Forty years later, two view from the West Bank's Road 60
An Israeli and a Palestinian reflect on the impact of the Six-Day War that began 40 years ago Tuesday.
Sinjil and Shilo, West Bank
The road that runs between Sinjil and Shilo retraces one of the oldest paths in the Middle East.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The ancient Israelites would have traveled up it on their return from Egypt to bury Joseph's bones. Jesus would have traveled down it on the way from Galilee to Jerusalem. Slightly more recently, 820 years ago, Saladdin's forces pushed through here to wrest Jerusalem from the Crusaders to reclaim it for the Muslim world.
Today, Road 60 is still the backbone of the West Bank, like a spinal column upon which all movement is dependent. The Israeli and Palestinian communities along the route live in clear view of each other and hold radically different visions of who really belongs here and who is persecuting whom.
Here, along this serpentine road that rambles through a gentle green landscape, is the heartland of a conflict that was defined by the Six-Day War, which began 40 years ago Tuesday.
Just west off the road and up a hill, the Palestinian village of Sinjil has a proud history. It was named during the Crusader period as St. Gilles, pointing to at least a millennium of life here and more. It boasts a well that is believed by inhabitants to date to the time of the biblical Joseph, held in the Muslim tradition to be a prophet.
Turning east and up a steep slope, the Israeli settlement of Shilo feels itself equally rooted in past and present. Directions to Shilo, which the community's website offers, come straight from Judges 21:19. After the Exodus from Egypt, the first Israelite capital was here, and this was the place of the Tabernacle for more than 300 years.
Given that overwhelming weight of history, the past 40 years seem like a too-brief chapter in the life story of a corner of the earth that has long roused religious fervor and international rivalries.
But in these four decades since the fateful June 1967 war, when Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan – deemed a "liberation" by some Israelis and an "occupation" by Arabs and most others – there have been reality-altering changes in the landscape, from its physical characteristics to demography. The postwar settling of about 267,000 Jews into the West Bank have placed Israelis and Palestinians in uncomfortable proximity of each other and complicated the prospects of reaching a two-state solution.
Forty years of occupation
The people in Sinjil and Shilo can hardly be said to coexist. Rather, they partake in a hope that the other will eventually go away and stop making their lives miserable. They are dedicated to the absolute truths of their narrative, which, were they to exist in a vacuum, would be unassailable.
But nothing here happens in a vacuum. And so, when the Israeli army decided just a few years ago that one way to control militants or suicide bombers from leaving the West Bank was to seal most of the access roads leading to and from their villages, it meant that the people of Sinjil found themselves all but stuck. There were six entrances to the village, but the Israeli army put barriers up in all but one of them.
The field work manager for Btselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, says this is a typical state of affairs for Palestinian villages along Road 60. The fewer entrances to any village, the easier it is for Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to maintain control of who and what is traveling Road 60. The army says this has been effective in decreasing terrorism. Palestinians says it simply embitters and impoverishes.
For Fathi Shabaneh, it means that eking out a living in agriculture is increasingly difficult. Whereas he used to be able to take his produce into Ramallah in 15 minutes, now he can depend on it taking one to two hours, given the difficulty of travel for Palestinians and various checkpoints.
"As a farmer, I have a lot of land I cannot reach," says Mr. Shabaneh, pointing to an olive-tree grove that belongs to his family and sits just outside an IDF camp on an adjacent hill. He also has trees due north, just outside the Israeli settlement of Maale Levona, to which he occasionally walks.
Six-Day War chronology
June 5 – In a decisive step, Israeli planes destroy 400 aircraft, most sitting on tarmac, belonging to Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. Israelis enter the Sinai.
June 6 – Israel captures Gaza; troops move into the Jordanian sector of a divided Jerusalem.
June 7 – UN passes a cease-fire resolution. Israelis capture Jerusalem's Old City and takes control of the West Bank. Jordan accepts cease-fire.
June 8 – Israel takes control of Sinai Peninsula. Egypt accepts the cease-fire.
June 9 – Israeli Air Force pounds Syrian targets on Golan Heights.
June 10 – Israeli forces capture the Golan Heights. Syria accepts the cease-fire.
Israeli forces: 679 killed, 2,563 wounded; Arab forces: about 21,000 killed, 45,000 wounded.
Sources: "Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East" by Michael B. Oren; The Christian Science Monitor, 1967; Reuters; Associated Press.