Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

War of Independence: Report to the Zionist General Council by David Ben-Gurion

(April 6, 1948)

In early April 1948, the General Council, supreme body of the World Zionist Organisation between Congresses, met in Tel Aviv. It decided on the steps to be taken towards the establishment of the Jewish State. On 6 April, Mr. Ben-Gurion, Chairman of the Executive of the Organisation and of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, reported:

Over 900 Jews have been killed in the four months since the Arab attacks began on November 30, the day after the UN General Assembly decided on the establishment of a Jewish State in part of the country. The Jews of the Old City of Jerusalem have been under siege for several months. Jewish Jerusalem as a whole is almost completely cut off from the rest of the country and is under constant threat of starvation. Almost all of the roads in the country are dangerous; no Jew can travel without risking his life. Thousands of foreign Arabs, many of them soldiers or officers in the armies of the neighbouring states, have already invaded the country, and more are coming in all the time. They have arrived mainly from Syria, Iraq, Trans-Jordan, and, to a much lesser extent, from Egypt. The Arab Legion is encamped in this country, with the approval of the Mandatory Government. The Legion is supposedly the army of Trans-Jordan, but it is maintained by the British. It is the best disciplined, best equipped, and best trained of all the Arab military formations.

Government in this country is breaking down, but the British are still trying, on the eve of their departure, to hinder the Yishuv's efforts to defend itself. Despite the UN resolution, the British refused to withdraw from the port of Tel Aviv on the first of February, although their policemen and troops have already left the Tel Aviv area. British warships still patrol day and night off the shores of Tel Aviv. The Mandatory Government maintains a de facto naval blockade of the country, directed against the Jews, at a time when the land frontiers to the cast, north, and south can be crossed with impunity by the Arabs, including Arab bands and armies.

On May 15, when the Mandatory regime is formally ended, the country will be open to full-scale attack by Arab forces. The ratio between the Jews in this country and the Arabs here and in the neighbouring states, without taking North Africa into consideration, is about I to 40. Moreover, the Arabs have the tools of government at their disposal. Six Arab States are members of the UN, while a seventh, Trans-Jordan, is an ally of England, and is receiving a large proportion of its weapons from the departing British forces. The Jews under attack lack both a government and international recognition, at a time when they are faced by seven independent Arab states: Lebanon, Syria, Trans-Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. The Arab states have more or less trained armies. Some have air forces. Egypt also has a navy. This is, in brief, the situation - one that confronts us with a more fateful problem than any we have faced in over 1800 years.

The question is not whether or not we should defend ourselves or surrender - no such alternative exists. All we must consider is how to fight in order to winand thus ensure our people freedom, a national future, and international status.

At the last meeting of the Zionist General Council in August 1947, 1 unsuccessfully attempted to make the Zionist movement aware of the fact that security was the most vital problem facing us. The Zionist movement was apparently not ready to accept such an evaluation. Now there is no need to convince the Zionist movement, and certainly not the Yishuv, that we face a grave situation fraught with many dangers. Yet even now I am not certain that the Zionist movement, or even the Yishuv, has drawn all the relevant conclusions.

Military force alone will not ensure our victory. In this era, war is not fought only by armies. Moreover, our struggle is even more difficult than others. For a war has been declared not only against the Jewish Army but against the entire Yishuv. No distinction can be drawn between the front lines and the home front. All of us important and unimportant, men and women, old and young - are at the front, whether we like it or not. War has already been declared on us, though we do not yet enjoy the status of a sovereign state or have a recognised government. It is not difficult to blockade our sea coast, just as we are being blockaded along our land frontiers. An army in itself - even a much larger army than the one we have been able to establish will not be able to stand up to the challenge if we do not mobilise all our material and moral resources.Military men themselves realise that moral strength is two-thirds of military strength.

There is one question that concerns all of us. Will we be able to survive at all? There is no obvious answer to this question. For myself, I am certain that we can meet the challenge, though I will not try to prove my contention as one proves a mathematical theory. If we were to turn to strategic and economic experts, men who did not know the soul of the Yishuv, and were to tell them that the Jewish community numbers 650,000 people, and also give them the breakdown of men and women in particular age groups, as well as the Yishuv's agricultural, industrial, military, and financial resources, and, at the same time, we were to point out that there is an Arab population of 1.1 million in this country, and another 30 million Arabs in the surrounding countries, that the Arab countries devote millions to military expenditures and have artillery, planes, and ships, in addition to the weapons they receive from England, and that they can easily attack the Yishuv - if we were to list all these things, I suspect that the experts would shake their heads and say that there was no hope for the Yishuv.

When the attack began four months ago, after the November 29 resolution, the Yishuv had no army, it had only localdefence forces which for seventy years had been defending their own localities as the need arose. The men in these units were not well-trained soldiers. They were not even up to the standards of Hashomer, the organisation which existed forty years before, because they were not professional military men. They were people who went about their daily affairs, devoting only a few hours a week to military training. Aside from these units, there was only one small brigade, with several thousand partially mobilised members. Even they devoted half of their time to working, and only half to military training. But at least this unit was always ready to answer a call for help and its operations were not limited to a particular locality. I speak of the Palmah. Another formation, also established on a voluntary basis, was being organised. Its members were trained for operations on a countrywide basis, but even with these units, the Field Forces, training was a spare time affair.

It was in this situation that the attacks began on November 30, 1947, and have continued ever since. The cities, the roads, and the agricultural settlements all over the country have been under fire. However, during these four months the enemy has not penetrated a single one of our settlements, some of which are thinly populated. Not one settlement has been destroyed or abandoned. At the same time, our defence units have penetrated many Arab localities in the Galilee, Samaria, Judea, and the Negev. Many have been abandoned by the Arab residents. A bitter struggle is now going on for control of Jerusalem. But the western, Jewish part of Jerusalem has never been so homogeneously Jewish as it is today. There is a large section of Jerusalem which is similar in many ways to Tel Aviv. It is 100 percent Jewish. Jerusalem contains not only areas of contiguous Jewish settlement, but also Jewish islands in Arab districts Romema, Kerem eh Sula, Sheikh Badar have been abandoned. But no Jewish neighbourhood in an Arab district has been abandoned, even where such a neighbourhood has been under twenty-four-hour-a-day attack for the last two months. A third of the Arab population has also fled from Haifa [this statement was made three weeks before the mass flight of Arabs from Haifa, Tiberias, Safad, Beit Sha'an, and Jaffa]. The Jews have not fled from any city. This gives us reason for faith in the future, but it does not justify us in drawing far-reaching conclusions. We should not assume that the danger has been passed. We must realise that the Arab potential has not yet been fully tested.

But manpower is only one factor in the struggle. Equipment is no less important and most important of all is moral and intellectual stamina This factor will ensure our victory. While we should not underestimate the importance of quantity, it is not quantity that will be decisive. In terms of numbers we are weak. Our principal advantage is in the qualitative sphereWe will emerge victorious only if we exploit that advantage to the full.

Five things are required if we are to meet the challenge and emerge victorious:

A. We must mobilise all our manpower for military and economic tasks in the most rational possible manner, with security considerations being given priority.

B. We must prepare to produce or purchase the equipment we need on land, on the sea, and in the air, in accordance with the preparations that have been and are being made.

C. We must establish procedures to deal with finances, industry, agriculture, exports and imports, the distribution of foodstuffs and raw materials, etc., in order to strengthen our military forces without undermining our economy.

D. Most important of all, we must establish a single central body which will have authority over defence, industry, agriculture, finances, and government. This body will receive the full support of the Zionist movement and the Jewish people in the Diaspora.

E. We must not be satisfied simply to defend ourselves. We must attack at the right time all along the front, and not only within the boundaries of the Jewish State or the Land of Israel. We must attack the enemy wherever we can find him.

The specific task of this meeting of the Zionist General Council is, in my opinion, to authorise the carrying out of the fourth task - establishment of a single, supreme authority in the Yishuv, for without such an authority, we cannot survive. The Jewish Agency cannot turn over its responsibility to some other body without a clear directive from the Zionist General Council, and without a new central authority, there can be no security.

After extensive discussion, and as a result of outside pressures and fears that a vacuum would remain with the abolition of the Mandate, it was decided to establish two new institutions: a Provisional State Council, with 36 or 37 members, and a Provisional Government, with 13 members.

We have a great many bodies operating in the sphere of defence, and all of them have a record of notable achievements. If I were going to write a history book, I would give credit to the Jewish Agency Executive in Jerusalem, the Executive of the National Committee, as well as to the National Command and the Security Committee for their contributions to the defence of the Yishuv. I would not overlook the activities of the Mobilisation Appeal and the Emergency Committee - all served the cause of security.

But this is no time to be writing history. We are facing life-and-death struggle and our only concern must be to emerge victorious. In view of this vital necessity, these many worthy institutions must be replaced by one institution which will control all resources and see to it that defence is given first priority. The military struggle that has been forced upon us, and which will reach its full dimensions on next May 15, necessitates the establishment of a single authority in the Yishuv, one which will enjoy the full support of the World Zionist Movement.

Source: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs