THE Palestine problem was now rapidly approaching its catastrophic climax. On 29 November 1947 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution recommending the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state, a Palestinian state, and a special international regime (corpus separatum) for Jerusalem and its environs; an economic union would be set up between the Jewish and Palestinian states. The Palestinians and other Arabs were as stunned as the Zionists and their sympathizers were jubilant. The very reactions of each side belied the claim that partition was a compromise solution.


The member states that championed and endorsed partition did so in the full knowledge of bitter Palestinian and Arab opposition to it. The Palestinians had lost some four thousand lives fighting partition from 1937 to 1939. Since its creation the Arab League had been warning against partition. The UN partition plan was based on the Zionist plan that President Truman had endorsed as early as August 1946. From the Palestinian perspective, partition was Zionist in provenance and conception, and tailored to meet Zionist needs and demands. That the UN resolution won 33 votes to 13, with 10 abstentions and one delegation absent, was largely due to the enormous pressure brought to bear by the United States (including the personal intervention of President Truman) on member states to vote for it. To be sure, the Soviet Union voted for partition also, but only in order to end British rule in Palestine. Significantly, no African or Asian state voted in favor except Liberia and the Philippines. India, Pakistan, Turkey, and Afghanistan all voted against, while China abstained. Many Latin American countries (including Mexico) abstained. Even the Canadian representative was heard to say that his country supported partition "with a heavy heart and many misgivings." The United Kingdom coyly abstained.

Partition was seen by the Palestinians as imposing unilateral and intolerable sacrifices on themselves. The reasons for their opposition were the same as in 1937, except that the UN partition plan gave the proposed Jewish state 50 percent more territory than the 1937 plan had. The area of the Jewish state according to the UN plan would actually be larger than that of the proposed Palestinian state (5,500 square miles as compared with 4,500 square miles) at a time when the Jews constituted no more than 35 percent of the population and owned less than 7 percent of the land. Within the proposed Jewish state, Jewish landownership did not in fact exceed 600 square miles out of the total area of 5,500 square miles. Nearly all the citrus land (equally divided in ownership between Jews and Palestinians), 80 percent of the cereal land (entirely Palestinian-owned), and 40 percent of Palestinian industry would fall within the borders of the proposed Jewish state. Jaffa, the Palestinian state's major port on the Mediterranean, would be altogether cut off from its hinterland, and Gaza would lose its traditional links with the wheatlands of the Negev. Hundreds of villages would be separated from communal fields and pastures. The Palestinian state would lose direct access both to the Red Sea and to Syria. The economic union between the two states, on which partition had been postulated, was known beforehand to be impracticable. The patchwork of subunits into which partition would divide the country bore little relationship to the human and social realities on the ground.

The Palestinians failed to see why they should be made to pay for the Holocaust (the ultimate crime against humanity, committed in Europe by Europeans), and recalled that Zionism was born in the 1880s, long before the advent of the Third Reich. They failed to see why it was not fair for the Jews to be a minority in a unitary Palestinian state, while it was fair for almost half of the Palestinian population - the indigenous majority on its own ancestral soil - to be converted overnight into a minority under alien rule in the envisaged Jewish state according to partition.

The injustice of the UN partition resolution was further exposed in Palestinian and Arab eyes by the General Assembly's rejection of relevant draft resolutions proposed by the Arab delegates before the vote on partition. The Arab delegates pleaded that the International Court of Justice be consulted on whether the General Assembly was "competent to enforce or recommend the enforcement" of partition against the wishes of the majority of a country's population. The draft resolution to that effect was defeated in the Ad Hoc Committee by a 21 to 20 vote. Another draft resolution, proposing that all UN member states participate in alleviating the plight of Jewish refugees in Europe "in proportion to their area, economic resources . . . and other relevant factors," was not carried in a 16 to 16 vote (with 25 abstentions). In the circumstances the Palestinians and other Arabs felt that they were not bound by the partition resolution, which in any case was a nonmandatory recommendation by the General Assembly.


As early as May 1942 the Zionist leadership had begun preparations to convert the whole of Palestine into a Jewish state, a policy embodied in the Biltmore Program. The Zionists were all the more capable of implementing a plan envisaging a Jewish state in part (albeit the greater part) of Palestine, i.e., partition. They had paid careful attention to the balance of power between themselves and the Palestinians. They had evolved strategies to offset and diminish the Palestinian quantitative advantage, and had foreseen a sequence of stages leading to the desired revolution in the local status quo. The classic exposition of these policies was made in 1932 by Chaim Arlosoroff, director of the Political Department in the Jewish Agency Executive. The European background of the Zionist immigrants and the Zionist leadership's ability to tap the professional, diplomatic, and financial resources of the Jewish communities in the industrialized Western countries stood the Zionist venture in good stead. By 1944 the government statistician in the Palestine administration could say: "The Jewish economy of Palestine is . . . radically different from the Arab economy and is in fact not very dissimilar from that of the United Kingdom."

Military organization was a high Zionist priority. The main armed force was the Haganah (Defense) under the command of the Jewish Agency. The Haganah had evolved in the early days of the Mandate as an offshoot of the pre-Mandatory Hashomer (Watchman), itself descended from the secret societies of Czarist Russia. In 1947 the Haganah had had a continuous existence of at least thirty years. Although officially it was a secret, illegal paramilitary organization, the British not only tolerated the Haganah but assisted it both directly and indirectly. The 14,000-man Jewish Settlement Police, for example, a force trained and supported by the British, became virtually the training cadre for Haganah reservists. By 1946 the Haganah had grown into a relatively formidable force; the Anglo-American Committee reported Haganah strength to be about 62,000. In spite of repeated acts of Zionist terrorism (including Haganah attacks) against British security forces, Britain left the Haganah unscathed. So self-confident was the Haganah command that, in a memorandum submitted to the Anglo-American Committee on 25 March 1946 in Jerusalem, it said:

As far as the strength of the Arabs in Palestine is concerned, we are in possession of well-founded information. There is no doubt that the Jewish force is superior in organization, training, planning and equipment, and that we ourselves will be able to handle any attack or rebellion from the Arab side without calling for any assistance from the British or Americans. If you accept the Zionist solution [partition and a Jewish state in the greater part of Palestine] but are unable or unwilling to enforce it, please do not interfere, and we ourselves will secure its implementation.

The Zionist leadership began detailed military planning as early as 1945 in anticipation of the coming showdown. In a statement to his biographer, David Ben-Gurion confirmed that "the major preparations to convert Haganah into an army were begun three years before the birth of the state." On a special visit to the United States in 1945, Ben-Gurion (then chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive), called together nineteen leading American Jewish figures and persuaded them to contribute to the wholesale purchase of military industrial machinery being sold as scrap at the end of the war. The machinery was smuggled into Palestine under the Mandate and became the nucleus of a heavy Jewish military industry.

In May 1946 the Haganah developed a strategy embodied in the so-called May 1946 Plan, in which the central concept was that of "counteraction." Such action was to be of two kinds: "warning" action generally confined to the area of the enemy's own operation, and "punitive" action unrestricted in its geographical scope. Because of inherent "difficulties," counteraction would not always be aimed at the specific Palestinian perpetrators of a previous action. Therefore, the human targets to be sought should be Palestinian political and military leaders, those who financed them, and those who incited them ("e.g., journalists") in addition to those who had carried out actual operations. The objective should be to "inflict physical harm," take the individuals in question "hostage," or "liquidate them." The material targets should be "clubs, cafes, and other meeting places, communication centers, flour mills, water plants and other vital economic installations." Villages, urban residential quarters, and farms used for planning operations or as bases for attack and withdrawal should be surrounded and occupied. "Everything possible in them should be burned and the houses of those who had incited or participated in operations should be blown up."

Soon after the UN partition decision, work began on a new plan, Plan Dalet (D). The objective of Plan Dalet was to take over and control the area of the proposed Jewish state. "It was obvious," in the words of Haganah historians, "that no Jewish colony outside the Jewish state - according to the UN partition resolution - would be abandoned or vacated and that the Haganah would do everything to organize their resistance." Within the Jewish state proper, Palestinian villages that resisted "should be destroyed ... and their inhabitants expelled beyond the borders of the Jewish state." A similar strategy would be applied to the towns. "Palestinian residents of urban quarters which dominate access to or egress from the towns should be expelled beyond the borders of the Jewish state in the event of their resistance." Outside the Jewish state, towns such as Qalqilyah and Tulkarm should be occupied; Acre, Nazareth, Lydda, Ramleh, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, and Hebron should all be put under siege. "The inhabitants of Jaffa should be imprisoned within their municipal boundaries and not dare to leave them." All the villages between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem should be occupied. All the Palestinian quarters of West and East Jerusalem, as well as all the environs of the city, should be conquered.


On their side, the Palestinians had to start from scratch in reorganizing themselves. The 1946 report of the Anglo-American Committee, which estimated Zionist military strength to be ca. 62,000, made no mention of Palestinian military forces. The Palestinians looked to the Arab League to counterbalance Zionist military preponderance. But the league suffered from the constraints and divisiveness already noted. Its first tentative move to meet Palestinian defense needs was made in September 1947 when it formed the Technical Military Committee, headed by an Iraqi former chief of staff, General Ismail Safwat, to report on Palestinian defense requirements. Safwat's first report, submitted on October 8, was somber and realistic. He accurately assessed Zionist strength and asserted that the Palestinians possessed nothing remotely comparable to the Zionist forces "in manpower, organization, armament or ammunition." Urging the Arab states to "mobilize their utmost strength" promptly and form a general command, he warned that the Palestinians were in dire straits. The only Arab League reaction to Safwat's urgings was the allocation on October 15 of one million pounds sterling to the Technical Committee. On November 27, just before the UN partition vote, Safwat again warned: "It is well nigh impossible to overcome the Zionist forces with irregulars .... the Arab countries cannot afford a long war.... " He pleaded with the Arab countries to "ensure superiority in numbers and materiel and act with maximal speed."

The Arab League was loath to confront Britain, which had emphasized that it would remain solely responsible for the administration of Palestine until the end of the Mandate on 15 May 1948. At the same time a certain wishful thinking prevailed in many Arab capitals (a lingering residue of trust in Western liberalism) that somehow the justice of the Palestinian cause would be recognized and the Western powers would not allow the worst to befall the Palestinians. But with the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Palestine, the Arab countries could no longer postpone action, particularly after the UN partition resolution.

In December 1947 the Arab League decided to supply the Technical Military Committee with ten thousand rifles and to put at its disposal a force of three thousand irregulars. The latter were to form a volunteer Arab Liberation Army (ALA) composed of members from various Arab countries, among them five hundred from Palestine. After training in Damascus, ALA contingents would be sent to the threatened Palestinian areas. The formation of the ALA was the Arab League's compromise measure between exclusive reliance on diplomacy and Western good intentions on the one hand, and the serious action urged by Safwat on the other.

Since the UN partition vote in November, fighting had been escalating dramatically in Palestine. By January 1948 the Irgun and the Stern Gang had introduced the use of car bombs (originally directed against the British), and by March 1948 Palestinian irregulars were paying their opponents back in kind. Haganah attacks on villages and residential quarters were answered by Palestinian attacks on Zionist colonies, and vice versa. By 10 January 1948 the number of killed and wounded on both sides stood at 1,974.

Although militarily inferior, the Palestinians resisted firmly. This was partly a measure of their desperation and partly an effect of the infiltration from Syria of small ALA contingents during the period from January to March, which bolstered Palestinian strength and raised morale. But the real reason for the Palestinians' ability to hold their ground was that the military operations of the Haganah were still being conducted within the framework of the May 1946 Plan, i.e., the Zionist leadership had not begun to implement Plan Dalet. The Zionists were inhibited from doing so primarily because Plan Dalet required a high degree of Haganah mobilization, and the greater its mobilization the greater the chances of a confrontation with Britain, which claimed to be the de jure authority throughout the country until May 15.

Meanwhile, the appearance of a military stalemate in Palestine, the rising casualties on both sides, and the increasing involvement of ALA units in the fighting were having a considerable political impact in Washington and at the United Nations. A trend away from partition began to crystallize in March in the form of a call by the Truman administration for the General Assembly to reconsider the partition plan and to recommend the installation of a trusteeship regime instead. The American proposal created great alarm among the Zionists, who bitterly denounced it. Their alarm was all the greater because their line of communication with President Truman, their paramount champion, had broken down.


For several months Truman had refused to meet with any American Zionist leader as a result of the intense pressure exerted on him by American Zionists since the partition resolution. How intense this pressure must have been to so alienate Truman is perhaps indicated by the fact that 1948 was a presidential election year. On March 8 Truman declared his own candidacy in the presidential elections. On March 18 he finally agreed to meet the veteran British Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann. Weizmann had been sent to the United States by the Zionist leadership in Palestine for precisely this kind of contact, at the highest level of government.

The meeting between Truman and Weizmann took place secretly at the White House. Although Truman had approved his State Department's recommendation of trusteeship, he may not have fully grasped its implications. The Zionists were at a crossroads. There were only two months to go until the end of the Mandate. If the trusteeship proposal (which the Arab League accepted) received the full backing of the American president, this could mean the indefinite postponement of the establishment of the Jewish state. Moreover, Plan Dalet had been completed and was awaiting implementation. British evacuation was progressing steadily, as was Zionist military mobilization. The end of the Mandate on May 15 would leave a juridical vacuum, which the Arab countries could use to their advantage. The Jewish state had to be made an accomplished fact before then. But without the implementation of Plan Dalet, the Jewish state could not be established. What the Zionist leaders needed to know at first hand was the American president's own attitude toward the establishment of a Jewish state in these circumstances.

President Truman did not disappoint Weizmann. As he informs us in his memoirs: "When he [Weizmann] left my office I felt that he had reached a full understanding of my policy and that I knew what he wanted." And as Abba Eban confirms: "The President gave his visitor a specific commitment. He would work for the establishment and recognition of a Jewish state of which the Negev would be a part." There can be little doubt that Weizmann promptly sent the news to Tel Aviv and that the Zionist leadership there had little difficulty in understanding its significance.

On March 19, the day after the Truman-Weizmann meeting, the United States chief delegate to the United Nations Security Council, Warren Austin, unaware of this meeting and its outcome, proposed that action be suspended on the partition plan and the General Assembly convene to discuss the trusteeship solution. The Arab countries, equally unaware of the Truman-Weizmann meeting, welcomed with relief the American trusteeship proposal, and the Arabic press celebrated the occasion. But Safwat, chairman of the Military Committee, in command of the Arab Liberation Army, had no such illusions. With his eyes on the ground in Palestine, he warned on March 23: "The operational initiative in most of Palestine is in Zionist hands .... Our relatively stronger garrisons in Jaffa, Jerusalem, and Haifa are strictly on the defensive .... "


Plan Dalet went into effect during the first week of April. Its many subsidiary operations continued to unfold with devastating cumulative impact during the remaining six weeks of the Mandate. Some of these operations dovetailed with one another in a single region. Others took place concurrently in different parts of the country. Psychological offensives designed to induce civilians to flee were orchestrated with the military operations; the former involved broadcasting by radio or loudspeakers (carried in vehicles) and spreading rumors by word of mouth or leaflets.

Six major operations were launched in April. Two of them, Operations Nachshon (April 5-15) and Harel (April 15-20), were designed to occupy and destroy the Palestinian villages along the whole length of the Jaffa-Jerusalem road, thus splitting in two the central mass (according to the UN partition plan) of the Palestinian state. Palestinian villagers and irregulars fought desperately along the entire highway. A dramatic battle developed for the hilltop village of Castel, some five miles west of Jerusalem. The Palestinians fought under their charismatic commander Abd aI-Qadir al-Husseini, and the village changed hands several times. Abd aI-Qadir was killed on April 8 as he led a successful counterattack. On the following day, while the Castel battle was still in progress, Jrgun and Stern Gang units perpetrated the massacre of 245 civilian inhabitants of the village of Deir Yassin, about three miles from Castel. The Deir Yassin massacre was one of the more gruesome instances of "competition" between the Labour-dominated Haganah (in charge of Plan Dalet) and the right-wing Revisionist Irgun. Meanwhile, the ALA field commander, Fawzi al-Qawukji, opened a diversionary attack against the colony of Mishmar Haemek, southeast of Haifa; the attack was repulsed. Arab public opinion reacted with horror and alarm to these events.

On April 10 the Palestine Committee, a high-level political coordinating body set up by the Arab League, met to consider the three disasters that had just occurred: the death of Abd aI-Qadir and the subsequent fall of Castel, the massacre at Deir Yassin, and Qawukji's defeat at Mishmar Haemek. For the first time, the assembled leaders gave serious consideration to the need for intervention by their regular army units in the wake of the failure of the Palestinian and ALA irregulars. But many more disasters were to follow before the Arab leaders would take their courage in their hands.

On April 18, in spite of their insistence on being the de jure authority in the country until the end of the Mandate, the British suddenly announced their withdrawal from Tiberias. This retreat paved the way for the conquest of Tiberias on the same day by the Haganah, and Tiberias became the first town to fall under Haganah control. Thousands of refugees streamed in panic into exile in Transjordan and Syria, creating a wave of shock and anger throughout the Arab world. Then on April 21 the British announced their withdrawal from Haifa; the Haganah promptly launched Operation Misparayim for the conquest of that city, which fell on April 22-23. Haifa was the first of the three major Palestinian cities (the other two being Jaffa and Jerusalem) to be conquered by the Haganah. Many more thousands of panic-stricken refugees fled either by sea to Lebanon and Egypt or overland across the Lebanese border.

During the last week of April, three other major operations were launched within the framework of Plan Dalet in different parts of the country: (1) Operation Chametz (April 25) to isolate and conquer Jaffa and the surrounding villages; (2) Operation Jevussi (April 26) to conquer the Palestinian residential quarters in West and East Jerusalem outside the Old City, as well as the villages in the northern and eastern suburbs; and Operation Yiftach (April 28) to conquer the whole of eastern Galilee.

The Irgun anticipated Operation Chametz by launching its own offensive against Jaffa. By the end of April, the combined Haganah-Irgun offensives had completely encircled Jaffa, forcing most of the remaining civilians to flee by sea to Gaza or Egypt; many drowned in the process. A desperate attempt at resistance by a Palestinian ALA unit that penetrated into Jaffa was unsuccessful.

Operation Jevussi achieved its objectives within the city limits of West and East Jerusalem. The Palestinian residential quarters of Katamon, Talbiyya, the German Colony, the Greek Colony, Upper Bak'a, and Lower Bak'a, all in West Jerusalem, were conquered. Their inhabitants were driven into exile in Ramallah and Bethlehem, or across the Transjordanian border. The British, as the de jure authority, continued to hold certain enclaves in Jerusalem and to fly the Union Jack over the official residence of the high commissioner on the hill just south of the city, historically and appositely known as the Hill of Evil Counsel. Operation Jevussi was unsuccessful in the suburban villages to the north (Nabi Samu'il) and east (Tur), where Palestinian and ALA irregulars put up a stout resistance.

Operation Yiftach opened its first phase with the conquest of villages in the neighborhood of the Galilean town of Safed.

The pattern of attack in all three operations was the same: intensive, indiscriminate bombardment with mortars, of which the Haganah had an abundant supply, followed by coordinated attacks using infantry and armored cars. Great reliance was placed on simultaneous psychological warfare. The Palestinian collapse resulted from bad leadership, totally inadequate civil defense arrangements, and military disparity in planning, numbers, and firepower. By the end of April the Palestinian community was badly mangled. Tens of thousands of refugees were on the trek overland, with thousands more in transit at sea. The Arab governments could no longer ignore the pressure of public opinion on them to send their regular armies to help the Palestinians.

On April 30 Arab League leaders held a meeting in Amman, to which they summoned the chiefs of staff of their armies for counsel regarding the turn of events in Palestine. This was the very first such meeting of the Arab military heads. Accurately assessing Zionist strength, they estimated that the minimum force required to overcome the Haganah would be six divisions and six air squadrons. The political leaders, however, were unable or unwilling to bring themselves to believe this appraisal. Evidently, they still preferred to hope for a last-minute intervention by the Western powers, and to think that a mere show of force by their regular armies would bring it about. Therefore, they regarded the assessment of their military experts as exaggerated and unwarranted. They still could not contemplate intervention by the Arab armies before the formal end of the Mandate on May 15. And when the time for intervention came, a force less than half the minimum considered necessary by the military heads was all that was sent.

Meanwhile, the Haganah command pressed on with the business of Plan Dalet. On May 8-9 Operation Maccabi was launched to occupy and destroy the remaining villages in the central plain between Ramleh and Latrun. On May 11-12 the town of Safed was conqueredj its inhabitants fled to Syria and Lebanon. The town of Beisan met the same fate on May 12 its inhabitants fled to Transjordan and Syria. On the same day Operation Barak was launched in the south to occupy and destroy the villages leading to the Negev. The inhabitants of these villages were driven into the Hebron hills.

Not until May 12 did Egypt, the strongest Arab country, agree to military intervention. Finally, its prime minister, bowing to Muslim and Arab public opinion, secured parliamentary approval for Egypt's intervention. The other Arab countries that had already agreed to intervene were Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Transjordan.

But the Arab countries' decision to intervene came too late if it was meant to prevent the destruction of the Palestinian community. It was also too late to prevent the establishment of the Jewish state.

On May 13 Chaim Weizmann wrote President Truman a letter asking for recognition of the Jewish state. On May 14 the British high commissioner left his official residence in Jerusalem on his way home to peaceful retirement in England. The new state came into existence at one minute after midnight Palestine time, or 6:01 P.M. Washington time. By 6:11 P.M. President Truman had recognized Israel.

Thus were sown the seeds of the Palestinian diaspora and the Arab-Israeli conflict.