The 1948 Arab-Israeli War (Nakba/Israeli War of Independence)

The Israeli War of Independence

In Israel, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War is known as the War of Independence. In 1917, Lord Balfour of Great Britain promised to make Palestine into a national homeland for the Jewish people, only for the British to later impose limitations on Jewish immigration during the 1930s. During the 1940s, underground Jewish resistance movements in Palestine fought against the British, and local Arabs, for independence. These resistance groups greeted the United Nations’ 1947 decision to partition Palestine into two states – one Arab and one Jewish – with jubilation. The partition award 55 percent of historic Palestine to the Jewish community. However, the Arab community maintained that the entirety of Palestine was rightfully theirs.  They rejected the compromise and declared war.

The 1948 War displaced at least 750,000 Palestinian refugees into neighboring Arab countries. Many Israelis view the Palestinian refugee problem as a regrettable consequence of the Arabs’ decision to go to war. Many Jews consider Israel’s victory as one of the most momentous events in their history. For first time in modern history, the Jews truly had a home where they were free to be Jewish and where they would be safe from persecution and annihilation. From their perspective, the tragedy of the Palestinians was the result of Arab leaders’ unwillingness to compromise and the fault of neighboring Arab countries for not allowing the Palestinian refugees to assimilate into their new host countries.

The Nakba

Palestinians refer to the 1948 War as the Nakba–the Catastrophe. While a small indigenous community of Jews remained in Palestine over the centuries and assimilated to the Arab culture and language of their Muslim and Christian neighbors, non-Jewish communities in Palestine have a history at least 2000 years old. As Jews from Europe immigrated and bought Palestine farm land, they displaced the local Arab tenant farmers who worked the land. Rising unemployment accompanied by increased immigration created tensions between the Jewish immigrants and Palestine’s indigenous community. By 1936 communal tensions had become an all out war. Palestinians note that the international community, including the United States, labeled these Jewish resistance groups as terrorists at the time. 

When the British turned the problem over to the UN, they resolved to partition Palestine. The 1947 Partition Plan would have taken over half of their land and given it the Jewish community comprised only 33 percent of the population. No Arab leader at the time considered the partition to be a fair compromise. The division of Palestine was seen as an act of European imperialism that necessitated war. During the 1948 war, Palestinians maintain that Jewish forces followed a deliberate strategy of clearing the land of its native population. The inability of the Arab states to stop the establishment of the State of Israel was further evidence of Jewish community benefiting from European support. For Palestinians, the Nakba was insult followed by humiliation. The Nakba is the defining event for Palestinians. So long as Palestinians continue to lose land and face dislocation, the Nakba continues to this day.


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