Civil War in Palestine

The Road to Jerusalem

During the period between the end the UN vote on partition and the end of the British mandate, Civil War broke out between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. Most of the battles during this period were won by the Jews.

The vote by the United Nations to approve the partition plan was met with rejoicing in Jewish Palestine. A dream had been almost achieved. Golda Meir the future Prime Minister spoke to the crowds in front of the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem stated:
For two thousand years, we have waited for our deliverance. Now that it is here is so great and wonderful it surpasses human words. Jews Mazal Tov

However many understood that the greatest challenge lay ahead. David Shatiel the commander of the Haganah understood it well he wrote in his diary the night of the 29th after the partition vote: None of us knows what might happen tomorrow.

The next day a Jaffa based band attacked a bus with Jewish passengers. The British cabinet announced on December 5th that they would pull all of their troops out of the country by May 15th and that in the interim they would be neutral in the fight between the Jews and Arabs. By and large, they followed that although both sides complained about the British actions.


During December, many mixed areas exchanged populations and demarcation lines became clear. It is estimated that during this period 100,000 Arabs left the country or left their homes in the mixed towns and went back to their ancestral villages.

At the beginning of January, members of the Arab Liberation Army, which was comprised primarily of Palestinians trained by surrounding Arab states, entered the country without British interference. On January 10, they attacked the settlement of Kfar Szold but were repulsed. Jewish settlements throughout the country were isolated, and major efforts had to be expended to resupply them. Even Jerusalem could only be resupplied at great cost. One of the most famous and tragic situations was the effort to send reinforcements to the settlements of Kfar Etzion near Jerusalem, which had been cut off from Jewish forces. A platoon of 35 soldiers was sent by foot to reinforce the Etzion settlements. The force was discovered along the way and ambushed -- all 35 of the soldiers were killed. This force became known as the 'Lam' ed Hay' (35 in Hebrew).


By March, the tide of battle seemed to be turning against the Jews. The road to Jerusalem had become impassible. During this period the Jewish forces did not take the offensive but rather primarily maintained a defensive posture, only undertaking offensive operations on a local basis.

As a result of these military setbacks, the United States began to waver in its support of the partition plan. The US UN Ambassador seemingly acting without the approval of President Truman called for a delay in the partition plan and instead place Palestine under UN trusteeship.

With the situation deteriorating Ben Gurion demanded that the army move to the offensive to open the road to Jerusalem. This became possible thanks to the successful smuggling of large quantities of small arms into the country. For the first time, troops did not have to share rifles and machine guns.
The first major offensive, called Operation Nachshon. The purpose of the operation was to capture a corridor along the road to Jerusalem and thus secure this route. The major effort along the road was the fight for Kastel, which the Haganah won after a fierce battle on April 10. During the battle, Abd al-Qadir Husayni, the mufti military leader, was killed. This effectively ended the involvement of the Mufti's forces in the war. The capture of the Kastel was however only one of the objectives the goals were to capture all of the Arab villages that had been used as bases for the fighters who attacked the convoys to Jerusalem. One of the villages was the village of Deir Yassin on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Attacking it was the job of the Irgun, the militia under the command of Menachem Begin. The attack which took place on April 9th met stiff opposition which was eventually overcome with house to house fighting. That fighting included indiscriminate attacks on houses that were inhabited by women and children. The result - 100-120 villagers were killed a number that was quickly exaggerated. However, the effect of Dier Yassin was much greater the conquering of one village or the death of 120 people at least half combatants. But rather as stories of the day spread they became more and more lurid. As a result, panic struck Arab villagers throughout the area and more and more decided to flee.

An immediate result of the attack was a revenge attack on a convoy of Jewish doctors and nurses heading to Hadassah Hospital on Mt Scopus. The convoys had usually benefited from a British escort but on April 13th no British escort showed up. The convoy set off without one and as the convoy moved forward a mine when off blocking the advance. Some of the vehicles were able to return to West Jerusalem but two armored buses and two escort vehicles were trapped. The force was able to fight off the attackers for five hours while the British refused to help. When their ammunition ran out, the Arabs advanced on the buses doused them in gasoline and set them afire 78 Professors doctors, nurses and patients were burned alive.


In the North, the Arab Liberation army led by Fawzi al- Kawukji began a concentrated assault on Mishmar Ha'emeq, it was defeated. The forces were then forced to withdraw to Jenin. the defeat destroyed the morale of the Arab villages in the area and soon they were all fleeing.

In mid-April, the Haganah launched operation Yiftach, whose goal was the liberation of the upper Galilee. On April 18, the Palmach captured Tiberias. On April 21, as the British withdrew from the city of Haifa proper, concentrating their remaining forces in the port area, a brief battle for the city ensued and was quickly won by the Haganah. By May 10, the Arab parts of Safad were captured, and by May 16, Akko was captured. On May 13, Jaffa was captured.

On the Jerusalem front, the Palmach successfully seized most of the major British installations in Jerusalem. However, on May 14, the Etzion bloc fell to the attackers from the Arab Legion.
The period leading up to independence was one of the successful consolidations. All of the areas allotted the Jewish State in the Galilee were firmly under Jewish control, as well as some areas that were to have been part of the Arab State. The coastal plain was secure, as was Jewish Jerusalem. The major areas of concern remained the road to Jerusalem, as well as the many isolated settlements in the south.