Through the eyes of a dove: the truth about the early years of Israeli rule over the West Bank

May 14, 2014 | Ahron Shapiro

Through the eyes of a dove: the truth about the early years of Israeli rule over the West Bank

Part one of a two-part blog.


As one of Israel’s most highly respected legal scholars, columnists and politicians who spent his political career in parties left of Labor – and a fierce critic of Israeli West Bank settlements – Amnon Rubinstein has never been accused of sugarcoating his country’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza.

This is why – as we approach 47th anniversary of the Six Day War next month – it is revealing to take a look back at some of Rubinstein’s earlier writings on the subject – especially, his body of seven feature-length articles that he wrote for the New York Times between mid-1968 and mid-1973.

The full articles, which can be accessed on the New York Times website for a fee (free for digital subscribers), create credible, fact-based snapshots of the early years of Israeli administration of these territories. Buried in these articles are details of the developing Israeli policies at work – and their effects both positive and negative – providing insights into the Israeli intent and decision-making vis-à-vis the Palestinians every step of the way.

Importantly, Rubinstein’s reporting illustrates how Israel meticulously observed a policy of non-intervention in Palestinian affairs except in matters directly affecting Israeli security.

Moreover, in the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War, Rubinstein showed a large portion of the Israeli government – as well as a number of Palestinian leaders on the West Bank – supported the creation of a demilitarised Palestinian state. Ironically, Jordan’s King Hussein and, for different reasons, Palestinian terror groups such as Fatah were the ones working against it. This is a particularly salient point when you consider that, initially, not a single Israeli settlement existed in the West Bank or Gaza at the time.

Finally, Rubinstein’s reports show that, far from harbouring ill-feelings towards Palestinians, Israelis saw the Palestinians as potential peace partners and reached out to them in spheres of health and social welfare, while patronising their businesses and assisting Palestinian farmers to develop their agriculture.

Throughout all of his writings, Rubinstein makes it clear that he does not support Israel holding onto the territories indefinitely. However, he does join the majority of Israelis who support exchanging them for a genuine peace agreement, including security guarantees.

Finally, it’s important to consider when reading Rubinstein’s musings that the height of Palestinian terror in Israel, including the 1974 massacre of 25 schoolchildren and teachers in Ma’a lot and the 1978 Coastal Road massacre that killed 38 Israeli civilians, had not yet occurred at the time these articles had been written – nor had the incessant rocket and artillery barrages that led to the 1982 Lebanon War which pitted Israel against the army of the Palestine Liberation Organisation taken place. Until the PLO renounced terror and accepted the concept of a two-state outcome, and so long as the Palestinians in the territories allowed the PLO to speak for them, Israel’s prospects for peace were focused almost entirely on Jordan. King Hussein shut the door on the “Jordanian option” in August 1988, when he renounced Jordanian claims to the West Bank.


Article #1: A Year After the Six Day War, Israel Still Finds That in Victory There is No Peace
Date of publication: June 2, 1968
Article in brief: Rubinstein gives an overview of the events of the past year and some Israeli and Palestinian perspectives of the situation at the time.

On the Israeli policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians:

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is a new experience. Its central concept was formulated by Moshe Dayan, the Minister of Defense, whose postwar record shines as brightly as his military career. It is as simple as it is ingenious. Says Col. Shlomo Gazit, administrative head of the new territories: “Our principle is not to intervene in the affairs of the inhabitants. This means that they continue to have recourse to their own organizations and officials. If they want our assistance, we are ready to help. Otherwise, we are interested only in security matters.”

The nonintervention policy has some extreme manifestations: The school system is now independent and is run by a West Bank Educational Council. Arab nationalist literature is sold freely; an ex-Jordanian Minister, Anwar Nuseibeh, states at a public gathering in Tel Aviv that the war was an Israeli act of aggression; the Israeli radio broadcasts in a direct transmission from El Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem the Friday Moslem sermons without prior checking, although these sermons are frankly of a political and nationalistic nature. When two Arab judges refused to allow Israeli lawyers to plead before them – contrary to an order issued by the military command – they were neither dismissed nor reprimanded; rather, the military command announced that it would reconsider the validity of its order in the light of the Arab judges’ opinion.

The results of this unprecedented occupation can be seen on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, where the great numbers of Israeli sightseers stand in contrast to the very few Israeli military personnel visible. The whole military administration of the new territories – 32,000 square miles and more than a million inhabitants – numbers 249 Israelis, while the local Arab civil service numbers 9,713 men.

On Palestinian reluctance to unite behind the idea of a separate peace with Israel involving the creation of a Palestinian state:

The Palestinian Arabs, excepting a courageous minority, have up to now refused to deal with Israel or even to establish their own leadership above the level of local authorities…

The Palestinians’ refusal to negotiate directly with Israel is also motivated by fear of Jordanian reprisals when, and if, Israel withdraws. As time goes by, the Palestinians may despair of their protectors in Cairo and Amman, as well as of the much-awaited “miracle” coming from the “international arena.” This possible change in mood, plus the realization that Israel does not want to dominate them, but is interested only in safeguarding its own security, may lead to a direct settlement between Arabs and Jews in their common land.

On the importance of not withdrawing unilaterally without a peace agreement with security safeguards:

“The present borders,” says Gen. Ariel (Arik) Sharon, “are not borders of peace. They are war-prevention borders.” Few Israelis would be ready to give up this asset in return for words and papers, even if the Arabs were ready to consider such a deal.

Article #2: ‘Damn Everybody’ Sums Up the Angry Mood of Israel
Date of publication: February 9, 1969

Article in brief: An increase in Palestinian guerrilla attacks brings Israeli retaliation, which is met by UN condemnation. Israeli hopes that the Arab countries will make peace with her fades.

On the role of Palestinian terrorism in undermining peace prospects:

“…the Arab terror has succeeded in driving a wedge between Israel and many of her friends.

Israelis are aghast that “the world” should so misunderstand the Arab terror. They feel that this is no ordinary resistance or liberation movement. It does not simply want to liberate the occupied territories from the yoke of the Israeli conqueror. The terrorist movements claim again and again that they aim at “liberating all of Palestine and not part of it.”

This has been their professed objective ever since Al Fatah, the most active terrorist organization, was established on Jan. 3, 1965, and it is repeated almost daily in communiques and broadcasts. The terrorists are careful not to repeat their prewar cry of “Massacre the Jews”; they talk instead of “annihilating the Zionists.” An official communique transmitted on Oct. 1, 1968, states that Fatah will not lay down its arms “until the last Zionist has been killed.”


From the point of view of the fedayeen terrorists, their greatest success has been virtually to kill any prospect of a peaceful settlement between Israel and the Arab states. The influence of the fedayeen on Arab public opinion is growing daily.

On the willingness of Israel to discuss peace, even with Yasser Arafat:

The terrorists’ total rejection of Israel is not only an official attitude but an idea indoctrinated into the rank and file. On Dec. 21, 1968, Moshe Dayan met one of the terrorists captured in Wadi Kelt…

Dayan happened to be in Jericho at the time, and he asked that Ali, leader of the unit, be brought before him. After talking to Ali about the Fatah training and living conditions, Dayan inquired whom Ali and his friends would regard as their leader. Ali, a 20-year-old Palestinian, answered that they regard all Palestinian leaders and mayors as traitors, that Nasser is a has-been but that Yassir Arafat, chief of Fatah, is their one and only true leader. Then came an unexpected gesture from Dayan: “I shall let you go free back to Jordan, provided you arrange a meeting between me and Yassir Arafat.” Ali was staggered but then said: ‘That won’t do. You are not simply Moshe Dayan. You are a member of the Zionist Government. We cannot deal with you.”

Article #3: Jews and Arabs live side by side, but not together; No Man’s Land Remains in Jerusalem

Date of publication: May 11, 1969
Article in brief: Rubinstein looks at the current state of affairs between Jerusalem’s Palestinians and Israelis. Rubinstein separates the political resentment Palestinians have towards the Israeli unification of Jerusalem with the appreciation Palestinians have had for some of the positive effects of being linked to Israel, particularly in terms of workers’ rights, equitable wages and free speech.

On East Jerusalem’s neglect under Jordanian rule:

The Israeli part of the city developed rapidly; there were 100,000 Jews there in 1948 and there are 210,000 now… 

On the other side of no man’s land, Arab Jerusalem slumbered among its world-renowned holy places and its winding alleys. There were 60,000 Arabs in the city in 1948; there are 66,000 now.

On the effects of applying Israeli workplace rights and wage norms to East Jerusalem:

Israeli society is egalitarian in its distribution of wealth as well as in its mentality. The best-paid workers get about three and a half times as much as the worst-paid; in Jordan, the highest-paid workers receive about 12 times as much as the lowest-paid…

The municipality has retained all 500 Arab employees of the former East Jerusalem administration. The ranking ones – the town’s deputy engineer, for instance – get roughly the same salaries as they had before, about $350 a month. But the lowest sanitation worker gets $102 a month -seven times the salary he had before…

Rubinstein describes other ways East Jerusalem has benefitted from Israel:

A quarterly family allowance now goes to about 3,500 Arab families. New medical services have been introduced. The city government is spending $4.3 million on East Jerusalem this year – six times the annual budget of the Jordanian administration. Before the 1967 war. Old City residents had running water twice a week, and sometimes even less frequently. Now water flows freely and consumption has almost doubled since the war. Municipal officials estimate that average income from trade has risen 50 per cent, and they say that garbage collections have increased tremendously, indicating a rise in food consumption and a higher standard of living.

On the effects of the free press the Palestinians enjoy under Israel:

There are two Arab daily newspapers in Jerusalem. One, El Anba, is Jewish-sponsored, relatively moderate and has a circulation of 5,000; the other, El Kuds, is an Arab-owned nationalistic publication with a circulation of 12,000. Like all Israeli papers, both El Anba and El Kuds are subject to military censorship but are free of political restraints. Ahmed Barham, a 46-year-old El Anba staff member, says of the days under Jordanian rule: “Had I written then half of the things I write now against the Government – and I have a lot against the Israeli Government – I would have been thrown into jail. Being a journalist now is so much easier.”

El Kuds prints strongly worded, sometimes vitriolic, attacks against Israel and, above all, against its occupation of Jerusalem. Its acrimony occasionally causes an uproar. Says Mahmoud Abu Zalaf, the 44-year-old owner and editor of El Kuds: “There is no political censorship over my paper. I enjoy complete freedom of expression, like any other Israeli paper.”

On East Jerusalem’s growing support for the Histadrut:

Shortly after the war, this powerful Israeli trade-union organization moved into East Jerusalem with its efficiency and drive. It found a Dickensian situation: young boys working for 30 cents a day in sweat shops; 12-hour days and seven-day weeks; humble employees accepting as a matter of course the bosses’ dictatorial powers. The Histadrut set up a branch in East Jerusalem, put up a sign and waited. At first a hesitant few showed up – shy, slightly afraid, tongue-tied – complaining of their lot. The word spread; here was an address where one could find a willing ear and a helping hand. By the beginning of January, 1968, only 250 had joined Then, in February, there was a showdown. Three Arab employees at the National Palace Hotel were fired because they had joined the Histadrut. The union demanded that they be reinstated…

[After a successful Histadrut-led strike] The flabbergasted owner capitulated, agreeing to arbitration. The battle was won. Hundreds of Arabs thronged to the Histadrut office seeking membership. By the end of February, there were 1,300 members; now there are 4,700, more than 40 per cent of East Jerusalem’s labor force.

Even so:

Though companionship on the job may ease nationalistic tensions, it would be misleading to conclude that Israel is popular among the workers of East Jerusalem. Like the overwhelming majority of Palestinians. they want the Israelis to go…

In a paradoxical way, the Israelis’ successes have made their presence even more unbearable to the Arabs. Added to defeat is frustration; it is simple to hate the enemy, it is much more demanding to have mixed feelings about him.

Article #4: And Now in Israel, A Fluttering of Doves

Date of publication: July 26, 1970
Article in brief: Rubinstein highlights a number of left-wing groups pushing Israel’s Labor government to take more of an initiative for peace, particularly with the Palestinians. If it wasn’t for Palestinian terrorism and incitement, Rubinstein writes, the majority of Israelis would support this agenda.

On Israeli peace groups:

They believe that some compromise solution must be found to bring an end to the tragic conflict between Arabs and Jews.

This mood is tested daily by the brutal fedayeen attacks on civilians and the venomous anti-Jewish propaganda emanating from Arab radio stations and press. Yet the mood persists; its motto is: “If the Arabs are ready for real peace, we would be ready to give up a lot.” In other words, these dissenters believe, the national consensus is being kept in existence by the continuous Arab “no.”…

The great majority of Israelis would give up territory, dispense with diplomatic paraphernalia and go out of their way to put an end to the war. At the same time, they are ready to fight with the courage and valor which have made them famous, provided they know that there is ein breira, that there is “no alternative,” and that war and death are forced upon them.

On the obstacles to peace:

Most Israelis would trade almost all of the new territories in return for peaceful relations with neighboring countries. But nobody offers Israel such a peace. Not even friendly intermediaries talk of the type of peace which would allow Israel to reduce its armaments and live in security.

All the American peace plans mapped out since the Six-Day War exclude diplomatic relations and do not ensure open borders between Israel and her neighbors. The “contractual peace” provided for by Secretary of State Rogers’s formula seeks to squeeze out of the Arabs hardly anything more than a legal recognition of Israel and its borders. Israeli withdrawal from the west bank of the Jordan River, under present circumstances, would restore the pre – 1967 closed borders and would bring the fedayeen from the Jordan Valley to the outskirts of Tel Aviv.

On why peace is elusive:

A compromise between Arab and Jew is needed not only because war is hateful, but also because a compromise is a just and moral solution to a tragic conflict between two types of “justice” – the Jewish justice and the Arab justice. Yet, as Amos Oz has pointed out, the conflict is asymmetrical: while the Israelis are ready for compromise and coexistence, the Arabs seek to annihilate Israel. As long as this asymmetry persists, this inherent understanding for the Arabs will not be translated into action.

Often the peace dissenters themselves admit that, in the present circumstances, nothing Israel can do unilaterally will help.

On Arab refusal to accept Jewish self-determination:

[The Israeli doves’] greatest frustration is the total absence of any corresponding voice of dissent from the other side. The only voice for Arab moderation is that of Cecil Hourani, a Westernized Arab, who opposes Arab war tactics against Israel. But even this courageous and lonely voice in the wilderness rejects the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine and sees Arab moderation as a means toward diluting and then eliminating Israel. Yet the existence of Israel as an independent Jewish nation, the right of Jews to self-determination, is a condition sine qua non to all dissenting groups.

Article #5: Why The Israelis Are Being Difficult
Date of publication: April 18, 1971
Article in brief: Rubinstein explains why Israel is remains wary of Egypt, despite a more conciliatory tone emerging from the late President Gamal Nasser’s replacement Anwar Sadat.

On the Arab use of subterfuge in diplomacy, as a way of achieving the elimination of Israel in stages:

Al Goumhouria, the official newspaper of the Arab Socialist Union, wrote on Feb. 4, 1971:

“The liberation of Palestine will not be achieved by waving empty slogans but by using realistic slogans adapted to a given situation. Such a realistic slogan is ‘the elimination of the consequences of Israeli aggression,’ which should lead to the further slogan of ‘returning Israel to the original partition borders,’ which will eventually give birth to another slogan – ‘restoring the ties of each Jewish community to the mother country from which they came.’ “

And the newspaper goes on to admonish the impatient by telling them that “just as an officer who does not know how to camouflage his tank with leaves is guilty of dereliction of his duty, so is the politician who uses an explicit and uncamouflaged slogan.”

Article #6: The Growing Confidence of the Israelis
Date of publication: June 17, 1972
Article in brief: Rubinstein explains why the Israeli government has opted to maintain the status quo rather than take unreasonably high risks for peace.

On the reasons for Israel’s caution:

It is this fear that territorial concessions will not put an end to Arab enmity which explains the present hawkish mood of the Israeli public and its overwhelming support for the Government’s policy. Critics of this Israeli policy abound inside as well as outside Israel. I have criticized Premier Meir’s hard line.

Yet one must realize that this line and the actions of the Israeli Government would not have taken place were it not for the persistent Arab refusal to acknowledge the presence and viability of an independent Jewish state in their midst. This refusal is responsible for the vicious cycle which plagues the Middle East; it breeds distrust among Israelis, a distrust which, in turn, strengthens Israel’s grip on the new territories which, in turn, increases Arab hatred of Israel.

Article #7: A sort of social revolution: The occupation
Date of publication: May 6, 1973
Article in brief: This 4,750 word feature looks at the effects of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank six-years on.

On the result of Israel’s non-intrusive policy in the West Bank:

In the Six Day War in 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank of the Jordan River, an area previously controlled by Jordan, and when hostilities ended, the Palestinian Arabs who live in the area followed the Middle Eastern habit of blessing their new master and cursing the old one. The instinctive gesture of hundreds of East Jerusalem Arabs, after waking up to the Israeli victory, was to strike the word “Jordan” from the license plates of their cars.

But very soon, the conquered Palestinians learned that the Israelis expected “honesty” and suspected the humble and submissive. Under Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan’s orders for “minimal intervention” by the military administration of the territory, the West Bankers could enjoy considerable freedom, in some ways more than they had known before. And new access to Israel meant a new opportunity for social and economic development for the area. The result is that today the West Bank is a deeply ambivalent place.

A visitor to the West Bank these days, for example, is likely to see the habitués of a sidewalk cafe quietly listening to the daily exhortations from Radio Cairo, and he would be aware of the stubborn determination in the eyes of the villagers of Aqraba when they look at part of their grazing land, taken from them by Israeli authorities and now part of Gititi, a new Israeli settlement. But he would also see fellahin clustering around an Israeli farming expert, seeking advice, knowledge and assistance; he would see a quarry near Bethlehem owned jointly by Arabs and Jews, and in Nablus he might witness an agricultural fair presided over by the Arab Mayor and Jewish military governor and ending with an equestrian show in which Arabs and Jews participate.

Nowhere is the paradox of the West Bank more apparent than in the Arab-owned newspapers of Jerusalem, which use the freedom of dissent permitted by the Israelis to rail against the very officials who have made such attacks possible.

On the paradox that while Palestinians reject Israel verbally, it hasn’t been reflected in action [the first intifada still fifteen years away]:

Rejection of the Israeli rule is the one common denominator that unites the West Bank. West Bankers denounce the new Israeli settlements on the West Bank slopes facing the Jordan River. Arab Moslem leaders are incensed by the new regulations allowing Jews more praying hours in the Patriarchs’ Tomb in Hebron, which they regard as a Moslem mosque, wholly theirs. Complaints about land taken by military authorities abound – some justified by facts – and the new housing developments in Jerusalem are seen by East Jerusalemites as a Jewish “encirclement” of their city. Israeli rule is referred to – with hardly any exception – as “The Occupation,” and except in Bethlehem and Beit Jala, two Christian towns which are in effect suburbs of Jerusalem, there has been not one single Arab voice advocating the extension of Israeli sovereignty and citizenship to the West Bank and its Arabs.

Yet for all of its passion, this is truly the rhetoric of ambivalence, and it would be a mistake to conclude that the West Bankers regard the Israelis with hatred or that their attitudes reveal the usual characteristics of a people under foreign occupation. For the facts of life in the West Bank are wholly incompatible with the traditional syndrome of a military occupation. The West Bank is singularly quiet for a country under occupation. In 1972, not one person – Arab or Jew – was shot dead on the West Bank, and very few shots were fired at all. Despite the fact that the West Bank is garrisoned by a handful of Israeli soldiers, the visitor can drive safely to the remotest village in the Judean Hills and picnic along the cease-fire line, near the River Jordan.

On the empowerment of the Palestinian working class as a result of the Occupation:

The impact of the Israeli rule on this traditional Arab society has yet to be studied and assessed, but certain aspects are already apparent. First, and above all, a great economic boom has lifted the two lower classes out of their traditionally inferior role and has thrust them into a relative prosperity. The boom resulted from the gradual merger of manpower-starved Israel with the preindustrial West Bank. The flow of West Bank workers to Israel has become a tidal wave – an estimated 30,000 workers, most commuting daily from West Bank villages under permits entitling them to travel freely in Israel but not to remain there overnight. They receive the same wages as Israeli workers would for the same jobs, and those who come through labor exchanges are entitled to all social-security benefits as well as to the services and protection of Histadrut, Israel’s labor federation…

The capacity of the fellahin to adapt to technological change and to overcome traditional suspicions defies their traditional conservative image. The result is that the value of agricultural produce on the West Bank has risen from $39 million in 1968 to $65 million in 1972.

On the empowerment of Palestinian women:

Interesting too is the disproportionate growth of women in secondary education. In 1967 there were 16 girls’ schools with a total enrollment of 3,289 students, taught by 101 female teachers. Now there are 27 schools, 4,640 students and 280 teachers. Dr. Salim Nashef, dean of the Agricultural Institute in Tulkarm, one of the West Bank’s best educational institutions, writes in his survey on education in the West Bank that there is “a proliferation of academic schools and a marked increase in the number of female students over that of 1966-7.” This, too, may be the result of the impact of Israel, where equality of women clashes sharply with the male-dominated Arab society.

On Israel’s support for withdrawal as part of a peace agreement:

…the ruling Labor party’s declared policy accepts the idea of Arab sovereignty within Palestine. The West Bank under this policy would be linked to the East Bank via a small corridor that would cut through the defense strip along the River Jordan. At a recent meeting of the Labor party council, most speakers, including Premier Golda Meir, former chief of staff Chaim Bar-Lev and Minister of Finance Pinhas Sapir, declared themselves in favor of the principle of the Allon plan. This plan, named after its author, Deputy Premier Yigal Allon, calls for the establishment of an Israeli buffer zone on the relatively unpopulated eastern slopes of the West Bank. This zone (including an access corridor) plus a unified Jerusalem would constitute the territorial price that Jordan would have to pay Israel for getting back most of the West Bank and more than 90 per cent of its population.

The Allon plan is founded on the idea that the West Bankers have a right to self-determination within a greater Palestinian-Jordanian state or confederation; it is also based on the problem of the “demographic factor” – i.e., the danger to the clear Jewish majority if the West Bank were annexed to Israel. The successful management of the West Bank has not diminished the relevance of these two concerns. The desire to be free of foreign rule continues, to pervade the West Bank and Israelis see a danger to the very fiber of Israeli society when Arabs take over menial jobs from Jews. Thus, despite the successful rule, there is’ almost a consensus within the Labor party regarding an eventual return of the populous zones of the West Bank to Arab rule.

Rubinstein correctly foresees the intifada in Israel’s distant future, but even as a dove, supports Israel retaining some open areas overlooking the Jordan Valley for reasons of security:

It is true that under a liberal occupation – of which Dayan was the chief architect and for which he should be credited – the conflict between Arabs and Jews, far from being exacerbated, as many had predicted, has actually diminished. But if occupation is extended indefinitely, this process, I believe, is bound to be reversed. The thirst of the Palestinians for self-rule cannot be quenched by granting them liberties under a regime of military rule. An eventual rapprochement with the Palestinians must be based upon their legitimate right to rule the territory they inhabit. The Allon plan ensures this right and limits Israeli control to a territory in which only a handful of Palestinians live. In my opinion, this plan, provided it is coupled with a legal recognition of the Arab interests in a unified Jerusalem, can serve as a basis for a just peace between Jews and Arabs in their common homeland.

Ahron Shapiro

Part two of the two-part blog will introduce additional evidence supporting Rubinstein’s conclusions through the reporting of some of the US and UK’s leading correspondents over the same time period. It will further show that Israel’s soft-touch policy in the territories was not intended to pacify Palestinians into accepting a long-term status-quo, but was expected to only last as long as was necessary for either Jordan or the Palestinians to agree to directly negotiate peace with Israel – something that Israeli leaders believed was imminent following the war.

Finally, it will also show that a long-term trend towards increasing Israeli military presence in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the necessary curtailment of Palestinian access to Israel, occurred only as a direct result of the increase in the participation of local Palestinians in violence and terror activity, and for no other reason.






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