From the State-in-the-Making
to the Nation-State
THE PEOPLE who brought the state into being also led it during the War of Independence and consolidated it during its first twenty years of existence. The power structures created before the state was founded proved their effectiveness; the state functioned as soon as it was established. The new state also fought a war, the longest and most difficult in its history. Six thousand died, representing 1 percent of the population. Among the fighters were Holocaust survivors who did not yet speak Hebrew and who scarcely understood the orders they were given. Jerusalem was besieged and cut off from the rest of the country, and the Jewish Quarter in the Old City was forced to surrender, like the frontline settlements of Gush Etzion on the way to Hebron. In northern Israel Syrian tanks were stopped at the last line of defense at Degania; in the south the advance of the Egyptian army was halted at the barbed-wire entanglements of Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, founded in 1943 and named after Mordechai Anilewicz, leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Despite the numerical inferiority of its population, which permitted the enemy—both the independent Arab states and the Arabs of Palestine—to hope for a quick and successful campaign, the Yishuv won a brilliant victory. There were many reasons for this: the determination and solidarity of a population fighting with its back to the wall and in danger of being driven to the sea, its ability to adapt and willingness to sacrifice, and the superiority of the Israelis (or the great weakness of the Arabs) both in field operations and in general strategy. Indeed, whenever there was a need for them on a particular front, the Israeli army succeeded at a crucial moment in gathering more men and materiel in better condition, if not in greater quantities, than the enemy. For example, the Egyptian air force, with its eighty-two airplanes in nine squadrons, fighter aircraft and bombers, enjoyed, on paper, an overwhelming superiority. Yet the young state, with its dozen fighter aircraft and a few bombers, at critical moments in the battle for the Negev in late 1948, managed to achieve and maintain almost complete mastery of the skies. The Israeli side made about 240 sorties, compared with only 30 to 50 by the Egyptian side. The Egyptian air force was unable to overcome its chronic shortage of pilots, the poor state of its aircraft, and the deficient training of its ground technicians. 1