The 1967 War was a watershed event in the Middle East. Israel successfully defended itself against Arab countries’
renewed effort to destroy it. In repulsing attacks, Israel captured extensive territories–the Sinai, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and Gaza. One consequence of the war and of Arab leaders’ refusal to make peace afterwards was Israel’s military administration of the West Bank and Gaza. Today, Israel’s “occupation” of the territories is a highly charged issue, one frequently dominated by misinformation. This unit is designed to present the basic facts and larger context of Israel’s administration—its origins, why it continued, how Israel tried to improve the lives of the population, efforts Israel has made to compromise and negotiate peace, Israeli settlements
and Israel’s legitimate claims to the territories.
The specific goals are:
• To present the larger context and show that the “occupation” and its continuation have been a direct result of
the Arab-Israeli conflict and of Arab leaders’ refusal to make peace. (Israel did not “occupy” any land when Arab leaders prepared for war against it in 1967.)
• To emphasize that the current negative connotations of “occupation” are historically shortsighted and do not
fit Israel’s case. Israel never sought to acquire the West Bank and Gaza. Rather, these territories fell to Israel during its defensive 1967 War. Furthermore, the West Bank is disputed territory—both Israelis and Palestinians have legitimate claims to it—so the term “occupied” territory does not apply.
• To underscore that Israel was forced to continue its administration of the territories because no Arab countries
would make peace and accept sovereignty over the areas and because Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza refused to accept Israel’s offers for autonomy.
• To emphasize that Israel tried, and succeeded, in bettering the lives and civil liberties of the Palestinians during its administration of the territories.
• To emphasize that when the PLO agreed to make peace in the Oslo Accords, Israel effectively ended the “occupation,” with 98 percent of Palestinians becoming self-governing under the Palestinian Authority by 1998. Today, civil administration of Gaza is entirely in the hands of Hamas, and of the West Bank is entirely in the hands of the Palestinian Authority, which has a civil administration, a police force, and its own government agencies.
• To emphasize that while Israel’s settlements in the West Bank are politically contentious, they are not illegal.
Israel has legal, historical, and security claims to the West Bank, but has tried to reach a compromise with the
Palestinians about future borders.
1. Why did the “occupation” occur, and then continue? How did the reasons for its occurrence and continuation until the Oslo Accords fit into the pattern of other Arab-Israeli wars? (Israel did not “occupy” any land over the pre-1967 border before the war.)
2. What is “occupation”? Is it illegal? (International law and treaties regulate how civilian populations should be treated during wars and military occupations. They do not identify occupations as inherently illegal unless they occur as a result of aggressive wars to seize another nation’s territory. Furthermore, the West Bank and Gaza are disputed territory with both Palestinians and Israelis having claims to it.) Is it always bad? How do you think Israel’s occupation is similar to or different from the U.S. occupations of Japan and/or Germany after World War II or to Egypt’s occupation of Gaza and Jordan’s occupation of the West Bank between 1949 and
3. Why do you think that Palestinians never made claims to the West Bank and Gaza for their own state between 1949 and 1967 when Jordan and Egypt controlled these areas? Why did they begin to make these claims only after 1967? What insight does this give you about some of the root causes of the Arab-Israeli conflict?
4. After Israel’s victory in the 1967 War, Israeli Ambassador Abba Eban remarked that “This is the first war in history which has ended with the victors suing for peace and the vanquished calling for unconditional surrender.” Why do you think Eban said this and how true do you think his statement is? (Consider, for example, the Khartoum Declaration and the “Three NOs.” )
5. What do you think Israel did well during its administration of the territories? What could Israel have done better?
6. What are the competing claims that Israelis and Palestinians have for rights to West Bank territory? Which arguments do you think are the most persuasive?
7. Should Israeli Jews have a right to establish communities in the West Bank and Gaza? Should Israel follow a similar policy with regard to Arabs in Israel? Why or why not?
8. Palestinians often claim that Israelis are “stealing” Palestinian land when they build settlements. Do Palestinians mean they own the land or that they want the land to be in the borders of their future state? What is the difference between personally owning land and having sovereignty? How would this distinction affect discussions about the conflict?
9. Israel ceded governance of Palestinians to the Palestinian Authority, leaving 98 percent of Palestinians selfgoverning
by 1998, and withdrew from all of Gaza in 2005. Why do you think this has not eased the conflict?
10. The impact of Israeli “settlements” and “settlers” is often described very negatively in the press. Given what you have learned about them, how do the settlements harm the Palestinians?
Israel and the “Occupation” or Disputed Territories and Settlements
Eugene Rostow, “Bricks and Stones; Settling for Leverage; Palestinian Autonomy,” The New Republic, April 23, 1990, and “Resolved,
Are the Settlements Legal?” The New Republic, October 21, 1991, archived at:
Dore Gold, “Legal Acrobatics: The Palestinian Claim that Gaza is still Occupied even after Israel Withdraws,”
Dore Gold, “From ‘Occupied’ Territories to ‘Disputed’ Territories,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, January 2002,
Efraim Karsh, “What Occupation?” Commentary, August 2002.
Overview of Disputed Territories
“What about the Settlements?” (with good links to other sources):
Israeli settlements in the Disputed Territories.
Israeli settlements and international law.
Living conditions for Palestinians in the Disputed Territories post-1967
U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 (November 1967): proposed plan for peace involving Israeli withdrawal from territories captured
in 1967 War.
Borders before and after 1967 War.
Jerusalem (pre- and post-1967).
Gamal Nasser, president of Egypt.
Michael Oren (2002). Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East
(Oxford University Press).
The 1967 War and the continuing attacks against Israel. The 1968 film Never Again to be Denied at Steven Spielberg Jewish Film
Archive at http://w3.castup.net/spielberg/index.aspx?lang=en&id=255
Selection of documentary footage, historians’ analyses, and other videos pertinent to the 1967 War and its aftermath at http://www.sixdaywar.co.uk/movies2.htm