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June 7: The anniversary nobody remembers [View All]

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Jefferson23 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jun-07-11 10:43 AM
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June 7: The anniversary nobody remembers
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A secret meeting 44 years ago today could have changed the course of Middle Eastern history. But it never happened.

In this part of the world, carrying tragic dates around in your head is kind of like breathing: you do it automatically, without thinking. This time of year, for Palestinians, June 5 marks the 44th anniversary of their occupation by Israel. June 6, in the evening, evokes the darkness when Ramallah fell, and finally people realised that the tanks rolling into town were not Iraqis sent to the aid of the local people: they belonged to the army of Israel.

June 7? That's the morning Ramallah woke up to soldiers calling through bullhorns for the people to hang something white from the windows: unambiguous signs of surrender to the occupying forces. "I couldn't find anything," remembers Rima Tarazi, now 79, a pianist and composer whose family founded Bir Zeit University in the 1920s. So she took one of her child's diapers and hung it from the balcony.

Just two days earlier, as the war broke out, Tarazi had confidently assured a worried neighbour, "Don't worry, our day of victory is at hand." Today, she laughs at the absurdity.

But buried beneath such memories of defeat and illusion for the Arabs in the Six Day War is the story of a momentous June 7 meeting that never happened. If it had, it just might have carved a different path for the Middle East.

All bark and no bite

June 7, 1967, was to be the day that the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser would dispatch his vice president, Zakariya Mohieddin, to Washington for secret meetings with US President Lyndon Johnson and members of his cabinet. The plans for this meeting are found in state department cables and other documents at the Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. From those documents, it's clear that, despite his bellicose statements for consumption by the Arab street ("We are prepared, our sons are prepared, our army is prepared, the entire Arab nation is prepared"), and despite his provocative blockade of the Straits of Tiran, the populist Nasser had been sending repeated messages to the US and the Soviet Union that he wanted to avoid war with Israel. Despite the months of build-up toward war - fuelled by the Palestinian dream to return to the homelands they lost in 1948; by the hunger in the Arab world to defeat Israel; and by Israeli citizens' hair-trigger psychology, based on a palpable mortal fear of another Holocaust - Egyptian and at least some US officials seemed to share a hope war could be avoided.

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