A Climate of Violence
The information on this page needs to be accompanied by an important clarification: the majority of Palestinian Arabs leading up to the 1948 War, while certainly no fans of Zionism, were not violently hostile to it. Most expressed their distaste for Zionism, and the Jews immigrating to realize it, with uneventful contempt. There were, however, enough Arab inhabitants who chose the path of violence and massacre to warrant a very real and widespread insecurity among the Jewish population. This vulnerability influenced Jewish outlooks and responses to events in Palestine. Without taking this perennial aggression into consideration, any political or historical analysis of the Arab-Israeli conflict in its early years will be lacking.
"... nor can we forget that the hatred of the Arab politician for the [Jewish] National Home has never been concealed and that it has now permeated the Arab population as a whole." - Peel Commission, 1937
- "From late 1919, Arab attacks on Jewish settlements became more frequent and relentless, particularly in the Jordan Valley and the Galilee."2
- "As early as 1920, Palestine Arab opposition to Zionism and desire for self-government led to a threat to public security. ... three days of rioting in Jerusalem, in which Arab mobs fell upon Jews with sticks, stones and knives. The Arab Police either adopted a passive attitude or joined in the riots. British troops were called out, the police were disarmed and order was finally reestablished. As a result of these disturbances, five Jews and four Arabs were killed and 211 Jews and 21 Arabs were wounded."3
- "1 March 1920 In an attack by large numbers of Arabs from the village of Halsa, eight Jews were killed ..."4
- In April 1920 Arabs rioted against Jews during the Nebi Musa festival.
- On May 1st, 1921 “Arabs of Jaffa murderously attacked Jewish inhabitants of the town and Arab raids were made on five Jewish rural settlements; the disorders were suppressed by the police and military forces. Forty-seven Jews were killed and 146 wounded, mostly by Arabs … The hostility shown towards the Jews during the riots was shared by Arabs of all classes; Moslem and Christian Arabs …”5
- "On May Day, 1921, Arab mobs attacked Jewish residents of Jaffa and stormed the Zionist Immigration Center, killing 13 persons. Again the military forces had to be summoned to replace the unreliable Arab police. The disorders, however, spread. On the 3rd May Hebrew colonies at Kafr Saba and Ain Hal were looted. On the 5th May the village of Petah Tiqvah was attacked by several thousand armed Arabs in semi-military formation, and was saved from destruction only by the arrival of several squadrons of cavalry. On the 6th May Arabs besieged Haderah and attempted an attack on Rehovoth. In these disorders 47 Jews were killed and 146 wounded, mostly by Arabs, and 48 Arabs were killed and 73 wounded, mostly by police and military action."6
- In 1929 general anti-Jewish riots spread throughout Palestine. From August 23rd to the 29th, “murderous attacks were made on the Jews in various parts of the country. The most violent attacks were those against the old established Jewish communities at Hebron and Safed; there were also attacks in Jerusalem and Jaffa and against several Jewish rural settlements. There was little retaliation by Jews, of whom 133 were killed and 339 wounded.”7
Britain had to rush troops up from Egypt to restore order. The survivors of the Hebron massacre fled the city having their property and land confiscated by Arabs. Another account reads, "... Arabs armed with knives and clubs invaded the new city of Jerusalem and began a massacre of the Jews. On the following day more than 60 Jews were killed at Hebron, and in the succeeding days a number of Jewish colonies were attacked. The police had to open fire to prevent outrages in Nablus and Jaffa, and Arabs attacked the Jewish quarter in Safed, killing or wounding 45 persons. In all, 133 Jews were killed and 339 wounded, and six Jewish colonies were destroyed. There were 116 reported Arab deaths, many of them as a result of police and military activities."8
- "The period between 1929 and 1936 was marked by periodic violence. In August 1930, there was a minor Arab outbreak at Nablus. The years 1930 and 1931 saw a series of terrorist murders of Jews. Agrarian crime was endemic and the Arabs attempted to take into their own hands the prevention of illegal Jewish immigration. In October 1931, Arab demonstrations and riots directed against the Government, as well as against the Jews, took place in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa and Babes. In the course of these and related incidents, 24 civilians were killed and 204 wounded."9
- “By July  the Arab gangs had become thoroughly organized and their activities co-ordinated. Rebel courts were set up by which many loyal Arabs and a number of Jews who had been abducted were tried and executed in the following months … the Old City of Jerusalem became a rallying point of bandits from which acts of violence, murder, and intimidation were organized and perpetrated freely and with impunity.”10
- For almost three years (1936-39) there was a general Arab uprising protesting Jewish immigration which resulted in many Jews being murdered and beaten including yet another massacre of 20 Jews in Tiberius.
"The revolt enjoyed popular support throughout the Arab Middle East. Even before its outbreak, the Arab world had been smoldering with the idea of a jihad (holy war) against the Yishuv. The speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Sa’id al-Haj Thabit, on a visit to Palestine in March 1936, repeatedly called for such a jihad."11
"'Every Arab in Palestine will do everything in his power to crush down Zionism, because Zionism and Arabism can never be united together' - Awni Bey Abdulhadi to the Peel Commission 13 January 1937"12
Spending to provide for public security "rose from £265,000 in 1923 to over ... £2,230,000 in 1936-37"13, an 840% increase because of Arab aggression directed against Arab political opponents, Jews, and British officials. It was not just a case of a particularly troublesome group of Arabs giving the rest a bad name: "The hostility shown toward the Jews during the riots was shared by Arabs of all classes; Moslem and Christian Arabs, whose relations had hitherto been uneasy, were for once united.”14
"... nothing has done us more damage and ruined relations between Jews and Arabs than the Arab press. From the day it was born in the Land of Israel ... to the present it has not ceased to denounce us and malign our name. This virulent activity has instilled deep hatred of us in the hearts of the Arabs and has poisoned the atmosphere not only in this land but also in the Arab countries (Transjordan, Syria, Egypt, and others)."15
In reaction to the April 1946 report from the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in Palestine, "One Foreign Office cable ... spoke of Arab hatred of the Jews as being greater than that of the Nazis. The AHC ... issued an 'ultimatum' and threatened 'jihad.' ... The publication of the report triggered violent demonstrations in Baghdad and Palestine. ... At least one Baghdad newspaper called for jihad ... Another called on the Arabs to 'annihilate all European Jews in Palestine.'"16 The Arab League "secretly decided to help the Palestinian Arabs with funds, arms, and volunteers should it come to an armed struggle."17
"The chain of unfortunate events which began in Palestine almost immediately after the adoption of the resolution of 29 November demonstrated conclusively not only that the necessary Arab willingness to co-operate was lacking, but that a dangerous antagonism existed which was provoking virtual civil war even before the termination of the Mandate on 15 May 1948."18
During the civil war stage of the 1948 War (before the main Arab invasions of May 1948), Arab violence and aggression antagonized almost every battle the Jews found themselves having to fight. The attacks began the very next day after the November 1947 UN resolution to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states was passed, in what Benny Morris describes as a "clear, organized Palestinian Arab response to the UN resolution."19 He also points out that "most of the fighting between November 1947 and mid-May 1948 occurred in the areas earmarked for Jewish statehood ... and where the Jews enjoyed demographic superiority. Almost no fighting occurred in the almost exclusively Arab-populated central and upper Galilee and Samaria ..."25
A survey of Morris’ prominent study The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited20 reveals in more detail the climate of violence Jews faced:
- “… the Palestinian Arab leaders, headed by the exiled AHC chief, Husseini, rejected partition and launched a three-day general strike, accompanied by a wave of anti-Jewish terrorism in the cities and on the roads. The Arab states … rejected partition and sent volunteers, arms and money to help the Palestinians. … the Palestinians were reinforced by several thousand volunteers … Within weeks the sporadic violence had snowballed into a full-scale civil war between the two communities.” (pg. 13)
- “The first roadside ambushes occurred near Kfar Syrkin … when two buses were attacked and seven Jewish passengers were shot dead. The same day, snipers in Jaffa began firing at passers-by in Tel Aviv. The AHC … declared a three-day general strike … thus releasing the urban masses for action. … a mob, unobstructed by British forces, stormed the (Jewish) new commercial centre in Jerusalem, looting, burning shops and attacking Jews. Snipers exchanged fire in Haifa and attacks were launched on the neighbourhoods of Tel Aviv … Parts of Palestine were gripped by chaos; the escalation toward full-scale civil war had begun.” (pg. 65)
- “Arab gunmen attacked Jewish cars and trucks … increasingly organized in British- and Haganah-protected convoys, urban neighbourhoods and rural settlements and cultivators. The attackers never pretended to single out combatants; every Jew was a legitimate target. The hostilities swiftly spread from a handful of urban centeres to various parts of the countryside.” (pg. 65)
- “… Husseini agents and irregulars sporadically launched attacks on Jews … with ambushes against traffic moving through Wadi Rushmiya. From then on, there were almost daily exchanges of fire along the seam neighbourhoods, almost always initiated by Arabs.” (Pg. 100)
- “… as with Haifa, the exodus from the town [of Jaffa] was triggered by the start of hostilities, which were initiated by Jaffa’s militiamen, who began sniping into neighbouring Tel Aviv on 30 November 1947. The following day, dozens of Arabs assaulted Jewish houses bordering on the northern Manshiya neighbourhood and an Arab mob in Abu Kabir, a neighbourhood to the west, attacked a Jewish car and murdered its three passengers.” (Pg. 110)
- “Immediately following the passage of the resolution, the Jewish neighbourhoods … came under sniper fire from Arab quarters and … the community was gradually strangulated by the blockade of the main road to Tel Aviv. … despite the convoy system and occasional British military assistance, the city’s Jewish districts were under almost complete siege.” (Pg. 117)
- “Hostilities began [in Jerusalem] … with Arab gunmen and stone-throwers attacking Jewish buses at the Jaffa Gate … and with a mob attack … against the downtown New Commercial Centre, where dozens of shops and workshops were torched and looted, and 24 Jews were injured. British troops and police failed to intervene against the rioters but arrested 16 Haganah men who had.” (Pg. 119)
- “The cycle of violence that precipitated Romema’s evacuation began with attacks on Jewish traffic leaving Jerusalem and the Haganah killing … of Atiya ‘adel … who, using a motorcycle, doubled as a scout and informant for the Arab irregulars about Jewish convoys.” (Pg. 120)
- “The inhabitants of Sheikh Badr … also evacuated their homes … following one or more reprisal raids (provoked by Arab sniping) …” (Birth Revisited, Pg. 121)
- “The raid [retaliatory raid by the Haganah on 18 January in villages of Mansurat al Kheit, Al Husseiniyya, and ‘Ulmaniyya] followed repeated Arab attacks on Jewish traffic nearby.” (Pg. 132)
- “According to the British GOC North Sector … the final battle [for Haifa] was triggered by the Arab irregulars … Arab fire killed four Jews and wounded five. Starting that day, the Arabs ‘stepped up their use of mortars’ … The Haganah was far from eager to tangle with them. But the Arab pressure … culminated in the abrupt British troop redeployment … and Arab fire early that morning against Jewish traffic … forced the Carmeli Brigade’s hand.” (Pg. 187)
- “The battle of Mishmar Ha’emek … was initiated by Qawuqji’s ALA. … when the ALA shelled and attempted to take Mishmar Ha’emek. (Pg. 240)
- “As the battle of Mishmar Ha’emek raged to the south, an ALA battalion took up positions in Shafa ‘Amr, Khirbet Kasayir and Hawsha … and intermittently attacked Jewish traffic and settlements … “ (Pg. 244)
"Sixty-two Jews were murdered by Arabs in the first week after the UN partition plan was passed, and by May 15, 1948, a total of 1,256 Jews had been killed, most of them civilians. These deaths were caused by Arab militias, gangs, terrorists and army units which attacked every place of Jewish inhabitation in Palestine.
The attacks succeeded in placing Jerusalem under siege and eventually cutting off its water supply. All Jewish villages in the Negev were attacked, and Jews had to go about the country in convoys. In every major city where Jews and Arabs lived in mixed neighborhoods the Jewish areas came under attack. This was true in Haifa's Hadar Hacarmel as well as Jerusalem's Old City.
Massacres were not uncommon. THIRTY-NINE Jews were killed by Arab rioters at Haifa's oil refinery on December 30, 1947. On January 16, 1948, 35 Jews were killed trying to reach Gush Etzion. On February 22, 44 Jews were murdered in a bombing on Jerusalem's Rehov Ben-Yehuda. And on February 29, 23 Jews were killed all across Palestine, eight of them at the Hayotzek iron foundry. Thirty-five Jews were murdered during the Mount Scopus convoy massacre on April 13. And 127 Jews were massacred at Kfar Etzion on May 15, 1948, after 30 others had died defending the Etzion Bloc."23
In addition to identifying more than 100 Jewish settlements that were attacked by Arabs in the timeframes 1920-21, 1936-38, and 1947-48, Sir Martin Gilbert also points out extensive Jewish property damage such as timber yards burnt, crops burnt, haystacks burnt, orchards uprooted or burnt, threshing floors burnt, homes burnt, olive groves uprooted, thousands of citrus trees uprooted or burnt, vegetable crops uprooted, hundreds of acres of wheat destroyed, shops damaged with rocks, cattle killed, etc.22.
As the civil war gave way to a multi-front invasion from Arab nations, the sentiment of Palestine’s Arab population toward the Jews was still further established when “crowds of Arabs stood by the roads leading to the frontiers of Palestine, enthusiastically welcoming the advancing armies”21. But it was not just local Palestinian Arabs excited about the coming military assault on Palestine's Jewish population. The invasion enjoyed widespread, frantic support among the Arab states that would soon be engaged in it:
- "Public opinion was “all in favor of the war, and considered anyone who refused to fight as a traitor.” As Muhsin al-Barazi, Syria’s foreign minister, put it in April: “[The] public’s desire for war is irresistible.” ... The same considerations applied in Baghdad, where the leaders looked both downward, at a turbulent politically involved middle class and an excitable “street,” and sideways, at fellow Arab leaders; a failure of militancy would enhance the position of the anti-Hashemite bloc (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria) in inter-Arab jockeying and rile the masses to the point of dangerous disturbances or worse."32
- "In most Arab states the opposition parties took a vociferous, pro-war position, forcing the pace for the generally more sober incumbents. From late November 1947 until mid-May 1948 the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Beirut, Damascus, and Baghdad were awash with noisy “pro-intervention” demonstrations, organized at least in part by the governments themselves. The press, too, both reflecting and fashioning opinion, chimed in with belligerent rhetoric, growing in stridency as 15 May approached."33
Illustrating a special kind of hatred that is not satisfied with mere killing, Jewish corpse mutilation was a problem as well:
- "I can say that our Palmach officers—men given to understatement rather than hysteria—instructed us, when in action, to always save a bullet or a grenade for ourselves, so as not to fall alive into the hands of Arab irregulars. Capture was not an option."24
- "On 27 March, a seven-vehicle convoy, carrying eighty-nine men and women was attacked on the road to the besieged Kibbutz Yehiam by units of the ALA’s Second Yarmuk Battalion and local militiamen. ... The following morning, the British and Haganah found forty-seven bodies, many of them mutilated."26
- "The occupants of one vehicle committed suicide with dynamite rather than fall into Arab hands. (Jews captured in convoy battles were normally put to death and mutilated.)"27
- "Arabs began to push down the slope, giving chase. Arieli and a handful of other officers took up positions nearby to cover the retreat. Their bodies were later found there, either felled by Arab bullets or by their own hands, with grenades, to avoid capture."28
- "Just before dawn, 9 April, two of Tabenkin’s companies stormed into al-Qastal – which they found completely deserted, save for dozens of corpses. The Palmahniks buried the dead. Some of the Jewish corpses had been badly mutilated."29
- "In place they found the bodies of sixteen Alexandroni troopers left behind when the Legion took the position two days before. One Israeli report read, “On most of them were signs of severe mutilation: stab wounds, some had their genitals cut off, some were missing ears. One body was cut into many bits with its genitalia stuffed in its mouth."30
- "At one point in the battle, the “French Commando,” many of them ex-Foreign Legionnaires and Moroccan Jews, retreated from one of the conquered positions under heavy Egyptian fire, leaving behind, under a railway bridge, a handful of wounded. When they retook the position a half-hour later, they found that all the wounded had been murdered, with their genitals mutilated and their penises stuck in their mouths. Some had been blinded with burning cigarettes."31
2 Teveth, Shabtai. Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs: From Peace to War. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press, 1985. 47.
3 Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Jewish Problems in Palestine and Europe. Report to the United States Government and His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, Lausanne, Switzerland, April 20, 1946. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off, 1946.
4 Gilbert, Martin, and Martin Gilbert. The Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. London: Routledge, 2002. 10.
5 A Survey of Palestine Prepared in December 1948 and January 1946 for the Information of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry. Vol. 2. 1946. 18-19.
6 Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Jewish Problems in Palestine and Europe. Report to the United States Government and His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, Lausanne, Switzerland, April 20, 1946. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off, 1946.
7 A Survey of Palestine Prepared in December 1948 and January 1946 for the Information of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry. Vol. 2. 1946. 24.
8 Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Jewish Problems in Palestine and Europe. Report to the United States Government and His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, Lausanne, Switzerland, April 20, 1946. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off, 1946.
9 Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Jewish Problems in Palestine and Europe. Report to the United States Government and His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, Lausanne, Switzerland, April 20, 1946. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off, 1946.
10 A Survey of Palestine Prepared in December 1948 and January 1946 for the Information of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry. Vol. 2. 1946. 45.
11 Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 16
12 Gilbert, Martin, and Martin Gilbert. The Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. London: Routledge, 2002. 23
13 Great Britain, and William Robert Wellesley Peel Peel. Palestine Royal Commission Report. London: H.M. Stationery Office, 1937.
14 A Survey of Palestine Prepared in December 1948 and January 1946 for the Information of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry. Vol. 2. 1946. 19.
15 Cohen, Hillel. Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. 28
16 Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 34-35
17 Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 66
18 United Nations, and Folke Bernadotte. Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator on Palestine. Rhodes, 16th September 1948. London: H.M. Stationery Office, 1948.
19 Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 76
20 Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. Cambridge Middle East studies, 18. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
21 Palestine Facts. Why did Arabs Leave the New State of Israel? (Site accessed Feb. 12 2008)
22 Gilbert, Martin, and Martin Gilbert. The Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. London: Routledge, 2002. 17-21
23 Frantzman, Seth. Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine?. Jerusalem Post. Aug 16, 2007.
24 Gutmann, David. The Arab Lie Whose Time Has Come - Veteran of the 1948 War Dissects the Myth of Palestinian Innocence. April 21, 2004.
25 Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 78
26 Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 110-111
27 Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 111
28 Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 124
29 Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 125
30 Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 293
31 Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 361-362
32 Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 182-183
33 Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 186-187