The war killed off hopes for a state

The war broke a fragile, though imposed, partition as the way to solve the ongoing conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs


The 1967 war, called by some the Six-Day War, will go down in history as one of the shortest in terms of actual days spent fighting, but it is already setting records for one of the longest continuous crises and occupations in the world.

The war broke a fragile, though imposed, partition as the way to solve the ongoing conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. By occupying areas that were set out for an Arab state, the Israelis signalled their opposition to the concept of sharing the land while remaining adamantly opposed to the concept of sharing power.

When the Partition Plan was approved by the UN General Assembly in 1947, Zionists celebrated in the streets of Tel Aviv. But this partition, which many Palestinians and Arabs felt was unfair as it gave the majority of the land to the minority of the people, was in reality bypassed in 1967 when the possibility of a two-state solution was precluded.

The Israeli narrative, of course, is very different. They were attacked and they only responded to the Arab attacks with a short-term occupation so as to exchange the captured land for peace.

The reality, as we know it now and from what has happened on the ground since the first days of the occupation in Jerusalem and elsewhere — as well as the vast amount of literature that is now in the public domain — gives the lie to the narrative that the Israeli occupation was simply a defensive war.

The Israeli narrative is that Arabs rejected peace by announcing their three “nos” — no to peace, no to negotiations and no to recognising Israel.

To set the historic record straight, it was Israel that started the war. In the early hours of that Monday, June 5 1967, French-made Mirage fighter jets took off from various Israeli airfields and bombed the major military airfields in Egypt, Jordan and Syria, crippling these countries’ air power. To this day, the Israelis still have absolute air supremacy.

With the control of the skies over Arab areas, Israeli ground troops started picking off local armies. What made things worse was the relationship between the various Arab governments and the local Palestinian (and, on the Golan Heights, Syrian) population. In Jerusalem, Israelis were reportedly pausing. They waited for Jordan to fire first before they overpowered a weak Jordanian army that Egypt’s Abdel Nasser promised he would protect from the sky.

Within a week of its occupation, on June 28 1967, East Jerusalem was integrated into Jerusalem via an extension of its municipal borders and placed under the jurisdiction and administration of Israel. In a unanimous General Assembly resolution on July 4, the UN declared these measures invalid.

It was not until September 1, nearly three months after the Israeli occupation, that the Arab leaders met in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum and issued their anti-peace declaration. By this time, Israel had annexed East Jerusalem and rejected a unanimous UN resolution calling the Israeli annexation invalid.

The Nakba (Arabic for disaster) that befell Palestinians in 1948 totally divided a once unified population into groups of refugees spread out through regional neighbouring countries. It was only the creation of Fatah in 1965 that allowed the reunification of Palestine to begin, but this effort was not in time to allow Palestinians any kind of resistance to the Israeli occupation.

An Israeli pre-emptive attack on Palestinian guerrillas in the East Bank village of Karameh was fiercely opposed by Palestinians and Jordanian army units. But it was the Fatah fighters that cashed in on the resistance to Israel: Karameh — which means “dignity” in Arabic — became a major source of recruitment for the PLO.

The politics after the 1967 war were very complicated. Unlike Egypt, Jordan was a moderate, small and weak country, and it did its best to turn its weakness into strength by not taking any forceful positions and trying hard not to anger the US or Israel, whom it needed for the survival of the Kingdom.

Egypt had a different point of view. Its army was badly defeated. Their promise of protection to Jordan’s King Hussein crumbled on the first day and so the Egyptians had a huge honour and ego problem they had to solve.

In the occupied territories, what had been thought was a pre-emptive war that would, like the 1956 Suez Crisis, end with the Israeli army withdrawing, was not to be. It was thought the US president would make sure that the Israelis withdrew. This time around, the US was nowhere to be seen.

The Israelis clearly had no intention of leaving not only Jerusalem, which they had immediately annexed to Israel, but also the West Bank and Gaza, where they began illegally moving messianic Jews to permanently settle, in violation of international law.

While the period before 1967 witnessed relative political calm for Palestinians, the Israeli occupation produced the opposite. It united Palestinians politically, even though the war divided them geographically. It also strengthened nationalism.

Israel treated Palestinians as nothing more than nomadic Arab Bedouin who happened to have found themselves in these areas, whereas the Jews, with thousands of years of history, were returning to their homeland with God and the world on their side.

Palestinians in the diaspora might have found the PLO a source of pride and one that they could support, but in the occupied territories the fight was about Palestinian nationalism.

More Palestinians wanted to study, to prove their connection to the land. The entire people dedicated themselves to proving their history, culture, and roots through music, dance, painting, and other cultural activities. Folkloric groups popped up everywhere, documentaries were created and a theatre movement was given new life as Palestinians were forced to enact what they had always taken for granted - their national identity.

Being involved in politics meant joining a clandestine PLO cell, which some did. But for the majority of Palestinians, politics was taken up in the form of volunteering and organising. Youth movements and clubs were popular, as were unions, NGOs and agricultural or medical movements. Civil networks planted the seeds of a future state. Education was a priority, and so new colleges and universities were established.

Local government took on a much bigger role than before, with activists fighting to get the right people elected: city and village councils would provide a legitimate cadre of leaders who could provide both political and administrative leadership.

Perhaps the biggest problem that faced Palestinians as a result of the war was the large influx of Jewish settlers, who had the Israeli army and government behind them.

It began small and seemed insignificant. A rabbi checks into a hotel in Hebron and then he and his wife declare that they are returning to the reclaim their heritage and the grave of their prophets. While the religious story might seem touching to some, the combination of the idea of divine legitimacy and army protection for the settlers has resulted in the last 50 years in more than 700,000 illegal Jewish settlers living in Palestinian territories while having all the political and civil privileges enjoyed by Israelis.

The discussion of sharing land or sharing power continues to be the biggest question. Israel appears to have chosen to reject sharing the land without agreeing to any share of power. A two-state solution might be difficult now that so many Jewish Israelis have settled on Palestinian land, most of whom are unlikely to agree to live in a Palestinian sovereign state.

The war of 1967 therefore might have been the last nail in the coffin of a two-state solution. The challenge now is what today’s reality of a single state will mean for the four million Palestinians under Israel’s military control.


Daoud Kuttab is Palestinian journalist with American citizenship

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