Who started the War of Independence?
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. In fact, the British turned over bases and arms to Arab irregulars and the Arab Legion.
Early in the war, 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 was disrupted. Starting in April 1948, the Haganah took the initiative, and in six weeks was able to turn the tables by capturing the Arab sections of Tiberias, Haifa and later also Safed and Acre. They temporarily opened the road to Jerusalem and gained control of much of the territory alotted to the Jewish State under the UN Resolution.
From mid-May to mid-July, the critical phase of the war, came the simultaneous, coordinated assault on the new State of Israel by five regular Arab armies from neighboring countries (Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon and Iraq), with an overwhelming superiority of heavy equipment – armor, artillery and airforce. From then through the negotiated agreements that ended the war in 1949, Israel not only ejected the invading Arab forces, it also captured and held some 5,000 sq. km. over and above the areas allocated to it by the United Nations.
On April 26, 1948, Transjordan’s King Abdullah said:
- [A]ll 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.
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 by the Arabs after they had surrendered.
The UN blamed the Arabs for the violence. The UN Palestine Commission was never permitted by the Arabs or British to go to Palestine to implement the resolution. On February 16, 1948, the Commission reported to the Security Council:
- 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.
The Arabs were blunt in taking responsibility for starting the war. Jamal Husseini told the Security Council on April 16, 1948:
- 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 to fight.
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.
On May 14, 1948 David Ben-Gurion read Israel’s Proclamation of Independence in Tel Aviv. It included these paragraphs:
- We appeal … to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the building-up of the state on the basis of full and equal citizenship and representation in all its … institutions.
- We extend our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and goodwill, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land.
The Arabs, inside and outside the territory defined for the State of Israel, gave no consideration to these offers of peace or the many other attempts to negotiate a settlement. Immediately following the declaration of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 and the departure of the British the next day, the five Arab armies 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.