June 1967 War

June 1967 War
A Watershed in the Arab-Israeli Conflict

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Continuing Exodus: Jordan River

A new temporary bridge across the Jordan River, near the destroyed Allenby Bridge, now links Jordan and the West Bank which has been occupied by Israel since June 1967. In the months following the hostilities thousands of new refugees - many of them from the Gaza Strip - crossed to east Jordan and the flow, though diminished, still continues.

February 1968
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees

In June 1967, the third Arab-Israeli war broke out, at the end of which Israel occupied the Sinai , the Syrian Golan Heights , the Gaza Strip , and the West Bank . Dubbed the Six-Day War by Israelis because in six days they were able to achieve an overwhelming victory over the armed forces of Egypt , Syria , and Jordan , it became known in the Arab world as al-naksa, the “setback.” This setback came on both a Palestinian level, as the remainder of the lands of historic Palestine came under Israeli military rule, and on a regional level, as territories of three Arab states were now occupied and the lofty aspirations of Arab unity seemed more distant than ever.

When Israel decided in 1963 to divert the path of the Jordan River , there seemed little in the regional political climate to suggest that another war was on the horizon. The Arab reaction to Israel’s decision was fairly limited: at a January Arab Summit, Cairo, 1964 , the Arab states announced plans to divert the headwaters of the Jordan, to establish a unified Arab military command, and to establish a Palestinian political entity. However, tensions rapidly escalated at the beginning of 1965, as the Fatah movement, backed by Syria, began to send armed commandos into Israel and Syria, and Jordan embarked on preparations to divert the Jordan River’s headwaters.

In the spring of 1967, tensions escalated once again; Israel threatened to launch a wide-scale attack on Syria, which continued to offer support to Palestinian militants and which had signed a mutual defense pact with Egypt in November 1966. On 7 April 1967, Israel made good on its threats, launching attacks on Syrian border areas while Israeli aircraft clashed with Syria’s over Damascus , downing 6 Mig-21s.

Faced with the growing possibility of a full-scale Israeli assault on Syria, and especially after having received information from the Soviet Union on 13 May 1967 that Israel had amassed significant forces along the Syrian border, the Egyptian government announced on 15 May that it was placing its armed forces on alert. On the same day, Egypt requested that the UN Emergency Force —established following the 1956 war —withdraw from Sharm al-Shaykh and Gaza. On 22 May, it announced that the Straits of Tiran (at the Gulf of Aqaba ’s entrance to the Red Sea ) would be closed to Israeli shipping.

On 30 May, Jordan, having ascertained that war was imminent, joined the mutual defense treaty between Egypt and Syria. Meanwhile, Israel announced the formation of a national unity government that included, for the first time, Menachem Begin , head of the right-wing Herut Party . While the administration of US President Lyndon Johnson publicly sought to ease tensions in the Middle East , urging Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser to avoid hostilities, the United States continued to supply Israel with arms and gave signals that it would not oppose an Israeli offensive that would destroy Egypt’s military, undermine Nasser’s position of leadership in the Arab world, and strike a blow to the Soviet Union’s political and military stature in the region.

On the morning of 5 June 1967, Israel launched a surprise attack on Egyptian airfields that lasted more than two hours, during which it nearly completely destroyed Egypt’s air force and damaged Egyptian runways. Battles in the West Bank led to widespread displacement of the population there, especially from Palestinian refugee camps in the Jordan Valley . Palestinians in the Gaza Strip attempted to flee toward the West Bank and from there to Jordan, while in the Golan Heights, Israeli forces expelled the majority of the Syrian residents.

The defeat was felt particularly strongly by Nasser, who declared in an address to the Egyptian people on 9 June that he alone bore responsibility and would thus be resigning his post as president. Over the following days, however, millions demonstrated in the streets of Egypt’s cities calling on him to stay on as president, which he did. He proceeded to gather the Arab ranks, convening the Arab heads of state at theArab Summit, Khartoum at the end of August 1967, during which he reconciled with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia . Syria was notably absent from the summit. Egypt agreed to withdraw its forces from Yemen , in return for which Saudi Arabia, Kuwait , and Libya pledged substantial financial assistance to Egypt and Jordan. On 1 September 1967—after PLO Chairman Ahmad al-Shuqairi had threatened to walk out to protest what he called the Arab states’ “betrayal” of the Palestinian cause—the summit issued the famous “Khartoum Statement,” which affirmed the determination of the Arab states to act collectively to secure the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Arab territories occupied after 5 June 1967, “within the framework of the main principles by which the Arab States abide, namely, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it, and insistence on the rights of the Palestinian people in their own country.”

On 22 November 1967, after five months of deliberations, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242. Proposed by Britain ’s representative, it stressed the necessity of Israeli withdrawal from the Arab territories it had occupied during the war in exchange for an end to the state of hostility; recognition of the right of all countries in the region to  live in peace within secure borders; freedom of navigation in the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aqaba; and a just resolution to the refugee problem.

The June 1967 war had provided Israel an opportunity to realize its goals of regional expansion. The Zionist leadership had never regarded the borders that emerged after the 1948 as permanent and hoped to reassert its claims over what had slipped away in 1956. Moreover, the war helped to alleviate the economic crisis that had been affecting Israel, which had witnessed an unemployment rate of 10 percent and a decline in Jewish immigration. Moving quickly to reap the fruits of victory, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and began in the early days of its occupation to establish Jewish settlements there and in the Golan Heights.

The defeat of the Arab regular armies in 1967 led to the proliferation of Palestinian fedayeen operations and the transfer of the leadership of the PLO to the armed Palestinian groups. On a regional level, the 1967 defeat led to the decline of the Arab nationalist movement and the awakening of political Islam. It also marked the Arab regimes’ acceptance of Israel’s existence as a fait accompli in the region, especially after Egypt and Jordan agreed to UN Security Council Resolution 242. The goal of “undoing the effects of the war” came to replace the goal of liberating Palestine.

At the international level, the 1967 war brought even greater significance to the Middle East as a theater of the Cold War . Israel imposed itself as a strategic asset of the United States in the region, while the Soviet Union—despite the painful blow inflicted upon its Egyptian and Syrian allies—became the only international power able to rebuild the Arab armies and support Arab demands in the international arena.


Selected Bibliography: 

Jabber, Fuad, ed. International Documents on Palestine, 1967. Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1970.

Louis, Wm. Roger, and Avi Shlaim, eds. The 1967 Arab-Israeli War: Origins and Consequences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Parker, Richard B. “The June War: Whose Conspiracy?Journal of Palestine Studies 21, no.4 (Summer 1992): 5–21.

Schleifer, S. Abdullah. “The Fall of Jerusalem, 1967.Journal of Palestine Studies 1, no.1 (Autumn 1971): 68–86.

Segev, Tom. “The June 1967 War and the Palestinian Refugee Problem.Journal of Palestine Studies 36, no.3 (Spring 2007): 6–22.

Special Document File: Jerusalem 1967.Journal of Palestine Studies 37, no.1 (Autumn 2007): 88–110.