Israeli History/Six-Day War, Yom Kippur War, Settlements

At the beginning of 1967, Israel was facing multiple crises at once. An economic recession had drained consumer confidence. Large-scale immigration of Mizrahim (Middle Eastern and Asian Jews) had created a class divide and sparked worry about Israel's future as a progressive, Western democracy. The atmosphere of the entire country was one of malaise and anxiety over the future of the Zionist project.[1] By the end of the year, not only did Israelis have cause for celebration, their attitude towards Zionist and foreign affairs had changed dramatically, and they had set a very different course for Israel on the international stage. Whether this was a change for the better, though, is debatable.[2] Veteran politician Simha Flapan explained his concerns in retrospect:

With the blitz victory in 1967 and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the sudden expansion of Israel's borders gave rise to a more rapid erosion of the socialist and humanist values that had once been the hallmark of labor Zionism: prominent political leaders, poets, writers, and intellectuals, whose roots had been in the labor movement, joined the new, dynamic Greater Israel movement, which sought to turn Israel's most recent conquests into an integral part of the country.
—Simha Flapan

Build-up to war


Jerusalem, ignored by the Tel Aviv elite, lay in a divided and sometimes quixotic state. Jordanian soldiers would fire on tourists taking pictures of them; adventurous scavengers sometimes stepped on land mines in the no-man's-land; Israeli Arabs could only meet their Palestinian relatives at irregularly determined times in a square between the Mandelbaum Gate and its Jordanian counterpart; and the Western Wall was open only to foreign tourists, not even to the most pious Israeli.[3] The Jewish Quarter of the Old City, under Jordanian control, was scheduled to be turned into a park. Fifty-two of the fifty-three synagogues in the Quarter were razed and turned into henhouses or horse stables.[4]

PLO forms, 1964. Fatah begins bombings, 1965. Meanwhile, in 1963 the IDF had formed a plan code-named Whip to capture and occupy the West Bank.[5]

On 25 October 1966, three Israeli soldiers are killed near Hebron. Israel responds with Operation Shredder, destroying dozens of homes and wounding or killing 100 civilians.[6]

Six-Day War


On May 16, 1967, Nasser ordered UN peacekeepers to leave the Egyptian border, and Secretary Thant complied. Israel considered this tantamount to declaring war. Putting the peacekeepers on the Israeli side of the border was not seriously considered because it would cause Israel to lose face. The Israeli cabinet, dominated by hawks, began preparing for war-- interestingly, the two most powerful individuals opposed to the war, Lyndon B. Johnson and Ben-Gurion, specifically refused to interfere with the war planning efforts. Johnson stayed out of discussions in order to maintain neutrality on Israeli politics, even though the cabinet spent three weeks trying to obtain approval or disapproval from him before finally deciding to declare war without it, and Ben-Gurion did the same because he had retired from politics, even though individual members of the Knesset were calling for him to be reinstated as prime minister to resolve the crisis.[7]

Meanwhile, the general population of Israel, unaware of these back room deals, were panicking over the prospect of war, which most newspapers were reporting as inevitable. Runs on grocery stores cleared the aisles of bread and milk. Some Israelis fled overseas to live with relatives, and many dug trenches around their homes and installed bomb shelters in their basements. The tension throughout the country was palpable, although the soldiers guarding the front lines were much less fearful than civilians.[8]

Day 1


On June 5, the Israeli air force unexpectedly bombed the air forces of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, demolishing 400 planes in less than 24 hours. Because this attack took the opposing forces by surprise and no resistance was put up, Israeli commanders considered the war virtually won by the day's end. Eshkol had offered King Hussein the option of staying out of the war (which would have left the West Bank and Jerusalem peaceful under Jordanian control), but surprisingly, he chose to launch shells at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv instead. Hussein's army was disorganized--"amateurish", according to Odd Bull--and the Syrians did not even bother to counterattack. The Israelis, though, did sustain dozens of casualties.[9]

Day 2


On June 6, the cabinet seriously took up the matter of whether it was going to capture the Old City of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Both were a very dangerous prize: they were politically crucial to Jordan and full of impoverished refugees holding mortal grudges from the War of Independence, and yet once taken, the Israeli people would not permit the government to surrender them. Eshkol, considering these dangers, was hesitant to actually propose that the IDF march on Jerusalem. Menachem Begin, who would later become Prime Minister, said that the IDF was charged with "liberating the eastern part of western Eretz Israel" (implying that Jordan itself would soon be "liberated"), and suggested that the entire Knesset march to the Western Wall with two rabbis and recite a prayer. General Moshe Dayan offered a rather incautious compromise of surrounding the Old City without conquering it immediately, which was implicitly accepted when the meeting adjourned.[10]

Day 3


On June 7, the Egyptian forces in Jerusalem had fled the city--only their abandoned shoes remained. Begin, impatient after hearing of a cease-fire, called Dayan, who impulsively ordered a march on Jerusalem (upsetting high-ranking generals stationed in other parts of the country, who wanted to be there for the historic event). At 10 in the morning Israeli flags were planted atop the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall, causing an impromptu celebration. Thousands of exuberant Israelis flooded the Old City. Zionists were punch-drunk on the feeling of victory: the chaplain of the IDF and soon to be Chief Rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Goren, advised General Uzi Narkis to demolish the Dome of the Rock. Narkis harshly rebuked him, and Dayan ordered the Israeli flag removed from the Dome. Meanwhile, Ben-Gurion's instinctive reaction on hearing the news was to begin resettling the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, and he began arranging for this immediately. When he saw a street sign near the Western Wall labelled "Alborak" in Arabic, he demanded that it be taken down, and although he had no political power nearby soldiers followed his orders. His other demand, to demolish the slums and public toilets near the wall, was carried out by Narkis before the end of the war. Narkis actually advised a contractors' association to demolish the houses so that Israel would not be legally responsible.[11]



The final three days were comparatively inconsequential. An American spy vessel, the USS Liberty, was mistakenly attacked by the Israeli Air Force. Although some see a malicious motive in this attack, most historians (and both governments) consider it just one of many operational errors during the course of the war. The IDF seized the Golan Heights; Syria destroyed several kibbutzim in response. Both Jordan and Syria, apparently overwhelmed, requested a cease-fire, and in response Israel claimed more territory. After six days, Israeli forces were in position to march on Cairo, Damascus and Amman. The march was only halted because the Soviet Union was threatening to intervene in what appeared to be an immense upheaval in the fragile Middle Eastern balance of power. The US Secretary of State, Dean Rusk advised the Israelis to accept a cease-fire, and taking into consideration the costs of attacking the capitals, they did so on June 10.

During the war, 776 Israelis died, as did 15,000 Egyptians, 2,500 Syrians, and 800 Jordanians. Israel conquered enough land to triple the 8,000 square miles that it previously controlled to 26,000 square miles. More than 9,000 Palestinian families were reunited in 1967, and ultimately more than 60,000 Palestinians were allowed to return. But a new refugee population had been created and the old refugee problem was made worse. 90 percent of the Jordan Valley was evacuated by Palestinians who remembered the events of 1948. While these fears were mostly unfounded, in the villages of Qalqilyah, Bayt 'Awa, Hafla, Jifliq, Bayt Nuba, Imwas, Yalu and Bayt Mirsim, IDF forces demolished hundreds of refugee homes and ordered their inhabitants to walk to somewhere else without any clear justification; some refugees from these towns wandered for four days without food or water, then were sent back to their homes only to watch them being demolished. During a cabinet meeting, Dayan expressed his hope that the entire West Bank would be evacuated.[12]

Military victory and diplomatic defeat


After the end of the war, Arab leaders convened to create a fierce diplomatic response to their defeat. They would no longer recognize Israel, and refuse to negotiate or settle a peace.

US under Johnson imposed an arms embargo on Israel and all of the Middle East. Arabs later accused the US of airlifting supplied to Israel. France - Israel's main arms supplier also placed an embargo on Israel. the Soviet Union supplied massive amounts of arms to the Arabs. the armies of Kuwait, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq contributed to the Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian fronts

The UN Secretary Council unanimously passed a resolution on November 22, 1967 that was meant to provide guidelines for a peace settlement, but Arabs interpreted the Resolution in a way that placed all the responsibility for concessions of the Israelis and none on themselves. The most controversial clause in United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 is the call for the "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict". The word "all" is probably the most contentious word in this resolution, because it isn't there, and the opposing sides are fiercely opposed on whether it was meant to be. In fact, the word "all" was purposefully omitted by the Soviet delegation. The Arab states failed to add it to the resolution, but even today they consider the word "all" to be implied.

It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial."
—Lord Caradon

On October 15, 1968 the PLO stated to the UN General Assembly that it rejected Resolution 242. Israel accepted the resolution on May 1, 1968.

The captured territories

The situation between us is like the complex relationship between a Bedouin man and the young girl he has taken against her wishes. But when their children are born, they will see the man as their father and the woman as their mother. The initial act will mean nothing to them. You, the Palestinians, as a nation, do not want us today, but we will change your attitude by imposing our presence upon you.
—Dayan, to Palestinian poet Fadwa Tukan[13]

In 1948, there were no disputed territories under Israel's control, excepting the fact that the Arab states disputed the very existence of Israel. In 1956, though, the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula were captured from Egypt. During Israel's swift victory in the Six-Day War, two new territories were added: the West Bank, home to millions Arabs who had been expelled from Israel in the War of Independence, and the Golan Heights, a sparsely inhabited area but strategically important due to its water resources. Obviously, it was not ideal for Israel to be occupying a region full of people who remembered their expulsion from their homes quite well and still demanded the right to return. It was widely acknowledged that Israel's occupation of all four of these territories could become a potential source of future disputes and violence. After the war ended, Israel attempted to make a deal with Egypt and Jordan, returning the Gaza Strip and West Bank to their control in return for legal recognition and peace negotiations. The involved countries rejected this offer unilaterally in the Khartoum Resolution.

Instead of annexing the West Bank a military administration was created. The Israeli authorities tried to reduce the impact on the population by preventing incidents that might encourage the Arabs to leave their homes. In 1972, elections were held in the West Bank. Women and nonlandowners were now permitted to vote unlike during Jordanian rule. The Israeli government required that the school texts in the territories be purged of anti-semitism or anti-Jewish language. Farmers, having produced a record crop in 1967, were permitted to sell their produce in Jordan, sparking an "open bridges" policy. As the year crept on, though, the West Bank's economy became tied to Israel's. In 1968 the customs stations were shut down and the lira became the official currency.

Economic assistance was provided, for example, that some of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were moved from camps to new homes. Many Palestinians had fresh water and electricity in their homes for the first time. This brought about protests from Egypt which had done nothing for the refugees when it controlled the area, but preferred to have the Palestinians suffer so that Israel could be blamed for the poor conditions.

Palestinians were also given freedom of movement: they could travel to and from Jordan. East Jerusalem Arabs were allowed to choose whether or not they would retain their Jordanian citizenship or acquire Israeli citizenship.

Conflict continues


Munich massacre, Operation Wrath of God



War of Attrition 1971 President Anwar Sadat poised the proposition of signing an agreement with Israel, so long as all of the occupied territories captured by the Israelis were returned.

1972 At the Munich Summer Olympics, Palestinian terrorists assassinated 11 Israeli athletes[14] Sadat stated that war was inevitable because there was no progress towards peace; he claimed that he was prepared to sacrifice 1 million soldiers in a war with Israel.

Sadat continued threatening war throughout 1972 - 1973 unless the United States forced Israel to comply with his interpretation of the United Nations Resolution 242 {total withdrawal of Israeli forces from territories gained during the 6-day war in 1967.[15] While petition the US, Sadat built up a diplomatic offensive with European and African states to aid his cause.

April 1973 during an interview, Sadat warned that he would renew the war with Israel, but because of his previous threats pretty much no one expected war.

Israel begins to prepare for war


On October 5, 1973 Israelis began preparing for the imminent war.. At 5:00am General David Elazar, the chief of staff, was the first to recommend mobilization of forces and a preemptive air strike. This was overruled. A few hours passed and a partial call-up of the reserves was approved. Prime Minister, Golda Meir, still did not authorize Elazar to take military action. Meir advised the US ambassador of the situation and asked that he pass on the message that the Arabs should be restrained. US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, then appealed to Sadat and the Syrian President Hafez Assad not to do anything rash. Kissinger also warned Meir not to shoot first.

Israel's chances for victory and having less casualties would be better if Israel launched a preemptive strike along with the rapid mobilization of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), however, Meir feared that by striking first, the US would be angered and Nixon might not support Israel's policies or Israel during the war.[16][17]


  1. Segev 2007, p. 14
  2. Segev 2007, p. 16
  3. Segev 2007, p. 169-172
  5. Segev 2007, p. 175
  6. Segev 2007, p. 151
  7. ibid. pp.225-337.
  8. op.cit
  9. ibid. pp.338-350
  10. ibid. pp.351-365
  11. ibid, pp.366-384, 401-402
  12. ibid., pp.405-409
  13. ibid, p.478
  16. Source3
  17. Source4


  • Tom Segev. 1967. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007.
  • Bard, Mitchell G. Ph. D. 'The Complete Idiot's Guide to Middle East

Conflict.' Second Edition. Pearson Eductation, Inc. 2003