British withdrawal; establishment of Israel; Arab response and the 1948-49 war

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David Ben Gurion declares Israel an independent state, 14 May 1948
David Ben Gurion declares Israel an independent state, 14 May 1948

Independence for some means catastrophe ('nakba') for others
Independence for some means catastrophe ('nakba') for others

Expansion of the Israeli state after 1948-9 war
Expansion of the Israeli state after 1948-9 war

Establishment of Israel and the causes of the 1948 - 49, first Arab-Israeli war:

  • Nov 29th 1947 – UNSCOP partition plan passed by the UN assembly. The Jews celebrate, but the Arabs were appalled and pledged to prevent the founding of a Jewish state in Palestine. This reflects the long-standing tensions, conflicts and rivalries between the two groups over these fundamental questions of right to land etc etc.
  • Nov 30th 1947 - May 14th 1948 – Civil war in Palestine between Jews and Palestinian Arabs, following violence that started with the Arab General Strike.
  • May 14th 1948 – Israeli declaration of independence: state of Israel declared by its first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. This was according to the UNSCOP borders in the partition plan, and the declaration was made the day before the British mandate was due to end in Palestine.
  • May 15th – Arab League (Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan) invades Israel to “liberate Palestine”, starting the first Arab-Israeli war.
  • Jewish-Arab civil war had become a regional war, between the newly-formed state of Israel and the surrounding Arab states. War of independence for Israel vs War to liberate Palestine for Arab states. ‘An Nakbah’ for the Palestinians - the catastrophe.

Course of the war:

  • 30th Nov to June 1947 - Israeli weakness, fighting for survival. Problems with getting arms, creating an army and supplies to isolated settlements.
  • March 10th 1948 – Plan D (Dalet), Israeli defence strategy vs Palestinian belief in plan for a strategy of ethnic cleansing.
  • April 9th – Massacre in Deir Yassin of 250 Palestinians.
  • June 11th – Folke Bernadotte proposed ceasefire. This proved to be a turning point in the War. IDF troops increased from 65 000 in May to 96 000 in December. (Folke was killed in Sep. 17th 1948 by the Jewish underground)
  • Jan 1949 – Armistice negotiations began, when Arab states realized they would not win the War.

Why Israel won the War?

  • Israeli strengths: Motivated army (clear unified goal of survival), resources, western sympathy, British army training and experience.
  • Arab weaknesses: Lack of morale, ill-equipped, logistical problems, divided leadership, divided aims (Egypt and Syria had expansionist aims rather than creating a Palestinian state)

Outcomes of the War

  • Palestinians: An-Nakba ('the disaster/catastrophe'), lost the chance of their own state. 550 000-800 000 refugees, 150 000 to Israel, 450 000 to Transjordan, 200 000 to Egypt.
  • Israelis: Israeli state increased by 21%, has now defensible borders.
  • Arab nations:Defeat in the war leads to instability as the result of domestic challenges to the leadership who lost the war. 1952, Egyptian monarchy overthrown. Arab states increased territory:Transjordan takes West Bank and Egypt takes the Gaza Strip, showing that Arab war aims was not as simple as supporting the Palestinians.
  • Arab-Israeli armistice failed to achieve lasting peaceDespite negotiations between 1949-1950 the two sides could not reach agreement. Israel wanted recognition and peace but would not give up any territory. Arab states wanted territory and repatriating Palestinian refugees


  • A question of perspective! For the Israelis, this war is called, and celebrated today as, the 'war of independence', a conflict in which Israel bravely fought against the odds and battled for survival against the invasion of hostile Arab armies from its neighbouring countries. For the Palestinians, however, this war is known as 'an-Nakba', the disaster, the conflict in which they were forced out of their homes by deliberately planned ethnic cleansing from Israel in order to become a stateless people living in the permanent exile of refugee camps. It is from the fundamental incompatibility of these two separate narratives that the continued failure to find a resolution to the Middle East situation today stems.