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1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War

Benny Morris
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 544
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This history of the foundational war in the Arab-Israeli conflict is groundbreaking, objective, and deeply revisionist. A riveting account of the military engagements, it also focuses on the war's political dimensions. Benny Morris probes the motives and aims of the protagonists on the basis of newly opened Israeli and Western documentation. The Arab side-where the archives are still closed-is illuminated with the help of intelligence and diplomatic materials.

    Morris stresses thejihadicharacter of the two-stage Arab assault on the Jewish community in Palestine. Throughout, he examines the dialectic between the war's military and political developments and highlights the military impetus in the creation of the refugee problem, which was a by-product of the disintegration of Palestinian Arab society. The book thoroughly investigates the role of the Great Powers-Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union-in shaping the conflict and its tentative termination in 1949. Morris looks both at high politics and general staff decision-making processes and at the nitty-gritty of combat in the successive battles that resulted in the emergence of the State of Israel and the humiliation of the Arab world, a humiliation that underlies the continued Arab antagonism toward Israel.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14524-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. 1 Staking Claims: The Historical Background
    (pp. 1-36)

    The War of 1948 was the almost inevitable result of more than half a century of Arab-Jewish friction and conflict that began with the arrival in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), or Palestine, of the first Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in the early 1880s. These “Zionists” (Zion, one of Jerusalem’s hills, was, by extension, a biblical name for Jerusalem and, by further extension, a name for the Land of Israel) were driven both by the age-old messianic dream, embedded in Judaism’s daily prayers, of reestablishing a Jewish state in the ancient homeland and by European anti-Semitism, which erupted...

  2. 2 The United Nations Steps In: UNSCOP and the Partition Resolution
    (pp. 37-74)

    On 14 February 1947, the British cabinet decided to wash its hands of Palestine and dump the problem in the lap of the United Nations. Ernest Bevin was later to say: “The Arabs, like the Jews, [had] refused to accept any of the compromise proposals which HMG had put before both parties.”¹ The military chiefs of staff were unhappy with the decision; it would open the door to Soviet penetration and subvert the morale of the troops in Palestine. But Clement Attlee and Bevin had already decided, in principle, in a tête-à-tête on 27 December 1946, that in the new,...

  3. 3 The First Stage of the Civil War, November 1947–March 1948
    (pp. 75-112)

    David Shaltiel, the commander of the HIS, wrote on the night of 29 November: “None of us knows what may happen tomorrow.”¹ For months, the Yishuv had vaguely expected war, but at some ill-defined point in the future. The prevalent view in the HIS was that the Arab states were disunited and the Arabs of Palestine unprepared; they would not go to war on the passage of the partition resolution.²

    The night of 29–30 November passed in the Yishuv’s settlements in noisy public rejoicing. Most had sat glued to their radio sets broadcasting live from Flushing Meadow. A collective...

  4. 4 The Second Stage of the Civil War, April–mid-May 1948
    (pp. 113-179)

    The crisis the Zionist leadership faced was not only military: “It is becoming generally realized . . . that the United States aim is to secure reconsideration of the Palestine problem by the General Assemblyde novo,” wrote Sir Alan Cunningham.¹ He was referring to the fact that the spiraling hostilities and the Arab successes had bitten deeply into international support for partition and Jewish statehood—as the Arab initiators of the violence had hoped.

    Surprisingly, the first to get cold feet were the Americans. Already on 2 December 1947, Truman was gently cautioning the Zionists and their supporters: “The...

  5. 5 The Pan-Arab Invasion, 15 May–11 June 1948
    (pp. 180-263)

    In November 1947, days before the eruption of hostilities, General Ismail Safwat, head of the Arab League Military Committee, wrote: “Victory over the Jews—who are well trained and well equipped—by gangs and irregular forces alone is not feasible. So regular forces must be thrown into the battle, trained and equipped with the best weaponry. . . . As the Arab states do not have sufficient means for a protracted war, everything must be done so that the war in Palestine will be terminated in the shortest possible time.”¹

    As the months passed and the Palestinian Arabs, beefed up...

  6. 6 The First Truce, 11 June–8 July 1948, the International Community, and the War
    (pp. 264-272)

    The First Truce came into effect on 11 June, the result of weeks of shuttle diplomacy by Count Folke Bernadotte, the United Nations’ special mediator for Palestine.

    On 14 May the UN General Assembly had voted for the appointment of a “Mediator” to assure the safety of the holy places, to safeguard the wellbeing of the population, and to promote “a peaceful adjustment of the future situation of Palestine.” Achieving an Israeli-Arab peace settlement was to be the focus of Bernadotte’s efforts during the following four months.

    He was appointed mediator by UN Secretary-General Trygve Lie on 20 May. Though...

  7. 7 The “Ten Days” and After
    (pp. 273-319)

    The First Truce was scheduled to end on 9 July. But, hoping to catch the IDF off guard, Egypt preempted and launched its offensive the day before, with the aim of bolstering its position along the Majdal–Beit Jibrin line. On 9 July Israel mounted offensives of its own on all three fronts. The IDF command hoped that they would be decisive and end the war. But they weren’t, and the war would drag on for another half a year. The “Ten Days,” as Israel called this brief, sharp bout of hostilities, ended on 18 July, following the UN Security...

  8. 8 Operations Yoav and Hiram
    (pp. 320-349)

    The Egyptians had no interest in renewing the war. By mid-October their high command was under no illusions. It was keenly aware of its army’s weakness and vulnerability and of Israel’s growing strength. The expeditionary force was overstretched—strung out along three axes, between El ‘Arish and Isdud along the coast, with its back to the sea; between ‘Auja, Beersheba, and Bethlehem to the east; and between Majdal and Beit Jibrin—and short of manpower, weaponry, and ammunition. The high command knew that the other Arab armies would offer them no help. Months before, the Egyptians had abandoned any idea...

  9. 9 Operation Horev, December 1948–January 1949
    (pp. 350-374)

    The fronts remained under truce and largely quiet during the second half of November and most of December. In Hiram and Yoav, the IDF had expanded Israel’s holdings, demolished the ALA, badly hurt the Egyptians, and linked the Negev settlement enclave to Israel. But the Syrians still held three small enclaves, at Mishmar Hayarden, near Banias, and along the southeastern shoreline of the Sea of Galilee, at Samra–Tel al-Qasir, all in territory earmarked for Israel by the UN partition resolution. The Jordanians and Iraqis, though quiescent, firmly held the West Bank, surrounding Jewish Jerusalem on three sides and within...

  10. 10 The Armistice Agreements, January–July 1949
    (pp. 375-391)

    The war of 1948 formally ended with the signing of armistice agreements between Israel and four of the Arab belligerents: Egypt (on 24 February 1949), Lebanon (23 March 1949), Jordan (3 April 1949), and Syria (20 July 1949). The Iraqis refused to enter into armistice negotiations.

    The Israeli-Egyptian armistice talks opened on the Greek island of Rhodes on 13 January 1949—six days after the start of the cease-fire, three days after Israel pulled its troops out of Sinai and Rafah—and lasted six weeks. In the chair, effectively mediating between the two sides, was the United Nations acting mediator...

  11. 11 Some Conclusions
    (pp. 392-420)

    “The Palestine problem is still in its infancy. The preface ended with the [end of the] Mandate and Chapter One began [in November 1947]. . . . Do not miss [the ‘next installment’]!” recommended the British consul general in Jerusalem midway through the 1948 War.¹

    “Chapter One,” the first war between Israel and the Arabs, was the culmination of developments and a conflict that had begun in the 1880s, when the first Zionist settlers landed on the shores of the Holy Land, their arrival and burgeoning presence increasingly resented by the local Arab population. Over the following decades, the Arabs...