FROM 1948 AND INDEPENDENCE
On May 14, 1948, the day that the British pulled out of Palestine, the Jews formally declared the founding of the modern State of Israel.
David Ben Gurion, Chairman of the Jewish Agency, proclaiming independence
See the full text of the Israeli Declaration of Independence here.
The very next day, the Arab League declared war on the fledgling state. Armies from neighboring Arab countries – Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq – invaded Israel. (Yemen was part of the Arab League but sent no troops.)
Azzam Pasha, Secretary General of the Arab League, announced at a press conference that this was a “…a war of extermination and a momentous massacre.”
In the course of the war, some 500,000 Arabs who lived in what was now Israel fled her borders. Some 70% of these never saw an Israeli soldier: They ran either on their own initiative or because they were told by Arab leaders to do so. The anticipation was that the Jews would be promptly defeated; it was considered smart for the Arabs to get out of the way and then return victorious later, ready to take over and claim spoils. In large part they were duped.
There were instances in which Arabs were driven out. The Jewish citizens of the new state of Israel were facing an existential threat. The Arab League had made its intentions quite clear. Some of the Arabs living in Israel were a fifth column, and therefore undermined the security of the Israeli forces. It would have been suicidal not to push them out. The evidence that Israel did not intend to drive out all of the Arabs is clear: Those who remained were made citizens. Stories are told, especially in the Haifa area, about special pleas made to the Arabs to stay and be a part of the State instead of fleeing.
Those Arabs who fled became “Palestinian refugees” as defined by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), founded in 1949.
UNRWA is the only international agency dedicated to one group of refugees. In some cases the refugees had been in Israel for little as two years before fleeing – having come for work – and were not indigenous to the area. They became pawns in the on-going Arab fight to destroy Israel. To this day, they and their patrilineal descendants are defined by UNRWA as refugees, even if they have citizenship elsewhere.
The Arab states – with the exception of Jordan – have refused to give them citizenship, while UNRWA refuses to seek permanent solutions for them elsewhere (as is the policy of the UN High Commission for Refugees in dealing with all the other refugees in the world – when these refugees cannot repatriate). Instead, UNRWA insists that they have a “right” to return to Israel. Were Israel to grant them the “right to return” this would destroy the country. This policy has fostered radicalism and terrorism in the refugee population: much of the terrorism against Israel comes out of the UNRWA refugee camps.
End of War – Armistice Lines & Israeli Territory
In 1949, at the end of the Israeli War of Independence, Israel was slightly larger than what had been proposed by the 1947 United Nations Resolution 181.
There was no “Palestinian Arab state” in the part of Palestine that was not under Israeli control: The Arabs had rejected that possibility. This area remained Mandate territory. On the west, Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip and on the east, Jordan occupied Judea and Samaria (which was called the “West Bank,” i.e., the west bank of the Jordan River). These occupations were not legal.
Western Jerusalem was in the hands of Israel, while eastern Jerusalem was controlled by Jordan. This was the only time in Jerusalem’s 3,000 year history that it was divided.
In spite of an understanding to the contrary included in the armistice agreement, Jews were denied all access to the Temple Mount and the adjacent Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest sites, as well as to the ancient cemetery on the Mount of Olives – all of which were under Jordanian control. The Jordanians destroyed synagogues in that part of the city and rendered it Judenrein.
Today there are claims that eastern Jerusalem is “Arab.” This is nonsense. It only seemed so because for a period of 19 years Jordan had forbidden Jews to enter the area. The historical reality is that Jewish heritage is solidly linked to eastern Jerusalem, actually more so than to the western part of the city.
The lines established at the end of the war were NOT final borders. They were armistice lines – determined when ceasefire (not peace) agreements were signed with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. To this day, only Jordan and Egypt, of the nations that had attacked Israel in 1948, have signed peace treaties; Iraq and Saudi Arabia which share no direct borders with Israel, would not negotiate even armistice agreements. (The armistice lines between Israel and Egypt, and Israel and Lebanon did not correspond to the battlefront lines at the time of cessation of hostilities; in these instances Israel withdrew to the earlier Mandate borders.)
These armistice lines, with some small adjustments, came to be known as The Green Line. The lines are often treated in certain quarters as if they are permanent borders to which Israel must now return. But this is absolutely not the case: when they were established, it was made clear that they were TEMPORARY. The armistice agreement Jordan signed with Israel specifically stated that the armistice line would not prejudice decisions on a permanent border determined via negotiations.
Jordan formally annexed the West Bank in 1950, and granted Palestinian Arabs living there citizenship. In 1988, Jordan reversed this, relinquishing all claims to the area.
Hostility to Israel by Arabs in the region persisted through the years following the War of Independence. This was manifested in a variety of ways, including terrorist attacks and then the blockade of the Suez Canal by Egypt, so that Israeli shipping was stymied. This led to the war of 1956, which resulted in a rout by Israel and movement of Israeli forces into the Sinai. Under pressure from the US, Israel withdrew without receiving any concessions from the Egyptians. UN forces were placed in the Sinai as a buffer between Egypt and Israel.
Six Day War & Results
In May 1967, the following sequence of events occurred: the Egyptian army amassed at the border with Israel in the Sinai; Syria sent troops prepared for battle to the Israeli border in the Golan; Egypt’s President Nassar ordered the UN troops to leave the Sinai.
Along with this came open declarations of Arab intentions of going to war with Israel and destroying her.
The Voice of Arab radio declared: “The sole method we shall apply against Israel is total war, which will result in the extermination of Zionist existence.”
From Hafetz Assad, who was then Syria’s Defense Minister: “…the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation.”
On May 22, Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran, thereby blocking Israeli shipping. There was major international understanding that this was illegal and that Israel had rights with regard to shipping. This blockade was broadly recognized as the casus belli of the war. At the end of May, King Hussein of Jordan signed a defense pact with Egypt and Syria, and four days later Iraq joined.
But in spite of international recognition that Israel was in the right, and acknowledgement that there was little to be done to get the Arab states to back down, there was a reluctance to see her go to war. It would seem that the international community, including ostensible allies, preferred to see Israel destroyed rather than have her cause “unrest” in the region. The US declared neutrality, and both the US and France put an embargo on arms to Israel, while the Soviets continued to ship arms to the Arabs.
The Israelis went it alone, and launched a stunning pre-emptive strike at the beginning of what became the Six Day War. On May 5, the Israeli Air Force took the Egyptian Air Force by surprise, taking out its 300 planes within two hours, while they were still on the ground. The Israelis destroyed the entire Egyptian and Jordanian air forces, and half of the air force of Syria in a single day.
The focus of the war then moved to ground forces; fierce tank battles were fought in the Sinai and there was fighting on the Syrian and the Jordanian fronts.
Israeli President Levi Eshkol had sent a message to Jordan’s King Hussein that there would be no ground fighting on the Jordanian front if Jordan would stay out of it. But Jordan, misled by Egypt into believing that the Arabs were winning, began to shell Jerusalem and was then very much involved. By June 7, Israel had gained control of eastern Jerusalem, and, most significantly, the Old City, where the Temple Mount and the Western Wall are located. Israeli Commander Moti Gur declared, “Har Habayit b’yadenu!” The Temple Mount is in our hands! There was great celebration.
Celebration before Kotel after liberation
By the end of this war, Israel controlled the entire area of Palestine west of the Jordan River, which had been promised to the Jews as a National Homeland under the Mandate: Israel within the Green Line, the entire city of Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and all of Judea-Samaria. Israel controlled, as well, the Golan Heights at the border with Syria, and the Sinai peninsula.
The city of Jerusalem, designated as Israel’s capital from the beginning, was promptly united by Israel in 1967. In 1980, the Israeli Knesset passed the Jerusalem Law, within the Basic Law of Israel, declaring Jerusalem the “eternal and indivisible capital” of Israel.
Moshe Dayan, immediately following the Six Day War, in an effort to be conciliatory, called in Arab leaders and gave to the Muslim Wakf (trust) everyday responsibility for managing the Temple Mount. He thereby put into Muslim hands the most sacred site in Judaism, a decision that subsequently proved to be exceedingly problematic.
In November 1967, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 242, which called for “Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” as well as “termination of all claims or states of belligerency” and recognition that “every State in the area” has the “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
Contrary to claims frequently made, this does NOT call for withdrawal from ALL territories taken in the Six Day War the resolution, by design, did not speak of “the” territories or “all” territories. Withdrawals were to be contingent on negotiations that would secure a state of peace for Israel.
The case can be made that, in withdrawing from the Sinai in the context of the peace treaty with Egypt 1978, Israel fulfilled the stipulation of 242.
Yom Kippur War
On October 6, 1973, on the holy day of Yom Kippur, Egypt and Syria—in an effort to regain territory lost in 1967 and salvage pride—launched a surprise attack on Israel. Israel rebounded by moving well into Egyptian and Syrian territory, and was ultimately stopped from destroying the Egyptian army by a Security Council resolution.
While Israel fought the war brilliantly, she paid a severe price in loss of lives.
Ultimately the war did not affect the boundaries of Israel, but likely served the purpose of convincing the Arab nations of the futility of attempting to destroy her via conventional military means.
Peace with Egypt
In 1977, Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat, recognizing the futility of further war against Israel, travelled to Jerusalem in a gesture of peace; there he met with Israeli Prime Minister Begin, and addressed the Knesset.
In 1978, the two met in Camp David in Maryland, accompanied by US President Jimmy Carter, and negotiated the Camp David Accords. This agreement culminated in a final peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979, signed at the White House.
Israel relinquished the entire Sinai in return for peace with Egypt.
The peace proved to be a very cold one, with no true normalization of relationships, and a great deal of anti-Semitism still extant in Egyptian culture. It has, however, held over the years. (With a shift in circumstances—including a shared concern about radical Islam—the interaction with Egypt showed signs of quiet improvement by 2015 or 2016.)
The Golan Heights
In 1981, the Israeli government applied Israeli civil law to the strategically important Golan Heights.
In 1982, Israel launched an offensive into southern Lebanon in an action against PLO forces that were using the area as a springboard for terrorist attacks into Israel; the PLO was driven out to Tunisia. Following this, a 15 km wide security zone that paralleled the border was established and a small number of Israeli troops was retained there to protect the towns of northern Israel from terrorist incursions and missile bombardment.
Intifada (Arab Uprising)
The First Intifada began in Judea-Samaria and the Gaza Strip in 1987. While it was identified as a popular uprising on the part of young Palestinian Arabs, there is evidence that it was coordinated and promoted by the PLO.
Oslo Accords & Deception
In 1992 and early 1993, secret “unofficial” negotiations were held in Oslo, Norway between Israelis Professor Yair Hirschfeld and Dr. Ron Pundak of Haifa University—sent by Yossi Beilin, then an assistant to Foreign Minister Shimon Peres—and PLO minister Ahmed Suleiman Khoury, a close advisor to Yasser Arafat. This back channel for talks between Israel and the PLO was the idea of Terje Rod Larson, director of FAFO, an Oslo think tank that provided cover for the talks.
During the early months of the negotiations, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was unaware of what was transpiring. By the time he was informed, the talks had taken on a life of their own; he reluctantly allowed them to continue. By the second half of 1993, the negotiations became official.
The Declaration of Principles of the Oslo Accords was signed in September 1993 amidst great hoopla on the White House lawn, under the watchful eye of a beaming President Clinton.
Rabin’s somber expression was a tip-off as to his ambivalence; in fact, he hesitated momentarily before shaking the hand of Arafat, who had a long history of terrorism.
Within this first agreement, the principle of a five year interim self-government for the Palestinian Arabs was established. All permanent status issues—Jerusalem, settlements, etc. —were relegated to final negotiations, which were to begin by the third year.
The Accords did NOT promise the Palestinian Arabs a full, sovereign state. The Accord spoke only about a “final status,” which was broadly expected to be some sort of autonomy short of full sovereignty.
This was followed by the Gaza-Jericho First Agreement in May 1994, which established the Palestinian Authority; a series of supplementary agreements outlining the jurisdiction and powers of the PA followed.
In 1995, Oslo II divided Judea and Samaria into three areas: Area A, administered exclusively by the PA; Area B, under PA civil administration and Israeli security control; and Area C, under full Israeli administration. Israel began to pull out of areas of major Palestinian Arab population concentration and turn them over to PA control.
At the time the Accords were signed, they were hailed as the precursor to a time of peace. In reality, the Oslo Accords have been a disaster for Israel.
A mere 10 days after the Gaza-Jericho First Agreement was signed, Yasser Arafat gave a talk in South Africa, not intended for western consumption, in which he signaled that he considered the agreement he had just signed to be temporary, and that he would find a pretext to do battle with Israel when he had garnered sufficient strength. This was the tip-off regarding Arafat’s intentions:
While pretending to negotiate peace, the Palestinian Arabs have continued to launch terrorist attacks and promote terrorism – even as they were committed under Oslo to combat terrorism.
Statistics actually show that many more Israelis have been killed annually in terror acts since Oslo, than was the case before. This is thought to be because the Palestinian Arabs, having control of some territory, are better able to hide weapons, train and organize. It is also because there is official PA leadership that incites.
Peace with Jordan
In 1994, a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan was signed. The border it set was with reference to the Mandate.
The handshake between Prime Minister Rabin and Jordan’s King Hussein at the signing reflected genuine warmth, and the treaty encompassed terms that allowed for some normalization, although there certainly remains anti-Israel feeling within Jordan. (Hussein’s son, King Abdullah, lacks the good will exhibited by his father.)
In 1998, a Memorandum was signed as a result of negotiations between PA Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu designed to further facilitate the Interim Agreement of Oslo. At that time, final arrangements were made for Israeli pullout from a substantial part of the ancient city of Hebron, which had already been laid out in the Hebron Protocols the year prior. Eighty percent of Hebron was turned over to the PA, and 20% retained for the small and beleaguered Jewish community there. The Machpela, Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, would remain under Israeli control, but with shared Jewish and Muslim use.
There was a great deal of dissension with regard to this withdrawal, because Hebron, which has a very long Jewish history dating back to ancient times, is second only to Jerusalem as a holy city.
Lebanon Withdrawal & Results
In May 2000, Israeli PM Ehud Barak precipitously withdrew the Israeli presence from the “security zone” in south Lebanon. Actions by Hezbollah had caused deaths of Israeli soldiers on a regular basis and ultimately made this policy unpopular in Israel. Withdrawal was done in conjunction with the UN, which officially declared that Israel had withdrawn to the internationally recognized border. This, however, did not dissuade Hezbollah from claiming that Israel was on Lebanese land in the area of the Shaba Farms; Hezbollah has continued to generate attacks into northern Israel.
Offer to Arafat for a State
In the summer of 2000, as a follow-up to negotiations that had been going on between Israel and the Palestinians, US President Clinton invited PA Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli PM Ehud Barak to Camp David for final talks. According to reports, Barak made a stunning offer to Arafat that involved Israeli withdrawal from 100% of Gaza and from 95% of Judea-Samaria, establishment of a Palestinian state in the areas from which Israel withdrew, Palestinian control of eastern Jerusalem including much of the Old City and sovereignty over the Temple Mount. Arafat had to agree to “cessation of hostilities.” He professed himself unhappy with the offer, which didn’t include “right of return,” and he simply walked out without making a counter-offer. Clinton later attributed failure of the “peace process” to Arafat’s intransigence.
Al Aksa Intifada
By late September 2000, what is known as the Second or Al Aksa Intifada had begun. The pretext was a visit that Member of Knesset Ariel Sharon paid to the Temple Mount. Carefully coordinated—in large part by Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah leader, at the beginning—it was, more accurately, a terrorist war of considerable proportions that ended at least 1,000 innocent Israeli lives and maimed many more.
In 2002, in the face of horrific attacks—including suicide bombings at a Passover seder in the Park Hotel in Netanya, at a bar mitzvah party in Jerusalem (where the terrorist detonated himself near women with baby carriages), and at the Sbarro pizzeria in central Jerusalem—Israel moved back into Palestinian population centers, and often into refugee camps, to combat terrorism. This was called Operation Defensive Shield.
The height of controversy at the time was the Israeli action in the refugee camp of Jenin. The accusation that Israel had massacred innocents was proven false; written material (from Palestinian Arabs) was uncovered that referred to Jenin as the “suiciders’ capital.”
“Disengagement” (More accurately, “Expulsion”)
In 2003, Ariel Sharon—who had been a hardline and much loved general, and was then prime minister—began to reverse all previous positions he had held on the matter, and to speak about unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.
Gaza had been controlled by Israel since 1967. Twenty-one flourishing Jewish communities had been established there on the sand, where there had been nothing, most in the 70’s and 80’s. Seventeen were in the south, in Gush Katif (the Katif Bloc), and four additional in northern Gaza. They were in the main agricultural, utilizing greenhouses. Below: Neve Dekalim.
These communities, which were shelled regularly with mortar fire, were considered a security vanguard, preventing movement of terrorists from the Sinai into Israel.
With the change in policy that was advanced, several arguments were put forth: that the need to protect the communities drew disproportionately on the resources of the IDF, that in the spirit of Oslo turning additional area over to the PA would be positive, land that this was in accord with what the US wanted.
In August and early September of 2005, after a series of internal discussions and votes, the Expulsion was carried out. All Jewish communities in Gaza were dismantled and all Israeli military withdrawn; Israel withdrew, as well, as from a limited area in northern Samaria where four communities were evacuated.
Those who did not leave voluntarily, accepting government compensation packages, were in the end forcibly removed from their homes, which were destroyed. There had been insufficient preparation for this action, with neither adequate replacement homes nor alternative employment having been arranged.
The trauma of this action left its mark not only on those involved, but on the nation as a whole.
And in the end, the decision turned out to grievously flawed. Where thriving Palestinian Arab development and increased good will had been imagined, there developed a hotbed of terrorism, with amassing of rockets to be launched into Israel.
To be continued…