As the British began to dismantle their Mandate [The British Mandate] and leave western Palestine, Israel’s War of Independence began (November 30, 1947‑May 14, 1948). During the war, Palestinian Arabs became belligerents in the conflict, and by its end, rather than accept a Jewish state after five-and-a-half months of warfare, Palestinian Arabs called upon their brethren from seven surrounding countries to invade and crush the nascent Jewish state.
Six thousand Jews – 1 percent of Israel’s Jewish population – lost their lives during the War of Independence.
The Arab League’s April 10, 1948 decision to invade Israel and “save Palestine,” marked a watershed event, for it changed the rules of the conflict. Accordingly, Israel bears no moral responsibility for deliberately banishing Palestinian Arabs in order to “consolidate defense arrangements” in strategic areas. With the pending invasion following Israel’s declaration of independence, it is no exaggeration to say that the new Jewish state’s very existence hung in the balance.
The new Jewish state found it imperative to eliminate all potential pockets of Arab resistance in key areas if it was to survive. Dislodging all Arab inhabitants from sensitive areas in proximity to Jewish settlements, establishing territorial continuity between blocs under Jewish control, and ensuring control of key transportation arteries were military necessities. As May 14th approached, Israel could not afford to risk a Fifth Column at its rear to add to all other aspects of its militarily inferior situation.
The cost of defeat was hammered home by a stream of dire warnings from Arab capitals, with perhaps the most chilling for Israel coming from Jamal Al-Husayni as vice-chairman of the Arab Higher Committee [AHC], who publicly declared:
“The Arabs have taken into their own hands, the Final Solution of the Jewish problem. The problem will be solved only in blood and fire. The Jews will be driven out.”
Three years after world Jewry had lost a third of its people in the Holocaust, Israelis were not about to test whether Al-Husayni’s words were merely rhetoric or a real threat, and so they prepared for the worst. The cost to Israel to halt the Arab onslaught and gain the upper hand was horrendous. During the first four weeks following the Arab invasion, 1,600 Israelis were killed – a quarter of all the war’s casualties. It was as if on a per capita basis the U.S. military lost 80,000 soldiers in Iraq in one month.
Objectively, the claim that Palestinian Arabs were innocent bystanders ignores the facts: The sides in the conflict were not two rival empires, outsiders, or rival caliphs. It was a conflict between two national or ethnic groups. Palestinian Arabs represented one side in the conflict – the side responsible for starting the war.
By their own behavior, Palestinians assumed the role of belligerents in the conflict, invalidating any claim to be hapless victims. Explains scholar Benny Morris:
“One of the characteristics of the Palestinian national movement has been the Palestinians’ view of themselves as perpetual victims of others: Ottoman Turks, British officials, Zionists, Americans – and never to appreciate that they are, at least in large part, victims of their own mistakes and iniquities.”