The JTA’s review of this thoughtful documentary, “Six Days,” being broadcast this week on PBS stations, culminates in a caustic, pithy quote by Yossi Sarid – Yossi Beilin’s predecessor as head of the Meretz party and an adviser to Prime Minister Eshkol during the Six Day War. His words were translated from Hebrew as follows:
“So, all right, Nasser made a mistake and Hussein made a mistake,” Sarid said. “So why do we have to fall into the trap of their mistake and turn our lives into an ongoing hell? Forty years, 40 years, we have been living in an ongoing hell because of this cursed occupation.”
Among the little-known facts mentioned in the documentary: The Egyptians were planning their own preemptive strike against Israel for about a week prior to Israel’s attack; it was canceled when the Soviets strongly advised against it. IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin suffered a nervous breakdown – one might also describe it to be a loss of nerve – after being warned against going on the offensive by David Ben-Gurion in a private visit he made to the retired prime minister in his home at Kibbutz Sdeh Boker. And Israel’s response to Jordan’s opening of hostilities from the West Bank (hitting hundreds of buildings, killing 20 civilians and injuring “hundreds”) was so effective, that local commanders seized the West Bank entirely on their own initiative, without government authorization.
This prompted journalist Tom Segev to lament on the pages of the New York Times and Haaretz, this past week, that if only Hussein had not succumbed to the blandishments of Nasser in going to war or that Israel had responded in a more limited way to Jordan’s initial aggression, Israel’s situation would be much better today without having occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Rabin’s “nervous breakdown” was actually nicotine poisoning caused by smoking too many cigarettes in the run up to the war. All it required was bed rest to catch up on his sleep and clear the nicotine out of his system. It may have been nerves that initially caused the over-smoking, but it had no permanent effects.
I think that many people go through something similar if they drink too much caffeine. They have a problem of being jittery and being unable to sleep or concentrate. We don’t normally refer to this as a “nervous breakdown.” The diagnosis of “nervous breakdown” was largely invented by Ezer Weizman during his Likud days in order to first benefit Peres in 1974, and then to help the Likud in 1977.
Tom makes a reasonable point. We don’t know that Rabin suffered a clinical “nervous breakdown.”
One IDF colleague recalls to the documentary viewers that Rabin started to say things that did not “make sense”; for example, he heard loud noises and claimed that they were under attack. Whether we think of this as “nicotine poisoning” (which it might well have been) or something else, it was a breakdown.