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'We Felt Totally Defeated': Palestinian Writer Recalls Memories Of 6-Day War


We've been marking the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War this week. It's the war that changed the Middle East geographically and politically. Yesterday we heard from Israeli writer A.B. Yehoshua about what it was like for an Israeli for him during the war.


A B YEHOSHUA: The threat was a real one. The fact that the whole Egyptian army and the Syrian army were nearby the center of Israel, the fact that the - such heavy army with tanks, with all the machines were so near to our houses, threatening us to destroy us.

SIEGEL: Well, today, the Palestinian writer and activist Raja Shehadeh is going to share his memories of the Six-Day War and his sense of its legacy and consequences. He joins us from Ramallah on the West Bank. Welcome to the program.


SIEGEL: You were just 16 years old in 1967. Tell us about where you were and what you remember of the Six-Day War.

SHEHADEH: I was in Ramallah. And the war, it turned out to be a very big event because it meant that the West Bank where I was living was occupied and has been occupied for 50 years. But at the time, it wasn't such an amazing war for me because it took place very quickly. There was no fighting as far as I was concerned in Ramallah. The Israeli army more or less marched into the town and received no resistance whatsoever. And so in a matter of a few days, we found ourselves occupied by the Israeli army.

SIEGEL: As opposed to being - up until that time you were occupied by the Jordanian army. That's who retreated in the war at that point.

SHEHADEH: Yeah, we were under Jordanian rule for 19 years until that time.

SIEGEL: How did the war in 1967 change the life of a teenager in Ramallah, as you were, or his family and your neighbors?

SHEHADEH: Well, you know, for me at 16, it was the most crucial time when I needed to be free and explore life and go into the world. And instead, the war meant perpetual curfew. So we were under at first a 24-hour curfew, and then it was reduced a little bit. And then, of course, there was also utter confusion because we felt totally defeated. And the feeling of being defeated is a very hard one, especially when you don't understand why and how to move out of it. And so this was the time when I began writing my journals, my diary, which was my way of trying to figure out what was happening and to understand the confusion around me.

SIEGEL: Fifty years after the Six-Day War, do you have any optimism at all about a possible settlement, any hopes that something might develop in the coming years?

SHEHADEH: Absolutely, because without a settlement of the conflict there will be no possibility of peace in Palestine, Israel or in the region. And I believe that eventually it would be seen that a resolution would be beneficial to both sides. It cannot continue. No colonial situation has lasted. No discriminatory situation so glaring has lasted. Nor would this one last as well.

SIEGEL: And to Israelis who say the Palestinian leadership is just too weak, perhaps because of Israeli policies, but for whatever reasons - and too divided and the leadership can never reach a tough agreement with Israel, what do you say?

SHEHADEH: I say that the leadership and the people have shown that whenever there is a little bit of hope they change and adopt the hope and are willing to go all the way with it because people want to have hope. When there's no hope, it weakens the leadership because at this point, the leadership is not giving us hope because Israel is not willing to come along with the leadership and say, OK, we will go along with you on this basis. There isn't any such response from Israel, and therefore this weakens the leadership.

SIEGEL: Raja Shehadeh, a Palestinian lawyer, writer. Thank you very much for talking with us today from Ramallah.

SHEHADEH: Thank you, pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF HER'S SONG, "WHAT ONCE WAS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.