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Asher Ben-Natan
photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Amnon Rubinstein
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Fourty Fifth Anniversary of Six Day War-Revisiting 1967 : Thousands of Germans Wanted to Serve in the Israeli Army

Prof Amnon Rubinstein: The Mistakes after the Victory

by Rhonda Spivak,posted May 26, 2011

[Editor's note: This article was written  five years ago on the 40th anniversary of  the Six Day War when in I I met  Dr. Ben Natan, at a conference devoted to revisiting the Six-Day War which took place in Herzlia.  Ben-Natan, who at the time was 86 years old  was Israel's Ambassador to Germany during the  Six-Day-War.

Germany has said last month it will not be supporting the bid by the Palestinians to have the UN  declaration  a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines, without Israel's agreement.

It seems especially fitting to reprint this article now. I am also reprinting an analysis by Former Minister of Education Amnon Rubinstein on the mistakes he believes were made after Israel's victory and insights by others. ]


by Rhonda Spivak, written June 2007

“In May 1967 [leading up to the six-day war]..there was a real fear in Germany that we would see another Holocaust …It was a subject that Germans couldn’t live with,” recalls  Dr. H.C. Asher Ben-Natan, who was Israel’s Ambassador to Germany during the six-day war.

Ben-Natan became Israel’s first Ambassador to Germany with the commencement of diplomatic ties between Germany and Israel in 1965. A former member of the Israeli Defense Ministry Ben -Natan had been involved in weapons deals with West Germany and France before his appointment as Ambassador to Germany, a post that he held until 1970.

Prior to the outbreak of the six-day war, “...there were thousands of Germans who wanted to serve in the Israeli army… and thousands of German children sent money from Germany to Israel”, says Ben-Natan, who spoke before an audience that attended the international conference marking the 40th Anniversary of the Six-Day War at the Interdisciplinary centre in Herzylia. 

Ben-Natan, who is now 86, recalls that “The German government condemned [Egypt’s] closure of the Straits of Tiran, and condemned the Arab threats.  Germany declared neutrality, but it was not a neutrality of the heart…  There was really a great support [for Israel]…Every time they [the Germans] read of the Israeli victory, there was great enthusiasm,” says Ben-Natan.

Ben-Natan remembers that on behalf of Israel he approached the Germans  to ask for 20,000 gas masks from Germany, and the request was officially refused.  “But they [the Germans] did supply 20,000 gas masks to Israel from civilian warehouses in Germany”, Ben-Natan notes.  “At the time, the [German] Minister of Transportation told me that the airport in Frankfurt was available for any Israeli shipments,” he added.

“After the war, the P.L.O. was active in Germany and the extreme left had criticisms of the occupation and…continued with venomous anti-Semitic rhetoric”, Ben-Natan said.  In Ben-Natan’s view, although after the war Germany went back to its policy of neutrality “the events of May 1967 improved the relationship between Germany and Israel.”

Ralf Fuecks, of the German Heinrich Boll Foundation, one of the organizers of the conference, said the six day war appeared as a “turning point for the attitude in large parts of the West-German political left from being pro-Israel to becoming anti-Israel-and this in most cases in a very short time.”

“On the other side…many conservatives [in Germany] like the media-tycoon axel Springer supported Israel and identified very much with its military power in the war.  That however came partly with the price that many people thought that with this kind of a Pro-Israel-attitude they did not have to deal anymore with the painful questions, which the Shoah had left for German society-to identify with Israel’s military force was a way to be on the right side this time, some kind of political reparation.”

Israel Harel, one of the relatively few speakers at the conference who is right- of-centre, took issue with the use of the word “occupation” by the German and Israeli organizers of the conference.

“A nation does not conquer its own land.  I am ready for the purpose of peace to give up parts of my land, but I will never accept that it is occupied land,” said Harel, who founded the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, which he headed, first as Secretary General and later as Chairman.

In Harel’s view, the six-day war gave birth to the Palestinian nation.  “The land [Judea and Samaria] was under Jordanian rule for years [between 1948-1967] and no one called it occupation.  Palestinians didn’t call it occupation by Jordan.  They didn’t see themselves as Palestinians but as Jordanians…so we are the main factor contributing to Palestinian identity,” said Harel, who lives in the settlement of Ofra, and writes a weekly column for Ha’aretz.

Harel recalls that in1967 “in all of Judea, Samaria and Gaza there was not one university.  BeirZeit [University] was a seminary for teachers.  Today there are 11 universities.  This all happened under [what you call] occupation.”

Adel Manna, the director of the Institute for Israeli Arab Studies at the Van Leer Institute of Jerusalem , and a Research Fellow at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem said that following the six-day-war, the conquered Palestinians believed that the occupation would be temporary.  “As soon as the Palestinians began to understand after 5-10 years that the occupation isn’t temporary, then things began to change.”

Manna, who has a PhD. in Islamic history,  responded to Harel’s claims, by saying that “The Palestinian National Council [that created the P.L.O.] had its founding meeting in  [what was then]the Intercontinental Hotel [on the Mount of Olives] in 1964.  Those in attendance had already identified themselves as Palestinians.  Its is propaganda [to say that] that the Palestinian nation was born in 1967…Since 1967, there have been 37 universities that have opened in Jordan, but you don’t make that comparison.”

While it was fascinating to see Harel and Manna debate each other, I’m not so sure that we’ll ever be able to agree on how many universities should or should not have arisen over the last 40 years in the lands captured by Israel in the six-day-war.  What seems to be of more critical importance is what is taught at those universities today and in the future.   Will they be institutions that promote terrorism and deny Israel’s right to exist, or will they be institutions that promote a genuine two-state solution, and cessation of terrorism?

The example of Yahya Ayyash, a Palestinian graduate of BeirZeit University, in Ramallah comes to mind.  He received a bachelor of science in electrical engineering in 1992, and then went on to become the infamous Hamas bomb maker (known as ‘The Engineer”).  Ayyash will be remembered as being responsible for advancing the technique of suicide bombings in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 


By Rhonda Spivak, written May, 2007

What, if any, were the mistakes of Israeli leaders after the country’s military victory in 1967?  It’s a question that Professor Amnon Rubinstein grappled with at the international conference on the 40th anniversary of the six day war at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzylia.

Rubinstein, the Israel Prize Laureate in law, is a former Knesset member (for Shinui and Meretz ), a  former Minister of Communications and Education Minister, and also the  former President of the IDC.

Rubinstein began by saying, “How did we [Israelis] miss the opportunity immediately after  the six- day war to translate the victory into political gains?  Because of the victory, we figured that the Arabs had to deal with us.  But after the war the Arab world didn’t show any desire to have learned from the war and to want to negotiate a peace…”

As Rubinstein noted, after the Israel conquered the West Bank in 1967,   the policy at the time was expressed by then Defense Minister Moshe Dayan: “We are waiting from a phone call from King Hussein.”

 “The policy, looked rational since Jordan was defeated in the war…and Israel said we are ready for a peace agreement and for concessions.  Yet, it should have been obvious that Hussein didn’t have the political power to make an agreement with us.  In hindsight, we can ask how did Moshe Dayan even think in this way ?  It was a mistake in reading the map….He didn’t take into account that not only could King Hussein not speak on behalf of Palestinians, but he didn’t want to.  King Hussein and the Hashemite Kingdom said let’s be satisfied with what we have in the East Bank...We don’t need that bag of worms in the West Bank...So now [in 1967]we [Israelis] have 1 million Palestinians,” said Rubinstein.

Rubinstein  added, “Moshe Dayan believed in that the policy of open economics would work…Dayan was a very smart man…the truth is he liked the Arabs…but he made a huge mistake…he didn’t realize that the world wouldn’t accede to our continued occupation.”

According to Rubinstein, Israel made a mistake in neglecting the Palestinian population after the six-day war . “The fact is we had the responsibility for a population…of more than one million…and we could have expected, especially in a democratic state… there shouldn’t be a population that was just neglected…We never related to the population…Within time we deported mayors [of West Bank towns], people who were important…We should have started negotiations with these interlocutors…Maybe as a justification we can say that not too long after the six-day war, the War of Attrition began and that drew all of the attention of our political leaders and they thought the Palestinians can wait.”

In Rubinstein’s view, after the six-day war, not only did the Arab world not show any desire to negotiate with Israel, but “Israelis began to have a mifgash emotionali (an emotional encounter) with parts of the land that we returned to….So, we have a mix of intoxicating power on the Israeli side and refusal to recognize reality on the Arab side.”

In Rubinstein’s opinion, the building of the settlements after 1967 was a mistake.  “What was the idea? …To create [Jewish] islands?  There was not one decision of the government about what we wanted  [to do exactly]….Then we started with the entrance to Hebron…  When you put religious fundamentalist Jews in with Islamic Palestinians, the result is going to be a disaster,” Rubinstein noted.

At the end of his address, Rubinstein turned to the Egyptian Ambassador to Israel, Adel El Adawy, who was present at the conference and said “ Most Israelis will be ready to give back the West Bank, but the fear here is that giving back this territory will not be safe for Israel.  The fear is that this territory will be used to launch kassams into Israel, like what is happening in Gaza today…You must take this message back to Egypt.”

El Adawy responded, “When you are strong you must have confidence…You have the upper hand on the ground..Arab leaders reaffirmed their political stand [in Ridiya, Saudi  Arabia].”

El Adawy, also said that Israel has a Palestinian partner. “He  [Mahmoud Abbas] is a  moderate, who was elected by a very large majority of the Palestinian people to implement a two state policy.  After the Mecca Accord, he was authorized to negotiate for all of the Palestinian factions. Israel can negotiate with that partner and reach an accommodation with that partner.  I’m sure of that.”

Now, unfortunately, even though he spoke with a nice gentle demeanor I completely disagree with Ambassador El Adawy on that point.  Does anyone really believe that Mahmoud Abbas has any power to moderate Hamas, or that he would be capable of enforcing any peace agreement if he actually got the courage to sign one?  Abbas simply can’t and won’t be able to deliver the goods. As violence in Gaza between Hamas and Fatah rages, Abbas is afraid that Hamas will assassinate him. That’s why it’s hardly surprising that according to the results of a recent poll this month 84% of Jewish Israelis do not believe that it’s possible to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.




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