Fifty-five years ago this month, has to be registered as one of the most glorious times in the annals of Jewish history. It was the Six Day War, which began on June 5, 1967. Less than a week later, the war was over. The Arab states of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria were defeated. Military contingents from Iraq, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia suffered high casualties. Egypt lost the entire Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. Jordan, which illegally annexed the Old City of Jerusalem and the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) in the aftermath of the 1948 war, lost these territories now. The Damascus regime used the strategic Golan Heights to shell Israeli kibbutzim along the Sea of Galilee, targeting Israeli farmers, and now the Golan Heights was in Israeli hands. Israel was transformed overnight territorially but more significantly in terms of the national mood. The country turned from gloom and doom that preceded the war to euphoria and exultation. God, once again, performed a miracle for his people.
Yet, along with the glory of the occasion came the consequences of the incredible Israeli victory. A new reality emerged that would spawn an age of terror and instability. The Six Day War gave rise to unforeseen developments, including the creation of “Palestinianism.” The shock felt in the Arab world in the aftermath of the Six Day War, and the extent of the Arab defeat by the “despised and weak Jews,” was deeply humiliating to the Arab mind. It expedited the demise of “Nasserism,” pan-Arabism, and Arab nationalism, as the prevailing ideologies in the Arab world. The war discredited the secular Arab governments and contributed to the rise of political Islam.
Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian dictator and the hero of the Arab masses, who boasted in May 1967, of “liquidating the Zionist menace,” suffered a personal humiliating defeat. He tried to salvage his reputation by blaming the Arab defeat on the intervention of America and Britain on behalf of Israel, an outright lie. But he could not take back the lies he told to King Hussein and the Egyptian people about victories in the battlefield against the Israelis, and that his air force was attacking Israeli targets. Following the Six Day War the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza were henceforth responsible to chart their own destiny…
Prior to the Six Day War, West Bank and Gaza Arab identities were not known as Palestinians. The term Palestinian, was adopted only after Israel took control of these areas. West Bank and Gaza Arabs were previously Jordanians and Egyptians, respectively. The Arab world lost hope in its armies’ capabilities to destroy the Jewish state and recover Palestine for the Arab cause. For Anwar Sadat, who replaced Nasser as Egypt’s president in 1970, recovering the lost Sinai Peninsula was the principle reason for the Yom Kippur War. Egypt’s intent in the October 1973 war was not to destroy Israel, but to regain Arab pride. Eventually Sadat made peace with Israel because he realized that Israel was not removable. That is perhaps one of the major legacies of the Six Day War.
Recovering Palestine after the Six Day War was consigned to the Arabs of Palestine. To legitimize their struggle against Israel, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), operating outside Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, needed to invent a narrative that would provide them with justification for claiming the land, and replacing Israel. So, in order to give substance to the idea of “Palestinianism”, and their claim to historical Palestine, they asserted that they were descendants of the ancient Canaanites. A preposterous assertion since most Arabs who lived in Palestine migrated from other Arab lands, and many settled there during the Muslim conquest of the land by the Caliph Omar in 637CE. Some Arab Palestinians have asserted that the Jebusites were their forefathers despite the absence of any credible scholastic evidence. Clearly in using such fabricated claims, they hoped to convince the international community that Israel and Jerusalem “rightfully” belonged to them.
King David made Jerusalem his capitol; hence, it was called the City of David. His son Solomon built the Holy Temple there. In the Bible, the name Zion is used to refer to the city of Jerusalem, and it is the source of the term Zionism, which is the Jewish national liberation movement established in the late 19th Century and led by Theodore Herzl. The connotation of the name expresses the millenniums of yearning by Jews to return to Zion – Jerusalem, following the exile of the Jews from the Land of Israel by the Romans in 70 CE.
In order to establish their legitimacy over the Land of Israel, and erase the historical Jewish presence there, Arabs have deliberately destroyed archeological artifacts dating back to biblical times; in the process they also destroyed artifacts from the Canaanite period. The Arab Palestinian leadership’s habitual denial of history is inimical to peacemaking with Israel. To be specific, Palestinian public discourse claims that the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem never existed. They refuse to acknowledge, let alone tolerate the universally accepted history of the city of Jerusalem, and the rest of the country.
Although the Arabs of Palestine speak the same Arabic language as their neighboring Arab states, share the same religion – Sunni Islam, and are part of the same culture, after June 10, 1967, they suddenly discovered their allegedly distinct “Palestinianism.” They demanded henceforth, that the Arab states recognize them as such. The Arab states were very happy to comply, and rid themselves of the Palestine burden. Some Arab states such as Iraq and Syria used the Arab Palestinians as a terror vehicle against Israel. It is safe to say that without the Six Day War, there would not have been “Palestinianism.” West Bank Arabs would have remained Jordanians, and Gazan Arabs Egyptians.
One major result of the War was that the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 242, also known as “land for peace.” It was a departure from previous cases in which Israel withdrew from territory it captured, as was the case of the 1956 Sinai Campaign, when Israel gave the Egyptians land (all of the Sinai) without getting peace. Similarly, in 1949, Israeli forces withdrew from the Sinai without receiving even recognition from Cairo. Israeli historian Benny Morris has written that, “The Israelis at last had something they could give the Arabs in exchange for peace.”
Finally, following the Six Day War, the US recognized Israel’s value as a strategic partner. It led to an American Middle East policy that centered on containing the Soviet Union in the region, assuring the flow of oil at reasonable prices, and protecting Israel. With French President Charles De Gaulle imposing an arms embargo on Israel soon after the war (arms Israel already paid for), the US became Israel’s main arms supplier. Britain withdrew from the region in the 1960’s, creating a vacuum, which the US ultimately filled with the help of a reliable Israel.
There is still some distance between Israel’s incredible victory in the Six Day War and a comprehensive peace. Nevertheless, the Six Day War planted the seeds for the current peace with six Arab states.