The Three-Way Struggle
In Palestine a three-way struggle continued between Jews, Arabs, and the British, with the Jews holding tenaciously to each hard-earned village and settlement. The attitude of the massive Arab and British forces about them must have created a situation reminiscent of an earlier return of Jews to their land, when their enemies said: “What do these feeble Jews? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned?” (Nehemiah 4:2).
Now as then the Jews continued to develop their land in spite of dangers, and to protect themselves as had their forefathers under Nehemiah, who had written:
And it came to pass from that time forth, that the half of my servants wrought in the work, and the other half of them held both the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons; and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah. They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me (Nehemiah 4:16-18).
U. N. Intervention
The continual struggle in Palestine was finally too much for the British. They were tired of the terrorism, the sabotage, the continual conflict between the Arabs and the Jews, and the expense. On April 2, 1947, Great Britain turned the fate of Palestine over to the United Nations. It was an historic action that would ultimately bring about the establishment of the State of Israel.
On November 29, 1947, after careful investigation, the United Nations voted to partition Palestine, giving independence to the Jews. The partition gave the Jews only about one-fourth of the amount of territory they originally intended for their homeland. It was only ten miles wide at its middle and vulnerable to attack on nearly every side. But to the Jews, the decision for partition meant independence, and they hailed the United Nations’ action with joy. At last they would have a home of their own.
Birth of a Nation
The date for statehood was finally set for May 15, 1948. As the occasion approached, Jewish excitement over independence was tempered by the threat of war with the Arabs. Being seriously undermanned and under gunned, they simply were not ready for war. Arms had been brought from Europe, but the British would not allow them to be used until after the mandate had ended. Arab leaders were promising a war of extermination. Having traveled the long trail from Hitler’s camps to their homeland, it now appeared that another Nazi-like experience awaited the Jews. But regardless of the danger, the Jews proceeded with preparations for the birth of their nation.
At eight in the morning on May 14, the British lowered the Union Jack in Jerusalem. By mid-afternoon there was a full-scale war on throughout the country between the Arabs and the Jews.
At 4:00 P.M. that day, David Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of Independence of Israel and it was broadcast from the Tel Aviv Museum.
The land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people.
Here their spiritual, religious, and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world.
Exiled from Palestine, the Jewish people remained faithful to it in all the countries of their dispersion, never ceasing to pray and hope for their return and restoration of their national freedom.
Concluding the Declaration, Ben-Gurion said:
In the midst of wanton aggression, we call upon the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to return to the ways of peace and play their part in the development of the State with full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its bodies and institutions — provisional or permanent.
We offer peace and unity to all the neighboring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all.
Our call goes out to the Jewish people all over the world to rally to our side in the task of immigration and development and to stand by us in the great struggle for the fulfillment of the dream of generations — the redemption of Israel.
The United States was the first country to recognize the State of Israel, with President Truman’s statement of recognition coming at 6:10 P.M. on May 14.
On that day, the following editorial appeared in the New York Times:
This is the last day of British rule in Palestine. At midnight (6:00 this afternoon our time), Great Britain surrenders the mandate which she received from the League of Nations twenty-five years ago. The zero hour, awaited with hope and anxiety by the bitterly divided population, marks a fateful change in the status and government of a small country that has presented the United Nations with its hardest test to date and weighs more heavily than any other on the heart and conscience of the world.
Palestine will now be an independent entity for the first time in centuries
The long-awaited statehood had arrived. Israel was born.
The War of Independence
On May 15, from Tel Aviv at 5:25 in the morning, Ben-Gurion was broadcasting Israel’s thanks to the United States for prompt recognition of their statehood. A loud explosion interrupted his speech. After a pause, he said, “A bomb has just fallen on this city from enemy aircraft flying overhead.” The War of Independence had begun.
To call it the “War of Independence” seems a contradiction. Most nations trace their histories to a war of independence after which statehood was won. In Israel’s case, the long struggle for statehood was capped by a war of independence. Although there had been sporadic fighting throughout the country in the months preceding the end of the British mandate, the actual war began on the birthday of the nation. Although travail usually accompanies birth, in this historic situation travail and trouble continued after birth had taken place.
The War of Independence was bloody and desperate. Had the Arabs known how poorly the Jews were armed they might have pressed their advantage and quickly won the war. The Arabs had been able to purchase weapons on the open market because they were recognized nations. Europe was then a giant weapons market, a sort of postwar rummage sale, but the Jews had been hindered in purchasing arms because of their political status. They had been able to secure some World War II arms, but at the beginning of the war they had only four large howitzers of the type used by the French army in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870.
In one battle with forty-five Syrian tanks, only two of the ancient howitzers were available, having been hurriedly moved from Haifa to be used in the defense of the oldest kibbutz in Palestine. Colonel Moshe Dayan, the local commander, ordered his men to fire at the most advanced Syrian tank. The Israelis scored a direct hit, causing the column to turn around and retreat. They never returned. Had the Syrians known they had been fired upon with one of the only two weapons on hand at the time, they would have undoubtedly used their strength and firepower to win the battle.
The Arab League nations that opposed Israel were Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and Trans Jordan. They formed a formidable alliance against less than a million poorly armed Jews. Many of the Arabs fought well and Jewish casualties were high. Six thousand Israelis were killed during the eight months of war. Had American losses been that high proportionately during World War II, they would have reached two million, which is more than the number killed in both world wars.
We will continue our study on the birth of Israel in our next newsletter.
A MESSAGE OF HOPE FROM DR. JACK VAN IMPE