Reprinted from Gush Shalom
Each side has its own version of this momentous event.
According to the Arab version, the Jews came from nowhere, attacked a peace-loving people and drove them out of their country.
According to the Zionist version, the Jews had accepted the United Nations compromise plan, but the Arabs had rejected it and started a bloody war, during which they were convinced by the Arab states to leave their homes in order to return with the victorious Arab armies.
Both these versions are utter nonsense -- a mixture of propaganda, legend and hidden guilt feelings.
During the war I was a member of a mobile commando unit that was active all over the southern front. I was an eye-witness to what happened.
I wrote a book during the war ("In the fields of the Philistines") and another one immediately afterwards ("The Other Side of the Coin"). They appeared in English together under the title "1948: A Soldier's Tale." I also wrote a chapter about these events in the first half of my autobiography ("Optimistic") that appeared in Hebrew last year. I shall try to describe what really happened.
FIRST OF ALL, we must beware of looking at 1948 through the eyes of 2015. Difficult as it may be, we must try to transport ourselves to the reality of then. Otherwise we shall be unable to understand what actually occurred.
The 1948 war was unique. It was the outcome of historical events which had no parallel anywhere. Without taking into account its historical, psychological, military and political background it is impossible to understand what happened. Neither the extermination of the Native Americans by the white settlers, nor the various colonial genocides resembled it.
The immediate cause was the November 1947 UN resolution to partition Palestine. It was rejected out of hand by the Arabs, who considered the Jews as foreign intruders. The Jewish side did accept it, but David Ben-Gurion later boasted that he had had no intention of being satisfied with the 1947 borders.
When the war started at the end of 1947, there were in British-governed Palestine about 1,250,000 Arabs and 635,000 Jews. They lived in close proximity but in separate neighborhoods in the towns (Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, Jaffa, Haifa), and next to each other in neighboring villages.
The 1948 war was actually two wars that blended into one. From December 1947 until May 1948 it was a war between the Arab and the Jewish population inside Palestine, from May until the armistices in early 1949 it was a war between the new Israeli army and the armies of the Arab countries -- mainly Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Iraq.
IN THE first and decisive phase, the Palestinian side was clearly superior in numbers. Arab villages dominated almost all highways, Jews could move only in hastily armored buses and with armed guards.
However, the Jewish side had a unified leadership under Ben-Gurion and organized a unified, disciplined military force, while the Palestinians were unable to set up a unified leadership and army. This proved decisive.
On both sides, there was no real difference between fighters and civilians. Arab villagers possessed rifles and pistols and rushed to the scene when a passing Jewish convoy was attacked. Most Jews were organized in the Haganah, the underground armed defense force. The two "terrorist" organizations, the Irgun and the Stern Group, also joined the unified force.