MIDDLE EAST HISTORY: IT HAPPENED IN MAY; from Its Beginning, Israeli Policy Promoted War, Not Peace

By Neff, Donald | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 1998 | Go to article overview

MIDDLE EAST HISTORY: IT HAPPENED IN MAY; from Its Beginning, Israeli Policy Promoted War, Not Peace


Neff, Donald, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


MIDDLE EAST HISTORY: IT HAPPENED IN MAY; From Its Beginning, Israeli policy Promoted War, Not Peace

It was 50 years ago, on May 14, 1948, that Britain ended its mandate over Palestine and Jews declared the establishment of Israel. General Sir Alan Cunningham, the British High Commissioner in Palestine, felt on his departure an "overwhelming sadness.... Thirty years and we achieved nearly nothing."(1)

In fact, he and many other Britons felt considerable bitterness toward the Jews. Since the end of World War II, Britain had lost 338 citizens at the hands of Jewish terrorists.(2) Ahead was a half-century of bloodletting.

First there came an attempt by the Jews to complete the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem. As the British withdrew, Jewish troops completed their occupation of most of southern and western Jerusalem, popularly known as New Jerusalem.(3) Reported Pablo de Azcarate, secretary of the Consular Truce Commission: "Hardly had the last English soldier disappeared than the Jews launched their offensive, consolidating their possession of Katamon which they occupied two weeks before and seizing the German Colony and the other southern districts of Jerusalem. The last remaining Arabs were liquidated, and from henceforth, the Jews were absolute masters of the southern part of the city."(4)

One Palestinian resident, Naim Halaby, reported "an orgy of looting" by Jews. He saw "one group bring a horse and a cart up to his next-door neighbor's abandoned home and systematically strip it bare. Down the street other looters carried away tires, furniture, kerosene and heaps of clothing from another house."(5)

Arabs living in West Jerusalem accounted for more than half of the Arabs in the city, between 50,000 to 60,000 of the 101,000 total in 1948. They were undefended and either fled or were killed, leaving behind only those residing inside the Old City and three nearby districts. Jewish troops tried to capture the Old City -- they attacked Jaffa Gate, Damascus Gate, New Gate, Nebi Daoud Gate -- but failed to penetrate them.(6)

When the fighting for Jerusalem finally stopped in the autumn, Israeli forces occupied 12 of the 15 Arab districts in new, western Jerusalem: Deir Abu Tor, Greek Colony, German Colony, Katamon, Lower Bakaa, Mamillah, Musrarah, Nebi Daoud, Sheikh Bader, Sheikh Jarrah, Talbieh and Upper Bakaa. No Palestinians were left. The conquest of these Arab districts provided Jewish immigrants with some 10,000 homes, most of them fully furnished.(7)

Indicative of how the demographics of Jerusalem changed was the ratio between Jews and Arabs over the next two decades. The Jewish population increased from 99,690 in 1947 to 194,000 in 1967. while the Arabs went from 50,000 to zero in Jewish West Jerusalem and from 50,000 to 70,000 in the Old City and its environs."(8)

At 4 p.m. local time in Tel Aviv, on May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion read the proclamation of independence, declaring the birth of Israel as of midnight.(9)

The question of Israel's borders went to the heart of the kind of country Israel would be.

Although Ben-Gurion's proclamation promised in soaring words freedom and justice for all, there was no mention made of the U.N. Partition Plan's call for creation of an Arab state, nor the extent of Israel's borders. The question of Israel's borders went to the heart of the kind of country Israel would be -- whether a peaceful state content with its size mandated by the world community or an expansionist Zionist state determined to wrest away the Palestinians' land.

The Jews chose expansion. Two days before declaring independence, the Provisional State Council, the Jewish pre-state govemment, had voted 5 to 4 not to mention borders. As Ben-Gurion had argued: "If the U.N. does not come into account in this matter, and they [the Arab states] make war against us and we defeat them...why should we bind ourselves?"(10) It was an artful way to say the Jews should grab as much land as they could. …

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