Avi Raz’s The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War is a meticulous examination of the two-year period that followed Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights.
It is notable for a number of reasons: its documentation of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that occurred during and after the war and its exposure of a policy of deliberate lying to conceal Israel’s real aims in the newly occupied territories. And perhaps most importantly, its virtually unassailable argument that Israeli policymakers never intended to relinquish the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which it promptly annexed, and contemplated annexing Gaza.
Also notable are the disclosure that Israeli officials acknowledged that the annexation of East Jerusalem and the construction of settlements in the West Bank violated international law, and Raz’s depiction of the US government’s steady supply of arms and political support to Israel during this period.
Raz is a former Israeli journalist turned historian who is now a member of the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University in England. The title of the book derives from an infamous quote by Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, Israel’s prime minister during that time, who referred to the West Bank and Gaza as the “dowry” Israel won in the 1967 War: “The trouble is that the dowry is followed by a bride [the Palestinians] whom we don’t want,” Eshkol said.
As Raz shows, Israel wasted little time in attempting to get rid of as many “brides” as it could without provoking an international furor. As early as the third day of the war, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan told Lt. Gen. Yitzhak Rabin “that the aim was to empty the West Bank of its inhabitants.”
More than 200,000 Palestinians fled or were forced to flee their homes and villages in the West Bank, even though none participated in the 1967 War. Some twenty West Bank villages were destroyed, either partially or completely. The main purpose of the village destruction, Raz notes, “was to obliterate the Green Line,” the unofficial border created by the 1949 armistice agreements.
The Israeli military “encouraged” Palestinians to flee eastward toward the East Bank of the Jordan River. Raz documents that thousands of Palestinians who attempted to return to their homes after the fighting ended were labeled “infiltrators.” Hundreds were killed when they tried to return, including women and children, some of whom were buried in mass graves.
Raz’s principal thesis is that Israel never intended to relinquish any part of the newly conquered land, which included the Syrian Golan Heights, or to engage in serious peace negotiations with the defeated Arab nations, particularly Jordan. Instead, Israel sought to buy time to settle the occupied territories while pretending to be open to a peace agreement in order to placate the US government, which saw Jordan as an important Cold War ally.
As Raz puts it, “My main argument is that Israel preferred land to peace and thus deliberately squandered a real opportunity for a settlement with its eastern neighbors. The Americans were not fooled by Israel’s foreign policy of deception. But despite possessing the necessary levers to exert influence on Israel, Washington did not use them.”
Raz distinguishes between certain types of “lying,” which he says nearly all nation-states engage in, often for national security reasons, and a policy of prevarication designed to disguise a nation’s true intentions and policies. Thus, he describes Israel’s claim that it was attacked first by Egypt on 5 June 1967, as a lie told because France had warned Israel that it would cancel arms supplies and a shipment of warplanes if Israel struck first.
In contrast and more seriously, Raz says Israel adopted a policy of lying in claiming its willingness to consider relinquishing territory in the interests of a peace settlement.
As evidence, Raz cites the author of one of Israel’s earliest “peace plans,” Yigal Allon (a deputy prime minister), who confessed privately that his proposal of limited Palestinian self-rule in the heavily-populated regions of the West Bank was mere subterfuge. Raz quotes Allon as saying, “‘No Arab would ever accept the plan and nothing will come of it, but we must appear before the world with a positive plan.’”
Eshkol and Abba Eban, then foreign minister, participated in the charade. Eshkol cited the danger of international sanctions against Israel if there was no peace proposal. Eban told the Israeli Labor Party’s “expanded political committee” that his office was engaged “in a tactical political struggle designed to maintain the status quo and to avoid ‘all kinds of calamities’ such as foreign political intervention.”
The government also lied, of course, about its efforts at ethnic cleansing. Raz describes confessions by a military spokesman who said he received instructions “from above” to tell journalists in July 1967 that the destruction of the West Bank towns of Bayt Awa and Bayt Mirsim had had occurred during clashes with Palestinian fighters when in fact no fighting took place. Ninety percent of the buildings in Bayt Awa were destroyed, and Bayt Mirsim was completely flattened, though residents were later allowed to return and rebuild.
Raz concludes that the later failure of the Oslo accords “is largely rooted in the pattern set by the Israeli government during the early days of the occupation.” He denies that security was Israel’s paramount concern and maintains that there was a political consensus to hold onto the occupied territories, despite the willingness to reach a peace accord by Jordan’s King Hussein and some of the Palestinian “notables,” members of the political elite at the time.
“Israel’s policy makers never doubted the peaceful intentions of either Hussein or the West Bank leaders,” he writes. “Israel resorted to a deceitful foreign policy precisely because the government was convinced that the king of Jordan and the West Bankers meant what they said regarding an accommodation with Israel.”
There is in fact something wistful in reading about the reaction of those Palestinian notables who concluded early on that Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem meant there was no possibility of a just peace settlement. It is the Palestinians who have lacked a partner for peace, and the Israeli government that has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Rod Such is a freelance writer and former editor for World Book and Encarta encyclopedias. He is a member of the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign and Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights.
- Yale University Press