Between 5 June and 10 June 1967, Israel defeated the armies of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, capturing the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, West Bank, Golan Heights and eastern Jerusalem—including the Old City—in what would become known as the Six-Day War. It changed the face of the Middle East and Israel.
The war came after years of tension between Israel and its Arab neighbors, which had escalated in the months prior to the conflict. In May 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran — an internationally recognized act of war — and amassed troops on its border with Israel. Israelis were terrified that the annihilation of their country was imminent, so they began to build graves, even on playgrounds, in desperate preparation.
Following the formation of a unity government, Israel launched a preemptive airstrike, known as Operation Focus, against the Egyptian air force. Within minutes, over 90% of Egypt’s air force was destroyed, leaving the Egyptian ground forces vulnerable to attack. While Israel all but secured victory over Egypt due its air superiority, ground fighting continued for several more days. Israeli tanks and infantry stormed into Egyptian territory and eventually captured the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip.
Also on 5 June, the Jordanian forces began attacking Israeli population centers. Israel responded with a successful counterattack into eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank. On 7 June, in an emotional and stunning turn of events, Israeli troops captured the Old City of Jerusalem. The pictures of Israeli soldiers crying at the Western Wall along with Commander Mordechai "Motta" Gur’s famous announcement that the "The Temple Mount is in our hands!" are among the most memorable symbols of the Six-Day War.
The last phase of the war took place on Israel's northeastern border with Syria. On 9 June, following air attacks, Israeli tanks advanced into Syria, finally capturing the Golan Heights on 10 June. Following the successful operation, the United Nations-brokered ceasefire took effect and the Six-Day War came to an abrupt end. Israelis were exuberant following their stunning victory. In less than a week, Israel had gone from a nation on the brink of extinction to a leader in the Middle East.
In June 2017, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder released the following statement commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War: “Fifty years ago this week, Israel faced what many thought—and some of her neighbors hoped—would be the destruction of the Jewish State. The 1967 Six-Day War was a defining moment in the history of a young and fragile state in the face of tremendous aggression from all of its surrounding neighbors.”
“As we all know now, the end result was a triumphant victory for the State of Israel that led to the reunification of Jerusalem and altered the post-Holocaust view of Jews forever.
“Today, Israel, and Jerusalem specifically, is a thriving, diverse democracy, and the only place in the Middle East where its inhabitants enjoy the freedom of religion and freedom of expression that so many people around the world have sacrificed their lives for.
“The Six-Day War taught us that even in the face of tremendous adversity, anything is possible.
Am Yisrael Chai!”