Mark Sykes (1879-1919) and François Georges-Picot (1870-1951), after whom the agreement to divide the defeated Ottoman Empire was named.

This is Part 3 of 5 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

The Rise of the State of Israel Part 4: A World at War, Written By David Proulx; Audio by David Proulx

While the creation of the Palestinian Mandate and the proceeding Balfour Declaration had granted a great victory for the Jews, the difficulties facing the future of the Jewish state were immediate. Competing claims made both by Jewish Zionists as well as Arabs of the former Ottoman Empire, some who had lived in the area for generations, were both made in tandem with one another and forced numerous post war conferences after the First World War to become the battleground for these vastly disparate national interests.

From the time of the Sykes–Picot Agreement in 1916, to the Clemenceau–Lloyd George Agreement in 1918, the Paris Peace Conference, at which the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, and finally the San Remo conference in 1920; the question of who would rule over Palestine and the former Ottoman territories was a dire one. The newly born conflict centred around not only how the territories would be administrated, which was a matter of contention between Britain and France who sought these lands for strategic reasons of their own, but also for the statehoods of the Jews and Arabs who would live in them. Feeling there was no clear-cut answer, British authorities chose to relinquish Palestine neither to the Jewish nor Arab peoples, and instead decided to maintain their sovereignty over the territory and allow them both to administrate it and rule over themselves with varying degrees of oversight by what would become the Mandate for Palestine.

By April 1920, the San Remo conference had seen the British Mandate for Palestine formalized along with administrative rulings for both the former Ottoman territories of “Syria” and “Mesopotamia”; the Mandate for Mesopotamia also came under British control whereas the Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon came under the control of France. The Mandate system was designed to differ from colonization in that it was supposed to put the territory in question under the rule of another nation until such time as its people could rule themselves, then they were supposed to emerge as an independent state. While all three regions were ethnically diverse and Kurdish people were split across Syria and Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) as well as other regions, the future of who would rule over the successor states to these Mandate territories was not in question; the question of who would rule over Palestine was, due to its two very disparate populations.

By July 1922 the League of Nations had approved the plans for the Mandate for Palestine put forward at San Remo and one year later brought them into force in September 1923, beginning 25 years of British administration over Palestine and its Jewish and Arab inhabitants. The mandate recognized the “historical connection for the Jewish people with Palestine,” and called upon itself to “secure establishment of the Jewish national home.” The mandate also demanded recognition of some form of Jewish governance and the Jews of the WZO (World Zionist Organization) were quick to begin establishing themselves as the rightful authority to do so and began the work of creating a local government for themselves. Jewish immigration was allowed under the Mandate and encouraged by the WZO. The Mandate was designed, at least in theory, to ensure that the rights of all members of the population were to be respected, and to ensure the peaceful accommodation of Arabs and Jews with the hopes of copacetic relations, an optimistic expectation of the British Empire’s, and one that, tragically, has still never been realized.

Sir Herbert Samuel, first High Commissioner for Palestine, was put into the position of governing the Mandate by London; an appointment celebrated by Jews in Palestine as well as Britain due to Samuel’s being a practicing Jew, the first one ever to hold a British Cabinet position, and one who had held several positions within British government while outspokenly campaigning for the cause of Zionism at the same time. It was Samuel’s duty to maintain peace between the Jews and Arabs of Palestine and he attempted to do so by naming English, Arabic and Hebrew the official languages of the Mandate, as well as making open his intent to foster equal treatment for Jews and Arabs. To help cement his reputation as an even-handed peacemaker, Samuel, who as the temporal ruler over Palestine had been given the right to appoint the the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, chose Mohammed Amin Al-Husseini for the position, despite Al-Husseini’s opposition to Zionism.

Al-Husseini was a prominent nobleman of an ancient and esteemed Arab family and had been an outspoken opponent of Zionism and an advocate of violence against Jews in the Mandate and continued to remain one after his appointment. Al-Husseini would use the power of his position to oppose Zionist aspirations until he lost the title in 1948 after being exiled from Jerusalem by the King of Jordan, whose nation had taken control of the city and all of the West Bank (lands west of the River Jordan, found in Eastern Israel), after the first Arab-Israeli War. Samuel had hoped the appointment of such a prominent Arab nationalist and religious figure would win him approval with Arab people and had intended it as a symbol of respect for the Arabs of the Mandate, but may have only caused himself and the Jewish people great misery in granting such a prominent Arab nationalist such power, particularly considering Al-Husseini eventually developed strong ties to Nazi Germany and a personal relationship with Adolf Hitler during the Second World War.

Meanwhile, Samuel’s appointment to the position of Grand Commissioner was very controversial among Arabs and Christians in Palestine, as were his choices to allow for Jewish immigration and peaceful land acquisition by said immigrants. Though Samuel contended that enabling thousands of Jews to escape the continued horrors of antisemitism was in line with the Mandate’s purpose (he was all too aware of the hardship his people faced, particularly after the mass exodus of Jews out of Russia in the 1880’s and 90’s), he still attempted to slow Jewish migration into Palestine in the early years of his tenure in order to ease concerns of Arabs fearing the Zionist aspirations of their cohabitants. The wave of migration into Palestine began what is now known as the third Aaliyah, leading to a massive wave of Jewish population growth within the region. The Yishuv, a term which came to mean the Jewish community of Israel over the course of the late 19th century, continued to build institutions of government and form policies for self administration as well as create the Assembly of Representatives, a key body of the Jewish community and government which was formed by April 1920.

The Assembly had been conceived of over a number of talks by Jewish leaders from across Palestine and more broadly the WZO, such as Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion, and officially came into existence after its first election on April 19, during which 22,000 of the 26,000 Jews registered to vote in Palestine turned out to choose their elected officials. Leading in the election was Ahdut HaAvoda, the precursor to the the Israeli Labor Party, founded by David Ben-Gurion, who would not only go on to be the president of the WZO but also the first Prime Minister of Israel. The Assembly continued to exist until 1949 when the first Knesset (Israeli Parliament, lit. “Gathering”) was created, which served to form the infrastructure and general operating procedure, as well as many features that later characterized that organization, including the political parties that inhabited it. The Assembly was markedly progressive for its time and allowed women to both vote and run as candidates, though not without opposition from Orthodox Jews who disbarred this within their own communities.

By 1920, the Assembly had created or overseen the creation of the Histadrut (General Organization of Workers in Israel, also founded by Ben-Gurion), Haganah (the precursor to the Israel Defence Force) and the Jewish National Council, a body formed to rule the country during the majority of the year in which the Assembly was not in session. The assembly went on to host further elections in 1925, 1931, and 1944, all of which saw David Ben-Gurion’s party win the highest number of seats, and was eventually reformed into the Knesset, at which time, David Ben-Gurion once again emerged as the victor in its election. The officials of the Mandate more or less entrusted the National Council with responsibility for the Jewish community’s internal affairs after the British Government recognized it as the official representative of the Yishuv in 1928, at which time the Elected Assembly gained recognition as an official ruling body as well. By this time, Samuel had been gone from Palestine for three years and the Mandate had seen two other Grand Commissioner’s come into power, Herbert Plumer in 1925, and John Chancellor in 1928, though neither took as direct a part in Palestine’s governance as Samuel had, particularly with regard to engaging with the Yishuv, as Samuel had possessed a strong relationship with Chaim Weizmann among others. Provided with no funding from the British government, the Yishuv had to make do with limited finance and relied upon the network of Jewish people from across the world to provide it and its people with the wealth so direly needed to form a government and begin the building of infrastructure across Palestine.

As well as just forming a government, the leaders of the Jewish community within the National Council began building infrastructure, including roads, hospitals, schools, as well as water and electricity facilities; the Jewish Agency for Palestine was also formed during this time and exists to this day as the Jewish Agency for Israel, continuing the legacy of the National Council in creating lasting infrastructure and cultural heritage for the people of Israel.  The Agency became a core body for aiding Jews across the world and helped to shape Israeli culture by being the first point of contact for Jews everywhere looking to immigrate to Palestine and later, become citizens of Israel, as it was given the responsibility of facilitating immigration into Palestine by the National Council. It is important to note that the Jewish Agency went through several shifts and ensuing rebranding as a result; beginning as the Palestine Office of the WZO in 1909, then the Zionist Commission in 1918, the Palestine Zionist Executive in 1921, and finally the Jewish Agency of today. What is more important than its name, however, is the the organization’s history of fulfilling many roles during its lifetime, all of which were designed to aid Jews from across the world not only in coming to Israel but in building communities in their local countries and forging bonds across the Jewish diaspora wherever they lived.

While these organizations all marked the success of the Jewish people throughout the early years of the Mandate, all was not well for the Jewish people of Palestine, and the Yishuv also was forced to accept the necessity of creating a paramilitary defence force for its people, the majority of whom were well intentioned settlers who simply wished to live in peace in a state of their own. To this effect, the Hagana was created in 1920 with the purpose of providing defence for the Jewish people of Palestine. The necessity of the Hagana was proven during a series of violent attacks against Jewish people in 1920 as Arab opposition to both British rule and Jewish immigration mounted and hostile attitudes against Jews reached a fever pitch. In April of 1920, Arabs, enraged both by the Franco-Syrian War and the ongoing Zionist efforts in Palestine, began to riot throughout Jerusalem during the Nebi Musa festival, a regional Arab-Islamic festival named after a mosque believed to contain the tomb of Moses. The riots, sparked by an anti-Semitic speech given by the aforementioned Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, led to a flurry of violence; violence which, over several days, killed five Jews and injured several hundred more while anti-Semitic speeches were delivered to large crowds and Jewish families were left powerless to defend themselves as their homes and temples were burned and several Jewish women were raped.

The riots proceeded the already bloody Battle of Tel Hai, in which an Arab militia attacked the Jewish farming community of Tel Hai leading to eight Jews and five Arabs being killed. Joseph Trumpeldor, the leader of the Jewish defenders of the community, was shot during the battle and later died of his wounds, after which he became a symbol of Jewish hardship at the hands of Arab antisemitism, as did the community of Tel Hai itself, which was eventually abandoned by the Jews and burned by local Arabs. These events, among others, led to the creation of the Hagana which went from being an informal and decentralized militia in 1920, to becoming a centralized military organization following the the 1929 Palestine Riots, which saw, yet again, a series of violent attacks across Jerusalem by Arab Muslims angry at the Jewish community there; this time due to access over the Western Wall, a site sacred to both Judaism and Islam. For Muslims, the Western Wall is the site where the Prophet Muhammad rode a winged horse in his ascent to heaven upon the end of his earthly existence. For Jews, it is the site of the Wailing Wall, a location deemed sacred for its proximity to Temple Mount and the historical practice of Jews weeping at the site over the destruction of their previous Temples, burned by the Babylonians and Romans. This conflict over the perceived sacrosanct nature of both holy sites within Palestine and of Jerusalem itself would continue to be a point of contention in the broader conflict between the Arabs and Jews of Palestine.

With the creation of such major infrastructure and the development of a crucially needed, yet well trained, defence force, one which had grown dramatically in size and armament, the Jewish community of Palestine continued to develop both in population and in infrastructure, but faced a new and unexpected challenge as Adolf Hitler took power in Germany in 1932.  The rise of Nazism in Germany brought both a challenge to the Jewish Agency’s ability to house and integrate new immigrants to Palestine, as well as a number of highly educated and well trained professionals who contributed to the life of its people. While anti-Semitism continued to be a threat to the lives of Jews in Palestine, the rise of Nazism soon eclipsed any other concerns for most Jews across Europe, and some within Germany even sought to forge an agreement with the Nazi government to move to Palestine in order to escape continued persecution. The Haavara Agreement, a highly controversial agreement made by German Zionists and the Nazi government, led to divisions across the Jewish world and conflict among Zionists; while German Zionists sought it in order to flee Germany and gain their freedom, others, such as the Revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, opposed it fervently.

Participants in the 2nd St. James Conference, also known as the London Conference of 1939

By 1935, circumstances for Jews in Palestine had worsened as Arabs within the Mandate petitioned the British authorities to halt both immigration and the acquisition of land by Jews. The British government chose to reject these demands and in April of 1936, the Arab Higher Committee, which was comprised of representatives from across the Arab community of Palestine, called for a protest in response. The protests soon evolved into a series of riots, leading to groups of armed Arabs attacking Jewish settlements and repeating the horrors of the riots that led to the creation of the Hagana in 1920, but this time on a far greater scale. The riots were mostly suppressed in late 1936, primarily by British forces in Palestine. Unfortunately, the violence continued, albeit on a smaller scale, and resumed en masse by late 1937, leading to numerous bloody clashes between the Hagana and various Arab militias. The bloodshed would continue until 1939, by which time the British government had convened at the (second) Saint James Conference in London with the aim of finding a solution to the recent years of bloodshed as well as the larger problem of unrest in Palestine. The conference began on February 7th 1939 in St James’s Palace, at which the Colonial Secretary, Malcolm MacDonald was forced to hold separate meetings with both the Arab and Jewish delegations due to the refusal of the Arab delegation to meet with the Jewish one.

When the British announced the conference, it was made clear that if no agreement was reached between the two delegations, they would impose a solution. The conference ended five and a half weeks later in failure and led to the creation of the White Paper of May 17, 1939. The White Paper called for severe restrictions on Jewish immigration and yet also called for the establishment of a Jewish National Home within an independent Palestinian state, as per the Mandate’s official purpose to eventually dissolve and allow national independence by its inhabitants. Jewish immigration was to be restricted as was any transfer of land into Jewish hands according to the White Paper’s decree, limiting the number of Jews who could immigrate to Palestine at 75,000 over the next five years. This outraged both Arabs and Jews, as Jews felt it was untenable, particularly considering the rise of Nazism and the flow of over 60,000 Jewish refugees from Germany alone in recent years; Arabs were also enraged by the perceived favouritism of the Jews by Britain and demanded an immediate end to all Jewish immigration and the review of all immigrants who entered Palestine since the creation of the Mandate.

For the British, this lack of any sort of diplomatic solution signaled the possible end of their rulership over the Mandate and made it clear that a peaceful solution between Arabs and Jews in Palestine was not reachable under any terms which they found tenable. The British stance was that the increasing hostilities in Europe, about to erupt in what would become the Second World War, made any commitment to maintaining a peacekeeping force in Palestine impossible. With the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Nazi Germany, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, began the worst genocide the world has ever seen, within which the systematic mass murder of 6 million Jews would come to pass. The horrors of mass imprisonment, torture, rape, human experimentation, and all manner of other violence would be visited upon innocent Jews from across the conquered territories taken by the Nazis. With 10 million of the world’s 16 million Jews living in Europe, over half of Europe’s Jews were wiped out and millions more were left scarred and brutalized by the horrors of the Holocaust, called the Shoah (“Catastrophe”) in Hebrew.

During the war, the Yishuv made its best attempt to come into close cooperation with the British, especially with regard to the war effort against Nazi Germany, and sent 32,000 willing volunteers from Palestine to serve in the British armed forces. This enthusiasm for fighting Nazism also left the Hagana undermanned as it struggled to find personnel to defend the beleaguered Jews at home who still suffered from the horrors of violence by some anti-Semitic Arabs who continued in their aggression against local Jews in spite of the violence being visited upon the Jewish people of the world by Nazi Germany. While Jews fighting in the British armed forces would form the Jewish Brigade in 1944, a semi-independent fighting force composed entirely of Jews, the Yishuv would create a group known as the Palmach in 1941, an elite defence force tasked with, among other goals, repelling a Nazi invasion of Palestine in the advent of Britain’s failure in the war. These two forces would come together after the dissolution of the Mandate to form a crucial component of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).

By the war’s end, hundreds of thousands of desperate Jews who had survived the Holocaust and were living in concentration camps sought to relocate to Palestine; the British government, however, was unwilling to allow this as they had been at best reluctant to accommodate the great number of Jewish refugees who had fled German occupied territories throughout the war and continued to enforce the White Paper. The White Paper had limited Jewish immigration into Palestine for the next five years from its inception in 1939, which included most of the peak years of the Holocaust, after which further Jewish immigration would depend on Arab consent, consent which was not given despite the horrors the Jews had endured. Numerous other countries chose to reject Jews and even sent them back into the arms of their Nazi murderers, including Canada, which sent back a boat of Jewish refugees, the St. Louis, many of whom died in concentration camps as a result. The anti-Semitic propaganda of the Nazis had been massively successful both before and after the war and led to Jews being unable to find a home anywhere, even in Eastern Europe, where the Nazis had tormented the local population far worse than in their Western European territories.

Solomon Mikhoels (1890-1948), actor, director, and founder of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee

The raging antisemitism found in the newly expanded Soviet Union left the Jews of that region in a worse position than they had been even during the pogroms of 19th century Russia. Solomon (Shloyme) Mikhoels, founder of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and a citizen of Soviet Russia, was assassinated by Joseph Stalin’s decree; partly for raising awareness about the violence he and other Jews experienced after the war and for not presenting these crimes as generalized violence against Soviet nationals rather than anti-Semitic violence exclusively directed towards Jews. The members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee were also persecuted quite violently in Russia and in many cases executed for crimes of treason or disloyalty while post war antisemitism reached a fever pitch and led to Jews being propagandized against en masse. This violently increased antisemitism further put pressure on the Yishuv to find a solution to British reluctance to allow Jewish immigration into Palestine as news of violence against Jews in Soviet territories reached them. Further worsening the situation between the Yishuv and the British government was the appointment of Ernest Bevan as minister of Foreign Relations to Great Britain. Bevan was known for his veiled anti-Semitic remarks and continued the policy of limiting immigration into the Mandate with seemingly no regard for the horrors this would visit upon the Jews of Europe.

While many in the Yishuv attempted to use only diplomatic negotiations to secure their people’s safety, the failure of appeals for humanitarian aid from Britain enraged a small number to the extent that they felt forced to engage in illegal immigration efforts which saw tens of thousands of refugees from Europe arrive via boat; some, however, were not satisfied with this and even began to resort to violence against the British military forces within the Mandate. As hostilities grew between the Jewish community and British rule, a bomb was detonated in the King David hotel on July 22 of 1946, an act seeking to destroy the British military and civilian leadership in Palestine, which was headquartered there. The bombing of the King David Hotel was perpetrated by the Irgun, a branch of the Hagana that was formed in 1931 but which broke off from that organization in 1937. The Irgun was founded by Revisionist Zionist, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and was informed by the radical version of Zionism that the Revisionists advocated for.

Jabotinsky was a prominent figure in Zionism and had argued in favour of not only the Jewish people receiving all of Palestine but all of what is now the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as well. Jabotinsky had served in the First World War as part of the British based Zion Mule Corps, a precursor to the later Jewish Legion, which Jabotinsky had conceived of and urged the British to create. Together with the man who would later lead the defenders of Tel Hai and die there, Joseph Trumpeldor, Jabotinsky fought for Britain and the Jewish people and risked death. While he faced antisemitism and witnessed the disbandment of the the Zion Mule Corps, possibly because he accused the British armed forces of antisemitism, Jabotinsky was later appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his service in the First World War in 1919. This honouring by Britain would not make for a copacetic relationship between it and Jabotinsky though. With the passing of the White Paper of 1939 and its seemingly punitive restriction on Jewish immigration into Palestine, the Irgun, Jabotinsky’s creation, became incensed by the insensitivity of the British to the Jewish people’s plight in Germany, and essentially declared war against British governance of Palestine and made known and their intent to overthrow it and install a Revisionist Zionist government over the territory, or at least a Jewish comprised one.

The Revisionists and most members of the Irgun, like Jabotinsky, also saw the entirety of the Mandate as their natural homeland. The Irgun’s choice to engage in hostilities with the British had been halted with the onset of the Second World War, but by 1944 the organization had once again resumed hostilities against British rule and began carrying out attacks against British government institutions in Palestine, while also trying to maintain relations with the Hagana and the Yishuv. The Irgun had remained independent since it split from the Hagana in 1937, and answered only to its own leading members, all of whom were from the paramilitary organization Betar or the Revisionist Zionist movement, again, both creations of Jabotinsky. Meanwhile, as conditions for Jews in Europe had worsened significantly in the past decade, Zionists had increasingly looked to the United States for support in their plans to create a new Jewish state and called for further involvement and campaigning for support from leaders in America, this culminated in the Biltmore Conference in New York City in May of 1942.

The conference led to a massive shift in Zionism, particularly within American Zionism, as well as both a dramatic change in both its leadership and direction, seeking a greater degree of control over the administration of Palestine and unrestricted immigration for the Jewish people immediately. Some arguments over whether or not to direct their efforts towards the creation of a Jewish state or for the immediate rescue of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany was discussed and became a point of contention at the conference, but the overwhelming consensus called for the creation of a Jewish state, as this was deemed necessary to create a stable place for Jews to flee to and thus escape Nazi Germany permanently, unlike the Jews who reached Canada in 1939 and were sent back to die in concentration camps. Following the Second World War, American sentiments towards Jews had shifted dramatically, possibly due to guilt over American inaction during the Holocaust; this meant a greater degree of support by US government officials including US president Harry Truman was gained for the Zionist cause. Truman even suggested that the British government open its doors to the Jews seeking access to Palestine and allow for greater immigration for them; the British government, however, refused to lift the restrictions of the White Paper and continued to deny Jews access to their historical homeland even after seeing that they had the support of the nation that had already clearly emerged as one of the world’s greatest superpowers.

Following this refusal, an Anglo-American committee was formed to evaluate the situation in Palestine and the question of Jewish immigration there, from November 1945 to April 1946, the committee gathered information and came to the conclusion that 100,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors should be given immediate rights to immigrate to Palestine; the United States under Harry Truman approved of the plan, the British government did not and once again refused to lift restrictions on immigration. Faced with this opposition from the British government, and massive antisemitism, particularly in eastern Europe, where many of the Jews were fleeing, the Yishuv began aiding Jews in illegally immigrating to Palestine. While some amount of illegal immigration had been tolerated previously, now the Yishuv began making plans to move Jewish refugees into Palestine via sea ports and to evade British naval patrols while doing so, as well as to move people in over land routes where possible.

More than 70,000 Jews arrived in Palestine over the next two years as part of this plan. Meanwhile, Britain had to come to the conclusion that re-examining its place as a world power in the wake of the Second World War was necessary and to that end, the British realized that their position in Palestine, among other imperialist conquests such as India, had become increasingly volatile and no longer beneficial. By February 1947 Britain had chosen to give up the Mandate and to hand control of Palestine over to the United Nations, feeling that the past 27 years of hostilities marked the inability of the Jews and Arabs to make peace and forge any form of national unity, the British essentially gave up on trying to find a copacetic solution for the inhabitants of Palestine and gave the right to determine its future over to the UN. The UNSCOP (United Nations Special Committee on Palestine) was created to find some solution that would satisfy both the Arab and Jewish inhabitants of the region and this prompted Zionists to seek meetings with prominent leaders across the world to campaign for the Jewish cause.

The United States had become increasingly concerned with the future of the Jewish people as well as other refugees across Europe and Asia as a result of the Second World War, and under Truman’s leadership, sought an end to the refugee crisis it had caused, thus leading the US to open its doors to many fleeing to America in hopes of a better life. After considerable deliberation, the UNSCOP proposed the partitioning of the Mandate and creating separate Jewish and Arab states with an international body administrating Jerusalem, which was deemed too contentious to allow either party to hold entirely, not to mention a crucial and sacred location for Christians as well. The partition plan gave the Jews 55% of the mandate and the Palestinians 45%. Some access to the coastline on the Mediterranean Sea was granted to both nations though only Israel would have access to the Gulf of Aqaba in the south and Jerusalem would be entirely encircled by the nation of Palestine; both Nations were to be linked into an economic union.

By November 1947, the UN General Assembly had voted with 33 in favour and 13 opposed, with 10 abstentions, to adopt Resolution 181: The United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine. The Partition Plan was controversial among the Jewish people, most of the Revisionists of course wanted more land, since as stated above, they believed that they should be given all of the Palestinian mandate, which included all of both what is now Israel and Jordan; the majority of Jews however, saw the wisdom in accepting the partition plan and chose to accept it, leading their Revisionist counterparts to reluctantly do the same. The leaders of the neighbouring Arab countries, now members of the newly formed Arab League, and the Arab Higher Committee, the leadership of the Arab people of Palestine, rejected the UN partition plan en masse; they argued that all of the Mandate should be given to a Palestinian state led entirely by Arab peoples, and furthermore that the creation of a divided country violated their national autonomy as well as forced them to pay for the crimes of Nazism. This disagreement cemented the conflict that was to come, the First Arab-Israeli War of 1948 that erupted from the disagreement stemming back to the initial unrest at the possibility of resettlement of the Jews’ historic homeland. 

                The Partition Plan set the date for the termination of the Mandate as May 15 of 1948. Zionist leaders issued the declaration of independence for the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, one day before the Mandate’s end. David Ben-Gurion read the declaration, at the Tel Aviv Museum, in a historic speech marking the beginning of a free Jewish State, and bringing rejoice to Jewish people around the world. The Arab peoples of the world however, were far from jubilant and the Secretary General of the Arab League informed the United Nations on May 15, 1948, that their armed forces would enter Israel and engage in military action against it in order to create a single Palestinian state alleging to act with the intent of protecting Arab peoples and of creating some form of stable government in the region. Hostilities had already been ongoing by the time Arab armed forces entered the newly created State of Israel; since the announcement of the Partition Plan there had been numerous attacks on Jews by Arabs and several counter attacks carried out against Arab people as well, both of which targeted civilians. This period is sometime referred to as the 1947–1948 civil war in Mandatory Palestine as it occurred in what was still the Mandate but is essentially just the first stage in the Arab-Israeli War.

The Hagana was busily trying to defend Jewish people wherever they could, while the Irgun, acting with the intent to deter further violence, carried out counter attacks on Arab people independent of any authority aside from their own. The Lehi, also known pejoratively as the “Stern Gang” (as it was founded by Avraham Stern), broke off from the Irgun when that group ceased attacks against British governance of Palestine during the Second World War, and became increasingly active during this time of conflict. Like the Irgun, the Lehi was based entirely in Palestine and its leadership was concerned with preventing violence by Palestinians against the Jewish people while also fighting for the Zionist vision of a Jewish state. The Lehi engaged with the Palestinians much in the same way as the Irgun while mostly ignoring the authority of the National Council or any other group within the Yishuv, but would fight alongside the Irgun and also the Hagana on several occasions. The Yishuv, for its part, quickly organized in order to defend itself against the increasing violence that had wracked the country and went on to form a provisional government in spite of the violence it was enduring.

Written by David Proulx – UTKM White Belt

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