al-Nakba (see also)
There's little doubt that the problems in Palestine/Israel were initally caused by incompatible decisions by the British government followed by 40 years of bungling, stupidity, the Arabian Nights dreams of Foreign Office desk-bound clerks, Unrealpolitik and anti-Semitism which ended in a gigantic and very nasty hissy fit by Ernest Bevin which ensured the Partition of Palestine and the end of Britain's dominant role in the MIddle East - the opposite of what he wanted. The legacy of Muslim beliefs of their divinely ordained superiority over the dhimmi Jews and the efforts of Adolph Hitler can hardly be over-looked either.
al-Nakba which is best translated as "the Humiliation" is how Palestinians describe the exodus of Muslims* in 1948 from the soon to be created nation of Israel. This was a "humiliation" created by Muslim intransigence, hatred, disunity, cowardice and a 20 year series of violent and disastrous judgements. For 70 years Palestinians and their supporters have claimed they were sent packing at the point of a gun and so, morally, they should be allowed to return to their homes of their ancestors despite the fact that those 700,000 have now become 5 million most of whom seek the utter destruction of Israel and the death of it's non-Arab citizens.
In the mid 19th century the Ottoman Turks were desperate to modernise their empire and passed the "Tanzimat" legal reforms included the ending of the fourth-class dhimmi status of non-Muslims and the requirement for registration of land ownership. In practice this meant that elites gained ownership of land and peasants became tenants. The equality in law of Jews, Christians and Muslims was deeply unpopular and riots and attacks on non-Muslims ensued. Gunboat diplomacy ensured the Ottoman government did what they could to protect non-Muslims.
In the 19th century Jews began leaving Europe and migrating to Palestine in response to terrible oppression and pogroms in Eastern Europe. Their migration was legal and they bought land and settled and this migration remained legal even after the British Government attempted to prevent further immigration in 1939 as this constituted a breach of the League of Nations Mandate. In 1929 in Palestine the local Muslims began intensified rioting and murdering Jews shouting, "Death to the Jewish dogs!" The flash point was the Jews bringing seats to the Western Wall for the aged and infirm to sit on which Muslims considered an unacceptable provocation and insult to their Holy Site.
Muslim hatred and anger developed into a general strike and a revolt against British rule. This was a guerilla war they could not win and during it 5,000 Arabs were killed and 15,000 injured, arms were confiscated and Muslim ability to fight a future war with the Jews was severely impaired. The Mufti, Hajj Amin al-Husseini declared a jihad against any opponents and an assassination campaign by the Husseini clan caused the first flight of wealthy Arabs from Palestine. He then joined Hitler in Germany for the Second World War. In a radio broadcast on March 4, 1944 he made one of his innumerable calls for jihad:
"Arabs! Rise as one and fight for your sacred rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history and religion. This saves your honour. God is with you." - Behind the Silken Curtain - B. C. Crum, New York, 1947
In response to this increasing Muslim agitation the British government made one of their most egregious mistakes. They decided that British interests were better served by pandering to the Arabs. From 1939 on the British army in Palestine concentrated on preventing the immigration of European Jews into Palestine and eventually began an undeclared war against the Jews - an expensive, shortsighted, wrongheaded and immoral failure. By February 1947 British government was sick of the cost of maintaining "peace" in Palestine and offloaded the problem onto the U.N. On November 30, partition of the area into 2 countries was decided upon despite unanimous rejection by all Muslim countries. A general strike was declared by the Arab High Committee on December 2 and fighting broke out. Before the British Army evacuated, Palestinian Arabs supported by the "Arab Liberation Army" began attacks on the Jewish population.
The major difference between the Jewish and Arab forces was that nearly every able-bodied Israeli male became part of the army while very few Palestinian men fought in the conflict. In 1947/8 it was generally considered that the Jews would be defeated, if not by the Palestinians, then by the armies of the Arab League which had publicly announced their determination that the Arab army invasions would be "a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades."
On 4th May 1948 the Brisbane Courier-Mail reported: "that Arab invasion plans are complete, the Daily Telegraph's special correspondent at Amman writes: 'Arab ministers and other leaders have now attained unity,' and the ascendancy of King Abdullah of Transjordan seems assured. 'An offer to the Jews of citizenship in a unified Palestine with local autonomy in Jewish majority areas is the Arabs' final word. 'If it is rejected full-scale war involving the regular forces of all the Arab States is inevitable. But there will be no penetration until the British mandate expires on May 15." Palestine became an enormous black market in British arms and equipment which helped when Israel was invaded by armies commanded (the Arab Legion) or equipped by Britain.
With the benefit of hindsight, experts now agree that the victory for the Jews was assured even if 1% of the Jewish population had to die in the process.
By May 3, 1948 with British troops still in control of the country the Arab High Committee had fled. Virtually all wealthy Arabs had gone as well and they were followed by entire Arab populations of major cities who fled suffering no casualties beforehand. Most of the population of Jaffa, Tiberias, Haifa and Acre fled even though British and Jewish authorities advised them to stay. Jerusalem was the only city in which the Arab population did not flee.
The Adelaide Advertiser, 14th May: "There are plenty of indications that it will not be a walk-over for the Jews, says the "Daily Mail" correspondent. The Arabs in a slashing counter-attack yesterday regained the western end of the historic mountain pass leading to Jerusalem. The successful attack is reported to have been led by the Arab commander Fawzi el Kawakji."
On the right a Life magazine photo of evacuation at Jenin. Note the unhurried atmosphere, the bus and the number of men standing around.
Personally, I find only 2 plausible explanations for the Palestinian behaviour. They believed the Israelis would do unto them what the Mufti and the Arab League boasted they would do - commit genocide - or they fled to avoid trouble until those Arab threats had been carried out.
Palestinians and their supporters are exponents of the "big lie" philosophy. There is a belief that if they continue to claim they were driven to leave their homes or suffer genocide - or have enough of their children killed in front of TV cameras - then the Israeli government will somehow be forced to resettle them in Israel. However, their places were taken in the years after when hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern and North African Jews were forced from their homes, leaving their goods behind and emigrated to Israel.
Benny Morris, the "revisionist enfant terrible" historian who made his name attacking Israeli historians explains the events succinctly:
In fact, what actually happened was this: The Arab states and the Palestinian national leadership, headed by Haj Amin al-Husseini, opposed the partition of Palestine, claiming all of Palestine for the Arabs. When the General Assembly voted in favor of partition, on 29 November 1947, the Palestinian leadership rejected the resolution and the Palestinian militias launched hostilities to abort the emergence of a Jewish state. They were aided by money, arms and volunteers from the Arab states. In the course of this first, civil-war half of the 1948 War (roughly from 30 November 1947 until 14 May 1948) the Palestinian militias attacked Jewish traffic and settlements for four months. But eventually the Jewish militias, chiefly the Haganah, went over to the offensive (in early April) and routed the Palestinians, and some 300,000 were displaced from their homes and lands. On 15 May 1948, the day after the Zionist leaders declared the establishment of the State of Israel, the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq invaded Palestine, in defiance of the will of the international community, as embodied in the partition resolution, and attacked the Jewish state. The army of Jordan, the fourth invading army, occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the core of the territory earmarked in the partition resolution for Palestinian Arab statehood. (The Palestinians failed to declare statehood, and Jordan did not allow the Palestinians to establish a state and subsequently formally annexed the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Egypt emerged from the war in control of the Gaza Strip.) During the weeks and months after 15 May, the Israeli army contained the invading armies and eventually drove them out of most of Palestine. Another 400,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes in the course of the fighting: Some were expelled by Jewish troops (for example, from Lydda and Ramle in July 1948), some were advised to leave or ordered out by Arab leaders and officers (for example, from Haifa in April 1948 and Majdal in October). But most of the 700,000 simply fled out of fear of being caught up and harmed in the fighting. In summer 1948 the Israeli government decided not to allow the displaced Arabs—most of whom ended up in refugee camps in other parts of Palestine, i.e., the West Bank and Gaza—to return to the area of the State of Israel, deeming them inimical (they had just assailed the Jewish community and tried to destroy the Jewish state) and a potential Fifth Column.
- An enlightening and extensive 60 year series of sourced quotes by Arab leaders referrring to Israel is available here.
* How many Muslims left Israeli controlled territory in 1948? Arab sources claim up to 750,000. In August of 1948 Count Folke Bernadotte, the U.N. Mediator in Palestine, reported 330,000 refugees numbered. By October, 1948 the number reported was 500,000. In October, 1950 the U.N. settled on 711,000.
There is a startling number of books written about these events, which without their geo-political ramifications, would be a rather minor conflict by historical standards. The two "sides" might as well come from different planets - I'm obviously from the planet Bella Judaica. I find the works of the "New Historians" from the more nuanced books to the Manicheism of Illan Pappé unconvincing except as a necessary corrective to the Leon Uris vision of Israel's founding. Unfortunately Israel has now become the defining ethical and moral question of our time according to the political Left and any realistic account will not come from that direction - but some books I've found helpful include:
- The Mufti's Islamic Jew-Hatred - Andrew G. Bostom
- Promise and Fulfilment: Palestine 1917-1949 - Arthur Koestler
- One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate - Tom Segev
- Nazi Palestine: The Plans for the Extermination of the Jews in Palestine - Mallmann et al
- The Arab-Israeli Conflict: The 1948 War - Efraim Karsh
- Fabricating Israeli History - Efraim Karsh
- 1948: A History of the First Arab–Israeli War - Benny Morris
- The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947—1949 - Benny Morris