On June 5, 1967, an unprovoked Israel invaded Palestinian, Egyptian, and Syrian territories at once.That first sentence would be laughable if it was not believed by one or two billion people. (Notice how they call Jordanian annexed areas as "Palestinian." Historical revisionism runs deep.)
Six days and over 300,000 Palestinian refugees later, it had occupied the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, West Bank, and Golan Heights.
But the second sentence mentions "300,000 refugees" as fact, and it just ain't so. Nearly all the Arabs who fled did so quite voluntarily and openly told the media that they simply didn't want to live under Jewish rule.
A few years ago, I started writing a book about the history of Palestinian refugees and the "right of return." Unfortunately, I never finished it. Here is the section on what happened to Palestinian Arabs during the Six Day War, with footnotes.
The displaced Palestinians of 1967
The Six Day War did not last six days in the West Bank.
After three days of fighting, mostly centered on Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jenin, the Jordanian forces withdrew to the East Bank. Only when the IDF realized this did it take over the entire territory. [i]
During the war, the IDF did destroy some West Bank areas that were suspected of harboring Fatah terrorists, and as a result nearby villagers did flee, but often to other towns in the West Bank. They returned relatively quickly and Israel helped in their reconstruction.
Jordan claimed an entire slew of atrocities by the Israeli forces, including forced expulsions, looting, atrocities, and use of napalm against civilians. The UN sent a special representative to the area in July for a fact-finding mission and he could find no evidence for these allegations. The mayor of Hebron said explicitly that most of those from his district who fled did so before the Israeli army arrived and that they left of their own free will. [ii]
Even though the actual fighting did not take long, over 175,000 West Bank Palestinians fled to Jordan during and after the war. The Arabs of Hebron, fearful that the Jews would exact revenge on them for the 1929 massacre, surrendered before any troops arrived and hung white sheets out their windows.[iii]
Many of those who fled had lived in refugee camps. Practically all of the 30,000 residents of the Aqabat Jaber camp, and most of the 20,000 who lived in Ein el-Sultan camp, crossed the river. All in all, the vast majority of the residents in the Jericho District went to the East Bank, joined by about one-fifth of those from the Tulkarm, Ramallah and Qalqilya areas.[iv] The vast majority of those who fled were not close to any fighting.
Similarly, Gaza fell in only two days. And just as in the West Bank, many Gazans fled as well into Jordan. UNRWA set up a new camp, Jerash, just for 11,500 Gazans who fled there. The Baqa'a, Talbieh, Marka and Husn camps also hosted thousands of Gazans as well as West Bank Jordanians who fled.
|West Bank Arabs crossing the remains of the Allenby Bridge|
Even when Israel and Jordan negotiated to allow tens of thousands of them to return to the West Bank in late summer and in the fall of 1967, there were still more who chose to cross in the opposite direction every day. In September, the number crossing into Jordan was estimated to be up to 400 a day.[viii] As late as November it was estimated that 200-300 Arabs were still crossing into Jordan every day across the newly-rebuilt bridge. Other reports said that hundreds of Arabs were fording the river at night in the other direction, sneaking back into the West Bank. Still others illicitly commuted across the river to gather and sell produce.[ix]
They certainly did not flee because of how Israel was treating them. While Israeli forces were forceful in rooting out terrorist cells, the government had a more laissez-faire attitude towards ordinary Arabs. Israel allowed Arab farmers to export their goods to Jordan and they allowed existing mayors and other officials to stay in their roles. [x] Schools opened as usual in September, Arab banks were allowed to re-open, and Gaza residents for the first time were allowed to visit their relatives in the West Bank. [xi]
The reasons for the initial flight lay in nearly two decades of anti-Israel indoctrination in the media and Jordanian-run schools. Israeli soldiers related how the Arabs newly under their control would look for horns on their heads. Arithmetic lessons would ask how many Jews would remain if five of them were killed in a group of eight.[xii] One man said, “For years I had heard stories about what the Israelis would do if they conquered us. The stories said they would kill all the men and rape all the women if they ever got the chance.”[xiii]
However, the flight of 1967 illustrates a little-realized aspect of the flight of 1948. It was not only fear and news of atrocities that prompted the Arabs to flee in 1948; some of them they simply did not want to live under Jewish rule and would prefer to uproot their families. Recall that some residents of Umm al-Famm chose to move to the Jordanian side of the armistice line in 1949, even as others chose to be on the Israeli side.
This was especially true of Gazans, who had been effectively imprisoned in the narrow strip for nineteen years, unable to go to Egypt or abroad. Israel lifted restrictions on their travel and allowed them to go to the West Bank, or to cross the river and live in Jordan if they preferred. And thousands did.[xiv] As one of them, bitter after his experience of Egyptian rule, said, “We want to live under Arabs, not under Israel. Not under the Egyptians but under the Jordanians.”[xv] Another incentive for the Gazans to leave was the ability for the first time since 1949 to look for work beyond Jordan, in the Gulf countries that were booming with the help of Palestinian labor.
Another reason that many of the fleeing West Bank Arabs were reluctant to return was because of their relatives who were making money in Gulf countries and sending money back to them. They were afraid that the cash, which many of them relied upon, would not be delivered to Israeli-ruled territory.[xvi]
The refugee issue was not forgotten in the wake of the Six Day War, neither by the Arabs nor by the West.. Already on June 19th, President Johnson gave a speech on five fundamental principles of peace in the Middle East. The second principle was stated this way:
[T]his last month, I think, shows us another basic requirement for settlement. It is a human requirement: justice for the refugees.
A new conflict has brought new homelessness. The nations of the Middle East must at last address themselves to the plight of those who have been displaced by wars. In the past, both sides have resisted the best efforts of outside mediators to restore the victims of conflict to their homes, or to find them other proper places to live and work. There will be no peace for any party in the Middle East unless this problem is attacked with new energy by all, and certainly, primarily by those who are immediately concerned.[xvii]
Politically, the PLO was a ruin in the months immediately following the war. Ahmed Shukairy, who had threatened Israel before the war as stridently as any Arab leader, was vilified for abandoning his people as soon as the war started. Arab states cut off the PLO’s funding, to the tune of $15 million annually.
For a time it appeared that the local Arab leaders in the West Bank could become the new leadership of the Palestinian Arabs. Sheikh Mohammed Ali Ja’abari of Hebron was in the forefront of trying to organize a new Palestinian leadership to negotiate with Israel. Some wanted independence, others wanted a confederation with Jordan and still others thought that local autonomy under Israeli rule would be the best option.[xviii]
One result of the war was that Nasser-type pan-Arabism was dealt a huge blow among Palestinians, and into that vacuum came a resurgence of Palestinian Arab nationalism. Some of this nationalism might have been deliberately kept low-key in the West Bank for fear of angering King Hussein; and as the ties between Jordan and the territories it formerly occupied lessened, the willingness to talk about a separate Palestinian state increased.
Fatah, however, saw the defeat as an opportunity to raise its profile by increasing terror attacks inside Israel. As Israeli security scrambled to gain a presence in the new territories, Fatah took advantage of the easier freedom of movement between the West Bank and Israel and staged a series of attacks.
In September in Tel Aviv, a time bomb was left in the library of the US Information service but it failed to go off. Also in September, a series of three bombs exploded in Jerusalem, including at a print shop where Arabs worked for Jews. There were also explosions at a power station and a railroad line. The most chilling attack of in 1967 was unsuccessful – a time bomb left in a crowded Jerusalem movie theatre in October that was discovered in time. [xix] In Haifa, a car bomb damaged a factory, and Fatah terrorists attacked kibbutzim and moshavim – one attack in September killing a three year old. [xx]
[i] Shlaim, Avi, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, 2001, pp.245-246
[iii] Rabbi Shlomo Goren quoted in "The Return to Hebron," Hebron.com website, published April 9, 2006
[iv] UNRWA website "Aqbat Jaber" and "Ein el Sultan" pages; Levy Economics Institute "West Bank population according to 1967 census and Jordanian 1961 census"
[v] “Refugees Crowd Bridge to Jordan,” New York Times, June 21, 1967
[vi] “Jordanians Count 200,000 Refugees,” New York Times, June 17, 1967
[vii] “Jordan Fails in Bid to Block Refugees,” New York Times, June 27, 1967
[viii] “200 to 400 Arabs Still Cross Span to East Bank Each Day,” New York Times, September 2, 1967
[ix] “Some Said to Cross Back,” New York Times, July 15, 1967
[x] “Israel: Unusual Occupation,” TIME, December 29, 1967
[xi] “Israel: Still Crossing the Jordan”, TIME, September 8, 1967
[xii] “The Bridge on the River Jordan,” New York Times, November 26, 1967
[xiii] “Why the Refugees Go Back,” New York Times, August 27, 1967
[xv] “Arabs in Gaza Strip Pouring Out in Searchof Kin After 19 Years,” New York Times, September 7, 1967
[xvi] TIME, loc. cit.
[xvii] Lyndon Johnson speech before the Department of State Foreign Policy Conference for Educators, June 19, 1967, retrieved from sixdaywar.org
[xviii] “Middle East: Sense Amid the Shambles” TIME, September 22, 1967
[xix] “Six Months After the War, Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem Lead a Strained Coexistence,” New York Times, December 9, 1967; “US Aide Finds Bomb in Office in Israel,” New York Times, October 2, 1967; “Israel Arrests 9 Arabs,” New York Times, September 21, 1967; "Live Bomb Placed Under Seat in Jerusalem Cinema; Detonated in Open Without Injuries." Jewish Telegraphic Agency 10 Oct 1967.
[xx] "El Fatah Leader Seized As New Acts of Sabotage Are Reported." Jewish Telegraphic Agency 26 Sep 1967; "Sabotage, Terror Hit Wide Front Along Israel’s Borders; El Fatah Leaves Signs of Action." Jewish Telegraphic Agency 4 Dec 1967; "Bomb Damages Auto Assembly Plant in Haifa; Israel Army Camp Attacked Near Hebron." Jewish Telegraphic Agency 15 Nov 1967.
(h/t Yehudah P)
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