MYTH: The Jews started the first war with the Arabs.


The Arabs made clear they would go to war to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state.  The chairman of the Arab Higher Committee said the Arabs would “fight for every inch of their country.”

Two days later, the holy men of Al-Azhar University in Cairo called on the Muslim world to proclaim a jihad (holy war) against the Jews. Jamal Husseini, the Arab Higher Committee’s spokesman, had told the UN prior to the partition vote that the Arabs would drench “the soil of our beloved country with the last drop of our blood.”

Husseini’s prediction began to come true almost immediately after the UN adopted the partition resolution on November 29, 1947. The Arabs declared a protest strike and instigated riots that claimed the lives of sixty-two Jews and thirty-two Arabs. Violence continued to escalate through the end of the year.

The first large scale assaults began on January 9, 1948, when approximately one thousand Arabs attacked Jewish communities in northern Palestine. By February, the British said so many Arabs had infiltrated that they lacked the forces to run them back.

In the first phase of the war, lasting from November 29, 1947, until April 1, 1948, the Palestinian Arabs took the offensive, with help from volunteers from neighboring countries. The Jews suffered severe casualties, and passage along most of their major roadways was disrupted.On April 26, 1948, Transjordan’s King Abdullah said:

All our efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Palestine problem have failed. The only way left for us is war. I will have the pleasure and honor to save Palestine.

On May 4, 1948, Abdullah’s Arab Legion attacked Kfar Etzion. The defenders drove them back, but the Legion returned a week later. After two days, the ill-equipped and outnumbered settlers were over-whelmed.  Many defenders were massacred after they had surrendered. This was prior to the invasion by the regular Arab armies that followed Israel’s declaration of independence.

credit: Jewish Virtual Library

The UN Palestine Commission, which was never permitted by the Arabs or British to go to Palestine to implement the resolution, reported to the Security Council on February 16, 1948, that “powerful Arab interests, both inside and outside Palestine, are defying the resolution of the General Assembly and are engaged in a deliberate effort to alter by force the settlement envisaged therein.”

The Arabs were blunt in taking responsibility for the war. Jamal Husseini told the Security Council on April 16, 1948:

The representative of the Jewish Agency told us yesterday that they were not the attackers, that the Arabs had begun the fighting. We did not deny this. We told the whole world that we were going to fight.

The British commander of Jordan’s Arab Legion, John Bagot Glubb, admitted:

Early in January, the first detachments of the Arab Liberation Army began to infiltrate into Palestine from Syria. Some came through Jordan and even through Amman…They were in reality to strike the first blow in the ruin of the Arabs of Palestine.

Despite the disadvantages in numbers, organization, and weapons, the Jews began to take the initiative in the weeks from April 1 until the declaration of independence on May 14. The Haganah captured several major towns, including Tiberias and Haifa, and temporarily opened the road to Jerusalem.

The partition resolution was never suspended or rescinded. Thus, Israel, the Jewish State in Palestine, was born on May 14, as the British finally left the country. Five Arab armies (Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon, and Iraq) immediately invaded Israel. Their intentions were declared by Abd al-Rahman Azzam Pasha, secretary-general of the Arab League:

“It will be a war of annihilation. It will be a momentous massacre in history that will be talked about like the massacres of the Mongols or the Crusades.”

Published at Jewish Virtual Library and posted with permission.



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  1. Brian Goldfarb

    If one reads Benny Morris’s “1948: The First Arab-Israeli War” they will find out that, as noted in this post, the Arabs attacked first. But, and it’s a huge but, the Arabs lost: men, materials and land. They continued to lose after the Declaration of Independence and the 5 Arab armies intervention. Morris even notes that, for a short period, the Haganah took most of the West Bank, but decided (or perhaps the Sochnut, under Ben Gurion’s leadership, decided) to withdraw from the area, respecting at least part of the UN settlement plan.


    So why don’t later authors either acknowledge Morris’s sources or, if they consider him wrong, refute him?

  2. Erin Eldridge

    Not only do Israel’s detractors claim she started the war (they claim the same about 1967) but they also love to carp on about Deir Yassin, as if Arabs never killed Jews. Distortion of history and outright lies are part of their vile armoury.