First Israeli-Arab War/Arab Invasion (1948-49)

Figure 1.--For both the Israelis and Arabs, Jerusalem was the greatest prize because if the relgious located there and the Jewish history streaching back mellennia. Israel declared independence without an airforce, heavy weapons, and tanks. And an international arms embargo made it very difficult obtaining weapons. The Arab countries on the other hand, especially Egypt and Jordan hd well armed, modern armies. This is an armored car that the Israelis cobbeled together. They couldm't build tanks in 1948, but armored cars were possible. Jerusalem had a substantial Jewish population, but was separated fom the rest of Israel by many Arab villages. The Israelis controlled only one road into the city, but convoys were raked by Arab fire. This armored car has just hellped get a convoy through to Jerusalem, April 18, 1948. It is greeted by the children besiged in the city. A month after this photograph was taken, Israel declared its independence and the front-lime Arab states with their substantial large, well-equipped armies invaded.

The Arab States responded to the creation of the UN-mandated Jewish State of Israel with a joint invasion (May 1948). Each of the neigboring Arab states had armies with modern weapons although the training was uneven. The neigboring Arabs states (Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt) invaded to destroy the new Jewish state. The invasion force included five regular Arab armies along with armed Palestinians, and armed Arab volunteers (including Moslem Brotherhood elements). One of the participants was the Cairo-born and educated engineering student, Yasser Arafat. He was 19 years old and young Leiutenant in the Egyptian Army. He fought on the Sinai front. Palestenian Arab irregulars attack Jewish settlements. Here the Arabs targeted both the Jewish fighters and non-conbatants. Few thought the Jews could prevail. The Haganah was not a modern army and the British had prevented then from acquiring weapons. The Haganah had only a small number of rifles (of a myriad of types and caliburs), few heavy weapons, and no tanks. About 4,000 foreign volunteers join the Isrealis. The Jews proved to be a more formidable force than the Arabs had anticipated. Somehow the Israelis with a hodgepoge of weapons fought off the invading Arab armies. A Jewish Kibutz, Yod Mordichai stoped the entire Egyptian army for 5 days while the Isrealis organized the defense of Telaviv. The most professional military proved to be the British-trained Jordanian army--the Arab Legion. The Isrealis and Jordanians fought each other to a srandstill in Jeruselum. A series of truces failed to stop the fighting. Atrocities were reported on both sides. After a year of fighting, a ceasefire finally ended the war (1949). One of the countroversies resulting from the War was the Palestinian Arab refugees. Some fled Palestine because of both the fighting and Jewish attacks like that Deir Yassin village near Jerusalem. It is unclear to what extent the Arab refugees resulted from this or the fact that the Arabs called on the Arab Palestinians to evacuate Palestine. The idea was to create a "free-fire zone" in which Jews could better be targeted. This was the genisis of the Paestinian refugee problem.

The United Nations Recommends Partition (November 1947)

The Allies at the end of World War II formaly formed the United Nations (1945). It was a term used by the Allies during the World War II even before the organization's formal creation. As the sucessor organization to the League of Nations, the UN assumed responsibility for the League mandates, including Palestine. The Arabs resisted UN efforts to mediate the Palestinian issue. Here they were sure about the righiousness of their cause and their ability to resolve the issue militarily. The British as the situation deteriorated in Palestine increasingly came to the view of turning the problem over to the United Nations. The United States supported the British. The UN appointed an 11-member Committee to study the issue (1947). The Jewish Agency cooperated with the UN Committee, but the Arabs boycotted it (May 1947). The Committee voted 8-3 to recommend partitioning Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. Jeruselum was to be an international zone. The UN General Assembly approved a resolution to partition Palestine (November 29, 1947). The UN Resolution was supported by France, the USSR, the United States, Liberia, and other countries. The vote in the General Assembly was very close. The Arab nations as a bloc opposed partition. The Arabs rejected the Resolution. Partition was unacceptable to either the Palestinians or the neighboring Arab states. The Arabs threaten to invade if the Jews moved to establish a Jewish state. Armed irregulars, both Palestinian and other Arabs, immediately began to attack Jewish communities. Low level attacks comtinued as the British withdrawl from Palestine approached.


The geography and religious demographics of Palestine largely affected the unfolding conflict. Palistine had a hilly spine which ran from Galilee through Samaria and Judea. The Arabs were vastly dominant in this hill country, there were almodt now Jews and no Jewish settlements located here. The area assigned by United Nations for what would become the new state of Israel. This was the central and northern Coastal Plain, in the Jezreel and Jordan valleys and in Jerusalem—the populations in contrast were mixed together. Along all the roads both Arab and Jewish villages were located. Many of the cities (Haifa, Safad, Tiberias) had substantial Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. The war as is common in most wars, especially ones with a civil war component, proved chaotic. Much of the War was fought in the predominntly Jewish areas. This meant the lowlands—the Coastal Plain and the Jezreel and Jordan valleys and especially in and around Jerusalem. In Jerusalem and the surrounding area there were about 100,000 Jews and a roughly equal number of Arabs which is why the U.N. partition plan involved crearing an internatioinal city. A key factor in the outcome was that the Arabs, unlike the Jews, did not have a national militia. There were several reasons for this. The Arabs unlike the Jews were not targeted by the Jews, thus few Arabs felt the need for a militia. In additioin the efforts by the Hysseni family to seize cintrol made other famiilies suspicious of a natiinal militia and cebtralized organization. In addition, unlike the Jews,, there was no real sense of national identity and commitment beyond family nd clan lines. This was especially the case in rural areas (the citically immportant core Arab areas (Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus, and Nazareth). As a result thearabs here took little part in the ensuing fighting.

Initial Clashes (November 1947)

Violence between Israeli underground groups and Arab irregulars broke out after the United Nations passed the partition resolution. The regular armies of the neighboring Arab countries did not invade. Jordan;s Arab Legion did assist in the attack on Gush Etzion south of Jerusalem. This was a small block of Jewish settlements located in mandate area that was allocated to the Palestinian state envisioned in the partitition resolution. There were two major Palestinian irregular forces. One was led by Haj Amin El Husseini and operated largely in Jerusalem. The other group was led by Fawzi El Kaukji and was active in the Galilee. The groups operated in Arab towns and struck at nearby Jewish settkements. The British made little effort to intervene to stop the fighting. The British allowed Kaukji and his irregular fighters to enter Palestine from Syria after he prommised to refrain from military attacks. Once in Palestine he quickly began military opersations. The Zionist underground army, the Haganah, and more vilonent underground groups (Irgun and Lehi) fought back. These Palestinian and Jewish groups are decribed in various ways, usually depending on the political/religious attitudes of the writer. Arabs tend to call the Jewish groups terrorists and Jews tend to call the Arab groups terrorists. The term terrorist we believe should be reserved to groups which target civilians. And thus the terms used shold be based on the behavior of these groups.

Escalating Violence (December 1947)

Arabs in Jerusalem began rioting and attacking Jews (November 30 and December 1 1947). The Palestinian irregulars cut off the roads into the city, leaving the Jews there without adequate food, water, and fuel. This was the beginning of a protracted seige. Civil order quickly desintegrated throughout the Mandate. There were many ambushes of busses and trucks. This was Arab attacks on Jews. The situation in Jerusalem developed into a full blown blockade. One particularly violent episode was the Haifa refinery riots. Palestinians massacred Jews at Gush Etzion. Jews killed Palestinians at Deir Yassin. Sorting out the who is responsible for what becomes very difficult. Arab partisans tend to mention only the Jewish attacks. Isreali partisans focus on the Arab attacks. One way of assessing an author's work is looking to what degree he or she mentions the attacks made by both sides.


Jerusalem for both Arabs and Jews was the prize, largely for religious reasons. Jerusalem was thus a particularly difficult problem. It was the old Jewish capital and central in Jewish thinking for nearly three millenia. The city included both Arabs, Jews, and Christians and major religious shrines. Jerusalem's Old City with some of the holiest sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, including the Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Dome of the Rock were all located in East Jerusalem explaining the importance of the fighting that occurred in Jerusalem. Thus the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan envisioned Jerusalem as an international city. It was not to be part of either the proposed Jewish or Arab state. The city, however, became a focal point of the violence which becan after the U.N. partition plan was announced. It also became a focal point of the actual fighting after the Arab states invaded Palestine. Jordan's Aran Legion was deployed in an effort to take the city. Some of the most intense fighting of the War occurred in and around Jerusalem.

Palestinian Flight

Palestinians began leaving their towns and villages in large numbers. This seems to have been much more the case for Palestinians than Jews. I am not entirely sure why this was, but believe it was because much of the fighting took place in areas assigned to what was to be the new state of Israel. This suggests that what ocurred in late 1947 and early 1948 was primarily Arab irregulars trying to seize areas with Jewish populations. It was from the areas that the fighting occurred that large numbers of Palestinians fled. What ever the reason, Palestinians began fleeing to safer areas. One particularly serious episode occurred at the port of Haifa. Much of the Arab population fled (March and April 1948). This occurred despte pleas from the British and Jewish authorities trying to convince then to stay. A major factor was incident at Dir Yassin (April 1948). The actual events are disputed. Arab radio brocasts charged the Isrealis killed large numbers of Arab civilans, including children and raped womem. What ever the truth, it was a major factor in the Arab flight from Palestine .

Brirish Role

The British did little to stop the fighting. Here we are not entirely sure why. There were probably several factors involved. There was a desire to minmize casualties until the Mandate ended and they could pull out. There was also a desire not to alienate the Arab states. Here both oil and Suez were important. The British were also apauled with the ferocity of Jewish trerrorism, such as the attack on the King David Hotel. It was assumed at the time that after the British left that the Arabs would quickly seize control. Anti-Semitim was also a factor, but difficult to quantify. Despite te violence and disorder, casualties were relatively light. This was beause both sides were still only lighly armed.

Plan Dalet (April 1948)

The Palestinians at first seemed to have the advantage. This was in pat because much of the focus was on Jerusalem. A Haganah intelligence report described a critical stage in the fighting (March 1948). They were particularly cincerned about Jerusalem. The Jews seemed to have turn the tide of the fighting within Palestine (April 1948). The Haganah was forced to activate "Plan Dalet" to break through the Arab siege of Jerusalem. Dalet was prepared to deal with the Arabs armies that were expected in invade once the British left. It invisioned regukar army tactics rather than te guerrila tactics used when the Btitish were still in control. It was thus implement much earlier than oiriginally anticipated. One part of the plan was to "temporarily" remove the Palestinian population from strategic points. One of these was the narrow corridor that the Jews manage to hold to supply Jerusalem. This had led to charges that the Jews planned from an early stage to evict the Palestinians. To save the suituation in Jerusalem, the Haganah launched mounted its first major offensive--Operation Nahshon. The offensive was executed by 1,500 troops men, large for this stage of the conflict. The Haganah struck at two Arab villages on the road to Jerusalem : Qoloniyah and Qastel. The civilian population if both had already left and hey had been fortified by Aan irrefular forces. This allowed the Jews to get supplies into Jerusalem. The Jews took Qastel (April 8). Palestinian commander Abdel Khader Al-Husseini was killed during the fighting there. The Jews took Qoloniyeh soon after (April 11). Further north the Jews pushed Fawzi El-Kaukji's "Salvation Army" back with an important victory at Mishmar Haemeq (April 12, 1948). Palestinian attacks were largely small-scale affairs launched from Arab towns and villages. One of these was Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv--a largely Jewish city. Responding to Arab attacks around Jaffa, the Irgun attacked the town. The Palestinians in Jaffa fled in large numbers. The British tried to convince them to say with little success.

President Truman (March 1948)

The United States played little role in the conflict as long as the British were in Palestine. President Roosevelt had met with King Saud on the way back from Yalta (March 1945). He died a month later bring Vice President Harry Truman to the presidency. Truman was favorably oriented toward the Jews. The Sate Deopartment was, however, opposed to policies that might alienate the Arabs. The create tensions in American policy. The United States basically back the British. Zionist fund raising in the United States provided some private donations. There was, however, no American Government military of financial assistance. Palestine was, however, an issue that President Truman followed closely. President Truman apparently did not think the Jews could suceeed surrounded as they were by much larger and established Arab states with actual well equiped armies. The Jewish victories in confrontations with Arab irregulsars apparently gave him the idea that the Jews might be able to atually hold on to their U.N. partition area. Up until this point, President Truman had been advocating a U.N. trusteeship proposal which the State Department was promoting. President Truman when he met with Chaim Weizmann, however, privately promised that he would support partition (March). This represented a major divergence from what the State Department was promoting. The followig day, the U.N, Ambassador to the United States voted for a U.N. trusteeship. The President was furious. He wrote on his calendar, "The State Dept. pulled the rug from under me today. The first I know about it is what I read in the newspaper! Isn't that hell? I'm now in the position of a liar and double-crosser. I never felt so low in my life ...." Truman;'s support was critical. So was the timing. The presidebtial election was scheduled in November which all political pundits were convinced that Truman would lose.

British Withdrawl

The League of Nations had assummed responsiiity for Pallestine after the withdrawl of the Ottoman Empire. The United Nations assumed responsibility as the successor organization to the League of Nations assumed responsibility. Conflict between the Arabs and Jews became too intense for the British to control. Both sides began targetting the British. The most notable attack was the Irgun attack on the King David Hotel when many British officials were living. As a result of expanding Arab and British terrorism, the British proceeded to withdraw and turn over Palestine to the United Nations. The U.N. partition plan was to take effect on the date of British withdrawal from the Mandate Territory of Palestine. The British began withdrawing their military force (early April). The British mandate over Palestine was due to expire on May 15, 1948. The Jewish Leadership led by future Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared independence on May, 14, the day before the expiration. One observer calls the British withdrawl "probably the most shamefaced British withdrawal" from any of its possessions. [Shepherd]

Israel Declares Independence (May 14, 1948)

The decision for Israeli independence was taken by the Minhelet HaAm (מנהלת העם‎‎), the People's Administration (May 12, 1948) The Minhelet HaAm was essentially Israel's pre-independence parliament with representatives from the dufferent bpolitical parties. Tel Aviv was a largely Jewish city and thus a safe place to for officials to meet and decide the independence question. This could not be done in Jerusalem because the city was surrounded by largely Arab areas and the Jews in the city were beseiged. Three of the 13 members were missing, The Minhelet HaAm meetig convened 1:45 PM aand went on until after midnight. The issue was whether to accept: 1) a proposal for a truce and a U.N. Trusteeship to replace the League Mandate or 2) declaring independence. The members voted on the second alternative. Six of the ten members in attendance voted for it. The British Mandate originally granted by the League of Nations over Palestine expired (May 14, 1948). The British High Commissioner for Palestine, Lt. Gen. Sir Alan Cunningham, and British military forces completed their withdraw by midnight. The Jewish People's Council, the leadership of the Jewish Agency, led by Dabid Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization and the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, on the same day meeting at the Tel Aviv Museum approved a proclamation establishing the State of Israel. News of the announcement leaked out and people on the streets of Tel Aviv began singing Hatikvah in the streets before David Ben-Gurion even began reading the dceclaration. The actual ceremony was held at 4 p.m. before the British left to avoid making the declaration on Shabbat. It took 17 minutes to read the entire document in a 32 minute ceremony. David Ben-Gurion, chairman of the Palestine National Council, read the declration, "We hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine, to be called Israel. ....” Some Jewish officials signed the declaration later and one person even signed twice. Gunfire could be heard from fighting near Tel Aviv during the ceremony. Jewish flags soon flashed on all important Tel Aviv buildings, automobiles appeared with newly minted Jewish license plates, and Haganah officers exchanged toasts in the cafes. That night Tel Aviv was blacked out because of the danger of Egyptian bombing. Celebrations went on throughout the city, especially behind cafe doors. Just before midnight, the celevrations broke into the streets. News reached Tel Aviv that the United States had recognized the new state of Israel. of the United States recognition had just reached Tel Aviv. Four hours after the announcement, the Egyptian Air Force bombed Tel Aviv without any clear targets. Israel did not yet have an air force. An invasion by the rmies of Egypt, Jordan, Lebnon, and Syria immediately followed.

American and Soviet Recognition (May 14-17, 1948)

It was unclear what the international reaction would be. Thus the American reaction as well as the Soviet reaction was crucial. The new state was recognized that night by the United States and 3 days later by the Soviet Union. A great deal is known about President Truman's decesion to regonize Israel. Virtually nothing is known as to why Marshal Stlin decided to recognize the new Jewish state. The President's decesion led to the great splilt between the White House and State Department since Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan resigned (1917). President Truman blamed resistance to his policy on Israel to low-level officials in the State Department. This difference came to a head on the issue of recognizing Israel. The President blamed the director of the State Department Department of U.N. Affairs, Dean Rusk (a future Secretary of State) and thecState Department's Counselor, Charles Bohlen. He was partially correct. But even more important was the Secretary of State himself--George C. Marshall. Marshall was one of the most estemed soldier and statesmen in American history. The President was at the time was one of the most unpopular president's in American history. And it ws not just Marshall, virtually the entire foreign policy establishment (James V. Forrestal, George F. Kennan, Robert Lovett, John J. McCloy, Paul Nitze, and Dean Acheson) at the time was against recognizing Israel. This was essentially the men who crafted the American response to Soviet expanionsim which would save Western Europe and lead to the ultimate defeat of the Soviet Union.

Contending Forces

There were various military and para-military groups in Palestine. The major force was the Btitish Army. They struggled to keep order as the violence between the Arabs and Jews increased. They attempted to keep arms out of Arab and Jewish hands and for the nost part succeeded. Neither side acquired heavy weapons, but this actually aided the Arabs. They could easily smuggle small arms from the friendly Arab states surrounding Palestine. And the armies of the Front-Line Arab states were heavily armed. The British also prevented substantial Jewish immigration, but did not even try to regulate Arab immigration. Finally the British gave up and asked the United Nations to solve the problem. After the United Nations voted for Partition, the British were focused only getting out with the termination of the mandate authotity. The two contending forces were poorly organized, but numerous Palestinian irregulars. The primary Jewish force was the Hagenah which was an underground army and self defense forcce. It develope when the Brutish Army proved incapable of defending Jewish kibutzes from Palestinian terror attacks. It became heavily involved in smuggling refugees and arms. The Hagenah which became the Israeli Army when Israel declared indpendence. And because of the Holocaust, the Hgenah was extrenely disciplined and well organized. Another Israeli group was the Irgun terror organization. Outside of Palestine was several well armed Aran armies with modern weapons. The two most important were the small but well trained Arab (Jordanin) Legion nd the larger but poorly trained Egyptian Army.

Arab Invasion (May 1948)

The Arab States responded to the creation of the U.N. -mandated Jewish State of Israel with a susposed joint invasion (May 1948). There was in fact little coordination anong the Arab armies that entered Palestine. If they had, the Haganah would have been hard pressed to hold out. The Arab governments were less anxious than has been depicted in some Jewish sources to invade. Each of the government mde extremely beligerant public sttements. Actually invading was different matter. They were pressed, however, by domestic public opinion. They were also concerned that the other governments would gain territory the other coveted. The neigboring Arabs states (Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt) invaded to destroy the new Jewish state. The invasion force included five regular Arab armies along with armed Palestinians, and armed Arab volunteers (including Moslem Brotherhood elements). Each of the neigboring Arab states had armies with modern weapons although the training was uneven. The three key countried that invaded were Syria, Jordan and Egypt. One of the participants was the Cairo-born and educated engineering student, Yasser Arafat. He was 19 years old and a young Leiutenant in the Egyptian Army. He fought on the Sinai front. Few thought the Jews could prevail.

The Fighting


Egypt had potentially the strongest military force in the Middle East. It had a large, well-equipped army. The Egyptian objective was to destroy Israel. They did ot just move into the partition area assigned to the Palestinians, but rather attacked ito areas assigned to Israel. They drove deep into the Negev, an area allocated to Israel in the partition. The Egyptians were well equipped and had tanks, other armor, artillery, and aircraft. The Jews were mostly equipped with small arms. The Egyptians managed to cut off the entire Negev and to seize some of the land parts of the land allocated to Israel in the partition. A critical point of the campaign was an Egyptian armored drive on Tel Aviv. [Avnery] A Jewish Kibutz, Yod Mordichai stoped the entire Egyptian army for 5 days while the Israelis organized the defense of Telaviv. The Isrealis managed to stop the Egyptians. Here a few World War II surplus Luftwaffe Messerchmidt aircraft obtained in Czechoslovakia played a key role.


The Syrians also made some progress in the north, advancing into areas allocated to the Palestinians in the partition.


Jordan had a smaller army than Egypt or Syria. The Arab Legion was, however, the best trained Arab army. The Jordanians kept to its commitment not to invade the partition areas assigned to Israel. The Arab Legion's primary operations were around Jerusalem. There they blocked Jewish convoys attempting to supply Jews in the city. The Arab Legion established fortified positions in Latroun. 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. To get around it, the Israelis ultimately built a "Burma Road' that was completed in June of 1948 and broke the siege of Jerusalem.

Palestinian Irregulars

Palestenian Arab irregulars attacked Jewish settlements. Here the Arabs targeted both the Jewish fighters and non-conbatants.

Palestinian State

Palestinians at this time could have declared a state as Israel did. Israel was willing to accept the U.N. partition two-state partition plan. The Palestinian leadership was determined on having a single Palestinian-majority state for all of Palestine. The situatin was further complicated by the invasion of the Arab states. They were less committed to a Palestinian state and saw the possibility of expanding their own natinal territory. The Palestinians showed some interest in declaring aate, but both Egypt and Jordan opposed this step.

Foreign Support for Israel

Israel in sharp contrast to the Palestinians who received massive millitary support from Arab states, especially the Front Line states, did not receive military support from any other country. The United States and the Soviet Union both voted for partition and recognition, but no other country was willing to commit troops to stop the fighting or enforce the partition resolution. Neither did the United Nations intervene to enforce its own partition resolution. The British had attempted to disarm the two sides, especially the Haganah. While thos may be seen as even handed. As the FRont Line arab states were preparing to invade, this essentially was a policy which wharever the intentions would lead to the destruction of the new state of Israel. While outside of diplomatic support in the United Nations and regonition, Israel was on its own, private Jewish groups in America and Europe did provide financial support. We believe that support from American Jewish groups was particularly important. Even small amounts of money were critical at this time because the Arabs were just beginning to develop their oil indistries which wouldlater provide vast sums for arms. The funds from private Jewish groups did allow the purchase of arms in Europe. Czechoslovakia was a particularly important source. Soviet Middle Eastern policy was at the tgime still in a state of flux. Some in the Kremlin wanted to support the Jews bcause of the substantial Communist/Socialist wing of the Zionist movement. And the Arabs (including the Palestinians, Syrians, Iraqis, and Egyptians had been sympthetic to the NAZIS during World War II. Others in the Kremlin wanted to support the Arabs as part of an anti-imperialist policy.

Arms Embargo

The United States enforced an arms embargo against all belligerents, obstensibly to prevent war. This actually aided the Arabs as the Brutish had armed both Egypt and Jirdan with modern weaponry.

The Haganah

The Haganah would be the foundation of the IDF. It was not, however, at the timne Israel declared independence by any streach iof the imaginatuiin a modern army. It was a lightly armed underground resistance force. The British had prevented them from acquiring heavy weapons like the Arab armies had. The Haganah had only a small number of rifles (of a myriad of types and calibers), that they had mnage to secret away. There were few heavy weapons, and no tanks. About 4,000 foreign volunteers joined the Isrealis. The lightluy armed Jews proved to be a more formidable force than the Arabs had anticipated. Somehow the Israelis with a hodgepoge of weapons fought off the invading Arab armies while the Isreali Government managed to secure sime heavy weapons.

The Arab Legion

The most professional military proved to be the British-trained Jordanian army--the Arab Legion.


A series of truces failed to stop the fighting. The fighting occurred during relatively brief periods separated by variously observed cease fires (truces were agreed June 11 to July 8, 1948 and July 19- October 15, 1948). The first cease fire in June was critucal for Israel. Both sides needed a pause and an opportunity to regroup. The true was in retrospect a serious miscalculation on the part of the Arabs. The Isrealis used the truce to far greater affect. The Arabs with armies that had heavy weaons and me plains seriously out-gunned the Hagenah. British control of the ports made it impossible to bring any tanks and artillery. This changed afyer the Btitis left Palestine. They now had the ability to obtain their own heavy weapons. The Isrealis arranged for several large shiploads of weapons and supplies. The Israelis also managed to recruit and train more soldiers. By July the Isreals had a well rganized force of 60,000 men. The truce may well have saved Jerusale for the Isrealis. At the time the truce was agreed to the Jews in Jerusalem were starving and resistance there was near collapse. The Palestinians and Arabs also tried to bring arms in, but not as ffectively as the Israelis. The IDF prevented a large arms shipment from reaching Syria.


The waring forces in Palestine too prisoners. This included both contantants and civilians. Most of the prisoners taken by the Israelis were taken by the Hagenah. They were primarily combtants. We don't have details at this time as to numbers or treatment. And we have no information on civilian prisoners. Our impression is that they primarily wanted civilians to leave Jewish designted areas. But we have little information at this time. The Arab operations were more varied with out central control. They involved Palestinian irregulars and the regulr armmies of the Front-Line Arab states (mostly the Arab (Jordanian) Lgion abd the Egyptin Army). They took both combatant and civilian prioners. Like the Israelis, we do not have detailed informtion on the treatment of these prisoners or the conditions under which they were held. We encourage readers which may have information on this topic to provide us limks or citations.

Isreali Defense Force

It was during the first truce that the various Jewish resistance groups (Haganah, Palmah, Irgun and Lehi) were united to form the Isreali Defence Force (IDF). This was not done without difficulty. The Irgun resisted yielding control to a higher authority. They attempted to bring in arms on their own. The arms were aboard the Altalena. The Isrealis did not want, however, a separate fighting force outside the government chain of command. Primeminister Ben Gurion ordered the IDF to sink the Altalena after Irgun leader and future primeminister Menahem Begin refused to turn the arms over to the IDF.

Air War

The First Arab-Isreali War was primarily fought out on the ground, but there was an important air component. The Egyptians and to a lesser extent the Syrians had modern aircraft. And it looked like the Israelis would have to fight for indepndence without any air cover. And had the Israelis not acted quickly to bring in some pilots and fighters, it could have meant disaster on the ground. There were some Israeli pilots with World war II experience. Israeli agents also managed to recruit some expeienced foreign pilots (Jeish and non-Jewish). They were called Machal (the Hebrew acronym for Mitnadvei Chutz L'Aretz-- meaning 'volunteers from outside Israel'). While the Haganah could obtain and secrete infantry weapons before the British left, it could not do much to build an air force until the Israeli Government was founded. There were, however, some preliminary steps. The Irgun set up the Palestine Flying Service (1937). The Haganah founded the Sherut Avir. Immediately after indepenence, the new Isreali Government founded the Israeli Air Force (IAF) (May 28). The country was already underattack by invading Arab armies. It was not much of a force to face the already established Arab air forcesm, especially the Egyptians which the British had helped arm. The only significant Arab air force was the Royal Egyptian Air Force (REAF) which had mostly potent British aircraft, the most potent being Supermarine Spitfires Mk5's and LF9's. All the Isrelis had were a few civilian aircraft hastily converted for military purposes. The United States refused to provide arms to either the Israelis or the Arabs as part of an internation arms embargo. Ignored was the fact that the Arab front-line states had armies whivh had already been armed with modern weapons, including aircraft and foreign advisers. The Isreali Government rushed to secure aircraft and fortuntely, surplus World War II aircraft which still were available in substantial numbers. One major success was securig 25 Czech Avia S-199s (Czech built ME-109s) which Isreali agents quickly purchased. Avia was a Czech aircraft and automotive company in the inter-War era. The company built aircraft for the Luftwaffe during the war. It was nationlied by the Czech Government and shifted to cars and trucks. In the initial phase of the War, all the Israelis had were the Czech Avias. They were not, however, effective aircraft because unlike real ME-109s, they did not have the potent Daimler Benz engine. The resulting fix according to the Israeli pilots made the Avia S-199 as dangerous to the pilots as to the Egyptians. The other major IAF component were 62 Czech Supermarine Spitfires provided after the World War II War as a nucleus for their air force. As Soviet influence grew, the Czechs were pressured to shift over to Soviet equipment leaving the Spitfires available for sale to the Israelis. Fortunately, talin as in a pro-Jewish mood. Zionism was not a purely religious movement. There was a strong socialst element in Zionism, including the Communists. Stalin saw Israel as away of gaining influence in the region. as result, support for Israel was actually incouraged by the Soviets. Not only planes, but other arms and equioment were secured in Czechoslovakia. And training favilties were set up. The Czech planes arrived just n the nick of time. Even with these planes, however, the IAF was at first outnumbered in the air by the REAF. Israeli pilots had to develop creative tactics to overcome their numerical disadvantages. Many of the pilots were already fully trained foreign volunteers, including both Jews and non-Jews. The first IAF engagement occurred (May 29). Just arrived Czech Avia S-199s (ME-109s) attacked Egyptian forces moving north out of Gaza near Isdud. They did not do much damage and two of the four planes were lost, but the Egyptians fearing more air attacks halted their advance. The first IAF aerial victory was achieved (June 3). An Avia D.112 shot down two Egyptian DC-3s which were being used to bomb Tel Aviv. The first dog fight occured 5 days later (June 8). A IAF fighter shot down an Egyptian Spitfire. As the war continued, the Isrealis managed to procure more aircraft, including Boeing B-17s, Bristol Beaufighters, de Havilland Mosquitoes, and P-51D Mustangs. The British not only provided planes to the Egyptians, but also pilots. An IAF formation shot down five British-piloted Egyptian Spitfires over the Sinai (January 7, 1949). As a result of the Czech planes, the balance of forces in the air gradually shifted to the IAF which eventually gained air superiority, the command of the air that it has never since lost.


Atrocities were reported on both sides. Observers vary as to the extent and culpability, but there were attrocities committed by both sides. The most noted Arab attrocity occurred at the Kfar Etzion Kibbutz. The Kfar Etzion massacre was an act committed by Arab forces (May 13, 1948). The killings appear to be carried out primarily by Palestinian irregulars. The Aran Legion was also involved, but accounts vary as to what extent. The next day Israel declared independence. There are few other examples because most Jews moved out of the Partition Area assigned to the Palestinian Arabs. There are more claims of Israeli attrocities, mostly from Arab an Israeli revisionist sources. One problem with elvaluating these claims is that Palestinian irregulars commonly attacked Jewish civilians, often from Palestinian civilan populated areas. Thus it is very difficult to sort out actual attrocities from Israeli actions to protect civilians. The most commonly cited example of Israeli attrocities is Dir Yassin, this was one of the most important bases for the Arab forces trying to cut the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv road. The Arabs charge other attrocities occurred at: Yehida (December 13, 1947), Khisas (December 18, 1947), Qazaza (December 19, 1947), Al-Sheikh Village (January 1, 1948), Naser Al-Din (April 13-14, 1948), Abu Shusha (May 14, 1948), Beit Daras (May 21, 1948), Tantura (May 22-23, 1948), Dahmash Mosque (July 11, 1948), and Dawayma (October 29, 1948). The circumstances and events are disputed, largely because much of the writing is by partisans of the two sides.

U. N. Resolution 194 (December 11, 1948)

The United Nations Security Council has issued several different resolutions on the Isreali-Arab conflict. The first was Resolutioin 194. Not surprisinhly, the Israelis and Arabs interpret 194 differently. The Resolution recognized the tireless efforts of U.N. Envoy Folke Bernadotte to end the fighting. He was assassinated by the Lehi, a terrorist group also known as the Stern Group or Stern Gang. The Resolution attempted to lay the groundwork to end the fighting and settle the conflict. It set up the United Nations Conciliation Commission to facilitate the peace process. The Resolution addressed the refugee issue. Article 11 called for the return of refugees. This is normally seen as the Palestiniab refugess. Resolution 194, however, does not identify the nationalirt of the fefugees. There were of course Palestinian refugees. Often forgotten is that the were also Jewish refugees. The Arabs forced Jews out of East Jerusalem, Hebron, Neve Yaakov and other places. There were also large numbers of Jews deported or driven out of Arab states and not allowed to take their property. This occurred in Iraq, Syria, Egypt as well as other countries. Jerusalem was also a focus of the Resolution. Article 7 dealt with the protection and free access to the Holy Places. Article 8 dealt with demilitarization and United Nations control over Jerusalem. Article 9 dealt with free access to Jerusalem.

Cease Fire (1949)

After a year of fighting, a ceasefire finally ended the war (1949).

Early Support for Israel

Refugees (1948-49)

One of the countroversies resulting from the War was the Palestinian Arab refugees. Some fled Palestine because of both the fighting and Jewish attacks like that at Deir Yassin village near Jerusalem. It is unclear to what extent the Arab refugees resulted from this or the fact that the Arabs called on the Arab Palestinians to evacuate Palestine. The idea was to create a "free-fire zone" in which Jews could better be targeted. This was the genisis of the Paestinian refugee problem.


The term refugeees when mentioned in reference to Isreael-Paestinian issue is normally used in reference to Palestinians Arabs. Large numbers of Paestinians fled from the areas where the areas over which Isrealis gained control. Historians believe that during the 1948 war that about 0.7 million Arabs fled or were expelled from the part of Palestine which became Israel. Less well known is that a similar number of Jews were expelled from Muslim countries where their ancestors had lived for centuries, in some cases predating Islam. Rather than being a one-sided refugee priblem, there was in fact an exchange of population. The essential difference is that Israel absorbed and integrated the Jewish refugees, both the European refugeees abd the so called Oriental Jewish refugees from Arab countries. The Arab countries, however, did not absorb or integrate the Palestinian refugees. As a result, decades fter the 1948 war, we are still talking about the Palestinian refugrees, who are now mostly the children and grandchildren of the 1948 refugees. One reader writes, "If 1948 was an injustice, it was not unique. Almost every existing country was built on land seized from someone else at some point in the past. If we set out to reverse every such "injustice", the result would be a global bloodbath. All that happened in 1948 and 1967 was that the Muslim world was defeated in war and lost a small amount of territory. This has happened to many societies at various times. The only unique feature of the Palestine case is that the Muslim world would rather keep fighting -- perhaps to the point of triggering a nuclear holocaust -- rather than accept reality and move on."


Avnery, Uri. In the Fields of Phillistia. Avnery is an Israeli peace activist.

Shepherd, Naomi. Ploughing Sand: British Rule in Palestine, 1917-1948 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2000), 290p.


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Created: 5:52 PM 4/5/2007
Last updated: 9:55 PM 11/4/2017