Zionism and Israel - Encyclopedic Dictionary

Israel War of Independence


Zionism maps History Bible e-Zion about FAQ timeline Anti-Semitism inside Prisons books Kosher Jobs contact

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.

Israel war of Independence: Partition plan
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 - 1947)

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 February.

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 weak." 

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.

In Jerusalem, 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 and plywood.

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 10,000 soldiers.

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.

Palestine war crimes - Israel war of independence: convoy is attacked

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 survival.

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 hit....

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 moving forward.

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

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 earlier.  

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.

The Arab 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.

Map -1948 Arab-Israel War - Arab attack


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 deceptive.

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 10,000a
Husseini/Salameh 2,000b
Egypt 7,000c
Jordan 10,000b
Syria 8,000b
Iraq 10,000b
Lebanon 2,000b
Total organized 49,000 
"Arab irregulars" 50,000a
Total 99,000
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 here)  

The twelve Israeli combat brigades that actually fought the war were:

Number Name Remarks
1 Golani Eastern Galilee
2 Carmeli Western Galilee
3 Alexandroni Sharon area and north.
4 Kiriati (Qiriati) Tel Aviv
5 Givati Southern coast and lowlands (shfela)..
6 Etzioni Jerusalem, under David Shaltiel
7 Seventh Mechanized Commanded by Shlomo Shamir and later Ben Dunkleman
8 Eighth Armored  
9 Oded Commanded by Uri Yoffe - Galil
10 Harel Jerusalem corridor and Jerusalem, under Yitzhak Rabin; 3 Palmach Battalions (about 1,500 troops)
11 Yiftach Thee Palmach battalions (about 1,500 troops) Northern Negev, included Samson's Foxes - jeep commando with mounted machine guns (54th reconnaissance unit).
12 Hanegev 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 display piece.

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 Nirim (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. (see 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.

First 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 position at 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 attacks.

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 nonsensical myth.

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 remained.

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)

Operation Betek (July 11-12) In Western Galilee, Alexandroni brigade retakes Rosh Ha'ayin from Iraqis.

Second 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.

Operation 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 Ezer Weizman (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 Lebanon.

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.

When 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. 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.

Additional Maps:

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: http://www.mideastweb.org/briefhistory.htm  Brief History of Israel, Palestine and the Israeli-Arab Conflict - at MideastWeb


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.

Further Information: 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 acceptable transliterations.

'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 example.

Definitions of Zionism  General History of Zionism and the Creation of Israel   History of Israel and Zionism   Historical Source Documents of Israel and Zionism

Back to main page: Zionism and Israel Information Center

This site is a part of the Zionism and Israel on the Web Project


This work is copyright © 2005 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism and Israel Information Center and may not reproduced in any form without permission unless explicitly noted otherwise. This entry is copyright © 2008. Quoted materials may be copyright by their authors and must not be used in commercial publications without permission.  Individual entries may be cited with credit to The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel

 Individual entries may be cited with credit to The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel


ZioNation - Zionism-Israel Web Log    Zionism & Israel News  Israel: like this, as if Bible Bible Quotes History of Zionism Zionism FAQ Zionism Israel Center Maps of Israel Jew Israel Advocacy  Zionism and its Impact Israel Christian Zionism