With the Mandate ended and the British government’s withdrawal of troops and personnel by May 14th, the National Council and Elected Assembly, no longer a government under a foreign power and now an authority unto itself, began the process of reformation as that of an independent state’s. The great questions of how to design a Jewish state as well as aiding the still very much dispossessed and beleaguered Jews of Europe and the Arab world in coming to Israel, should they wish, were pressing concerns for the newly minted State of Israel. The provisional government was formed out of the institutions of the Yishuv, particularly the National Council, and had essentially already been running the state since the exit of British authorities on May 14th of 1948. The provisional government was headed by David Ben-Gurion who was also the chairman of the Jewish agency, Chaim Weizmann became president, a largely ceremonial role as stated in paragraph four, and the National Council evolved into the State Council, which was effectively a legislature comprised of 38 people.
Motivated by necessity caused by the ongoing invasion of Israel, one of the first actions taken by the provisional government during the war was to create the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), which came into being on May 26th of 1948, only 11 days after the creation of the new state itself. The provisional government went on to disband all other military forces in Israel and issued notice to the Irgun and Lehi that they must integrate into the IDF. While reluctant, both of these groups would eventually come to do so, though not without some violence between Israel’s government and the Irgun, which chose to reject the provisional government’s authority and tried to bring in a shipment of weapons aboard the Altalena, a ship that was sunk by the IDF due to the Irgun’s unwillingness to hand the weapons over to the IDF and its insistence that it should retain the weapons as well the independence of its command. After the Altalena affair, the Irgun went on to integrate into the IDF and so did the Lehi, though some members of both chose to remain independent and even went on to form groups with some measure of anti government sentiments.
The provisional government held the first national election on January 25, 1949 and transferred its powers to the Constituent Assembly of Israel, which renamed itself to the Knesset two days after it was created, and went on to successfully form a democratic government, continuing to build the institutions of state, and finishing what the provisional government had started. All this was done while Israel was being invaded and thus, forced the government to scramble to create itself while also administrating the defence of the nation in the midst of a war. The election was, as said, won by David Ben-Gurion, leader of Mapai (the Israeli Labor Party), who became the first Prime Minister of Israel and was forced to lead the country through the duration of the War of Independence. Meanwhile, the violence ongoing in Israel only increased with the arrival of the Arab League’s military force that mobilized only hours after the creation of the State of Israel (on May 15th) and immediately attacked Jewish settlements as it attempted to penetrate the Jewish state and drive its people out.
The Arab League army was comprised of soldiers from Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, and was joined by various Palestinians who chose to fight alongside them; its forces immediately seized control over much of what was then the state of Palestine with widespread acceptance by local Palestinians and used these territories to stage their invasion of Israel, this marked the true beginning of the first Arab Israeli War, sometimes called the War of Independence in Israel. This stage of the conflict lasted ten months until March 10th of 1949 and by its end had contributed to the death of six thousand Jews, approximately one percent of the Jewish population of Israel at the time, with over a third of them being civilians killed in the fighting. On the Arab side, the death toll ranged from four to seven thousand Arab League soldiers killed and another three to thirteen thousand Palestinians killed, with deaths from among both civilians and combatants. The IDF was forced to unite into a singular fighting force and not only repel an enemy invader but defended its civilians while also scrambling to organize itself at the same time, and yet somehow was able to do this and defeat the Arab invasion.
Marking their victory, members of the IDF raised the infamous Ink Flag, a historic moment for the people of Israel, in which after the taking of Umm Rashrash; a handmade Israeli flag made from a bed sheet, ink, and a Star of David taken off of a med kit was raised to culminate Israel’s victory. By the time the conflict was over, the Israeli forces had driven back the Arab League’s army to the lands that are now called West Bank and the Gaza Strip; Gaza came under Egypt’s control, and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem came under Jordan’s control. These territories remained part of the neighbouring Arab countries for the next 28 years until the end of the 1967 Six-Day War and became home to many of the Palestinian peoples who never saw their dreams of an independence state realized as they came under the rule of the nations that claimed to be acting for their protection. The defeat would later be called the Nakba, or “catastrophe” in Arabic, and would result in 78% of the former Mandate being declared as Israel and the exodus of 700,000 Palestinians who chose to flee rather than live under Israeli rule. With the end of the war in 1949 came a number of armistice treaties, negotiated by mediators from the UN, and signed between Israel and the various Arab League states: Egypt in February, Lebanon in March, Jordan in April, and Syria in July; Iraq, while involved in the conflict, refused to sign such a treaty with Israel.
The UN backed the legitimacy of the armistice agreements and furthermore recognized the sovereignty over the State of Israel within these borders and, shortly there after, admitted it as a member of the UN by majority vote on 11 May 1949. With power cemented and peace brought to Israel, Ben-Gurion set out to forge a constitution for his people. The task was significant for the new government of Israel, as its people had not yet had to from a constitution that would suit the many needs of the diverse Jewish people, some of whom were secular, and some deeply religious. The writing of the constitution proved to be deeply controversial and much debate ensued within the Knesset around what should constitute this important body of legal work that would influence generations of his Israelis following its creation. Due to the intensity of this challenge and the need to encompass so many disparate worldviews, the Knesset chose, rather than write a formal constitution, to create a series of basic laws which would evolve naturally in response to the needs of the Jewish people. Ultimately this meant that the state of Israel did not develop a formally written constitution but instead created a set of robust laws centred around human rights and the duties of the state to protect them for all Israeli citizens, whether Arab or Jew.
One of the seminal works to come form this process was the Law of Return, a work that granted all Jewish people the inalienable right to immigrate to Israel, ensuring the freedom of all Jewish people everywhere, stating, “every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh (Jew immigrating to Israel).” The Law of Return was passed by a unanimous vote in the Knesset on July of 1950 and still holds sway to this day and has become a fundamental aspect of Israeli society, granting millions of Jews the freedom to come to Israel as they see fit, largely unfettered by any legal restriction save those forced upon them by the countries which they are fleeing from or leaving. By the end of 1951, less than two years after the law was formed, over 687,000 Jews had come to Israel, with 300,000 of them from neighbouring Arab states, and by 2021, 3,340,000 Jews had immigrated to Israel since its independence. With so many refugees incoming and the strain of waging such a trying military campaign, Israel was forced to deal with a very difficult economic hardship.
The Jewish people were thus forced to adopt fairly extreme austerity measures at home and also work to acquire aid money from abroad. The United States had recognized the legitimacy of the state of Israel, and was the first nation to do so, and immediately came to the fledgling nations aid after the war of independence had ended, though it had put up a arms embargo on all countries involved in the war. With aid money flowing in from both America and Germany, the Israeli government managed to begin the building of new infrastructure needed for the massive population growth that was accurately predicted, as well as rebuild that which has been destroyed during the war. With great difficulty, Israel began a period of rapid industrial and agricultural growth and became a self-sufficient nation with a fully industrialized system of roads, telecommunications systems, and electricity networks, as well as a modern education system to ensure the continued growth of its people. Meanwhile, as Jews had been arriving from all over the world, the nation of Israel began to develop culturally and forge its own identity. Bringing cultural influences from the nations they had resided in across Africa, Europe, and Asia; Jews came together and made Hebrew the official language of Israel for the first time in over eighteen hundred years, unifying a disparate set of cultures around a single language that was widely agreed to be representative of all Jewish people and a necessity for the newborn state.
All was not well within the fledgling State of Israel however, the armistice agreements, while recognized by the UN, were not strictly upheld by the Arab League nations which had instead formed a unified front of alienation as an official foreign policy as well urging their allies to recognize Israel as an illegitimate nation. Furthermore, several of Israel’s neighbours unofficially engaged in raids on the people of the Jewish state and exacerbated relations that were already strained by the memory of war. By 1951 more than 150 Israelis had been killed or wounded in terrorist style attacks which prompted the IDF to engage in reprisal strikes. This led to a continuing cycle of violence in which attacks by Palestinians, aided by the Arabs who ruled over the territories these peoples were living in, engaged in attacks on Israel from West Bank and Gaza. By 1952, Egypt had gone through a revolution, overthrowing King Farouk and bringing President Gamal Abdul Nasser to power. Nasser built various alliances with other Arab nations and intensified his nation’s efforts to build a military with the capability to overthrow Israel while also encouraging other Arab nations to adopt a hostile stance towards Israel and prepare for war alongside Egypt.
Meanwhile, by 1955, Israel had seen its third election and gone through a period of political upheaval within the Knesset, as well as the death of Chaim Weizmann, a prominent leader who had used his role as president to be a stabilizing influence on Israeli politics. By 1955, David Ben-Gurion had returned to power, after Moshe Sharett had a short lived tenure as the Prime Minister of Israel; Ben-Gurion, seeing the increasing hostilities between his nation and Egypt, began to prepare Israel for war. For his part, Nasser, not only exacerbated relations with Israel, but also the Western powers, by nationalizing the Suez Canal Company, which was owned primarily by British and French interests, making the canal itself the property of Egypt, giving Nasser the power to block shipping to any country Egypt saw fit through one of the most important waterways in the Europe-Asia sea trade. Egypt then chose to blockade the Straits of Tiran, cutting off Israel’s southern port city of Eilat, leading to the Suez Crisis (or 2nd Arab–Israeli war) of 1956, and prompting an invasion of Egypt by Israel, France, and Britain.
The United States, Soviet Union and UN, however, put all three invading nations under political pressure, leading to a withdrawal by the three nations and the opening of the canal to international shipping by Egypt. The crisis also led to the creation of the United Nations Emergency Force, which was created to patrol the Egyptian side of the armistice line, and also maintain peace in Gaza and put an end to Palestinian raids from that area into Israel. From 1957 on, Israel enjoyed a greater degree of peace than ever before and border raids from Egypt came to a halt for the most part. A small number of raids emerged from Syria over the course of the next decade but for the most part, living standards within Israel improved and the industrial and agricultural infrastructure of the nation continue to develop as more Jewish refugees came to Israel seeking a better life and improving the country as best they could. Israel continued to place a great emphasis on developing foreign relations and developing closer ties with United States, as well as various nations from across Europe, Asia Latin America and Africa.
Through this development of greater diplomatic and economic relations, exports from Israel doubled and gross national product increased significantly with Israel becoming a modern industrial manufacturing economy that produced a large number of technologically advanced products as well as a huge amount of food for not only its domestic population but for trade as well. Economic efforts to produce export goods were such a success that Israel was forced to create a new deep-water port and did so while also irrigating the desert in it’s a great plan to “make the desert bloom“ and ensure that the Israeli people had more than enough water to hydrate the country, building a massive series of aqueducts, reservoirs, and canals across the country.
This time of Israeli politics was marked by coalition governments, high voter turn out, and the stabilizing force of David Ben-Gurion who sought to ensure compromises amongst all Israeli political parties willing to work with him as he had emerged as the dominant party leader in every election since the Knesset’s creation, despite not always being Prime Minister due to the nature of coalition governments. This period also saw the historical trial of Adolf Eichmann, who was brought to Israel on May 23, 1960 in order to stand trial for his role in the Holocaust as a prominent Nazi who had directly overseen and played a leading role in the death of millions of Jews as a chief administrator over Hitler’s “final solution.” Eichmann had lived in Argentina after the fall of Germany and was captured by Israeli agents in 1960 and brought to the Jewish homeland to stand trial, where he was found guilty of 15 counts of crimes against humanity, war crimes, crimes against the Jewish people, and membership in a criminal organization, and was sentenced to death. This was the only time in Israeli history that the death penalty has been carried out.
By 1963, David Ben-Gurion chose to resign as Prime Minister, even after the 1961 election saw his victory once again, leaving Levi Eshkol to fill his shoes. Eshkol remained Prime Minister until 1969 with his death, after which Golda Meir would replace him and become the first female Prime Minister of Israel, and the fourth person to hold that title. Eshkol had the difficult duty of normalizing relations with West Germany, a challenge for the Israeli people due to the horrors suffered by them during the holocaust. An intense political battle as well as larger disagreement from across the population of Israel raged before this immense decision was finally made and relations were formalized. German leaders had come to the conclusion that admitting to the crimes of the Holocaust was the duty of the German people, and that furthermore, reparations should be paid by Germany in order to atone for their actions, leading to the Reparations Agreement between Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany in 1952, which made a full normalization of relations by 1965 much easier for the Jewish people to accept, thanks to Germany’s admission of guilt.
For the Germans, they chose to engage in this effort to right their wrongs despite opposition from member states of the Arab league which had threatened to boycott Germany as a result. While Israel was attempting to make peace on a global stage and develop stronger relations internationally, increasing tensions with their Arab neighbours were mounting once again; Egypt’s President Nasser made clear his view that nations were being plagued by Israel and that the Jewish state had no place within what was deemed by him to be hereditary Arab land. On March 8th of 1965, Nasser would make an open proclamation to his people, urging them to war with the words, “We shall not enter Palestine with its soil covered in sand, we shall enter it with its soil saturated in blood.” Egypt would go on to form a mutual defence pact with Syria in November 1966 prompting Syria’s leader, President Nureddin al-Attassi to declare on Feb 22nd of 1967, “it is the duty of all of us now to move from defensive positions to offensive positions and enter the battle to liberate the usurped land… Everyone must face the test and enter the battle to the end,” when speaking to his people about his plans for Israel as part of their duty as Arabs.
Despite Israel’s best attempts at peace, a number of border skirmishes erupted on the Syrian and Jordanian border across April and May of 1967 and Israeli leaders began to plan for war as further violence continued and statements by Arab leaders gave every indication that further hostilities were imminent. By May 8th, Syrian military personnel managed to penetrate 8km into Israel and plant a bomb on a major highway which was North of the Sea of Galilee and detonated as a military convoy passed by. In response to this, Israeli Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol reached out to the Arab world in an openly published statement stating, “Israel wants to make it clear to the government of Egypt that it has no aggressive intentions whatsoever against any Arab state at all,” on May 16th of 1967; while also letting Arab leaders know that continued acts of terrorism would be met with military action. Seeming to hear only the statement that Israel would engage in military action if it so chose, a state of emergency was proclaimed in Egypt the following day and Nasser began making plans for military action alongside Syria, leading to the two nations to announce that they were combat ready and that Israel was beginning a military buildup on their borders, a buildup which had in fact not taken place at all.
By may 18th, the UN withdrew the peacekeeping forces that it had positioned on the Egyptian side of the Suez Canal, and, as militarization continued to sweep the Middle East, Kuwait, Jordan, and Iraq, had issued statements that they were prepared to engage in military activity against Israel if necessary which was followed by a pledge of support from Yemen as well. Amidst all of this, numerous urgings by religious leaders and prominent statesman from across the Arab League nations had begun, most of them, urging the Arab people to engage in war. By this time, the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) had become a full-fledged paramilitary force, it had started its life in 1964 and been created at the urging of Arab League leaders to represent the Palestinian people and engage in military action against Israel with the stated goal of creating a Palestinian state and eliminating and replacing the Jewish state. The PLO had already undertaken attacks on Israeli infrastructure and citizens before and prepared itself for military action.
As further military buildup and preparation’s were engaged in by neighbouring countries, Israel became increasingly alarmed by what appeared to be imminent hostilities, particularly as Egypt began a blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba. Prime Minister Eshkol called on international aid from the United Nations in response to this, and received the support of US president Lyndon Johnson, who made it clear that the blockading of Israeli shipping was illegal. By May 20th, hostilities were almost at a fever pitch, leading Syria’s Defence Minister, Hafez Assad, to state, “our forces are now entirely ready not only to repulse any aggression, but to initiate the act ourselves, and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland of Palestine. The Syrian army, with its finger on the trigger, is united. I believe that the time has come to begin a battle of annihilation,” making clear that Syria may very well engage in a second Holocaust against the Jews. No objection to this was made by any of the Arab states despite the obvious genocidal implications.
Seeing no end in sight and only increased preparation for hostilities being undertaken by its neighbours as armies mobilized upon its borders, and fearing a possible second genocide for the Jewish people should Israel fall, Israel’s leaders chose to engage in a preemptive strike on June 5 of 1967, thus beginning the Six-Day War. During the first stage of the war, Israel almost completely destroyed the Egyptian Air Force while it was still on the ground in only a few hours on the early morning of June 5th. Later that morning Israel continued to forge a path into Egypt using tanks and artillery to shatter the Egyptian army. Egyptian propaganda however, chose to depict the engagement as an Israeli defeat in order to encourage its allies’ support by presenting itself as being victorious, and further prompted King Hussein of Jordan to join in the defence of his Arab ally, as per the mutual defence agreement he had signed with Egypt earlier that year. As a result, Jordanian military forces begin using artillery on Israeli positions around Jerusalem which prompted an Israeli counter attack, leading to the IDF taking the city and proceeding to make gains across the West Bank which it would eventually take from Jordan over the next six days. Israel wanted to avoid conflict with Jordan but, fed false information that its allies were winning and pushing Israel back from the borders of Syria and Egypt, Jordan’s military forces continued fighting under the orders of its king. Egypt would continue in using propaganda, even claiming that the US had attacked it in order to explain its losses, as the war unfolded into a series of defeats. On June 10th, the IDF clashed with Syrian military forces and pushed them back, taking the Golan Heights of Syria as well.
On November 22, 1967, the UN Security Council unanimously passed resolution 242, calling for an Israeli withdrawal of territories occupied in the recent conflict but with no specific demands on which territories had to be withdrawn from and to what extent they should be returned to their previous nations; the resolution also called for “the termination of all claims or states a belligerency and respect for an acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and the right to live in peace with in secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” While members of Israel’s government were willing to negotiate, and may have allowed these terms to be met, the Arab nations who participated in the Six-Day War and their allies instead chose to eliminate any such possibility at the 1967 Arab League Summit which had already taken place in September, issuing the Khartoum Resolution, which, with no further reevaluation in the wake of the UN’s own Resolution, made clear the Arab world’s consensus for all diplomacy and relations between the Arab league and Israel.
The resolution made famous the “Three Nos,” stating, “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it…” thus making clear the Arab League’s lack of willingness to negotiate in good faith as per the UN Resolution’s requirement and further issuing terms that there would be no peace with Israel and also cementing the conditions which would lead to the invasion of Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. To this day, the question of who truly started the Six-Day War remains a widely debated controversy, partially because attributing the true beginning of hostilities is so difficult, and also due to the fact that a significant displacement of refugees took place as a result as well, with roughly 300,000 Palestinians, and 100,000 Syrians fleeing from Israel’s new territorial gains and back into their home countries. The end of the Six-Day War would mark the beginning of Israel’s current national borders, resulting in the current lines which divide territory on the present day maps as of this writing. It would also lead to a shift in Israel’s leaders, and its population at large, towards a greater confidence in the nation itself and another 260,000 Jews would immigrate to Israel over the next six years as a result.
Over the next several decades, Israel was able to successfully sign peace treaties with almost all of its belligerent nations, and end the hostilities with them. As a result of its continued success, Israel emerged as a major power in the Middle East with secure borders and ended the 20 year period of uncertainty which began with its independent statehood and left its concerns of being wiped off the map behind it. Unfortunately, Israel would go on to face continuing challenges with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which would come to be led by Yasser Arafat, the infamous leader who would commit numerous acts of war against Israel and bring about the deaths of thousands of Israeli’s through a combination of military strikes and terrorist attacks. Nothing Israel would face again, however, would compare to the horrors that were the destruction of the Jewish nation that had been visited upon Israel’s people by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, or the Nazi’s, who had, as this essay has made clear, brought about the near destruction of the Jewish people time and time again. Conflict still exists in Israel to this day, but it remains a safe nation for the Jewish people, and continues to protect their freedom and rights to life and prosperity as it has since its inception.
Written by David Proulx – UTKM White Belt
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