Israeli Cabinet Minutes From Six-Day War: From Fear to Euphoria to Arrogance

Fifty years after the Six-Day War, the State Archives are releasing the transcripts of government meetings in 1967

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Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan fly over the West Bank after the Six-Day War.
Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan fly over the West Bank after the Six-Day War.Credit: ILAN BRUNER/ GPO
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

On the eve of the outbreak of the Six-Day War, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol was afraid of “a real massacre” and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan warned that “there is a limit to our ability to defeat the Arabs.” Two days later, following the stunning victories, the tone changed to the opposite extreme and Dayan boasted that “within a few hours” Israel’s army could even be in Beirut.

Subsequently, when the West Bank was occupied and Jerusalem was united, the government began to ponder the fate of the Arabs in those territories. “If it were up to us, we’d send all the Arabs out to Brazil,” said Eshkol.

These quotes appear in the minutes of foreign affairs and defense discussions by Israel’s government ministers in 1967 – before, during and after the Six-Day War – which are being published on Thursday by the State Archives, 50 years after the war that changed Israel and its society beyond recognition. One of these documents is a transcript of the special discussion the military chief of staff held with the ministerial committee on security matters on June 2, at the peak of the “waiting period” after the Egyptian army entered the Sinai Peninsula in violation of international agreements and closed the Straits of Tiran to passage of Israeli ships.

Israel saw this as a declaration of war and Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin declared that if Israel did not strike the first blow, “There would be grave danger to Israel’s existence and the war will be difficult, painful and with multiple casualties.”

In the end, the government decided to go to war. On June 5, the Israel Defense Forces embarked on a successful attack. It began in the morning with a surprise aerial attack on the airports in the enemy countries. Subsequently IDF ground forces launched an attack on the Egyptian army in the Sinai Peninsula. Then the Jordanians joined the war with an artillery bombardment of West Jerusalem.

On June 6 the government ministers convened again. Now the fear was replaced by euphoria. “It is possible to occupy the whole West Bank It is possible to reach Sharm al-Sheikh It is also possible to reach the Litani [River] in Lebanon. Maybe even more than that,” said Dayan and proposed threatening Lebanon that if the Jews of Beirut were harmed, “We will be in Beirut within a few hours and they’d better be careful.”

The next day, on June 7, IDF soldiers entered East Jerusalem and the Old City, liberated the Western Wall and the Temple Mount and occupied the West Bank. At the end of the war, the military effort moved to the Syrian front and Israel occupied the Golan Heights.

The euphoria ballooned. On June 14 Foreign Minister Abba Eban told the government ministers: “In the history of mankind there has been nothing like the public diplomacy success Israel has had this past month. Israel is expanding and expanding like this, and the world is applauding.”

On June 15, the ministers began to discuss the political and diplomatic future of the occupied territories as well. Eban warned of “a barrel of dynamite” and explained the problem inherent in ruling over another people: “We are sitting here with two populations, one of them endowed with all the civil rights and the other denied all rights. This is a picture of two classes of citizens that is hard to defend, even in the special context of Jewish history. The world will side with a liberation movement of that one and a half million surrounded by several tens of millions.”

Minister without Portfolio Menachem Begin proposed granting the West Bank Arabs residency status for seven years, during the course of which they would not be able to vote for the Knesset. “What do we need to do during these seven years?” he asked rhetorically and answered: Increase immigration to Israel and the Jewish birthrate.

There was also discussion of the possibility of transferring the Palestinians to other countries. Eshkol said: “If it were up to us, we’d send all the Arabs out to Brazil.”

Yaakov Shimshon Shapira disagreed with him: “They are inhabitants of this land, and today you are ruling over it. There is no reason to take Arabs who were born here out of here and transfer them to Iraq,” he said.

Eshkol replied: “This isn’t such a great disaster We didn’t sneak in here, we said that the Land of Israel is ours by right.”

Starting Thursday, readers can view thousands of additional documents from “behind the scenes” of the Six Day War in a variety of areas on the State Archives site

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