The history of the 1948-9 Arab-Israeli war is deeply controversial. Israelis and their supporters have traditionally referred to the conflict as the War of Independence, seeing it as a defensive war to prevent the destruction of the fledgling Jewish state in the face of overwhelming Arab aggression. Palestinian Arabs and their allies know the events around it as the Nakba (catastrophe)–the destruction of Palestinian society, the establishment of Jewish rule in Palestine, and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Arabs from their homes.
Jewish Immigrants Seek a Safe Haven
The war had its roots in waves of Zionist immigration to the Land of Israel, beginning in the 1880s and peaking in the 1930s and 40s, with the flight of Jews from the Holocaust. Their plight and the absence of a single country willing to give them a home made urgent the need for a Jewish state.
Following WWII, hundreds of thousands of Jewish displaced persons set their sights on aliyah, but the British government–in control of Palestine since 1917 and keen to maintain friendly relations with the Arab world–refused to admit them. As violence between Jews, Arabs, and the British mounted, Britain handed over the problem to the United Nations.
In 1947, Palestine’s population of 1.85 million was approximately one-third Jewish and two-thirds Arab. The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) proposed the end of British rule and the partition of the country into Jewish and Arab states and an internationally controlled area around Jerusalem. The Zionists, desperate to enable Jewish immigration and with an eye to future territorial expansion, accepted the plan. The Arabs rejected it as they opposed any Jewish rule in Palestine.
On November 29, on the heels of the UN General Assembly’s vote in favor of partition, Jewish settlements and neighborhoods were attacked by Palestinian guerrillas.
What ensued was, in effect, two separate conflicts: a civil war between Palestine’s Jews and Arabs (November 29 1947-May 14 1948) was followed by the establishment of the state of Israel and its invasion by five Arab armies; the ensuing war lasted until July 1949.
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