Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 19, 2007

Six Days

Filed under: Film,middle east — louisproyect @ 3:49 pm

The subtitle of “Six Days,” a documentary that opened yesterday at the Quad Cinema in New York, is “June 1967: The War that Changed the Middle East.” Directed by Israeli émigré Ilan Ziv, it generally follows the formula of PBS Frontline shows or the History Channel. Striving for a neutral approach that avoids any hint of editorializing until the final 20 minutes, it concludes with a devastating look at the impact of Israel’s blitzkrieg victory in 1967–leaving no doubt about the director’s progressive intentions.

Ziv was the founder of Icarus Films in New York City, which later merged with First Run, another like-minded distribution company. Over the years I have reviewed a number of their excellent films, including most recently “The Angry Monk,” a film about Tibet that debunks the “spiritualist” hype associated with the Dalai Lama. Ziv stepped down from Icarus in 1980 in order to devote himself full-time to documentary film making. To give you a sense of where he is coming from politically, he made “Shrine Under Siege” in 1985, an attack on Jewish and Christian fundamentalist efforts to destroy the Dome of the Rock, Islam’s third holiest shrine, and to build a new Jewish temple in its place.

By June 1967, I had become radicalized by the war in Vietnam and was rethinking everything I had believed in the past, including Israel’s progressive reputation. Ziv’s film is an excellent reminder of why so many young Jews began to break with Zionism. It makes absolutely clear that despite Zionist propaganda Israel was the dominant power in the Middle East capable of reducing its neighbors to rubble.

The picture that emerges from “Six Days” is duplicity across the board. Egypt deceived its own people into believing that Arab nationalism was an irresistible force, while the Israeli government represented itself as a weak, besieged mini-state. Ironically, Nasser’s foolish boasting gave Israel a propaganda edge since any preemptive strike against its enemies would be regarded, especially in the liberal press, as necessary.

The war emerged out of a growing conflict between Israel and Syria, which had been involved in a number of border skirmishes that year. Nasser decided to put pressure on Israel by deploying tens of thousands of soldiers into the Sinai desert. He was under strong pressure from the USSR not to attack, however. Nasser also decided to stop Israeli ships from entering the Straits of Tiran, an act that Israel exploited as a causa belli.

Despite the image that Israel shrewdly cultivated as a victim, the army licked its chops at the opportunity to launch an attack on its enemies–Egypt, Jordan and Syria–under the direction of newly appointed Minister of Defense, the one-eyed Moshe Dayan.

On June 5th, 188 Israel jets flew under the radar at 7:45AM into Egypt and Syria and destroyed their entire air forces. Without air protection, their armies were defenseless. As discipline began to break down under a relentless Israeli air assault, thousands of Egyptian soldiers–mostly peasant reservists–began to run pell-mell from the Sinai desert back to their country. It was obvious that despite Nasser’s revolutionary nationalist ambitions, the country was hampered by underdevelopment. Until a country achieves a certain technological and educational threshold, it will remain vulnerable in war against a more developed enemy like Israel.

In one of the more grizzly scenes in “Six Days”, we see the charred bodies and vehicles of the fleeing Egyptians who were the same kind of victims of a “turkey shoot” that Iraqis became in the first Gulf War. While this immense catastrophe was taking place, Egyptian radio was broadcasting reports about the glorious victories taking place against the Zionist enemy. Once the bloodied remnants of the Egyptian army began to filter back into their villages, word got out about the terrible defeat and Nasser was forced to admit the truth in a tearful speech to his nation. He then resigned.

Shortly after he resigned, the Egyptian masses flooded into the streets carrying banners urging that he remain as President, which he did. Within a year or so, both he and Lev Eshkol, the Israeli Prime Minister, were dead of heart attacks.

Like a shark tasting blood, the Israel army plunged deeper into Jordan and Syria after disposing of the Egyptians. It seized the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Arab-controlled half of Jerusalem. Thus, the latest stage of the Palestinian problem was created as well as a sense of loss and betrayal among Muslims worldwide. To this day, the Jewish control of sacred sites in Jerusalem are a lingering affront to Arabs and Muslims everywhere and was no doubt one of the grievances that led to the terrorist attacks on September 11th.

If there is one criticism to be made of an otherwise excellent film, it is that it fails to provide sufficient historical context to the Six Day War. A viewer would be left with the impression that Arab nationalism led to an unprovoked war, with Nasser the counterpart of his Zionist foes.

In reality, Nasser’s decision to confront the Israelis came only after a prolonged series of provocations by Israel. In 1964, Israel began diverting water from the Jordan River in a move that anticipated future resource grabs by the Zionist state. In retaliation, the Arabs created a dam that would have diverted water back into Jordan and Syria. A year later, the Israelis blew it up.

A year later, Israel launched a military expedition into Jordan with the intention of taking a reprisal against a mine that had killed 3 of their soldiers in the West Bank. It led to the death of at least 50 Jordanian soldiers in a typically lopsided exchange and prompted LBJ to write a memo to Walt Rostow stating “retaliation is not the point in this case. This 3000-man raid with tanks and planes was out of all proportion to the provocation and was aimed at the wrong target”

Among the most interesting of a rafter of interesting interviewees in “Six Days” is one Abudullah Schleifer, an American Jew who converted to Islam. He looks and sounds like Allen Ginsberg in his youth. Schleifer lived in an apartment overlooking the Wailing Wall and recounts how the Israeli army destroyed the Arab homes around the wall shortly after seizing Jerusalem. He states that the city lost its spiritual uniqueness at that point and became what amounted to a Zionist theme park (my words, not his.)

The defeat of the Arab armies in 1967 was the next to final act of the inexorable decline and fall of bourgeois nationalism in the Middle East. With the invasion of Iraq, new forces have come into play that demonstrates a new resilience. With Hizbollah’s ability to withstand an IDF invasion last year and the now four-year old Sunni resistance against its benefactors in Great Britain and the USA, the Arab masses are finally beginning to raise new hopes that the region will be able to rid itself of colonialism. With Israel soldiers being forced to retreat back within their borders, perhaps we can expect the Americans and British to follow suit before long.

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