How did Israel come to be in control of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem?


The 1967 Six-Day War began with Israel's attack on the Egyptian air force, which was wiped out within a few hours. Some argue that Israel's first strike was justified because Egypt, Syria and Jordan were massing armies near Israel's borders. Certainly the tensions on all sides was on the rise. Egypt's nationalist president, Gamal Abdul Nasser, demanded that the UN withdraw its emergency forces stationed on Egyptian territory since the 1956 Anglo-French-Israeli attack on Egypt. Although Israel refused to grant the UN the right to station forces on its side of the border in 1956, it considered the withdrawal as a justification to go to war against Egypt.

But war still might have been prevented; just before Israel struck, Nasser had agreed to send his vice-president to Washington for negotiations. Israel's attack was at least partly to prevent a face-saving stand-down for Nasser. Israeli and U.S. military officials agreed that the war had been Israel's decision. Israel's right-wing Likud Bloc leader and later prime minister Menachem Begin told the Pentagon's Army War College in 1982 that "in June 1967 we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him."

Whatever one thinks about the legitimacy of Israel's war, it was clearly aimed at the Arab states surrounding Israel—but it was the Palestinians who paid the highest price. Even after the ceasefire, Israeli troops moved into Syria and captured the Golan Heights; 90,000 Golani Arabs were expelled. By the end of the war, Israel occupied Syria's Golan Heights, the Egyptian Sinai, and the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip. Two hundred fifty thousand more Palestinians were forced into exile, and over a million more were now under Israeli military occupation.