Today, it is hard to recapture the feelings that existed before the Six-Day War. At that time, people everywhere – including most of the Jewish community inside and outside Israel – sincerely believed the Arab threats to push Israel into the sea. They felt that it was only a matter of time before those threats would be carried out. As the war drew nearer and nearer, their premonitions of dread continued to increase.
The Rebbe, in contrast, radiated strength and confidence. Before the war, he made both public and private statements, stating that this was a period of unique Divine favor for the Jewish people, and promising that they would soon be rewarded by wondrous miracles. When American students in Israel were streaming to the airport by the thousands, the Rebbe told his followers to stay in the Holy Land, assuring them that they did not face any danger.
Immediately after the war was concluded, the Rebbe began to speak out against the return of the territories Israel had conquered. At that point, no one could appreciate what the Rebbe meant. Never in world history had any one ever thought of returning land won in a defensive war.
And yet, shortly after the war, a state delegation from Jerusalem arrived in Washington and told the Americans to advise the Arabs that Israel was prepared to give back the land she had conquered in exchange for peace.At first the Americans were amazed; they did not believe what they were hearing. But when the Israelis repeated their promises, they communicated the message. The Arabs, flabbergasted, had not dreamed that Israel would ever consider giving away these territories. The Americans, however, assured them that the Israelis meant what they said.
Why didn’t the Arabs agree? Because at that time, they could not contemplate giving even lip service to the concept of peace. So powerful was their hatred that they could not publicly state that they would end their aggression against Israel.And yet, the fact that they digested the Israeli message was harmful. From that moment, they launched a diplomatic campaign calling for the return of the land that Israel had conquered. Had Israel not made these offers, the Arabs would never have contemplated making such demands.
A similar pattern could be seen with regard to the Arabs living in the West Bank. Directly after the war, the majority of the Arabs wanted to flee to the other Arab countries. Many others would have gladly done so had they been offered some financial recompense. At that point in time, the other Arab countries would have accepted them. They would have had no choice. And yet Israel’s leaders closed the borders and prevented these Arabs from leaving.
At that time, Israel’s government explained that they were encouraging the Arabs to stay because they wanted to show the world a shining example of coexistence between nations. What shortsightedness! Had they left, the Intifada, the demographic problem, and all the sensitive issues that a large Arab population in the West Bank creates would never have arisen. And any significant reduction in the Arab population would have diminished the magnitude of these problems.
Nor is shortsightedness the only difficulty. The greater reason for having the Arabs stay was that Israel’s self-image was not strong enough to see herself settling the entire land and maintaining possession. Although from a security perspective this is vital for the country’s future, the Israeli government lacked the inner resolve to make this commitment to the country’s tomorrow.
Instead, the government restricted Jewish settlement in the Old City of Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank. Rather than create a situation which would have made the unity of the holy city and the continued possession of the West Bank a logical necessity, the Israeli government always treated the land as “occupied territory.” Indeed, this conception was continually reinforced by government communiquÈs and the official government news media, which always referred to the West Bank as hashtachim (“the territories”), instead of the Hebrew names for Judea (Yehudah) and Samaria (Shomron). Moreover, the government always treated the Arabs as the rightful owners of the land, clearly indicating that a just settlement of the issue would involve an Israeli withdrawal.
From the outset, the Rebbe called for settlement of the entire land, emphasizing that not only from a spiritual perspective, but also from a security perspective, the Land of Israel is a single, indivisible entity. He did not see the government’s program of partial settlement as a solution, for it placed the settlers in danger, and never reflected a sincere commitment to command authority over the land in its entirety.