Magazine article Midstream

A Volunteer's Memoir Israel's Three Wars of Independence

Magazine article Midstream

A Volunteer's Memoir Israel's Three Wars of Independence

Article excerpt

Contrary to the general belief, which lumps together into one conflict lasting from 1947 to 1949 all the battles fought by the Zionists to achieve statehood, there were actually three rather distinct Israeli wars of Independence.

Begun during the last days of World War II, The first of these wars engaged the Haganah, the Irgun, and the Stem Gang (the three underground Jewish militias). Regardless of their ideological differences, these organizations pursued two main objectives: the unimpeded immigration of Jewish Holocaust survivors in the face of a stringent sea blockade by the Royal Navy (Haganah's chief war aim); secondly, the harassment of the British occupation forces to the point where they would pull out and leave Palestine to the Jews (the major objective of the Irgun and the Stem Gang).

The Second War of Independence began after the hard-pressed British tamed the Palestine question over to the UN, and after the UN General Assembly voted, in November '47, to partition Mandate Palestine into independent Arab and Jewish states. Seeing the Jewish state as the fulfillment of a cherished dream, and as a refuge for Holocaust survivors, the Jews enthusiastically accepted partition. Seeing that same partition as a violation of Arab honor and the theft of their hereditary lands, the Palestinians, led by Hitler's associate, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, refused to accept partition. Instead of setting up their own state, they immediately went to war to kill off the Jewish state that would come into being in May 1948, (when the British were scheduled to withdraw).

But even as they prepared to leave, the British were second only to the Arabs as the Jews' chief antagonists during the Second War of Independence. While the British did not actually fight alongside the Palestinians nor arm their bands, they did attempt through stringent weapons embargos and weapons confiscations--to disarm the Jews. They also armed and led the Jordanian Legion--the best Arab fighting force in the Middle East. The Legion had a British commander, John Bagott Glubb ("Glubb Pasha"), a wannabe Lawrence of Arabia, Brit officers, as well as state of the art Brit field artillery and armored cars. During the Second Independence War the only significant Arab victories--at Gush Etzion, the Old City of Jerusalem, and Latrun--were won by the Legion.

The Brits did have their own good reasons for restricting the use of Jewish arms, even those used in self-defense. After all, if armed, the three Jewish underground militias could continue to shoot at His Majesty's Forces, as well as at the Arabs. Nevertheless, besides protecting their own vulnerable troops as they withdrew, the British arms embargo also increased the likelihood of the Arab victory that in hindsight, I now realize the Brits were counting on. Despite their seeming retreat, it appears that the British still intended to retain, as a fallback from their increasingly insecure Egyptian base, a foothold in Palestine. The Brits had predicted the UN's vote for partition, the Jew's acceptance of partition, and the Arab choice of war rather than a divided Palestine. They also predicted that, with their help, the Arabs would defeat and disperse the Jews. Following the war, the Brits probably expected to stay on in a silent partnership with the Palestinian leadership.

Again, the above is speculation; the undeniable facts are that, in their Second War of Independence, the Jews were contending not only against Palestinian Jihadists, but also against the crack Jordanian/British Legion--as well as against British formations still active in the Holy Land.

Meanwhile, Arab militias were set free to cut roads, to bring Jewish settlements under siege, and to slaughter relief convoys. The Jordanian Legion seized the Old City of Jerusalem, and ethnically cleansed it of its Jewish population. Jewish losses, particularly among the flower of Israeli youth, were very heavy. …

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