This period constitutes the first phase of the 1948 Palestine war, during which the Jewish and Arab communities of Palestine clashed, while the British, who supposedly had the obligation to maintain order, organized their withdrawal and intervened only on an occasional basis.
The next phase of the conflict was the 1948 Arab-Israeli War which began on the 15 May 1948, on the termination of the British Mandate of Palestine and the creation of the State of Israel, when the conflict in Palestine became an outright war between the new State of Israel and its Arab neighbours.
In the immediate aftermath of the United Nations' approval of the Partition plan, the explosions of joy amongst the Jewish community were counterbalanced by the expression of discontent amongst the Arab community. Soon after, violence broke out and became more and more prevalent. Murders, reprisals, and counter-reprisals came fast on each other's heels, resulting in dozens of victims killed on both sides in the process. The sanguinary impasse persisted as no force intervened to put a stop to the escalating cycles of violence.
During the first two months of the war, around 1,000 people were killed and 2,000 people injured. 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; in a population of 2,000,000.
From January onwards, operations became increasingly militarized, with the intervention of a number of Arab Liberation Army regiments inside Palestine, each active in a variety of distinct sectors around the different coastal towns. They consolidated their presence in Galilee and Samaria. Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni came from Egypt with several hundred men of the Army of Holy War. Having recruited a few thousands of volunteers, al-Husayni organised the blockade of the 100,000 Jewish residents of Jerusalem. To counter this, the Yishuv authorities tried to supply the city with convoys of up to 100 armoured vehicles, but the operation became more and more impractical as the number of casualties in the relief convoys surged. By March, Al-Hussayni's tactic had paid off. Almost all of Haganah's armoured vehicles had been destroyed, the blockade was in full operation, and hundreds of Haganah members who had tried to bring supplies into the city were killed. The situation for those who dwelt in the Jewish settlements in the highly-isolated Negev and North of Galilee was even more critical.
While the Jewish population had received strict orders requiring them to hold their ground everywhere at all costs, the Arab population was more affected by the general conditions of insecurity to which the country was exposed. Up to 100,000 Palestinians, from the urban upper and middle classes in Haifa, Jaffa and Jerusalem, or Jewish-dominated areas, evacuated abroad or to Arab centres eastwards.
This situation caused the USA to withdraw their support for the Partition plan, thus encouraging the Arab League to believe that the Palestinians, reinforced by the Arab Liberation Army, could put an end to partition. The British, on the other hand, decided on the 7 February 1948, to support the annexation of the Arab part of Palestine by Transjordan.
Although a certain level of doubt took hold amongst Yishuv supporters, their apparent defeats were due more to their wait-and-see policy than to weakness. Ben-Gurion reorganised Haganah and made conscription obligatory. Every Jewish man and woman in the country had to receive military training. Thanks to funds raised by Golda Meir from sympathisers in the United States, and Stalin's decision to support for the Zionist cause, the Jewish representatives of Palestine were able to sign very important armament contracts in the East. Other Haganah agents recuperated stockpiles from the Second World War, which helped improve equip the army's equipment and logistics. Operation Balak allowed arms and other equipment to be transported for the first time by the end of March.
Ben-Gurion invested Yigal Yadin with the responsibility to come up with a plan in preparation for the announced intervention of the Arab states. The result of his analysis was Plan Dalet, which was put in place from the start of April onwards. The adoption of Plan Dalet marked the second stage of the war, in which Haganah passed from the defensive to the offensive.
The first operation, named Nachshon, consisted of lifting the blockade on Jerusalem. 1500 men from Haganah's Givati brigade and Palmach's Harel brigade conducted sorties to free up the route to the city between 5 April and 20 April. The operation was successful, and enough foodstuffs to last 2 months were trucked into to Jerusalem for distribution to the Jewish population. The success of the operation was assisted by the death of Al-Hassayni in combat. During this time, and independently of Haganah or the framework of Plan Dalet, irregular troops from Irgun and Lehi formations massacred a substantial number of Arabs at Deir Yassin, an event which, though publicly deplored and criticized by the principal Jewish authorities, had a deep impact on the morale of the Palestinian population.
At the same time, the first large-scale operation of the Arab Liberation Army ended in a "débâcle", having been roundly defeated at Mishmar Ha'emekm coinciding with the loss of their Druze allies through defection.
Within the framework of the establishment of Jewish territorial continuity foreseen by Plan Dalet, the forces of Haganah, Palmach and Irgun intended to conquer mixed zones. Palestinian society was shaken. Tiberias, Haifa, Safed, Beisan, Jaffa and Acre fell, resulting in the flight of more than 250,000 Palestinians.
The British had, at that time, essentially withdrawn their troops. The situation pushed the leaders of the neighbouring Arab states to intervene, but their preparation was not finalised, and they could not assemble sufficient forces to turn the tide of the war. The majority of Palestinian hopes lay with the Arab Legion of Transjordan's monarch, King Abdullah I, but he had no intention of creating a Palestinian-run state, since he hoped to annex as much of the territory of the British Mandate of Palestine as he could. He was playing a double-game, being just as much in contact with the Jewish authorities as with the Arab League.
In preparation for the offensive, Haganah successfully launched Operations Yiftah and Ben-'Ami to secure the Jewish settlements of Galilee, and Operation Kilshon, which created a united front around Jerusalem. The inconclusive meeting between Golda Meir and Abdullah I, followed by the attack of Kfar Etzion on the 13 May by the Arab Legion led to predictions that the battle for Jerusalem would be merciless.
On 14 May 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared the independence of the state of Israel and the 1948 Palestine war entered its second phase with the intervention of the Arab state armies and the beginning of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
The Palestinian backlash culminated in the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. Directed by Palestinian nationalists, the rebels opposed Zionism, the British presence in Palestine and Palestinian politicians who called for pan-Arabic nationalism at the same time. Both the British and the Zionist organisations of the time opposed the revolt; nonetheless, the Palestinian nationalists did obtain from the British a drastic reduction of Jewish immigration, legislated by the 1939 White Paper. However, the consequences of the unsuccessful uprising were heavy. Nearly 5000 Arabs and 500 Jews died; the various paramilitary Zionist organisations were reinforced, and the majority of the members of the Palestinian political elite exiled themselves, such as Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, chief of the Arab High Committee, who took refuge in Nazi Germany, where he would help to recruit Muslims for the Waffen-SS.
After World War II and the horrors of The Holocaust, the Zionist movement attracted sympathy. In Palestine, right-wing Zionist groups fought against the British occupation. The Palestinian nationalists reorganized themselves, but their organisation remained inferior to that of the Zionists. Nevertheless, the weakening of the colonial British Empire reinforced Arabic countries and the Arab League for the future war against newly-founded Israel.
Diplomacy failed to reconcile the different points of view concerning the future of Palestine. On 18 February 1947, the British announced their withdrawal from the region. Later that year, on the 29 November, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted for a partition plan with the support of the big global powers, but not that of Britain nor the Arabic nations.
A 'wind of violence' rapidly took hold of the country, foreboding civil war between the two communities.
In all the mixed zones where both communities lived, particularly Jerusalem and Haifa, increasingly violent attacks, reprisals and counter-reprisals followed each other. Isolated shootings evolved into all-out battles. Attacks against traffic, for instance, turned into ambushes as one bloody attack led to another.
For example, Irgun and Lehi followed a strategy of placing bombs in crowded markets and bus-stops. As on 30 December, in Haifa, when members of the clandestine militant Zionist group, Irgun, threw two bombs at a crowd of Arab workers who were queueing in front of a refinery, killing 6 of them and injuring 42. An angry crowd killed 39 Jewish people in revenge, until British soldiers reestablished calm. In reprisals, some soldiers from the strike force, Palmach and the Carmeli brigade, attacked the village of Balad ash-Sheikh and Hawassa. According to different historians, this attack led to between 21 and 70 deaths.
On the 22 February 1948, supporters of Mohammad Amin al-Husayni organised, with the help of certain British deserters, three attacks against the Jewish community. Using car bombs aimed at the headquarters of the pro-Zionist Jerusalem Post, the Ben Yehuda St. market and the backyard of the Jewish Agency's offices, they killed 22, 53 and 13 Jewish people respectively, and injured hundreds. In retaliation, Lehi put a landmine on the railroad track in Rehovot on which a train from Cairo to Haifa was travelling, killing 28 British soldiers and injuring 35. This would be copied on the 31 March, close to Caesarea Maritima, which would lead to the death of forty people, injuring 60, who were, for the most part, Arab civilians.
Between December 1947 and January 1948, it was estimated that around 1,000 people were killed and 2,000 injured. By the end of March, a report stated that 2,000 had been killed and 4,000 injured. These figures correspond to an average of over 100 deaths and 200 injuries per week, all of this in a country with 2,000,000 inhabitants.
The possibility of evacuating these difficult to defend zones was considered, but the policy of Haganah was set by David Ben-Gurion. He stated that 'what the Jewish people have has to be conserved. No Jewish person should abandon his or her house, farm, kibbutz or job without authorisation. Every outpost, every colony, whether it is isolated or not, must be occupied as though it were Tel Aviv itself. No Jewish settlement was evacuated until the invasion of May 1948. Only a dozen kibbutzim in Galilee as well as those of Gush Etzion sent women and children into the safer interior zones.
Ben Gurion gave instructions that the settlements of Negev be reinforced in number of men and goods, in particular the kibbutzim of Kfar Darom and Yad Mordechai (both north of Gaza,) Revivim (south of Beersheba) and Kfar Etzion. Conscious of the danger that weighed upon Negev, the supreme command of Haganah assigned a whole Palmach battalion there.
Jerusalem and the great difficulty of accessing the city became even more critical to its Jewish population, who made up one sixth of the total of Yishuv settlers. The route from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was long and precipitous, which, after leaving the Jewish zone at Hulda, went through the foothills of Latrun Then, the 28 kilometre route between Bab al-Wad and Jerusalem took no less than 3 hours, and the route passed the vicinity of the Arab villages of Saris, Qaluniya, Al-Qastal and Deir Yassin.
Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni arrived in Jerusalem with the intent to surround and besiege its Jewish community. He moved to Surif, a village to the southwest of Jerusalem, with his supporters - around a hundred fighters who were trained in Syria before the war and who served as officers in his army, Jihad al-Muqadas, or Army of the Holy War. He was joined by a hundred or so young villagers and Arab veterans of the British Army. His militia soon had several thousand men, and it moved its training quarters to Bir Zeit, a town near Ramallah. Its zone of influence extended up to Lydda and Ramleh, where Hasan Salama - a veteran of the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine - commanded 1,000 men and co-ordinated, with al-Husayni, a plan of disruption and harassment of road traffic.
On the 14 January, Abd al-Qadir himself commanded and took part in an attack against Kfar Etzion, in which 1,000 Palestinian Arab combatants were involved. The attack was a failure, and 200 of al-Husayni's men died. Nonetheless, the attack did not come without losses of Jewish lives: a detachment of 35 Palmach men who sought to reinforce the establishment were ambushed and killed.
On 25 January, a large scale attack took place in the Arab village of al-Qastal. Due to an appeal by al-Husayni, many people from several Arab-majority villages situated in the northeast of Jerusalem joined the attack, although others did not, for fear of reprisals. The campaign for control over the roads became increasingly militaristic in nature, and became a focal point of the Arab war effort. After 22 March, supply convoys to Jerusalem stopped, due to a convoy of around thirty vehicles having been destroyed in the gorges of Bab-el-Oued.
On 27 March, an important supply convoy from Kfar Etzion was taken in an ambush in southern Jerusalem. They were forced to surrender all of their arms, ammunition and vehicles to al-Husayni's forces. The Jews of Jerusalem requested the assistance of the United Kingdom after 24 hours of combat. According to a British report, the situation in Jerusalem, where a food rationing system was already in application, risked becoming desperate after 15 May.
The situation in other areas of the country was as critical as the one of Jerusalem. The settlements of Negev were utterly isolated, due to the impossibility of using the Southern coastal road, which passed through zones densely populated by Arabs. On 27 March, a convoy of supplies (the Yehiam convoy) that was intended for the isolated kibbutzim north-west of Galilee was attacked in the vicinity of Nahariya. In the ensuing battle, 42-47 Haganah combatants and around a hundred fighters of the Arab Liberation Army were killed, and all vehicles involved were destroyed.
All in all, West Jerusalem was gradually 'choked;' the settlements of Galilee could not be reached in any other way but via the valley of Jordan and the road of Nahariya, both dominated by Arab villages. Haifa could not be joined to Tel-Aviv by the coastal road due to the chain of Arab villages at the Northern part of it. In the south, the four settlements of the Etzion Bloc were besieged and the pipeline that supplied them with water regularly sabotaged.
This situation, the need to prepare the settlements for the foreseen attack of the Arab states in May, and the earlier projected departure date of the British pushed Haganah to the offensive and to apply the Daleth plan from April onwards.
The British either could not or did not want to impede the intervention of foreign forces into Palestine. According to a special report by the UN Special Commission on Palestine:
This description corresponds to the entry of Arab Liberation Army troops between 10 January and the start of March:
Fawzi al-Qawuqji, Field Commander of the Arab Liberation Army, arrived, according to himself, on the 4 March, with the rest of the logistics and around 100 Bosniak volunteers in Jab'a, a small village on the route between Nablus and Jenin. He established a headquarters there and a training centre for Palestinian volunteers.
Alan Cunningham, the British High Commissioner in Palestine, thoroughly protested against the incursions and the fact that 'no serious effort is being made to stop incursions'. The only reaction came from Alec Kirkbride, who complained to Ernest Bevin about Cunningham's 'hostile tone and threats'.
The British and the information service of Yishuv expected an offensive for 15 February, but it would not take place, seemingly because the Mufti troops were not ready.
In March, an Iraqi regiment of the Arab Liberation Army came to reinforce the Palestinian troops of Salameh in the area around Lydda and Ramleh, whilst Al-Hussayni started a headquarters in Bir Zeit, 10 km to the north of Ramallah. At the same time, a number of North African troops, principally Libyans, and hundreds of members of the Muslim Brotherhood entered Palestine. In March, an initial regiment arrived in Gaza and certain militants amongst them reached Jaffa.
The Palestinian Arabs consider any attempt by Jewish people or by whatever power or group of power to establish a Jewish state in an Arab territory to be an act of aggression that will be resisted by force [...]
The prestige of the United Nations would be better served by abandoning this plan and by not imposing such an injustice [...]
The Palestinian Arabs make a grave declaration before the UN, before God and before history that they will never submit to any power that comes to Palestine to impose a partition. The only way to establish a partition is to get rid of them all: men, women, and children.
At the beginning of February 1948, the morale of the Jewish leaders was not high: 'distress and despair arose clearly from the notes taken at the meetings of the Mapai party.' 'The attacks against the Jewish settlements and main roads worsened the direction of the Jewish people, who underestimated the intensity of the Arab reaction. The situation of the 100,000 Jewish people situated in Jerusalem was precarious, and supplies to the city, already slim in number, were likely to be stopped. Nonetheless, despite the setbacks suffered, the Jewish forces, in particular Haganah, remained superior in number and quality to those of the Arab forces.
These people were part of the first wave, chiefly voluntary, of Palestinian refugees of the conflict. Mostly the middle and upper classes fled, including the majority of the families of local governors and representatives of the Arab Higher Committee. Non-Palestinian Arabs also fled in large numbers. Most of them did not abandon the hope of returning to Palestine once the hostilities had ended.
Motivations advanced as regards to Stalin's choice include his support towards the UN Partition plan and his interest in financially aiding Czechoslovakia to lessen their financial frustration after having been refused Marshall Plan assistance.
The extent of this support and the concrete role that it played is up for debate. Figures advanced by historians tend to vary. Yoav Gelber spoke of 'small deliveries from Czechoslovakia arriving by air [...] from April 1948 onwards' whereas various historians have argued that there was an unbalanced level of support in favour of Yishuv, given that the Palestinian Arabs did not benefit from an equivalent level of Soviet support. In any case, the embargo that was extended to all Arab states in May 1948 by the UN Security Council caused great problems to them.
At the Arab League summit of October 1947, in Aley, the Iraqi general, Ismail Safwat, painted a realist picture of the situation. He underlined the better organisation and greater financial support of the Jewish people in comparison to the Palestinians. He recommended the immediate deployment of the Arab armies at the Palestinian borders, the dispatching of weapons and ammunition to the Palestinians, and the contribution of a million pounds of financial aid to them. His proposals were rejected, other than the suggestion to send financial support, which was not followed up on. Nonetheless, a techno-military committee was established to coordinate assistance to the Palestinians. Based in Cairo, it was directed by Sawfat, who was supported by Lebanese and Syrian officers and representatives of the Higher Arab Committee. A Transjordian delegate was also appointed, but he did not participate in meetings.
At the December 1947 Cairo summit, under pressure by public opinion, the Arab leaders decided to create a military command that united all the heads of all the major Arab states, headed by Safwat. They still ignored his calls for financial and military aid, preferring to defer any decision until the end of the Mandate, but, nevertheless, decide to form the Arab Liberation Army, which would go into action in the following weeks.
On the night of 20-21 January 1948, around 700 armed Syrians entered Palestine via Transjordan.
In February 1948, Safwat reiterated his demands, but they fell on deaf ears: the Arab governments hoped that the Palestinians, aided by the Arab Liberation Army, could manage on their own until the International community renounced the partition plan.
Whereas the Arab states had state armies and official structures that guaranteed a steady flow of weapons, ammunition and materials, the other protagonists of the conflict did not. The Palestinian Arabs and the Jews' situation was more delicate, since, during the British mandate, the authorities always prohibited the possession of weapons, and confiscated all that they found. Consequently, neither had heavy weaponry or the advantages that recognised, established states have, and their forces had to be clandestine.
The Arab Liberation Army was, in theory, financed and equipped by the Arab League. A budget of one million pounds sterling had been promised to them, due to the insistence of Ismail Safwat. In reality, though, funding never arrived, and only Syria truly supported the Arab volunteers in concrete terms. On the ground, logistics were completely neglected, and their leader, Fawzi al-Qawuqji, envisaged that his troops survive only on the expenses accorded to them by the Palestinian population.
The situation that the Army of the Holy War and the Palestinian forces were in was worse. They could not rely on any form of foreign support and had to get by on the funds that Mohammad Amin al-Husayni could raise. The troops' armament was limited to what the fighters already had. To make things even worse, they had to be content with arms bought on the black market or pillaged from British warehouses, and, as a result, did not really have enough arms to wage war.
The situation in which Jewish fighters found themselves in was better than that of the Palestinian Arabs, since they benefitted from a number of clandestine factories that manufactured light weapons and ammunition. However, they had far less than what was necessary to carry out a war: in November, only one out of every three Jewish combatants was armed, rising to two out of three within Palmach.
However, for Ben-Gurion, the problem was not essentially having the capacity of waging war, but of constructing an army that was worthy to be a state army. The importance that he accorded to this is illustrated by the practice of combining the cabinet posts of Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, a practice that he initiated and that many of his successors follow.
To arm and equip this army, he sent agents to Europe and to the USA, thence came the essential support in terms of light arms and munitions, which began to arrive at the start of April. From June, onwards, there was also a flow of heavy arms.
Until March, Haganah suffered a lack of arms similar to that of the Army of Holy War. From April onwards, it was armed better than the Palestinians, but, after 15 May, during the first weeks of the Arab-Israeli War, the arms advantage leant in favour of the Arab states. From June, after the first truce, the advantage leant clearly towards the Israelis. This situation's changing was due to the contacts made in November 1947 and afterwards.
The Jewish armament movement was helped out after the Yishuv agents obtained a supply of Avia planes from Czechoslovakia and, later on in the conflict, Supermarine Spitfires, machine guns and munitions. In the stockpiles left over from World War II, they procured all the necessary equipment, vehicles and logistics needed for an army. In France, they procured armoured vehicles despite the ongoing embargo. Jewish agents also bought machines to manufacture arms and munitions, forming the foundations of the Israeli armament industry.
In the USA, they bought a number of bombardiers and aeroplanes, which allowed for the transporting of arms purchased in Europe. Operation Balak was put in place to bring these arms and munitions to Israel by the end of March. Some ships were also leased out from various European ports so that these goods could be transported by the 15 May. To finance all of this, Golda Meir managed, by the end of December, to collect twenty-five million dollars through a fundraising campaign set about in the USA to capitalise on American sympathisers to the Zionist cause. Out of the 129 million US dollars raised between October 1947 and March 1949 for the Zionist cause, more than 78 million dollars, over 60%, were used to buy arms and munition.
After 'having gotten the Jews of Palestine and of elsewhere to do everything that they could, personally and financially, to help Yishuv,' Ben-Gurion's second greatest achievement was his having successfully transformed Haganah from being a clandestine paramilitary organization into a true army. Ben-Gurion appointed Israel Galili to the position of head of the High Command counsel of Haganah and divided Haganah into 6 infantry brigades, numbered 1 to 6, allotting a precise theatre of operation to each one. Yaakov Dori was named Chief of Staff, but it was Yigal Yadin who assumed the responsibility on the ground as chief of Operations. Palmach, commanded by Yigal Allon, was divided into 3 elite brigades, numbered 10-12, and constituted the mobile force of Haganah.
On 19 November 1947, obligatory conscription is instituted and all men and women received military training.
"From November 1947, the Haganah, (...) began to change from a territorial militia into a regular army. (...) Few of the units had been well trained by December. (...) By March-April, it fielded still under-equipped battalion and brigades. By April-May, the Haganah was conducting brigade size offensive.
Plan Dalet was finalised on 10 March 1948, under the direction of Yigal Yadin. 75 pages long, it laid down the rules and the objects that were to be followed by Haganah during the second phase of the war. Its principal objective was to secure Yishuv's uninterrupted territorial connections, particularly in response to the war of the roads carried out by Al-Hussayni and in preparation for the Arab states' declared intervention. Plan Dalet caused quite a controversy amongst historians. Some see it as an offensive plan that approves of ethnic cleansing, and the conquering of as much of Palestine as possible, whereas others think that the plan was primarily defensive and military in nature and a preparation against invasion.
The second phase of the war, which began in April, marked a huge change in direction, as Haganah moved to the offensive.
In this stage, Arab forces were composed of around 10,000 men among which between 3,000 and 5,000 foreign volunteers serving in the Arab Liberation Army. Haganah and Palmach forces were steadily increasing. In March, they aligned around 15,000 men and in May around 30,000 who were better equipped, trained and organized.
The armed Palestinian groups were roundly defeated, Yishuv took control of some of the principal routes that linked the Jewish settlements, and as a consequence, Jerusalem was able to receive supplies again. Palestinian society collapsed. Many mixed cities were taken by the Haganah as well as Jaffa. A massive exodus was triggered.
At the end of March, 1948, Hussayni's troops prevented supply convoys from reaching Jerusalem. The city was besieged and the Jewish population was forced to adhere to a rationing system. As the first operation of Plan Daleth, Ben-Gurion decided to launch the Nachshon operation to open up the town and provide supplies to Jerusalem.
Between 5-20 April 1500 men from the Guivati and Harel brigades took control of the road to Jerusalem and allowed 3 or 4 convoys to get to the city.
The operation was a military success. All the Arab villages that blocked the route were either taken or destroyed, and the Jewish forces were victorious in all their engagements. Nonetheless, not all the objectives of the operation were achieved, since only 1800 tonnes of the 3,000 envisaged were transported to the town, and two months of severe rationing had to be assumed.
Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni was killed during the night of 7-8 April, in the middle of the battles taking place in Al-Qastal. The loss of this charismatic Palestinian leader 'disrupted the Arab strategy and organisation in the area of Jerusalem.' His successor, Emil Ghuri, changed tactics: instead of provoking a series of ambushes throughout the route, he had a huge road block erected at Bab-el-Oued, and Jerusalem was once again isolated as a consequence.
The Nachshon operation exposed the bad military organisation of the Palestinian paramilitary groups. Due to lack of logistics, particularly food and ammunition, they were incapable of maintaining engagements that were more than a few hours away from their permanent bases.
Faced with these events, the Arab Higher Committee asked Alan Cunningham to allow the return of the Mufti, the only person capable of redressing the situation. Despite obtaining permission, the Mufti did not get to Jerusalem. His declining prestige cleared the way for the expansion of the influence of the Arab Liberation Army and of Fawzi al-Kawukji in the Jerusalem area.
Deir Yassin is a village located 5 kilometres west of Jerusalem. On 9 April 1948, independently of the Nachshon operation but with the agreement of the Haganah, around 120 Irgun and Lehi attacked the village of Deir Yassin. They massacred between 100 and 120 inhabitants of the village, mostly civilians.
This massacre led to indignation from the international community, the more so since the press of the time reported that the death toll was 254. Ben-Gurion roundly condemned it, as did the principal Jewish authorities: Haganah, the Great Rabbinate and the Jewish Agency for Israel, who sent a letter of condemnation, apology and condolence to King Abdullah I.
According to Morris, "the most important immediate effect of the atrocity and the media campaign that followed it was how one started to report the fear felt in Palestinian towns and villages, and, later, the panicked fleeing from them.
Another important repercussion was within the Arab population of neighbouring Arab states, which, once again, increased its pressure on the representatives of these states to intervene and come to the aid of the Palestinians.
On the 13 April, in revenge, a medical convoy that was driving towards Jerusalem's Hadassah of Mount Scopus hospital was attacked by Arabs, killing 80 Jewish doctors and patients. A few British soldiers tried to intervene to stop this massacre, but without success.
Mishmar HaEmek is a kibbutz that was founded by Mapam in 1930, in the Jezreel Valley, close to the road between Haifa and Jenin that passes the Megiddo kibbutz. It is situated in a place that Haganah officers considered to be on one of the most likely axes of penetration for a 'major Arab attack' against the Yishuv.
On 4 April, the Arab Liberation Army launched an attack on the kibbutz with the support of artillery cannons. The attack was fought off by the members of the kibbutz, who were supported by Haganah soldiers. The artillery fire that had almost totally destroyed the kibbutz was stopped by a British column, who arrived on the scene by order of General MacMillan, and, on 7 April, Fawzi Al-Qawuqji accepted a 24-hour ceasefire, but required that the kibbutz be surrendered. The inhabitants of the kibbutz evacuated their children, and, after having consulted Tel-Aviv, refused to surrender.
On the 8 or 9 April, Haganah prepared a counter-offensive, with accordance to Plan Dalet. Yitzhak Sadeh was put in charge of operations, with the order to 'clean out' the region. The battle lasted until the 15 April. Sadeh's men besieged all the villages around the kibbutz, and the Arab Liberation Army had to retreat to its bases in Jabba. The majority of the inhabitants of the region fled, but those who did not were either imprisoned or expelled to Jenin. The villages were plundered by some kibbutznikim and razed to the ground with explosives.
According to Morris, the Arab Liberation Army soldiers were demoralised by reports of the Deir Yassin massacre and the death of Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni. Throughout battle, they had generally been forced to withdraw and to abandon the people of the villages. Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins report that Joshua Palmon, head of a unit of 6 men, failed to seize invaluable pieces of artillery, and they depict the events as a débâcle for which Fawzi Al-Qawuqji offered extravagant excuses, declaring in particular that the Jewish forces has 120 tanks, six squadrons of fighter and bomber aeroplanes and that they were supported by a regiment of gentile Russian volunteers.
When the battle finished, Palmach forces continued 'cleaning' operations until the 19 April, destroying several villages and forcing those who inhabited them to flee. Some villages were also evacuated under the instruction of Arab authorities.
In May, Irgun engaged in several operations in the region, razing a number of villages and killing some of their inhabitants, as did some detachments from the Golani and Alexandroni brigades.
Following the 'fiasco' of Mishmar HaEmek, Fawzi Al-Qawuqji ordered the Druze regiment of the Arab Liberation Army into action, to carry out diversion operations. Druze soldiers took position in several Arab villages 12 kilometres to the east of Haifa, whence they occasionally attacked traffic and Jewish settlements, including Ramat Yohanan.
The Kibbutznikim and the Haganah soldiers that supported them forced back their attacks with ease, and razed the villages from which they launched their attacks in retaliation. Having run out of ammunition, the Druzim withdrew to their base in Shafa'amr, with one hundred casualties.
The Druzim had already made contact on several occasions with Yishuv agents, and, following their defeat at Ramat Yohanan, the Druze officers, without the knowledge of their officer, offered to defect and to join the ranks of Haganah. This proposition was discussed with Yigael Yadin, who refused the proposal but suggested that they could help to carry out sabotage operations behind the backs of the Arabs and to influence their comrades into deserting the army. By the start of May, 212 Wahab soldiers deserted, Taking into account the attitude of his men, Wahab met with Jewish liaison officers on the 9 May and agreed to cooperate with Haganah. The two parties avoided clashes, and Wahab created a neutral enclave in the centre of Galilee. Wahab's army did not respond to calls for it to help fight Haganah's occupation of Acre, and avoided being present whilst Haganah occupied the police fortress of Shafa'amr during its evacuation by the British.
The position that the Druzim took influenced their fate after the war. Given the good relationship between the Druzim and Yishuv from 1930 onwards despite their collaboration with the Arab Higher Council and the Arab League, Ben-Gurion insisted that the Druzim, as well as the Circassians and the Maronites benefit from a different position to that of the other Arabs.
In the context of Plan Dalet, mixed urban centres, or those on the borders of the Jewish state, were attacked and besieged by Jewish forces. Tiberias was attacked on 10 April and fell six days later; Haifa fell on 23 April, after only one day of combat (Operation Bi'ur Hametz), and Jaffa was attacked on 27 April but fell only after the British abandoned it (Operation Hametz). Safed and Beisan fell on 11 May and 13 May respectively, within the framework of Operation Yitfah, and Acre fell on 17 May, within the framework of Operation Ben Ami.
The Arab inhabitants of these towns fled or were expelled en masse. In these 6 cities, only 13,000 of the total of 177,000 Arab inhabitants remained by the end of May. This phenomenon ricocheted also in the suburbs and the majority of the zone's Arab villages.
Allon was in charge of two undermanned Palmach battalions, which had to face the populace of Safed and several dozen Arab villages. The situation was made more problematic by the presence of the British, although they began their evacuation of the area. According to his analysis, it was essential that they empty the zone of any Arab presence to completely protect themselves; the exodus would also encumber the roads that the Arab forces would have to penetrate.
On 20 April, Allon launched a campaign that mixed propaganda, attacks, seizing control of strongholds that the British had abandoned, and destroying conquered Arab villages. On 1 May, a counter-offensive was launched by Arab militiamen against Jewish settlements but was ultimately unsuccessful. On 11 May, Safed fell, and the operation finished on 24 May after the villages of the valley of Hula were burnt down. Syrian forces' planned offensive in the area failed and, by the end of June, the zone covering everywhere from Tiberias to Metula, encorporating Safed, was emptied of all its Arab population.
On 10 May, Golda Meir and Ezra Danin secretly went to Aman, to the palace of King Abdullah to discuss the situation with him. The situation that Abdullah found himself in was difficult. On one hand, his personal ambitions, the promises made by the Yishuv in November 1947 and the British approval of these promises pushed him to consider annexing the Arab part of Palestine without intervening against the future state of Israel. On the other hand, the pressure exerted by his people in reaction to the massacre of Deir Yassin, combined with their feelings with regard to the Palestinian exodus and his agreements with other members of the Arab League pushed him to be more strongly involved in the war against Israel. He also found himself in a position of power, having the benefit of military support from not only the Arab League, but the British. In his diary, Ben-Gurion wrote about Golda Meir's reaction to the meeting:
We met [on 10 May] amicably. He was very worried and looks terrible. He did not deny that there had been talk and understanding between us about a desirable arrangement, namely that he would take the Arab part [of Palestine]. (...) But Abdullah had said that he could now, on 10 May, only offer the Jews "autonomy" within an enlarged Hashemite kingdom. He added that while he was not interested in invading the areas allocated for Jewish statehood, the situation was volatile. But he voiced the hope that Jordan and the Yishuv would conclude a peace agreement once the dust had settled.
Historical analyses of the motivations and conclusions of this meeting are disparate.
According to Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins - as well as Israeli historiographers - the intention behind the Yishuv's negotiation was to obtain a peace treaty and avoid an attack by Arab forces. At that time, the balance of power was not favourable for them, but Meir did not manage to convince the King.
According to Morris, Abdullah 'reconsidered the promises that he made in November to not be opposed to the partition plan,' but left Meir with the impression that he would make peace with the Jewish state once the civil war had finished.
Avi Shlaim spoke of a 'tacit' agreement to prevent the division of Palestine with the Palestinians, arguing the idea that there was a collusion between the Hashemite Kingdom and Yishuv. The historian Yoav Gelber, however, rejected this idea and devoted an entire work to dismounting it.
Pierre Razoux indicated that 'the majority of experts consider it probable' that Ben-Gurion and King Abdullah had an understanding over dividing Palestine, and that only the pressure from the Arab states on Abdullah constrained him from following up on his promise. According to Razoux, this idea explains the attitude of the British, who, following this plan, would thereby fulfill the promises made by Arthur Balfour to the Yishuv and the Hashemite empire at the same time. He states that the presence of Arab Legion troops, before 15 May, near strategic positions held by the British is in this way easy to understand...
Ilan Pappé stressed that neither Abdullah's ministers, nor the Arab world itself, seemed to be privy to the discussions held between him and the Yishuv, even if his ambitions on Palestine were widely known. He also stated that Sir Alec Kirkbride and Glubb Pasha thought at the time that, at the very least, Azzam Pasha, the Secretary of the Arab League, must have known about Abdullah's double game.
It is certain, on the other hand, that Golda Meir and King Abdullah did not come to an agreement on the status of Jerusalem. On 13 May, the Arab Legion took Kfar Etzion, strategically located halfway along the road between Hebron and Jerusalem. On 17 May, Abdullah ordered Glubb Pasha, commander of the Arab Legion, to launch an attack against the Holy City.
Kfar Etzion is a group of four settlements established on the strategic route between Hebron and Jerusalem, right in the middle of Arab territory. It had 400 inhabitants at the end of 1947. After the adoption of the partition plan, it was the object of Arab attacks. Ben Gurion reinforced it on 7 December, protecting it with a Palmach division, but on 8 January, he authorised the evacuation of the women and children of the settlements.
After 26 March, the last date on which a supply convoy successfully reached it, despite heavy losses of life, the defenders were completely isolated.
On 12 May, Arab Legion units started to attack the settlements. The motivations advanced include their desire to protect one of their last supply convoys before the embargo took effect, which had to travel down the road by Kfar Etzion. Another theory is that the block of settlements obstructed the deployment of the Legion in the area around Hebron, whose attack was one of Abdullah's principal objectives. External defences fell quickly, and, on the 13 May, the first kibbutz was captured, and those who were taken prisoner were massacred; only four survived. Of the 131 defenders, 127, including 21 women, were killed, or massacred after they surrendered. The other three establishments surrendered, and the kibbutzim were first plundered, then razed to the ground.
The events that took place at Kfar Etzion made apparent the limitations of the policy prohibiting evacuation. Although it was effective during civil war, when facing militias, isolated Jewish settlements could not resist the fire power of a regular army, and an evacuation could have made it possible to avoid the captivity or death of those who defended the settlements.
According to Yoav Gelber, the fall and massacre of Kfar Eztion influenced Ben-Gurion's decision to engage the Arab Legion on its way to Jerusalem, although the Haganah General Staff were divided about whether the Legion should be challenged inside Jerusalem itself as such a move could harm the Jews in the city. Ben Gurion left the final decision to Shaltiel. The battle for Jerusalem was thus set in motion.
The Haganah intended to capture the Old City during the final days of the Mandate. Its attacks on the seam between East and West Jerusalem from 13-18 May (known as Operation Kilshon) were planned as the initial phase of this conquest.
In Jerusalem, the British held several strategically-located security zones named "Bevingrads", at its centre. The city's radio station, telephone exchange and government hospital were located there, along with a number of barracks and the fashionable Notre Dame country inn, which dominated the city. One of the main objectives of Operation Kilshon was to take control of these zones of strategic importance whilst the British withdrew. On 13 May the Haganah extended its control of the Old City's Jewish Quarter and on 14th (having obtained the precise schedule of the evacuation with British complicity) took control of the Bevingrads, including the central post office and the Russian Church compound at 04:00. Having taken the Arab troops by surprise, they were unable to offer any resistance.
A secondary objective of Operation Kilshon was to simultaneously create a continuous frontline between the various isolated Jewish localities. For this aim, Brigadier General David Shaltiel, Haganah's former envoy to Europe, was deployed along with a troop of 400 Haganah soldiers and 600 militia soldiers. Emil Ghuri, the new leader of the Army of the Holy War, also envisaged taking these districts and mobilised 600 soldiers for the mission, but prepared no specific operation.
The secondary aim was also successful. In the North of the city, Jewish forces seized Arab-populated Sheikh Jarrah, made a connection with Mount Scopus, and took the villages surrounding the American settlement. In the South, they ensured the connection of the German and Greek settlements with Talpiot and Ramat Rahel, after having taken the Allenby barracks. A Palmach unit even re-established contact with the Jewish district in the Old City via the Zion Gate.
The irregular Arabic forces were rendered impotent and yielded to panic, calling the situation hopeless and announcing the imminent fall of the city.
Within the framework of Plan Dalet, Yigal Yadin intended to make a breakthrough in the west of Galilee, wherein a number of isolated Jewish settlements were situated. This zone, which covers the land from Acre all the way to the Lebanese border, was allocated to the Arabs by the Partition plan, but was on the road through which Lebanese forces intended to enter into Palestine.
The command of this operation was entrusted to Moshe Carmel, head of the Carmeli brigade. It consisted of two phases: the first began on the evening of 13 May, when a column of Haganah's armoured vehicles and lorries advanced along the coast with no resistance. The forces of the Arab Liberation Army fled without entering battle, and the first phase of the operation finished when Acre was taken on 18 May. In the second phase, from the 19 May to the 21 May, troops went as far as the Yehi'am kibbutz by the Lebanese border, connecting it and conquering and destroying a number of Arab villages on the way.
Haganah's move to offensive operations during the second phase of the war was accompanied by a huge exodus that involved 300,000 Arab refugees, not to forget the 100,000 of the First wave. The term 'Palestinian exodus' is often used to refer to both these and two subsequent waves. These two waves gained a considerable amount of press interest and were widely relayed in the press of the time, more so than most other Palestine-related events.
The causes of and responsibility for this exodus are highly controversial topics amongst commentators on the conflict and even historians who specialise in this era. Amongst the various possible causes, some attribute the exodus mainly to Arab authorities' instructions to escape, whereas others feel that a policy of expulsion had been organised by the Yishuv authorities and implemented by Haganah. Others yet reject these two assumptions and see the exodus as the cumulative effect of all the civil war's consequences.
During the last meeting of the Arab League in February 1948, the Arab leaders expressed their convictions in the capacity of the Arab Liberation Army to help the Palestinians and to force the international community to give up on the UN-backed partition plan. The following summit took place in Cairo on 10 April, with the situation having clearly developed with the death of Al-Hussayni and the debacle at Mishmar Ha'emek.
Once again, Ismail Safwat called for the immediate deployment of the Arab state armies at the borders of Palestine, and for the need to go beyond the established policy of participating in little more than small-scale raids towards taking part in large-scale operations. For the first time, the Arab leaders discussed the possibility of intervening in Palestine.
Syria and Lebanon declared themselves ready to intervene immediately, but King Abdullah refused to let the Arab Legion forces intervene immediately in favour of the Palestinians, a move which irritated the Secretary-General of the League, who declared that Abdallah only cedes to the British diktat.
Nonetheless, Abdullah declared himself ready to send the Legion to assist the Palestinian cause after 15 May. In response, Syria insisted that the Egyptian army also take part, and, in spite of the opposition of Egypt's prime minister, King Farkouk responded favourably to the Syrian request, but due to his aim of curbing the Jordanians' hegemonic goals rather than his desire to help the Palestinians.
Later on, following the visit of several Palestinian dignitaries in Amman, and despite the opposition of Syria and the Mufti, Hadj Amin Al-Hussayni, Azzam Pasha accepted Abdullah's proposition and sent Ismail Safwat to Amman to organise a coordination between the Arab Liberation Army and Jordan's Arab Legion. It was decided that command over the operations would be reserved for King Abdullah, and that the Iraqis would deploy a brigade in Transjordan to prepare for intervention on 15 May.
On 26 April, the 'intention to occupy Palestine' was officially announced at the Transjordanian parliament and the Jewish people were 'invited to place themselves beneath King Abdullah's jurisdiction.' The intention to spare their lives was also promised. Yishuv perceived this declaration as being one of war and encourages the Western world to pressure the King, through diplomatic means, to prevent his intervention.
On 30 April, Jordanians, Egyptians and Iraqis disputed the command of Abdullah. Abdullah received the honorary title of Commander-in-Chief, whilst the Iraqi general, Aldine Nur Mahmud, was named Chief of Staff. Despite this show of unity, it was agreed that each army would act independent of each other in the theatre of operations.
On 4 May, the Iraqi task force arrived at Mafraq. It was composed of a regiment of armoured tanks, a regiment of mechanised infantry, and twenty-four artillery weapons, and included 1500 men. The Egyptians formed two brigades, deploying around 700 men into the Sinai. The Syrians could not put together a better force, whereas the Lebanese announced that they could not take part in military operations on 10 May.
It was only two days before, on 8 May, that the British Foreign Office was certain of the Arab invasion. Whereas British analysts considered that all Arab armies, except the Arab Legion, were not prepared for the engagements to come, the Egyptian officers claimed that their advance would be 'a parade with the least risk,' and that their army 'would be in Tel-Aviv after just two weeks.'
The state of preparation of the army was such that they did not even have maps of Palestine. At the time, the final plans of invasion had not even been established yet. British leaders tried in vain to make the Arab leaders reconsider their decision, and Ismail Safwat resigned in indifference, but the Arab states seemed resolute. On 15 May 1948, the Arab League announced officially that it would intervene in Palestine to guarantee the security and right to self-determination of the inhabitants of Palestine in an independent state. Azzam Pasha declared on Cairo radio: 'This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.'
According to Benny Morris, the result of these five and a half months of fighting was a "decisive Jewish victory". On one side, the "Palestinian Arab military power was crushed" and most of the population was fleeing or had been driven out. On the other side, the "Haganah transformed from a militia into an army" and succeeded "in consolidating its hold on a continuous strip of territory embracing the Coastal Plain, the Jezreel Valley, and the Jordan Valley". The Yishuv proved it had the capability to defend itself, persuading the United States and the remaining of the world to support it and the "victory over the Palestinian Arabs gave the Haganah the experience and self-confidence [...] to confront [...] the invading armies of the Arab states.
On 14 May 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared the independence of the state of Israel and the 1948 Palestine war entered its second phase with the intervention of the Arab state armies and the beginning of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.