Forty years have now passed since the “Six Day War” which resulted in Israeli control over the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Some media reports already refer to the fortieth anniversary of the “occupation.”
The goal of this special report is to remind HonestReporting subscribers of the events of 1967 and Israel’s administration of the disputed territories. We ask that you PRINT OUT AND PASS ON this special report to help you respond to some of the bias and misconceptions that will inevitably flood the international media over the coming weeks.
How Did the War Begin?
While June 5 marks the day that Israel initiated its military operation, it is important to note that the immediate Arab threats to wipe out Israel began in the preceding months. It is also critical to take the causes of the Six Day War into account before analyzing the resulting status of land taken as a result. International Law makes a clear distinction between land “occupied” during a war of aggression and land taken as a result of a defensive war.
This distinction explains why so many enemies of Israel are using this anniversary to rewrite history and falsely claim that the Six Day War was initiated by Israel in order to illegally capture land.
Who Initiated Hostilities?
Egypt and Syria Demand War:
“We aim at the destruction of the State of Israel. The immediate aim: perfection of Arab military might. The national aim: the eradication of Israel.“
Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, 1965
“Our forces are now entirely ready not only to repulse the aggression, but to initiate the act of liberation itself, and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland. The Syrian army, with its finger on the trigger, is united….I, as a military man, believe that the time has come to begin a battle of annihilation.”
Syria’s Defense Minister Hafez Assad (later to be Syria’s President)
Israel Reaches Out for Peace:
“Even as the cannons roar we shall not cease from longing for peace. Our only desire is to remove from our borders any threat of sabotage and every danger of aggression, to safeguard our security and the fullness of our rights.”
Israeli Prime Minister Levy Eshkol, June 5, 1967
Israel’s Arab neighbors unquestionably made clear their intentions to attack Israel. Their stated goal had nothing to do with a border dispute, but rather the destruction of the State of Israel. Yet, Israel’s response was always the same: A simple desire to live in peace.
Prior to the war Israel was the victim of numerous terrorist attacks launched from Jordan, the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. Continuous Syrian shelling from the Golan Heights on to Israeli towns and villages further highlighted Arab intentions. (For more details on these military and terrorist attacks against Israel, see resources appearing at the end of this report.)
All along the 1948 armistice lines, Arab armies engaged in an enormous military build-up. Egypt ordered United Nations peacekeepers stationed in the Sinai to leave. Shortly before the start of the war, Israel was confronted by an Arab force of some 465,000 troops, over 2,880 tanks and 810 aircraft. The armies of Kuwait, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq were also contributing troops and arms to the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian fronts.
Israel is Attacked and Captures Territory
Egypt Initiates War With Israel: Israel Captures Sinai and Gaza
Egypt chose to further escalate hostilities. The narrow Straits of Tiran were closed to Israeli shipping creating a naval blockade, preventing Israeli ships from reaching the port of Eilat – in violation of international law and an act of war.
The United States was clear in its policy. According to U.S. President Johnson:
“If a single act of folly was more responsible for this explosion than any other it was the arbitrary and dangerous announced decision that the Strait of Tiran would be closed. The right of innocent maritime passage must be preserved for all nations.”
Faced with potential annihilation, Israel chose to launch a pre-emptive strike, destroying the Egyptian and Syrian air forces while still on the ground.
Syria Initiates War With Israel: Israel Captures the Golan Heights
From the start of the war, Syria took part in the fighting with planes and artillery, continuously shelling Israeli villages near the border and attacking some of them with infantry and armour. There were no serious Israeli counter attacks until 9 June, when the Israel Defense Forces, now freed from other fronts, attacked the Syrian army entrenched on the Golan Heights. In fierce fighting, they stormed the Heights and occupied the town of Kuneitra on the afternoon of June 10.
Jordan Initiates War With Israel: Israel Captures Jerusalem and the West Bank
Despite the many terrorist attacks that had emanated from the Jordanian-occupied West Bank, Israel specifically told King Hussein that Jordan would not be attacked unless Jordan chose to enter the war. As the fighting raged, Prime Minister Levy Eshkol sent the following message to King Hussein of Jordan:
“We are engaged in defensive fighting on the Egyptian sector, and we shall not engage ourselves in any action against Jordan, unless Jordan attacks us. Should Jordan attack Israel, we shall go against her with all our might.”
However, upon receiving information (later proving false) that Israel was being defeated, King Hussein ordered that Israel be attacked. On June 5:
Civilian suburbs of Tel-Aviv were shelled by artillery;
Israel’s largest military airfield, Ramat David, was shelled;
Jordanian warplanes attacked the central Israeli towns of Netanya and Kfar Saba;
Thousands of mortar shells rained down on West Jerusalem hitting civilian locations indiscriminately, including the Hadassah Hospital and the Mount Zion Church;
Israel’s parliament building (the Knesset) and the Prime Minister’s office, each in Israeli-controlled West Jerusalem, were targeted;
20 Israelis died in these attacks; 1000 were wounded. 900 buildings in West Jerusalem were damaged.
Only after coming under fire and sustaining casualties did the Israeli military respond, resulting in the re-unification of Jerusalem and control of the entire West Bank. The record is clear, this acquisition of land was the direct result of Jordanian, not Israeli military aggression.
One week later, having successfully defended herself, Israel was in control of the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights.
The Legal Status of Land Taken in 1967
1) Israel’s Legitimate Claims:
Some parts of the West Bank would have been part of Israel as defined by the UN Partition Plan, but were overrun in 1948. There were Jewish communities such as Kfar Etzion, not to mention the Old City of Jerusalem, that fell in the fighting of 1948. Jews were either killed or expelled from these areas conquered by invading Arab armies.
The League of Nations Mandate explicitly recognized the right of Jewish settlement in all territory allocated to the Jewish national home in the context of the British Mandate. The British Mandate covered the area that is currently Israel, all the disputed territories (and even what is now Jordan). These rights under the British Mandate were preserved by the United Nations, under Article 49 of the UN Charter.
2) Defensive War:
Military control of the West Bank was clearly the result of a defensive war. According to Dr. Dore Gold, Director of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs:
“International jurists generally draw a distinction between situations of “aggressive conquest” and territorial disputes that arise after a war of self-defense. Former State Department Legal Advisor Stephen Schwebel, who later headed the International Court of Justice in the Hague, wrote in 1970 regarding Israel’s case: “Where the prior holder of territory had seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has, against that prior holder, better title.”
3) Forced Transfer of Civilian Populations:
There are mistaken claims that Israel’s control of these territories violates the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Fourth Geneva Convention was adopted August 12, 1949 by the international community in response to Nazi atrocities during World War II. It outlaws the resettlement by an occupying power of its own civilians on territory under its military control, specifically “individual or mass forcible transfers.”
The only forced mass transfers were against Jewish communities in 1948. After the Six Day War, Israel did not expel a single Arab community from land it now controlled.
The “Occupying Power” may also not “deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population” to territories taken in conflict. Israel has never forced Jews to move to the territories. However, there is no obligation for Israel to prevent voluntary settlement by its civilian population.
4) United Nations Security Council Resolution 242
After the war, there were many opinions as to what a peace agreement should require of the parties. The view of the Soviet Union and Arab bloc was that Israel should be forced to withdraw from all lands taken in the war. However, this view did not prevail in the United Nations.
According to the American Israel Cooperative Enterprise:
“The most controversial clause in Resolution 242 is the call for the “Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” This is linked to the second unambiguous clause calling for “termination of all claims or states of belligerency” and the recognition that “every State in the area” has the “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
The resolution does not make Israeli withdrawal a prerequisite for Arab action. Moreover, it does not specify how much territory Israel is required to give up. The Security Council did not say Israel must withdraw from “all the” territories occupied after the Six-Day war. This was quite deliberate. The Soviet delegate wanted the inclusion of those words and said that their exclusion meant “that part of these territories can remain in Israeli hands.” The Arab states pushed for the word “all” to be included, but this was rejected. The Arab League then rejected the entire resolution. Nonetheless, it was approved by the Security Council.
The resolutions clearly call on the Arab states to make peace with Israel. The principal condition is that Israel withdraw from “territories occupied” in 1967, which means that Israel must withdraw from some, all, or none of the territories still occupied. Israel withdrew from 95% of the territories when it gave up the Sinai and then Gaza. It has already partially, if not wholly, fulfilled its obligation under 242.”
In addition, the Arab reaction to the resolution was not to make peace but instead the “Three No’s” of the Khartoum Conference of August 1967:
No peace with Israel
No recognition of Israel
No negotiation with Israel
Forty Years of Suffering?
Since launching a terror war in 2000, Palestinian living standards have undoubtedly declined as the Palestinian leadership adopted violence ahead of nation building and investing in civil society. Contrary to some claims in the media, “occupation” is not the primary reason for the current plight of the Palestinians. As Dr Mitchell Bard, Director of the Jewish Virtual Library points out:
“When Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, officials took measures to improve the conditions that Palestinians had lived under during Jordan’s 19-year occupation of the West Bank, and Egypt’s occupation of Gaza. Universities were opened, Israeli agricultural innovations were shared, modern conveniences were introduced, and health care was significantly upgraded. More than 100,000 Palestinians were employed in Israel, and were paid the same wages as Israeli workers, which stimulated economic growth.
Despite the collapse of the PA economy from the last five years of war, Palestinian Arabs are still better off than many of their neighbors. The most recent Human Development Report from the United Nations ranked the PA 102nd in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted real income out of the 177 countries and territories in the world, placing it in the “medium human development” category along with most of the other Middle Eastern states (only the Gulf sheikdoms are ranked “high”). The PA was ranked just 12 places below Jordan and one behind Iran; it was rated ahead of Syria (#105), Algeria (#108), Egypt (#120), and Morocco (#125).”
Forty Years On
Forty years after a war of survival left it in control of disputed territories, Israel continues to seek a negotiated peace with both the Palestinians and the Arab world.
Israel had every legal and moral right to defend herself in 1967 and has legitimate rights within the territory that is under her control today. If you see a media report that misrepresents the events of 1967, use this primer and the following links to respond to media bias: