EFRAIM KARSH is Professorand Head of the MediterraneanStudies Programme at KingsCollege; University of London.He has held various academicposts at the Sorhonne, theLondon School of Economics,Columbia University, HelsinkiUniversity and Tel-AvivUniversity. Professor Karsh haspublished extensively on MiddleEastern affairs, Soviet foreignpolicy and European neutrality. PROFESSOR ROBERT ONEILL, AO D.PHIL. (Oxon), Hon D. Litt.(ANU), FASSA, Fr Hist S, is the Series Editor of the Essential Histories. His wealth of knowledge and expertise shapes the seriescontent and provides up-to-the- minute research and theory. Born in 1936 an Australian citizen, heserved in the Australian army(1955-68) and has held a numberof eminent positions in historycircles, including the ChicheleProfessorship of the History ofWar at All Souls College,University of Oxford, 1987-2001,and the Chairmanship of theBoard of the Imperial WarMuseum and the Council of theInternational Institute forStrategic Studies, London.He is the author of many booksincluding works on the GermanArmy and the Nazi party, andthe Korean and Vietnam wars.Now based in Australia on hisretirement from Oxford he isthe Chairman of the Councilof the Australian StrategicPolicy Institute.
Essential HistoriesThe Arab-Israeli ConflictThe Palestine War 1948
Contents Introduction 7 Chronology 9 Background to war The burden of history 13 Warring sides Strengths and weaknesses of Arabs and Jews 22 Outbreak The Arabs of Palestine will never submit to partition 29 The fighting From inter-communal strife to inter-state war 34 Portrait of a soldier Trapped on the battlefield 69 The world around war The great game 72 Portrait of a civilian Leaving Jerusalem 80 How the war ended From ceasefire to armistice 82 Conclusion and consequences Perpetuating the Arab-Israeli conflict 87 Further reading 93 Index 94
IntroductionOn 29 November 1947, the United Nations supported the resolution, 13 voted againstGeneral Assembly passed a resolution calling and 10 abstained, including Great Britain,for the partition of Palestine into two which had ruled Palestine since the earlyindependent states - one Jewish, the other 1920s under a League of Nations Mandate.Arab - linked in an economic union. The For Jews all over the world this was theCity of Jerusalem was to be placed under an fulfilment of a millenarian yearning forinternational regime, with its residents given national rebirth in the ancestral homeland.the right to citizenship in either the Jewish For Arabs it was an unmitigated disaster, anor the Arab states. Thirty-three UN members act of betrayal by the international The Middle East, 1948
8 Essential Histories • The Arab-Israeli Conflict - The Palestine War 1948community that surrendered an integral part after the proclamation of the State of Israel,of the Arab world to foreign invaders. In and involved a concerted attack by theTel-Aviv, crowds were dancing in the streets. armed forces of Egypt, Syria, Iraq,In the Arab capitals there were violent Transjordan, Lebanon, as well as a Saudidemonstrations. We are solidly and contingent, on the nascent Jewish state. Itpermanently determined to fight to the last ended on 20 July 1949 with the signing ofman against the existence in our country of the last of the armistice agreements betweenany Jewish state, no matter how small it is, Israel and its Arab neighbours.Jamal al-Husseini, Vice-President of the Arab By the time the fighting was over, Israel,Higher Committee (AHC), the effective albeit at the exorbitant human cost of 1 pergovernment of the Palestinian Arabs, told cent of its population, had survived the Arabthe General Assembly as it was about to cast attempt to destroy it at birth and had assertedits vote. If such a state is to be established, it its control over wider territories than thosecan only be established over our dead assigned to it by the UN Partition Resolution.bodies. And an AHC circular was even more The Palestinian Arab community wasoutspoken. The Arabs have taken into their profoundly shattered, with about half of itsown hands the final solution of the Jewish population becoming refugees in other partsproblem, it read. The problem will be of Palestine and the neighbouring Arab states.solved only in blood and fire. The Jews will The political implications of what wouldsoon be driven out. come to be known in Arab political discourse Thus began the Palestine War, probably as al-Nakba, the catastrophe, wouldthe most important Middle-Eastern armed reverberate throughout the Middle East forconfrontation since the destruction of the decades. Already before the end of hostilitiesOttoman Empire and the creation of a new the president of Syria was overthrown by aregional order on its ruins in the wake of the military coup, while the king of EgyptFirst World War. It was to be divided into followed suit in the summer of 1952. Withintwo distinct phases. The first began on two years of the end of the Palestine War,30 November 1947, the day after the King Abdallah of Jordan, the foremost Arabadoption of the Partition Resolution, and combatant during the conflict, wasended on 14 May 1948 with the termination assassinated, as were the prime ministers ofof the British Mandate. It was essentially a Egypt and Lebanon. For decades inter-Arabcivil war, conducted under the watchful eye politics would be dominated by the problemand occasional intervention of the British of Palestine as the Arab states and theMandatory authorities, in which the Palestinians sought to undo the consequencesPalestinian Arab community, assisted by a of the Palestine War and bring about Israelssizeable pan-Arab irregular force, sought to demise by military, political and economicprevent its Jewish counterpart from laying means. Palestine and the self-respect of thethe foundation of statehood in line with the Arabs must be recovered, the prominentUN resolution. The second phase started on Palestinian leader Musa Alami wrote in 1949.the night of 14-15 May 1948, a few hours Without Palestine there is no life for them.
Chronology1917 2 November British Government rest. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and a issues the Balfour Declaration corridor leading them to the supporting the establishment in Mediterranean Sea to remain a Palestine of a national home for the British Mandatory zone Jewish people 1938 November Wood head Royal1920 March Britain awarded the Mandate Commission: recommends the for Palestine at the San Remo shelving of the Peel Partition Plan conference 1939 May A White Paper restricts Jewish April Arab riots in Jerusalem. Five immigration to no more than Jews killed and 211 wounded 15,000 per year during the next1921 March British Government excludes five-year period; after that it would Transjordan from the prospective occur only with Arab consent. Jewish national home (though not Purchase of land by Jews is from the Palestine Mandate) prohibited in some areas, restricted April Hajj Amin al-Husseini in others appointed Mufti of Jerusalem 1942 May A Zionist conference at the May Arab riots in Palestine. Ninety Biltmore Hotel, New York, demands Jews killed and hundreds wounded that Palestine be established as a1922 June A British White Paper Jewish Commonwealth integrated depreciates the nature of the in the structure of the new prospective national Jewish home; democratic world limits Jewish immigration to the 1946 1 May An Anglo-American economic absorption capacity of Commission of Inquiry recommends the country the opening of Palestine to1929 August Arab rioters kill 133 Jews and 100,000 Jewish refugees. wound hundreds more Recommendation rejected by British1930 October A White Paper recommends Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin harsh restrictions on Jewish June A pan-Arab summit in immigration and purchase of land Bludan (Syria) adopts a series of1936 April A 10-member Arab Higher measures to prevent the creation of Committee established as the a Jewish state effective leadership of the Palestinian 1947 March Britain refers the Palestine Arabs; a general Arab uprising begins problem to the UN October Uprising temporarily 31 August UN Special Committee on suspended at the request of Arab Palestine (UNSCOP) recommends the leaders earliest possible termination of the1937 July A Royal Commission of Inquiry, British Mandate. A majority report headed by Lord Peel, recommends suggests the partition of Palestine into the termination of the Mandate and an Arab state, a Jewish state, and an the partition of Palestine into two internationalised city of Jerusalem - states: an Arab state, united with all linked in an economic union. A Transjordan, in some 85 per cent of minority report recommends an this territory, and a Jewish state in the independent federal state
10 Essential Histories • The Arab-Israeli Conflict - The Palestine War 1948 16-19 September Pan-Arab summit 15-16 January A platoon of in Sofar (Lebanon). Urges the Arab 35 Jewish fighters sent to reinforce states to open their doors to Etzion Bloc wiped out Palestinian children, women, and 20 January ALA attack on Yechiam. the elderly and fend for them, should Failed the developments in Palestine so 1-15 February Jewish retaliatory require strikes in Haifa, Jerusalem and Sasa 29 November UN General Assembly 16 February ALA offensive against endorses UNSCOPs majority Tirat-Zvi. Failed with heavy casualties recommendation on the partition 22 February Arab car bomb explodes of Palestine in Jewish Jerusalem. Fifty people 30 November Arab violence begins. killed, hundreds wounded Eight Jews killed, others wounded 2-4 March Arab attacks on Magdiel 1 December AHC proclaims a and Ramot-Naftali. Failed three-day nationwide strike 11 March Arab car bomb destroys 2 December Arab mob destroys the Jewish national headquarters in new Jewish commercial centre in Jerusalem Jerusalem 17 March Large Arab arms convoy 4 December Arabs attack on Efal: the destroyed in a battle near Haifa first large-scale attempt to storm a 19 March US proposes suspension of Jewish neighbourhood. Failed Partition Plan and a temporary 8 December Arab assault on Hatikva international trusteeship for Palestine quarter in south Tel-Aviv. Failed with 27 March Jewish convoy from heavy casualties Nahariya to Yechiam ambushed. 8-17 December Arab League summit Forty-two fighters killed in Cairo. Decides to contribute 27-28 March A large Jewish convoy one million Egyptian pounds and returning from Etzion Bloc to 10,000 rifles to the Palestine war Jerusalem ambushed near Nabi effort Daniel. Jewish fighters evacuated by 12 December Jewish car bomb near British army. Weapons and vehicles the Old City in Jerusalem. Twenty lost to Arabs Arabs killed and five wounded 31 March Jewish convoy to 14 December Arab Legion attacks a Jerusalem ambushed. Seventeen Jewish supply convoy to Ben-Shemen, people killed killing 12 people 6-15 April Operation Nachshon: 18 December Eight Arabs killed in a Jewish offensive to open the road to Jewish retaliatory action against the Jerusalem Galilean village of Khasas 4-12 April ALA offensive against 30 December Irgun bomb kills six Mishmar-Haemek. Failed with heavy Arab workers near the Haifa oil losses refinery. Arab workers at the plant 8 April The prominent Palestinian kill 39 Jewish workers military commander Abd al-Qader1948 4 January Lehi blows up the al-Husseini killed headquarters of the Jaffa National 9 April Irgun and Lehi forces occupy Committee Deir Yasin. Some 100 people killed 10 January Arab Liberation Army 10 April Muslim Brothers attack (ALA) attack on Kfar-Szold. Failed Kfar-Darom. Failed 14 January Large-scale Arab attack 13 April Arabs ambush Jewish on Etzion Bloc. Failed with heavy medical convoy in Jerusalem. Some casualties 80 nurses and doctors killed
Chronology 11 13-16 April Druze offensive against 17 May Egyptian forces enterRamat-Yohanan. Failed Beersheba. Move northwards to the 15-21 April Operation Harel: three outskirts of Jerusalemlarge supply convoys break through 16-19 May Israeli raids on militaryto Jewish Jerusalem targets in Syria and Lebanon 18 April Tiberias falls to the Hagana. 17-18 May Israeli forces capture AcreArab population evacuated at their 18 May Syrian forces occupyrequest Zemakh, Masada and Shaar-Hagolan21-22 April Haifa captured by the 20 May Large-scale Syrian assault onHagana. Arab leaders refuse to Deganiya. Failed with heavy casualties.surrender and order the evacuation of UN appoints Count Folke Bernadottethe citys Arab population of Sweden as Mediator for Palestine22-30 April Operation Jebusite: 19-24 May Egyptian attack onJewish offensive to secure outlying Yad-Mordechai. Settlement capturedJerusalem neighbourhoods. Failed to after defenders withdrawaloccupy Nabi Samuel; seized Sheikh 21-25 May E g y p t i a n - TransjordanianJarrah but relinquished control at attack on Ramat-Rahel. FailedBritish demand; captured Qatamon 21-27 May Egyptian attack on1-12 May Arab attacks on Galilee Negba. Failedkibbutzim (Dan, Dafna, Kfar-Szold, 22 May Israeli forces completeRamot-Naftali, Maayan-Baruch). occupation of western GalileeFailed. Operation Yiftach: Hagana 24 May Israeli forces recapturecaptures Arab villages and towns in Shaar-Hagolan and Masadaeastern Galilee in anticipation of the 25 May An Iraqi attack in theArab invasion direction of Netanya. Failed.4-15 May Operation Barak: capture Operation Ben-Nun A: Israeli attackof Arab villages in the southern on the Latrun fortress. Failed withsector, in preparation for Arab heavy casualtiesinvasion 28 May The Israel Defence Forces8-18 May Operation Maccabee: (IDF) established. Jewish Quarter inJewish offensive to clear the road to the Old City of Jerusalem falls toJerusalem. Partial success Arab Legion11 May Jewish forces capture Safed 30 May Operation Ben-Nun B:11-12 May Muslim Brothers attack Second Israeli attack on Latrun. Failedon Kfar-Darom. Failed 2 June Egyptian attack on Negba.12 May Jewish forces occupy Beisan Failed13 May Jaffa surrenders to the 3-4 June Israeli forces occupy Jenin.Hagana. Arab Legion occupies the Dislodged by IraqisEtzion Bloc. Dozens of civilians and 6 June Combinedfighters killed after surrendering Syrian-Lebanese-ALA force captures14 May Termination of the British MalkiyaMandate over Palestine. Proclamation 6 June First convoy to Jerusalemof the State of Israel through Burma Road15 May Armies of Egypt, Syria, 6-7 June Egyptian forces occupyTrans Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq Nitzanim, some 30 kilometres southinvade Israel. Egyptian air force of Tel-Avivbombs Tel-Aviv. Egyptian attacks on 7-8 June Operation Yitzhak: IsraeliKfar-Darom and Nirim. Failed attack on Isdud. Failed15-22 May Iraqi attacks on Gesher 9 June Iraqi army occupies the head-and the castle of Belvoir. Failed waters of the Yarkon River at Ras el-Ein
12 Essential Histories • The Arab-Israeli Conflict - The Palestine War 1948 10 June Syrians occupy Mishmar- 18 July Second truce begins Hayarden. Fail to capture Ein-Gev and 18 July-30 November Intermittent Ramot-Naftali fighting in Jerusalem 9-10 June Operation Yoram: Third 22 July Egyptians block Israeli Israeli attack on Latrun. Failed communications with the Negev 10-11 June Israeli forces capture a 4-8 August Egyptians prevent Israeli number of villages in southern sector convoys to the Negev in but fail to occupy the strategic police contravention of truce terms fort of Iraq Sueidan 17 September Bernadotte 11 June Four-week truce begins assassinated by the Lehi group. 8 July Egyptians resume fighting. Ralph Bunche appointed Acting Kfar-Darom vacated Mediator 9-14 July Operation Brosh: Israeli 20 September The Bernadotte Plan attempt to dislodge Syrians from published by the UN Mishmar-Hayarden. Failed 15 October-5 November Operation 9-18 July Operation Dekel: IDF Yoav: Israeli offensive drives capture central Galilee (Nazareth Egyptians from the coastline and the falls on 16 July) Judean and Hebron Hills. Captures 10 July Iraqis drive the IDF from Beersheba and traps an Egyptian the Jenin environs brigade in Faluja Pocket 10-15 July Egyptian attack on Negba, 29-31 October Operation Hiram: Beerot-Yitzhak, Julis, and Ibdis. Failed Israeli offensive expels ALA and with heavy casualties Syrian forces from Upper Galilee. 11-12 July Operation Danny: IDF Sweeps into Lebanon captures Lydda, Ramie, and a string 5 November The IDF captures of Arab villages in the central front, Majdal and Yad-Mordechai including Ras el-Ein. Failed to occupy 9 November IDF occupies Iraq Latrun Sueidan 16-17 July Operation Qedem: Israeli 22 December-2 January 1949 attempt to break into the Old City. Failed Operation Horev: IDF expel Egyptians 17-18 July OperationDeath to the from Israeli territory and invade the Invader: IDF open a corridor to Sinai Peninsula. Withdrawal under besieged Negev settlements international pressure
Background to warThe burden of history Wars are much like road accidents, theeminent British historian A. J. P. Taylorfamously quipped. They have a general causeand particular causes at the same time. Evenroad accident is caused, in the last resort, bythe invention of the internal combustion engineand by mens desire to get from one place toanother ... But a motorist, charged withdangerous driving, would be ill-advised if hepleaded the existence of motor cars as his soledefence. The police and courts do not weighprofound causes. They seek a specific cause foreach accident - error on the part of the driver-excessive speed; drunkenness; faulty brakes; badroad surface. So it is with wars. Taylor was writing about the origins ofthe Second World War, but no modern-dayconflict would seem to epitomise thisintricate linkage between past and presentmore than the 1948 Palestine War. At adeeper level, the roots of this conflict stretchback to the Roman destruction of Jewishstatehood in the land that has since come tobe known as Palestine. Since then, exile and On 2 November 1917 the British Foreign Secretary,dispersion have become the hallmark of Arthur James Balfour informed Lord Rothschild of hisJewish existence. Even in its ancestral governments support for theestablishment in Palestinehomeland the Jewish community was of a national home for the Jewish people. (Ann Ronanrelegated to a small minority under a long Picture Library)succession of foreign occupiers - Byzantines,Arabs, Seljuk Turks, Crusaders, Mamluks and homeland, or Zion, occupied a focal place inOttoman Turks - who inflicted repression their collective memory for millennia andand dislocation upon Jewish life. At the became an integral part of Jewish religioustime of the Muslim occupation of Palestine ritual. Moreover, Jews began returning toin the seventh century, the Jewish Palestine from the earliest days of dispersion,community in the country numbered some mostly on an individual basis, but also on a200,000; by the 1880s it had been reduced wide communal scale. The expulsion of theto about 24,000, or some five per cent of Jews from Spain in 1492, for example,the total population. brought in its wake a wave of new This forced marginalisation immigrants; an appreciable influx ofnotwithstanding, not only was the Jewish religious Jews from eastern Europe occurredpresence in Palestine never totally severed, in the late eighteenth century, the samebut the Jews longing for their ancestral from Yemen 100 years later.
14 Essential Histories • The Arab-Israeli Conflict - The Palestine War 1948 In the 1880s, however, an altogether RIGHT In March 1921 the British excludedTransjordandifferent type of immigrant began arriving: from the territory of the prospective Jewish national home, making Emir Abdallah Ibn Hussein of thethe young nationalist who rejected diaspora Hashemite family its effective ruler In the followinglife and sought to restore Jewish national decades Abdallah would doggedly seek to incorporateexistence in the historic homeland. Dozens Palestine into h i s Transjordanian emirate. (The State ofof committees and societies for the Israel: The National Photo Collection)settlement of the Land of Israel mushroomedin Russia and eastern Europe, to be November 1917, in which the Britishtransformed before long into a fully fledged Government endorsed the establishment inpolitical movement known as Zionism. Palestine of a national home for the Jewish In August 1897 the First Zionist Congress people and pledged to use its bestwas held in the Swiss town of Basle, under endeavours to facilitate the achievement ofthe chairmanship of Theodore Herzl, a this object, it being clearly understood thatyoung and dynamic Austro-Hungarian nothing shall be done which may prejudicejournalist. A milestone in modern Jewish and the civil and religious rights of existingMiddle-Eastern history, the congress defined non-Jewish communities in Palestine,the aim of Zionism as the creation of a generated no immediate antagonism. It tookhome for the Jewish people in Palestine to be one full year for the first manifestation ofsecured by public law. It also established local opposition to emerge in the form of ainstitutions for the promotion of this goal. petition by a group of Palestinian dignitariesBy the outbreak of the First World War in and nationalists proclaiming their loyalty to1914, the Jewish community in Palestine (or the Arab government established inthe Yishuv as it was commonly known) had Damascus in the wake of the First Worldgrown to some 85,000-100,000 people, War. But then, the head of the verynearly 15 per cent of the total population. government to which they swore their Palestine at the time did not exist as a allegiance, Emir Faisal Ibn Hussein, theunified geopolitical entity; rather, it was celebrated hero of the Great Arab Revoltdivided between the Ottoman province of against the Ottoman Empire and theBeirut in the north and the district of effective leader of the nascent Arab nationalJerusalem in the south. Its local inhabitants, movement, evinced no hostility towards thelike the rest of the Arabic-speaking Balfour Declaration. On the contrary, incommunities throughout the region viewed January 1919 he signed an agreement withthemselves as subjects of the Ottoman Dr Chaim Weizmann, head of the ZionistEmpire rather than as members of a wider movement, expressing support for theArab Nation bound together by a shared fullest guarantees for carrying into effect thelanguage, religion, history or culture. They British Governments Declaration of thewere totally impervious to the nationalist 2nd November 1917 and for the adoption ofmessage of the handful of secret Arab all necessary measures ... to encourage andsocieties operating throughout the empire stimulate immigration of Jews into Palestineprior to the First World War. Their on a large scale.immediate loyalties were parochial - to ones This is not what happened. No sooner hadclan, tribe, village, town, or religious sect - the ink dried on the agreement than Faisal,which co-existed alongside their overarching under the influence of his nationalist officers,submission to the Ottoman sultan-caliph in reneged on this historic promise. Moreover,his capacity as the religious and temporal on 8 March 1920 the emir was crowned byhead of the world Muslim community. his supporters as King Faisal I of Syria, Consequently, the growing Jewish within its natural boundaries, includingpresence in Palestine encountered no Palestine, and the newly installed monarchwidespread opposition beyond the odd local had no intention of allowing the Jewishdispute. Even the Balfour Declaration of national movement to wrest away any part of
16 Essential Histories • The Arab-Israeli Conflict - The Palestine War 1948his kingdom. Indeed, the crowning ceremony Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem and hiswas followed by violent demonstrations in half-brother, Hajj Amin, presented his Palestine as rumours spread regarding the candidacy to the prestigious post. He failedcountrys imminent annexation to Syria. owing to unsatisfactory religious credentials,These culminated in early April 1920 in a but his family applied heavy pressure on thepogrom in Jerusalem in which five Jews were High Commissioner, with one of the three killed and 211 wounded. short-listed candidates stepping down in his Though in July 1920 Faisal was favour. Having received Hajj Amins pledge tooverthrown by the French, his brief reign in use his familys prestige to restore calm to theSyria delineated the broad contours of the country, Samuel relented and in April 1921 nascent Arab-Israeli conflict for decades to appointed him to Palestines highest Islamiccome. It did so by transforming the bilateral post. In January 1922 al-Husseini consolidateddispute between Arabs and Jews in Palestine his power still further by establishing theinto a multilateral Arab-Jewish conflict, and, Supreme Muslim Council (SMC), whichno less importantly, by making physical oversaw all religious appointments in theforce the foremost instrument of political countrys Islamic community. In subsequentdiscourse. In May 1921 Arab riots were years, the Mufti quickly developed into therenewed on a far wider scale than the foremost Palestinian Arab political figure,previous year, leaving some 90 Jews dead cowering the feeble voices in favour ofand hundreds wounded. This paled in peaceful co-existence and putting hiscomparison to the wave of violence that followers on a relentless collision course witherupted in the summer of 1929. Originating the Zionist movement.in religious incitement over Jewish prayers For quite some time this confrontationalat the Wailing Wall, a remnant of King approach seemed to be working. ThoughSolomons Temple and Judaisms holiest site, accepting the Mandate for Palestine by MarchArab violence quickly spread from Jerusalem 1920, with a view to putting into effect theto engulf the entire country, resulting in the declaration originally made on November 2,death of 133 Jews and the wounding of 1917, by the British Government, andhundreds more. A particularly gruesome fate adopted by the other Allied Powers, in favourbefell the ancient Jewish community of of the establishment in Palestine of aHebron, dating back to biblical times, where national home for the Jewish people, the67 people were brutally slaughtered by their British quickly excluded the territory ofArab neighbours, many dozens of others Transjordan from the prospective Jewishwere wounded, property ransacked, and national home (though not from thesynagogues desecrated. Palestine Mandate), making Emir Abdallah The driving force behind the violence was Ibn Hussein, Faisals elder brother, thethe young and militant religious leader Hajj effective ruler of this territory. In June 1922Amin al-Husseini. Scion of a prominent the British went further in distancingJerusalem family, Husseini served in the themselves from the Balfour Declaration byOttoman army during the war, after which issuing a White Paper depreciating thehe became an ardent proponent of nature of the prospective national JewishPalestines incorporation into Greater Syria. home and seeking to limit JewishHaving played a major role in inciting the immigration in line with the economicApril 1920 riots, he was sentenced by a capacity of the country. Eight years later, inBritish military court to 15 years response to the Arab riots of 1929, anotherimprisonment, but managed to flee the White Paper advocated even harshercountry, and in September 1920 was restrictions on immigration and land sales topardoned by Sir Herbert Samuel, the first Jews, though these recommendations wereBritish High Commissioner for Palestine. A swiftly disowned by Prime Minister Ramsayyear later, following the death of Kamil al- MacDonald in response to Zionist pressure.
Background to war 17 The Arabs remained defiant. In October Mandatory zone. To reduce future friction1933 a new cycle of violence erupted, between the two communities, thefollowed three years later by a general commission proposed a land and populationuprising. By now the Mufti had consolidated exchange between the Jewish and the Arabhis grip over Palestinian Arab politics and states, similar to that effected betweenmarginalised the more moderate elements Turkey and Greece in the wake of thewithin the leadership, headed by the First World War.Nashashibi clan. Capitalising on mounting After a heated debate, the ZionistArab fears of Jewish immigration - which leadership gave the plan its qualifiedintensified in the early 1930s following the support. The AHC and the Arab governmentsNazi rise to power in Germany and rampant dismissed it out of hand, insisting instead onanti-Semitism in Poland - and on surging the creation of an Arab-dominated unitarynationalist sentiments in the neighbouring state in which the Jews would remain a smallArab states, Hajj Amin had little difficulty minority. The only Arab leader to havein setting Palestine on fire. In April 1936 a welcomed the plan was Abdallah, who10-member Arab Higher Committee (AHC) viewed the unification between thewas established as the effective national prospective Arab state and Transjordan as aleadership, and an indefinite general strike first step towards the vast Arab empire thatwas declared. This was accompanied by he had been striving to create throughoutattacks on Jewish neighbourhoods his career.throughout the country, as well as on The uprising was thus renewed withBritish forces, by local guerrilla bands and increased vehemence, only now it was alsoArab volunteers from the neighbouring directed against the Muftis internal Arabcountries, headed by Fawzi al-Qawuqji, a opposition, especially the Nashashibis. Forformer officer in the Ottoman army. their part, the British sought to calm the In October 1936 the uprising was situation through the simultaneous use of thesuspended at the request of a number of stick and the carrot. On the one hand, theyArab leaders, notably Emir Abdallah of suppressed the uprising with crude force -Transjordan, King Ghazi of Iraq and Saudi imposing collective punishments,Arabias King Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud. In return, bombarding villages and executing guerrillas.the British Government approved only The AHC was outlawed, and the Mufti, who 1,800 Jewish entry permits for the next was sacked from the presidency of thesix-month period, of the 11,200 requested by Supreme Muslim Council, fled the countrythe Zionist movement. Far more importantly, together with some of his leading chieftains.a Royal Commission of Inquiry, headed by At the same time, the British moved closerLord Peel, was established to study the to the Arab position by backtracking on thePalestine problem and to suggest possible idea of partition. Moreover, on 17 May 1939,ways for its resolution. When its as the clouds of war gathered over Europe,recommendations were published in July they issued yet another White Paper which1937, they proved to be nothing short of restricted Jewish immigration to no morerevolutionary. Viewing Jewish and Arab than 15,000 per year during the nextnational aspirations as irreconcilable under five-year period; after that it would occurthe terms of the Palestine Mandate, the only with Arab consent. Purchase of land bycommission suggested its abandonment Jews was prohibited in some areas, restrictedand the partition of Palestine into two states: in others. The White Paper also envisaged anan Arab state, united with Transjordan, in independent state within a decade, in whichsome 85 per cent of this territory, and a the Jews would comprise no more thanJewish state in the rest. Jerusalem, Bethlehem one-third of the total population.and a corridor leading them to the World Jewry responded with vehementMediterranean Sea were to remain a British indignation to what it saw as the subversion
18 Essential Histories • The Arab-Israeli Conflict - The Palestine War 1948of Jewish national revival in Palestine and of the Peel Commission and Winstonthe abandonment of European Jewry to their Churchill, who viewed the White Paper as aNazi persecutor as did a number of British low-grade gasp of a defeatist hour. Yet thepoliticians, such as the surviving members Arabs were not satisfied with this major achievement, demanding the immediate creation of an Arab state in Palestine, theIn the spring of 1936 the Palestinian Arabs mounted a complete cessation of Jewish immigrationgeneral uprising, which was to continue intermittently forthe next three years before being suppressed by the and a review of the status of every Jew whoBritish authorities. Here British troops impose a curfew in had entered the country after 1918.the Old City of Jerusalem. (The State of IsraehThe The outbreak of the Second World WarNational Photo Collection) temporarily shelved this issue, but the
Background to war 19struggle over the White Paper was resumedimmediately after the war. Much to Jewish The United Nationsdisappointment, not only did the Labour Partition PlanGovernment, which came to power in July1945, fail to live up to its pre-electionpro-Zionist stance but it turned out to be abitter enemy of the Jewish national cause.The White Paper restrictions were thus keptin place and the Jews were advised byForeign Secretary Ernest Bevin not to get toomuch at the head of the queue. Dozens of thousands of Holocaust survivors who chose to ignore the warning and to brave the British naval blockade were incarcerated in Cyprus for years. When in August 1945 US President Harry Truman endorsed the Zionist demand for the immediate admission of 150,000 Jewish refugees into Palestine, Bevin sought to nip the idea in the bud by suggesting an Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry to examine what could be done immediately to ameliorate the position of the Jews now in Europe. Yet when the following year the commission unanimously recommended the issue of 100,000 immigration certificates and the abolition of restrictions on Jewish purchase of land the British Government refused to comply.
20 Essential Histories • The Arab-Israeli Conflict - The Palestine War 1948 The alarmed Zionists were quick to al-Husseini, who returned to the Palestinianrespond. Already on 6 May 1942, as news of helm after having spent most of the war inthe real magnitude of the Nazi atrocities Nazi Germany collaborating with Hitler,began to filter through to Britain and the vowed from his Cairo headquarters that weUnited States, and as the British Government would rather die than accept minority rightswas adamant that all practicable steps in a prospective Jewish state. In a message toshould be taken to discourage illegal President Truman, King Ibn Saud warnedimmigration into Palestine, a Zionist that the Arabs are determined to wage warconference at the Biltmore Hotel in New with the same determination and force asYork decided that Britain could no longer during the crusades, while the secretary-be trusted to discharge its Mandatory general of the Arab League, Abd al-Rahmanobligations, and that Palestine be Azzam, promised to defend Palestine noestablished as a Jewish Commonwealth matter how strong the opposition and nointegrated in the structure of the new matter what means are used by the partitiondemocratic world. Now that the Labour supporters. We will ultimately beGovernment seemed to have vindicated this victorious, he vowed confidently. You willstark prognosis, the Zionist movement achieve nothing with talk of compromiseembarked on a combined military and or peace, he told a secret delegation ofpolitical struggle for Jewish statehood. The peace-seeking Zionists in September 1947:foremost Jewish underground resistanceorganisation, the Hagana (Defence), resorted For us there is only one test, the test ofto shows of force such as the destruction of strength ... We will try to rout you. I am not sureroads and bridges and obstruction of British we will succeed, but we will try. We succeeded inanti-immigration measures, while the two expelling the Crusaders, but lost Spain andsmall dissident organisations - Irgun Zvai Persia, and may lose Palestine. But it is too lateLeumi (National Military Organisation) and for a peaceable solution.Lehi (Fighters for Israels Independence,better known as the Stem gang after its Azzam was completely wrong. The Zionistcommander, Avraham Stern) - waged an talk of compromise or peace was makingall-out assault on Britains military and real international headway. On 15 May 1947,administrative institutions. At the political two months after the British Governmentlevel the Zionists mounted an international had referred the Palestine problem to thepolitical and diplomatic campaign for the newly established United Nations, thepartition of Palestine into two states - one 11-member UN Special Committee onJewish, one Arab. Palestine (UNSCOP) was established to study This was totally unacceptable to the the question and to suggest possible ways forArabs. In May 1946, a pan-Arab summit in its resolution. In its recommendations,Cairo vowed to keep Palestine an integral published at the end of August, thepart of the Arab world and denounced committee advocated the earliest possibleZionism as a danger not only to Palestine termination of the British Mandate. Thebut to all Arab and Muslim peoples. The majority report recommended the partitionfollowing month yet another general Arab of Palestine into an Arab state, a Jewish state,summit in the Syrian town of Bludan and an internationalised city of Jerusalem -adopted a series of measures to prevent all linked in an economic union. Thethe creation of a Jewish state, including minority report suggested an independentanti-British and anti-American sanctions federal state, established after a transitionalif the two powers implemented the period of up to three years and comprisingrecommendation of the Anglo-American an Arab state and a Jewish state withcommission and introduced 100,000 Jewish Jerusalem as the federal capital. The Jewsrefugees into Palestine. Hajj Amin wholeheartedly endorsed the majority
Background to war 21recommendations. The Arab states and the As Britain maintained a tight naval blockade aroundAHC, re-established in 1946 under Hajj Palestine after the Second World War so as to prevent Jewish immigration, the Hagana sought to covertlyAmins headship as the effective government smuggle many Holocaust survivors into the country.of the Palestinian Arabs, rejected both (The State of Israel:The National Photo Collection)proposals. Yet they were fighting a rearguardaction. On 29 November 1947, the UNGeneral Assembly endorsed UNSCOPsmajority recommendation on the partitionof Palestine by a two-thirds majority.
Warring sidesStrengths and weaknesses ofArabs and JewsThe 1948 Palestine War was no ordinary Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and a Saudi contingent.confrontation between two combatants. To complicate things still further, in itsRather it was a complex multilateral conflict capacity as the governing power in Palestinein which the Jewish community in until the termination of the Mandate inMandatory Palestine (or the Yishuv), then mid-May 1948, Britain kept substantialthe newly proclaimed State of Israel, fought military forces there and maintained officialagainst three distinct, if interconnected, responsibility for the countrys internal andenemy forces: the Palestinian Arabs, a pan- external security. And while these forcesArab volunteer force and the regular armed neither played an active part in theforces of six Arab states - Egypt, Transjordan, Arab-Jewish military confrontation nor
Warring sides 23seriously attempted to enforce nationwide The Jewish positionlaw and order, their presence in the countryhad a major impact on the general course of As it braced itself for the promised Arabthe conflict. For one thing, it deterred the backlash to the Partition Resolution, theArab states from sending their armies into Yishuv could hardly ignore its starkPalestine prior to the termination of the inferiority to the Arab World on everyMandate. For another, the pattern and pace quantitative index of power, fromof the British withdrawal influenced Jewish demography, to territory, to geostrategicand Palestinian operational planning and location, to wealth. Its 650,000-strongexecution and at times even determined the population was about half the size of theoutcome of critical military encounters, Palestinian Arab community, and less thannotably the battle for the strategic port town three per cent of the population of thoseof Haifa. Not least, the tight British naval Arab states that had vowed to abort Jewishblockade around Palestine substantially statehood by force. Its tenuous geographicalweakened the Yishuvs war effort by disposition, with many villages dispersed inpreventing the influx of Jewish refugees and predominantly Arab areas, and the Arabsnewly acquired weapons into the country. controlling most of Palestines hill region and its major road arteries, made it vulnerable both to attacks on isolated neighbourhoods and to the disruption of communication between entire parts of the country. Moreover, Palestines encirclement by four Arab states - Lebanon and Syria in the north, Transjordan in the east and Egypt in the south-west - made its Jewish community virtually landlocked and dependent for its very existence on naval and aerial transportation. But then, the port of Haifa, Palestines primary naval outlet, was controlled by the British until their departure, while the countrys sole civilian airport was a short distance from the Arab town of Lydda. All this created a fundamental asymmetry between the positions of the Yishuv and its Arab adversaries. While the former could not afford a single strategic defeat, as it would inexorably lead to its destruction, the Arabs world could absorb successive setbacks and still remain, in Abd al-Rahman Azzams words, fully confident of ultimate success though it might take some years. It would be a war of attrition since manpower reserves upon which the Arab side could draw were inexhaustible. This prognosis In an attempt to incorporate its diverse underground units into a unified force, on 28 May the Israeli Government ordered the establishment of a national army - the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). (Topham picturepoint)
24 Essential Histories • The Arab-Israeli Conflict - The Palestine War 1948was shared by the US intelligence agencies. Jews will be able to hold out no longerThe Jewish forces will initially have the than two years.advantage, opined a report issued a day What these predictions failed to consider,before the passing of the Partition however, was the extraordinary resilience ofResolution. However, as the Arabs graduallyco-ordinate their war effort, the Jews will be Established in the early 1920s as the undergroundforced to withdraw from isolated positions, military arm of the Palestine Jewish community, theand having been drawn into a war of Hagana (Defence) developed in subsequent decades intoattrition, will gradually be defeated. Unless a well-organised and highly motivated movement. Herethey are able to obtain significant outside Hagana members training in Tel-Aviv. (The State of Israel:aid in terms of manpower and materiel, the The National Photo Collection)
Warring sides 25the Yishuv. A vibrant national community Mishmar, or guard force), consisting of menwith an unwavering sense of purpose, it and women of 25 and over who were unfitcould rely on an extensive network of for combat units and were assigned to staticindigenous social, economic, financial, defence missions, especially in villageseducational and military institutions that had throughout the country.turned it into a state in waiting. Chief of In terms of weaponry, the Hagana held atthese were the Jewish Agency, created under its secret caches (under Mandatory lawsthe terms of the League of Nations Mandate possession of arms was a crime punishablefor Palestine and led by an Executive which, by death) some 10,000 rifles andover time, became the effective government 1,900 submachine guns: one weapon forof the Yishuv and of the worldwide Zionist every three fighters (even the Palmach couldmovement; the elected Vaad Leumi (or only arm two out of every three of its activeRepresentative Council) of Palestines Jewish members), as well as 186 medium machinepopulation; the Histadrut workers guns, 444 light machine guns, and someorganisation, and the semi-clandestine 750 mortars. It had no heavy machine guns,military arm of the Yishuv, the Hagana. artillery, armoured vehicles, or anti-tank and Established in the early 1920s in response anti-aircraft weapons. Its nucleus air armto mounting Arab violence, the Hagana consisted of 11 single-engined light civiliandeveloped in subsequent decades into a aircraft, while its naval platoon includedwell-organised and highly motivated some 350 sailors with a few motor boats.underground movement. Subordinated to The other two underground Jewishthe Yishuvs civilian leadership, on the eve of organisations operating in Palestine atthe 1948 War its political control was in the the time were far smaller in size andhands of David Ben-Gurion, Chairman of equipment. The Irgun numbered somethe Jewish Agency and soon to become the 2,000-4,000 members, armed with 200 rifles,first prime minister of the new State of 500 submachine guns, and 160 machineIsrael. Professional military control was guns, while the far smaller Lehi (500-800exercised by an underground general staff of members) had at its disposal somesome 400 full-time salaried activists who 130 submachine guns, 120 revolvers andconstantly evaded the watchful eyes of no rifles at all.the British. Finally, there were a few thousand men The Haganas foremost unit was the and women who had served in the BritishPalmach (Plugot Mahatz, or shock platoons), army during the Second World War. Theyan elite force established in 1941 when the did not belong to any of the undergroundspectre of a German invasion of Palestine organisations, but their military experienceloomed large. In late 1947, it included some would be of great help to the Yishuv during2,100 men and women on active duty, plus the war.1,000 trained reservists who had returnedto civilian life but could be recalled at amoments notice. It was supported by a The Palestinian Arabs12,000-strong infantry force (2,000 on activeservice and 10,000 reserves) called the Hish In terms of social cohesion and organisation,(Heil Sadeh, or field force). Comprising men the Palestinian Arab community wasof 18-25 voluntarily devoting weekends and distinctly inferior to its smaller Jewishvacations to military training, the Hishs counterpart. Unlike the Yishuv it had totallylargest tactical unit was the company, and failed to develop a corporate nationalthe normal unit of training or operation was identity, remaining instead an uncertainthe platoon. amalgam of internal schisms and On top of its field units, the Hagana had a animosities: between town dwellers and20,000-strong garrison force, the Him (Heil countrymen, Muslims and Christians, rival
26 Essential Histories • The Arab-Israeli Conflict - The Palestine War 1948families, clans, tribes and so on. Moreover, creation deprived the Palestinians of muchthe suppression of the 1936-39 uprising left needed arms and funds that would havePalestinian society economically weakened otherwise been transferred directly to them.and politically leaderless with the collapse of All that the Mufti managed to achieve withits foremost institutions and the flight of its great difficulty was the appointment of hisleadership to the neighbouring Arab two foremost proteges to key militarycountries. And while the AHC was positions: his nephew, Abd al-Qader al-reconstituted as the effective government of Husseini, was made commander of thethe Palestinian Arab community, Hajj Amurs Jerusalem front, while Hasan Salame, aloyal service on behalf of the Nazis during veteran of the 1936-39 uprising who hadthe war had largely discredited him in the spent much of the war years in the serviceeyes of the great powers. of the Nazis, was given command over the No less importantly, despite their fiery Lydda-Ramle area.rhetoric, the Arab regimes were far less Nor did the Mufti manage to integrateconcerned with defending the Palestinian Palestinian society into a comprehensive warArabs than with promoting their own self- fighting machine. While nationalserving interests. Transjordans King committees were established in most townsAbdallah was keen to incorporate the whole and rural areas to control the war operationsof Palestine into the Greater Syrian empire in their respective vicinities, the social andthat he had been toiling to establish political fragmentation of Palestinian societythroughout his political career, while Egypt turned the traditional local armed band intowas anxious to prevent this eventuality and the regular fighting formation. Yet this by noto wrest whatever parts of southern Palestine means reduced to insignificance theit could. Syria and Lebanon set their sights potential military capabilities of Palestinianon certain areas in northern Palestine, while society. On the contrary, numerous ArabIraq harboured its own ambition for the villagers carried weapons and could be calledunification of the Fertile Crescent under to action by the local sheikh or strong manits leadership. at a moments notice, and many of them Consequently, the Arab states were had gained valuable experience in guerrillaunwilling to allow the Mufti to lead the warfare during the 1936-39 uprising. To thisstruggle for Palestine. He was excluded from should be added the 7,500 Palestinians whothe Arab Leagues deliberations in the run-up had undergone combat training by theto the UN vote on partition, and in its wake British during the Second World War, andhe was denied command over the Palestine the 10,500 Arabs serving in the British policemilitary campaign, which was entrusted to force on either a full-time or auxiliary basis.the Iraqi General Ismail Safwat under the As the situation deteriorated, many of thesesupervision of the Arab Leagues newly deserted their units with their weapons toestablished military committee. Yet another join the numerous armed groups operatingIraqi general, Taha al-Hashemi, former chief in the country.of staff of the Iraqi army, was appointed On a more organised basis, thecommander of the Arab Liberation Army Palestinians had two paramilitary groups, the(ALA), a pan-Arab volunteer force established Husseini-sponsored Futuwa, and the Najada,by the League in early 1948. His deputy and which had been created by opponents of thethe person who would lead this force into Husseinis though eventually came underbattle was the Syrian Fawzi al-Qawuqji, their sway and merged with the Futuwa.veteran of the 1936-39 uprising. This Both engaged in elementary training inconstituted a double blow to the Mufti. urban guerrilla warfare and on the eve ofNot only was this relatively efficient and their merger in July 1947 their joint strengthwell-equipped force placed under one of his totalled some 11,000-12,000 members, abouterstwhile rivals (al-Qawuqji), but its very a tenth of whom were ex-servicemen.
Warring sides 27 As hostilities broke out in late 1947, new entities, could and did precisely this. As alocal militia groups, commonly known as result, at the time of the 1948 War they werethe National Guard, mushroomed in able to field well-organised and equippedPalestinian towns and cities. Consisting of armies, armed with tanks, artillery andwar veterans and members of existing fighting aircraft.organisations, they assumed responsibility As the largest and most populous Arabfor the defence of their specific country, Egypt had the most extensiveneighbourhoods, taxing the local military establishment. Supplied andpopulation for their upkeep and weaponry. trained by Britain, the Egyptian armedYet another militia, al-Jihad al-Muqadas forces trebled their order of battle in the(The Holy War), expanded rapidly from a wake of the Second World War tomodest group of a few hundred Palestinian 35,000-45,000 troops. The ground forceswar veterans and Arab volunteers, created by consisted of three infantry brigades, one tankAbd al-Qader al-Husseini in early 1948, to a brigade (with some 50 tanks) and threeforce boasting several thousand young artillery battalions armed with 65 HowitzerPalestinians. They were supported by Hasan guns, while the air force comprised fiveSalames 1,000-strong force operating on the squadrons of 18 fighting aircraft each andcentral front. one transport squadron. The lack of a centralised Palestinian Owing to the hegemonic aspirations of itsorganisation makes it difficult to assess rulers, Iraq had made a comparatively greatertheir level of armament. Like the Yishuv, effort than any other Arab state in thethey had no major weapons systems such as development of its military potential. Byfighting aircraft, tanks or artillery and were 1948 its armed forces had expanded toin possession of substantial quantities of approximately the same size as those ofsmall arms. As early as 1942, the Haganas larger Egypt, but were better equipped,intelligence service assessed the number of organised and trained. The main bulk of itsfirearms at the disposal of the Palestinians at ground forces was structured in three50,000; and while this was probably an divisional formations - two infantry and oneoverestimate, it nevertheless reflected the training - supported by an armouredprevalence of private weapons in Palestinian battalion of 15-20 tanks, some 200 armouredsociety. In the wake of the Second World vehicles and 70-80 artillery pieces. The IraqiWar, and especially as the spectre of partition air force consisted of 80 aircraft, about halfloomed larger, the Palestinians intensified of which were operational.their arms procurement efforts. Most of their By far the most effective Arab force wasnewly obtained weapons were smuggled Transjordans Arab Legion. Armed, trainedfrom the neighbouring Arab states, while the and commanded by British officers, thisrest were stolen from British military and 10,000-strong force was organised in fourpolice bases. infantry/mechanised regiments supported by some 40 artillery pieces and 75 armoured cars. Until January 1948, it was reinforced byThe Arab states the 3,000-strong Transjordan Frontier Force, at which time it was disbanded and itsThe material and organisational Palestinian members joined the Arab Legion or otherweakness was more than compensated for by armed forces, many of them taking theirthe combined strength of the Arab world. arms with them.Unlike Palestines Jewish and Arab The Syrian and Lebanese armies, bothcommunities which, by virtue of their established by the French during their rule ofimperial domination, could not develop the Levant, were apparently the weakest ofregular armies or obtain major weapons the Arab interventionary forces. Totalling asystems, the Arab states, as independent mere 3,500 troops, the Lebanese army
28 Essential Histories • The Arab-Israeli Conflict - The Palestine War 1948consisted of four infantry brigades, a Armed, trained and commanded by British officers,mechanised company, some cavalry units Transjordans 10,000-strong Arab Legion was by far the most effective Arab army to participate in the Palestineand a number of artillery pieces. The War. Here King Abdallah is inspecting a guard of ArabSyrian armed forces, though three times as Legion soldiers. (The State of lsrael:The Nationallarge, were in the spring of 1948 in the Photo Collection)midst of transition from an old-fashionedgendarmerie and cavalry force to a moderninfantry division. As a result, only two of The British forcesthe divisions three brigades were in aposition to take part in the war, together At the time of the UN vote on partition,with a mechanised battalion of French-built there were some 100,000 British troopstanks and a modest air force of some deployed in Palestine, organised in two20 training aircraft converted into bombers ground forces divisions, two independentand fighters. infantry brigades, two mechanised Syrias contribution to the general war regiments, some artillery units and a numbereffort, however, extended well beyond its of RAF squadrons. The elite 6th Airbornedirect involvement as it played the key role Division was deployed in northern Palestine,in the creation of the ALA. Though the 1st Infantry Division was in charge ofhypothetically a pan-Arab force aimed at the central and southern areas, includingassisting the Palestinian struggle until the Tel-Aviv, Samaria, the coastal plain and theArab states were able to send their armies Negev (together with the 61st Infantryinto Palestine, it was Syria that provided the Brigade), while the Jerusalem area was theALA with most of its officers, recruits, responsibility of the 8th Infantry Brigade. Inweapons and training. Envisaged as a addition, the Palestine Command had at itsdivisional force, the ALA comprised, at its disposal the Arab Legion, the Transjordanpeak, some 8,000 fighters organised in six Frontier Force, the naval units of thebattalions and armed with light weapons, Mediterranean Fleet, and over 4,000 Britishmortars and guns. members of the Palestine Police Force.
OutbreakThe Arabs of Palestine willlnever submit to partitionViolence came to Palestine within hours of attacked Jewish inmates, who barricadedthe UN vote on partition. In the early hours themselves in their cells until the Britishof 30 November 1947 as Jewish revellers authorities managed to restore calm. Inwere making their way home after the Haifa, shots were fired at Jews passingprevious nights celebrations, an ambulance through Arab neighbourhoods, whileen route to the Hadassah Hospital on Mount Jewish vehicles were stoned throughoutScopus came under fire. A few hours later a the country.group of Arabs ambushed a Jewish bus The next day saw no reduction inbound from the coastal town of Netanya to violence. Shooting, stoning and riotingJerusalem, killing five of its passengers and continued apace. The consulates of Polandwounding several others. They then attacked and Sweden, both of which had voted foranother bus travelling from Hadera to partition, were attacked. Bombs wereJerusalem, killing two more passengers. Meanwhile, in Tel-Avivs Carmel Market, Having spent most of the Second World War years inon the fault line between the Jewish city and the service of Nazi Germany, the former Jerusalem Mufti,what was Arab Jaffa, a Jewish person was Hajj Amm al-Husseini (second from the left) arrived inmurdered. In the countrys main gaol, in the Cairo in 1945 to lead the Palestinian Arab campaignnorthern town of Acre, Arab prisoners against the partition of Palestine. (Topham Picturepoint)
30 Essential Histories • The Arab-Israeli Conflict - The Palestine War 1948 thrown into cafes, killing and maiming, were running towards the neighbourhood. molotov cocktails were hurled at shops, a Some of them carried torches while others synagogue was set on fire. Scores of young fired on the fly. Behind them we saw flashes Arabs flooded the offices of the local of fire from machine guns covering them as national committees demanding weapons. they ran amok. By the time the BritishTo inflame the situation further, the AHC troops arrived at the scene, the Arabs had proclaimed a three-day nationwide strike to been forced into a hasty retreat, leaving begin the following day. It enforced the behind some 70 dead. closure of all Arab shops, schools and places This failure notwithstanding, the Hatikvaof business and organised and incited large attack constituted a watershed in the generalArab crowds to take to the streets to attack deterioration to war. Planned and executedJewish targets. by Hasan Salame, the Mufti-appointed The main such attack took place in commander of the Lydda front, andJerusalem on Tuesday 2 December, when a including an unspecified number of fighterscrowd of several hundred Arabs ransacked who had arrived from Nablus to this end,the new Jewish commercial centre, lying the operation inaugurated a trend that wasopposite the Old Citys walls, looting and to gain momentum in the coming weeks,burning shops and stabbing and stoning transforming the conflict from mob riotingwhoever they happened upon. A Hagana and local clashes to a more orderly guerrillaplatoon that was rushed to the area to campaign aimed at achieving specificprotect civilians was peremptorily stopped objectives. Indeed, two days after theand disarmed by the British police, with abortive Hatikva assault, yet another 16 of its members arrested for illegal concerted Arab attack was rebuffed - thispossession of weapons. Some of the time on the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalemsconfiscated weapons were later found on Old City.killed and captured Arab rioters. From the commercial centre, the mobproceeded to the City Hall, where they The Arab statesattempted to lynch several Jewishmunicipal workers and to plunder nearby Violence was by no means confined tostores. For a long time the police did not Palestine. Throughout the Arab world, Jewishinterfere with this little mob, recollected the communities were singled out for attack. Incitys British mayor, Richard Graves, and it British-ruled Aden, 82 Jews were slaughteredwas heartbreaking to see these young by rioting mobs, while another 130 Jewshooligans being given a free hand to destroy were massacred in Tripolitania. In Beirut,the products of mans labours ... I Cairo, Alexandria and Aleppo Jewish housesremonstrated with the police [who] told me and businesses were ransacked andthat they had orders not to interfere till they synagogues desecrated.were reinforced. Between 8 and 17 December the heads of On 4 December, some 120-150 armed the Arab states met in Cairo for a series ofArabs attacked kibbutz Efal, on the outskirts meetings, under the auspices of the Arabof Tel-Aviv, in the first large-scale attempt to League, to discuss the Palestine situation.storm a Jewish settlement. Four days later a The gathering defined the overarching Arabmore audacious assault was launched when objective as obstructing the partition plan,hundreds of armed Arabs attacked the preventing the creation of a Jewish state,Hatikva quarter in south Tel-Aviv. They were and preserving Palestine as an independentfollowed by scores of women, bags and sacks unified Arab state. To this end, the Arabin hand, eager to ferry off the anticipated states would contribute one millionspoils. The scene was appalling, recalled Egyptian pounds to the Palestine war effortone of the Jewish defenders. Masses of Arabs (on top of the same amount promised three
Outbreak 31months earlier by another Arab League thrown into crowds leaving movie theatres onsummit in the Lebanese town of Sofar), Saturday nights. That will start the ball rolling.would place some 10,000 rifles at the For no doubt the Jews will react, and as adisposal of the Leagues military committee reaction to a reaction there will be outbreakand would make the necessary arrangements in another place ... [until] the whole countryfor the recruitment of 3,000 volunteers for will be stirred up, trouble will be incited, andthe ALA that was being established in Syria. the neighbouring Arab countries will beThey also reaffirmed the decision, taken at compelled to start a holy war to assist thethe Alei summit of October 1947, to deploy Palestinian Arabs.their forces along the Palestine border solong as the British remained in the country, To prevent this scenario from becoming ain order to extend active support for the self-fulfilling prophecy, the Haganas initialALAs operations within Palestine. response to the outbreak of violence was essentially defensive, trying to strike a delicate balance between the need to create aThe Jewish response credible deterrence and the desire to prevent the cycle of violence from spiralling toThe outbreak of Arab violence did not take uncontrollable peaks. It was only onthe Yishuv by surprise. Since assuming the 9 December, as Arab attacks on Jewishdefence portfolio in December 1946, in transportation across the country began toaddition to the chairmanship of the Jewish have a palpable effect, that the HaganasAgency, David Ben-Gurion had been head of operations, Yigael Yadin, orderedlabouring under the assumption that upon commanders to respond in kind so as tothe termination of the Mandate the Yishuv curtail the Arab campaign against Jewishwould have to confront the full military transportation.might of the Arab world, rather than that of In addition, the Hagana began to carrythe Palestinian Arabs alone. Consequently, out retaliatory actions against specificin late 1947 and early 1948 the Hagana targets, such as known perpetrators ofunderwent a major structural change, aimed violence, bases of armed gangs, and villagesat transforming its semi-mobilised units into or localities serving as springboards fora national army based on compulsory anti-Jewish attacks. One such action tookconscription that would be able to resist an place in Ramie on 11 December, when ainvasion by the regular Arab armed forces. Palmach squad managed to infiltrate theMost notably, the Hish was restructured into .own and to set fire to 15 Arab vehicles in afive regional brigades: Levanoni in the parking lot. On another instance, annorthern part of the country (it later infantry platoon entered the southerndeveloped into two separate brigades - village of Karatiya, which had been used asCarmeli and Golani); Alexandroni, with a base for attacks on Jewish traffic in theresponsibility for the central sector; Givati in area, and blew up a building after evacuatingsouthern Palestine; and the Etzioni brigade its residents. A similar operation, in thein the Jerusalem area. Galilee village of Khasas went terribly Nor did the actual pattern of the wrong, as sappers miscalculated thePalestinian violence come as a surprise. A amount of explosives needed formonth before the passing of the UN demolishing a building, causing theResolution, Israel Galili, the Haganas Chief collapse of a neighbouring house andof staff estimated that: killing eight people. While the Hagana did its utmost to avoid As far as we know, it is the Muftis belief attacks on innocent civilians, the smallerthat there is no better way to start things off Jewish underground organisations had nothan by means of tenor, isolated bombs such scruples: if Jews were to be
32 Essential Histories • The Arab-Israeli Conflict - The Palestine War 1948indiscriminately attacked throughout the 20 people and wounding another five. Lehicountry, so too would Arabs. Thus, hours used the same method to blow up theafter the Arab attack on the Jerusalem headquarters of the Jaffa national committeecommercial centre on 2 December, the Irgun on 5 January 1948.set fire to a Jerusalem cinema house On 30 December, a group of Irgunfrequented by Arabs. Ten days later, on members threw a bomb at a group of Arab12 December, it placed a car bomb opposite workers waiting outside the Haifa oilthe Damascus Gate of the Old City, killing refinery, killing six people and wounding
Outbreak 33others. Within hours the Arab workers at in flames as Arabs and Jews were fightingthe plant turned on their Jewish colleagues, each other in its towns, villages and on itsslaughtering 39 of them and injuring many roads. From the passing of the Partitionmore. In response, the Hagana raided the Resolution on 29 November 1947 to thevillage of Balad al-Sheikh, from where many beginning of the new year, some 207 Jewsof the rioters came, killing and wounding and 220 Arabs were killed, according tosome 60 people. official British figures, while several By the end of 1947, then, Palestine was hundred others were wounded. Violence came to Palestine on 30 November 1947, a day after the UN had passed the Partition Resolution. Here Tel-Aviv residents, under fire from Arab snipers, running for cover: (The State of lsrael:The National Photo Collection)
The fightingFrom inter-communal strifeto inter-state war In mid-December 1947, a fortnight after the communication lines and protectingoutbreak of inter-communal violence, a outlying settlements left the initiative in theBritish intelligence report estimated that the hands of the Arabs who could determine atArabs are beginning to succeed in making will where and when to launch their attacks.the ordinary daily round of the Jews The decision to hang on to every singleextremely difficult. Since the beginning of settlement substantially extended thethe month there have been numerous Yishuvs lines of defence, necessitating theattacks on communications, causing dispersal of forces throughout the countryconsiderable concern to the community and rather than their concentration into largerin some cases seriously affecting their and more effective formations.economy. This, it is thought, may possiblybe the plan of the Arab Higher Committeeand the Mufti - in other words, not to have Jewish vulnerabilitiesa bloodbath, in which the Arabs wouldsuffer from their inferior armament, but to Three areas were particularly vulnerable tobreak the economic life of the Jews and so Arab attacks. First there were the 33 Jewishsqueeze them out of business and Palestine. settlements to be excluded from the This assessment was shared by Jewish prospective Jewish state, which were locatedmilitary planners. As they saw it, the deep in Arab territory. Then there was thePalestinian strategy was designed to break Negev, that vast and largely unpopulatedthe physical unity of the Yishuv through desert south of the Gaza-Beersheba line,disruption of its land communications, thus which occupied about 80 per cent of theconstraining it in a number of isolated territory assigned to the Jewish state by thepockets and undermining its ability to Partition Resolution. The 27 isolated Jewishresist the imminent pan-Arab invasion in the villages established in this area, with theirwake of the forthcoming British withdrawal tiny population of a few hundred farmers,from Palestine. were widely seen as an operational liability To forestall such an eventuality the Yishuv that had to be removed at the first availablehad two possible courses of action: to occupy opportunity. Yet when some military advisersArab positions controlling key roads or to took up this matter with Ben-Gurion, theyvacate outlying Jewish settlements. But the were instructed to reinforce the settlementsformer option was deemed impractical for with men and equipment. If we fail tolack of sufficient weaponry and fear of defend the Negev, Tel-Aviv will not standBritish military intervention, while the latter either, he argued. If we will not be in thewas precluded for political reasons, notably Negev, the [Arabs] will occupy it, and it is anBen-Gurions conviction that any areas illusion to think that they will subsequentlysurrendered to the Arabs would be excluded return it to us.from the territory of the nascent Jewish state Last but not least was the question ofin the post-war negotiations regardless of Jerusalem. By virtue of geography andtheir assignment by the Partition Resolution. topography the city was the most isolated of These constraints had far-reaching the Yishuvs urban centres. Lying at the heartoperational implications for the Yishuv. The of an Arab area with only a handful ofadoption of a defensive strategy of securing neighbouring Jewish settlements and with its
The fighting 35lifeline passing through hostile Arab Jewish Jerusalems precarious geopolitical location, at theterritory, Jerusalems Jewish population could heart of an Arab area with only a handful of neighbouring Jewish settlements, allowed the Arabs toeasily be held captive to Arab war plans. To subject it to a protracted siege, resulting in severe foodthis must be added the extreme difficulty of and water shortages. (The State of Israeli The Nationalensuring security along the 60-kilometre- Photo Collection)
36 Essential Histories • The Arab-Israeli Conflict - The Palestine War 1948long road between Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, neighbourhoods in Jerusalem had beennearly half of which wound through rough precarious even in the best of times andand hilly country, rising up to a height of subject to regular disruptions by Arab mobs,over 900 metres with frequent steep especially on Muslim religious festivals. Oncegradients and deep, narrow, tortuous defiles. hostilities broke out, the quarter came underAll the Arabs had to do was to block the immediate siege.stretch of road running near their village, It will be recalled that according to thethen sit on the overlooking ridge and aim Partition Resolution, Jerusalem was to betheir shots at the trapped Jewish convoys as placed under an international regime, withthey were busy removing the roadblocks. its residents given the right to apply for To make the problem of defence still citizenship in either the Arab or the Jewishharder, the Jewish population of Jerusalem states. The Zionist leadership, thoughwas dispersed into non-contiguous suburbs, begrudgingly acquiescing in this decision,many of them surrounded by Arabneighbourhoods. The position of the Jewish Car bombs constituted a popular weapon in the fightingquarter of the Old City, where some between Palestines Arab and Jewish communities. Here2,500 Jews were living among 22,000 Arabs, Jerusalems Ben-Yehuda Street after a bombing inwas particularly dire. Communication February 1948 in which 50 people were killed andbetween this area and the rest of the Jewish hundreds wounded. (Topham Picturepoint)