The Six Day War

From the archive: on the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, the conflict as covered by a group of Magnum photographers

Magnum Photographers

Micha Bar Am A portrait of Egyptian President Abdul Nasser leaning against a destroyed Egyptian tank. Sinai, Egypt. 1967. © Micha Bar Am | Magnum Photos

One of the shortest conflicts in military history, the events of the Six Day War reshaped the Middle East in ways that are still of consequence today. Mounting tensions between Israel and the loose alliance of Arab States surrounding it resulted in a war that was fought over just six days, between June 5th and 10th, 1967, stunning the world by its quickness and completeness.

Israel’s civilian army achieved a decisive victory, as in the two Arab-Israeli wars previous,  capturing areas in Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Israeli forces also occupied Palestinian territories and this marked the beginning of an even darker chapter in relations between the two. Fifty years since the war’s inception, we look back at the iconic coverage of it by Magnum photographers Micha Bar-Am, Cornell Capa, Leonard Freed, Rene Burri and Bruno Barbey.

Cornell Capa Israeli Army columns advancing through the Sinai desert. Israel. 1967. © Cornell Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Micha Bar Am Israeli troops making their way towards the Dome of the Rock Mosque in East Jerusalem, which they captured from the Jordanians. East Jerusalem. June, 1967. © Micha Bar Am | Magnum Photos
Leonard Freed Israeli troops pass through a battlefield. Sinai Desert. 1967. © Leonard Freed | Magnum Photos
René Burri An Israeli soldier on guard at the destroyed railroad bridge at El Quantarah. Israel. 1967. © René Burri | Magnum Photos

Following weeks of military build-up in Egypt and the seeming mobilization of other neighboring Arab countries, on June 5th Israeli forces launched one of the most successful and debilitating air assaults in history. Destroying over ninety per cent of the Egyptian air force, within the next three days Israel was able to capture the Gaza Strip and the entirety of the Sinai Peninsula, up to the East bank of the Suez Canal.

A similar fate befell the Syrian air force, and on the ground Israeli forces pushed back the country’s military to take hold of the Golan Heights. Following its entrance into the war, Jordan too suffered crippling losses with Israel gaining control of most of the West Bank and the historically emblematic Old City of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall and Temple Mount, which had been out of Jewish control for over two thousand years.

René Burri Some of the fiercest fighting in Sinai occurred on the Mitla Pass, directly east of Suez. Egypt. 1967. © René Burri | Magnum Photos
Bruno Barbey The Shell refineries and the Suez oil refineries on fire after an attack by the Israelis. Port Suez, Egypt. 1967. © Bruno Barbey | Magnum Photos
René Burri Russian made tanks, belonging to the Egyptian Army, abandoned in the Sinai desert after the Israeli attack. Sinai desert. 1967. © René Burri | Magnum Photos
René Burri Some of the fiercest fighting in Sinai occurred on the Mitla Pass, directly east of Suez. Involving hundreds of tanks, the battle lasted an entire night and resulted in the almost complete oblitera (...)

Documenting such a rapid succession of events during the conflict presented a challenge. Already stationed in Israel, and having covered the Jewish-Arab Sinai War thirteen years earlier, the Israeli photographer Micha Bar-Am was however aptly positioned to provide a comprehensive documentation. Bar-Am had been previously been contacted by the established Magnum photographer Cornell Capa, on his arrival in Israel.

Traveling around the country, Bar-Am was able to provide Capa with an invaluable insight into the area and they worked together for the duration of his trip. This partnership continued beyond their coverage of the war, with Bar-Am becoming a correspondent for Magnum the following year. Bar-Am continued to collaborate on projects with Capa until Capa’s death in 2008.

Micha Bar Am An Israeli soldier after the conquest of the Golan Heights in Syria, mocking a Syrian battle cry poster. Israel. 1967. © Micha Bar Am | Magnum Photos
Micha Bar Am Egyptian Prisoners Of War with Israeli guards. Sinai. 1967. © Micha Bar Am | Magnum Photos
Micha Bar Am Egyptian Prisoners Of War with Israeli guards. Sinai. 1967. © Micha Bar Am | Magnum Photos
Micha Bar Am The original caption by Micha Bar-Am for this image reads, "A woman raises her arms to Israeli soldiers who took part in the liberation of Eastern Jerusalem, which had been occupied by Jordan since (...)

The photographs of Bar-Am, Capa and the others captured provided a multi-perspective insight into the realities on the ground for all sides. Barbey’s and Burri’s striking black and white images show the landscapes of battle, including the dark shadows of tanks rolling along the sixteen mile Mitla Pass in the Sinai Peninsula, where some of the fiercest fighting occurred. Freed’s haunting photographs of innocent civilians, now refugees, caught up in the fighting, are evidence of the flood of Arabs who were forced to flee across the river to Jordanian-held territory after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Micha Bar-Am’s portfolio captures a region scarred by years of conflict, with him and Capa recording the invasion and aftermath of the Israeli’s occupation of East Jerusalem.

The captions in this piece were supplied by the photographers when filing the original material.

Leonard Freed Israeli soldiers, who recaptured the Old City from the Jordanians during the Six Day War, triumphantly carry a confiscated portrait of Jordan's King Hussein. On the right are the old ramparts of th (...)
Micha Bar Am Refugees crossing back into Israel over the Allenby Bridge after the War. Israel. August, 1967. © Micha Bar Am | Magnum Photos
Micha Bar Am Syrian civilians returning to their country along route G.1 to Damascus after the war. Golan Heights. 1967. © Micha Bar Am | Magnum Photos
Cornell Capa A Palestinian is enraged at the Israelis for having destroyed his house during the Six Day War. Israel. 1967. © Cornell Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
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