Israel Palestine War

Nov 1947 - May 1948

The Israel Palestine War was the bloodiest war in Israeli History. More than 6,000 Israelis fell in this war. So in the last post, we left off exactly after the UN decides to part the country to a Jewish state and an Arab state. And the Palestinians as the rest of the Arab world are not happy. On the other hand, the Jewish people are celebrating all over the world. The coffee shops in Tel Aviv that were just founded a few decades ago are now filled with people. Free Champagne is offered to celebrate the Decision of Partition.

So the first phase of the war started a day after the United Nations General Assembly voted for the Partition Plan for Palestine (Decision 181) on November 29th, 1947 until the termination of the British Mandate and the Declaration of the State of Israel on May 14th, 1948. During this period the Jewish and Arab communities of the British Mandate clashed, while the British organized their withdrawal and intervene only occasionally. In the first two months of the Civil War, around 1,000 people were killed and 2,000 injured. And by the end of March, the figure had risen to 2,000 dead and 4,000 wounded. These figures correspond to an average of more than 100 deaths and 200 casualties per week.

Israel Palestine War: The First Phase Of The War: A Civil War

So the event that usually marks the beginning of the War is an Arab Attack A Jewish Bus en route to Jerusalem. Even Though this is something that is still debatable among historians; you can say that in some ways the first phase of the war was some kind of a civil war. For example, Benny Morris calls this a civil war par excellence. But we can agree for sure that the first phase of the war is not between two official standing armies but between local forces on both sides.

But the Israeli side was preparing for this day for quite a while. Firstly, a big portion of this organization for the war was focusing on building properly a military force; assuming that immediately after the British would pull out the Arab countries will invade. Also, the Israeli side was very successful in laying the proper infrastructure for the future state by creating a state apparatus and governmental institutions.

On the other hand, the Palestinian side did nothing in that sort and did not develop the land that was given to them.  The Palestinians were focusing on using force. They attacked the roads, in cities where the population was a mix of Arab and Jews; And attacking isolated Jewish communities.

Israel Palestine War: The Jewish Fighting Force

The Jewish fighting force was consisting of various organizations. The biggest one was the Haganah with The Guard Corps numbering 30,000 members; The Field Corps reaching 10,000 soldiers; The Palmach, which were the elite striking force of the Haganah. Because the Haganah was a clandestine organization it was very difficult to conduct training under the watchful eyes of the British. Apart from the Haganah, there were smaller organizations. First was the Etzel with 3,000 members among them a few hundred that are real fighters. Another was Lehi with a few hundred and even a smaller amount of combat fighters, perhaps a few dozens of them.

The Ezel and the Lehi had experience in Guerilla warfare only. They did not have real experience in combat or in modern fighting. Because they were deep underground; the possibility of going out to the field and train was even smaller than of the Haganah. Another group that I think is worth mentioning is the Mahal. They were some  4,000 volunteers from abroad; mostly Jews but also non-Jews; that arrived from all over the world to assist the struggle for a Jewish state.

Israel Palestine War: Tom Derek Bowden

One notable member was Tom Derek Bowden. Bowden entered British Mandatory Palestine clandestinely, through Cyprus, joining the Haganah under a pseudonym, Captain David Appel, although he spoke no Hebrew. He served at the Battle of Latrun. Fighting alongside Holocaust survivors to keep the road between Jerusalem and the coast open. He later told an interviewer for The Guardian, “We were up against the British army-trained Transjordan Frontier Force and had no water or supplies. I was in command of a lot of Polish chaps who only spoke Yiddish. So I had to learn a few words to order them to fire at the enemy.”

After the accidental shooting of Mickey Marcus, an American volunteer fighting for Israel who was mistaken for an Arab when he stepped from his field tent and did not realize that he was being asked in Hebrew for a password, the English-speaking 7th volunteer Brigade was formed. Bowden led a unit that fought in Galilee.

The Bloodiest War In Israeli History

The Palestine War was the bloodiest war in the history of the state. Actually, one percent died in the war. And the stories are sometimes heartbreaking like what happened in the massacre at Gush Etzion. 242 total died at Gush Etzion. While in the final battle 22 women fighters died.  And seven of them were Holocaust survivors, the sole remnants of an entire family that was perished in the Holocaust. Zippora (Feige) Jacobowitz was one of them.

Israel Palestine War: The Arab Forces

Arab Liberation Army was an army of volunteers from Arab countries led by Fawzi al-Qawuqji, a small amount of the volunteers were local Palestinians. Their total number was 3,000-4,000 men. Actually, they came into the country from Syria while the British were turning a blind eye. The second was the Army of the Holy War consisting mainly of local Arab forces reaching about 1,306 men. Also, they had some support in the south from the Muslim Brotherhood, their size a couple of regiments, not more. Lastly, they to their aid some militia forces coming from the local villagers. And I forgot they had a few thousand Palestinians that volunteered to the British Army during WW2. So they also count.

The Different Phases of The War

In beginning, The Yishuv was simply trying to hold the lines given to them by UN Resolution 181. But this passive way of conducting war as one can assume was doomed for failure. For Example, al-Husayni organized a blockade of the Jewish population in Jerusalem. In order to counter this, the Yishuv tries to send convoys, fully loaded with ammunition and supplies to the besieged city. But the operation became more and more impractical as the number of casualties goes higher. Since the Palestinians could see those convoys coming from miles away. Enough time to block the road with boulders of rock. As a result, the convoys had to stop; immediately the Palestinians opened fire killing most of the Jewish fighters. By March al-Husayni’s tactic had paid off. Almost all of Haganah’s armored vehicles had been destroyed, the blockade was in full operation. And hundreds of Haganah members were killed.

Israel Palestine War: Plan Dalet And The Second Stage of The War

Till now the Jewish leadership adopted a defensive strategy. The tactic was sending armed convoys to remote Jewish communities. In March the Jewish Yishuv reached dire straits. Communities all over the country were surrounded. Also, Jerusalem is under siege. Weapons are scarce and the Arab countries are about to invade the country. This crisis also damaged the prestige Jews had till now in the international ring. The voices calling to annul decision 181 increased. Even the US changed her mind.

So David Ben Gurion like the rest of the Jewish leaders understands it is time for a major change. Israel is taking the initiative. Instigating more attacks. Even passing the lines that were given to her by the UN. The Haganah abandoned this state of mind of a clandestine underground; started to adapt the conduct of an army. It means the reorganization of the Haganah to military units.  Secondly taking control of Arab cities and seize control of strategic junctions that the British controlled like Latrun. Plan Dalet mentions the usage of force in case Palestinians will resist. Till today historians debate if that played a major role in the plan or not. Most Historians disagree and argue against any plan to force the Palestinians out.

Operation Nachshon

The first operation, Nachson, was directed at lifting the blockade on Jerusalem. In the last week of March, 136 supply trucks had tried to reach Jerusalem. Only 41 made it. The Arab attacks on communications and roads had intensified. The convoys’ failure and the loss of Jewish armored vehicles had shaken the Yishuv leaders’ confidence. 1,500 men from Hagan’s Givati brigade and Palmach’s Harel brigade conducted sorites to free up the route to the city between 5 April and 20th of April. The operation was successful, and two months’ worth of foodstuffs were trucked into Jerusalem for distribution to the Jewish population.

Israel Palestine War: The Death Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni

The death of Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni in the battle over the Castel was a game-changer. The Palestinian fighting spirit took a serious blow due to his death. Even today there is not even one Palestinian that does not know the name al-Husayni. Since Abd al-Qadir was born to the influential al-Husayni family of Jerusalem. Also the son of Musa al-Husayni, the mayor of Jerusalem. And the nephew of Amin al-Husayni, The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. Moreover, the family attributed their family lineage to Al-Husayn ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib, the grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Operation Nachshon was a real turning point during the war and other operations followed. For example, Operation Harel enabled hundreds of trucks to come to Jerusalem on Passover 1948. Operation Yevusi aided to seize control of other parts of Jerusalem.

Israel Palestine War: The Results of Plan Dalet

During those six weeks, a major turn for the better occurred in the Yishuv situation. Till the invasion of the Arab forces after the Declaration of the State of Israel, about 100 Palestinian villages were conquered. In April-June 300,000 Palestinians left cities with a mixed population. And Palestinian villages that were next to Jewish ones and posed a threat against them were abandoned. Plan Dalet was able to create one big territorial continuity for the Jewish state.

The Arab Leadership fled and the local leaders as well. The panic among the Philistines was high and the fear from the Jewish soldiers was enormous. Also, the reorganization of the Israeli force improved their conduct in the field. And new military equipment came from abroad. In this phase of the war, you can say Israel had the upper hand.

The British had essentially withdrawn their troops. The situation pushed the neighboring Arab states to intervene, but their preparation was not completed, and they couldn’t assemble sufficient force to turn the tide of the war. Preparing for Arab intervention from neighboring states, Haganah successfully launched operations Yiftah and Ben Ami to secure the Jewish settlements of Galilee, and operation Kilshon. This created an Israeli-controlled front around Jerusalem. The inconclusive meeting between Golda Meir and Abdullah I, followed by the Kfar Etzion massacre on 13 May by the Arab Legion, led to predictions that the battle for Jerusalem would be merciless.

Course Of The 1948 Arab-Israeli War

On May 14th, 1948, David Ben Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel. That is today, the official beginning of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. This was a day before the British Mandate ended over Palestine.  Both Superpower leaders, U.S President Harry S. Truman and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, immediately recognized the new state. Even though George Marshall, who was Secretary of State of the United States was against it. As Secretary of State, he opposed recognizing the State of Israel.

The First Casualty of 1947-1949 Palestine War

Marshall felt that if the state of Israel was declared that a war would break out in the Middle East (which it did in 1948 one day after Israel declared independence). Marshall saw recognizing the Jewish state as a political move to gain Jewish support in the upcoming election, which Truman was expected to lose to Dewey. He told President Truman in May 1948, “If you (recognize the state of Israel) and if I were to vote in the election, I would vote against you”

Israel Palestine War: The Arab Reaction To The Declaration Of The State Of Israel

On the contrary, the Arab League refused to accept the UN partition plan. They proclaimed the right of self-determination for the Arabs across the whole of Palestine. And maintained that the absence of legal authority made it necessary to intervene to protect Arab lives and property.

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


Hi! My name is Arik Haglili, an Israeli native who decided to dedicate his life to share my knowledge about the Holy Land to those that are interested to know more about this amazing piece of land. My career as a private tour guide started at the International School For the Studying of the Holocaust and the rest is history. 

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