1947-48: The War of Independence

Key Facts

  • Following the partition plan passed by the UN, Arab states surrounding Israel declared a “war of extermination” against the nascent Jewish state.
  • The ensuing invasion of Israel, by the combined armies of Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon and Iraq, was successfully repelled by the Jewish state, which incurred massive casualties.
  • Many Arabs were displaced from Israel for a variety of reasons, including the pressures of living in a war zone and calls from Arab leaders to evacuate temporarily.
More information

The War of Independence occurred in 1948 when the combined armies of five Arab nations descended on the newfound State of Israel. After the 1947 partition vote, riots and violence erupted throughout the region, ultimately leading to war. On May 14, 1948, Israel declared independence and was attacked by the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
According to UN reports from the time: “Powerful Arab interests, both inside and outside Palestine, are defying the resolution of the General Assembly (181) and are engaged in a deliberate effort to alter by force the settlement envisaged therein.”

The Arab leadership openly claimed responsibility for the resulting war, with Azzam Pasha, Secretary-General of the Arab League, boasting: “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.”2

The Haganah, later renamed the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), repelled the attack in a four-phase operation. Israeli forces fought to capture key positions in order to secure the tiny country from Arab invasion, including the extremely vulnerable corridor from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. The combination of disorganized Arab armies, fractious leadership from the Arab states, and Israel’s mobilization of a citizen army highly motivated by the prospect of annihilation led to the defeat of the invading Arab armies.

The implications and fallout from the war were significant for Israel. More than 6,000 Israelis (some 1% of the entire population) were killed and 15,000 wounded. The armistice line drawn in 1949, currently referred to as the Green Line, remains a disputed border. As a by-product of the war, Jordan had annexed the West Bank and Jerusalem and Egypt had done the same with Gaza – with neither state allowing for the establishment of a Palestinian state on these territories.

Approximately 700,000 fled or were expelled from their homes during and following the war, the cause of which remains controversial among historians and experts alike. This figure is significant, because it gave rise to a contentious issue of Palestinian refugee claims. Today, this number – added to their descendants – hovers around 5 million, all of whom are classified as “refugees” by the UN (a unique definition allowing for the inheritance of refugee status, which applies to no other displaced persons in the world).

Click here to see a map of the Arab invasion in 1948.

Further reading

  1. Security Council Official Records, Special Supplement, (1948), p. 20.
  2. Isi Leibler, The Case For Israel, (Australia: The Globe Press, 1972), p. 15.
  3. Security Council Official Records, S/Agenda/58, (April 16, 1948), p. 19

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