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Palestinian Troop Strength During 1948 War

Palestinian Troop Strength During 1948 War

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I am trying to estimate the strength of the Palestinian irregular forces during the 1947-49 War.

I find two well documented groups:

  1. Army of the Holy War, commanded by Husayni, based in Ramalla, operating in Jerusalem Area size: ~1400
  2. Arab Liberation Army, commanded by Qawuqji, Based in Damascus, operating in North size: 6000 (many of these were not Palestinians)

I would expect to find another main group based in the coastal area, which had a large population, but cannot find it.

Is this accurate, that there was only a maximum of ~7500 irregular Palestinian fighters (disregarding the trope that there is no such thing as a Palestinian)?

Sixty Years After the 1948 War

On May 15, 1948, the day after David Ben-Gurion declared the "self-evident right of the Jewish people to be a nation," Egyptian ground forces advanced toward Tel Aviv. Syrian and Iraqi soldiers approached from the north and east, and the troops of King Abdullah's Arab Legion marched west across the Jordan River, toward Jerusalem. 1 It was hardly a fair fight, Ben-Gurion wrote in his War Diaries: "700,000 Jews pitted against 27 million Arabs - one against 40." 2

Ben-Gurion's chilling ratio was useful in casting Israel as a fragile island in a sea of well-armed Arabs, but it didn't describe the actual fighting conditions on the ground. In fact, in 1948, Israel had more soldiers than all of the invading Arab armies combined. In Clash of Destinies, Israeli historians Jon and David Kimche estimated that the total number of Arab soldiers fighting within Israel's borders in 1948 was 24,000, compared to 35,000 for the Haganah, as Israeli forces were known at the time. The Arabs, the Kimche brothers wrote, initially possessed "greater firepower," but Israel, after breaking a UN arms embargo with shipments of rifles, armored cars, Messerschmitt planes, and millions of rounds of ammunition from Czechoslovakia, had the upper hand. The Jewish State won the war of 1948 above all because it had more and stronger forces. 3

Yet Ben-Gurion's David and Goliath narrative would prove enduring, to be echoed by generations of supporters of Israel's cause. "Could a half million ill-armed people hold back a flood of fifty million hate-crazed Arabs?" asked Leon Uris in Exodus, increasing the ratio to 100:1. His best-selling 1958 novel, and the subsequent film starring Paul Newman, would help shape the perceptions of generations of Americans. In Exodus, the story of 1948 is exclusively about the heroic birth of Israel out of the ashes of the Holocaust. Arabs are alternately portrayed as malicious or pathetic.

To be sure, Israelis had every reason to fear that their new state would be stillborn their experience, borne above all from the Holocaust and its vow of "never again," helped fuel a will to fight that informs Israeli policy today. Yet with Exodus as the über narrative, we can scarcely grasp the roots of the conflict, much less how they reach into the present.

Obscured by Exodus and its many descendant narratives is a Palestinian view of history. To Palestinians, 1948 was not about the "War of Independence," as Israelis call it, but the "Nakba," or Catastrophe. Here the story is not survival and re-birth, but dispossession and loss: more than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven out of their homes during the fighting in 1948, including thousands of families forced by Israeli commanders to march in near-100-degree heat from the Arab towns of Ramle and Lydda (today the Israeli cities Ramla and Lod), on the coastal plain, toward exile in Ramallah and Jordan. 4 They and their descendants now live in Middle East refugee camps, and in a global diaspora stretching from Dubai to London to San Francisco.

The Nakba remains little known in the West, despite the rivers of ink and forests of newsprint that have chronicled the last six decades of struggle between the two peoples. Yet it is as central to Palestinian identity as the Holocaust is to the identity of Israel.

Seen through a Palestinian lens, the creation of Israel, sanctioned by the United Nations vote, in November 1947, to partition Palestine into two states - one for the Arabs, and one for the Jews - was not "western civilization's gesture of repentance for the Holocaust," as the historian Michael J. Cohen has written. 5 Rather, Palestinians saw themselves as "the indigenous majority on its ancestral soil," as the Harvard scholar Walid Khalidi has noted, and therefore "failed understand why they should be made to pay for the Holocaust." 6 Neither did they grasp why the Jewish side, with one third the population, should be awarded 54 percent of Palestine and more than 80 percent of its cultivated citrus and grain plantations. 7 This helps explain why the Arabs of Palestine, in peace talks five and six decades later, would fail to see Israeli concessions as "generous": From their perspective, they lost 78 percent of their land to Israel in the 1948 war, and are ill-inclined to make further compromise on the 22 percent that remains. 8

For the Palestinians, the Arab armies on the move on May 15, 1948 were therefore not invaders, but defenders conversely, the fracturing and demise of those forces - for example, the retreat of the Arab Legion from Ramle and Lydda in July 1948, which left the defense of the towns in the hands of raggedy bands of local fighters 9 - gave the lie to the notion of a monolithic Arab juggernaut poised to destroy Israel. (For Palestinians, this illusion was repeated 19 years later, in the Six Day War, when devastated Arab forces again made a quick retreat, confirming U.S. intelligence estimates that Israel, in the words of former U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach, "could mop up the Arabs in no time at all." 10

Sixty years after the 1948 war, we are intimate with the tragic history of one side, while the traumatic roots of the other remain largely obscured. But the Exodus narrative, with its unitary focus on one side's truth, has done little to resolve what is still considered among the most intractable conflicts in the world. Ignoring fundamental truths about the Nakba, and how they play out today, fuels ignorance and scorn, while doing little to advance the mutual regard essential for a genuine and durable peace. Perhaps an acknowledgment by each side of the trauma of the other - beginning with mutual witness of the war of 1948 - could help bring about a truth and reconciliation so elusive in the last 60 years.

Sandy Tolan is the author of The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East. He is a visiting professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at USC.

1 Jon and David Kimche, Clash of Destinies (1960), p. 155. (Jon Kimche was an Israeli journalist, Zionist historian, and correspondent for the London Evening Standard his younger brother David was a member of Israel's foreign intelligence service, and later director-general of Israel's foreign ministry.) See also Michael J. Cohen, The Rise of Israel: Volume 38, pp. 164-165 Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, pp. 218-235 Walid Khalidi, Before Their Diaspora, pp. 310-313 and the Source Notes section in The Lemon Tree, p. 302.

2 From The Lemon Tree Source Notes, p. 303:

David Ben-Gurion described the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 as "700,000 Jews pitted against 27 million Arabs--one against 40" (War Diaries, p. 524, quoted in Flapan's The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities). Chaim Herzog, in a letter to President Truman, said the Israelis were outnumbered "20 to 1." Israeli commander and president Chaim Herzog, in his Arab-Israeli Wars, described the conflict as "a Jewish population of some 650,000 ranged against a Palestinian Arab population of approximately 1.1 million, supported by seven Arab armies from across the borders" (p. 11). These kinds of comparisons were often based on Arab population or troop strength of the entire armed forces of the Arab states that entered Palestine/Israel in May 1948, but do not reflect that numbers of the Arab forces actually engaged in battle in 1948.

3 From The Lemon Tree source notes, p. 303:

In Clash of Destinies, the Kimche brothers estimate that total strength of the invading Arab armies was twenty-four thousand, compared with thirty-five thousand for the Haganah, with the Arab armies initially possessing "greater firepower." Benny Morris, in 1948 and After, pp. 14-15, adds:

The atlas map showing a minuscule Israel and a giant surrounding Arab sea did not, and, indeed, for the time being, still does not, accurately reflect the true balance of military power in the region . Jewish organization, command, and control . were clearly superior to those of the uncoordinated armies of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon.

4 The account of the expulsions from Ramle is described in detail in The Lemon Tree, pp. 62-69. Additional documentation, from the book's Source Notes, pp. 306-309, includes:

The heat of mid-July 1948 in the central plain of Israel/Palestine is mentioned by Glubb on p. 162 of A Soldier with the Arabs and by Busailah in his Arab Studies Quarterly report, p. 142. Evidence that thousands had already left al-Ramla and Lydda by July 14 comes from numerous interviews with eyewitnesses, including Mohammad Taji, Firdaws Taji, Abu Mohammad Saleh Tartir in the Amari refugee camp, 1998 interviews with the Reverend Audeh Rantisi, and Busailah, p. 140.

The account of the Taji and Khairi families' flight and the landscape they crossed comes from Firdaws Taji and is echoed by numerous other interviews, including those with Mohammad Taji, Abu Mohammad Saleh Tartir, and Rantisi. A similar account is given by Busailah, p. 141.

The figure of thirty thousand refugees and the terrain they crossed come from estimates by Glubb (A Soldier with the Arabs, p. 162) and from Ben-Gurion's diary of July 15, 1948 (quoted in Segev's 1949, p. 27). Morris (Middle East Journal, p. 83) and Kadish (interview with me, June 2004) estimate that there were between fifty thousand and sixty thousand Arabs in the two towns of Lydda and Ramla in July 1948, including refugees who had arrived from Jaffa and nearby villages. ("Maybe thirty-four thousand [in Ramla and Lydda combined] without refugees," Kadish told me. "So you're talking about fifty-five to sixty thousand people.") PostwarIsraeli figures for the Arab populations of both towns are fewer than five thousand hence it appears Ben-Gurion and Glubb's figure of thirty thousand refugees is reasonable, if not conservative.

5 Michael J. Cohen, Palestine and the Great Powers, p. 292.

6 Walid Khalidi, Before Their Diaspora, pp. 305-306.

7 Khalidi, Before Their Diaspora, p. 305 John Chappple, Jewish Land Settlement in Palestine, cited in Khalidi, From Haven to Conquest, p. 843.

8 See, for example, Robert Malley and Hussein Agha in The New York Review of Books, June 27, 2002, and Malley in The New York Times, July 8, 2001.

9 See The Lemon Tree, pp. 59 and 62-64, and the source notes, pp. 305-308, including:

The condition of the towns of Ramla and Lydda were described by Firdaws Taji and in interviews with current and former Arab citizens of Lydda (now the Israeli city of Lod), including Adla Salim Rehan at the Amari refugee camp in Ramallah and Mohammad Saleh Tartir of the Lydda Society at Amari. Khanom Khairi described Sheikh Mustafa's emergency trip to secure bullets in Transjordan.

The state of the defenders of Ramla is described by Taji and Reja'e Busailah (Arab Studies Quarterly 3, 1981, pp. 127-35). Writing more broadly about the Palestinian Arabs during 1948, the Kimche brothers stated:

The local Arabs, who had only the haziest of notions concerning the strength of the Jews, knew even less about the nature of their own forces. . No one told the Palestinian Arabs in their villages--until it was too late--that the Arab countries were not fulfilling all they had promised and that many of the weapons they had sent were old, decrepit and useless. (Jon and David Kimche, Clash of Destinies, pp. 81-82)

What is Palestine?

Palestine is a small region of land in the Mediterranean and is home to the Arabic speaking Palestinian community.

The history of Palestine has been marred by frequent political conflict and violence because of its importance to several major world religions.

This is because it sits as a gateway between Africa and Asia.

In the past 100 years this conflict has been between the Arabic and Jewish communities who have clashed over who owns the region and who has the right to live there.

Ottoman rule over Palestine came to an end after the First World War.

Palestine was among former Ottoman territories placed under UK administration by the League of Nations in 1922.

All of these territories eventually became fully independent states - except Palestine.

In 1947, the UK turned the "Palestine problem" over to the United Nations.

The UN proposed partitioning Palestine into two independent states, one Palestinian Arab and the other Jewish, with Jerusalem internationalised.

One of the two states proclaimed its independence as Israel and in the 1948 war involving neighbouring Arab States expanded to 77 per cent of the territory of mandated Palestine, including the larger part of Jerusalem.

Over half of the Palestinian Arab population fled or were expelled.

Jordan and Egypt controlled the rest of the territory assigned to the Arab State.

In the 1967 war, Israel occupied these territories (Gaza Strip and the West Bank) including East Jerusalem, which was subsequently annexed by Israel.

The war brought about a second exodus of Palestinians, estimated at half a million.

Despite being renamed as Israel in 1948, 135 United Nations members still recognise Palestine as an Independent State.

However, Israel itself, as well as other nations including the United States, don’t make that distinction.


The 1948 War was the outcome of more than 60 years of friction between Jews and Arabs who inhabited the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. The land is called "Eretz Yisrael" or "Land of Israel" by the Jews, and "Falastin" or "Palestine" by the Arabs. It is the birthplace of the Jewish people and Judaism. Throughout history, the territory has had many conquerors. One of these was the Roman Empire, which crushed a Jewish revolt during the second century, sacked Jerusalem and changed the land's name from Judaea to Palaestina, meaning "land of the Philistines", a nation that occupied the southern shore of the land in ancient times.

After the Romans came the Byzantines, Early Arab Caliphates, Crusaders, Muslim Mamluks and the Ottoman Empire. By 1881, the land was ruled directly from the Ottoman capital. It had a population of about 450,000 Arabic speakers, 90% of them Muslim, the rest Christian and Druze. Some 80% of the Arabs lived in 700 to 800 villages and the rest in a dozen towns. There were 25,000 Jews, who constituted the "Old Yishuv" (yishuv means "settlement" but referred to the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine). Most of them lived in Jerusalem and were ultra-Orthodox and poor. They had no nationalistic views. [26]

Jewish immigration to Palestine

Zionism formed in Europe as the national movement of the Jewish people. It sought to reestablish Jewish statehood in the ancient homeland. The first wave of Zionist immigration, dubbed the First Aliyah, lasted from 1882 to 1903. Some 30,000 Jews, mostly from the Russian Empire, reached Ottoman Palestine. They were driven both by the Zionist idea and by the wave of Antisemitism in Europe, especially in the Russian Empire, which came in the form of brutal pogroms. They wanted to establish Jewish agricultural settlements and a Jewish majority in the land that would allow them to gain statehood. They settled mostly the sparsely populated lowlands, which were swampy and subjected to Bedouin robbers. [27]

The Arab inhabitants of Ottoman Palestine who saw the Zionist Jews settle next to them had no national affiliation. They saw themselves as subjects of the Ottoman Empire, members of the Islamic community and as Arabs, geographically, linguistically and culturally. Their strongest affiliation was their clan, family, village or tribe. There was no Arab or Palestinian Arab nationalist movement. In the first two decades of Zionist immigration, most of the opposition came from the wealthy landowners and noblemen who feared they would have to fight the Jews for the land in the future. [28]

In the beginning of the 20th century, the Jewish population of Ottoman Palestine was between 60,000 and 85,000, two-thirds of them members of the Zionist movement, mostly living in 40 new settlements. They encountered very little violence in the form of feuds and conflict over land and resources with their Arab neighbours or criminal activity. Between 1909 and 1914, this changed, as Arabs killed 12 Jewish settlement guards and Arab nationalism and opposition to the Zionist enterprise increased. In 1911, Arabs attempted to thwart the establishment of a Jewish settlement in the Jezreel Valley, and the dispute resulted in the death of one Arab man and a Jewish guard. The Arabs called the Jews the "new Crusaders", and anti-Zionist rhetoric flourished. [29] Tensions between Arabs and Jews led to violent disturbances on several occasions, notably in 1920, 1921, 1929 and 1936–1939.

World War I

During the war, Palestine served as the frontline between the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire in Egypt. The war briefly halted Jewish-Arab friction. The British invaded the land in 1915 and 1916 after two unsuccessful Ottoman attacks on Sinai. They were assisted by the Arab tribes in Hejaz, led by the Hashemites, and promised them sovereignty over the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire. Palestine was omitted from the promise, first planned to be a joint British-French domain, and after the Balfour Declaration in November 1917, a "national home for the Jewish people". The decision to support Zionism was driven by Zionist lobbying, led by Chaim Weizmann. Many of the British officials who supported the decisions supported Zionism for religious and humanitarian reasons. They also believed that a British-backed state would help defend the Suez Canal. [30]

The Arab states

Following World War II, the surrounding Arab states were emerging from mandatory rule. Transjordan, under the Hashemite ruler Abdullah I, gained independence from Britain in 1946 and was called Jordan in 1949, but remained under heavy British influence. Egypt gained nominal independence in 1922, but Britain continued to exert a strong influence on it until the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 limited Britain's presence to a garrison of troops on the Suez Canal until 1945. Lebanon became an independent state in 1943, but French troops did not withdraw until 1946, the same year Syria won its independence from France.

In 1945, at British prompting, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Transjordan, and Yemen formed the Arab League to coordinate policy among the Arab states. Iraq and Transjordan coordinated closely, signing a mutual defence treaty, while Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia feared that Transjordan would annex part or all of Palestine and use it as a stepping stone to attack or undermine Syria, Lebanon, and the Hijaz. [31]

The 1947 UN Partition Plan

On 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution "recommending to the United Kingdom, as the mandatory Power for Palestine, and to all other Members of the United Nations the adoption and implementation, with regard to the future government of Palestine, of the Plan of Partition with Economic Union", UN General Assembly Resolution 181(II). [32] This was an attempt to resolve the Arab-Jewish conflict by partitioning Palestine into "Independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem". Each state would comprise three major sections the Arab state would also have an enclave at Jaffa in order to have a port on the Mediterranean.

With about 32% of the population, the Jews were allocated 56% of the territory. It contained 499,000 Jews and 438,000 Arabs and most of it was in the Negev desert. [33] The Palestinian Arabs were allocated 42% of the land, which had a population of 818,000 Palestinian Arabs and 10,000 Jews. In consideration of its religious significance, the Jerusalem area, including Bethlehem, with 100,000 Jews and an equal number of Palestinian Arabs, was to become a Corpus Separatum, to be administered by the UN. [34] The residents in the UN-administered territory were given the right to choose to be citizens of either of the new states. [35]

The Jewish leadership accepted the partition plan as "the indispensable minimum," [36] glad to gain international recognition but sorry that they did not receive more. [37] The representatives of the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab League firmly opposed the UN action and rejected its authority in the matter, arguing that the partition plan was unfair to the Arabs because of the population balance at that time. [38] The Arabs rejected the partition, not because it was supposedly unfair, but because their leaders rejected any form of partition. [39] [40] They held "that the rule of Palestine should revert to its inhabitants, in accordance with the provisions of [. ] the Charter of the United Nations." [41] According to Article 73b of the Charter, the UN should develop self-government of the peoples in a territory under its administration. In the immediate aftermath of the UN's approval of the partition plan, explosions of joy in the Jewish community were counterbalanced by discontent in the Arab community. Soon after, violence broke out and became more prevalent. Murders, reprisals, and counter-reprisals came fast upon each other, resulting in dozens killed on both sides. The sanguinary impasse persisted as no force intervened to put a stop to the escalating violence.

The first phase of the war took place from the United Nations General Assembly vote for the Partition Plan for Palestine on 29 November 1947 until the termination of the British Mandate and Israeli proclamation of statehood on 14 May 1948. [42] During this period the Jewish and Arab communities of the British Mandate clashed, while the British organised their withdrawal and intervened only occasionally. In the first two months of the Civil War, around 1,000 people were killed and 2,000 injured, [43] and by the end of March, the figure had risen to 2,000 dead and 4,000 wounded. [44] These figures correspond to an average of more than 100 deaths and 200 casualties per week in a population of 2,000,000.

From January onwards, operations became increasingly militarised. A number of Arab Liberation Army regiments infiltrated Palestine, each active in a variety of distinct sectors around the coastal towns. They consolidated their presence in Galilee and Samaria. [45] The Army of the Holy War, under Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni's command, came from Egypt with several hundred men. Having recruited a few thousand volunteers, al-Husayni organised the blockade of the 100,000 Jewish residents of Jerusalem. [46]

To counter this, the Yishuv authorities tried to supply the city with convoys of up to 100 armoured vehicles, but the operation became more and more impractical as the number of casualties in the relief convoys surged. By March, al-Husayni's tactic had paid off. Almost all of Haganah's armoured vehicles had been destroyed, the blockade was in full operation, and hundreds of Haganah members who had tried to bring supplies into the city were killed. [47] The situation for those in the Jewish settlements in the highly isolated Negev and North of Galilee was more critical.

This caused the US to withdraw its support for the Partition plan, and the Arab League began to believe that the Palestinian Arabs, reinforced by the Arab Liberation Army, could end the partition. The British decided on 7 February 1948 to support Transjordan's annexation of the Arab part of Palestine. [48]

While the Jewish population was ordered to hold their ground everywhere at all costs, [49] the Arab population was disrupted by general conditions of insecurity. Up to 100,000 Arabs from the urban upper and middle classes in Haifa, Jaffa and Jerusalem, or Jewish-dominated areas, evacuated abroad or to Arab centres to the east. [50]

David Ben-Gurion ordered Yigal Yadin to plan for the announced intervention of the Arab states. The result of his analysis was Plan Dalet, which was put in place at the start of April.

Plan Dalet and second stage

The adoption of Plan Dalet marked the war's second phase, in which Haganah took the offensive.

The first operation, Nachshon, was directed at lifting the blockade on Jerusalem. [51] In the last week of March, 136 supply trucks had tried to reach Jerusalem only 41 had made it. The Arab attacks on communications and roads had intensified. The convoys' failure and the loss of Jewish armoured vehicles had shaken the Yishuv leaders' confidence.

1,500 men from Haganah's Givati brigade and Palmach's Harel brigade conducted sorties to free up the route to the city between 5 April and 20 April. The operation was successful, and two months' worth of foodstuffs were trucked into Jerusalem for distribution to the Jewish population. [52] The operation's success was aided by al-Husayni's death in combat.

During this time, and independently of Haganah or Plan Dalet [ citation needed ] , irregular troops from Irgun and Lehi formations massacred 107 Arabs at Deir Yassin. The event was publicly deplored and criticised by the principal Jewish authorities and had a deep effect on the Arab population's morale. At the same time, the first [ citation needed ] large-scale operation of the Arab Liberation Army ended in a debacle, as they were roundly defeated at Mishmar HaEmek. [53] Their Druze allies left them through defection. [54]

Within the framework of creating Jewish territorial continuity according to Plan Dalet, the forces of Haganah, Palmach and Irgun intended to conquer mixed zones of population. Tiberias, Haifa, Safed, Beisan, and Jaffa were taken before the end of the Mandate, with Acre falling shortly after. More than 250,000 Palestinian Arabs fled these locales. [55]

The British had essentially withdrawn their troops. The situation pushed the neighbouring Arab states to intervene, but their preparation was not completed, and they could not assemble sufficient forces to turn the tide of the war. The majority of Palestinian Arab hopes [ citation needed ] lay with the Arab Legion of Transjordan's monarch, King Abdullah I. He did not intend to create a Palestinian Arab-run state, as he hoped to annex much of Mandatory Palestine. Playing both sides, he was in contact with the Jewish authorities and the Arab League.

Preparing for Arab intervention from neighbouring states, Haganah successfully launched Operations Yiftah [56] and Ben-'Ami [57] to secure the Jewish settlements of Galilee, and Operation Kilshon. This created an Israeli-controlled front around Jerusalem. The inconclusive meeting between Golda Meir and Abdullah I, followed by the Kfar Etzion massacre on 13 May by the Arab Legion, led to predictions that the battle for Jerusalem would be merciless.

Arab Invasion

On 14 May 1948, the day before the expiration of the British Mandate, David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel. [58] Both superpower leaders, U.S. President Harry S. Truman and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, immediately recognised the new state, while the Arab League refused to accept the UN partition plan, proclaimed the right of self-determination for the Arabs across the whole of Palestine, and maintained that the absence of legal authority made it necessary to intervene to protect Arab lives and property. [59]

Over the next few days, contingents of four of the seven countries of the Arab League at that time, Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, and Syria, invaded the former British Mandate of Palestine and fought the Israelis. They were supported by the Arab Liberation Army and corps of volunteers from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Yemen. The Arab armies launched a simultaneous offensive on all fronts: Egyptian forces invaded from the south, Jordanian and Iraqi forces from the east, and Syrian forces invaded from the north. Cooperation among the various Arab armies was poor.

First truce: 11 June – 8 July 1948

The UN declared a truce on 29 May, which began on 11 June and lasted 28 days. The ceasefire was overseen by UN mediator Folke Bernadotte and a team of UN Observers, army officers from Belgium, United States, Sweden and France. [60] Bernadotte was voted in by the General Assembly to "assure the safety of the holy places, to safeguard the well being of the population, and to promote 'a peaceful adjustment of the future situation of Palestine'". [61] He spoke of "peace by Christmas" but saw that the Arab world had continued to reject the existence of a Jewish state, whatever its borders. [62]

An arms embargo was declared with the intention that neither side would make gains from the truce. Neither side respected the truce both found ways around the restrictions. Both the Israelis and the Arabs used this time to improve their positions, a direct violation of the terms of the ceasefire.

"The Arabs violated the truce by reinforcing their lines with fresh units (including six companies of Sudanese regulars, [62] Saudi battalion [63] and contingents from Yemen, Morocco [64] ) and by preventing supplies from reaching isolated Israeli settlements occasionally, they opened fire along the lines". [65] The Israeli Defense Forces violated the truce by acquiring weapons from Czechoslovakia, improving training of forces, and reorganising the army. Yitzhak Rabin, an IDF commander who would later become Israel's fifth prime minister, said, "[w]ithout the arms from Czechoslovakia. it is very doubtful whether we would have been able to conduct the war". [66] As well as violating the arms and personnel embargo, both sides sent fresh units to the front. [65] Israel's army increased its manpower from approximately 30,000 or 35,000 men to almost 65,000 during the truce [ citation needed ] and its arms supply to "more than twenty-five thousand rifles, five thousand machine guns, and more than fifty million bullets". [65]

As the truce began, a British officer stationed in Haifa said the four-week-long truce "would certainly be exploited by the Jews to continue military training and reorganization while the Arabs would waste [them] feuding over the future divisions of the spoils". [65] On 7 July, the day before the truce expired, Egyptian forces under General Muhammad Naguib renewed the war by attacking Negba. [67]

Second phase: 8–18 July 1948

Israeli forces launched a simultaneous offensive on all three fronts: Dani, Dekel, and Kedem. The fighting was dominated by large-scale Israeli offensives and a defensive Arab posture and continued for ten days until the UN Security Council issued the Second Truce on 18 July. [65]

Israeli Operation Danny resulted in the exodus from Lydda and Ramle of 60,000 Palestinian residents. According to Benny Morris, in Ben-Gurion's view, Ramlah and Lydda constituted a special danger because their proximity might encourage cooperation between the Egyptian army, which had started its attack on Kibbutz Negbah, and the Arab Legion, which had taken the Lydda police station. Widespread looting took place during these operations, and about 100,000 Palestinians became refugees. [68] In Operation Dekel, Nazareth was captured on 16 July. In Operation Brosh, Israel tried and failed to drive the Syrian army out of northeastern Galilee. By the time the second truce took effect at 19:00 18 July, Israel had taken the lower Galilee from Haifa Bay to the Sea of Galilee.

18 July 1948 – 10 March 1949

At 19:00 on 18 July, the second truce of the conflict went into effect after intense diplomatic efforts by the UN. On 16 September, a new partition for Palestine was proposed but it was rejected by both sides.

Palmach Infantry go into action during the fight for Beersheba, 21 October

The balance of power

In 1948, the Middle East comprised a range of young states with relatively weak economies and small population sizes. The military forces of these states were still in a build-up phase and far from ready for major offensive operations. Thus, the general military potential of the Middle Eastern forces was quite limited.

Surprisingly, the comparison of the committed troop strength yielded an advantage of the Israeli forces. On May 1948, 21,000 soldiers on the Arab side were opposed by 36,000 Israeli men and women in uniform. However, the Israeli military forces were short of weapons. Only around 40 per cent of Israeli soldiers were armed.

Making things worse, Israel’s armory was limited to small arms, improvised armored cars and mortars. Heavy weaponry like tanks, APCs or artillery were unavailable to the Israeli forces at the beginning of the war. The Arab troops, in contrast, commanded heavy field guns, APCs and even a few tanks, as well as fighter planes. Thus, in the onset of the war, the Arabs outgunned the Israelis in terms of firepower.

The IDF, however, countered this advantage through their superior training, experience, and organizational skills. Several thousand Israeli soldiers had enjoyed military training in the British army and had gained fighting experience in World War II. The Arab troops, however, lacked sufficient training and particularly fighting experience.

In the 1930s, the colonial powers Great Britain in Egypt, Jordan and Iraq and France — in Syria and Lebanon — had established the armed forces as a local support to obtain order. Thus, they were neither trained nor equipped for independent offensive operations.

Israel’s war of independence lasted from May 14, 1948 until the beginning of 1949. Two ceasefires arranged by the United Nations — June 11 until July 8 and July 18 — until Oct. 15 divide the combat action in three phases.

In the first phase — May 15 until June 11, 1948 — Israel’s main task was to withstand the Arab offensive on multiple fronts. Whereas the Lebanese forces remained passive most of the time, Syrian troops advanced into Israeli territory in the northeast. Jordanian and Iraqi units occupied the West Bank, including parts of Jerusalem.

The Egyptian forces pushed towards Tel Aviv and advanced — farther south — towards Hebron via Beer Sheba. However, the IDF managed to establish a defensive line in the south between Ashdod and Bet Guvrin, thus halting the Egyptian offensive 40 kilometers before Tel Aviv. On June 11, the first phase of the war ended in a ceasefire. Israel had survived the critical part of the invasion.

The Jewish state made the most of the truce and upgraded its forces significantly. In June and July, the IDF was not only superior in manpower but also in terms of weaponry and munition. The Arab states, however, were cut off from their military suppliers and grew constantly weaker in the course of the war.

On July 9, the war went into the second round. With its military strengthened, Israel took the initiative. During a 10-day offensive, the IDF fought back Egyptian forces in the south, as well as Syrian and Lebanese troops in the Galilee. In addition, the Israelis opened a corridor towards Jerusalem. Nevertheless, major parts of Jerusalem — including the Old City with the Jewish Quarter and the Kotel — remained in Jordanian hands. Now, the IDF was on the offensive at all fronts.

On Oct. 15, the Israeli forces broke the truce again and opened the third round of the war. The IDF conducted a successful assault on Egyptian troops in the Negev. In the northern theater, the Israelis managed to clear the Galilee of Arab forces.

On Jan. 13, 1949, the Arab states consented to armistice negotiations. Between February and July, Israel signed bilateral ceasefires with Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. Iraq has refused to sign a truce with Israel until today. Egypt remained in possession of a narrow area around Gaza City, later to be known as the Gaza Strip. Jordan kept the West Bank — including East-Jerusalem — which it annexed in 1950. Israel had increased the territory that the U.N. Partition Plan had attributed to a Jewish state, by around 6,500 square kilometers.

Israeli soldiers in Nirim

Israeli Massacres: A Brief and Shocking History

Child killed in the Qana massacre, in an air strike carried out by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) on a three-story building, during the 2006 Lebanon War. 28 civilians were killed, of which 16 were children.

Israeli massacres, many including child victims, span 70 years – thousands of Palestinian lives snuffed out in the pursuit of a Jewish State.
By Philip Weiss, reposted from Mondoweiss, April 2018

It would be nice to think that, as an Israeli officer once put it, “This time we went too far” — that the killings of 17 unarmed protesters in Gaza by Israeli riflers across a security fence on Friday would cause the world to sanction Israel for its conduct. But if you look over Israel’s history, you find that the massacre has been a ready tool in the Israeli war-chest and Israelis have not been prosecuted for carrying them out. Indeed, a couple of those responsible later became prime minister!

Here, largely from my own memory, is a rapidly-assembled list of massacres, defined by Webster’s as the killing of a “number of usually helpless or unresisting human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty” (and yes, a couple precede the birth of the state).

1946. Zionist militias blow up the south wing of the King David Hotel, killing 91 people, most of them civilians, in order to protest British rule of Palestine.

1948. Zionist militias kill over 100 civilians in the village of Deir Yassin, which is on the road to Jerusalem. The action helps clear the road for the military advance on Jerusalem and scares thousands of other Palestinians who flee their villages. The name Deir Yassin becomes a rallying cry for Palestinians for decades to come though no one is punished. An officer with responsibility for the massacre, Menachem Begin, became Israeli prime minister 29 years later.

1948. During the expulsion of Palestinians from the central Israeli city of Lydda, more than 100 men are rounded up and held in a mosque and later massacred (according to Reja-e Busailah’s new book and others). The episode terrifies thousands of other Palestinians who seek refuge in the West Bank.

1948. Hundreds of Palestinian civilians are killed by Israeli forces in Al Dawayima village, west of Hebron. Many are killed in barbarous manner the crime is swept under the rug for decades.

1953. Israeli troops led by Ariel Sharon raid the village of Qibya in the Jordanian-occupied West Bank and kill 69 people, most of them women and children, in retaliation for a cross-border raid that killed three Israelis. (The massacre is memorialized in Nathan Englander’s latest novel as one that solidifies Sharon’s reputation as an officer who will exact swift and awful revenge on those who harm Jews, thereby assuring his rise.)

1956. Israeli forces gun down farmers in Kfar Qasim returning from the fields who are unaware that the village had been placed under a strict curfew by the Israeli government earlier that day. Forty-eight Palestinian citizens of Israel are killed, many women and children.

1956. Israeli forces kill 275 Palestinians in Gaza in the midst of the Suez Crisis. The massacre is documented by Joe Sacco in Footnotes in Gaza.

1967. Israeli forces are said to have killed scores of Egyptian army prisoners in the Sinai during the 1967 War. Some say 100s.

1970. Israel killed 46 Egyptian children and wounded 50 others during an air raid on a primary school in the village of Bahr el-Baqar, Egypt. Known as the Bahr el-Baqar Massacre, the assault completely destroyed the school and was part of the Priha (Blossoms) Operations during the War of Attrition.

1982. The Sabra and Shatilla massacres of Palestinians in Beirut refugee camps are carried out by Lebanese Phalangist militias. But the Israel Defense Forces had control of the area and Ariel Sharon allows the militias to go into the camps. Somewhere between several hundred and 3000 Palestinians are murdered. Sharon, who died in 2014, escaped punishment for war crimes in fact, he became an Israeli prime minister.

1996. The first Qana massacre takes place when Israeli missiles strike a UN compound in southern Lebanon where many civilians have gathered seeking refuge during clashes between Israel and Hezbollah. Over 100 civilians are killed. “Israel was universally condemned, and the United States intervened to extricate its ally from the quagmire,” Avi Shlaim writes in The Iron Wall.

2006. The second Qana massacre takes place during the Lebanon war when Israeli missiles strike a building in a village outside Qana, killing 36 civilians, including 16 children. The strike is initially defended as a response to the firing of Katyusha rockets at Israel from civilian areas.

2008-2009. During Cast Lead, the Israeli assault on Gaza following exchanges of rocket/missile attacks in months before, more than 1400 Palestinians are killed over 22 days, most of them civilians. Many die as at Qana, when they flee their homes to UN compounds and schools, hoping to be safe. The massacre brings international condemnation, including by the Goldstone Report to the UN Human Rights Council alleging war crimes but the United States does its utmost under President Obama to defend Israel from all charges, and no one is brought to the bar.

2012. During eight days of “Pillar of Clouds,” Israel kills 160 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them civilians. The offensive boosts Netanyahu in the polls and seems timed to torpedo Palestine’s historic UN bid for statehood.

2014. Another Israeli onslaught on Gaza, this one lasting 51 days, kills upwards of 2200 Palestinians, most of them civilians. The massacre is famous for sniper killings of unarmed people and for the killings of entire families, 89 according to some authorities, typically wiped out in their homes by a missile strike. In one instance, 20 members of one family are killed. The international condemnation is again toothless.


Jewish settlement Edit

Beginning in 1881, European Jews began to move to Palestine in large numbers. These new immigrants mainly settled in the region under the banner of Jewish nationalism, known as Zionism. [2] The goal of this nationalist movement was the creation of a Jewish state. Although at first friendly, relations between Arabs in Palestine and Jews from Europe became more bitter as the number of Jews moving grew. [3]

Palestinian Nationalism and the Great Revolt Edit

During World War One, Arabs and Jews were under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. To weaken the Empire, her enemies (Britain and France), began to offer land to peoples in sections of the Empire for launching resistance to the Ottomans. This included offering Palestine to various Arab leaders (including the Husayn family of Saudi Arabia). [4] At the same time, the British offered control of Palestine to a Jewish state that didn't yet exist. [5] Although this action led to nothing, it still encouraged greater movement of Jews to Palestine as well as a fear of losing regional control for the Palestinians. In 1936, responding to the growing Jewish population, Palestinian Arabs led an armed revolt against the British and Jews in Palestine. The revolt, led by the mufti and head of the Arab Higher Committee Hajj Amin al-Husayni, was the first large-scale expression of a sense of Palestinian nationalism. Though it ended with the British and Jews putting down the revolt, the resulting White Paper of 1939 proved it had been an influential piece of resistance. Under the 1939 White Paper, Jews could only send a further 75,000 immigrants over 5 years and the goal of giving over Israel to Palestine. [6] This situation, two cultures competing against each other for Palestine, continued to be the case throughout World War Two. At the end of that conflict, the British Mandate in Palestine was near ending and the peoples of the region wanted a solution to the issue. [7]

UN Resolution Edit

In 1947, the British gave the issue of competing peoples within Palestine to the United Nations. The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine was tasked with fizing the issue of violence between the two groups and treating each side with fairness in the giving-out of land. On November 29, 1947, the Partition Plan was announced. Palestine would be divided into separate Jewish and Arab states of roughly equal size. Jerusalem would remain an independent city run by the UN. Finally, the British would leave the Mandate of Palestine by May 1948. [8] At first, most of the international community supported the plan (including both the US and USSR) as well as the Yishuv. [9] Palestinian Arabs, as well as the nations of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Transjordan (now Jordan) argued against the plan and pushed for a new one with an Arab state and a recognized Jewish minority. [10] When that was not accepted, these nations moved for war by raising armies to fight the new state of Israel.

Jewish Community (Israel after May 15, 1948) Edit

Given its recent status as a state, the Yishuv actually had one of the most well-organized and well-armed military forces in the region. This force fell under the control of the Haganah, a single state army and the army that would become the modern Israeli Defense Force (IDF)(the switch was made in late May 1948). By mid-May, the state of Israel had called up an army of 35,000. As the war continued into July, that number trended up to 65,000. At the end of the war, Israel had successfully brought up and armed 96,441 men to fight against the Palestinians and Arab nations. [11] Additionally, Israel was unique for having a developed strategic plan and a simple command system. Under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion, the minister of defense, the state of Israel could count on a force with unified leadership and a plan. [12]

Palestinian Forces Edit

Unlike the Yishuv, the Palestinians had no unified force before the war began in late 1947. There were several paramilitary groups, but no single leader, structure or plan. [13] Al-Husayni and the Arab Higher Committee tried to give the fighters a system. Yet, many disliked his leadership and did not think of the committee as the voice of Palestinians. [10] Still, al-Husayni successfully created a rag-tag force known as the Holy War Army made up of new volunteers and paramilitary forces. This army and the other Palestinian fighters, however, lacked modern weapons and supplies. Though al-Husayni pushed the Arab League (a collection of majority Arab nations) for greater support and control to direct the course of the war, the League blocked him. [14]

Arab League Forces Edit

The nations of the Arab League that joined in the war against Israel were Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria (there was a smaller force from Saudi Arabia and Yemen under Egyptian command). Despite having the League to bind them, at the start of the war there was no single League commander. Each country mobilized its own force for its own goals. The force was thus not one League force but a collection of forces. [11] The final force from the Arab League, the Arab Liberation Army, was a force of 4,000 volunteers from across the Middle East which worked out of Syria. [11] While the nations of the Arab League surrounded Israel, they did so as different countries.

Yishuv/Israel Edit

Israel's objectives for the war were originally based on the Haganah's 1946 Plan and run by David Ben-Gurion. [15] The plan called for the rapid build-up of forces to fight against what the army saw as the greatest threat: invasion from the many Arab states. By using the 1946 Plan, Ben-Gurion hoped to secure the land given to Israel in the UN Partition Plan. As the war went on, the goals changed slightly with the introduction in March 1948 of Plan Dalet (Plan D). [16] Instead of simply holding the lands given to Israel, the plan now commanded Israel's forces to work remove Arabs from Jewish-controlled land, defend Jewish settlements in Arab Palestine, and to take Arab land at particular positions for a strategic advantage. A possible reason for the change is given by historian David Tal, who points out that it was probably a response to the stiffer resistance from Palestinians and a general desire to put Israeli forces in the most defensible positions. [17] Yet, as Tal also points out, this strategic plan has never been without some controversy, particularly the part of the plan which forced Palestinian movement. [17]

Palestine Edit

The principal objective for the Palestinians, as expressed by the Arab Higher Committee, was the creation of a single Arab state in Palestine. [10]

Transjordan/Jordan Edit

While Transjordan outwardly agreed with the rest of the Arab League in creating an Arab state in Palestine, that seems to have not been Transjordan's ultimate goal. According to the records of Transjordan, King Abdullah, Transjordan's Hashemite (royal family) monarch, was interested in using the war as an excuse to put Palestinian Arabs under Jordanian control. [18] This would then put him into a position to seize Syria and create a Greater Syria. This means that Transjordan's objectives were seemingly in opposition to those Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and the Palestinians themselves. [19]

Syria and Egypt Edit

Like Transjordan, both Syria and Egypt supported creating a single Arab state in Palestine. Their reasoning, however, was more about stopping the spread of Jordanan, who both nations feared (should Transjordan take the region). [19]

Phase 1: The Civil War Edit

The first part of the conflict pitted the Yishuv's forces against those of the Palestinian's Arab Higher Committee. The civil war began with three days of strikes on November 30, 1947. It then changed into a guerrilla campaign against Jewish supply trucks. In January 1948, the Arab Liberation Army entered Palestine. [19] This stiff resistance caused the Israelis to adapt their plan and to introduce Plan Dalet. On April 5th, the Haganah launched Operation Nahshon, a fifteen-day operation to secure routes to Jerusalem by seizing hills along the main roads. After the success of Operation Nahshon and smaller Jewish offensives, Palestinian resistance began to fall apart. [20]

Phase 2: The Arab League countries invade Edit

The second part of the war began with the invasion of Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, Lebanon, and Syria in May 1948. Each invasion force basically entered Palestine on the nearest border. Fighting in the West Bank and around Jerusalem dominated this phase of the war. Jewish forces moved into Jerusalem to secure the western section of the city. [11] To shore up this position, Israeli forces also tried to take Latrun, a hill to the north of Jerusalem. This proved unsuccessful. In other areas, the Israelis found greater success. Two Egyptian forces, one moving along the coast and the other across the Negev towards Jerusalem, were both halted. The Iraqi force was pushed back. Though Syrian and Lebanese forces made an advance into Israeli territories, Israelis made counter advances into Syrian and Lebanese territory. Fighting was brought to an end by a UN truce on June 11. [11]

Phase 3: Israeli Push Against Transjordans Edit

On July 9th, the Israelis launched a new series of operations against the Jordanians in the West Bank. The hope was to end the conflict in this front against what Israelis considered to be the most well-trained and armed Arab army, Transjordan's Arab Legion. [11] The offensives were largely a success and although other Arab nations tried to take advantage of Israel's focus on the West Bank, their advances were small. This phase of the war ended with another truce on July 18, 1948. [11]

Phase 4: Israeli push against Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon Edit

With the Jordanians stuck in the West Bank, Israelis launched two more offensives on October 15th. [11] These forced Egyptian forces out of the Negev Desert and pushed back Syrian and Lebanese forces into their own countries. Following these last offensives, the military part of the war ended. Still, it would take until January 7, 1949 for Israel to complete signing treaties with each warring nation. [11]

Through the war, Israel gained a large amount of land. While the original separation lines gave about equal land to Jewish and Arab states, the treaty lines of 1949 gave Israel a much larger state, limiting Arab-controlled land to the small Gaza strip and a smaller West Bank (than in 1947. Yet, these were not controlled by any Palestinian government. Instead, Egypt controlled the small Gaza Strip while Jordan controlled the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem. [21] An additional aspect to the aftermath of the war was the Palestinian refugee crisis. By the end of the war, there were approximately 720,000 refugees living in camps in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Although much of this can be attributed to war-time fear, some historians, like James Gelvin, assert that Israeli policy in Plan Dalet partially contributed to this crisis. The policy, which encouraged Israeli forces to seize Arab property in Jewish territory, exacerbated the refugee issue. [22] As of 2015, the right of these refugees to return to their former homes or to receive reparations remains uncertain.

Who did what for Israel in 1948? America Did Nothing

Having just taught a course on the Cultural Geography of the Middle East at a community college in Florida for "seniors" (over 55 years of age), I again encountered a unanimous belief among my students in what I would call the Most Widely Believed Myth of the political and military conflict between Israel and the Arabs.

This universal belief, never challenged by the media, is that the United States was wholly or largely responsible for fully supporting Israel on the ground from the very beginning of its independence in May, 1948.

The world has been inundated with a tsunami of Arab propaganda and crocodile tears shed for the "Palestinians" who have reveled in what they refer to as their Catastrophe or Holocaust (Nabka in Arabic). Their plight has been accompanied by unremitting criticism that the United States was the principal architect that stood behind Israel from the very beginning with money, manpower and arms. The fact is that President Truman eventually decided against the pro-Arab "professional opinion" of his Secretary of State, General George Marshall and the Arabists of the State Department.

He accorded diplomatic recognition to the new Jewish state but never considered active military aid. His own memoirs recall how he felt betrayed by State Department officials and the American U.N. Ambassador, Warren Austin who pulled the rug out from under him one day after he promised Zionist leader Chaim Weitzman support for partition.

American Jewish voting in the 1948 Presidential election leaned heavily for President Truman but also cast a substantial number of votes for third party "Progressive" leader Henry Wallace who had spoken out even more strongly on behalf of American support for the Zionist position and aid to Israel. It was actually not until the administration of President John Kennedy in the early 1960s that American arms shipments were made to Israel.

Soviet Diplomatic Support

The struggle of the Jewish community in Palestine was endorsed completely by what was then called "enlightened public opinion," above all by the political Left. Andrei Gromyko, at the UN, asserted the right of "the Jews of the whole world to the creation of a state of their own", something no official of the U.S. State Department has ever acknowledged. Soviet support in the U.N. for partition brought along an additional two votes (the Ukrainian and Bielorussian Republics within the USSR and the entire Soviet dominated block of East European states.

Taking (as always) their lead from Moscow, the (hitherto anti-Zionist) Palestinian communist organizations merged their separate Arab and Jewish divisions in October, 1948, giving unconditional support to the Israeli war effort and urging the Israel Defense Forces to "drive on toward the Suez Canal and hand British Imperialism a stinging defeat"!

World Wide Support from the Left

The most famous and colorful personality of the Spanish Republic in exile, the Basque delegate to the Cortes (Spanish Parliament), Dolores Ibarruri, who had gone to the Soviet Union, issued a proclamation in 1948 saluting the new State of Israel and comparing the invading Arab armies to the Fascist uprising that had destroyed the Republic. Just a few months earlier, the hero of the American Left, the great Afro-American folk singer, Paul Robeson had sung in a gala concert in Moscow and electrified the crowd with his rendition of the Yiddish Partisan Fighters Song.

Jewish Attempts to Buy Arms and Czech Approval

The major Arab armies who invaded the newly born Jewish state were British led, equipped, trained and supplied. The Syrian army was French-equipped and had taken orders from the Vichy government in resisting the British led invasion of the country assisted by Australian troops, Free French units and Palestinian-Jewish volunteer forces in 1941. In their War of Independence, the Israelis depended on smuggled weapons from the West and Soviet and Czech weapons.

The leaders of the Yishuv (Jewish community in Palestine), already in the summer of 1947, intended to purchase arms and sent Dr. Moshe Sneh (the Chief of the European Branch of the Jewish Agency, a leading member of the centrist General Zionist Party who later moved far leftward and became head of the Israeli Communist Party) to Prague in order to improve Jewish defenses. He was surprised by the sympathy towards Zionism and by the interest in arms export on the side of the Czech Government. Sneh met with the Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Clementis, who succeeded the non-Communist and definitely pro-Zionist Jan Masaryk. Sneh and Clementis discussed the possibility of Czech arms provisions for the Jewish state and the Czechs gave their approval,

In January, 1948 Jewish representatives were sent by Ben-Gurion to meet with General Ludvik Svoboda, the Minister of National Defense, and sign the first contract for Czech military aid. Four transport routes were used to Palestine all via Communist countries a) the Northern route: via Poland and the Baltic Sea, b) the Southern route: via Hungary, Yugoslavia and the Adriatic Sea, c) via Hungary, Romania and the Black Sea, d) by air, via Yugoslavia to Palestine.

At first, a "Skymaster" plane chartered from the U.S. to help in ferrying weapons to Palestine from Europe was forced by the FBI to return to the USA. By the end of May the Israeli Army (IDF) had absorbed about 20,000 Czech rifles, 2,800 machine-guns and over 27 million rounds of ammunition. Two weeks later an additional 10,000 rifles, 1,800 machine-guns and 20 million rounds of ammunition arrived. One Czech-Israeli project that alarmed the Western intelligence was the, so called, Czech Brigade, a unit composed of Jewish veterans of "Free Czechoslovakia", which fought with the British Army during WWII. The Brigade began training in August 1948 at four bases in Czechoslovakia.

Czech assistance to Israel's military strength comprised a) small arms, b) 84 airplanes –– the outdated Czech built Avia S.199s, Spitfires and Messerschmidts that played a major role in the demoralization of enemy troops c) military training and technical maintenance. On January 7, 1949, the Israeli air-force, consisting of several Spitfires and Czech built Messerschmidt Bf-109 fighters (transferred secretly from Czech bases to Israel), shot down five British-piloted Spitfires flying for the Egyptian air-force over the Sinai desert causing a major diplomatic embarrassment for the British government.

According to British reports, based on informants within the Czech Government, the total Czech dollar income from export of arms and military services to the Middle East in 1948 was over $28 million, and Israel received 85% of this amount. As late as 1951, Czech Spitfires continued to arrive in Israel by ship from the Polish port of Gydiniya-Gdansk (Danzig). Since May, 2005 the Military Museum in Prague has displayed a special exhibition on the Czech aid to Israel in 1948.

In contrast, the American State Department declared an embargo on all weapons and war material to both Jews and Arabs in Palestine, a move that only had one effect in practice. There was no Arab community in North America to speak of and given the fact that a substantial and overwhelmingly sympathetic Jewish community in the United States was anxious to aid the Jewish side, the embargo simply prevented a large part of this intended aid from reaching its destination.

The small trickle of supplies and arms reaching Israel from North America was accomplished by smuggling. The U.S. vote in favor of partition was only de facto reflecting the State Department's care not to unnecessarily offend the Arab states whereas the Soviet vote recognized Israel de jure.

Even with Czech weapons and Soviet aid, Israel would undoubtedly have been unable to halt the Arab invasion without a massive inflow of manpower. The United States, Canada and Europe provided no more than 3000 volunteers, many of them combat hardened veterans from both the European and Pacific theaters of war plus a few score idealistic youngsters from the Zionist movements with no combat experience or training.

But their numbers were a drop in the bucket compared to more than 200,000 Jewish immigrants from the Soviet dominated countries in Eastern Europe, notably, Poland, Bulgaria (almost 95% of the entire Jewish community) Romania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, the former Baltic States and even the Soviet Union who emigrated to Israel arriving in time to reach the front lines or replenish the depleted ranks of civilian manpower. Without both the arms and manpower sent from the "Socialist Camp", to aid the nascent Israeli state, it would have been crushed.

The About-Face of The Party Line on Zionism

Jewish Marxist theoreticians the world over including several high ranking Party activists, all dedicated anti-religious and anti-Zionist communists had followed the Party Line and even praised a vicious pogrom by Muslim fanatics carried out against ultra-Orthodox Jews in the town of Hebron in Palestine in 1929. The Party Line then was that the Arabs masses were demonstrating their anti-imperialist sentiment against British rule and its sponsorship of Zionism.

In 1947, when Stalin was convinced that the Zionists would evict the British from Palestine, the Party Line turned about face. Following Soviet recognition and aid to Israel in 1948-49, both the Daily Worker and the Yiddish language communist daily in the U.S. Freiheit (Freedom) outdid one another to explain the new party line in that.

"Palestine had become an important settlement of 600,000 souls, having developed a common national economy, a growing national culture and the first elements of Palestinian Jewish statehood and self-government."

A 1947 CP-USA resolution entitled "Work Among the Jewish Masses" berated the Party's previous stand and proclaimed that "Jewish Marxists have not always displayed a positive attitude to the rights and interests of the Jewish People, to the special needs and problems of our own American Jewish national group and to the interests and rights of the Jewish Community in Palestine".

The new reality that had been created in Palestine was a "Hebrew nation" that deserved the right to self-determination. Remarkably, the Soviet propaganda machine even praised the far Right underground groups of the Irgun and "Stern Gang" for their campaign of violence against the British authorities.

Church Support in the U.S.

The Jewish cause in Palestine enjoyed the support of a large section of mainstream and liberal Protestant churches and not primarily the "lobby" of Protestant Fundamentalists as is often portrayed today by critics of Zionism.

As early as February 1941 and in spite of the wholehearted desire of the American Protestant establishment not to risk involvement in World War II, Reinhold Niebhur spoke out convincingly through the journal he founded "Christianity and Crisis" and sounded a clarion call of warning about Nazism.

Its final goals were not simply the eradication of the Jews but the extirpation of Christianity and the abolition of the entire heritage of Christian and humanistic culture. This is the only kind of "World Without Zionism" that the Iranian and Arab leaders long for. Niebhur based his views not on any literal "Evangelical" interpretation of Biblical promises but the essentials of justice for the nations and also called for some form of compensation to those Arabs in Palestine who might be displaced if their own leaders refused to make any compromise possible.

Nazi and Reactionary Support for the Arabs

There was nothing "progressive" about those who supported the Arab side. The acknowledged leader of the Palestinian Arab cause was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who had fled from Palestine to Iraq to exile in Berlin where he led the "Arab office," met with Hitler whom he called "the Protector of Islam," served the Germans in Bosnia where he was instrumental in raising Muslim volunteers among the Bosnians to work with the SS.

At the end of the war, the Yugoslav government declared him a war criminal and sentenced him to death. Palestinian Arabs still regard him as their original supreme leader. Lending active support to the Arab war effort were Falangist volunteers from Franco's Spain, Bosnian Muslims and Nazi renegades who had escaped the Allies in Europe.

The close relationship between the Nazi movement and the German government under Hitler in courting the Arab Palestinian and Pan-Arab attempt to act as Fifth column in the Middle East has been thoroughly researched by Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers' in their new book Halbmond und Hakenkreuz. Das "Dritte Reich", die Araber und Palästina, (Crescent Moon and Swastika: The Third Reich, the Arabs, and Palestine)

It was published in September, 2006 and has yet to appear in English translation. It documents the Arab sympathies for Nazism, particularly in Palestine and German attempts to mobilize and encourage the Arabs with their ideology, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, and the forces around the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, in Palestine.

Nazi radio broadcasts to the Arabs between 1939 and 1945 constantly proclaimed the natural German sympathy for the Arab cause against Zionism and the Jews. German Middle East experts stressed "the natural alliance" between National Socialism and Islam. And such experts as the former German Ambassador in Cairo, Eberhard von Stohrer, reported to Hitler in 1941 that "the Fuhrer already held an outstanding position among the Arabs because of his fight against the Jews."

Cüppers and Mallmann quote many original documents from the Nazi archives on this close relationship. From the late 1930s, the planning staffs dealing with the external affairs of the Reich in the Head Office of Reich Security (RSHA, Reichssecuritathauptamt, originally under the monstrous Gestapo-chief Reinhard Heydrich), sought to engulf the Arabian Peninsula and win control of the region's oil reserves.

They dreamt of a pincer movement from the north via a defeated Soviet Union, and from the south via the Near East and Persia, in order to separate Great Britain from India.

Thanks to the counteroffensive of the Red Army before Moscow in 1941/1942 and at Stalingrad in 1942/1943, and the defeat of the German Africa Corps with El Alamein, the Germans never managed to actively intervene in the Middle East militarily although they helped spark a pro-Axis coup in Baghdad in 1941.

Britain and the Abstentions

In the vote on partition in the UN, apart from the states with large Muslim minorities (like Yugoslavia and Ethiopia), the Arabs managed only to wheedle a few abstentions and one lone negative vote out of the most corrupt non-Muslim states. These included Cuba (voted against partition) and Mexico (abstained) eager to demonstrate their independence of U.S. influence and Latin American countries whose regimes had been pro-Axis until the final days of World War II such as Argentina and Chile (both abstained).

All the West European nations (except Great Britain) voted for partition as well. No other issue to come before the U.N. has had such unanimous support from the European continent or cut across the ideological divide of communist and western sectors. The Jewish state was even supported by Richard Crossman, a member of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine who had been handpicked by Britain's anti-Zionist Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin. Crossman, taking a principled stand, refused to endorse the Labor Party Line.

He had visited the Displaced Persons camps in Germany where Jews who had sought entry into Palestine were being detained. He realized that their sense of desperation derived from a world with no place which they as Jews could truly call home. He wrote that when he started out he was ready to believe that Palestine was the "problem," but his experiences made him realize that it was the "solution."

What Today's So Called "Progressive" Jews Have Forgotten or Ignore

Even many Jews in the Diaspora whose parents and grandparents rejoiced at the rebirth of Israel in 1948 and regarded it mystically as partial compensation for the Holocaust have been psychologically intimidated by the constant anti-Israel line of the media and of the torrent of bloody confrontations picturing enraged Muslim mobs ready for constant mayhem to avenge what they regard as the worst injustice in human history (i.e. the creation of the Jewish State rather than the failure to establish an Arab Palestinian state).

Some prominent Diaspora Jews, particularly among those who cannot escape the narcotic-like trance they have inherited as "progressives" and are essentially secular and ultra-critical of capitalism and American society with its underlying Christian values, have developed a new kind of psychological self-hatred to exhibit a disassociation from the State of Israel and their religious heritage. They are upset over the close Israeli-American friendship and outdo themselves in slanderous attacks on President Bush.

They easily see Israel's many flaws (both real and imagined) among which, the worst is that Israel, like America is a "privileged" society enjoying wealth amidst a world of misery. They flatter themselves that they are the modern day prophets who see "the writing on the subway walls" (as Paul Simon sung). They have earned for themselves the justifiable contempt of most Israeli Jews (both religious and secular) for their moral duplicity.

As long ago as 1958 this trend was clearly seen in the interviews given by Leon Uris, the author of the best selling novel "Exodus" in explaining why he wrote the book. He had in mind successful Jewish authors such as Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and Bernard Melamud whom he called "professional apologists" (for being Jews). Uris set out to tell the story of Israel's rebirth as the story of Jewish heroes rather than the psychological analyses of individuals who grew up damning their fathers and hating their mothers and wondering why they were born.

Uris unapologetically made a pro-Israel film only a decade after every Jewish movie producer had turned down making the film Gentleman's Agreement (1947 starring Gregory Peck) about polite anti-Semitism.

It was made into a film by the great Greek-American producer, Elia Kazan who was later turned on with vengeance for cooperating with the House un-American Activities Committee revealing communist influence in Hollywood.

Uris himself has been in the front lines in Guadalcanal and Tarawa island and felt an immense respect for the Israelis who had defeated the invading Arab armies and defied the legion of pro-Arab diplomats in the British Foreign Office and the leadership of the Labor Party (a sin the British Left has never forgiven).

Today's crowd of "progressive" Jewish actors and entertainers outdo even the writers Uris attacked fifty years ago. Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand, Dustin Hoffman and Richard Dreyfus are among the most visible and acidic critics of American policy in Iraq and have called for the impeachment of President Bush. They naturally proclaim themselves to be supporters of Israel without realizing how convoluted their antics appear to others.

They are sarcastically referred to by many in Israel as "beautiful souls" i.e., by those who reject their elitism of supposed high moral values so out of place in the Arab Middle East and as remote from the real world as were the great majority of the victims of the Holocaust whose Jewish values prevented them from attributing such evil to the Germans.

Most of the victims of the Holocaust were as deaf and blind to the fate that awaited them as surely as today's Hollywood "stars" are with regard to their calls for a selective "hands-off policy" or the future consequences of a return to Ba'athist rule in Iraq, the likely outcome of their incessant calls for immediate and total withdrawal of Allied involvement.

Two of these "stars", Streisand and Hoffman recently played the lead roles in self-mocking doubly ironic roles of a liberated Jewish couple in the comedy "Meet the Fockers". This is a grotesque example of art imitating reality (or is it the other way round?). The couple in the film have nothing but disdain for traditional American manly heroic virtues of military valor or achievement in sports nor do they demonstrate any respect whatsoever for what were classical Jewish virtues of learning and piety. They exhibit the most crass, offensive loud and vulgar behavior constantly embarrassing their son. For them and much of the Left, the very concept of civility is regarded with contempt.

Whatever the differences between secular and religious Israelis, they pale before the monumental differences that separate life in the State of Israel with all its inherent promises, risks and dangers from the Diaspora's ultra idealized concerns and sensibilities. This is as true today was it was in 1948.

The Political Left today refuses to admit that it stood wholeheartedly behind Israel much like the exercise performed by Stalin's staff of photographers who could surgically extract and obliterate old time Bolsheviks who had fallen out of his favor.

Convenient Amnesia

Today's media never attempt (not even the History Channel) to explain how it was Soviet and East Block aid and not American support that was the crucial factor which brought both essential weapons and manpower to the beleaguered newborn Israeli state in 1948-49 and enabled it to turn the tide of battle and justifiably hand the Palestinian Arabs and their allies their "Nabka." Soviet hopes that they might eventually pressure the new and profoundly democratic Israeli state to side with them in the Cold War were hopelessly naïve[*].

The Arabs cannot admit the truth of Soviet aid to Israel as it would rob them of their psychological advantage that they are victims who have the right to continually browbeat Western and especially American public opinion as responsible for their catastrophe.

Amnesia is a common malady among politicians. Democrats and others who have soured on American intervention in Iraq now have great difficulty remembering Iraqi aggression against Iran, Kuwait and the atrocities committed against the Kurds, Assyrians, Marsh Arabs and all opponents of the regime. Even President Bush and his supporters seem to suffer from amnesia and are reluctant or incapable of setting the record straight about 1948.

[*] see Uri Waller, Israel Between East and West Israel's Foreign Policy Orientation, 1948-56. Cambridge University. 1990, 302 pages, ISBN 0521362490.

This article appeared in the December 2007 New English Review

Posted August 4, 2010. Visit Mr. Berdichevsky's website at www.nberdichevsky.com.

Norman Berdichevsky is a native New Yorker who lives in Orlando, Florida. He holds a Ph.D. in Human Geography from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1974) and is the author of The Danish-German Border Dispute (Academica Press, 2002), Nations, Language and Citizenship (McFarland & Co., Inc., 2004) and Spanish Vignettes: An Offbeat Look into Spain's Culture, Society & History (Santana Books, Malaga, Spain. 2004). He is the author of more than 175 articles and book reviews that have appeared in a variety of American, British, Danish, Israeli and Spanish periodicals. Dr. Berdichevsky teaches Hebrew at the University of Central Florida and he writes a regular monthly column for the online publication New English Review.

  • On Israel: The Palestinian refugee issue has festered for sixty years and remains a major stumbling block in reaching an Israeli-Palestinian accord. At the same time, there has been little discussion of the larger number of Jews that were forced out of Middle Eastern and North African countries where they had lived for thousand of years. The universal belief, never challenged by the media, is that the United States was wholly or largely responsible for fully supporting Israel on the ground from the very beginning of its independence in May, 1948. It's a lie, in fact we and the British supported the Arabs.

Web site Copyright Lewis Loflin, All rights reserved.
If using this material on another site, please provide a link back to my site.

Weakness into Strength: Overcoming Strategic Deficits in the 1948 Israeli War for Independence

In 2018 Israel celebrated its seventieth anniversary, marking a history beset by both controversy and triumph. Researchers grapple with the truth of 1948. The historian Avi Shlaim diagnoses the argument to be between traditional narratives of the miraculous Jewish victory against impossible odds and the re-written history based on archival evidence driven by the so-called new historians. He writes, “There can be no agreement on what actually happened in 1948 each side subscribes to a different version of events.”[1] These competing sides search for truth on subjects such as the flight or expulsion of Palestinians, the sheer mass or disunity of Arab armies, and the British support or indifference towards the Jordanian invasion.[2] Entire libraries dedicate their existence to these questions and the enormous amount of ongoing research precludes a full review here.

What is beyond doubt, however, is that the nascent Israeli state won an authoritative military victory which laid the groundwork for its success in future wars of survival. Israel’s national strategy in 1948 revolved around mitigating three strategic deficits. First, the Yishuv—or Jewish community in Palestine—lacked a professional military capable of defending its sovereignty against the Arab armies. Second, despite rapid immigration after World War II (WWII), Israel’s population was a fraction of the size of its combined Arab opponents. Finally, the dispersion of the Jewish community, its extended borders based on the United Nations’ (U.N.) partition, and Israel’s lack of geographic space in which to maneuver its forces minimized its military options. Israel’s ability to build and employ an army, divide its enemies to exploit their weaknesses, and create artificial space in which to operate demonstrates how to overcome strategic deficits and attain victory with strong military institutions and a cohesive national strategy.

The Build-Up to War

The Zionist movement began at the end of the 19th century to merge the world’s scattered Jewish communities into a unified political entity.[3] Zionists based in Palestine worked within the British Mandate system to turn it to their advantage while Arab elites opposed the Mandate and the Balfour Declaration’s promise of “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”[4] Arab leaders rejected any possibility of an independent state for a Jewish community that in 1930 only made up 17.8% of the Palestinian population.[5] British authorities attempted to placate Arab concerns about Jewish immigration on multiple occasions, notably including a visit from Winston Churchill, then the Colonial Secretary, who traveled to Jerusalem to reassure the Arabs a Jewish state would never be formed in Palestine.[6] Arab opposition grew even further when the Palestinian economy crumbled during the Great Depression and due to industrial strikes against the British authorities as well as the the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt.[7] The revolt began in response to the 1937 Peel Commission which favored Jewish aspirations, reporting that Jewish civil services and infrastructure had a “general fructifying effect” in the region and that Jewish land acquisition was fair and useful.[8] It also recognized the “irrepressible conflict” between Arabs and Jews and declared that the Mandate in Palestine would fail.[9]

Besides the nakba, the Palestinian mass exodus following the 1948 war, the Arab Revolt is remembered as “the most traumatic event in modern history for the Palestinians.”[10] Britain responded with a ruthless counterinsurgency campaign including mass arrests, collective punishments, and the destruction of Palestinian homes.[11] The revolt only ended due to interference from external Arab leaders, and many Palestinian leaders were exiled or fled which left the local Arab population without guidance.[12] One such leader was Haj Amin el-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who fled for fear of arrest after encouraging the Arabs to revolt. The Grand Mufti drew close to Nazi leaders during the 1930s and 1940s and used those contacts to obtain money, weapons, and anti-Jewish propaganda which hurt the Palestinian cause in the eyes of the international community.[13]

Map of UN Partition Plan for Palestine, adopted 29 Nov 1947. (Wikimedia)

The 1939 White Paper rejected the partition of Palestine and limited immigration but still promised a Jewish national home.[14] Both the Zionists and the Arabs rejected the decision, but further discussion was suspended when Jewish leaders decided to support British efforts in World War II. After the war, American support for a Jewish state in Palestine counterbalanced the views of an insolvent Britain who advised against it.[15] Regardless, Britain was bankrupt and shedding its colonial holdings. In February 1947, they passed the Palestine issue to the U.N., which voted for partition but provided no guidance or funding for the new countries.[16] The U.N. decided two states should be created, and London—resolved to depart as soon as possible—set a date for withdrawal hoping the opposing sides would cooperate to form a functioning government.[17]

Their hopes did not pan out, and sporadic violence in 1947 turned into a full-blown civil war. The Palestinian Arabs had no trained military forces the local militias had no weapons suppliers and the population was without leadership. Arabs in Palestine had “a weak and fragmented tradition of independent political organization” with no comparable organization to the Zionist Commission.[18] Despite sharing the same language, religion, and history, “deep internal divisions” divided the Palestinian factions.[19]

Creating a Professional Army

In contrast, the Yishuv was united politically, motivated to fight, and led by “centralized para-state institutions” in 1947.[20] It relied on “strong communal institutions” for organization, the most important of which was its militias.[21] Jewish war preparations began two decades earlier, when the Haganah, its largest militia, crafted national defense plans in response to inter-communal violence. Jewish leaders spent the ensuing ten years traveling the world to gather support, and a 1943 charter called for all Jews aged 17 and older to serve for two years.[22] The army did not exist yet, so conscripts were encouraged to enlist into the “Service of the Nation.”[23] Many Haganah members departed for the battlefields of World War II, and a subset named the Palmach was organized to defend the Yishuv. The unit established itself as an elite force due to its group cohesion, heavy weapons expertise, and proficiency in small-unit tactics.[24]

Yishuv leaders assessed that Israel’s outlook against the Arabs was grim. The Jewish population was half that of the Palestinian Arabs and only 3% of the total population of the Arab states. The Jews were dispersed and geographically encircled by Arabs who controlled most of the hills and major roadways.[25] U.S. intelligence reported in 1947, “Unless they are able to obtain significant outside aid…the Jews will be able to hold out no longer than two years.”[26] The new state’s first step toward changing this outcome was to form a professional army.

David Ben-Gurion with Yigal Allon and Yitzhak Rabin in the Negev, during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. (Wikimedia)

The creation of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) as a professional army may be one of the most impressive wartime mobilizations in history, so much so that on 14 May David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, wrote in his diary, “At four in the afternoon the Jewish independence was proclaimed and the state was established….Its fate is in the hands of the armed forces.”[27] Ben-Gurion’s primary objective as a leader was the professionalization of a centrally-commanded, well-organized national army capable of defending against the Arab militaries.[28] Between 1947 and 1948, the Haganah underwent major structural reforms to incorporate various militias and become a professional fighting force, growing to comprise 12,000 infantry and 20,000 reserves.[29] On the other hand, it possessed only one gun for every three soldiers and had serious shortfalls of heavy weapons, armored vehicles, and artillery.[30] Both the Irgun and Stern Gang counted about 3,000 fighters in their ranks.[31] The call went out after independence for 30,000 additional reservists and foreign volunteers to join the Israeli Defense Force.[32] Fortunately, the Yishuv was a good starting point for an army, as many Palestinian Jews trained under the British during the Second World War.[33] Amongst the new Israeli Defense Force’s 2,250 officers, approximately 800 had professional British military training.[34]

The Haganah consisted of three separate entities prior to restructuring: the Palmarch, the Field Force, and the Guard Force. Both the Field and Guard Forces lacked centralized commands, fought only as small individual units, and relied on local financing and leadership. This focus on local responsibilities meant higher command had little authority and would be unable to move reinforcements as the war dictated. Adding to the Haganah’s command problems was the political body of Zionist representatives who led it. Ben-Gurion streamlined the command structure with himself and a security committee at the top and converted the Field Force into a regular military with its standard unit being the brigade.[35]

Five regional commands were established for operational control.[36] The three existing Palmach brigades remained distinct groups but their leaders were incorporated into the Haganah.[37] Of the Israeli Defense Force’s 14 initial brigade commanders, only four had professional training and experience from World War II.[38] Differences between the British-trained officers and the local Haganah officers led initially to deep rivalries, and the young military lacked staff officers, discipline, training, and experience. Ben-Gurion and senior leaders focused on combining the Haganah’s respect for achievement (and accompanying lack of discipline) with the professional training and strict standards of veterans of the Second World War to form a functioning military.[39]

Israel was able to field a numerically superior army to the Arab states despite its population disadvantage, and 35,000 Israeli Defense Force soldiers faced off against 25,000 Arabs in May 1948. By July, the Israeli Defense Force numbered 65,000.[40] The state consumed nearly “its entire resources and ablest population” to ultimately deploy over 100,000 men and women, and mobilized its small population for war by emphasizing the existential threat it faced, the Holocaust having shocked the world and shaped the Yishuv’s beliefs about their survival as a people.[41] The actions of the British only added to their fears, as Britain continued restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine and forcibly prevented European Jews from entering Palestine. One such incident involved the ship Exodus 1957: “Four thousand five hundred Holocaust survivors stuffed on an old Chesapeake Bay river boat were bombarded by the British, then returned to barbed-wire encampments in Germany.”[42]

The first Secretary General of The Arab league was an Egyptian diplomat, Abdul Rahman Azzam Pasha (Past Daily)

The possibility for co-existence or negotiations with the Arabs seemed remote after Arab leaders made blatant declarations about their intentions to destroy Israel. Azzam Pasha, Secretary-General of the Arab League, proclaimed, “This will be a war of extermination, a momentous massacre.”[43] Hassan al-Banna, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, stated, “All Arabs shall arise and annihilate the Jews. We shall fill the sea with their corpses.”[44] The initial date of invasion remained a surprise, but public statements, domestic violence, and the overwhelming military balance in favor of the Arabs created a sense of urgency in Israel. Its leaders exploited growing societal differences to “generate qualitative military superiority on the battlefield.”[45] With a unified community and a proper army, Israeli leaders next turned their efforts towards diplomacy.

Creating Artificial Mass

Israel’s second strategic deficit was the population imbalance with its five Arab neighbors, with the approximately 600,000 Jews in Israel facing a potential opposition of 40 million Arabs.[46] Since both sides lacked advanced machinery such as tanks and neither could conduct large-scale combined arms operations, population size was a good indicator of possible outcomes. The Arab states recognized this advantage and planned for a war of attrition.[47] The civil war inflicted further blows to Israel’s manpower, and by March 1948, both the Negev and Jerusalem were in “virtual isolation.”[48] By April, 875 members of the Yishuv were dead and another 1,800 wounded, an enormous toll for a small population.[49] Israel needed to create artificial mass by driving a wedge between the Arabs states. The apparent disparities between the still-forming, casualty-stricken Israeli Defense Force and its potential enemies were stark. Egypt’s 45,000-man army appeared capable, well-equipped, and was trained by the British. The Iraqi army was similar in size and “better equipped, organized and trained.”[50] Jordan’s British-led army, the Arab Legion, was Israel’s most threatening opponent.[51] It was the Middle East’s sole “professional Western style force” with adequate leadership, equipment, and organization to carry out large-scale combat operations.[52]

Kaukji, the Arab Liberation Army Commander (The Palmach Archive/Wikimedia)

Dividing the Arab states politically could limit the number of Arab soldiers in any one theater and allow Israel to concentrate its forces in a few strategic locations to create local superiority. Research has shown most of Israel’s enemies were already inferior fighting organizations whose main advantage was numbers. About 6,000 Palestinian militiamen, split into various groups, made up the local resistance.[53] The Arab Liberation Army consisted of a further 6,000 non-Palestinian Arab volunteers under separate leaders.[54] Of the professional Arab militaries who looked competent on paper, the Egyptian and Iraqi forces lacked well-trained officers and fielded old weapons while the Syrian and Lebanese armies were nothing more than “territorial militiamen.”[55] Arab morale and performance throughout the war suffered from leaders who “rarely coordinated plans and entrusted command to incompetents” and supply chains plagued by “graft and corruption.”[56]

Israel’s main target for diplomacy was Jordan. Through extensive communications between King Abdullah in Jordan and Jewish leaders such as Gold Meir, Israel confirmed its belief that the Arab efforts were fragmented.[57] Arab forces suffered from an absence of coordination, a lack of a unified command and control, and competing strategic goals.[58] Jordan wanted to control the West Bank, Egypt wanted control of southern Palestine, and Syria and Lebanon planned to dominate the north.[59]

Israel’s understanding with Jordan was their greatest diplomatic victory. Jordan tacitly agreed to avoid fighting Israel, and, in return, Israel would not oppose occupation of the West Bank by Jordanian forces. It appears local British authorities tacitly approved of the arrangement.[60] The effects of the arrangement were dramatic, and the Israeli Defense Force outnumbered the Arabs during each phase of the war.[61] None of the Arab states were willing to commit their resources fully to the destruction of Israel, and ultimately no more than 150,000 soldiers, the majority of whom were Israeli, entered the war despite the involvement of five armies.[62] Most Arab authors who have written about the war credited Israel’s victory to confusion between Arab parties and Jordanian collusion.[63]

King Abdullah outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, 29 May 1948. (John Roy Carlson/Wikimedia)

Creating Artificial Space

Israel’s final strategic effort required the creation of artificial space. The young Israeli Defense Force would suffice to carry out a decent plan against divided opponents, but it needed physical space in which to maneuver. Israeli strategic flexibility has always suffered from its small geographic size and an “absence of strategic depth [in which] space cannot be traded for time.”[64] In 1948, Israel had a vast external border due to outlying settlements, with the Yishuv containing 33 settlements in Arab territory as well as isolated Jewish pockets in Jerusalem that could only be reached via the Tel-Aviv highway.[65] Israeli planners believed the Arabs intended to cut off communication between communities and splinter the Yishuv. This isolation would prevent a unified Jewish defense against their invasion.

The Yishuv debated two options: to occupy positions along the main roads and within outlying Jewish pockets to defend every community, or to vacate distant Jewish settlements and mass the population for ease of defense.[66] Jewish leaders quickly decided the Yishuv would fight for all the territory allocated to it by the U.N., a decision based on potential political consequences.[67] They calculated invading Arab armies could annex territory and pick apart the promised Jewish territories if they were left undefended. If any settlement was lost—forcefully captured or voluntarily abandoned—later negotiations would be hindered, and the idea of a cohesive Jewish nation would be lost.[68]

The Israeli Defense Force had three goals. First, they strove to control the main communication routes between Jewish communities in Arab territory to defend the settlements.[69] The road connecting Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem became a main battlefield on which Israel suffered more casualties than in any other operation during the war.[70] Second, to create artificial strategic depth by using fortifications and planned defenses in the outlying villages.[71] Though costly in terms of weapons and casualties, this provided time for the Israeli Defense force to “consolidate, plan, and launch operations.”[72] The results can be seen in the case of Egypt attacking to the north and Israeli forces massed in Tel Aviv. Finally, the Israeli Defense Forces had to quickly transition to the offense and take the fight into Arab territory to create additional space for military maneuvers.[73]

The planning paid off handsomely. The Arab armies, each in pursuit of its own objectives, allowed Israel to apply its limited manpower along the most important approaches. The Syrian and Lebanese armies barely advanced into Israel in the north due to strong Jewish territorial defenses. Jordan invaded the West Bank but limited most of its fighting to control Jerusalem. Costly fighting by the Israeli Defense Force pushed back Iraqi advances in the east, and Israel’s main fight came with the Egyptian army in the south.[74] The re-organized Israeli Defense Force, along with its streamlined command structure, focused its efforts when and where they were needed. Their competence and flexibility to fight, maneuver, and counterattack between the various theaters ensured Israel’s survival until the first ceasefire in June.

Israel used the two ceasefires to re-supply, relocate units, and launch surprise attacks to consolidate gains. Both the Arabs and Israelis required new supplies and reorganization after two months of intense fighting. New troops flowed into combat, and the total number of soldiers increased from 60,000 to 100,000, while Israel bolstered its capabilities with foreign-bought tanks, artillery, and aircraft.[75] An American and British arms embargo remained in place for all of Palestine, but Yishuv representatives signed contracts with Czechoslovakia to obtain new weapons and ammunition.[76] The Israeli Defense Force further streamlined its command structure by establishing communication directly between Tel-Aviv and the front-line commanders.[77] The Arab armies operated independently during the truce as each state planned to consolidate their limited gains. They also failed to adequately resupply and prepare for the next round of fighting. The levels of external support provided to each side made it apparent the Palestinian cause had not received the “arms, funds or effective international diplomatic support” it needed to compete on the same level as the Israelis.[78]

The Israelis then launched a preemptive attack on July 8th after learning the Arabs intended to keep fighting.[79] Offenses against Egypt in the south and Jordan in the east achieved great success, and Jewish territorial gains in only ten days included over 1,000 square kilometers of land and control over West Jerusalem. The international community quickly demanded a second truce, which lasted almost three months. The Israeli Defense Force preemptively launched their largest offensive yet when news became public that the U.N. was considering re-writing the partition resolution to reflect military realities on the ground. This meant Jewish control of the Galilee would be exchanged for Arab control of the Negev, which Israeli leaders could never accept. Four Jewish brigades and supporting assets attacked south against Egypt to capture the Negev and eliminate the possibility of a disadvantageous land exchange. The Israeli Defense Force trapped 4,000 Egyptian soldiers in the Faluja Pocket, where they held out for months until the 1949 ceasefire.[80] Israeli advances in Galilee also secured the north from the Arab Liberation Army and Syria before the U.N. demanded another ceasefire that Israel refused. Fighting finally ended in January 1949 when Egypt announced it would negotiate a ceasefire to save its army.[81]

Said Taha Bey, commander of Egyptian forces in the Faluja pocket, heading to negotiate his surrender (Wikimedia)

Creating Future Victories

Israeli leaders learned from the experience of 1948 and formed four principles for their national defense strategy. First was the rapid penetration of enemy forces. Defensive operations to preserve the status quo were “judged either impossible or too risky.”[82] Israeli Defense Force leaders realized preemptive strikes and rapid counter-attacks could achieve the dual purposes of removing immediate threats from the domestic population while increasing the threat to the enemy.[83] Second, Israel needed to destroy major portions of its rivals’ military assets to help maintain Israeli superiority in arms as there would be no time to build up equipment once the next conflict broke out. Third, the potential exchange of the Galilee for the Negev showed seized territory could be used to advantage at the negotiation table. Finally, Israel understood the important role the international community played in its survival as well as the role it played in controlling ceasefires and negotiations. Future wars must be swift and achieve reasonable gains before the intervention of outside powers limited Israeli options.[84]

The battle-worn Jewish nation began immediate preparations in 1949 for the next round of fighting. The success of the Israeli Defense Force as an homogenizing agent meant it would remain the “bottleneck through which almost all Israeli citizens” would pass.[85] Israel finalized its military reorganization by structuring the force on the Swiss three-tier army model consisting of a standing army of conscripts, a mass of reserves to mobilize in war, and a cohort of permanent military leaders and intelligence services to provide early warnings. At great expense to the young state, Israel held three large-scale mobilization exercises in 1950 and 1951 to ensure the system worked.[86]

Israel’s success in overcoming its imbalances in 1948 provides important lessons for the development of national strategy. Israel’s victory demonstrates how capable leadership can unite competing interests to create a professional military in a short period of time, how diplomatic and military efforts can complement each other, and how military principles such as mass and space can be manipulated. The 1948 war also helps the observer understand Israel’s strategic thinking in later conflicts and highlights the importance and possibilities of military organizational reform.

Out of various scattered militias and immigrant communities, Israel created a professional military capable of fighting multiple foreign armies. From a population outnumbered 1 to 67, it created localized mass by deploying larger forces against weaker, divided enemies. Finally, in an indefensible geographic territory, Israel created artificial space through excellent planning, offensive aggression, and an unwillingness to retreat at great expense to its population. Israel’s ability to overcome its three strategic deficits led to its survival and recognition as a nation. Its victory was no “miracle”, but a “reflection of the underlying Arab-Israeli military balance.”[87] Through analysis and preparation, Israel shifted a seemingly impossible military balance in its favor to earn its independence.

Christian Heller is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and holds a Masters of Philosophy in Modern Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Oxford. He is currently serving in the United States Marine Corps as an intelligence officer and Middle East/North Africa Regional Affairs officer. The views expressed are the author’s alone and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Marine Corps, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

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Header Image: The ink-drawn national flag of Israel flies at Um Rashrash (now Eilat) across the Gulf of Aqaba on the northern tip of the Red Sea. (Wikimedia)


[1] Avi Shlaim, “The Debate about 1948”, International Journal of Middle East Studies 27 no. 3, 1995, 287-304, reprinted in Ilan Pappe, ed., The Israel/Palestine Question (London: Longman, 1999), Accessed at http://users.ox.ac.uk/

[3] James L. Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 206-207

[4] “Balfour Declaration: Text of the Declaration”, 2 November 1917, Accessed at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/text-of-the-balfour-declaration

[5] Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (Beacon Press: Boston, 2006), 11

[6] Peter Mansfield, A History of the Middle East (England: Penguin Books, 1992), 183

[7] David A. Levy, “Palestinian Political Violence and Israel,” Naval Post-Graduate School, 2000,26

[8] Saul S. Friedman, A History of the Middle East (North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2006), 236

[12] David Tal, War in Palestine 1948: Strategy and Diplomacy (London: Routledge, 2004), 7 Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1991), 358

[13] Friedman, A History, 233-34

[14] “British White Paper of 1939,” Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale Law School, Accessed online at http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/brwh1939.asp

[16] Mansfield, A History, 235

[18] Joel Beinin and Lisa Hajjar, “Palestine, Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Primer”, Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), February 2014, 18

[20] Rashid Khalidi, “The Palestinians and 1948: the underlying causes of failure,” in Eugene Rogan and Avid Shlaim (Eds), The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 30

[22] Matthew John Green, “The Israeli Defense Forces: An Organizational Perspective,” Naval Post-Graduate School, March 1990, 16-17

[23] Ahron Bregman, Israel’s Wars: A History Since 1947 (London: Routledge, 2003), 15

[25] Efraim Karsh, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Palestine War, 1948 (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002), 23

[26] Karsh, The Arab-Israeli, 24

[27] Bregman, Israel’s Wars, 21

[28] Tal, War in Palestine, 42

[29] Karsh, The Arab-Israeli, 56

[30] Karsh, The Arab-Israeli, 25

[31] Bregman, Israel’s Wars, 14

[34] Tal, War in Palestine, 3

[36] Karsh, The Arab-Israeli, 31

[38] Tal, War in Palestine, 4

[40] Benny Morris, “Revisiting the Palestinian exodus of 1948,” in Eugene Rogan and Avid Shlaim (Eds), The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 81

[42] Friedman, A History, 247

[45] Yoav Ben-Horin and Barry Posen, “Israel’s Strategic Doctrine,” RAND, September 1981, 10

[46] Mansfield, A History, 236

[47] Karsh, The Arab-Israeli, 23

[52] Levy, “Palestinian Political,”19

[53] Karsh, The Arab-Israeli, 26

[54] Green, “The Israeli,” 17-18

[55] Levy, “Palestinian Political,”19

[56] Friedman, A History, 251

[57] Ben-Horin and Posen, “Israel’s Strategic,” 10

[58] Levy, “Palestinian Political,” 19

[59] Karsh, The Arab-Israeli, 26

[61] Avi Shlaim, “Israel and the Arab coalition in 1948”, Avi Shlaim, in Eugene Rogan and Avid Shlaim (Eds), The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 81

[62] Tal, War in Palestine, 3

[63] Levy, “Palestinian Political,”19

[64] Ben-Horin and Posen, “Israel’s Strategic,” v

[65] Karsh, The Arab-Israeli, 34

[67] Bregman, Israel’s Wars, 16

[69] Bregman, Israel’s Wars, 16

[70] Karsh, The Arab-Israeli, 34

[71] Ben-Horin and Posen, “Israel’s Strategic,” 5

[73] Ben-Horin and Posen, “Israel’s Strategic,” 5

[74] Khalidi, The Iron, xxxiii

[75] Karsh, The Arab-Israeli, 58-64

[76] Tal, War in Palestine, 34

[77] Bregman, Israel’s Wars, 29

[79] Bregman, Israel’s Wars, 29

[80] Karsh, The Arab-Israeli, 64, 68

[82] Ben-Horin and Posen, “Israel’s Strategic,” 29

[83] Matthew F. Quinn, “Assessing Israeli Military Effectiveness,” Naval Post-Graduate School, December 2014, 4

[84] Efraim Inbar and Shmuel Sandler, “The Changing Israeli Strategic Equation: Towards a Security Regime,” Review of International Studies 21, no. 1, 1995: 41–5

Did the Jews force out the Palestinians before the war in 1948?

Anyway, do you think that Israel would have moved the West Bank's Arab population (the ones who wouldn't have fled or been expelled) somewhere else within Israel if Israel conquered the West Bank in 1949?


Interesting information. Thanks.

Anyway, do you think that Israel would have moved the West Bank's Arab population (the ones who wouldn't have fled or been expelled) somewhere else within Israel if Israel conquered the West Bank in 1949?

According to Benny Morris, Illan Pappe and Tom Segev* almost certainly they would have--the establishment war aims of the Yishuv leaders was an Israel that encompassed ALL of Mandate Palestine (and a bit more if they could grab it), as it was, Israeli forces were not quite strong enough to completely expel Egyptian forces from Gaza and a tacit agreement existed with Abdullah that he would annex the West Bank to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and not advance into areas previously allocated to a Jewish State, although he was as opportunist and untrustworthy as the Israeli side according to most observers. The problem for the Israelis at the time is that they could probably have not handled the huge number of Palestinian Arabs resident in the West Bank and expelling them against Jordanian Army opposition would be a target too far until the other Arab forces had been subdued.
The ambition of expelling the residents of "Judea and Samaria" did not fade though--all through the late 1950s and early 1960s the IDF carried out regular incursions into the West Bank, ostensibly as retaliation for guerrilla raids launched from the territory. The raids invariably involved the blowing up of villages and infrastructure and subsequent de-population of areas that in hindsight can be seen as clearing corridors for any future invasion.

* Worth reading
The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine--Illan Pappe
One Palestine Complete--Tom Segev
The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947—1949 Benny Morris
1948: A History of the First Arab–Israeli War --Benny Morris.


According to Benny Morris, Illan Pappe and Tom Segev* almost certainly they would have--the establishment war aims of the Yishuv leaders was an Israel that encompassed ALL of Mandate Palestine (and a bit more if they could grab it), as it was, Israeli forces were not quite strong enough to completely expel Egyptian forces from Gaza and a tacit agreement existed with Abdullah that he would annex the West Bank to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and not advance into areas previously allocated to a Jewish State, although he was as opportunist and untrustworthy as the Israeli side according to most observers. The problem for the Israelis at the time is that they could probably have not handled the huge number of Palestinian Arabs resident in the West Bank and expelling them against Jordanian Army opposition would be a target too far until the other Arab forces had been subdued.
The ambition of expelling the residents of "Judea and Samaria" did not fade though--all through the late 1950s and early 1960s the IDF carried out regular incursions into the West Bank, ostensibly as retaliation for guerrilla raids launched from the territory. The raids invariably involved the blowing up of villages and infrastructure and subsequent de-population of areas that in hindsight can be seen as clearing corridors for any future invasion.

* Worth reading
The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine--Illan Pappe
One Palestine Complete--Tom Segev
The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947—1949 Benny Morris
1948: A History of the First Arab–Israeli War --Benny Morris.

Thanks for this info and these books recommendations!

Anyway, couldn't Israel have attacked the West Bank after it had made peace with Egypt but before it had made peace with Jordan? I previously read a TimesOfIsrael article that stated that, after the peace with Egypt, Israel had 100,000 troops that it could have used to conquer the West Bank--who would have greatly outnumbered the 12,000 Jordanian troops in the West Bank.

Israel and the Palestinians: a history of conflict in 8 key episodes.

Palestine did not formally exist as a country before the First World War, when the British fixed Palestine’s borders after their conquest of what would become Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. For hundreds of years before the British took control, Palestine had been divided into provinces of the Ottoman empire, and had very few Jewish inhabitants.

Indeed, at the start of the 19th century the Jewish population of the territory soon to be defined as Palestine was small – only about 3%. The majority of the region’s inhabitants were Arabs, mostly Sunni Muslim, who had occupied the region since the seventh-century Arab conquest there was also a sizeable Christian minority. Together, these formed the population that would be considered – despite the lack of a formally recognised country – as Palestinians.

The Jewish people of Palestine in 1800 were not farmers or settlers but instead lived in towns and worked as merchants or religious teachers. As the 19th century progressed, European Jews – influenced by the rise of nationalism in Europe – began to look to Palestine as the place for a possible Jewish homeland. A wave of Jewish people came to the country in an Aliyah (‘ascent’) starting in the 1880s, making their homes on land bought from Palestinians.

This brought a new type of Jew to Palestine, there to settle the land these adopted tough new names such as Oz (‘strength’). More settlers followed as Jewish people fled anti-Semitic pogroms in Europe, a situation exacerbated by the rise of rightwing sentiment that presaged Nazi rule of Germany from 1933.

Settlement was core to Zionism – a Jewish nationalist movement – because it demanded land for a Jewish state. Zionists based their national claim to Palestine on ancient Jewish settlement of the area before the Romans expelled Jews from the region in the second century AD following two major Jewish revolts against their rule. Zionism and Jewish settlement were seen as a return to an ancient Jewish Palestine. “A land without a people for a people without a land” ran a pithy Zionist slogan – yet this was not accurate: the land was already occupied by predominantly Muslim communities.

The seeds of conflict

In 1896, an Austro-Hungarian Jewish intellectual, Theodor Herzl, published Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), a pamphlet outlining the intellectual basis for the idea of a Jewish country.

There was initially much discussion among Zionists about whether such a place was to be in Palestine or elsewhere. Early schemes proposed such disparate locations as Canada, parts of South America, and Britishrun East Africa around what is now Uganda and Kenya. European Zionist Jews were looking for a place to make real the Jewish state, and the debate fell between two major camps. The first was willing to accept a Jewish state anywhere, while the other was determined to forge a state in historic Palestine.

In 1905, at the Seventh Zionist Congress in Basel, the dispute was settled in favour of a Jewish state in Palestine rather than some part of the world with no religious or historical connection for Jewish people. Many Palestinians resisted this move to settle in the territory, and expressed their own national identity through channels such as Falastin, a newspaper founded in Jaffa in 1911 and named for their homeland. Other responses were more direct, with Palestinians aggressively targeting landowners who sold land to Jewish settlers.

Jewish immigration and settlement set the two communities on the road to war. It would be a struggle in which the Zionists, armed with modern European nationalist ideas, organisation and technologies, had the edge.

Riots and revolt

In 1917, during the First World War, British-led troops conquered southern Palestine and took Jerusalem. In the same year, the British foreign secretary, AJ Balfour, issued the so-called Balfour Declaration. Sent as a letter to the Jewish (and Zionist) Lord Rothschild on 2 November, and published a week later in The Times, it was a deliberately ambiguous statement of British intent towards Palestine. It did not promise the Jewish people a state in the country instead, it vaguely expressed the sentiment that “His Majesty’s Government view with favour” the establishment of a Jewish “national home” in Palestine, while also recognising that the region had an existing, non-Jewish, population.

The declaration helped Britain’s war effort in various ways, boosting support in the United States (which had a significant Jewish population) and providing for British control of Palestine. The Jewish settlers depended on Britain for their survival and, until the Second World War, worked with the British authorities to maintain security in Palestine. Jewish settlement was met with local resistance: in 1920, for instance, rioting broke out as Palestinians opposed British-facilitated Jewish immigration. More violence was to erupt throughout the next two decades.

Jewish-European settlers in this period recorded the mood of colonialism. “We must not forget that we are dealing here with a semi-savage people, which has extremely primitive concepts,” one wrote at the time. “And this is his nature: if he senses in you power, he will submit and will hide his hatred for you. And if he senses weakness, he will dominate you.” Amid such colonial views, the British veered between support for Jewish settlers and for the Palestinians. Their goals were diverging and becoming seemingly irreconcilable.

Full-scale conflict

As violence erupted between the two communities, Jews and Palestinians divided, and people had to take sides. Early Jewish inhabitants in Palestine, and Mizrahi (‘oriental’ or ‘eastern’) Jews who came to Palestine from Arab countries and who spoke Arabic, were now confronted by politically mobilised European Jews arriving to settle the land and build a Jewish state. Many of these long-time Jewish occupants of Palestine and the Middle East cut their ties to their Arab neighbours.

An outbreak of extreme violence in 1929 dashed any faint hopes of Jews and Palestinians combining, and revisionist rightwing Zionist organisations grew. Palestinians and Jews prepared for a full-scale conflict. Militant Muslim preachers such as Shaykh ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam mobilised Palestinians, priming them for jihad. The Jewish population prepared much more thoroughly, building a proto-state alongside nascent political and economic structures, having already established a defence organisation, Haganah.

The Jewish community pushed into new land with numerous settlements, and set up a Jewish presence across Palestine. By this point, the Palestinians were in conflict with both the Jews and the British authorities in Palestine, reaching a crescendo in a mass revolt in 1936. The British army crushed the revolt by 1939, but resistance and preparation for further attacks by both communities remained the pattern for the rest of the 1930s and throughout the Second World War.

By the time of the Second World War, the British had shifted their policy from support for Zionism to blocking Jewish immigration to Palestine. They did this, again, to bolster support for their war effort, this time from Arab allies. In the face of Jewish people escaping the unfolding Holocaust in Europe, this caused growing resentment and conflict with Zionists who were trying to save European Jews by helping them get to Palestine.

After the war ended in 1945, the Jewish population of Palestine had become sufficiently powerful and mobilised to fight Britain, and good Jewish preparation won the day. Jewish terror attacks against British targets helped to force Britain to reconsider its geopolitical priorities. In one of the most infamous attacks, in 1946 the wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem that housed a British headquarters was blown up, killing almost 100 people. In 1947, Britain decided to leave Palestine. Meanwhile, survivors of the Holocaust who emigrated to Palestine further boosted the territory’s Jewish population.

In the November of the same year, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution that proposed the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. Under the plan, Jerusalem would be an internationalised city. The suggestion was accepted, albeit reluctantly, by Jewish representatives in the region, because it offered some international acceptance of their aims of establishing a state. Palestinian and Arab groups rejected it, however, arguing that it ignored the rights of most of the population of Palestine to decide their own destiny.

The birth of modern Israel

The First Arab-Israeli War of 1948–49 followed on from the violence between Jews and Palestinians as neighbouring Arab states – for their own political motives as well as to help their Palestinian Arab brethren – intervened in the hostilities. In May 1948, as British troops left Palestine, Zionist leader (soon to become the first Israeli prime minister) David Ben-Gurion declared the formation of the state of Israel, at which point Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, Lebanon and Syria attacked Israel in support of the Palestinians.

Israel was born from war, both the legacy of the Holocaust and more immediate conflict when the Arab armies attacked in May 1948. Fighting against the new Israeli army continued until early 1949. Local Palestinian militia units supported the war effort, but were poorly organised and had little military power. In general, though the Arab forces looked impressive on paper, the military quality of their fighting power and the political unity of their command across different national forces were poor and, as a result, they lost.

Israel’s success allowed it to expand its territory to include all of British-run Palestine, with the exception of the hilly West Bank next to Jordan, east Jerusalem (including the Old City), and the territory known as the Gaza Strip, running along the Mediterranean Sea just northeast of the Sinai Peninsula. The result of this expansion was that Israel controlled more than 75% of what had formerly been British-run Palestine – or, in other words, the Palestinians now held less than 25% of Palestine.

What happened next has informed a great deal of how we now understand the Arab-Israeli conflict. For the Palestinians this was the nakba (catastrophe) that turned hundreds of thousands of them into refugees for Israel, it was triumph in a war of independence in the face of a full-scale assault against its Jewish people.

Both communities saw the events in very different ways. From an Israeli perspective, the Arabs were hell-bent on destroying Israel in 1948, and the war they provoked ended up making thousands of Palestinian people refugees. From a Palestinian viewpoint, the Israelis were acting on a plan to expel them and thus ethnically cleanse the country.

Israel did expel Palestinians, but others simply left as their society collapsed under the pressure of war even so, more than 100,000 Palestinians remained inside Israel after 1949. Massacre was followed by counter-massacre: Jewish forces killed around 100 Palestinian villagers at Deir Yassin, just west of Jerusalem, in April 1948 shortly afterwards, Arab fighters killed some 80 Jewish medical staff near Jerusalem.

These massacres reveal how both sides emphasise different historical events, and in different ways. Indeed, histories of this period quickly reveal how divisive this time remains, with accounts often skewed significantly toward one side or another.

The conclusion of the First Arab-Israeli War left two significant political problems, both of which remain largely unresolved today. First, more than 700,000 Palestinians now lived in refugee camps in the Egyptian-run Gaza Strip, throughout neighbouring Arab nations, and in the Jordanian-controlled West Bank. Stateless, without passports and dispossessed, theirs was a squalid existence, and no one addressed their lack of political rights.

Meanwhile, Israel built a functioning Jewish state, drawing in more Mizrahi Jews who had lived for centuries in Arab countries but who were no longer welcome there. But though the Zionists had realised their ambition of a Jewish state, no Arab states recognised it, meaning that Israel was flanked by hostile neighbours. The consequences of the failure to settle the political needs of both communities were to feed directly into the wars that were to come.

Further Arab-Israeli wars

Depending on your viewpoint, the causes of the Arab-Israeli wars that followed Israel’s formation lie either with an aggressive expansionist Israeli state that preferred war to diplomacy, or with an intransigent Arab front that refused to talk to Israel, wanting instead to eliminate the Jewish state. The Palestinian people were caught in the middle.

Israel escalated border tensions in the early 1950s. This led in 1956 to what became known as the Suez Crisis – an invasion by Israeli, British and French forces of Egypt under its dynamic new pan-Arab leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Israelis considered that Nasser started the war by launching attacks into Israel and blockading the port of Eilat, but the war’s origins are contested. Israel won the conflict militarily but there was no political resolution, and another war followed little more than a decade later.

The conflagration of June 1967 had major consequences. Across six days of fighting, Israeli forces destroyed the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and occupied vast new tracts of land in the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, West Bank and Golan Heights. Israeli paratroopers also took east Jerusalem, which included the Old City, home to holy sites such as the Jewish Western Wall and the area known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

This was a stunning military success for Israel, but the 1967 war also led to political change. A messianic, less secular, settler-based Zionism grew in the recently conquered West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan. These settlers formed Gush Emunim (‘Bloc of the Faithful’) in 1974 as an orthodox activist organisation to reflect the new mood in Zionism, while Israel’s Jews divided into the more secular versus the more religious.

Meanwhile, humiliated, the Arabs refused to accept their defeat. The result was yet another conflict: the Yom Kippur War in 1973, named for the Jewish holy day of atonement, on which Egyptian and Syrian forces attacked. Though this war proved more successful for the Arabs in its initial phases, the Israelis successfully counter-attacked. The conflict led Israel and Egypt to sign a peace treaty in 1979. Despite a historic visit to Israel by the Egyptian leader, Anwar Sadat, the issues underpinning the conflict had still not been fundamentally resolved. The Palestinians remained without a state, and their war went on.

Indeed, after the peace with Egypt, Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to attack Palestinian fighters based there. They remained in southern Lebanon, finally pulling out in 2000 when faced with a new foe in the shape of Lebanese Muslim Shia militia forces such as Hezbollah.

Stalemate and resolution

The lack of any wider political progress had provoked simmering anger among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza territory occupied by Israel in 1967. In 1987, this finally erupted into a full-scale uprising in Gaza – the intifada – which soon spread to the West Bank. Mass riots saw people, including children, throwing stones at Israeli troops and tanks. Soldiers responded with physical violence, some aimed at the children, and with lethal force. The resulting images, beamed around the world, were terrible PR for the Israelis.

Israel’s military power was not so effective against unarmed demonstrators as it was against conventional armies. The asymmetric battle between hi-tech weapons and stone-throwers revealed that the side that seemingly holds more power does not always get what it wants. This helped to push the two sides to talk, and Yasser Arafat for the Palestinians and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin eventually forged a deal – of sorts.

In 1993, the two sides signed a deal that was marked, historically, by Arafat shaking hands with Rabin on the lawn of the White House in Washington DC in front of the US president. It was a significant moment for Rabin who, for many years, had seen Arafat as an implacable terrorist foe.

The window of peace opened briefly, and then closed. One view of why talks failed is that the Israelis were unwilling to trade land for peace another is that the Palestinians, preferring war to peace, were unwilling to accept any realistic deal offered to them. Whichever perspective is correct, the inchoate negotiations shuddered to a halt in 1995 when a religious Israeli extremist, angry at Rabin’s peace moves, shot him dead in Tel Aviv.

Chaos followed. Extremists on both sides, opposed to any peace deal that would involve some degree of compromise, took charge. Palestinian suicide bombers blew up Israelis on buses and in marketplaces. In 1996, a rightwing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu came to power in Israel, aiming to block the political changes made by Rabin.

Critics argue that Netanyahu, who is in power again today, has worked assiduously to smash any political dialogue that would lead to Israel giving up land for a lasting political settlement, preferring instead stagnant talks and the offer of patchy autonomous areas of control to the Palestinians. Netanyahu’s supporters see his policies as the natural result of Palestinian unwillingness to forge a compromise deal and accept Israel’s right to exist.

The continuing conundrum


The lack of political dialogue has led to further conflict. Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians after 1996, and the launch of a second intifada in 2000, led to Israel retaliating with the construction of a huge ‘separation’ wall to stop suicide bombers and blockade the West Bank, while simultaneously building new settlements on land taken in 1967.

A withdrawal of Israeli settlements from Gaza in 2005 came shortly before a split within the Palestinians between the Islamist Hamas movement based in Gaza and, on the West Bank, Palestine Liberation Organization-led secular political groups centred around the nationalist party Fatah. The internal divisions within the Palestinian camp that caused this split made it hard to present a unified front in any negotiations with Israel. This made a peace deal problematic because there were now two Palestinian camps – one of which, Hamas, had Israel’s destruction explicitly written into its charter.

Many Israelis were convinced that the Palestinians were not serious about peace. Israeli invasions of Lebanon provoked another conflict with Lebanon’s Hezbollah (backed by Iran), which attacked Israel in 2006. In 2014, Israel launched large-scale attacks into Gaza in response to rocket fire from Hamas militants more recently, Israeli soldiers have shot protesters from Gaza who have moved against Israel’s border fence.

The conflict rumbles on. Despite ongoing efforts to find a resolution, it still takes a determined optimist to see much future for a two-state solution in which the Israeli and Palestinian states coexist alongside each other. Similarly, a binational solution resulting in a single Israeli-Palestinian state as a home for all communities also seems unlikely.

Watch the video: 2021 Israel vs Palestine Military Power Comparison. 3D Military Power Comparison (May 2022).