Tom Segev: Six-Day War, in Revisionist History, Was Provoked by Israelis

Historians in the News

For most Israelis and much of the world, the 1967 Six-Day War is a simple David and Goliath story.

Syria lobs shells onto the Galilee. Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser orders United Nations troops out of his way, masses his army opposite the border with Israel and vows to drive the Jews into the sea. Israel hesitates but finally strikes, smashing its enemies and conquering territory more than three times its size in the time it took God to create the world.

In "1967: Israel, the War and the Year That Transformed the Middle East," Tom Segev, an Israeli journalist and historian, shows little patience with this narrative. As one of Israel's ``new historians,'' who over the past two decades have recast the history of Israel and Zionism in an almost always unfavorable light, he wants to consign the heroic version of the Six-Day War to the dust heap.

In Segev's view, Israel's internal dynamics provoked the war. After a growth spurt following the state's founding in 1948, its economy had slid into a deep recession in the year before the conflict. Israelis felt ideologically adrift. Their leaders, almost all of them European-born Jews, feared the menace to their dominance from the Jews of Middle Eastern origin who by then comprised the majority of the population.

The country despaired of ever living peacefully with its neighbors and saw in their threats a second Holocaust in the making. Even as diplomats were working feverishly to blow back the clouds of war, Segev contends, Israelis were spoiling for a fight....

Segev's unrelenting focus on Israel makes"1967" the equivalent of a book on 1930s Britain that details the debates over rearmament and foreign policy yet makes Hitler little more than the object of controversy and concludes that Churchill's warmongering is what started World War II. It's a coherent narrative but defective history....

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