THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE (Jewish Description)
AN NAKHBA -"The Catastrophe" (Arab Description)

1947 – 1948 From the Partition Resolution to the British Departure
(Note: This section expands on material appearing under The Creation of Modern Israel. It is included as an essential part of the narrative.)

Active warfare commenced immediately after the UN Partition Resolution of 29 November 1947, and before the British departure. The Arab Higher Committee called a general strike and local Arab militias attacked Jewish settlements, Jewish quarters in the cities and Jewish buses.
The UK and the US imposed an arms embargo on Palestine, but the British continued to supply weapons to Trans-Jordan and Iraq. The Jewish forces smuggled arms from Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, since at this time they still had support from the Communist bloc.
In January 1948 Fauzi al Kaukji, who had joined the Mufti in Germany during the world war, led the Arab Liberation Army across the border from Lebanon, attacked towns and settlements in the north of the country and moved south towards Tel Aviv, and the Arab Higher Committee operated in the centre. By March 1948 Arab forces had cut the road to Jerusalem, which was later bombarded by the artillery of the Trans-Jordanian Arab Legion, commanded by the British Lieutenant-General Sir John Bagot Glubb.

It was at this time that 245 civilians were killed by the Irgun forces at Deir Yassin, an Arab village near Jerusalem. The Arab media accused the Jewish force of a calculated massacre, while the Irgun leadership claimed that the deaths occurred in the heat of battle and after loudspeaker warnings to evacuate. The action was condemned by the Jewish government and the responsible officers were arrested. The Arab media story precipitated widespread panic among the Arab inhabitants of the region, and it still remains a central feature of Arab accounts of the period.
Shortly afterwards a medical convoy to the hospital in Jerusalem was ambushed by Arab forces and 77 medical personnel were killed. In May 1948, immediately before Israel’s independence, the Arab Legion captured a group of Jewish villages, known as the “Etzion bloc”, immediately to the south of Jerusalem, but outside the proposed Jewish state, and 127 inhabitants and defenders were killed by machine guns and grenades after they surrendered.
(For a note on the Arab exodus which began during this period see Consequences of the war for Israel and the Palestinians.)
In the Security Council, immediately before the British withdrawal, the United States proposed a cease fire and the postponement of Israel’s independence. The US proposal was rejected by the Jewish Provisional Council of State by six votes to four, at a time when the outcome of the expected war was greatly in doubt.

1948 Israel’s Independence

On 14th May 1948 the British Mandate ended and Israel proclaimed its independence as a sovereign state within the borders determined by the United Nations Partition Resolution of 29 November 1947. A Provisional Government was established under the leadership of David Ben Gurion as Prime Minister.

The Arab nations rejected the Partition Resolution, as they denied the legitimacy of Jewish settlement in Palestine. The Arabs of Palestine therefore refused to establish an Arab state in the area contemplated by the Partition Resolution, since this would imply recognition of a Jewish state in the remaining part of Palestine.

The War of 1948-1949

On the first night of Israel’s independence Tel Aviv was bombed by Egyptian planes.

On 15 May 1948, the Egyptian Foreign Minister informed the Security Council that “Egyptian armed forces have started to enter Palestine to establish law and order” (cable to the Security Council, S/743, 15 May 1948).

During that night the regular armies of Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon and Iraq, supported by volunteers from Sudan and Saudi Arabia invaded Israel. Azzam Pasha, Secretary-General of the Arab League, announced:

“This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacre and the Crusades.”
When the conflict began, the Jewish forces numbered some 36,500, and were without tanks, heavy weapons or combat aircraft.”


Source: Howard M. Sachar, A History of Israel

After initial Arab successes, the Jewish forces recaptured some territory. Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden was appointed as a mediator by the United Nations, and he negotiated a truce which came into effect on 11 June 1948.
During the four weeks of the truce, Israel received an airlift of arms from Czechoslovakia, which was then a satellite of the Soviet Union. (See Role and Objectives of the Superpowers). After 7 July 1948 there were ten days of fierce fighting in which Israeli forces opened a corridor to Jerusalem, and took Upper Galilee in the north and Beersheba in the south. On 17th July1948 the Security Council imposed a further cease-fire, supported by threat of sanctions against Israel.Bernadotte then proposed a peace plan, which included a reduced area for Israel in “union” with an enlarged Kingdom of Transjordan, and an Arab administration of Jerusalem.

Jewish immigration would be unlimited for a period of two years and after that it would then be subject to United Nations approval. The plan was rejected by both Arab and Jewish representatives. In September 1948, Bernadotte was assassinated by a member of the Stern Group2. Ben Gurion immediately ordered the arrest of more than 250 members of the Stern Group, and its leaders were imprisoned. The government also ordered the dissolution of the Irgun3 and the transfer of its members and weapons to the Israel Defence Forces.
On 15 October 1948 the Egyptians cut off Israeli supplies to the Negev – the southern desert area – and war recommenced. Israel took Beersheba4 and advanced into the Sinai Desert. Heavy fighting in Jerusalem ended with the city divided.
On 7th January 1949 a final cease-fire was called.

The war was now over, and Israel had lost some 6,000 killed, including 4,000 soldiers and 2,000 civilians. Figures for Arab casualties are not readily available.


[1] The countries participating in the invasion formed the newly-established Arab League. See the Statement of the Arab League for the rationale for the invasion. The League was later expanded to eighteen members representing a combined population of over one hundred million.

[2] The most extreme resistance group, led by Avraham Stern, known as Lehi.

[3] The Irgun Z’vai Le’umi (“National Military Force”), the independent force of the Revisionist Party, which eventually became part of the Likud. Led in 1948 by Menachem Begin, the Prime Minister who negotiated the Camp David Accords in 1979.

[4] Beersheba was the scene of the heroic charge of the Australian Light Horse in the First World War which contributed to the allied victory over the Turkish forces in Palestine. It was also the home of the Jewish patriarchs Abraham and Isaac described in the Bible.