RAMALLAH (AFP) â€” Palestinians and peace activists rallied on Tuesday against four decades of Israeli occupation on the anniversary of the 1967 war that reshaped the Middle East in just six days.President Mahmoud Abbas said the creation of a Palestinian state would expunge the memory of the crushing Arab defeat in the war that saw Israel wipe out three Arab armies and conquer vast swathes of territory.
“Despite all the difficulties … our revolt was equal to this defeat, the memory of which we hope will be erased by ending the occupation of Arab and Palestinian territory and by establishing our independent state.” He warned that factional clashes last month had left the Palestinians “on the verge of a civil war” and that dangers from the internal fighting were “equal to, if not greater, than that of the occupation”.
In 1967, Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula â€” an area more than three times bigger than the state of Israel at the time.
Jailed Palestinian Intifada leader Marwan Barghouthi called for a huge popular campaign against the occupation, saying its end was “the only option to open the way to peace in the Middle East”.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of the Islamist movement Hamas in a statement called “on the whole world to stand behind the Palestinians and their legitimate rights which were eroded” by the occupation.
The 1967 war planted the seeds of the many deep-rooted obstacles that generations of diplomats have found impossible to untangle in their search for peace â€” from the Jewish settler movement to sovereignty over Jerusalem.
Weeks of regional belligerency and international brinkmanship saw Israel launch what it called a preemptive strike on June 5, 1967, securing its status as a regional power.
Marking the war on Tuesday, Palestinians staged a main rally in Ramallah, the political capital of the occupied West Bank, and further north in Nablus, where dozens marched towards an Israeli checkpoint, one of the most potent local symbols of occupation.
In the flashpoint city of Hebron, some 250 Israeli peace activists protested the continuing expansion of settlements in the Golan, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, today home to nearly half a million settlers.
In a rally in the Anata neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, speakers warned Israel that it will not have security until the occupation is ended and a Palestinian state created.
“The key word for peace and security is a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as the capital,” Jibril Rajub, a senior member of Abbas’Â Fateh Party, told the gathering of nearly 1,000 people.
During a simultaneous rally in Tel Aviv that attracted a few hundred people, organisers erected a duplicate of a checkpoint to bring home to Israelis the “reality” of the West Bank, which is dotted by more than 500 such roadblocks, impeding freedom of movement and feeding resentment.
“We have to bring the idea to the Israeli public that this occupation which has gone on for forty years must end,” said Susan Lourenco, one of the organisers.
Israeli police banned a Palestinian conference due to take place in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians dream of making the capital of their promised future state but where all official Palestinian political activity is banned.
In 1967, many Israelis hailed as a messianic victory the conquest of East Jerusalem â€” and with it Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall which Jews had been prohibited from visiting since the creation of the state in 1948.
For Palestinians, the war brought new depths of despair after the initial “catastrophe” of the creation of the Jewish state: They came under Israeli occupation and their dream of a state of their own seemed to slip out of reach.
But it also galvanised their often bloody resistance movement and paved the way for most Israelis to accept a two-state solution and for the two sides to sign the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords.
Israel eventually signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, under which it returned the Sinai, and a second with Jordan in 1994.
In 2005, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, but it retains control of its borders, air space and territorial waters and continues to mount incursions into the territory in response to attacks.
All efforts to resolve the conflict have so far failed, with peace talks moribund since the failure of Camp David negotiations in 2000 and little progress discernible on the horizon from a revived Arab peace plan.
In Cairo, Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa led a one-minute silence for the victims of the war and called on Israel not to miss a “historic opportunity” in accepting the revived blueprint.
And UN chief Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that an end to the occupation and a political solution was the only way to end the festering conflict.