Empire and aftermath
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Empire and Aftermath. Writing the 'Histories' of the Wars of 1948. Aims. To learn about the creation of the state of Israel.

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Empire and Aftermath

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Empire and aftermath

Empire and Aftermath

Writing the 'Histories' of the Wars of 1948

Empire and aftermath


  • To learn about the creation of the state of Israel.

  • To trace the history of Israel/Palestine from the end of the British Mandate (1945 -1948), through the 1948 Arab-Israeli War until the signing of the armistices between Israel and the Arab states signed in 1949.

  • To think about the different ways in which this event has been told by the different actors over time and what this may tell us about history writing more generally.

Part one

Part one

  • The end of the British Mandate, the UN partition plan, civil war and the war between Israel and the Arab states

World war two

World War Two

  • In 1939 Britain issued a White Paper on Palestine. It agreed to allow 75,000 Jewish immigrants into Palestine over the period 1940–44, after which migration would require Arab approval.

  • In March 1940 the British High Commissioner for Palestine issued an edict banning Jews from purchasing land in 95% of Palestine.

  • This act by Britain enraged the Jewish community and was clearly a reversal of the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate provisions.

  • When the war finally ended, the Allied forces in Europe were shocked to discover the true horror of the Nazi death camps. Between 1939 and 1945, approximately 6 million Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, two-thirds of Europe’s Jews had been barbarically and systematically murdered.

  • Jews in the Middle East were also affected by the war. Most of North Africa came under Nazi control and many Jews were used as slaves. The 1941 pro-Axis coup in Iraq was accompanied by massacres of Jews.

Jewish displaced persons dps

Jewish Displaced Persons (DPs)

  • Jews in Europe who had been liberated from the concentration camps joined an estimated eight million people who had been displaced by war.

  • Known as Displaced Persons (DPS) they found refuge in camps set up especially for them by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation agency (UNRRA).

  • No country offered to take these desperate refugees and the British White Paper of 1939 continued to prohibit Jewish immigration.

  • The Jewish DPs began to organize themselves and to make demands of their own. They wanted the Jewish people to be recognized as a people, they demanded the establishment of a Jewish State, and their own emigration to it.

  • The British Government refused, and increased its efforts to prevent Jews leaving Europe for Palestine.

  • A struggle now began, in Palestine and in Europe, between the British Government and the Jews.

Britain and the irgun

Britain and the Irgun

  • The British returned captured immigrants from the waters of the East Mediterranean to which they had sailed, to the DP camps in Germany from which they had fled.

  • In Europe itself, at the frontier crossing between Austria and Italy, British troops halted concentration camp survivors who were on their way to the Adriatic and to Palestine and held them in former prisoner-of-war camps.

  • Inside Palestine the Irgun reacted by attacking British military installations. As the subsequent death sentences on those caught, and the resulting reprisals instituted by the Irgun, increased the tension, acts of even greater violence marked their efforts.

  • The violence reached a climax on 22 July 1946 when the Irgun blew up a wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. 91 people were killed, including British administrators working in the hotel, many of whom were Arabs and Jews.

The un partition plan

The UN partition plan

  • On 18 February 1947, Ernest Bevin, the then Foreign Secretary, told the House of Commons that all attempts at reaching a compromise had failed and that the only course open was to submit the Palestine problem to the United Nations.

  • On 28 April 1947, in at an extraordinary session of the General Assembly, a United Nations Special Committee on Palestine was set up. Members of the committee disagreed on the form that a political resolution should take, there was general agreement that the country would have to be divided in order to satisfy the needs and demands of both Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

  • On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly voted to partition Palestine into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab. The UN partition plan divided the country in such a way that each state would have a majority of its own population. The area of Jerusalem and Bethlehem was to become an international zone.

The un partition plan1

The UN partition plan

Civil war

Civil War

  • Violence between Arabs and Jews erupted almost immediately after the vote: Arabs participated in anti-partition riots. The Jews retaliated. By the end of December over 350 people had lost their lives.

  • As the fighting increased in intensity, the ability of the British authorities, civil and military, to control events, to maintain law and order in fulfillment of the mandatory obligations, collapsed.

  • On 9 April 1948, a force of 130 Irgun-Stern Gang dissidents attacked DeirYassin, a village of 700 inhabitants lying a few kilometres to the west of Jerusalem. While figures are disputed over 100 and perhaps over 200 villagers were killed, including civilians, women and children. DeirYassin, actual and supposed, remains indelibly written into the collective historical memory.

  • April was a crucial month in the course of the civil war. By the end of the British Mandate in May, the Jewish military forces had secured control over most of the territory allotted to the Jewish state in the UN plan.

14 may 1948

14 May 1948

  • On May 14, 1948, Great Britain withdrew from the Palestine Mandate.

  • At 6.45 am the Union Jack was lowered from the King David Hotel, where the Palestine government’s administrative officers had been housed.

  • Across its borders, Arab governments had declared their intention to invade Palestine to overturn the partition decision.

  • At 4 pm, in Tel Aviv’s Museum Hall, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, proclaimed the ‘establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine – to be called Israel.

  • Two hours after Ben Gurion’s proclamation, the United States recognised the Provisional Government; three days later the Soviet Union followed suit. Despite persistent parliamentary questioning, the British government agonised until February before recognising de facto the state of Israel.

  • A few months later in May 1949, the United Nations received Israel as an accredited member.

The arab israeli war

The Arab-Israeli War

  • Arab armies from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, supported by troops from Saudi Arabia and Yemen, attacked Israel. While disunifiedthe attacking forces were a formidable threat.

  • On 11 June, after four weeks of war, and following appeals from the UN General Assembly, the first truce came into being. It became clear that Israel the result of the four-week contest was an Israeli victory.

  • On 9 July Israel mounted offensives of its own on all three fronts. The IDF command hoped that they would be decisive and end the war, but they did not. The “Ten Days War” ended on 18 July, following the UN Security’s Council’s imposition of the Second Truce.

  • Fighting continued on an off until the end of December when the Israelis finally pushed Egypt out of Palestine except for the Gaza strip.

  • The war of 1948 formally ended the next year with the signing of armistice agreements between Israel and Egypt on 24 February 1949, Lebanon on 23 March 1949, Jordan on 3 April 1949 and Syria on 20 July 1949. The Iraqis refused to enter into armistice negotiations.

The arab israeli war1

The Arab-Israeli War

Palestinian arab refugees

Palestinian Arab refugees

  • As a result of the war, approximately twenty percent more of the former mandate became part of Israel than the UN partition plan allotted. The Palestinian Arab state envisioned by the UN partition plan was never established.

  • The country once known as Palestine was now divided into three parts, each under separate political control. The State of Israel encompassed over 77 percent of the territory. Jordan occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip.

  • Between 1947 and 1949, over 700,000 Arabs fled or were displaced from the areas over which Israel obtained jurisdiction.

  • The precise number of refugees, and questions of responsibility for their exodus are sharply disputed. It is likely that that they left for a combination of reasons: because they wanted to get out of a war zone; because they feared that they would be persecuted or killed by the Israelis; some left after witnessing their leaders flee; and some left due to expulsions by Israeli forces and orders from Arab leaders to leave.

Palestinian arab refugees1

Palestinian Arab refugees

Jewish refugees

Jewish refugees

  • In 1945, there were nearly one million Jews living in ten Arab countries.

  • The majority of them, over 850,000, fled as refugees after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

  • Life for Jews in Arab countries became harsher as their governments reacted against them with anger because of the creation of the State of Israel and as a result of Israel’s military victories.

  • Arab governments confiscated their personal and communal property and stripped them of their citizenships.

  • Most of these Jewish refugees settled in Israel – Israel absorbed almost 700,000 Jews from Arab and Muslim lands between 1948 and 1989.

  • These Jewish refugees from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf region often refer to themselves as the “forgotten refugees” of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Jewish refugees1

Jewish refugees

Part two

Part two

  • The different histories of 1948

The zionist history

The Zionist history

  • The conventional Israeli version of 1948 portrays the war as an unequal struggle between a Jewish David and an Arab Goliath: a desperate, heroic and ultimately successful battle for survival against overwhelming odds.

  • In this version, all the surrounding Arab states sent their armies into Palestine to strangle the Jewish state at birth, and the Palestinians left the country on orders from their own leaders and in the expectation of a triumphant return.

  • The traditional Zionist version maintains that Britain’s aim in the twilight of its Mandate over Palestine was the prevent the establishment of a Jewish state; that the Jews were hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned; that the Palestinians left of their own accord and in the expectation of a triumphal return; that there was an all-Arab plan to destroy the infant Jewish state as soon as it came into the world; and that Arab intransigence was the sole cause of the political deadlock that followed the war.

The n ew historians of israel

The ‘new historians’ of Israel

  • Since the late 1980s, a group of ‘new historians’ or revisionist Israeli historians have challenged many of the claims surrounding the birth of the state of Israel and the first Arab-Israeli war.

  • The catalyst for this new critical history was Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

  • Proponents of the traditional Zionist view criticised the new historiography arguing it rested on defective evidence and was politically motivated, pro-Palestinian, and aimed at deligitimizing Zionism and the State of Israel.

  • Palestinian historians criticised them for not going far enough. While Israeli revisionist scholars may have challenged the conventional narrative of the Palestine war they were ultimately participants in an intra-Zionist debate, in which Jews were the subjects of history and Palestinians its passive objects.

The palestinian history

The Palestinian history

  • By the time the first accounts of the Palestine War were being penned in the 1950s, Arab nationalism had become the dominant discourse in the Arab world.

  • This led to two tendencies in the history writing on 1948: the defensive Arab states adopted an apologetic mode, geared towards enhancing political legitimacy, while the Aran Nationalists wrote in a mode of self-examination that sought to elicit historical lessons and motivate radical social, political, or ideological change in preparation for the ‘next round’ against Israel. Neither placed much importance on the historical accuracy of their accounts.

  • There is no analogous literature to the New Israeli Historians on the Palestine side. Historians wishing to write new Arab historians of the Palestine war have been hampered by a lack of material and the unwillingness of Arab states to challenge their national historiography.

  • But despite these obstacles Palestinian and other Arab scholars have been writing revisionist history.

Histories of the british role

Histories of the British role

  • On 14 May the British Foreign and Colonial Offices published a statement chronicling the history and policy of the Mandate. It highlighted how Palestine had developed under British patronage, but was also a confession of failure.

  • The Zionist and the Palestinian versions of Britain's policy during the final phase of the mandate are clearly poles apart, share the assumption that the manner in which Britain chose to terminate the mandate inevitably led to an armed clash between the local parties.

  • British rule has not undergone the same sort of reappraisal that the history of Zionist settlement and Palestinian nationalism has gone through.

  • Those accounts that have been written have largely been united in declaring that the British Mandate in Palestine ended in failure.

History as competing accounts

History as competing accounts

  • There are competing histories of 1948.

  • The first Arab-Israeli war is called the War of Independence by the by Israelis and the nakbaor “catastrophe” by Palestinian Arabs.

  • While the same events are being discussed, very different histories of the 1948 war are when Arabs, Jews or the British are seen as the central actors in the accounts that are told.

  • Very different histories are written when it is Israelis, Palestinians or others doing the writing.

  • History can be a process of commemoration, a means of political activism, and a way to construct a national or communal identity based on collective memory.

  • It is also as much a reflection of present circumstances as the past, written at a particular moment by historians who are informed by their current lives as much as their past experiences.

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