Forty years ago, I was enraptured by Israel's courageous sense of mission. For me today, as for many, that idealism has palled.
Max Hastings in The Guardian:
I first visited Israel in 1969. It was a time when much of the western world was still passionately enthused about the country's triumph in the 1967 six-day war. President Nasser had for years promised to sweep the Israelis into the sea. Instead, the tiny Jewish state, less than 20 years old, had engaged the armies of three Arab nations, and crushingly defeated them all. The Israelis successively smashed through Nasser's divisions on the western front, scaled and seized the Golan Heights, and snatched east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the face of Hussein's highly capable Jordanian army. Sinai was left strewn with the boots of fleeing Egyptians. The Israeli victory was an awesome display of command boldness, operational competence and human endeavour.
There was a euphoria in Israel in those days, which many visitors shared. We watched Jews from all over the world gathering to pray at the Wailing Wall for the first time in almost 2,000 years; Israelis of all ages revelling in the sensation of being able to work the kibbutzim of the north free from Syrian shells. From inhabiting one of the most claustrophobic places in the world, suddenly they found themselves free to roam miles across Sinai on a weekend. The soldiers of the Israeli army, careerists, conscripts and reservists alike, walked 10ft tall – the image of an exulting soldier made it on to the cover of Life magazine. They had shown themselves one of the greatest fighting forces of history, expunging almost at a stroke the memory of Jewish impotence in the face of centuries of persecution, of six million being herded helpless into cattle trucks for the death camps.