The Arab-Israel Conflict Prior to the State of Israel’s Establishment

After World War I, the League of Nations gave France and the United Kingdom control of the region that had been liberated from the Ottoman Empire: France was given Lebanon and Syria, while the UK was given Iraq and Palestine (modern-day Israel - including Gaza and the West Bank - and Jordan). The stated reason for the French and British presence was to prepare the regions in question for independence.

On October 31, 1917, the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, which established the British position that the Jews should have a country of their own in Palestine.

The Jewish claim to Palestine was also strengthened by the rapidly increasing Jewish population in this region. Under the leadership of future Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion, large tracts of land were purchased from Arabs, many of whom resided abroad. Alarmed at their ever-shrinking majority, the Arabs in Palestine began to take defensive measures. Palestinian Arab nationalist organizations were set up, including the Higher Arab Council, which attempted to influence British policy and to counter the activities of the Zionists. Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, tried to garner foreign support for the cessation of Zionist activity and for the conclusion of the British mandate. The British, in an effort to win Arab support, issued several "White Papers," which restricted Jewish immigration. Palestinian Jews, however, fought the White Papers by helping European Jews immigrate to Palestine illegally.

The State of Israel’s independence only served to exacerbate the already serious conflict between the Jews and the Arabs. Indeed, as the British were preparing to leave Palestine, both Arabs and Jews were already purchasing arms abroad, in preparation for the war that both sides knew was about to ensue. On April 9, 1948, the Jewish LEHI and Irgun forces attacked Dayr Yasin, a Palestinian village that had signed a non-aggression pact with the far less aggressive Hagana. It should be noted that, before the attack, a loudspeaker was used to warn Arab civilians to evacuate the area. Some 200 heeded the warning and evacuated.

However, many other civilians did not evacuate and thus died in the ensuing attack. It has traditionally been reported that approximately 250 men, women, and children were killed at Dayr Yasin. This figure is based on the number reported in local newspapers at the time. However, a new study put out by Bir Zeit University puts the number of people killed at a maximum of 120. (See Prusher, Ilene R., "Dispute Over 1948 Killings Brings Troubled History to Light," Christian Science Monitor, April 6, 1998.)

On May 15, 1948, the day after Israel was declared an independent state, it was attacked by a military force made up of the combined armies of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan. Although few thought it possible, Israel emerged from this war as the victor; by the time the war ended in 1949, Israel had acquired parts of the West Bank and northern Palestine - both of which the UN had reserved for the Palestinian Arabs - in addition to the land that had been allocated to Israel. Furthermore, Jordan had acquired the rest of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Egypt had acquired the Gaza Strip - all of which had also been reserved for the Palestinians. The war is thus remembered by the two sides under different names: Israelis refer to it as the War of Independence, while Palestinian Arabs call it Al Nakba ("The Catastrophe").

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The Sinai Campaign

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