The Six-Day War in June 1967 was the culmination of hostilities between Israel and neighboring Arab nations that started with the Jewish state’s founding two decades earlier.
Palestinian Arabs had claimed the area as their homeland, and the Arab nations refused to acknowledge Israel’s legitimacy.
Several Arab states and Palestinian groups attacked Israel when it declared statehood in 1948, but the nascent Jewish state repelled the attackers and survived, even claiming land beyond the boundaries assigned to it by the U.N. Partition Plan. Similarly in 1956, Israel overran Egypt and occupied the Sinai Peninsula for months after Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran and the Suez Canal to Israeli shipping.
Israel withdrew after a United Nations peacekeeping force was placed in the Sinai and the United States guaranteed the right of passage for Israeli ships through the Straits of Tiran. The Suez Canal was reopened in March 1957.
Years of confrontation ensued between Israel and its Arab neighbors, notably Egypt and Syria. The Fatah organization and the Palestine Liberation Organization, both with the expressed goal of destroying Israel, were founded in the interim and began launching terrorist attacks.
Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, bent on avenging Arab losses, pressing the Palestinian cause and asserting his own claim to be the Arab world’s pre-eminent leader, assembled an alliance of Arab states surrounding Israel, forced U.N. peacekeepers out of the Sinai and moved Egyptian troops there, and mobilized for war. For nearly a month, Israelis quaked in fear of annihilation while the government exhausted diplomatic alternatives to war.
When it became clear that the international community would not prevent the coming Arab attack, Israel pre-empted the invasion with its own air attacks early on the morning of June 5, 1967.
From June 5 to 10, Israel drove Arab armies from the Sinai Desert, Gaza Strip, West Ba! nk and G olan Heights, and occupied those territories. Israel also reunited Jerusalem, claiming the eastern half of the city, including the Old City and the Jewish Quarter, which Jordan had seized in the 1948-49 war.
The Six-Day War was seen as a mighty victory for Israel, and showed its antagonists that they couldn’t expect to destroy the Jewish state militarily. But the newly lost territories now became the Arab rallying cry and allowed the Arab world, with the support of their Soviet backers, to portray tiny Israel as the aggressor who was occupying their land, changing international perceptions of the Jewish state.
The peace process that began in the late 1970s and has continued in one form or another until today mostly has been about resolving the land disputes created by Israel’s military conquest in 1967.