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The Birth Of Israel
by Sheldon Teitelbaum

JAMES GRAFF notes in your August?September letters column that the Zionists had already conquered Haifa, Tiberius, Safad, Jaffa, and Acre before the Arab armies from neighbouring Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon, and Iraq invaded the Jewish state. One need only refer to the first three volumes of Uri Milstein's exhaustive and scathing 12?volume history, The War of Independence (ZmoraBitan Publishers, 1989), however, to learn that there were, in fact, two wars, neither of which were instigated by the Jews.

The first was launched in the summer of 1947 by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and it pitted the entire Palestinian?Arab community, British Mandatory Palestine, against all Jewish civilian communities inside and outside those areas slated for eventual partition. And the Hagannah, which was charged with safeguarding these communities, almost fumbled the ball. David Ben Gurion did not actually anticipate a war until it was only a month off, and his prior efforts to refashion the Hagannah into a real army had proved pitifully inadequate. Meanwhile, the British, who had not yet left, forbade the importation or use of arms by Jews in Palestine even as they turned a blind eye to, and often equipped, the Palestinian forces under the Mufti's field commanders.

It is true that the superior force of arms wielded by the Jewish community, or Yishuv, ultimately proved decisive, but it should be noted that the Jews were nonetheless ill armed, outnumbered by the Palestinians, trained only to operate at the squad and platoon level, harassed by the British, and hard put, to it to keep the country's roads open and Jewish settlements free from siege.

The second war was waged by the combined Arab armies of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, who invaded the fledgling State of Israel on May 15, 1948. The Arabs lost it only because the nascent Jewish state had successfully withstood Palestinian attempts to throttle it while it was still in the womb. At its conclusion, the Yishuv had lost an entire per cent of its population.

As for the atrocities Graff cites with no lack of ire, these and the Palestinian refugee problem were the tragic results, as noted by Benny Morris in his seminal study, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947?49 (Cambridge University Press, 1988), of a war that could have been avoided had the Palestinians accepted partition. And they were matched by equally horrific Palestinian and Arab?instigated atrocities. The fact remains, however, that there was never any Jewish master plan or policy of expulsion, and in most instances, as Morris was able to determine, Arab villages and towns emptied "at the first whiff of grapeshot."

Sheldon Teitelbaum
Granada Hills, California


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