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This Month in History

On the Causes of the 1967 Israeli-Arab War

Interview with Dr. Ismail Zayid, President, Canada Palestine Association

HALIFAX (5 June 2007) - THE 1967 war commenced forty years ago on June 5, 1967 by Israel against the Arab States carried in its wake an aftermath which became of great concern both to the Middle East and to the world at large: the military occupation by Israel of the West Bank of Jordan, the Sinai Desert and the southern heights of Syria; the expulsion or flight of over 250,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes or refugee camps and the destruction of many more of their villages; the subjection to Israeli domination and oppression of nearly 3.5 million Palestine Arabs in the West Bank of Jordan and the Gaza Strip; the occupation of the Christian and the Islamic Holy Places and the attempted annexation of Jerusalem; the shattering of the economy of Egypt, Jordan and the occupied territories and finally the interruption of navigation through the Suez Canal.

The aggressive nature of the war led the world during the late 1960s to realize as never before that underlying this situation there lay a focal source of trouble.

In Canada for virtually the first time, mass demonstrations were held in support of the cause of the Palestinian people and against Zionist Israel, and throughout the world new organizations were formed to defend the rights of the Palestinian and Arabic peoples. The Canadian Arab Federation (CAF) was founded 40 years ago this very weekend, as was the Council on Arab British Understanding (CABU) in London. In terms of appreciating the volcanic situation today in Occupied Palestine and the Middle East, it is essential that its nature and dimensions be fully understood and appreciated.

Editor Tony Seed interviewed Dr. Ismail Zayid, president of the Canada Palestine Association, author of two works on Zionism, a co-founder of CABU and a vice-president of CAF, on the main causes and some of the features and consequences of the 1967 war.

These maps from the BBC show the state of Israel's boundaries before and after the 1967 war. The dark green areas in the map on the right are the Palestinian and Syrian lands Israel acquired as a result of the conquest.

* * *

TS: Dr. Zayid, what were the causes of the 1967 war?

Ismail Zayid: The June 5, 1967 war was planned and effected by Israel as a continuation of the expansionist Zionist program. This program was further articulated by David Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister who, after Israel had already conquered 78 per cent of Palestine, stated in his diaries: "To maintain the status quo will not do. We have set up a dynamic state bent upon expansion."[1] This expansionist program entailed deliberate acts of provocation and fabricated stories about Arab threats to Israel, as in the case of the June 1967 war. Israel's apologists and propagandists continue to claim that President Nasser of Egypt was massing troops in Sinai to attack Israel and exterminate Israelis.

The background to the war was like this. Levi Eshkol, Israel's prime minister at the time, in April 1967, made statements threatening Syria with attacks on Damascus, and there were reports that the Israeli army was massing troops close to Syrian borders. Syria, having a mutual defence pact with Egypt and other Arab League states, called for military support. Egypt at the time, was fighting a war in Yemen and President Nasser reluctantly moved a small part of his army from Yemen to the Sinai as a gesture of support. His call on UN troops to withdraw from the Egyptian-Israeli border came under pressure from other neighbouring Arab sources, chastising him for lack of genuine interest in taking any military action if Syria was attacked by Israel, while UN troops were separating his troops from Israel.

US President Lyndon B Johnson, in the presence of Secretary McNamara and other senior officials, gives Israeli Ambassador Abba Eban the green light on 26 May 1967
Using this false pretext, Israel implemented its war of aggression against Egypt, Palestinian territories under Jordan's control and Syria, with prior knowledge of US President Johnson. The falsehood of the claim that Nasser was planning to attack Israel is clearly illustrated in the Israeli leaders own words. Yitzhak Rabin, chief of staff of the Israeli army at the time, stated: "I do not think Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent to the Sinai would not have been sufficient to launch an offensive war. He knew it and we knew it."[2] Prime Minister Levi Eshkol stated: "The Egyptian layout in the Sinai and the general military build up there testified to a military defensive Egyptian set-up, south of Israel."[3] Modechai Bentov, an Israeli cabinet minister at the time, stated: "All this story about the danger of extermination [of Israel in June 1967] has been a complete invention and has been blown up a posteriori to justify the annexation of Arab territory."[4]

Menachem Begin, a cabinet minister in June 1967, stated, while prime minister, addressing Israel's National Defence College, on August 8, 1982: "In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai did not prove Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him."[5]

As to "Syrian provocative attacks," let us let Moshe Dayan, Israel's Minister of Defence at the time, tell us the facts as reported by Serge Schmemann:

"He [Moshe Dayan] said he regretted not having stuck to his initial opposition to storming the Golan Heights. There really was no pressing reason to do so, because many of the firefights with the Syrians were deliberately provoked by Israel, and the kibbutz residents who pressed the Government to take the Golan Heights did so less for security than for the farmland... I know how at least 80 per cent of the clashes were started. We would send a tractor to plow some area, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn't shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance further, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot and then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that is how it was."[6]

That is how this war of aggression was planned, provoked and effected bringing about this illegal occupation of Palestinian and Syrian land, has been allowed to continue for 40 years, in violation of international law and repeated UN Security Council resolutions.

TS: Thank you Dr. Zayid.


1. Rebirth and Destiny of Israel, The Philosophical Press. New York, 1954. p. 419. 2. Le Monde, February 28, 1968. 3. Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, October 18, 1967. 4. Al Hamishmar, April 14, 1972, and quoted in Le Monde, June 3, 1972. 5. The New York Times, August 21, 1982.

6. The New York Times, May 11, 1997.

Israelis round up "trouble-makers" in Gaza

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