Selected Documents On The 1948 Palestine War

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VOL. 27

1997/98

No. 3
P. 60
Special Document
Selected Documents On The 1948 Palestine War
ABSTRACT

SELECTED AND ANNOTATED BY WALID KHALIDI

The 1948 Palestine War, whose fiftieth anniversary occurs this year, fell into two major phases: the first, the civil war phase, began soon after the United National General Assembly (UNGA) partition resolution of 29 November 1947 and lasted until 15 May 1948, the formal end of the British Mandate. The second, the regular war phase, lasted from 15 May (when the State of Israel was also declared) until the various Arab-Israeli armistice agreements were concluded in 1948-49. Most Western literature on the Palestine War deals with the second phase, while the predominant single image of the war in the Western mind is that of a tiny, poorly armed and pacific Israel attacked in its cradle and without provocation by the overwhelming force of the regular armies of the neighboring Arab states.

In fact, of the two phases, the first was the more climacteric and decisive. It was during this phase that the vastly larger forces at the disposal of the Jewish Agency, infinitely better armed, organized, and led than anything the Palestinians possessed, launched their long-prepared and contemplated major offensive under Plan Dalet. The timing of the offensive (the first week of April 1948) took advantage of the already advanced stage of disintegration of British rule, although Britain was to remain the sovereign power in the land until 15 May. The objective of Plan Dalet was the establishment by force of arms of the Jewish state in the Jewish and Palestinian lands assigned to it by the UNGA partition recommendation and the conquest of as much additional territory (particularly Jerusalem) as possible.

Strikingly unavailable to the Western reader has been contemporaneous material reflecting Palestinian or Arab conditions and perspectives during this first phase of the 1948 Palestine war. The following nine documents pertain to the last days of the Mandate from the end of March onward. They have been chosen for their intrinsic worth and because they reflect widely differing perspectives. Except for the second document, which has already appeared in print in Arabic, the others have not to the best of my knowledge appeared before in extenso in either English or Arabic.

Read in sequence with my introductoiy notes and footnotes, they afford insights into several key aspects of the first phase of the 1948 war: the asymmnetry in the balance of power between the two sides, contemporaneous Arab perspectives of this balance of power, the ignominious behavior of the British authorities, the disarray in Palestinian and Arab military organization (but also the dedication and courage of the Palestinian guerrillas), the military strategy and tactics of the Haganah and the "dissident" Irgun, the cause of the Palestinian exodus, the death throes of the Palestinian communities of Jaffa and Haifa, the true attitude of the Jewish authorities to the exodus from the latter city, the methods by which the Jewish authorities implemented the UNGA partition resolution, and the circumstances that inevitably led to the intervention of the regular Arab armies after 15 May 1948.

The documents selected are as follows:

 

The Military Situation in Palestine on the Eve of Plan Dalet

"A Brief Report on the Situation in Palestine and Comparison Between the Forces and Potential of Both Sides," by General Ismail Safwat, General Officer Commanding, Arab League Military Committee, Damascus, to Jamil Mardam Bey, Prime Minister of Syria and Chairman of the Palestine Committee of the Arab League, 23 March 1948 ....... 62

The Fall of Qastel and the Death of 'Abd al-Qadir

An Eyewitness Account by Bahjat Abu Gharbiyya Extracted from The Memoirs of a Freedom Fighter, 1916-49, Institute for Palestine Studies, Beirut, 1993 (in Arabic) ................ ............................ 72

The Fall of Haifa

Arab National Committee of Haifa, Letter to General Stockwell, Military Commander, North Sector, Haifa, Concerning His Statement of Withdrawal, 22 April 1948 ................................................... 90

Arab National Committee of Haifa, Aide-Memoire of the Meeting Between General Stockwell and the Arab Representatives, 22 April 1948 .......................................................... 92

The Haganah Command, Terms for a Truce Between Jews and Arabs in Haifa, 22 April 1948 .................................................... 93

The Arab National Committee of Haifa, Letter to General Stockwell Summarizing His Position at the 22 April Town Hall Meetings, 23 April 1948 .......................................................... 95

Arab National Committee of Haifa, Letter to Haifa Mayor Shabatai Levy, 23 April 1948 ................... ........................................ 97

Arab National Committee of Haifa, Letter to General Stockwell, 25 April 1948 .......................................................... 98

The Fall of Jaffa

Report to Fawzi Qawukji, Commander of the Arab Liberation Army (ALA) Central Front, from Captain Michel Issa, Head of the Ajnadin Battalion, 6 May 1948 ................................................... 99

Walid Khalidi, a founder of The Institute for Palestine Studies and its general secretary, isa former professor at Oxford University, the American University of Beirut, and Harvard University