During the first 19 years of Israelís statehood, its leaders gave little thought to the Palestinian question. Two-thirds of the Palestinians were driven out in 1948; those who remained were placed under a draconian military government and didnít cause much trouble. Then came the Six Day War of 1967. In a pre-emptive strike launched on 5 June, Israel inflicted a devastating defeat on Nasser and his Arab allies, and vastly expanded the territory under its control, capturing the Gaza Strip and the Sinai from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. These were lands Israelís leaders had long coveted: only the Sinai has since been fully restored to Arab sovereignty. But when the guns fell silent on 10 June, the Jewish state found itself responsible for 1.4 million Arabs it didnít want. Most were Palestinians, hundreds of thousands of them refugees who had been displaced during the 1948 war. As Levi Eshkol, who was prime minister at the time, put it: ĎWe won the war and received a nice dowry of territory, but along with a bride whom we donít like.í Israel had to decide what to do with the bride, and what to do with the dowry. The Middle East still lives in the shadow of the decisions Israel made Ė and those it didnít Ė in the first few years of the now 45-year-old occupation.
LRB 11 October 2012 | PDF Download