War of Independence - (in Hebrew - Milhemet Hashichrur
or Milchemet Hashi'hrur (pronounced Mil 'hemet Hah shi'h rur). It is also called the "1948 War" by Arabs and "Milchemet
Tashach" by Jews. The war actually began on or about December 1, 1947. A detailed timeline is given here:
1948 Israel War of Independence (First Arab-Israeli
war) Timeline (Chronology)
A detailed compilation of resources:
Israel - Birth of a Nation - The struggle for Israel's independence
The Israel War of Independence or 1948 War is divided into the pre-independence
period and the post-independence period.
The pre-Independence civil war began shortly after the passage of UN General Assembly Resolution 181 which was supposed to
partition Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab State, and an international area including Jerusalem and a large
area around it. The Jews were to get about 55% of the country, though this included the Negev, which was mostly desert.
As the map at right shows, the Arab and Jewish areas, which were allocated according to demographics, were intertwined.
The plan was fragile, but it could perhaps have worked had the sides wanted it it work. ( Detailed Map:
UN Palestine Partition Plan Map
The Arabs rejected partition and called for a war to rid
Palestine of the Jews. The British sabotaged the efforts of the UN to internationalized Jerusalem, and encouraged the
Arabs to go to war, providing large quantities of arms to the Arab Legion (later the Transjordan Legion, as long as they
could do so without American censure.
The Jews greeted the news of partition with joy (see:
Palestine Partition - November 29, 1949
for a historic letter describing the celebrations) but it was obvious that there would be a tragic armed clash.
Riots and terror attacks began as soon as the partition plan was announced and gradually escalated. Irgun bombs
exploded in Arab sections of the old city of Jerusalem and in Yaffo. In Jerusalem, the Arabs blew up the Jewish Agency
and subsequently killed about 60 people in the Ben Yehuda Street Bombing
In the post-independence period, there were three periods of fighting and at
least two truces.
The first period of fighting lasted from May 15 to June 10, 1948.
The second period of fighting, the "ten days" lasted approximately from July 9 to July 18/
The final official period of fighting lasted from October 15, 1948 until about January 7, 1949.
During the "truce" periods there was constant small scale fighting and one or two larger actions. Not
a day passed during the "truces" without one or more people being killed. The regular armies more or less obeyed the
truces, at least outside Jerusalem, but the Arab irregulars, including the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab Liberation
Army (or Arab Salvation Army) of Fawzi el Kawkji generally disregarded the truce periods.
For the Jews, the principle determining factor was the ability to remain a viable
force during the pre-independence period, and then to transform from a guerilla force into a regular army capable of
withstanding the onslaught of regular Arab armies. The
CIA had estimated that the Jewish side would lose the war, even without taking into account the participation of the
Arab states. US Secretary of State George C. Marshall, an experienced soldier, told Moshe Sharrett, Jewish Agency
Foreign Secretary on the eve of independence:
Believe me, I am talking about things about which I know. You are sitting there in the coastal plains of
Palestine, while the Arabs hold the mountain ridges. I know you have some arms and your Haganah, but the Arabs have
regular armies. They are well trained and they have heavy arms. How can you hope hope to hold out?" (Larry Collins and
Dominique Lapierre, O Jerusalem!, Pan books 1973, page 315).
These assessments have some importance, because revisionist historians were later to try desperately
to cobble together a post-facto case that would "prove" that the victory of about 600,000 Jews with no
heavy armaments over the armies of several Arab states and 1.2 million Palestinian Arabs was "inevitable." Benny Morris
claims that "all observers—Jewish, British, Palestinian Arab, and external Arab—agreed on the eve of the war that the
Palestinians were incapable of beating the Zionists or of withstanding Zionist assault. The Palestinians were simply too
The truth is that Benny Morris notwithstanding, the Palestinian Arabs outnumbered and outgunned the
Jews. During the pre-independence period, they also had the active support of the Arab legion as well as Kawkji's Arab
Liberation Army (ALA). The ALA had, in addition to troops, artillery and other gadgets that the Jews did not have.
This advantage became more marked on May 15 1948, when the Egyptians, Syrians and Jordanians, with tanks, aircraft and
artillery, invaded Israel.
At any point, attackers need, in theory a ratio of three or six soldiers to one in order to gain a battle. But
they need only concentrate their forces at that one point, whereas the defenders must guard against possible attacks
everywhere. In Israel, the problem of defense was especially acute. There is
neither territory nor strategic depth. The Egyptians were easily able to cut off the entire Negev. The Iraqis were only
a few kilometers from the Mediterranean. The Syrians and the ALA could well have reached Haifa. Jerusalem, with 100,000
Jews was almost cut off from the rest of Israel. Hacked to pieces in this way, Israel was not very far from collapse, even
after the first cease fire of June 10.
The lists of numbers of Jewish soldiers on May 15, 1948 and thereafter are impressive but meaningless.
Until after the first truce, many of them did not have arms. Some had never shot a rifle and had little idea of what
to do in a battle. If a machine gun broke down or needed assembly, it was necessary to wait for a rare expert who knew
how to assemble and repair machine guns.
Though the IDF was created on May 28, 1948, until the first truce of June 10, most of its soldiers had
had little or no training. Not a few of them were new immigrants rushed off the boats and given guns, most unable to
speak Hebrew and understand commands. Supposedly, by the end of the war there were over 100,000 IDF soldiers. During the
critical parts of the war, there might have been 20,000-30,000 effective combat troops.
Pre-Independence - Clashes between Jewish underground groups and Arab irregulars began almost as
soon as the UN passed the partition resolution. During this time, Arab countries did not invade, but the Arab Legion, as
it was then called, was already in Palestine, armed and officered by the British. The "Arab Legion" was active in
fighting in Jerusalem. It overran nearby
Gush Etzion on May 14. Gush Etzion was a small block of settlements in the territory allocated to the
Palestinian state, south of Jerusalem.
During the period before Israeli independence was declared, two armies of Arab irregular volunteers,
led by Hajj Amin El Husseini in the Jerusalem area, and by Fawzi El Kaukji in the Galilee, placed their fighters in Arab
towns and conducted various aggressive operations against the Jewish towns and villages under the eyes of the British. Kaukji and his irregulars were allowed into Palestine from Syria by the British,
supposedly with the agreement that he would not
engage in military actions, but he soon broke the agreement and attacked across the Galilee. The British did nothing. The Arab irregulars were
met by the Zionist underground army, the Haganah, and by the underground groups of the "dissident" factions,
Irgun and LEHI.
A critical part in the war was played by
Machal volunteers from abroad. They provided a small addition in
manpower, but they provided many trained officers, and they helped to smuggle arms into Palestine and into the new born
state of Israel. In particular, Machal supplied much of the
aircrews and brought with them many of the aircraft that served Israel in the War of Independence.
Arab riots broke out on November 30 and December 1 1947. Palestinian Arab irregulars cut off the supply of food, water and
fuel to Jerusalem during a long siege that began in late 1947. Fighting and violence broke out immediately throughout
the country, including ambushes of transportation, the Jerusalem blockade, riots such as
the Haifa refinery riots, and massacres that took place at
Gush Etzion (by Palestinian Arabs in January of
1948 and on May 13, 1948) and in
Deir Yassin (April 9 by Jews) and on April 13, a
massacre of a convoy
to the Hadassah Hospital, killing about 80 medical personnel.
Arab Palestinians began leaving their towns and
villages to escape the fighting. Notably, most of the Arab population of Haifa left in March and April of 1948, despite
pleas by both Jewish and British officials to stay. When the last of the Arab Higher Committee left Haifa on April 22,
1948, their head told the Zionist officials, "We do not recognize you, and we shall return when you are gone."
The exodus of Arabs grew from a trickle to a torrent and resulted in a tragic refugee problem (see
Palestine Nakba 1948 ).
The British did little to stop the fighting, but the scale of hostilities was limited by lack of arms
and trained soldiers on both sides. Initially, the Palestinians had a clear advantage, and a
Haganah intelligence report of March, 1948 indicated that the
situation was critical, especially in the Jerusalem area. It is generally agreed that April 1948 marked a turning
point in the fighting before the invasion by Arab armies, in favor of the initially outnumbered and outgunned Jewish
forces. To break the siege of Jerusalem, the Haganah
prematurely activated "Plan Dalet" - a plan prepared for general
defense that was supposed to have been implemented when the British had left. It required use of regular armed forces
and army tactics, fighting in the open, rather than as an underground. It also envisioned the "temporary" evacuation of
Arab civilians from towns in certain strategic areas," such as the Jerusalem corridor. This provision has been cited as
evidence that the Jewish leadersip planned for the exodus and expulsion of Arab civilians in advance.
Revisionist historians claim that the Jews were better armed and had larger forces than the
Arabs, citing the fact that the IDF had 100,000 troops at the end of the war, and the numbers of Haganah, Palmach, Irgun
and Lehi recruits listed on paper by various sources prior to the war, with estimates ranging from 20,000 to 35,000
troops or more. However, most of these recruits were not trained soldiers and they had no arms.
Various sources give somewhat different numbers for Jewish and Arab soldiers
and their armament. According to Herzog and Gazit, 2005, in 1947 there were some 45,000 Haganah troops, but of these, only 15,000 could
be part of an effective fighting force, the rest being tied to defensive roles. The total armament of the Haganah in
1947 consisted of 900 rifles, 700 light machine guns and 200 medium machine guns with scarce ammunition ("sufficient
ammunition for three days fighting"). The Haganah had 11 single engine light civilian aircraft and about 40 pilots, 20 of
whom had RAF combat experience. There were about 350 sailors, but no ships. The Irgun and Lehi numbered between 2000 and
4,000 troops, but they had little arms and no real combat training.
By February 1948, the Haganah had six "brigades" of varying sizes ranging from
about 800 to 3,000 troops. Golani in Eastern Galilee, Carmeli in Western Galilee, Givati in the southern coast and
lowlands, Alexandroni in the Sharon area, Etzioni in Jerusalem and Qiryati in Tel Aviv. Three additional Palmach
battalions were converted into brigades in the next months: Negev brigade in the Northern Negev, Yiftach in the Galilee
and Harel in the Jerusalem corridor and Jerusalem. (Herzog and Gazit 2005 pp 18-20).
By April 1948 thanks to clandestine arms acquisitions, but not before,
the Haganah had a total of about 20,000 rifles, including Sten guns manufactured in Israel, for its 35,000 paper
soldiers. There were no tanks or artillery. "Armored cars" consisted of pickup trucks with a thin overlay of sheetmetal
The Arab Palestinians had less troops in organized groups, but relied on the
Faza'a or village levee for attacking convoys and for concerted attacks on areas such as Gush Etzion. Most Arab
villagers had rifles and there were at least a few machine guns.
The forces of the Grand Mufti Hajj Amin El Husseini were estimated at about
2,000 men under Hassan Salameh and Abdel Khader el Husseini. The Arab Liberation army of Fawzi El Kaukji numbered
3,000 to 4,000, or perhaps as many as 10,000 after May 15, 1948. However, in the pre-independence period, and in the war itself, the decisive force was the Arab Legion
or Transjordanian legion led by Sir John Glubb (Glubb Pasha), officered by British soldiers and supplied, until the end
of May, with artillery, shells, armored cars and tanks. The Legion was always present in Palestine in some numbers, but
was called the "Arab Legion" before May 15, 1948, and the Transjordan Legion thereafter. It numbered between 7,000 and
War of Independence: The battle for the roads
Every isolated Jewish town or settlement became vulnerable to Arab attacks on
transportation. The most serious and infamous blockade was that of the Jerusalem road.
|Attack on a convoy
The Arabs resolved to blockade the road to Jerusalem and starve out its 100,000
Jewish inhabitants. Jerusalem ran out of food, fuel, medicine and ammunition. The water supply was cut as well. An
ingenious and draconic rationing plan and other measures enabled the city to survive. The British, who were allowed to
pass without difficulty on the road, and who had an obligation for the welfare and safety of the inhabitants of
Palestine, did nothing whatever to supply the city and did everything in their power to hinder the passage of Jewish
convoys and the defense of the city.
The blockade was enforced by a sort of levee system. Arabs would get word of the
convoy and call out fighters from all the surrounding villages at different points on the road. At first, Jews tried to
go through the populous Arab towns of Ramleh and Lod from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Drivers would get to the top of the
hill before Ramleh, race the engine, let out the clutch in second gear and hope for the best. This daredevil method was
soon abandoned in favor of convoys that took a circuitous route from Hulda in the south. A critical location along the
road was at the entrance to a narrow defile,
Bab El Wad or "Sha'ar Hagay" - the gate of the valley. The following
is a dramatization of one such ambush from "O Jerusalem," by Collins and LaPierre, page 208 ff:
Haroun Ben-Jazzi stared into
the darkness towards the sound rising up the valley he had prowled a month before with borrowed sheep. It was the low,
insistent rumble of motors. For hours Ben Jazzi and his followers had lain shivering in the last watches of the night,
waiting for it. A message from their transmitter hidden in Hulda, the Jewish assembly point, had warned that the Jews
would try today to drive a major convoy through Bab El Wad to Jerusalem.
Ben Jazzi was ready for them. Three hundred men were hidden in the
slopes above the barricade of stones and logs thrown up in the middle
of the road. The closest of them were fifteen feet from the roadside, waiting to spring on the leading cars with
grenades if the land mines hidden in the roadblock failed to stop them. On each side of the road a Vickers machine-gun
was trained on the barricade.
Lieutenant Moshe Rashkes,
riding in the armored car leading the convoy up the gorge of Bab-el Wad, contemplated the dark forms of the trucks
trailing along behind him. There were forty of them strung out for almost a mile down the road to Hulda. Crammed into
those trucks were hundreds of sacks of flour, thousands of cans of meat, sardines, margarine; there was even one truck
whose panels were spilling over with a fruit the people of Jerusalem had not seen in weeks - oranges. For Rashkes'
convoy represented far more than a series of meager meals. Their safe arrival would be proof that the lifeline on which
they depended, the road to the sea, was still theirs, that it could still deliver to them the ingredients of their
Ben Jazzi's first sight of the convoy was Rashkes' armored car lumbering slowly
forward through the fading dawn. It was just half a mile beyond the
pumping station marking the entrance to Bab-el Wad when he saw it. Inside the car, Rashkes heard the shots ring out,
then a dull thump as the blockbusters moving up to thrust aside Ben-Jazzi's barricade hit one of his hidden mines. At
that moment, over his car's wireless, Rashkes heard the convoy commander announcing to Hulda, "We are surrounded but
continuing to move.
The cars were soon so close
that Ben-Jazzi could see the Stens peeping through their steel slats firing into the hillside. With a whistle, he
signalled his men hidden in the roadside ditch to rush the cars with grenades and force the windows shut.
It became suffocatingly hot
inside the cars. The clang of bullets striking Rashkes' vehicle rose to a steady din. Through a narrow gun slit Rashkes
strained for a glimpse of his attackers...Ahead of him Rashkes saw the blockbuster, tossed into the gulley by the force
of the mine. A second truck moving up behind it had hit another mine. Spun at right angles to the axis of the road, it
barred the way up to Jerusalem. From all along the column he heard the dull thump of exploding tires. As the morning sky
lightened he could see white plumes of steam spurting out of half a dozen trucks whose radiators had already been
Rashkes' 'sandwich' was
ordered forward to evacuate the crew of the blockbuster. The five men managed to slip from their overturned vehicle and
sprint to the safety of his car. Then they moved toward the second truck, which was lying on its side, the door to its
armor-plated cab shut. From the bottom of the door Rashkes saw a thin dark stream of blood dropping onto the pavement.
Its van was on fire and the flames were working their way toward the cab and the gas tank behind it.
Rashkes shouted to the truck's
two drivers to open the door. There was no answer. The fire moved closer. "They're dead,' someone said. Then as his
armored car started to draw away, Rashkes saw the doorknob of the cab move.
Two of the men in his car slipped out the emergency door and
crawled to the truck. While the Arabs sent a stream of fire at them, they struggled to open the door. "Someone's tapping
inside!" one of them shouted. Rashkes saw the horror and frustration contorting their faces as they tugged at the jammed
door. Below the cab, the little maroon trickle continued to drop onto the pavement. The fire grew stronger, reaching out
for the edge of the petrol tank. Finally Rashkes ordered his two men to flee the flames.
Horror-stricken, everyone in his car stared at the overturned truck. The thin
stream of blood continued to seep onto the pavement. Once again, almost imperceptibly, the doorknob moved. Then the fire
reached the gas tank and the cabin was engulfed in orange flames.
By now the convoy was hopelessly stuck. Half a dozen trucks had tumbled into
the gulley trying to turn around. Ben-Jazzi's roadblock and the two vehicles cast up against it eliminated any hope of
Swarms of villagers, alerted by the noise of the gunfire, had joined Ben-Jazzi's
men. From the pine grove above, shrill and terrifying, the undulating war cry of their women drove them on. Rashkes
could hear screams in broken Hebrew ringing down the hillside: 'Yitzhak, Yitzhak, today death will find you!'
One hour, two hours, six hours passed. The heat was unbearable. Inside the
cars, men stripped to their undershorts. In Rashkes' vehicles the ammunition was almost gone.
Finally the order came over the wireless to withdraw. The trucks that could
move began to roll back down the incline in reverse, most of them, tires shot out, riding on their rims. The armored car
covered their withdrawal, pushing into the gulley the trucks that couldn't move, to clear the road. As his car inched
back down the road to Hulda, Rashkes saw the Arabs swarm down the hillside. Shrieking their jubilant cries of victory,
they flung themselves on the abandoned trucks, ripping them to pieces. Frantic hands grabbed at sacks of flour, cases of
sardines, cans of meat. Bobbing and tumbling like pearls spilling from a broken necklace, dozens of oranges rolled down
the hillside. Soon, like the industrious files of their ancestors carrying stones to erect some prehistoric citadel,
long columns of villagers began twisting up the hillside, bent by the weight of the booty they carried away. Tonight in
Beit Mahsir, Saris, Kastel, in all the poor villages clinging to the Judean heights above the road, there would be a
rare and unexpected banquet on the food with Jerusalem's hungry Jews so desperately awaited.
The Haganah left along the road nineteen vehicles, almost half the number that
had set out from Hulda...
That convoy was the next to last to attempt to reach Jerusalem in March. The following day a single convoy of about 60
vehicles got through, presumably because Arabs were celebrating their victory.
On March 26, the Arab forces cut traffic along the
coastal road to the Negev settlements in what is now Gaza. On March 27, a convoy to Kibbutz Yehiam,
in Northern Israel was ambushed and intercepted. On the same day, a convoy from Jerusalem to Gush Etzion was ambushed
(see Nebi Daniel Convoy). As this convoy included
virtually all the armored vehicles of the Jerusalem command and all the vehicles that had come through in the last
convoy from Tel Aviv, it was a severe setback. Jewish leaders in Jerusalem complained to the government that the
situation in Jerusalem was untenable. (See:
Situation in Jerusalem and Palestine, April 1948 )
It was decided that the Hagannah must go over to the offensive even before the British left
Palestine. The Haganah had an operational plan that had been updated periodically. Successive revisions were called Plan
A, (aleph) Plan B (bet) etc. It's latest version was updated in March of 1948 and was called Plan D (Plan Daled).
These plans had all envisioned a situation where the British had already left Palestine, and it was necessary to defend
the state that would be declared. But now it was decided to activate Plan D before the British left. As part of the
plan, because of the active participation of Arab inhabitants in the blockades, road ambushes and fighting, it was
deemed essential to temporarily clear Arab villages at strategic points of their inhabitants. Given that in the case of
Jerusalem, this was the only way to avert the starvation or surrender of 100,000 people, it was an understandable
military precaution. Revisionist historians, especially Ilan Peppe, have argued falsely that Plan D was a plan for
"ethnic cleansing" of Palestine.
The chief focal point of the effort would be the road to Jerusalem. The Haganah mounted its first
brigade sized operation, Operation Nachshon, using 1,500 troops. The condition of the Jewish defenders at this
time can be appreciated from the fact that this required scouring troops from several different units, as well as more
or less raw recruits, including girls who had to be told that they could not bring flowers and poetry books on this
expedition. The Haganah command had
envisioned a much smaller force of 400.
David Ben-Gurion was adamant that
Jerusalem must be held at all costs, and that a large scale operation, befitting a regular army was required. In
preparation for the assault. Ben Gurion cabled Ehud Avriel, who was in Czechoslovakia purchasing arms for the Haganah,
to find a way to get at least part of those arms into the country, despite the British blockade. On the night of
April 1, the Haganah took over an abandoned RAF airstrip in the south of the country, bringing electric lights and an
improvised "control tower." The tiny transmitter kept repeating its code word "Hassida" into the night, until it was
heard by the sole incoming aircraft - a DC4 (a different aircraft according to some accounts) chartered by Freddy Fredkens. It landed on the improvised strip bringing a
large quantity of Czech rifles, mortars and machine guns.
Prior to activation of Operation Nachshon itself, the Haganah and Palmach engaged in two important operations. In Ramle,
the Haganah blew up the headquarters of Hassan Salame (the commander of the Mufti's al Futtuwah). This attack prevented
Salame's forces from thwarting Haganah preparations on the coastal plain, and it drew off supporters from the Jerusalem
area. Then on April 3, the Haganah-Palmach forces attacked and overran Arab positions in the village of Qastel, an Arab
village that stood in a key position between Jerusalem and Kyriat Anavim and blocked the entrance to Jerusalem. In
Damascus, Abdel Khader al Husseini, military leader of the Mufti's forces heard about the attack on Qastel and hurried
back. He had been in Damascus attempting to obtain arms, but to no avail.
Operation Nachshon itself began on April 6 in the Latrun area with Haganah forces taking over the Wadi al-Sarrar
camp, Arab Hulda and Deir Muheisin. The village of Beit Machsir in the region of Bab el Wad was attacked by Palmach
forces, thus clearing the mountain road to Jerusalem. The road was now open. Sixty Palmach trucks drove up to
Jerusalem carrying supplies, and a total of five convoys got through in subsequent days. On April 7 and 8, Arab forces
counterattacked in the area of Motza and pressed the Jewish forces in the Qastel. Despite the brigade-sized operation,
the Haganah could only spare about 60 defenders at a time for the Qastel. The Arabs counterattacked with hundreds of
men, and pushed the Jews into the outskirts of the town. By April 7, Abdel Khader El Husseini was back in Palestine.
Unaware that the Jewish forces held part of the Qastel, he came confidently up the hill. A sentry on a balcony spotted
him and called out in English, "Who is there?" Abdel Khader answered something like "Nahnu, el Shebab" - it's us guys.
The sentry shot him. It was some time before the identity of the dead man was discovered. As soon as he went missing,
thousands of Arabs stormed the Qastel looking for Abdel Khader El Husseini. As soon as they found him, the Arab attack,
which was on the verge of overwhelming the small Jewish force, collapsed. Abdel Khader el Husseini's body was taken back
to Jerusalem for burial in an ostentatious funeral.
The death of the Arab hero caused a temporary general collapse of Arab resistance. Qolonia and Bet Iksa, which
overlooked the Jerusalem - Tel Aviv road were taken without much resistance by April 11. However, led by Emil Ghory, the
Arabs managed to close the road to Jerusalem once again by April 20, this time relying on barricades, mines and ambushes
rather than massive "faza" attacks from the villages.
About this time there occurred a senseless tragedy in the village of
Deir Yassin. All evidence indicates that the Irgun and Lehi committed
an unplanned and senseless massacre there, killing a large number of defenseless civilians as well as numbers of
fighters. The attack was not part of any plan of the Zionist executive, and the massacre was not planned by the
attackers. The Zionist organization apologized for Deir Yassin, but the damage had been done.
Some of the
individuals involved in the Deir Yassin attack may have been motivated by revenge for attacks by Deir Yassin in the
1930s, or by the killing of the convoy of 35 on their way to Gush Etzion in January, or by the Nebi Daniel and Yehiam
ambushes that had occurred in March. The attack on Deir Yassin was not part of Plan D, or of operation Nachshon, a claim
made both by anti-Zionists and by right wing Zionist partisans. It did not signal the implementation of a policy of
"ethnic cleansing." No massacres took place in any of the villages conquered by the Haganah and Palmach in operation
Nachson. As best as anyone can determine, those are the facts regarding Deir Yassin.
The immediate result of Deir Yassin was to provide either the motivation or the excuse for two horrendous massacres
of Jews by Arabs. There had been Arab massacres of Jews, including civilians, before Deir Yassin, going back to the
1920s. However, the "reprisals" that followed Deir Yassin were particularly large and ugly. The first took place
on April 13, a
massacre of a convoy
to the Hadassah Hospital. With British connivance, the convoy of medical personnel and patients was ambushed,
killing about 80 persons including the director of the hospital. The Hadassah convoy massacre was obviously
planned, as the ambush could have had no other intent, and it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the British
knew about the planned attack and deliberately allowed it to take place. The second took place at
Gush Etzion on May 13, 1948. It was possibly an
unplanned massacre by irregular troops. In each case, the
attackers screamed "Deir Yassin! Deir Yassin!"
Deir Yassin became emblematic of the conflict for the Arabs of Palestine. While Arabs had been leaving Palestine in
considerable numbers before the Deir Yassin massacre, it is frankly hard to imagine that it had no effect on their
perception of the conflict and the intentions of the Jews, and the dangers involved in their remaining in their homes.
Until today, the Arabs commemorate the Deir Yassin attack of April 9 and use the occasion to stir up hate against
Israel. Apart from the humanitarian and moral aspects, it should be clear that no military or political advantages were
gained by committing what can only be described as war crimes against civilians. At the same time, it should be borne in
mind that the Arabs committed such massacres at almost every opportunity, and were prevented from wiping out the entire
Jewish population of Palestine as they had intended, only because the lost the war.
In the last weeks of the war, the Haganah had gone over to the offensive following the decision to implement Plan
Daled even though the British were still in the country. This was facilitated by clandestine shipments of small arms. In
particular, the SS Nora had brought 10,000 rifles on April 3. In the north, Fawzi El-Kaukji's "Liberation Army" was beaten back at the
Battle of Mishmar Ha'emek on April 4-15, 1948.
These successes helped convince US President Truman that the
Jews would not be overrun by Arab forces, and he abandoned the trusteeship proposal that the US had put before the UN
In the remaining weeks before the war, the Jewish forces were able to slightly improve the situation around Tel Aviv,
Haifa. eastern Gallee and in the Jerusalem corridor. In many cases, they concentrated on trying to take up positions
abandoned by the British before Arabs could man them.
In the Jerusalem front, Operation Harel and Operation Maccabee were supposed to follow up on the
success of operation Nachshon and open the corridor to Jerusalem. Operation Harel was abandoned after initial success
because of faulty intelligence that called the Harel Brigade to Jerusalem in order to man positions that were supposedly
being given up by the British. Though many positions in the Jerusalem corridor were captured in Operation
Maccabee, the Arab irregulars held Latrun until just before May 15. The Haganah took this key fortification for a brief
time when the Arabs abandoned it, but they had to abandon Latrun. Operation Yevussi, intended to capture British
positions as they left, was a failure, because it was started prematurely.
Operation Kilshon which had the same
purpose, was begun just before independence and was an overall success, capturing most of the southern part of West
Jerusalem for the Jews. Operation Shfifon was the first of several tragic failures to capture the old city of Jerusalem.
In the Galilee, Jewish settlements were isolated by interspersed Arab towns and villages that were held by the Arab
Liberation Army. Most of these were meant to be part of the Jewish State established by the partition plan. To establish
Jewish control, it was necessary to take police forts and army camps abandoned by the British, as well as towns. As
there were no troops to garrison these towns, in some cases, such as Beisan, the inhabitants were forced to leave after
large quantities of arms were discovered in their houses. . More frequently, the Arabs fled when the Haganah took the
town. The British did not interfere except to provide buses for refugees. In Eastern Galilee, the Haganah took Tiberias on April 18-19.
Operation Yiftach resulted in the
capture of Safed on May 10/11. Arab inhabitants fled before the Haganah entered. Operation Gideon cleared the Beit
Shean area, and captured Beit Shean on May 13. Operation Matateh opened the road from Tiberias to Metulla in the far
north, but many smaller settlements remained isolated and the Arab Liberation army controlled Arab towns. In Western
Galilee, Operation Misparayim took Haifa at the end of April. Arab residents
fled despite pleas of Jewish leaders to remain. Operation Ben Ami cleared Western Galilee and took Acco on May 17.
In the Tel Aviv area, Operation Chametz conquered Arab villages east of Tel Aviv and Jaffo. These had been
manned by Iraqi volunteer forces that disrupted traffic. The Haganah did not not attack Jaffo initially because it was
meant to be part of the Arab state. However, the Arab forces in Jaffa attacked Tel Aviv, and the Irgun launched their
own attack on Manshiyeh, a suburb, uncoordinated with the Haganah. When the Irgun ran into trouble the Haganah assisted
them, resulting in the capture of Jaffo toward the end of April. Operation Medina captured Arab Kfar Saba, removing the
threat to Jewish Kfar Saba on May 13.
Invasion - The governments of neighboring Arab states were more reluctant than is generally assumed to enter the war
against Israel, despite bellicose declarations. However, fear of popular pressure combined with fear that other Arab
states would gain an advantage over them by fighting in Palestine, helped sway Syria, Jordan and Egypt to go to war.
Various Arab armies invaded Israel beginning May 15, 1948.
On May 14,
1948, the Jews proclaimed the independent State of Israel,
and the British withdrew from Palestine. In the following days and weeks, the armies of neighboring Arab states invaded Palestine and
Israel (see map, above). The fighting was conducted in
three brief periods, punctuated by cease fire agreements ( truces were declared June 11 to July 8, 1948 and July 19-
October 15, 1948, and an apparently short-lived truce was declared October 22.).
While officially the Arab states were fighting according to one plan, in fact there was little coordination between them.
Arab apologists make some dubious claims concerning the invasion. One claim which has some credibility is that Israel
colluded in the British and Jordanian plan to annex the Arab area of Palestine to Jordan. Protocols of secret meetings
between Golda Meir and King Abdullah indicate that while Israel was aware of this plan, it did not actively cooperate in it.
Indeed, Israel opposed the
Bernadotte Plan which envisioned such a division, and Efraim Karsh provides evidence that Israel favored a separate
Arab Palestinian state (Karsh, 2000, pp 69 ff). Meir Zamir believes that the British had, at least earlier, favored a
different "Greater Syria" plan, and that this was the reason both for British opposition to creation of a Jewish state
and for the distrust among the Arab states (see British and French
Policy in Palestine. ) But the fact is, that the annexation to Jordan of the remaining areas allotted
to the Palestinian state was accomplished.
Other claims are fantastic and unfounded: that the Arab states only sought to defend Arab areas, and did not invade
Jewish areas, or that, since there were no borders, there could not have been an invasion. The borders of the Jewish
area, the Arab area and the international area were designated by the UN partition plan. Prior to May 15, both sides had
engaged in internal civil war, with the Jews gaining the upper hand and taking over cities that were allotted to Arabs,
and in particular, Jaffo, which was isolated from the rest of the Arab area. The Arab Liberation Army of Fawzi el Kaukji
had infested the Galilee indiscriminately, in areas allotted to both Jews and Arabs.
But on May 15, the situation had changed. The "Jewish area" was no longer a part of a British mandate population engaged
in a civil war. It was a sovereign state whose territorial borders should have been respected by member states of the
United Nations. The Arab Legion that had operated under British sanction, taking Gush Etzion just before the British
left, and defending Arab areas in Jerusalem, could no longer operate under those terms.
All the armies of the Arab states crossed international frontiers and entered areas that had been designated as part of
the Jewish state. The Lebanese and Syrians attacked in the eastern Galilee. The Syrians took Mishmar Hayarden and tried
to take both Degania and Ein Gev. The Transjordan Legion violated the borders of the international area by invading
Jerusalem. They succeeded in ethnic cleansing of the Jewish quarter by the end of May (see
The Ethnic Cleansing of Jerusalem)
but were unsuccessful in their attempt to take western Jerusalem. The Iraqis attacked in north-central Israel about May
25, advancing in the direction of the coast near Kfar Yona, but were stopped.
In particular, the Egyptians, backed by tanks,
artillery, armor and aircraft, which Israel did not have, were able to cut off the entire Negev and to occupy parts of
the land that had been allocated to the Jewish state. The Egyptians attacked in two prongs. About 5,000 soldiers,
the bulk of the Egyptian force, advanced through Gaza along the coast toward Tel Aviv, while a second column, mostly
consisting of Muslim Brotherhood volunteers under Egyptian officers, advanced north-east to Jerusalem.
In his book, "In the Fields of Phillistia," Israeli peace
activist Uri Avnery recounts how the Egyptian army attempted a massed armored strike against Tel Aviv. Palestinian
attempts to set up a real state were blocked by Egypt and Jordan. The strike was turned back by a few recently arrived
Messerschmitt aircraft , bought from Czechoslovakia, on May 29. The air attack had little actual military impact and
resulted in loss of aircraft, but it
impressed the Egyptians.
Balance of forces in the Arab-Israeli-War of 1948
Troops fielded in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948
The numbers of troops and equipment varied at different times throughout the conflict, with both sides materially
reinforcing their armies in successive stages of the war. Moreover, the numbers of Israeli "troops" in the initial
period are not too meaningful, as many had little training and the Israelis had no heavy armor or aircraft. Moreover,
while Syrian, Egyptian, Iraqi, and Lebanese troop figures represent only active combat personnel deployed in the field,
Israeli and Jordanian figures include both frontline personnel and those who serve at headquarters as well as many in
Israel who guarded their own villages as part of civil defense. It is likewise impossible to count Arab irregulars armed
with rifles in the same way as troops of regular armies. Therefore, reckonings of relative "troop strength" are
Herzog and Gazit estimate that there were about 40,000 Israelis under arms about May 15, 1948 (p. 48). The following
numbers are given by Herzog and Gazit, 2005 for Arab forces and seem to pertain to the period on or about May 15, 1948:
|Arab Liberation Army
a. pp. 47-48
b. pp. 22-23
c. p. 69
Benny Morris, who is a proponent of the theory that the Israelis had superiority or parity in men and equipment,
gives these estimates (1999 pp. 215-218) . On May 15, according to Morris, the Haganah/Palmach had a total of 30-35,000
troops, and the Irgun/LEHI another 3,000, roughly corresponding to the estimate of 40,000 given by Herzog and Gazit. By
June, the IDF had 42,000 troops. by mid July 65,000 troops. and by early spring 1949 there were 115,000 Israeli troops.
By then the fighting had ended however. The Egyptian troops initially numbered 5,500 according to Morris, the Legion
6,000-9,000, the Syrians 6,000 and the Iraqis 4,500, together with foreign volunteers and Palestinian irregulars giving
a total of 28,000. As the forces of Arab countries alone numbered 25,000 in Morris's count, it would mean that the
Lebanese (4 battalions) the small contingent of Moroccans (about 800) that accompanied them, the ALA and the
Husseini's forces and the Arab irregulars totaled 3,000 troops, which almost certainly too low. Morris also claims that
by July the Arabs had about 40,000 troops in Palestine and 55,000 by October.
Morris also tells us (p. 241) that by the time the second truce ended, the Israelis had 12 brigades. This is an
active combat force of less than 36,000 troops, as opposed to his estimate of 55,000 enemy forces. But in any case,
by October, the war was coming to an end except for the Egyptian front. The Israeli cabinet had decided on September 26
not to engage the Jordanians in further hostilities. In the Galilee, they would continue some mopping up operations and
push the Lebanese and the ALA out, but they did not manage to dislodge the Syrians from Mishmar Hayarden. Morris also
tells us that the Israelis had about 300 armored cars and half-tracks, 15 tanks, 150 artillery pieces and over a dozen
fighter aircraft including Spitfires and Messerschmitt 109s (or Avia - a Czech imitation), as well as 16 bombers and 50
light and transport planes. He doesn't mention that the Egyptians had at least 132 light tanks and 3 Sherman tanks, and
the Syrians had 45 Renault R-35 and R-39 light tanks. (see
The twelve Israeli combat brigades that actually fought the war were:
||Sharon area and north.
||Southern coast and lowlands (shfela)..
||Jerusalem, under David Shaltiel
||Commanded by Shlomo Shamir and later Ben
||Commanded by Uri Yoffe - Galil
Jerusalem corridor and Jerusalem, under Yitzhak Rabin; 3 Palmach Battalions (about 1,500 troops)
Thee Palmach battalions (about 1,500 troops) Northern Negev, included Samson's Foxes - jeep commando with mounted
machine guns (54th reconnaissance unit).
||Originally 800 Palmach troops in two battalions, eventually enlarged to four
battalions (about 1,600 to 2,000 troops). Included a headquarters battalion and the elite Negev beasts jeep commando.
Balance of Military Equipment in the Arab Israeli War of 1948
Israel suffered from a lack of heavy equipment from the start of the war. According to Morris, 1999 (p. 217)
the Israelis had 12 armored cars of which four had canon, three tanks, three half-tracks and three patrol vessels. By
the end of May Israel had acquired 10 additional tanks and about a dozen half tracks. Morris credits Israeli forces with
about "one hundred armored trucks and personnel carriers," but most of these, he admits were homemade vehicles created
by "armor" plating trucks (the "sandwich" of sheet metal and plywood). Morris claims that there were four or
five "small" field artillery pieces in the possession of Israeli forces on May 15. They must have been very small, since
most sources claim that the first Israeli artillery were the 65mm "Napoleonchik" sightless pre- WW I vintage guns used in defending
Degania after May 20. By the end of
May, Morris claims IDF had 45 artillery pieces. The nature of this impressive artillery is detailed a bit more by Herzog
and Gazit, 2005 (p. 48):
... while the 'artillery' units had acquired some Hispano-Suiza 20 mm guns and some French 65 mm howitzers without
sights dating from the beginning of the century.
The French 65s, valuable as antiques, were affectionately known as "Napoleonchiks." From such stuff did Morris and
others create the myth of Israeli military superiority.
According to Morris (p, 217), Haganah/IDF had about 75 PIAT anti-tank weapons, about 700 2" mortars and 100
3" mortars (195 3" mortars according to Herzog and Gazit, 2005 p. 48), and a few "Davidka" devices. The Davidka was a
home-made contraption born of desperation, somewhere between artillery and a mortar and having physical effects most
resembling a large firecracker. In Jerusalem, a "canon" was improvised from an old Turkish canon that had been a
Israel had about 28 miscellaneous light planes that could be used for transport
and reconnaissance. Some of these were fitted with machine guns and used for primitive strafing and bombing. Israel's
first real fighter planes arrived toward the end of May. They were Czech AVIA S199 versions of the Messerschmitt bf
109g, These aircraft had oversize Junkers motors and propellers intended for bombers and therefore handled poorly. (see
Debut of Israel's Air Force).
The Arab armies, according to Morris, had about 75 combat aircraft, 40 tanks, 500 armored vehicles, 140 field guns
and 220 anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns. But, he tells us, these were poorly maintained and mostly unserviceable. This
is scarcely credible, given the effective artillery barrages used by the Egyptians against
Yad Mordechai and other
settlements, and by the Syrians against Mishmar Hayarden and
Degania. The Jordanians for their part seemed to keep the
large quantity of 25 pound cannon with which they had been supplied by the British in top notch condition at Latrun and
in pounding Jerusalem. However, it is true that after the end of May the British were no longer supplying ordnance to
the Jordanians and ammunition was in short supply. Morris (page 218) tells us that in October, 1948, the IAF gained
"immediate" air superiority over the Egyptians thanks to its "surfeit" of pilots. But the war had been going on since
May, so it is hard to understand how this gain could have been "immediate."
This account provides eyewitness evidence about the conditions of training and equipment in the elite Palmach Negev
Beasts unit of the Negev Brigade - it may be more telling than statistics -
Memoirs of a Palmach volunteer, 1948
Actions in the fighting of the first period of the Arab Israeli War of 1948
In the first period of fighting to June 10, notable actions included:
Kfar Darom (30 defenders) and
(about 45 defenders) withstand major attack attacks by Egyptians, May 15.
(see Battle of Nirim)
Fall of Tzemach - May 18 - Syrians overrun settlement within Jewish territory.
Battle of Yad Mordechai - May 19-24 - About 110 poorly armed defenders of this kibbutz in southern Israel,
reinforced at different times by a Palmach platoon and two squads, held off a
major and concerted Egyptian attack for five days with two battalions, tanks, artillery and air attacks. Yad Mordechai fell on May 24 and the inhabitants fled.
Battle of Yad Mordechai)
May 20 - Syrians attack Kibbutz Degania with tanks. Successful defense of Degania - using Molotov cocktails-
boosts Israeli morale and ends Syria aggression in southern Galilee. (See
Battle of Degania
Iraqi capture of Geulim and advance to Kfar Yona and Ein Vered (May 25-28).
Operations Bin Nun A (May 25) and Bin Nun B (May 30/31) - Abortive Israeli attempts to take
Latrun on the road to Jerusalem.
Operation Erez -(May 28-30) - Opens the Wadi Ara road and captures areas in southern Galilee, late including
Megiddo and Lajun.
Jewish quarter of Old City of Jerusalem falls to Transjordan legion. May 28. Inhabitants
are forcibly removed.
Debut of Israel's Air Force - (May 29) Egyptian
army stopped on the road to Tel Aviv following "bombardment" by four Messerschmitt 109 (AVIA S199) aircraft.
Operation Paleshet (June 1-3) - unsuccessful attempt to counterattack the Egyptian advance along the coast.
Operation Yitzhak (June 1-3) - unsuccessful attempt to capture Jenin and remove Iraqi forces from Palestine.
Battle of Negba (June 1-2) - About 140 defenders hold off a thousand Egyptians who attacked
with tanks, infantry and armored cars.
Syrian & Lebanese Attack in northern Galilee (June 6-10) - Fall of Mishmar Hayarden to Syrians
(June 10) - the few surviving inhabitants, who were also the defenders, were taken prisoner. Mishmar Hayarden was ceded
to Israel in the armistice agreements.
Nitzanim in the south, falls to massive Egyptian attack (June 7). Most defenders become
prisoners of war, some escape. Abba Kovner, hero of the Vilna ghetto rebellion, was cultural officer of the Givati Brigade. He arbitrarily singled out the failure of defenders to hold Nitzanim as an example of cowardice. This impression was later corrected.
Operation Yoram - Third failed attempt to take
Latrun (June 8/9)
Burma Road open to traffic (June 10) - The completion of the road bypassing the Jordanian
Latrun opened the road to Jerusalem and ended the
siege. The work did not just involve paving the road, since several Arab positions that controlled the road had had to
be cleared as well, and Legion cannon and patrols fired on the road area while it was being built.
The blockade of Jerusalem and the Egyptian advance toward Tel Aviv were dominating features of the
first period of fighting after Israeli independence. In addition to its attack in Jerusalem, the Arab Legion blocked convoys to besieged Jewish Jerusalem from its fortified
positions in Latrun. The Transjordan Arab Legion tried, but did not succeed, in conquering Jewish Jerusalem, after
fighting determined battles around the Notre Dame hospice. Jerusalem was to have been internationalized according to
UN General Assembly Resolution 181 and UN
General Assembly Resolution 303. The Jordanian positions at
Latroun (or Latrun) could not be overcome despite several bloody
In fact, neither the Hagannah nor the IDF were ever able to open the Jerusalem road by force. The solution to the
problem was afforded by a bypass road, the "Burma" road, that was ultimately constructed to circumvent the Arab strong
points and was ready by June 10. While this shows ingenuity and initiative born of desperation, it also shows the sad state of Jewish forces
until the first armistice on June 10. Saving Jerusalem was a primary war objective, decreed as such by Ben-Gurion. The
obstacles raised by the Arabs, and even the fortifications held at Latrun by the legion were relatively puny. Two
brigades backed by minimally competent air and artillery support could have swept the Arabs from the corridor and opened
the road. This was not going to happen. Repeatedly, positions were taken by the Haganah/Palmach and then relinquished
because there was simply no manpower to hold them. On paper, there might have been 20,000 or 30,000 or 60,000 Haganah
soldiers. In reality, there were not 3,000 trained and organized troops to take Latrun or 6,000 troops to take and hold the road to Jerusalem.
The first cease
fire and the Altalena - A month-long cease fire in June gave all sides time to regroup and reorganize. This marked a critical stage
in the fighting. The Arab side made a crucial error in accepting the truce as they were unable to secure additional arms. The Israelis took advantage of the cease
fire to reorganize and recruit and train soldiers. They were now able to bring in large shiploads of arms, despite the
treaty terms, and to train and organize a real fighting force of about 60,000 troops, giving them a real advantage in troops
and armament for the first time. The truce probably saved Jerusalem, which had been on the brink of starvation. During
the long truce, the underground armies of the Haganah, Palmah, Irgun and Lehi were amalgamated into a single national
fighting force, the Israel
Force (IDF). The revisionist Irgun movement attempted to bring a shipload of arms
into Israel on a ship called the Altalena, in order to maintain a separate fighting force. Israeli PM Ben Gurion ordered
the IDF to sink the Altalena when Irgun leader Menahem Begin refused to give up its cargo of arms. The Palestinians and
Arabs did not use the time well. A large shipment of arms intended for the Palestinian Arabs was blocked by the IDF/Hagannah
and never reached Syria. Arab states were reluctant to commit more men to the struggle or to spend more money.
The Ten Days - The first cease fire expired
July 9. Between July 10 and July 18 the major Israeli success was conquest of the "corridor" area including Lod airport
and Ramla in Operation Dani. However IDF attempts to advance in the Negev, to repel Syrian invaders in the north, and to
retake the Old City of Jerusalem all failed. A second cease fire was imposed July 17 in the evening.
The month of respite afforded prior to the 10 days may have sufficed to obtain ammunition and recruit troops, but it was
not enough to train an army apparently. The Israeli air force had come into being, but it was
apparently unable to be of much help in most cases. Having arms is one
thing, but having soldiers trained to use them and being able to get them through enemy lines is a different matter, and being able to concentrate
the forces that know
how to use those arms and coordinate attacks is yet a different problem. Arab forces still controlled, to a lesser
or greater extent, access to the Negev, access to the extreme north, and access to Jerusalem. The Syrians had overrun Mishmar Hayarden in the north, and those of its defenders who remained alive went into Syrian captivity. Israel
did not get back Mishmar Hayarden until the armistice agreement. The Arab liberation army was still roaming the north
and controlling traffic. The Egyptians were holding the Faluja pocket, and attacking still attacking Israeli settlements
like Kfar Darom behind enemy lines. The map at right shows the approximate situation. Israel did not control much of the
territory it had been awarded in the partition plan. The
First Plan submitted by UN mediator
Count Folke Bernadotte for ending the fighting at the end of June, 1948, more or less reflected the military reality.
The Egyptians had cut off most of the Negev, the Syrians held Jewish settlements and territory in northwest Galilee, the
Jordanians could not be dislodged from Jerusalem. The believe that there was a
rapid and overwhelming Israeli victory according to a predetermined plan to drive out the Arabs of Palestine is a
The period of the "Ten Days" was marked by the following major operations, many of
which, with the notable exception of operations Dani and Dekel, were abortive Israeli attempts to dislodge Arab troops:
Kfar Darom in Gaza evacuated (July 8) ahead of truce expiration.
Operation Danny (Dani) (July 9-18) conquest of Lod airport and Ramla in central Israel. Inhabitants flee or
are expelled for the most part.
Operation Dekel (July 9-18) - capture of Nazareth and southern Galilee. The Arab inhabitants of Nazareth
Operation Brosh (July 9-18) - failure to dislodge Syrians from Mishmar Hayarden area in northwestern Galilee.
Operation Av Peer (July 8-12) fails to dislodge Egyptians and take Iraq el Suiedan (now Qiriat Gat)
Betek (July 11-12) In Western Galilee, Alexandroni brigade retakes Rosh Ha'ayin from Iraqis.
Battle of Negba - (July 12) Once again, a small group of defenders withstood a massive attack.
This was considered a turning point in the battle against the Egyptians during
the "ten days."
Last failed attempt to take Latrun (July 15/16) - This was part of operation Dani.
Operation Kedem (July 16/17) - The last, dubiously planned attempt to reconquer the Jewish quarter of the old
city of Jerusalem fails.
Death to the Invader - "Mavet Lapolesh" (July 17-18) Yet another attempt to dislodge the Egyptian army and
break through to the Negev fails.
The international political situation as well as the mediocre military results did not necessarily favor Israel. The United States and Soviet
Union defended the right of Israel to exist, but Britain worked to diminish the size of the Jewish state or eliminate it
altogether. They had impressed their views on UN mediator Folke Bernadotte. In June, Bernadotte had recommended
abolishing the Jewish state and the Arab state. The Jews would be allowed an autonomous region as part of Jordan.
Immigration would be limited and the Negev and Jerusalem would be Arab. The Arabs were confident enough of their
military situation to reject the plan, and the Jews had to reject it.
In his second plan,
September 16, 1948, Bernadotte conceded the existence of a Jewish state, but wanted to merge 75% of the area of the
Palestine mandate into Transjordan, coinciding with a British plan for a "Greater Transjordan" that would give them a
base on the Mediterranean. Bernadotte also noted that the war had created 360,000 Arab refugees and 7,000 Jewish
refugees and called for their repatriation. This plan as well was rejected by both Israel and the Arabs, and Bernadotte was assassinated by the LEHI. (See
Bernadotte Plan ). The end of September saw the abortive creation of two rival Arab Palestinian states in Gaza and
the West Bank.
Resumption of the war after the second cease fire.-
The second cease fire expired October 15, 1948.
The war with the Egyptians had been static, and characterized by costly and
mostly unsuccessful Israeli attempts to dislodge the Egyptians from the Faluja pocket.
By this time, Israeli forces had a clear military advantage.
Operation Yoav (October 15-22) captured Beersheba and cleared much of
the north central and western Negev of Egyptian forces. A truce imposed by the U.N. on October 22 was not honored. On
October 28, the Egyptians evacuated Isdood, and on November 6 they retreated from Majdal Israel pressed the Egyptians in
heavy battles in the Western Negev in Operation Assaf (December 5-7). Israel took the war with the Egyptians to their territory and entered the Sinai peninsula. The IDF was forced
to withdraw after encounters with British aircraft, including an air-battle in January 1949 in which IAF pilot
(eventually president of Israel) shot down a
British piloted Spitfire. In
Operation Hiram (October 28-31), the Arab Liberation Army of Fawzi al-Kaukji was finally removed from all of the
Galilee and the Syrians were forced to give up most of the territory they had conquered Israel forces also pushed into
Operation Uvda, in March, was the last
operation of the war, and concluded with the capture of Eilat and raising of the flag there. The armistice agreements
determined the borders of Israel for 19 years, shown at right. The Arab countries never recognized those "green line"
borders and most states did not recognize them until after the Six day war
when Israel had conquered additional territory.
The Arab defeat and the birth of the refugee problem - Despite initial setbacks, better
organization and intelligence successes, as well as timely clandestine arms shipments, enabled the Jews to gain a
decisive victory. The Arabs and Palestinians lost their initial advantage when they failed to organize and unite.
The UN arranged a series of cease-fires between the Arabs and the Jews in 1948 and 1949.
UN GA Resolution 194 called for cessation of hostilities and return of refugees who wish to live in peace.
This resolution, passed in December 1948, reflected bitterness at the assassination of Count Bernadotte. It included his
call for repatriation of refugees, whose number had grown considerably.
Security Council Resolution 62 called for implementation of armistice
agreements that would lead to a permanent peace.
the fighting ended in 1949, Israel held territories beyond the boundaries set by the UN plan - a total of 78% of the
area west of the Jordan river. The UN made no serious attempt to enforce the internationalization of Jerusalem, which
was now divided between Jordan and Israel, and separated by barbed wire fences and no man's land areas.
Click here to view a map of the UN plan for Jerusalem and Jerusalem as divided under the armistice agreements. The
rest of the area assigned to the Arab state was occupied by Egypt and Jordan. Egypt held the Gaza Strip and Jordan
held the West Bank. About 726,000 Arabs fled or were driven out of
Israel and became refugees in neighboring Arab countries. The Arab countries refused to sign a permanent peace
treaty with Israel. Consequently, the borders of Israel established by the armistice commission never received de jure
(legal) international recognition.
The borders of Israel were established along the "green line" of the
armistice agreements of 1949. (Click here for a map of the
armistice lines (so called "green line") . These borders were not recognized by Arab states, which continued to
refuse to recognize Israel. Though hostilities ceased, the
refugee problem was not solved. Negotiations broke down because Israel refused to readmit more than 100,000 refugees
and the Arabs were not enthusiastic about recognizing a Jewish state.
The armistice agreements included a number of demilitarized zones. Along the northern border with
Syria, these areas were a continuing source of incidents that flared up when Israelis tried to work the land in these
areas. Arab sources charge that Israel was trying to "annex" them, but according to
Benny Morris, the demilitarized zones were completely in Israeli territory.
The very large number of Arab Palestinian refugees and creative manipulation of history have given rise to charges that
Zionist leaders planned to expel the Arabs from Palestine. Other than doctored quotes from Israeli leaders, notably
David Ben Gurion, there is no evidence for any such
Plan Daled, frequently cited in such charges,
called for temporary evacuation of strategically placed towns that could not be held. The majority of Palestinian Arabs
who fled, fled voluntarily. This was certainly true in Haifa, where Jewish leaders pleaded with the inhabitants to stay,
in Tiberias, and in many of the villages of the north that had been occupied by the Arab Liberation Army. In Beersheba
and Safed, all the Arabs left before Jewish forces had entered the towns. In Isdood and Majdal most of them left when
the Egyptian army departed. Most significantly, towns that did not resist the Israelis or cooperated with them,
including Abu Gosh, Nazareth and all the Druze villages of the Galilee, remained intact. If inhabitants were expelled,
it was not because of racist considerations, but because they were seen as a security threat. Eye-witnesses deny
specific allegations of expulsions and massacres, though of course, no eye-witness can have seen everything (see
Was there Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine in 1948?)
On the other hand, the Arab side practiced ethnic cleansing systematically. No Jews were allowed to remain in any
territories conquered by Arab forces, or to return to those territories
after the war. This was true in Gush Etzion and Jerusalem, and in all the villages conquered in Gaza. That was not all.
In 1947, the Arab League prepared a plan for systematic persecution of Jews in all Arab countries. The provisions of
this plan included special levies, confiscation of properties and abridgement of civil rights (see
Draft Arab League Law Against Jews)
. This plan was carried out by many of the Arab states, resulting in
mass migrations of Jews from them. Over 800,000 Jews fled Arab lands.
Israel gained about 22% more territory than had been allotted to it in the partition resolution, suffering about 6,000
casualties in the war, including over a thousand civilians. Palestinian Arabs suffered a like number of casualties or
more. Egyptians officially admitted to 1,400 dead, the Jordanians and Syrians lost several hundred, and the Lebanese
several dozen (Morris 1999, p. 248).
The Arab military defeat was not spectacular compared to the defeats they would suffer subsequently in the
Sinai Campaign of 1956 or the Six day war,
but relative to their expectations of overrunning unarmed Jews in a few weeks, it was certainly a disaster or "Nakba." It
was converted into a human tragedy and a real disaster by the Arab refusal to absorb the Arab refugees from Palestine
and their continuing obsession with wiping out "the Zionist entity." The Israelis absorbed
the small number of Jewish refugees from areas ethnically cleansed by the Arabs, as the waves of Jewish immigrants who
fled anti-Semitism and a planned campaign of expulsion in Arab countries. Arab states were not willing to acquiesce
either in their defeat or in the decree of the UN that there should be a Jewish state in a part of Palestine. The
Palestine issue, which had been a part of the motivation for creation of the Arab League, now moved front and center
into Arab politics, and became the locomotive of a rising Arab nationalist movement.
The Arab states, in large part went to war in 1948 because they had used the issue of Palestine to generate public
enthusiasm for their own regimes. When the moment came, they found themselves trapped in their own rhetoric. If they did
not go to war, the masses would topple them as traitors. Following the 1948 defeat, this dynamic was accelerated. Arab
leaders used the Israel issue for political purposes. to maintain nationalist fervor. In Egypt and Syria, revolutions
forced the failed rulers from power, promising to wiping out the "Zionist entity" and "reversing the results of 1948."
They manufactured confrontations in order to mobilize support for their regimes, and competed with each other in their
zeal against the Zionists. However, as Nasser did in 1967, they found that once they had started a sequence of events
they could not control it. They had trapped themselves in their own rhetoric, and the masses now demanded action.
Israel War of Independence - Map of the Arab Invasion
Israel War of Independence - Map of Battles of October 1948.
Israel Map - War of Independence Map of operation Ayin
(conquest of Gaza).Sources:
Brief History of Israel, Palestine and the Israeli-Arab Conflict -
Off line sources:
Collins, Larry, and Lapierre, Dominique, O Jerusalem!, Pan Books, N.Y. 1973.
Herzog, Chaim and Gazit Shomo, The Arab Israeli Wars, Vintage Books, N.Y. 2005.
Karsh, Efraim, Fabricating Israeli History, Routledge, London, 2000.
Levi, Yitzhak, "Tisha Kabin" (9 Measures) (Jerusalem in the War of Independence, (in Hebrew)
Maarachot - IDF, Israel Ministry of Defense, 1986.
Morris, Benny, Righteous Victims, Alfred Knopf, 1999.
Synonyms and alternate spellings:
Mil'hemet Hahischrur. Milchemet Hashichrur, Miclhemet Tashach, the 1948 War.
1948 Israel War of Independence (Arab-Israeli
war) Timeline (Chronology)
Letters from Jerusalem, 1947-1948
MACHAL In Israel's Wars
MACHAL in Israel's War of Independence
MACHAL - in illegal immigration to Palestine
Virtual Museum of Israel War of Independence
Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:
'H - ('het) a guttural sound
made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that
have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch,
especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.
ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch"
in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against
the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."
u - usually between oo as in spoon
and u as in put.
a- sounded like a in arm
ah- used to represent an a sound made by
the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative
'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic
ayin, a guttural ah sound.
o - close to the French o as in homme.
th - (taf without a dot) - Th was
formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there
is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and
Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.
q- (quf) - In transliteration of
Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding
words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for
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