Today in Middle Eastern history: the Arab-Israeli War begins (1948)

The Arab-Israeli War, or the Israeli War of Independence, or the Nakba, depending on your point of view, was less a new war than the continuation of the 1947-1949 Palestine War under different terms. The difference, of course, is that the day before, on May 14, 1948, Israel had declared its independence, and on May 15 the British mandate for post-war Palestine expired. Israel was an independent nation, and instead of a civil war between Jews and Arabs in Mandatory Palestine, the war now became an international conflict with Israel on one side and the combined forces of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and the Palestinians on the other. It is late, I am not feeling particularly well, and this is a topic that simply can’t be responsibly covered in a single blog post, so I will just acknowledge the day here and then say goodnight.

(Incidentally, the reason most people don’t mark May 14 as Israeli Independence Day is because in Israel itself the day is marked according to the Jewish lunisolar calendar, and so the date according to the Gregorian calendar is variable. This year Israeli Independence Day was celebrated from sundown on May 11 through sundown on May 12.)

The 1948 war (via)

The Arabs attacked almost immediately after David Ben-Gurion’s declaration of the establishment of the state of Israel, and as we all know they were thoroughly defeated by the Israeli forces by the time the war ended in March 1949. The only one of the war’s Arab participants that arguably came out of the war in a better situation than it had been in when the war started was Jordan, which gained control over the area we now know as the West Bank. Egypt gained control over Gaza, but that gain paled in comparison to the massive military losses it had suffered–losses that led directly to the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 and the rise to power of a young officer named Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The Palestinians, for whom today really does mark the beginning of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” are still fighting the same fight they were fighting in 1948, or (in some ways) in 1947, or in 1936, and on and on. They’re fighting for recognition as human beings and for the right to control their own lives and destinies. They’re fighting for the homes and the lives that were stripped from them in 1948. The tactics they’ve chosen to employ in that fight have often been ineffective and/or morally indefensible, but their cause at least demands our acknowledgement, because we ourselves would demand that from them if we were in their situation.


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