What was the Six Day War?
Before the War
Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, there had been tension between Israel and the neighbouring countries: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. This tension escalated in the period leading up to June 1967. Attacks were conducted against Israel by Palestinian guerrilla groups leading to costly Israeli reprisals. During an air battle with Syria in April 1967, the Israeli Air Force shot down six Syrian fighter jets. In May 1967, President Nasser of Egypt was criticised for his failure to aid Syria and Jordan against Israel, and he subsequently mobilized Egyptian forces in Sinai and four days later requested the removal of the UN forces stationed there. On May 22, Egypt closed the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping, thus blockading the port city of Eilat in southern Israel. On May 30, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq signed a mutual defence pact.
The Six Day War
In response to the apparent mobilization of its Arab neighbours, early on the morning of June 5, Israel staged a sudden pre-emptive air assault that destroyed more than 90 percent of Egypt’s air force while still on the ground. A similar air assault incapacitated the Syrian air force. Without cover from the air, the Egyptian army was left vulnerable to attack.
Within three days the Israelis had achieved an overwhelming victory on the ground, capturing the Gaza Strip and all of the Sinai Peninsula up to the east bank of the Suez Canal.
In the immediate aftermath of the war, Israel came into possession of the Sinai desert up to the Suez Canal, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. East Jerusalem, including the Old City, and Jerusalem were reunified. Towns and settlements in the north of Israel were no longer under threat of Syrian bombardment.
Despite the victory, the Six Day War resulted in many Israeli casualties: 777 Israeli soldiers were killed and more than 2,500 were wounded. Israel announced an official policy of "territories for peace," i.e., withdrawal to secure borders in exchange for "full peace" and recognition. The Arab response, which was issued from the thirteen-nation Arab Summit Conference held in Khartoum on September 1, 1967, came to be known as the "Three Nos of Khartoum" – no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel –and insisted on the rights of the Palestinian people in their own country.
On November 22, 1967 the UN Security Council adopted a resolution (Resolution 242), which remains one of the central documents of the Middle East conflict.
The resolution included the following elements:
Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the recent conflict. (This issue remains an internal and international issue to this day.)
Acknowledged right of every state in the area to live in peace within "secure and recognized boundaries."
Freedom of navigation through international waterways in the region.
A "just settlement of the refugee problem."
Jordan and Egypt accepted the resolution on the basis that "territories" meant "all the territories" and any settlement should be subject to the right of the Palestinians to continue their struggle for the liberation of the whole of Palestine.
Israel accepted the resolution (despite misgivings that the word "Israel" was absent) on the basis that the word "territories" should be read as subject to Israel's need for "secure" boundaries.
Syria and the PLO rejected the resolution, calling for the total liberation of Palestine by force.
The Aftermath of the Six Day War
The Six Day War was a great victory, and there was an overwhelming sense of euphoria in Israel and the Jewish world. Israel had demonstrated its military force, showing its ability to initiate strikes against its neighbours in order to defend itself. The Jewish people were reunited with many areas of historical and religious significance, such as the Kotel in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem. A record number of immigrants came to Israel inspired by the remarkable victory.
In the coming years, many Jews saw it as their birthright to settle in all parts of the biblical Land of Israel, namely, in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).
However, there were many political consequences to the Israeli victory. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip strongly affected the Arabs living in these areas, causing a renewed conflict with the Palestinian people, the Arab Nations, and, indeed, most of the world. Following peace treaties with the Egyptians and the Palestinians, most of the land captured in the Six Day War is no longer under Israeli rule, but the ongoing Israeli occupation of the West Bank remains a matter of controversy in Israel and around the world to this day.