Sixty-five years ago today, after the passing of Resolution 181, the United Nations partition that created a Jewish and an Arab state in Palestine on November 29, 1947, the Arabs, both in and outside Palestine, rejected it and declared it illegitimate, something they had been saying from the beginning. Arab UN delegates warned that any attempt to implement the partition would lead to war; after the partition vote was taken, the Arab delegations in the UN walked out of the plenum.

Eliahu Sasoon, of the Jewish Agency Executive, who was worried and doubtful about the Yishuv’s ability to win an all-out war against the Arabs, sent Azzam Pasha, the Arab League secretary, a letter in early December 1947 expressing the Jews’ desire to avoid conflict, and implored the Arab League to accept the Jewish state; the letter was unanswered.

The previous October, Pasha had rejected Jewish diplomat Abba Eban’s offer of Jewish-Arab conciliation and cooperation, telling him that the Jews were foreigners, their presence in Palestine was only temporary, and that their only hope was to abandon Zionism and statehood and accept Arab rule in a unitary state. He also told Eban that if he acceded to partition that he would be “a dead man within hours of returning to Cairo.”

Arab attacks on Jews in Palestine began on November 30, the day after the partition vote. On that day, a Jewish ambulance en route to the Hadassah Hospital outside Jerusalem came under fire, a group of Arabs ambushed a Jewish bus traveling from Netanya to Jerusalem, killing five and wounding seven, and attacked another Jewish bus en route to Jerusalem from Hadera, killing two. A Jewish person was murdered in Tel-Aviv’s Camel Market; in the prison at Acre, Arab prisoners attacked Jewish ones, who were forced to barricade themselves in their cells before the British intervened; in Haifa Jews passing through Arab neighborhoods were shot at, and Jewish vehicles were stoned all over Palestine. Over the next several days there were shootings, stonings, and rioting, bombs tossed into cafes, Molotov cocktails thrown into shops, killing and maiming scores.

In Jerusalem, young Arabs commandeered the offices of the local national committees demanding weapons, and the AHC proclaimed a three day strike to begin the next day, enforcing closure of Arab shops, schools, and businesses and organized and incited Arab crowds to attack Jewish targets. On December 2, a mob of several hundred Arabs ransacked Jerusalem’s Jewish commercial center, looting, burning, stabbing, and stoning all before them.

Arab violence in response to the partition was hardly limited to Palestine; violence literally exploded in all the Arab capitals, with thousands taking to the streets chanting anti-Jewish and anti-Western slogans. There were also physical attacks on British and American legations, so much so that the British government had to make arrangements to evacuate British citizens from Syria. In Cairo, the ‘ulema of Al-Azhar University (one of Islam’s supreme authorities) proclaimed a “worldwide jihad in defense of Arab Palestine.” Earlier, on November 2, 1947 the ‘ulema had  issued a fatwa pertaining to “the Jews,” condemning anyone consorting or dealing with Jews (“buying their produce”) as “a sinner and criminal…who will be regarded as an apostate to Islam, he will be separated from his spouse. It is prohibited to be in contact with him.”

Up until December 4, most of the Arab violence was scattershot and the result of intifada-like incited mayhem. It was on December 4, however, that the real Palestinian Arab assault began in earnest, when some 120-150 armed Arabs attacked the Efal kibbutz outside Tel-Aviv, the first small unit military attack on a Jewish settlement. The settlers were reinforced by a Palmach platoon, and the Arabs, after several costly frontal assaults, withdrew, leaving about 70 dead behind.

On December 8 Hasan Salame, the Palestinian militia commander of the Lydda front, launched another large-scale attack on the Hatikva quarter in south Tel-Aviv. Like the Romans sallying off to defeat Hannibal at Trebia in 218 b.c., Salame’s fighters had set off to Hatikva with a full detail of bags, sacks, and other luggage for the spoils and booty they expected to reap after their victory, and their womenfolk had journeyed along to encourage them on. In the melee that ensued, Salame’s fighters drove back the Haganah a bit, and even captured a few houses, promptly looting them and then putting them to the torch—a grim foretaste as to what would have happened had the Quarter fallen to them. Only when Haganah reinforcements arrived (by circuitously infiltrating British patrols) were the Arabs beat back, and put to flight, leaving sixty dead behind them. Alas, for Salame’s fighters, as with the Romans, there was no victory to be had.

Two days later there was another abortive assault on the Hatikva, and an armed assault on the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem. All these platoon and company-sized attacks were repulsed, but they set the pattern for the conflict, which was evolving from mob rioting and armed clashes to more military/guerilla style small unit operations. It was not until December 9 that the Haganah’s head of operations, Yigael Yadin began responding in kind to consolidate and protect crucial Jewish transportation arteries, and on December 14, Arab forces attacked a major convoy to Ben-Shemen. The war had begun, and the Arabs were attacking the Yishuv, not the other way around. At the Arab league summit in Cairo, it was decided to send one million Egyptian pounds and 10,000 rifles to the Palestinian war effort.

The small-scale violence of the first several days were incited and encouraged by Arab leaders both inside and outside of Palestine, and the military attacks on the settlements were launched by company-sized Arab and Palestinian militias. Throughout December and January the military attacks on the roadways and settlements continued to escalate in scale, frequency, intensity, and sophistication.

Said historian Benny Morris:

“At the start of the civil war, Whitehall (the British Foreign Office) believed that the Arabs would prevail. ‘In the long run the Jews would not be able to cope…and would be thrown out of Palestine unless they came to terms with the Arabs,’ was the considered judgment of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff.”

Prospects of a Jewish victory were not rated high at the time among the US intelligence community, either:

“The Jewish forces will initially have the advantage. However, as the Arabs gradually coordinate their war effort, the Jews will be forced to withdraw from isolated positions, and having been drawn into a war of attrition, will gradually be defeated.”

The Haganah, in the midst of a rigorous process of reorganization, was caught flat footed by the outbreak of hostilities the day after the partition vote. They thought the attacks were just more “disturbances.” Only really by January, with increasing numbers of Arab militias and armed groups attacking Jewish communities and roadways, did they realize that the war that they had long feared had in fact begun.

The Arabs attacked the Yishuv in response to the partition vote the day after the vote was taken. They attacked not only because they rejected the partition, but because they rejected any independent, sovereign Jewish entity in any part of Palestine, whatever its size, and were determined to crush it. They had long vowed to do so, and made no secret of it. There were bitter disagreements between the various Arab governments about the timing, means and methods by which the war against the Yishuv in Palestine was to be waged, but certainly no disagreement about whether or not to do so. The questions debated between them were a matter of when, and how, not whether or not. The conflicting strategies, loyalties, and agendas would ultimately doom the Arab war effort, but all were united in their determination to defeat the Yishuv and strangle the Jewish state in its cradle.

Said Azzam Pasha, the Arab League’s Secretary General:

“This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre, which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.”

Said Ahmed Shukairy, then the Mufti’s spokesman: the war would result in “the elimination of the Jewish State…it does not matter how many Jews there are. We will sweep them into the sea.”
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So spoke the would be victors. Their descendants, sixty-five years later, haven’t moderated a whole lot. Said Abbas to the UN yesterday of the recent Hamas-provoked conflict:

“There was certainly no one in the world that required that tens of Palestinian children lose their lives….There was no need for thousands of deadly raids and tons of explosives for the world to be reminded that there is an occupation that must come to an end and that there are a people that must be liberated. And, there was no need for a new, devastating war in order for us to be aware of the absence of peace.”

Abbas continued:

“The Palestinian people, who miraculously recovered from the ashes of Al-Nakba of 1948, which was intended to extinguish their being and to expel them in order to uproot and erase their presence, which was rooted in the depths of their land and depths of history…

In the course of our long national struggle, our people have always strived to ensure harmony and conformity between the goals and means of their struggle and international law and spirit of the era in accordance with prevailing realities and changes. And, our people always have strived not to lose their humanity, their highest, deeply-held moral values and their innovative abilities for survival, steadfastness, creativity and hope, despite the horrors that befell them and continue befall them today as a consequence of Al-Nakba and its horrors.”

This obscene blood-libel, coming at the end of a two-decade long good faith effort to relieve the Palestinians of the very “occupation” under which they labor, which saw billions in aid, three comprehensive offers of statehood, and a willingness, to this day, to negotiate directly and without conditions, is a travesty.

Suffice it to say, the Palestinians, in the service of their “long national struggle,” have literally pioneered the use of scientific terrorism in the modern era: from the Fatah-led border raids of the fifties  and the sixties, to the hijackings and kidnappings of the seventies and the eighties, to the suicide bombings of the nineties and early 2000’s, all the way to the indiscriminate rocket attacks of today. This is how they have “ensure[d] harmony and conformity between the goals and means of their struggle and international law,” and preserved their “humanity,” and their “highest, deeply held moral values.”

Abbas’ words do not bode well for the prospects of peace. But at least the Mufti, Azzam Pasha, and Ahmed Shukairy would have been proud.