February-April 1948: Moving Toward an Independent Jewish State as Britain's Mandate Ends

Posted on Fri, Jan 25, 2008 @ 04:18 PM
Sixty years ago, events in Palestine set in motion an inevitable coming clash of Arabs and Jews over refugees and Jerusalem—Part Two
Jerusalem in 1948

Jewish soldiers in an abandoned Palestinian house in Qatamoun, West Jerusalem, 1948. GPO/AIC photo.

In February 1948, Ben-Gurion gave orders to the Haganah (the Jewish underground) to take possession of more Arab areas in West Jerusalem and to populate them with Jews. 

In March, the Haganah agreed on offensive actions (Plan D[alet]) against the Palestinians, including the expulsion of the population of entire Arab villages.

On March 31 Ben-Gurion met with Haganah leaders and ordered an attack on the Arab village of Kastel, which overlooked the Tel Aviv–Jerusalem road. Several weeks before the official British withdrawal, the plan became operational, with a view to opening a corridor from the coast to Jerusalem (Operation Nachshon), and annexing "as much of the city as possible to the Jewish state" (Michael Hudson, "Transformation of Jerusalem," 258).

Though Ben-Gurion later claimed that the Negev was his first priority (Memoirs, 136-7), based on interviews with Yigal Allon, Yigael Yadin and Ben-Gurion, foreign correspondent Dan Kurzman wrote: "The full impact of his lifelong obsession with the Bible struck with blistering force when it appeared that Jerusalem would fall to the Arabs and perhaps be lost forever to the Jewish state. Whatever happened to any other Jewish areas, the Holy City must be saved. It was the soul of the Jewish people, the fount of the light to be cast unto the nations. He had agreed that it be internation­alized as a temporary concession. But an Arab flag over Jerusalem? Not for one minute!" (Ben-Gurion, 279).

The stage was set for a decades long clash over Jerusalem as well as the Palestinian refugee question.

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Tags: Ben-Gurion, British Mandate, operation nachshon, Independent Jewish State, Kastel, West Jerusalem

In Mandatory Palestine 60 Years Ago

Posted on Wed, Jan 23, 2008 @ 04:24 PM
Events that preceded the founding of Israel 60 years ago and why Jerusalem is still at the center of the Middle East conflict--Part One

The following comes from my "Identity, Ideology and the Future of Jerusalem" (Palgrave 2006).

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Listen to audio of the 1947 UN Vote
In April 1947 Britain requested the transfer of its Mandate responsibilities for Palestine to the United Nations. In November the UN passed Resolution 181 advocating the partition of Palestine, and the future of Jerusalem was in the balance. The resolution called for establishing both an Arab and a Jewish state with mutual economic interests, and for the internationalization of Jerusalem. There was a provision for a nonbinding referendum on Jerusalem’s future after ten years. For his part, the Jewish leader David Ben-Gurion was happy to agree with this in the hope that after a decade the Jews would find it easier to possess the city, even though the projected demographics of the area were not to the Jewish advantage. Despite the peculiarities of other terms of the resolution (there would be 500,000 Jews and 400,000 Arabs in the Jewish state), the Jewish community in Palestine would have a legitimacy it had never had before, in the form of its own independent state.

The Jewish Agency accepted the UN's partition proposal, though the internationalization of Jerusalem was a bitter pill. Their agreement was once again a matter of pragmatism; a state without Jerusalem was better than no state at all. The Arab League, however, rejected the plan on behalf of the Palestinian Arabs.

Ben-Gurion was in charge of defense from 1946 onward and had already concluded that an armed conflict with the Arabs would come. Accordingly he began an arms buildup. In November 1947, just before the UN partition resolution passed, Golda (Meyerson) Meir met secretly with King Abdullah of Transjordan on behalf of the Jewish Agency. They agreed that, following a very likely conflict between the Yishuv and its Arab enemies, the Jews would take the areas designated for them in the UN plan, Transjordan would take Arab Palestine, and the two sides would make peace. Jerusalem was never mentioned, however. Immediately following the passage of the UN resolution, Palestinians attacked the Jewish community. The Jewish forces retaliated, and by mid-January 60 years ago, Palestinians in sections of West Jerusalem were fleeing.

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Tags: jerusalem, Arab Palestine, Golda Meir, partition proposal, Middle East Conflict, West Jerusalem