The war of 1948

Part of a series of post offering a perspective on the conflict in Palestine

Human rights and the future of Palestine | Location location | A time between empires | Zionism as a colonial project | Jewish migration to Palestine | Dividing Palestine | The war of 1948 | Wars and rumors of war | Palestinian resistance | Creating a shared future in Palestine

An Israeli soldier stop Arabs in a street in Nazareth, Palestine, July 17, 1948, as they are travelling after the allotted curfew time. Israeli forces had occupied the town earlier that day.

On 14 May 1948, David Ben-Gurion—who was then Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization and Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine—proclaimed the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel. This was to take effect when the British mandate expired at midnight on the same day.

The declaration did not specific the borders of the Jewish State, but it was indicated that this new state would exist within the provisions of UN Resolution 181.

Military forces from Egypt, Transjordan, Syria and Iraq attempted to intervene to prevent the partition of Palestine as agreed by the UN plan, but their forces were defeated, and the 1949 armistice agreement saw Israeli control over a much larger area. That territory is commonly described as the “pre-1967 borders.” 

During the conflict an estimated 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from areas under Israeli control. Many found of them refuge in Gaza, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. They came under the care of UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for the Palestinian Refugees. In 2021 UNRWA continues to support almost 6 million Palestinian refugees, including the children and grandchildren of those displaced in 1948 as they have not been allowed to return to their homes.

This left around 150,000 Palestinians inside the area of Palestine controlled by Israel, of whom around 35,000 were internally displaced persons. These IDPs found refuge in major Arab centers such as Nazareth, whose population grew from 15,500 in 1946 to 20,000 in 1951 and 25,000 in 1961. 

The Palestinian population within Israel lived under strict military rule from 1950 until 1966. Under these regulations, Palestinians could not leave their own village without permission from the military governor. Since 1966 there has been freedom of movement within Israel (and at times after the June 1967 war, within the whole of historic Palestine). In many cases their villages were razed, partly being used for military training to prepare for future conflict with Israel’s neighbors. The iNakba app provides details of some 500 villages which were erased by the Israeli state after 1948.

Neither the internally displaced Palestinians no those who fled to neighboring countries to escape the conflict have been allowed to return to their homes or reclaim their property. In many cases their former homes were given to Jews who had also been displaced from areas remaining under Arab control or arriving from overseas.

As part of the wider disruption across the Middle East following the partition of Palestine, around 800,000 Jews relocated from Arab nations to Israel.

For Israeli Jews, the war of 1948 is known as the War of Independence, while for the Palestinians it is known as the Nakba (The Catastrophe).

Although the UN partition plan envisaged the creation of a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state, this was not created at the time. Egypt remained in control of Gaza at the SW edge of Palestine, Syria held some territories in the far north, and Jordan controlled the West Bank, including the Old City of Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Declaration of Independence was only finally proclaimed on 15 November 1988.

Arab refugees stream from Palestine on the Lebanon Road, Nov. 4, 1948.

About gregoryjenks

Anglican priest and religion scholar. Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. Dean, Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Grafton and Rector of the Anglican Parish of Grafton. Formerly Dean at St George's College, Jerusalem. The opinions expressed in my publications, including my blog posts, are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Diocese of Grafton nor Christ Church​ Cathedral in Grafton.
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