1947-1949 Palestine War


Arab incitement to another Jewish genocide in the shadow of the Holocaust arguably played the largest factor in shaping Jewish morale — and, by consequence, Jewish behavior — during the 1947-1949 war.

During the period of the British Mandate (1923-1947), the official representatives of the Palestinian Arab population, the Arab Higher Committee, was under the leadership of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Amin Al-Husseini, a Nazi SS officer and collaborator with the Nazi regime. In November of 1933, the Nazis established a contact with the Arab Higher Committee in hopes of “adapting the Nazi program” to the Holy Land.

In 1943, Al-Husseini declared: “It is the duty of Muhammadans [Muslims] in general and Arabs in particular to...drive all Jews from Arab and Muhammadan countries...[Germany has] very clearly recognized the Jews for what they are and resolved to find a definitive solution for the Jewish danger that will eliminate the scourge that Jews represent in the world.” In a radio broadcast in 1944, he stated: “Arabs, rise as one man and fight for your sacred rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history, and religion.”

In the months leading up to the 1947 Partition Vote in the United Nations, Azzam Pasha, the General Secretary of the Arab League, threatened: “Personally I hope the Jews do not force us into this war because it will be a dangerous massacre which history will record similarly to the Mongol massacre or the wars of the Crusades…We will sweep [the Jews] into the sea.”

Following the Partition Vote, the Arab Higher Committee of Palestine published a leaflet stating: “The Arabs have taken the [Nazi] Final Solution to the Jewish Problem.”

Other genocidal threats were made in 1948 by the Muslim Brotherhood and other members of the Arab League.



During the 1947 war, the British aided the Arab forces in both official and unofficial capacities. For instance, the British supplied, equipped, and aided the Jordanian and Egyptian Arab Legion. British military officer Sir John Bagot Glubb even commanded the Jordanian Arab Legion.

Between 1948-1949, 1000 former Bosnian Muslim SS members joined the Palestinians in their fight against the Jews. Hundreds of members from the 13th and 23rd SS Divisions volunteered as well. In early 1948, 30,000 army veterans from various fascist forces created an army known as Black International, which included Nazi soldiers, a pro-Nazi renegade Soviet battalion, and pro-Nazi Poles and Yugoslavs. Both Palestinian paramilitary organizations — the Army of the Holy War and the Arab Liberation Army — had been trained by the Nazis as well.

Following Israel’s Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948, an Arab coalition including armies and soldiers from the Arab Liberation Army (Arab League), Egypt, Transjordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Sudan, and Yemen invaded the newly established State of Israel.

During the outbreak of the civil war, the Jewish forces included the Haganah and the smaller and more radical (or terrorist) Lehi and Irgun. They were aided by Druze militants and various Bedouin tribes. After May 26, 1948, the Jewish forces merged into the Israeli Defense Forces. The Israelis purchased arms from Czechoslovakia. As the war wore on, sensing an existential threat, Jews from all over the world joined the Israeli forces; at one point, more than 10,000 immigrants arrived per month.

The Jewish forces started with just about 10,000 soldiers, rising to about 115,000 by the end of the war. The Arab coalition invaded with about 70,000 soldiers, also growing throughout the course of the war. Iraq, for instance, initially committed 3000 soldiers, which increased to 21,000. The Palestinian militias included the Arab Liberation Army, standing at about 6000 soldiers, and the Army of the Holy War, standing at over 1300 soldiers.

Though officially outnumbered, Jewish forces fought as a unified front. Meanwhile, cooperation between the Arab forces was poor, as the Arab leaders distrusted each other. Additionally, Palestinian “irregulars,” or civilians unaffiliated with any militia, would regularly attempt to infiltrate Jewish towns and collective farms. Palestinian snipers — generally unaffiliated — consistently shoot at Jewish traffic, including women and children. However, oftentimes, infighting would break out among the Palestinian irregulars. This lack of cooperation and trust inevitably facilitated the eventual Israeli victory.



The Jews perceived the 1947-1949 war as an existential threat from the outset. In the beginning of the war, their stated objectives were simple: to survive Palestinian Arab attacks and an impending invasion by foreign Arab armies. Records from the time indicate that not only did the Jews take the Arab threats to genocide seriously, but that they feared a second Holocaust in the Middle East. Because they had little information regarding the Arab armies’ true capabilities, they prepared for the worst.

As the war progressed, so did the Jewish/Israeli motivations: (1) to incorporate Jewish collective farms outside of the proposed partition area into the Jewish state, (2) to capture territory that would provide defensible borders, and (3) to protect themselves from a potential fifth column by expelling all hostile Arabs to outside the borders of the Jewish state; i.e. Plan Dalet (see upcoming slide for more information on this).

The Arabs — both inside and outside of Palestine — started the war not because they considered the terms of Partition unfair, but because they opposed any sort of Jewish state (or a binational state where Jews held equal political autonomy) within the territory. The Arab League explained its reasons for invasion in a cablegram: (1) the restoration of “law and order” in Palestine, (2) because the Mandate had ended, and due to their rejection of Israeli statehood, they considered the territory to have no “legally constituted authority,” and (3) the establishment of a unitary Palestinian Arab state.

King Abdullah I of Transjordan stated that he was not opposed to partition so long as the entirety of the Arab part of Palestine was annexed to Jordan; however, he was ultimately pressured by the other Arab states to join the war. Meanwhile, King Farouk of Egypt feared that King Abdullah would be seen as the “main champion of Palestine” in the Arab world. Iraq, on the other hand, entered the war with the goal of annexing the entirety of the Fertile Crescent to an Iraqi state. Because each of the Arab leaders had different aspirations, relations between them were sour, which resulted in poor communication and lack of cooperation

Azzam Pasha, the General Secretary of the Arab League, expressed more sinister motivations, having threatened to drive the Jews into the sea at least twice before the war even started. Similarly, the Palestinian Arab leadership made the same threats, vowing to implement Hitler’s Final Solution.



Compared to similar conflicts during this time period (and well into the 1990s), the 1947-1949 war saw relatively few civilian massacres. That is not to say that they didn’t happen.

The first murders of civilians took place the day following the Partition Vote, when Palestinians ambushed two Jewish buses, massacring seven civilians, which marked the start of the civil war. That same day, some 80 Jews were massacred in Aden, Yemen and another 75 were massacred in Aleppo, Syria. Two weeks into the war, Palestinians had murdered some 126 Jews.

The first Jewish massacre of Palestinians took place several days later, on December 18, 1947, when Jewish forces massacred 12 Palestinians, including 5 children, in Al-Khisas. On December 30, the Jewish paramilitary Irgun threw a grenade at a group of Arab laborers, killing 6; in retaliation, Arab mobs massacred 39 Jewish civilians.

Among the deadliest massacres of the war were the Lydda Massacre (250 Palestinians killed), the Kfar Etzion Massacre (157 Jews killed), the Deir Yassin Massacre (107 Palestinians killed), and the Hadassah Hospital medical convoy massacre (77-79 Jews killed). When the Jewish population of Jerusalem surrendered on May 28, 1948, the Jordanian Legion massacred 600 Jewish Jerusalem residents. Towards the end of the war, as the Israeli forces captured more and more towns, Palestinians suffered more and more massacres. Additionally, hundreds of Jews and Palestinians died in bombings.

There is also debate as to whether some of these instances were deliberate massacres or simply the result of fighting. For example, there is debate over the nature of the Tantura Massacre, when 40 to 200 Palestinians were killed.

In addition to massacres, there are reports of rape, including Arab armies gang raping Jewish women, as well as three recorded rapes of two Palestinian women and two rapes of one 14-year-old and one 12-year-old Palestinian girl. There are conflicting rumors of rape regarding the Deir Yassin Massacre (“conflicting” because they were later disputed by survivors of the massacre); by many accounts, it was news of the Deir Yassin Massacre that resulted in mass panic and caused most Palestinians to flee. Additionally, Arab soldiers oftentimes raped Palestinian women.

Throughout the course of the war, Jews, including pregnant Jewish women, were regularly found disemboweled or mutilated. At various points, Arab soldiers paraded with Jewish heads on spikes. Jewish/Israeli prisoners of war were tortured and mutilated in particularly brutal ways. At one point, Palestinian militants kidnapped a Jewish baby, though the baby was eventually returned to safety.



From the beginning, the Jews and the Arabs approached the war differently. The Jews were ordered to hold their ground at all costs, whereas the (Palestinian) Arab Liberation Army had evacuated some 30 Palestinian towns and villages by March 1948. On April 6, the Arab forces evacuated the town of Sirin. On April 26, 1948, a British military report attested that the Arab leadership was evacuating the Palestinian population of Haifa.  At some point, however, so many Palestinians had evacuated that the Arab Higher Committee accused their own people of cowardice.

Some 100,000 Palestinians of wealthy means — including the families of members of the Arab Higher Committee — evacuated their homes by March 1948, in anticipation of the planned Arab invasion. Many has even left prior to the 1947 partition vote. By May 13, one day prior to the Israeli Declaration of Independence and two days prior to the Arab invasion, 300,000 Palestinians — most belonging to the upper and middle classes — had left their homes. When the Israelis captured the upper Galilee on October 24, 1948, some 50,000 Palestinians fled toward Lebanon, with only a few documented expulsions. There are also reports of the British forces evacuating Palestinian towns; for instance, on April 19, 1948, the British evacuated 6000 Palestinians from Tiberias.

Both sides were responsible for expulsions of civilians during the war. The first recorded expulsion of the Palestinian population took place in Qisarya (Caesaria) on February 19 and 20, 1948, though apparently this had little to do with the war and more to do with disputes between Arabs and Jewish illegal immigrants. In response to Palestinian civilians destroying relief trucks en route to 100,000 trapped Jews in Jerusalem, the Jewish forces put Plan Dalet into effect in April of 1948. The plan stated that, in case of resistance, the population of the conquered villages would be expelled to outside of the borders of the Jewish state. If no resistance was met, the population could stay under temporary military rule. In reality, however, particularly toward the end of the war, there are various cases in which Palestinians were expelled after the town or village had already surrendered.

After the Jews besieged in Jerusalem surrendered on May 28, 1948, the Jordanians expelled 40,000 Jews from East Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria. The Jordanians boasted: “For the first time in 1000 years not a single Jew remains in the Jewish Quarter. Not a single building remains intact. This makes the Jews' return here impossible.”

Despite orders to hold their ground at all costs, numerous Jewish villages were fully evacuated prior to the arrival of the Arab forces.

The largest expulsion of the war, signed by Yitzhak Rabin, took place in Lydda and Ramle, where 50,000-70,000 Palestinians were expelled and forced to walk for three days in unbearably hot temperatures until they were picked up by the Arab Legion. An unknown number died of exhaustion and thirst (estimates range from a couple dozen to 350 “based on hearsay”).

Other documented expulsions of Palestinians occurred in the following towns: Al-Bassa, Al-Mansura, Iqrit, Kafr ‘Inan, Suruh, Tarbikha, and Beersheba.

Some 800,000 Jews fled or were expelled from the rest of the Arab world in response to the war; 700,000-750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes.



Something unique about the Palestine Civil War (prior to the foreign Arab invasion in May 1948) was that much of the fighting concentrated around the roads. Most of the roads in what was then British Palestine passed through Arab towns and villages, so when the Arab militias could not overtake Jewish areas, they took control of the roads, effectively blocking all Jewish relief trucks and laying siege to Jewish towns and neighborhoods. Arab forces and civilians regularly massacred entire Jewish relief convoys. It was in this manner that they were able to besiege 100,000 Jews in Jerusalem. At one point, 1 out of every 10 Jews in Jerusalem died due to starvation and lack of medical resources.

The hardest fought battle in the war was the Battle for Jerusalem. By the end of the war, Jerusalem had been split in two: the Israelis controlled West Jerusalem and the Jordanians controlled East Jerusalem. In 1950, Jordan illegally annexed East Jerusalem, an annexation that was only recognized by two countries: Great Britain and Pakistan.

According to the armistice agreement, Jordan was supposed to allow access to Jews to holy sites and cultural institutions. Jordan, however, did not abide by the agreement. Instead, it destroyed the Jewish Quarter, including 58 synagogues, and desecrated thousands of Jewish tombstones at the Mount of Olives. Many Jewish holy sites were desecrated and even turned into chicken coops and horse stables. The Western Wall (Kotel), the holiest place Jews are currently allowed to access, became a slum area.

Until 1967, when Israel captured (or reunited) East Jerusalem during the Six Day War, East and West Jerusalem were separated with barbed wire. Often, children on both sides of the fence would play soccer with each other. However, Jordanian snipers would sometimes shoot at Jewish kids at random.

Other significant battles in the 1947-1949 war included the Battle for Gush Etzion and the Battle for Degania. By the time the armistice agreements were signed, Egypt had captured the Gaza Strip, where they established the All-Palestine Government until 1959. From 1959 until Israel captured Gaza in 1967, Egypt imposed a military occupation on the Gaza Strip.



The 1947-1949 war had a surprisingly low amount of civilian casualties, compared to similar conflicts. Some 2000 Israeli non-combatants were killed, whereas, by the highest estimates, some 800 Palestinian non-combatants were killed by the Jewish/Israeli forces in massacres.

In total, 6080 Jews/Israelis were killed — constituting 1% of the total Jewish/Israeli population — including some 2000 Holocaust survivors. By most estimates, some ~3000-5000 Palestinians were killed. Another 11,000 Palestinians went missing or were presumed dead but did not die in combat situations or massacres. Additionally, some 530 Palestinian villages were depopulated and destroyed.

The biggest outcome of the 1947-1949 war was a radical shift in the demographics of the territory encompassing the former British Mandate. Out of about one million Arabs that resided within the territory of Mandatory Palestine, 700,000-750,000 either fled or were expelled. By contrast, the new State of Israel absorbed nearly a million Jewish refugees in a span of just three years (1948-1951) at a tremendous cost, so much so that 1 out of every 6 Israelis lived in a refugee camp and food was rationed. The majority of these refugees had been expelled from elsewhere in the Arab world; another 140,000 or so were Holocaust survivors.

While the war itself took place in the territory encompassing the former British Mandate, Jews elsewhere in the Arab world suffered retaliatory attacks. For example, the day after the partition vote, some 80 Jews were massacred in Aden, Yemen and another 75 were massacred in Aleppo, Syria. On June 7-8, 1948, 47 Jews were massacred in Oujda and Djerada, Morocco. Nearly 100% of the Jewish population of the Arab world was expelled, with most finding refuge in Israel. Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Morocco, Syria, and Yemen confiscated Jewish properties. 2000-year-old flourishing Jewish communities were decimated, with only ~3000 or so Jews remaining in the Arab world today.

For Palestinian Arabs, the 1947-1949 war symbolizes a fracturing and displacement of their society. For Israelis, the victory symbolizes a heroic survival against all odds in the shadow of the Holocaust.



The issue of the Palestinian “right of return” is undoubtedly the most contentious in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, even more so than the status of Jerusalem. Every single peace negotiation has collapsed over the issue of Palestinian refugees.

On December 11, 1948, the United Nations passed Resolution 194, which stated: “refugees wishing to return to their homes [in Israel] and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date…”

It’s important to note that — whether rightfully or wrongfully — there is no legal precedent for the “right of return” of refugees of war. No other country has been asked to reabsorb war refugees, much less their children and grandchildren 74 years later.

During the war and in its immediate aftermath, the Israelis believed that the issue of refugees would be addressed in an upcoming peace treaty. Resolution 194 itself emphasized: “…live at peace with their neighbors.” Israel’s president Chaim Weizmann stated: “We are anxious to help such resettlement provided that real peace is established and the Arab states do their part of the job.” In 1949, Israel offered to absorb 100,000 Palestinian refugees. The offer was rejected by the Arab states, as it was contingent upon a formal recognition of Israel. Every other Israeli offer was rejected on the same basis.

In November of 1948, the United Nations established the United Nations Relief for Palestinian Refugees, which was later replaced by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). It’s the only such UN agency that exists for any of the world’s 26.6 million refugees; in other words, refugees from all other countries do not have similar agencies working on their behalf.

In the 73 years after the war, over 100 UN resolutions have addressed the plight of Palestinian refugees, whereas not a single one has addressed the issue of Jewish refugees from the Arab world. It’s estimated the expelled Jews lost about 6.7 billion dollars ($700 million in 1948) worth of assets and property. To this day, there has been no recognition — either by the UN or the Arab countries — nor reparations. The Palestinian refugees lost an estimated 4.4 billion dollars ($350 million in 1948) worth of assets and property. In the immediate aftermath of the war, Israel released $10 million in frozen Palestinian assets. All other offers of compensation — whether inadequate or not — were also rejected due to the Arab refusal to formally recognize Israel.

Between 1948-1951, Israel absorbed about a million Jewish refugees, whereas the surrounding Arab states passed a plethora of laws prohibiting the absorption of Palestinian refugees. The Arab League instructed its members to deny Palestinian refugees — and their descendants — citizenship “to avoid dissolution of their identity and protect their right to return to their homeland.” Because of this, Arab states have been accused of denying Palestinians their basic human rights.

The UNRWA defines Palestinian refugees as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict,” as well as their patrilineal descendants. As of 2019, 5.6 million Palestinians were registered as refugees with the UNRWA and 1.5 million continue to live in refugee camps.

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