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Are the 1967 borders of Israel "indefensible" according to Jewish military experts?

by Michael R. Burch, an editor of Holocaust and Nakba poetry

Christians may want to consider the ethical questions What does the Bible say? What would Jesus do? If you are unfamiliar with the real history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, or have been told that Israel is "only defending itself," please read what the great Jewish intellectuals Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud wrote about the conflict in Palestine, in the links at the bottom of this page.

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.
—Michael R. Burch, "Epitaph for a Palestinian Child"

Are Israel's 1967 borders "indefensible"? The debate was rekindled by President Barack Obama’s suggestion on May 19, 2011 that the basis for a peaceful settlement of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is to return to the “1967 lines” with mutually agreed-upon land swaps. Since the 1967 lines (also known as the "1949 armistice lines") are the internationally-recognized borders of Israel, that seems reasonable. And while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu insisted that the 1967 borders are “indefensible,” he was refuted by the man most responsible for defending Israel's borders: his own Defense Minister, Ehud Barak. In an interview with Edmund Sanders of the Los Angeles Times, Barak pointed out that Israel has the most powerful military within a 1,000-mile radius of Jerusalem and thus has no reason to feel insecure. And as we will see, other Jewish military experts agree that Bibi is bluffing. But first, let's take a look at maps that shed considerable light on the matter at hand ...

Map #1 of 1946 Palestine, showing more than 90% of the land belonging to Palestinians
Map #2 of 1947 U.N. partition plan of Israel and Palestine; please note that the U.N. did not "give" any land to anyone; Israeli Jews took the white areas by force
Map #3 of 1967 borders of Israel and Palestine showing the "1967 lines" aka the "1949 armistice lines" with Israeli Jews now "owning" most of Palestine, again by force
Map #4 of 2000 borders showing how Israel keeps acquiring land outside its borders, creating discontiguous Palestinian bantustans

Critics of President Obama should keep in mind that his position was also the position of past administrations, including those of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Ronald Reagan, the most admired Republican president of recent times, also called for a freeze to new Jewish settlements in the West Bank, knowing they were and are obstacles to peace. The question from the U.S. standpoint has never been whether Israel should exchange land for peace and recognition by the Arab world (since the land occupied by Israel outside its legal borders must be returned, according to international law), but has always been a question of a pragmatic solution acceptable to both sides. If both Israel and the Palestinians agree to land swaps, then land swaps make perfect sense. If both sides do not agree to land swaps, then according to international law, Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian land, just as it would be illegal for the U.S. to permanently hold Iraqi land just because it won a war with Iraq.

Why has Israel to date refused to return land to Palestinians in return for peace? Please click here to read the stunning results of a poll published by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in which 74% of Israelis support racially segregated roads in Occupied Palestine, and 69% want to deny Palestinians the right to vote if their land is annexed by Israel: Most Israeli Jews would support an apartheid regime in Israel.

The fourth map clearly reveals that it is not Israel's borders that are "indefensible," but the fledgling Palestinian state's, should it be formed per the status quo. How can a discontiguous state be either viable or defensible? And the massive transfer of land from Palestinian to Jewish hands, without just compensation (or any compensation to speak of), explains why Arabs and other Muslims are so furious with Israel and the U.S. That fury led directly to 9-11 and two decade-long retaliatory wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. How would Americans feel if American farm families were being constantly robbed of their landand thus their ability to feed, house and clothe themselvesby Jewish robber barons armed with tanks and machine guns? Obviously, American men would soon be raining down missiles on Tel Aviv, and those missiles would be much more accurate and deadly than those of Hamas. So it is very hypocritical for Americans to expect Palestinians to submit to a process of dehumanization they would never accept for their own loved ones. But in any case, getting back to the question of whether Israel can afford to give back just a fraction of the land it stole from Palestinians, here are the opinions of Jewish military experts who know that Bibi is bluffing, and can explain why he makes little or no sense:

Yael Dayan, the daughter of Israel's most famous general and Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan (he of the famous black eyepatch) and herself an Israeli army officer, a member of the Knesset and the current chair of the Tel Aviv city council, immediately refuted the strange notion that Israel cannot defend its borders. In an article published by The Tennessean on May 24, 2011, she pointed out that Israel is in a "position of strength, from our military superiority, to our alliance with the U.S., to the Arab League's offer of comprehensive peace not once, but twice."

Danny Yatom, a former head of Mossad, Israel's intelligence service, and a signer of the document creating the Israel Peace Initiative recently said: “We feel this initiative can bring along many members of the public.” The Israel Peace Initiative calls for a Palestinian state on nearly all the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in East Jerusalem, an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, and a set of regional security mechanisms and economic cooperation projects. Mr. Yatom also said that a related goal was “to signal to moderate Palestinians and Syrians that there is a new horizon and light at the end of the tunnel.”

Another member of the Israel Peace Initiative, Yaakov Perry, a former head of Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, said: “We are isolated internationally and seen to be against peace ... I hope this [peace initiative] will make a small contribution to pushing our prime minister forward. It is about time that Israel initiates something on peace.”

The Israel Peace Initiative also includes former army chief Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and the son and daughter of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish radical in 1995 after seeking a peaceful compromise to the Israeli-Arab conflict. The initiative acknowledges “the suffering of the Palestinian refugees since the 1948 war as well as of the Jewish refugees from the Arab countries.” It agrees with the statement of the Arab Peace Initiative “that a military solution to the conflict will not achieve peace or provide security for the parties.” The two-state solution envisioned for Israel and Palestine resembles the Clinton parameters of 2000. Palestine would be a nation-state for the Palestinians, and Israel “a nation-state for the Jews (in which the Arab minority will have equal and full civil rights as articulated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence).” The document calls for the 1967 lines to be a basis for borders, with agreed modifications based on swaps that would not exceed 7 percent of the West Bank.

Two previous Israeli prime ministers — Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert — offered the Palestinians peace treaties that would have included an Israeli withdrawal close to the 1967 borders. A third, Ariel Sharon, considered the line "a reference point," according to his top aide, Dov Weisglass. So obviously many knowledgeable Israeli Jews who long for peace would not buy Bibi's bluff. Nor would a number of respected Jewish military experts ...

Israeli lawmaker Isaac Ben-Israel, a former Israeli air force general, said the question of Israel's security is less about military considerations than policy and neighborly relations. He noted that Holland and Belgium have "indefensible borders" and in the past have been susceptible to invasion, but "that doesn't matter now because they have no external enemy." He said that Netanyahu's approach to the borders conveys a pessimistic outlook that peace will not necessarily translate into a cessation of hostilities. 

Martin Levi Van Creveld, a Jewish author of seventeen books on military history and strategy, has pointed out that Israel managed to defend the "indefensible" 1967 lines during the Six Day War, asking rhetorically: "When everything is said and done, how important is the West Bank to Israel’s defense? To answer the question, our best starting point is the situation before the 1967 war. At that time, the Arab armed forces surrounding Israel outnumbered the Jewish state’s army by a ratio of 3-to-1. Not only was the high ground in Judea and Samaria in Jordanian hands, but Israel’s capital in West Jerusalem was bordered on three sides by hostile territory. Arab armies even stood within 14 miles of Tel Aviv. Still, nobody back then engaged in the sort of fretting we hear today about “defensible borders,” let alone Abba Eban’s famous formulation, “Auschwitz borders.” When the time came, it took the Israel Defense Forces just six days to crush all its enemies combined." Van Crevald's conclusion is that "Israel can perfectly defend itself."

We should also keep in mind that in 1967 Israel launched preemptive military attacks against Egypt, destroying 338 planes and killing 100 Egyptians, after which Israel was attacked in retaliation. And of course Israel is much more powerful today than it was in 1967, thanks to hundreds of billions of dollars in cash, advanced weapons and military technology donated to Israel by American taxpayers through the U.S. government, so if it was merely posturing in 1967 to justify taking more land, it seems self-evident that today we are hearing "more of the same" with far less validity.

Israel later preemptively invaded Lebanon twice, destroying much of Beirut and killing thousands of civilians, and also attacked Iraq's nuclear reactor, killing 11 people who never lifted a finger against Israel. Israel has nuclear reactors and hundreds of nukes, so killing Iraqis over a reactor when Iraq didn't have nukes seems arrogant, hypocritical and horribly unjust. (The U.S. can be accused of the same sins for its invasion of Iraq.) Two days after Christmas, in 2008, Israel launched "Operation Cast Lead" against Gaza; the ludicrously one-sided attacks resulted in approximately 1,400 Palestinian deaths, with only 13 Israeli deaths (4 from friendly fire). According to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, more than 1,000 of the Palestinians killed were civilians or noncombatants, including 320 children, 109 women and 248 police officers, most of whom were killed in aerial bombings of police stations on the first day of the operation. These are not the actions of a nation cowering with fear, but those of a nation drunk on military power and hubris.

Israel has also repeatedly either attacked or boarded humanitarian ships carrying peace activists and items like teddy bears, coloring books and crayons to Gaza, which remains under a military blockade. These attacks took place in international waters. In the worst incident, Israeli commandos killed nine peace activists, one of them a U.S. citizen. A Jewish peace activist, Dr. Norman Finkelstein, recently called Israel a "lunatic state" for murdering civilians and peace activists. The last time I counted, there were more than 200 Jewish peace and humanitarian organizations that oppose the policies and actions of the government of Israel. So it seems obvious that Jews know and understand what escapes so many Americans: that Israel is practicing overt racism against Palestinians, including apartheid, ethnic cleansing and slow genocide. 

Van Creveld has also pointed out the Bibi is bluffing about the "danger" of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, because Iran can't use them without being annihilated by Israel: "We Israelis have what it takes to deter an Iranian attack. We are in no danger at all of having an Iranian nuclear weapon dropped on us ... thanks to the Iranian threat, we are getting weapons from the U.S. and Germany."

Shlomo Ben Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, also strongly refuted the idea that the 1967 lines are indefensible, writing: "Netanyahu's furious rejection of US President Barack Obama's proposal to use the 1967 borders as the basis for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute — frontiers that he called 'utterly indefensible' — reflects not only the Israeli prime minister's poor statesmanship, but also his antiquated military philosophy. In an era of ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction, and in which the planned Palestinian state is supposed to be demilitarised, why is it so vital for Israel to see its army 'sit along the Jordan River'? If such a tripwire is really necessary, why shouldn't a reliable international force carry out that task? And how can hundreds of isolated colonies spread amidst a hostile Palestinian population ever be considered a strategic asset? Netanyahu should, perhaps, have studied the lessons of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war before denouncing Obama's idea. When the war started, the first thing the Israeli army command sought was the evacuation of the area's colonies, which Israel's generals knew would quickly become an impossible burden, and an obstacle to manoeuvres, for their troops. Indeed, the last war that Israel won 'elegantly' — in the way that Netanyahu imagines that wars should be won — began from the supposedly 'indefensible' 1967 lines ... For borders to be defensible, they need first to be legitimate and internationally recognised. But Netanyahu does not really trust 'the gentiles' to supply that type of international recognition of Israel's borders, not even when America is behind him, and not even when Israel today has the most powerful military capabilities in the Middle East."

Ben Ami's conclusion is this: "Not until occupation ends, Israel lives within internationally recognised borders, and the Palestinians recover their dignity as a nation will the Jewish state's existence be finally secured."

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz in an editorial said that "Netanyahu's decision to have Israel clash with Obama is not only a dead end, it could remove the only protective wall Israel has left and sacrifice the country's future on the altar of hollow ideology and unbridled nationalism." The same editorial continued, "Netanyahu is lying to the Israeli public and leading the U.S. administration astray ... Borders themselves do not guarantee security. But borders that are recognized by the international community give a country the legitimacy to defend its sovereignty. Israel has no such borders, and more and more countries are finding it difficult to defend Israel's position, which seeks to persuade others that occupation is a means of defense. The real danger for Israel is not only the crisis in relations with the United States and most of Europe, it's the deception Israel is trying to market to the Israeli public. According to that deception, a strong stand based only on nationalist slogans can replace a diplomatic solution; all that's needed to survive Obama's term with the current borders are well-crafted speeches and the right amount of manipulation. This strategy turns Netanyahu into a real threat to Israel's security and future."

The Haaretz editorial makes the point that Israel is the only modern "democracy" with undefined, fluid borders that are based strictly on racial prejudice, without a thought for equality and justice. The rest of the world cannot understand why Jewish babies are born with infinitely superior rights to Palestinian babies, or why only Jewish security matters, and not Palestinian security as well. In other words, the greatest danger Israel faces is the world deciding that Israel is a racist state with a fascist mentality, and slapping it with economic sanctions and/or embargoes. If Israel wants to be a member of the free world, it needs to act like a modern, civilized democracy.

As reported by Avi Yesawich and Daniel Nisman, two independent journalists who are both reservists in the IDF, "On April 14th, 2011 a group of senior political, security and intelligence officials introduced the Israel Peace Initiative, calling for negotiations with the Palestinians based on the 1967 borders and minor land swaps. It is difficult to imagine that these individuals, so intimately knowledgeable of the complex security and political situation on the ground, would actively postulate such a plan if its outcomes were to be so gravely detrimental for Israel. Furthermore, Gershon Baskin, Director of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, reinforced this approach through his experience with scores of US military officials, NATO officers, IDF generals and intelligence experts in the Mossad and Shin Bet; all emphasized that a lack of a comprehensive peace is infinitely more threatening to the Jewish State’s existence than withdrawal from the West Bank." Yesawich and Nisman echoed the Haaretz editorial with their observation that "What many [Israeli Jews] fail to understand is that our retention of the West Bank has become the primary weapon against us in a war of de-legitimization: An arsenal of legal, political, economic and moral weapons more powerful than anything that is currently stockpiled in Gaza or Lebanon." They concluded:

Michael Neumann points out that "Israel is the country of 'The Samson Option,' a phrase attributed to several Israeli prime ministers. In its moderate form, it calls for massive nuclear retaliation against any attack which threatens Israel's existence. Its less moderate version is articulated by ... Martin van Creveld, professor of military history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a sometime lecturer at the U.S. Naval War College. Van Creveld tells us that 'We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that that will happen before Israel goes under.' Now the world, as I understand it, contains quite a few unarmed (not to mention underage) civilians whose nations are big buddies of Israel, not to mention all such persons in 'states that formally were signatories to peace treaties'. Israel has, again and again, almost joyously asserted its iron-clad determination to stop at nothing in the exercise of its very generously conceived right of self-defense. The chances that it would let its cities burn and its citizens die in the streets out of scruples about signatures on a peace treaty are ... nil. What's more, Israel's whole strategy of deterrence depends on suggesting that, as Moshe Dayan famously declared, 'Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.'" [If any other nation threatened to use nukes to destroy the rest of the world rather than return blatantly stolen land to its rightful owners, that would raise eyebrows, to say the least, but Israel always gets a free pass, no matter how insanely its leaders rant and rave. But the bottom line is that no nation on earth can invade, much less conquer, Israel, because if Israel was in danger of losing a war, it would not only nuke its enemies, but its "friends" as well. Why? Because to the racist leaders of Israel the only people who matter in the least are Israeli Jews.]br>
Obviously, Israelis “in the know” are fully aware that Bibi is bluffing, as is "the smartest man in the room," since over the years the U.S. has supplied Israel with hundreds of billions of dollars in financial aid, advanced weapons and shared military technology. President Obama knows the power of Israel, and of course he knows that Israel has hundreds of nukes and other WMDs, meaning that no nation on earth can possibly hope to invade, much less conquer, Israel. So why aren’t American politicians calling Bibi's bluff? Why did Congress greet Bibi with 29 standing ovations when he stood before them, offering a gooey concoction of half-truths, evasions and outright lies? Unfortunately, Israel has turned the U.S. government into a gigantic cash machine. In go a few million dollars of Jewish campaign contributions and out pop billions of dollars in financial aid to Israel. As a bonus, Israel virtually controls U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis anything to do with Israel and the Palestinians. This allows Israeli Jews to break the teeth of Palestinians and steal their ever-dwindling land, while the Muslim world watches in horror and everything the U.S. says about "human rights" and "democracy" becomes a hollow mockery. But of course American politicians know where their bread is buttered: on the pro-Israel side. It is political suicide for American politicians to lose the votes of American Jews and Christians, most of whom support Israel unconditionally (and unthinkingly). What we are seeing is the Ultimate Shell Game, with any chance for world peace disappearing due to Bibi's sleight of hand ... unless Americans come to their senses soon, or the rest of the world intervenes.

While it's impossible for me to find humor in the collective imprisonment and punishment of millions of completely innocent Palestinian women and children, I can find notes of irony, as when leading Israeli politicians obviously want to rejoice in Israeli military supremacy while simultaneously making it seem Israel is doomed so that it can keep stealing more and more Palestinian land. For instance, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren writing in Foreign Policy recently said: “In six days Israel repelled” its enemies “and established secure boundaries ... It drove the Egyptians from the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula, and the Syrians, who had also opened fire, from the Golan Heights. Most significantly, Israel replaced the indefensible armistice lines by reuniting Jerusalem and capturing the West Bank from Jordan.”

In other words, the armistice lines were so "indefensible" that it took only six days to expand them to include the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula. And yet whenever Israel wants to steal more land from defenseless Palestinian farm families, which happens to be on a daily basis, suddenly Israel is "weak" and "surrounded by enemies" and left friendless by the rest of the world, even though the U.S. has endured 9-11 and fought two horrendous wars largely because Israel refuses to admit that Palestinians are human beings who deserve equal rights, justice and representative government.

If something smells rotten in Denmark, perhaps it's because fishy things are rapidly decaying. When a military superpower claims to be unable to defend itself one minute, then brags about how easily it can defeat its enemies the next, perhaps it's past time to open a window and let in some sunlight and fresh air, in the form of the truth.

And perhaps it's past time for Israel's leaders to remember what the man who considered himself to be the father of the modern state of Israel, Abba Eban, once said: “Israel’s birth is intrinsically and intimately linked with the idea of sharing territory and sovereignty.”

Related Links

Einstein on Palestine ... Why did Albert Einstein turn down the presidency of Israel, and what did the great Jewish intellectual, peace activist, pacifist and humanitarian have to say about the conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs?

Einstein denied any superior rights for Jews, calling for "complete equality" for Palestinians, saying: "The most important aspect of our policy must be our ever-present, manifest desire to institute complete equality for the Arab citizens living in our midst ... The attitude we adopt toward the Arab minority will provide the real test of our moral standards as a people." Only cooperation with Arabs, led by "educated, spiritually alert" Jewish workers, he wrote, "can create a dignified and safe life." He also said, "What saddens me is less the fact that the Jews are not smart enough to understand this, but rather, that they are not smart enough to want it."

Sigmund Freud on Palestine ... Why did Sigmund Freud, one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of all time, reject political Zionism?

I concede with sorrow that the baseless fanaticism of our people is in part to be blamed for the awakening of Arab distrust. ― Sigmund Freud

Mohandas Gandhi on Palestine ... What did Gandhi say about Palestine and the conflict between Jews and Arabs? What would have had said if he had seen the terrible suffering of the children of Gaza today?

If we are to have real peace in the world,
we will have to begin with the children.
Mohandas Gandhi.

Jimmy Carter ... "Israeli policy is to confiscate Palestinian territory."

Christians may want to consider the ethical questions What does the Bible say? What would Jesus do?

Albert Einstein's 1948 Letter to the New York Times  ... In this landmark letter, Albert Einstein and 27 other leading Jewish intellectuals, including Hannah Arendt and Sidney Hook, explained to Americans and the larger world that militant Zionist leaders like Menachem Begin (a future prime minister of Israel) were racists, fascists, terrorists and religious fanatics.

A scanned image of this letter is available at this link.

There is a path to peace through justice: The Burch-Elberry Peace Initiative

Why Israel is Wrong: Evidence for and the Case against Israel’s Racism, Apartheid and Ethnic Cleansing

Does Israel Really Want Peace?

Israeli Prime Ministers who were Terrorists

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