Myths & Facts Online
The War of 1948
Jews started the first war with the Arabs.
United States was the only nation that criticized the
Arab attack on Israel.
West’s support of Israel allowed the Jews to conquer
Arab economic boycott of Israel was imposed after the
The Jews started the first
war with the Arabs.
The chairman of the Arab Higher Committee
said the Arabs would “fight for every inch of their
Two days later, the holy men of Al-Azhar University
in Cairo called on the Muslim world to proclaim a jihad
(holy war) against the Jews.2
Jamal Husseini, the Arab Higher Committee’s spokesman,
had told the UN prior to the partition vote the Arabs
would drench “the soil of our beloved country with
the last drop of our blood . . . .”3
Husseini’s prediction began to come
true almost immediately after the UN
adopted the partition
resolution on November 29, 1947. The Arabs declared
a protest strike and instigated riots that claimed
the lives of 62 Jews and 32 Arabs. Violence continued
to escalate through the end of the year.4
The first large-scale assaults began
on January 9, 1948, when approximately 1,000 Arabs attacked
Jewish communities in northern Palestine. By February,
the British said so many Arabs had infiltrated they
lacked the forces to run them back.5
In fact, the British turned over bases and arms to Arab
irregulars and the Arab Legion.
In the first phase of the war, lasting
from November 29, 1947 until April 1, 1948, the Palestinian
Arabs took the offensive, with help from volunteers
from neighboring countries. The Jews suffered severe
casualties and passage along most of their major roadways
On April 26, 1948, Transjordan’s King
All our efforts to find a peaceful
solution to the Palestine problem have failed. The
only way left for us is war. I will have the pleasure
and honor to save Palestine.6
On May 4, 1948, the Arab Legion attacked
Kfar Etzion. The defenders drove them back, but the
Legion returned a week later. After two days, the ill-equipped
and outnumbered settlers were overwhelmed. Many defenders
were massacred after they had surrendered.7
This was prior to the invasion by the regular Arab armies
that followed Israel’s declaration
The UN blamed the Arabs for the violence.
The UN Palestine Commission, which was never permitted
by the Arabs or British to go to Palestine to implement
the resolution, reported to the Security
Council on February 16, 1948, that “powerful
Arab interests, both inside and outside Palestine, are
defying the resolution of the General Assembly and are
engaged in a deliberate effort to alter by force the
settlement envisaged therein.”8
The representative of the Jewish
Agency told us yesterday that they were not the attackers,
that the Arabs had begun the fighting. We did not
deny this. We told the whole world that we were going
The British commander of Jordan’s Arab
Legion, John Bagot Glubb admitted:
Early in January, the first detachments
of the Arab Liberation Army began to infiltrate into
Palestine from Syria. Some came through Jordan and
even through Amman . . . They were in reality to strike
the first blow in the ruin of the Arabs of Palestine.10
Despite the disadvantages in numbers,
organization and weapons, the Jews began to take the
initiative in the weeks from April 1 until the declaration
of independence on May 14. The Haganah
captured several major towns including Tiberias
and temporarily opened the road to Jerusalem.
The partition resolution was never
suspended or rescinded. Thus, Israel, the Jewish State
in Palestine, was born on May 14, as the British finally
left the country. Five Arab armies (Egypt, Syria, Transjordan,
Lebanon and Iraq) immediately invaded Israel. Their
intentions were declared by Azzam Pasha, Secretary-General
of the Arab League: “This will be a war of extermination
and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like
the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.”11
The United States was the
only nation that criticized the Arab attack on Israel.”
The United States, the Soviet Union
and most other states recognized Israel soon after it
on May 14, 1948, and immediately indicted the Arabs
for their aggression. The United States urged a resolution
charging the Arabs with breach of the peace.
Soviet delegate Andrei Gromyko told
the Security Council, May 29, 1948:
This is not the first time that the
Arab states, which organized the invasion of Palestine,
have ignored a decision of the Security Council or
of the General Assembly. The USSR delegation deems
it essential that the council should state its opinion
more clearly and more firmly with regard to this attitude
of the Arab states toward decisions of the Security
On July 15, the Security Council threatened
to cite the Arab governments for aggression under the
Charter. By this time, the Israel
Defense Forces (IDF) had succeeded in stopping the
Arab offensive and the initial phase of the fighting
Military Situation On Effective
Date of Cease-Fire
(June 11, 1948)
S. Truman Library Museum
The West’s support of Israel
allowed the Jews to conquer Palestine.
The Jews won their war
of independence with minimal help from the West. In fact, they won despite
efforts to undermine their military strength.
Although the United
States vigorously supported the partition resolution,
the State Department did not want to provide
the Jews with the means to defend themselves. “Otherwise,” Undersecretary
of State Robert Lovett argued, “the
Arabs might use arms of U.S. origin against
Jews, or Jews might use them against Arabs.”13
Consequently, on December 5, 1947, the U.S.
imposed an arms embargo on the region.
Many in the State Department saw the
embargo as yet another means of obstructing partition.
Truman nevertheless went along with it hoping
it would be a means of averting bloodshed. This was
naive given Britain’s rejection of Lovett’s request
to suspend weapons shipments to the Arabs and subsequent
agreements to provide additional arms to Iraq and Transjordan.14
The Arabs had no difficulty obtaining
all the arms they needed. In fact, Jordan’s Arab Legion
was armed and trained by the British, and led by a British
officer. At the end of 1948 and beginning of 1949, British
RAF planes flew with Egyptian squadrons over the Israel-Egypt
border. On January 7, 1949, Israeli planes shot down
four of the British aircraft.15
The Jews, on the other hand, were forced
to smuggle weapons, principally from Czechoslovakia.
When Israel declared its independence in May 1948, the
army did not have a single cannon or tank. Its air force
consisted of nine obsolete planes. Although the Haganah
had 60,000 trained fighters, only 18,900 were fully
mobilized, armed and prepared for war.16
On the eve of the war, chief of operations Yigael
Yadin told David
Ben-Gurion: “The best we can tell you is that
we have a 50-50 chance.”17
The Arab war to destroy Israel failed.
Indeed, because of their aggression, the Arabs wound
up with less territory than they would have had if they
had accepted partition.
The cost to Israel, however, was enormous.
“Many of its most productive fields lay gutted
and mined. Its citrus groves, for decades the basis
of the Yishuv’s Jewish community economy, were largely
Military expenditures totaled approximately $500 million.
Worse yet, 6,373 Israelis were killed, nearly one percent
of the Jewish population of 650,000.
Had the West enforced the partition
resolution or given the Jews the capacity to defend
themselves, many lives might have been saved.
The Arab countries signed armistice
agreements with Israel in 1949, starting with Egypt
(Feb. 24), followed by
Lebanon (March 23), Jordan
(April 3) and Syria
(July 20). Iraq was the only country that did not sign
an agreement with Israel, choosing instead to withdraw
its troops and hand over its sector to Jordan’s Arab
Legion. None of the Arab states would negotiate a peace
The Arab economic boycott
of Israel was imposed after the 1948 war.
boycott was formally declared by the newly formed
Council on December 2, 1945: “Jewish products and
manufactured goods shall be considered undesirable to
the Arab countries.” All Arab “institutions,
organizations, merchants, commission agents and individuals”
were called upon “to refuse to deal in, distribute,
or consume Zionist products or manufactured goods.”19
As is evident in this declaration, the terms “Jewish”
were used synonymously. Thus, even before the establishment
of Israel, the Arab states had declared an economic
boycott against the Jews of Palestine.
The boycott, as it evolved after 1948,
is divided into three components. The primary boycott
prohibits direct trade between Israel and the Arab nations.
The secondary boycott is directed at companies that
do business with Israel. The tertiary boycott involves
the blacklisting of firms that trade with other companies
that do business with Israel.20
The objective of the boycott has been
to isolate Israel from its neighbors and the international
community, and deny it trade that might be used to augment
its military and economic strength. While undoubtedly
isolating Israel and separating the Jewish State from
its most natural markets, the boycott failed to undermine
Israel’s economy to the degree intended.
In 1977, Congress
prohibited U.S. companies from cooperating with the
Arab boycott. When President Carter signed the law,
he said the “issue goes to the very heart of free
trade among nations” and that it was designed to
“end the divisive effects on American life of foreign
boycotts aimed at Jewish members of our society.”21
The boycott has gradually crumbled
and few countries outside the Middle East comply with
it. The primary boycott — prohibiting direct relations
between Arab countries and Israel — cracked when nations
such as Qatar,
negotiated deals with Israel. Other countries, such
as Saudi Arabia, have pledged to end their economic
boycott to meet the requirement for membership in the
World Trade Organization.22
Still, the boycott remains technically in force.23
York Times, ( December 1, 1947).
on File Yearbook, (NY: Facts on File, Inc., 1948),
Struggle For Palestine, (NY: Shocken Books,
1976), p. 308.
on File 1948, p. 231.
on File 1947, p. 231.
A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our
Time, (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 322.
One Long War, (Jerusalem: Keter Books, 1976), p.
47; Ralph Patai, ed., Encyclopedia of Zionism and
Israel, (NY: McGraw Hill, 1971), pp. 307-308.
Council Official Records, Special Supplement, (1948),
Council Official Records, S/Agenda/58, (April 16, 1948),
Bagot Glubb, A Soldier with the Arabs, (London:
Staughton and Hodder, 1957), p. 79.
Leibler, The Case For Israel, (Australia:
The Globe Press, 1972), p. 15.
Council Official Records, SA/Agenda/77, (May 29, 1948),
Relations of the United States 1947,
(DC: GPO, 1948), p. 1249. Henceforth FRUS.
The Water’s Edge And Beyond, (NJ: Transaction Books,
1991), pp. 171175; FRUS, pp. 537-39;
Robert Silverberg, If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem:
American Jews and the State of Israel, (NY: William
Morrow and Co., Inc., 1970), pp. 366, 370; Shlomo Slonim,
“The 1948 American Embargo on Arms to Palestine,” Political
Science Quarterly, (Fall 1979), p. 500.
Collins and Dominique Lapierre,
O Jerusalem!, (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1972), p.
My Life, (NY: Dell, 1975), pp. 213, 222, 224.
Prittie and Walter Nelson, The
Economic War Against The Jews, (London: Corgi
Books, 1977), p. 1; Dan Chill, The
Arab Boycott of Israel, (NY: Praeger, 1976),
and Nelson, pp. 47-48; Sol Stern, “On and Off the Arabs’
List,” The New Republic, (March 27, 1976), p.
9; Kennan Teslik, Congress,
the Executive Branch and Special Interests,
(CT: Greenwood Press, 1982), p. 11.
nod let Saudis into WTO,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency,
(November 11, 2005).
Post, (June 25, 2002).
See also: History
The 1948 War
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