On Wednesday 24th October, Oxford’s Dr Avi Raz delivered a talk at the DPIR in order to launch his new book, “The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War”. The book – an expansion of his doctoral thesis – is a well-researched account of events surrounding one of the most important periods in the history of the Middle East: one which saw Israel secure a resounding victory over the Arab armies in the six day war, therein gaining territory 3 times the size of its nation and, after 2000 years, returning a united Jerusalem to Jewish authority.
The aim of the book is to challenge the prevailing Israeli narrative of the period, which paints Israel as a nation besieged by warmongering Arab states, fearing for its very existence, and consistently willing to trade land for its avowed ultimate goal of peace. The Israeli explanation for its failure to secure peace has always been ‘Arab intransigence’ and that, although it actively sought to exchange land for peace, there was no-one to talk to on the Arab side.
What emerges from Raz’s extensive examination of the primary documents, however, is a rather different story: while many Arab nations did refuse to discuss peace terms with Israel, Raz finds that the two claimants to the West Bank and Arab Jerusalem – the Palestinian leadership and King Hussein of Jordan – “were ready and eager to resolve the conflict with Israel directly”. Rather than agreeing to discuss the plans put forward for peace by their adversaries, Raz finds that, instead, Israel adopted a policy of procrastination, the main explanation for which, according to the author, was to mislead the American’s into thinking they desired peace and therein retain US support and funding.
Far from being a peace-seeking but spurned nation, then, Raz discovers a very different Israel: one that, when faced with a choice, decided in favour of securing land over peace, while carefully shielding itself against incurring the moral wrath of the international community, and particularly that of its sponsor and protector. In order to achieve these aims, Israel adopted what Raz describes as a “deliberate policy of deception”, involving maintaining the appearance of seeking peace with the Arabs while covertly manoeuvring to consolidate its territorial gains.
The title of the book, “The Bride and the Dowry”, at first seems an unusual choice but actually makes quite a fitting epithet as it is a reference to the revealing metaphor used by the then Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol to explain the fundamental aims of Israeli in the aftermath of the war. In his mind, Israel had, during the course of the six day war, come into possession of both a bounteous dowry, the territories it conquered. Unfortunately, this dowry was followed by a bride they “did not want”, namely the Arab population. For Israel, this bride constituted a severe demographic threat to Israel’s vision of a Jewish democracy extending from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan and would need to be repudiated but preferably, if it could be managed, with Israel being permitted to keep the dowry.
Israel’s aim in the subsequent period therefore was to retain its territorial conquests of the West Bank and Jerusalem while encouraging the removal of the Arab inhabitants. According to Raz they took substantial steps to ensure this, including providing free one-way transport across the Jordan River and touring the land with loudspeakers warning the Arabs of the possibility of violence if they stayed. Again, Israel seems to have conducted this policy under a cover of darkness while all the time maintaining to the international community that its plans were to eventually return the lands to the Palestinian inhabitants, as well as making staple assurances that those who were leaving were doing so voluntarily (and temporarily).
Overall, the book is timely and important contribution to our understanding of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and offers a compelling reassessment of Israel’s part in the failure to establish a durable peace in the region – an unhappy legacy that remains with us today. It also offers a welcome contribution to the debate over reasons for America’s special relationship with Israel, which many would argue no longer serves its best interests (and perhaps even perpetuates conflict in the Middle East). His central thesis – that Israel sought to keep the dowry and repudiate the bride and was able to do so by following a deliberate policy of deceiving the US and the international community – constitutes a serious challenge to the Israeli narrative, and one that casts serious doubt over the proclaimed legitimacy of its continued occupation of the West Bank.