The Six-Day War, whose 55th anniversary will be marked this month, represents a historical turning point in the annals of Israeli history and the Jewish state’s relations with the Arab world. The war resulted in the first crack in the wall of Arab hostility and rejectionism, which was predicated on the unwavering belief that the Arabs would ultimately succeed in defeating and destroying Israel.
Alongside that, however, the war was also an important turning point in the annals of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as its consequences essentially “created” the Palestinian nation.
In an effort to promote the Palestinian narrative and its demand for ownership of the Land of Israel, the Palestinians have gone so far as to claim that not only did they precede the Zionists who came to the Land of Israel in the late 19th century, but also the biblical Israelites. Palestinians—they argue—are the descendants of the ancient Canaanites and therefore have first rights over the land.
But even the Palestinians themselves don’t buy into the historical revisionism and fabrication that links present-day Palestinians to the Canaanites and Jebusites, who controlled Jerusalem prior to King David’s conquest of the city. Case in point: The Palestinians systematically destroy archaeological remains in order to erase any reminder of the Jewish past in the Land of Israel. Tellingly, they also don’t spare those artifacts that date to the period prior to the Israelites’ conquest of the land.
On the other hand, one very common claim, which many Israelis also happen to echo, is that the Palestinian national movement is essentially a mirror image of Zionism. They assert that it first began in the early part of the 20th century as a response by the local population to the Zionist movement, which sought the help of the British to settle the land and establish a Jewish state.
The truth, however, is that in one fell swoop the Six-Day War turned the Arabs of the Land of Israel into Palestinians.
Up until the war, the residents of Judea and Samaria were considered Jordanians, including by themselves, and held Jordanian citizenship.
Ariel Sharon said “Jordan is Palestine” every time he was asked to propose a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. This statement, however, was actually coined by King Abdullah I, the grandfather of the current king of Jordan, who established the Jordanian monarchy and annexed Judea and Samaria after the War of Independence in 1948.
In contrast to the inhabitants of Judea and Samaria, the residents of Gaza found themselves under the rule of the Egyptian military, which treated the coastal enclave as part of Egypt and never even considered making it an independent entity.
In June 1967, however, the Arabs dragged Israel into a war that no one expected and no one wanted. The price of Arab adventurism was the loss of Judea and Samaria, Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula.
The millions of Arabs who up to that point had lived under Jordanian or Egyptian control were now under Israeli rule, and somehow instantaneously “discovered” or “were informed” that they were, in fact, Palestinians. Their demand to be recognized as a people with national rights was promptly supported by those same Arab countries that had never contemplated establishing a Palestinian state in the territories under their control, yet were now eager to adopt such an idea in order to hurt Israel.
It must be said that the indecisiveness, hesitancy and unwillingness on the part of Israel to determine the future of the territories it captured in the Six-Day War, let alone demand them for itself, played into the hands of the Palestinians, who became the vanguard of the Arab struggle against Israel.
It goes without saying that the Arabs of Israel also rushed to join the party. Instead of serving as a bridge to Arab-Israeli peace and a model of coexistence, they adopted a Palestinian identity that since 1967 has only impeded their integration into Israeli society.
Ultimately, Israel conceded to a process that seemed to be inevitable and irreversible, and in the Oslo Accords of 1993, it recognized the Palestinians as a people and the PLO as their representative.
And thus, thanks to Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, the Palestinians were born into the world.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.