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Israeli Novelist Highlights Lasting Consequences Of 6-Day War


This week marks the 50th anniversary of a war that redrew the map of the Middle East. In six days, Israel, surrounded by hostile neighbors, defeated the combined armed forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. It was the war that left the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip and the Palestinians who lived in those territories under Israeli control.

This week, we're asking a couple of writers - an Israeli and a Palestinian - what the Six-Day War and its consequences have meant for them, today Israeli novelist, playwright and essayist A.B. Yehoshua, who's active in the Israeli peace movement. Welcome to the program. And, Mr. Yehoshua, first, I wonder if you could take us back 50 years. What were you doing? And what was your experience of the Six-Day War?

A B YEHOSHUA: I was not in Israel. We had been finishing our study, my wife and myself, in Paris. And we had planned to return back to Israel on July the 15. So the Six-Day War caught us in Paris. And we were frightened and we were, of course, excited, but far away.

SIEGEL: Frightened and excited. First, I want to focus on frightened.

YEHOSHUA: Yes, because the threat was a real one. The fact that the whole Egyptian army and the Syrian army were nearby the center of Israel, the fact said the - such heavy army with tanks, with all the machines were so near to our houses, threatening us to destroy us.

SIEGEL: Then exciting. Was the sense of victory - was it exhilarating?

YEHOSHUA: Yes, of course. Of course. We did not - could not imagine that this could done so, I would say, easily. But the war was not done by the Palestinians. They identified with Egypt and Syria, of course, but they did not initiate this war. The initiative was coming mainly from Egypt, from Nasser, and he was responsible for the Six-Day War.

SIEGEL: Gamal Abdel Nasser, the leader of Egypt. You experienced life as an Israeli before 1967, when the country always seemed to be one - potentially one war away from annihilation, and life after 1967, when Israel was suddenly a regional power and a military force to be reckoned with. How did that change the psychology of being an Israeli?

YEHOSHUA: The psychology is because I was born in the country in '36 and I remember very well the war of independence in which really we had been in real danger. Now the question of our existence is solved. We are here. We are accepted by the - by our neighbors, most of our neighbors. And we have to solve the Palestinian problems. And the American has to help us because the American was saying from the Six-Day War that the settlement is an obstacle to peace, but they have done nothing to stop it. You are also responsible in a certain way for this.

SIEGEL: You place the settlements on the West Bank as a central obstacle to peace with the Palestinians.

YEHOSHUA: Yes, because you cannot evacuate now half a million of settlers. It is crazy thought. We are going slowly by our blindness and the stubbornness of the Palestinians to a kind of binational state. I don't know how it will work, but this is the real future that is waiting for us.

SIEGEL: Well, it couldn't have happened without the victory of 1967. That seemed to change everything.

YEHOSHUA: Yes. There are many good things that came from the '67 war. But the question of the settlement has to be solved in a certain way. But you have to help us not by talking, but to help - to come to what your president say a deal.

SIEGEL: Mr. Yehoshua, thank you very much for talking with us.

YEHOSHUA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.