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From its creation, Israel was dominated by two opposing forces: growth and war. Within five years of the birth of the state, the population more than doubled; at the same time, Israel’s sovereignty was constantly threatened by the Arab states that surround it. During this period Israel fought three wars against its neighbors, and lost and regained territories including the Old City of Jerusalem.
The Partition Plan
In February 1947, Great Britain, a declining empire, gave up control of Palestine to the United Nations. On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted to partition Palestine, providing both Arabs and Jews with their own land.
Fighting broke out after the partition plan was announced and continued well into the following year. The Irgun, the underground Jewish military force, was buoyed by its military victories in the spring and finally declared independence. On May 14, 1948 David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, read the Israeli Declaration of Independence to the public. The following day war erupted when Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon sent their armies to invade the nascent state.
War of Independence
Syrian and Lebanese troops moved into the north of Israel,while Iraqi units and Transjordan’s Arab Legion focused their attack on Jerusalem. Other Arab units were deployed to Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley and later in the Galilee. Jerusalem was a highly contested territory,and the battles for it were costly for the Haganah, the new Israeli army. By the second United Nations truce on July 18, much of the Negev was still controlled by the Egyptian army.
The battles continued to rage until the United Nations Security Council called for a permanent armistice on December 29, 1948. The Arab states still refused to negotiate directly with Israel.
The population losses exceeded 6,000, and the War of Independence took on mythic proportions in Israeli culture. Its combatants were seen as new Hebrew warriors. The Canaanite movement, a small group of artists and thinkers in the post-independence era, was extremely effective in juxtaposing the tanned, tall, and strong sabra or native Israeli Jew, to the weak, downtrodden Diaspora Jew.
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