorn of what would become nothing short of a near hysterical support that Israel enjoyed in the USA. That is not to say, that at the time, that I had any deeper understanding of the causes and effects of that war than friends and colleagues back in the United States.

Mostly I was confused and remained confused for a number of years thereafter the caveats being several:

1. Whatever else was going on in the June 1967 War, the fate of the Palestinians – their expulsion from their homes in 1948 – was not voluntary but a result of great violence – both real and threatened – at the time… and that a terrible wrong had been done them. That has been a consent in my understanding of the “conflict” ever since.

2. That it was another startling fact, that while Israel claimed to be fighting a war for its very survival, that when that brief military exchange was over six days after it began that Israel had expanded its territorial hold by a factor of three and had managed to gobble up the Golan Heights of Syria, the West Bank and E. Jerusalem which had been administered by Jordan and Egypt’s territory in the Sinai Desert. Was it a “war of survival” or a war of territorial expansion?

3. That Israel had won a major public relations coup worldwide by learning the fine art of “playing the victim” while in fact it was little more than the aggressor, an image it has been able to cultivate and refine since, regardless of the facts on the ground. This was, I would argue, its greatest political victory.

4. It was the might and efficiency of the Israel military victory in 1967 that solidified the notion in Washington DC that Israel could be a useful thane of a more broadly based U.S. Middle East strategy.

These points were perculating in my mind in the aftermath of 1967. They took a more developed and systematic understanding a few years later, but that is another story.

Still challenging the mainstream narrative on the June 1967 Middle East War remains a challenge up until today. It helps that there has been a great deal of research done – some of it by Israeli scholars, themselves Zionists, to undermine this narrative. While there is a rich literature in fact today on the origins and consequences of 1967, I would simply suggest two:

1. Noam Chomsky’s The Fateful Triangle – even today historically dated, it is still one of the clearest and most cogent explanations of U.S. Middle East policy, the U.S.- Israeli nexus (actually the U.S.-Israeli-Saudi nexus) and the origins and consequences of 1967.

2. The writings and talks of Norman Finkelstein.

Finkelstein is one of the finest current day historians of U.S. Middle East policy, the history of Zionism and its history of occupation, oppression of Palestinians; his historical work will endure and in time become recognized for what is – serious, scholarly investigations of the history of Zionism and the struggles of the Palestinian people.

Below, a link to 2017 interview Finkelstein did tearing apart the mainstream Zionist narrative on the 1967 War. It is entitled “To Live or to Perish’: the Six-War and its mythology.” and was published at “The Unz Review · An Alternative Media Selection” on June 3, 2017, that is on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War.

It is long and detailed – more than 6000 words – which hopefully will not discourage people from reading and reflecting upon it. As with everything else he has ever written or with speeches/interviews Finkelstein has given –  this interview is well documented, nuanced and is, in a word, profound. Finkelstein at his best… and Finkelstein at his best – is hard to beat

`To Live or to Perish’: the Six-War and its mythology – an interview with Norman Finkelstein.

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