(JEWS and ARABS from WW2 to 1967 – continued)

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JEWS and ARABS from WW2 to 1967 (3 of 10)

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War of Independence

The volunteer Arab Liberation Army from the various Arab League countries joined with local Palestinians in warring against Jews, including Jews in areas that the UN had designated as belonging to the Jews. To protect Jewish settlements, the Haganah pushed into areas designated by the UN as belonging to the Arabs.

Jews fought to take supplies to their people in Jerusalem. They were blocked at the village of Deir Yassin, five miles west of Jerusalem. There the Arab Liberation Army had taken up positions in the middle of Muslim civilians. The Irgun and Stern Gang went against them. According to Menachem Begin, loudspeakers were used to warn civilians that a heavy bombardment was about to begin. Perhaps the civilians did not hear the message because of the noise of battle. There are claims that the Arab army did not want the civilians to move. An Arab account tells of the Jews massacring 250 villagers – old men, women and children. A later Arab account,around the year 2002, puts the number closer to 100.

Word of what happened at Deir Yassin spread among the Muslims. Encouraged by leading Arabs, a mass outpouring of civilians began to abandon their homes and move into surrounding Arab countries. From the north of Palestine some went to Lebanon, some to Iraq and some to Syria. Some went southward within the West Bank. Some Arabs from Jerusalem went to Transjordan. And from the more southern part of Palestine some went to the Gaza area and some went to Egypt. It was the beginning of Palestinian refugee camps. In Haifa, the Leftist Jewish mayor, Abba Hushi, was concerned that a loss of skilled longshoremen would end the city as a major port, and he pleaded with the Arabs to stay, but to no avail. Some other Jews saw advantage in the Arabs leaving, and some used force to drive Arabs away.

On 14 May 1948, twenty-four hours before Britain's mandate to rule in Palestine was scheduled to end, Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, proclaimed the independence of the state of Israel. President Truman extended US recognition of Israel, and hours later so did Joseph Stalin. With Britain no longer blockading arms, weaponry started to flow to the Jews. Stalin at this time was not courting favor from the Muslims of the Middle East. He had been hostile to Zionism but he was hoping to win friends and influence people in Israel, and he sent to Israel arms from Czechoslovakia.

Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Transjordan were preparing to make war on Israel. The rank and file of their forces are said to have lacked rudimentary training, and they were poorly led. The Muslims, moreover, were in conflict with each other. There was territorial rivalry between Palestine's al-Husseini family and Transjordan's king, Abdullah. The Iraqis were at odds with the Syrians and the Jordanians with the Iraqis not wanting to advance the interests of either.

The Israelis were better organized, better disciplined and better equipped. Many of their officers had fought with the British in World War II. But despite aide from abroad, they were barely equipped to fight a war.

In the north, at Deganya, the Israelis fired two 65 millimeter artillery guns at the Syrians – guns that had just arrived by ship and that had been rushed to the front. The advancing Syrians, with tanks and flamethrowers, panicked and fled. In the southern war zone the Egyptians also panicked and fled. Egypt's airforce bombed some Israeli cities, but ineffectively.  What worked well for the Israelis was their determination. Unlike their enemies they were fighting for their survival as a nation.

Help from abroad increased. Volunteer combatants arrived, many of them veterans of World War II – around 1,500 from the United States and Canada, 1000 from Britain, 500 from South Africa, and around 30 from Finland. Some surplus US tanks still in Europe and with spiked guns were purchased. Israel bought 1,100 automatic weapons from the US and received a dozen "Flying Fortress" bombers. Fifty jeeps arrived, equipped with light machine guns. And Mexico sent high-octane aircraft fuel.

The British, still in power in Transjordan, encouraged King Abdullah to take control over those parts of Palestine that the UN in 1947 had allocated to the Arabs. During the war there were complaints from Palestinians that Jews were looting and destroying villages. That charge was made by a UN mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte. Yehoshua Cohen, a member of the Stern Gang, assassinated Bernadotte on 17 September 1948, because, he said, Bernadotte had proposed an Arab administration for Jerusalem. Cohen was following orders from Stern Gang leaders, one of which was Yitzhak Shamir, future rightwing Prime Minister of Israel. Ben-Gurion and most other Israelis were outraged, and Ben-Gurion ordered the arrest of all Stern Gang members. Soon fighting took place between the Israeli army and the armies of the Irgun (still under Begin's leadership) and the Stern Gang, as Ben-Gurion was determined to end all independent and semi-independent forces in Israel and put all combatants within the discipline of his military.

On 24 February 1949, Israel signed an agreement with Egypt, ending the violence between them. On March 23 an agreement was signed with Lebanon, on April 3 with Syria, and on July 20 with Iraq, Iraq withdrawing its troops and transferring land it held to Transjordan. On the Arab side, the agreement was seen as merely an end to contemporary hostilities. The Israelis wanted it to represent peace and a permanent settlement.

Transjordan was in possession of much of the West Bank, and it controlled all but western Jerusalem, held by the Jews. Jerusalem was to be a divided city for years to come. In that part of Jerusalem controlled by the Arabs was the old Jewish Quarter. The Arabs destroyed it and thirty-five houses of Jewish worship. Freedom of access to religious shrines for all worshipers had been agreed to at the signing of the end of the war, but Jordan did not keep its promise. No one was allowed to pray at the Kotel HaMaaravi (Wailing Wall), no Jew was allowed to visit the Tombs of the Patriarchs in Hebron. No Jews were allowed at the ancient cemetery on the mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Jordan built a highway across the cemetery that could easily have been built elsewhere. Tombstones were used by the Arabs as latrines. And where Jewish religious tradition held that the Messiah would arrive to give judgment, the Jordanians allowed construction by the Intercontinental Hotel Chain.

Jordan expelled Jews from the areas it controlled, and the Jews were unwilling to withdraw from areas they had gained militarily. Israelis saw the United Nations partition resolution of 1947 as having been annulled by the war made upon them by the various Arab states. Israel was unwilling to allow Arabs who had abandoned their homes to return. They believed that the return of these refugees would create too great of a security risk.

Israel gave citizenship and rights to those Muslims who stayed behind. According to the Israelis, the only Arabs forced from their homes in the years just following the war of independence were those who posed an exceptional security risk and those occupying land where a new international airport was being built – at Lod.

None of the Arab countries wanted to recognize Israel. There were complaints that Zionists had driven Palestinians from their homeland. Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq refused to integrate Muslim refugees, claiming that the refugees should return to what had been their homes in Palestine and that such a return was God's will. So the refugee camps would remain. Together the Muslim countries held 99.9 percent of the land in what is called the Middle East. Israel comprised only 0.1 percent. The Muslims continued to believe that all of Palestine was a part of Islam's holy land.


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