Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War and its resulting military occupation of the West Bank and its Palestinian residents transformed the Jewish state, providing it with both a measure of security it had not enjoyed and the responsibility of governing a people it did not want. It also transformed Zionism—from an ideology of pragmatism and activism into an ideology of utopianism and passivity.
The stunning defeat of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, and the sudden expansion of the territory under Israel’s control was ironically a step backward for Zionism, and it has struggled ever since to reconcile its core philosophy with the set of circumstances that has reigned for the past half century. The 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War is an opportunity not only to examine Israel’s past and future trajectory, but also to refashion a more pragmatic Zionism for the next 50 years.
Zionism has always had different strains, from the secular Zionism that predominated in the early years of the movement to the religious Zionism that surged following the Six-Day War. Theodor Herzl’s Zionist vision was the very definition of a utopian fantasy that seemed unachievable: a homeland for a persecuted nation scattered across the globe in a place from which they had been exiled millennia before. That this vision actually came to pass was truly miraculous, but its implementation was anything but a dream. The early Zionists who settled Palestine did not arrive to a Jewish state or even to Jewish self-determination; they arrived to a land controlled first by the Ottomans and then by the British, with little infrastructure or natural resources, and populated by frequently hostile neighbors.