In May of 1967, the state of Israel was only 19 years old. At its inception in 1948, five Arab armies had coordinated a military invasion to prevent the creation of the small Jewish country. But Israel’s War of Independence succeeded in repelling the forces bent on Israel’s destruction. Israel reclaimed sovereignty over the ancient Jewish homeland, making way for the establishment of a Jewish country after 2,000 years of statelessness and periods of persecution.
Yet despite Israel’s success in creating a new country, it did not enjoy peace with its neighbors. Terrorism and frequent attacks on three borders kept Israel in a perpetual state of alert.
To the north, from the Golan Heights, Syria shelled Jewish communities below on a regular basis. In the South and East, Arab terrorists from Egyptian-controlled Gaza and the Jordanian-controlled West Bank infiltrated and perpetrated attacks on Israeli civilians, killing 400 in the 19 years since Israeli independence.
Surrounded by enemy neighbors and only nine miles wide at its narrowest point, Israel was vulnerable. The attacks reached the point that they were condemned as “deplorable” by then-Secretary General of the United Nations U Thant.
Although the Jewish state had been welcomed into the United Nations and hailed by the international community, its Arab neighbors rejected its very right to exist, preparing to resume a war for Israel’s destruction which they had halted 19 years earlier. The Arab buildup for all-out war was very near.
In this video - the first in a 12-part commemorative series - you will learn about the regional atmosphere leading up to the 1967 Six Day War, and find out about the early steps that led to the war that changed the future of Israel.
Photo Credit: GPO Israel/Ilan BrunerEducator's Questions
In mid-May 1967, Arab hostility toward Israel was about to take a dramatic turn for the worse. On May 14, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser began moving troops and military equipment into the demilitarized zone in the Sinai Peninsula between Israel and Egypt.
Nasser’s move was fueled, in part, by misinformation he had received from the Soviet Union - Egypt’s ally and sponsor - claiming that Israel was on the verge of invading Syria. However, though Nasser learned these reports were false just a day later, he continued moving tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks toward the Israeli border.
On May 16th, goaded on by other Arab countries and Egyptian public opinion, Nasser ordered the immediate evacuation of all UN troops and termination of the UN presence on the Egyptian-Israeli border. The UN complied, leaving the buffer zone under total Egyptian control. Israel now lay exposed on its southern border, as Egypt continued amassing its troops in the Sinai. By the end of the week, Egypt had placed 80,000 troops, 550 tanks, and 1,000 artillery pieces on the Israeli border.
This week, in the second of our 12-part video series, witness Egyptian President Nasser’s aggressive move to amass tens of thousands of troops along Israel’s border, and the surprising action of the United Nations.Educator's Questions
By late May, Egyptian President Nasser’s deployment of tens of thousands of troops in the buffer zone along Israel’s border was an unambiguous threat to Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol responded cautiously that Israel would not initiate hostilities as long as Egypt refrained from closing the international waterway leading to Israel’s southern port - the Straits of Tiran. Such an act would cut off Israel’s supply of oil and other vital resources, by blocking Israeli access to the Gulf of Aqaba and Asia.
On May 23rd, President Nasser gave his answer by blockading the straits. This action violated UN Security Council Resolution 118, was condemned by US President Lyndon Johnson, and constituted an act of war in international law.
Nonetheless, Israel did not take immediate military action, continuing to attempt a resolution through diplomatic channels.
But Israel’s enemies would not be moved by diplomacy alone. As five other Arab countries deployed their troops toward Israel, Nasser told the public: “We knew that closing the Gulf of Aqaba meant war with Israel… If war comes it will be total and the objective will be Israel’s destruction...”
Tensions were mounting. It seemed that Israel was headed for a war for its very existence.
In the third video of our 12-part series, learn what Israel did in response to Egypt’s threatening moves, and how Egyptian President Nasser escalated the situation further.
Photo Credit: GPO Israel/Yaacov AgorEducator's Questions
In the week before the start of the war, the Arab streets echoed with calls to destroy the Jewish state.
Jordan signed a military pact with Egypt and Syria. Meanwhile, Israel hoped the United States would forcibly break the Egyptian blockade of the Straits of Tiran, but the US refrained from intervening, fearing a confrontation with the Egypt-sponsoring USSR.
Israel’s army was gravely outnumbered. Poised for assault were 80,000 Egyptian troops, 60,000 Jordanian troops, and 50,000 Syrian troops, and a total of more than 850 tanks and 600 combat aircrafts.
The mood throughout Israel was tense and anxious. Schools and public transportation were suspended. Teenagers worked filling sandbags. School buildings were converted to bomb shelters. Medicine and over 14,000 hospital beds were prepared.
In addition, parks throughout the country were dug up – to ready over 10,000 graves. Israelis feared a second Holocaust.
Meanwhile, Jews and non-Jews held mass demonstrations and fundraisers in New York and London. Jewish volunteers from around the world arrived to enlist in Israel’s defense.
Prime Minister Levi Eshkol addressed the nation in a televised speech now famous for its hesitancy, and later entrusted the Ministry of Defense to Israeli war hero General Moshe Dayan.
By now, it was clear that diplomacy had failed. On the night of June 4th, Israel’s cabinet confirmed that Arab armies threatened the very existence of the State. The government authorized Prime Minister Eshkol and Defense Minister Dayan to deploy the Israeli Defense Forces for preemptive military action.
That action that would remain top secret until the morning.
Photo Credit: GPO Israel/ David RubingerEducator's Questions
In the early morning of June 5th, Israel launched a preemptive aerial strike on Egyptian air force bases in response to Egypt’s ongoing provocations. Every military jet in the Israeli Air Force, except for 12, took off, flying low to avoid radar detection and observing complete radio silence. They bombed and incapacitated the runways of 11 Egyptian air force bases, as well as the aircrafts on the ground.
In just four hours, Israel demolished two thirds of the entire Egyptian air force, the largest in the Arab world.
Israel then issued a final offer to Jordan: if you stay out of the war, Israel will not retaliate - even though that meant that the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and other Jewish holy sites would remain under Jordanian control.
But Jordan had received disinformation from Egypt, claiming massive, successful attacks inside Israel, and Jordan joined the war against Israel.
Thousands of mortar shells rained down on Jewish areas in Jerusalem, hitting civilian locations including Hadassah Hospital and Mount Zion church. Controlling the highlands of the West Bank, Jordan easily shelled civilian targets all the way to Tel Aviv and carried out airstrikes against the coastal cities of Netanya and Kfar Saba.
Syria and Iraq also joined the war, targeting Haifa’s oil refineries and Jewish communities beneath the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights.
srael retaliated and attacked Jordanian, Syrian, and Iraqi air bases. Stretched thin in a war on three fronts - Egypt in the south, Jordan in the east, and Syria in the north - it would soon be clear whether Israel’s military would hold, or break.Educator's Questions
Israel had succeeded in destroying two thirds of the Egyptian air force just the day before. Now, on June 6, the Israeli Defense Force engaged Egyptian tanks and troops in the Sinai.
In another remarkable feat, Israel defeated Egypt in the desert, despite being outnumbered three-to-one. Egypt, seeing the extent of their loss, retreated, leaving the Sinai Peninsula in Israel’s hands. By noon the next day, Israel would control the port at Sharm El-Sheikh, reopening the sea lanes Egypt had blocked just two weeks before.
Meanwhile, Israeli troops were positioned on the strategic mountaintop of Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, overlooking the historic Old City. Though Israel could have pounded Jordanian troops with artillery, it refrained in order to preserve the city which held such significance for the Jewish people.
In an emergency session at the United Nations in New York, Israel’s Foreign Minister Abba Eban held Egypt to task for its aggression against Israel, also heralding the great success Israel had so far in resisting that aggression.
In Israel, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol turned to the Soviets for assistance in securing peace. Yet the Soviets remained cold to Israel’s request, issuing a demand that Israel “immediately and unconditionally” halt all military operations.
This was a path Israel could not afford to take. The war would continue.
Photo Credit: GPO IsraelEducator's Questions
Looking down on the Old City of Jerusalem from its strategic vantage point on Mount Scopus, the Israeli Defense Force was preparing to strike the Jordanians.
For the last 19 years Jerusalem had been divided. In the 1948 War of Independence, Jordan had captured the eastern part of the city, including the Old City and the Temple Mount, the location of the ancient Jewish Temples and Judaism’s holiest site.
Under Jordanian rule, Jews were evicted from the Jewish Quarter, synagogues were destroyed and the neighboring Mount of Olives cemetery - Judaism’s oldest and holiest - was vandalized. Since then, Jews were barred from their holy sites in eastern Jerusalem, despite the promise of religious rights in the 1949 armistice agreement.
In the early morning of June 7th, Israeli paratroopers advanced on the city, using no artillery so as to preserve the ancient site. After battling for hours and suffering numerous casualties, the Israelis prevailed.
Israeli Army Radio broadcast a cry now famous in the annals of Israeli history - “Har Habayit Beyadenu, Har Habayit Beyadenu!” - the Temple Mount is in our hands, the Temple Mount is in our hands.
Paratroopers and Israeli army officials streamed into the Old City to pray at the Western Wall, and hung an Israeli flag on the Temple Mount. For the first time in 2,000 years, Jerusalem was reunited under Jewish sovereignty.
Israeli troops then began to advance into the areas surrounding Jerusalem. The historic biblical cities of Hebron and Bethlehem were captured with little to no resistance, as was Gush Etzion. The West Bank, the historical birthplace of the Jewish people, and biblically referred to as Judea and Samaria, was once again part of a Jewish state.
The battle on the Eastern front was nearly over. But in the north the fighting continued.
Photo Credit: GPO IsraelEducator's Questions
In just three days, Israel successfully neutralized the threat from Egypt in the South and Jordan in the East, with Arab forces in retreat in the West Bank.
But on June 8th, an Israeli plane mistakenly attacked the USS Liberty, an American electronic surveillance ship sailing offshore. Though the attack was called off when the mistake was discovered, 34 American sailors were tragically killed. Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol conveyed his “profound condolences” to the United States.
On that same day, Israeli forces consolidated control of the West Bank. During the 19 years that Jordan controlled the area, Israel’s width at the narrowest point was a barely defensible nine miles, leaving Tel Aviv and all of central Israel vulnerable to Jordanian artillery.
Now that Israel controlled the West Bank, Israeli-controlled territory grew to 44 miles wide and could be more easily defended.
But more than just territory needed for security, the West Bank held great religious and historic importance. Also known by its biblical name, Judea and Samaria, this was the ancient ancestral homeland of the Jewish people, the dwelling place of Jewish patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It had always been central to Jewish identity and Jews had maintained a continuous presence there for 3,000 years.
That it was back in the hands of the Jewish state was a deeply moving event for many people around the world.
Meanwhile, Israeli advances toward the Suez Canal in the south ultimately led Egypt to accept a ceasefire late that night. But Syrian artillery continued to rain down in the north, drawing Israel into battle on the Golan Heights.
Photo Credit: GPO Israel/Moshe MilnerEducator's Questions
Throughout the war the Egyptian media under President Gamal Abdel Nasser had been falsely reporting military victories against Israel. But on June 9th, Nasser could no longer hide the truth. He appeared on national television, and while primarily blaming the US and Britain for providing Israel with massive military support – which was a false accusation – he admitted the defeat of the Egyptian army, and resigned his office. But, after receiving an outpouring of Egyptian public sympathy the next day, Nasser promptly withdrew his resignation.
With Egypt and Jordan defeated, Israel turned its attention toward Syria.
For decades, the Syrian military looked down on Israel’s Galilee region from the Golan Heights, and regularly shelled northern Israeli cities, towns and communities. Since the end of the 1948 War, over 1,000 rockets and shells had been fired on Israel, with Syrian terrorists regularly infiltrating the border to attack Israeli civilians. Over 120 Israelis had been murdered.
With Syria still conducting attacks despite the defeat of Egypt and Jordan, Israeli troops moved on the slopes of the Golan Heights, taking control of all the roads and access points to the strategic plateau. But the battle for the Golan continued, with firing on Israeli communities still underway.
Photo Credit: GPO Israel/Eli NattanEducator's Questions
Egypt and Jordan had been defeated, and Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip were in Israeli hands.
But the war was not over. Syria continued to shell northern Israel from its perch on the Golan Heights.
After securing the lower access points to the Golan, the Israeli army made its bid for the high ground on June 10th, seeking to stop Syrian shelling of Israeli civilians once and for all. As the IDF advanced, Syrian forces fell away, abandoning their posts all the way to Kuneitra, the last Syrian stronghold. The entire Golan Heights was now in Israel’s control.
And with that, the war was over. The Arab side suffered catastrophic losses and Israel had established itself as the dominant military power in the Middle East, to the humiliation and rage of its Arab adversaries.
Threatened with imminent destruction, Israel had prevailed. It captured the Golan Heights, preventing Syria from targeting communities in northern Israel. It captured eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, preventing the Jordanians from shelling Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and giving Israel the strategic high ground and a more defensible width. Israel also took control of the entire Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, protecting Israel’s southern border and opening the waterway to Eilat, its southern port.
Israel was swept by a wave of euphoria. The small, strongly outnumbered country had won a stunning military victory and greatly increased its size to borders that could be realistically defended. It had removed the sense of constant peril Israelis had faced ever since the establishment of the state. And perhaps most acutely felt was the sense of national and historical rebirth, as Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest place and capital of the ancient Jewish kingdom, was reunited under Jewish sovereignty for the first time in 2,000 years.
Photo Credit: GPO Israel/Fritz CohenEducator's Questions
The war was over. A battle for survival had ended with an overwhelming Israeli victory. In just six days, Israel pushed back the Arab armies that threatened its existence, and achieved defensible borders.
In the war, Israel captured Eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, also known by the Biblical names Judea and Samaria, which held deep religious meaning. The West Bank was the birthplace of the Jewish people and had maintained a continuous Jewish presence for 3,000 years, until 1948.
This was significant. In 1948, Jordan captured these lands and expelled all Jews from Eastern Jerusalem, including the Old City of Jerusalem, and the West Bank. For 19 years, Jews were not allowed to access the Western Wall or other Jewish holy sites. Israel’s victory meant a reunited Jerusalem and free access to holy sites for all religions.
Along with land, Israel found itself in control of a population it had no intention of governing before the war. Hundreds of thousands of Arab residents were now under Israeli jurisdiction in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel also controlled the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, but also the site of a sacred Muslim mosque and shrine.
To show its commitment to coexistence, and in an attempt to avoid future violence, Israel made an unprecedented and controversial move: it gave control of the Temple Mount to the Jordanians, just 10 days after the war’s end.
Additionally, after the war, Israel sent an offer to the Arab countries: territory in exchange for peace. But there was no answer – one of many unreciprocated peace overtures made by Israel.
Three months later, Arab leaders met in Sudan, crafting a resolution known as “the 3 Nos of Khartoum”: “No peace with Israel, No recognition of Israel, No negotiations with Israel.” Israel’s Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, later stated: “This is the first war in history which has ended with the victors suing for peace and the vanquished calling for unconditional surrender.”
Israelis were dismayed. They hoped that their victory would lead to negotiations in which captured land would be returned in exchange for genuine peace with their neighbors, but they were met with a flat refusal to negotiate.Educator's Questions
On the eve of the Six Day War in June 1967, Arab states massed troops and tanks, and threatened to destroy Israel. Yet Israel pushed them back, capturing territory that gave it defensible borders. Israel then signaled that it would give back most of that land for peace, but the Arab world rejected Israel’s offers.
On November 22nd, five months after the Six Day War, the United Nations passed Resolution 242, calling on Israel to withdraw from captured land – without specifying how much – while also calling on its Arab neighbors to end acts of aggression against Israel and recognize its boundaries. This came to be known as the “land for peace” formula. Israel would cede some of its newly captured territory, in return for acceptance as a sovereign state in the Middle East. But the Arab countries refused to recognize or negotiate with Israel.
Twelve years later, however, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed a treaty with Israel assuring peace and cooperation in exchange for the return of the Sinai Peninsula – which made up nearly 90% of the land Israel captured in the Six Day War. Fifteen years after that, in 1994, Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan.
For the Arabs who live in the West Bank and Gaza, the last 50 years have been difficult. Although there has never been an actual Palestinian state, Palestinian nationalism and identity had solidified since 1967, along with a desire for a state of their own. To that end, an elected Palestinian Authority government was created, which to this day, governs daily life for most Palestinians.
For decades, however, Palestinian leaders rejected living alongside Israel, believing that all of the land of Israel belonged to them.
In the 1990’s, the Oslo Peace Process seemed to offer a negotiated path to a Palestinian state and peace with Israel. At the Camp David Summit in 2000, Israel offered the Palestinians a two-state solution. Had the Palestinians accepted this proposal, a Palestinian state would have been created in the West Bank and Gaza, with Eastern Jerusalem as its capital. But hopes were dashed in the early 2000’s when Palestinian suicide bombers and terrorists attacked Israelis in restaurants and buses, killing more than 700 Israeli civilians.
In another attempt to offer land for peace, Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza strip and uprooted 8,000 Jews from their homes in 2005. Two years later, this vacated land was taken over in a military coup by the Hamas terrorist organization, which has since fired more than 12,000 rockets and mortar shells at Israeli communities.
Today, most Israelis still prefer a solution of “two states for two peoples.” For the sake of peace, most are willing to make far-reaching territorial concessions, ending what some refer to as “the occupation” and dismantling many Jewish communities, or settlements, in the West Bank, despite its deep historical and religious significance to many Jews around the world.
Yet at the same time, Israelis today have serious doubts that the current Palestinian leadership will ever accept living alongside the Jewish state. Many Israelis point to the Palestinian leadership’s ongoing acts of honoring and celebrating Palestinian terrorists. They also point to Hamas and Palestinian Authority schoolbooks that deny the existence of Israel.
Most Israelis believe that the strategic depth Israel gained in the Six Day War – a legitimate war of defense – should not be given up without strong, conflict-ending agreements that ensure Israel’s security.
Today, in this chaotic Middle East, Israel remains the one stable democracy, with thriving Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities. Israelis take pride in their vibrant and diverse culture, their passion for contributing to the world, their innovation in medicine, science, technology, agriculture and the arts, and, most of all, their role in carrying forward the 3,000-year-old heritage of the Jewish people.
Photo Credit: GPO Israel/Ya'acov Sa'arEducator's Questions