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4. Military Aspects of the Expulsion
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Posted by Dr. Salman Abu Sitta on August 7, 2001

How could such large-scale expulsion, land grabbing, and repeated massacres have taken place unhindered? Is it true that little David is fighting for his survival against the mighty Arab Goliath?. These are the facts. During the first 6 months of 1948, the total Zionist force numbered 65,000 at least (see for example Khalidi 1982, p. 861). The first-line troops were 32,000 (Amitzur nan, Table 2, p.67). By 15 April 1948, 82,500 were recruited, (Pappe, p.52). The Zionists were well-trained, mostly well armed, many of whom were Second World War veterans. On the opposing Arab side, there were about 2,500 Palestinian militiamen, mostly volunteers, poorly trained, and dispersed among a dozen towns and several hundred villages. Their weapons consisted of old, often Turkish, vintage. They had few machine guns and no artillery. They had no wireless, so it was not possible for them to coordinate their actions. A typical village would have 20-30 volunteers defending it on its own, against 300-400 enemy soldiers with tanks and artillery.
There was also the so-called Arab Liberation Army, led by Fawzi al-Qauwqji, constituting a force of 3,155 assorted volunteers from several Arab countries (1948 War-Israel Story, p.220-221, Ali (1982), p.82). Their number is misleading, as their dispersion made them ineffective. Their distribution was as follows: the largest concentration was in Jinin area, and in Galilee: groups of 50-100, in Haifa: 200, in Jerusalem: a few hundred, in Jaffa: 200, (Levenberg, p. 200). The majority were in the part allocated for the Arab State in the Partition Plan, where few Jews existed. That was in coordination with the plans set up by Trans-Jordan for the eventual control of that part (Levenberg p.205). There were very few of them where needed to repel the Jewish attacks. Moreover, the discipline and the military performance of this force had been the subject of much criticism, even derision.
Then there was the Moslem Brothers force, a group of highly motivated Egyptian and Palestinian volunteers. Some were well-trained but their number did not exceed 500 in total. They operated in the south, and lost many killed due to their daring and bravery.
Thus, a well-organized Zionist force of 65,000, under a unified command attacked hundreds of Arab villages, which were defended by a group of Arab volunteers, about 20 in a village to100 in a town, under the watchful eye of the British Mandate Government, which did not raise a hand to protect the Arab population.
The result was that 213 villages including 6 towns in addition to West Jerusalem were occupied and depopulated by 15 May 1948, increasing to 291 villages (including 4 more towns) by 11 June 1948.
The Zionists under British Mandate had acquired, by purchase and other means, a total of 1,614,667 d. (6% of Palestine). Following their attacks on Arab villages, mostly between April and May 1948, they occupied about double this area ( 11%). On this land, they declared the creation of the State of Israel. By early 1949, the occupied land was expanded to 78% of Palestine. (In 1967, Israel occupied all of Palestine and parts of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.) There is no general international acceptance of Israel's boundaries. Israel has never given an official definition of its boundaries. That is the reason why Ben Gurion refused to formulate a constitution for Israel.
The intervention of the Arab forces to rescue the Palestinians in the later stages of the Israeli onslaught, was depicted by the Israelis as seven Arab Armies who wanted to strangle little Israel and throw the Jews into the Sea (click here to read our rebuttal for this myth). Nothing is further from the truth. None of the Arab forces entered the area designated as Jewish State, even to rescue Palestinians there. On the contrary , those forces lost the Arab land which they had come to protect and which the Israelis had not yet conquered. Their military preparedness was geared to a rescue operation, rather than a total war, and they were a failure at that.
The Lebanese force, for example, which started at 700 (reaching a maximum of 1,000), had no military effect. They even lost to the Israeli forces a dozen Lebanese villages. The Syrian force (about 2,000), tried and failed to capture 2 Israeli settlements south of Tiberias. The well-trained Iraqi force (started at 2,500 increased later) came with no orders (macko awamer in Iraqi Arabic accent) to defend villages. Its important achievement was to defend Jinin against Israeli attack, but lost the villages around it. It was later withdrawn at the request of Trans-Jordan.
The Trans-Jordanian force (maximum of 4,500), well trained and armed, and led by British officers, kept its defensive positions in the Old City of Jerusalem, but withdrew from Lydda and Ramla, thus precipitating the expulsion of its 60,000 inhabitants. About two dozen villages at Wadi Ara were ceded voluntarily by King Abdullah to the Israelis outside the Rhodes armistice negotiations. Together with Palestinian and other volunteers, the Trans-Jordan force over-ran 4 Etzion Block settlements in the area designated as the Arab State,
The brunt of the fighting after 15 May was taken up by the Egyptian force. In the beginning, it numbered 2,800, and grew immediately thereafter to 9,292. In October, the total force increased to 28,500 in addition to 1,109 Saudis, 1,675 Sudanese and 4,410 volunteers, mostly Palestinians (Shakib, p. 335). As a total Arab force of 35,662 men under one command, it was by far the largest Arab force. Its task was to defend a large Arab area, over half of Palestine, with very few Jewish settlements in it. At no point did it attempt to enter the designated Jewish State. Under the inept leadership of General Mawawi, this force lost all this territory , with the exception of the tiny Gaza Strip, as it became known (360 km2 or 1.3% of Palestine).
Meanwhile, the Israeli Army (now Israel Defense Force) grew to 74,450 (August 1948), 99,122 (October 1948, before Yo'av operation), and finally to 121,000 at the beginning of 1949 (Ben Gurion, p.778-782, Sanbar, p.147). It had by then a credible navy, a strong air force and very powerful armaments.
Statements are often made that the Israelis were outnumbered by the combined Arab force. This is never the case. The numerical superiority of Israelis at all stages of the conflict is quite evident. According to an Israeli historian (nan, p.62): Indeed, there was never a moment in the 1948 Palestine war that the Jewish Forces suffered a numerical inferiority against the Arab Forces which they fought. To start with, during the Mandate period, the Zionists had an overwhelming numerical and organizational advantage over the Arabs of Palestine. After 15 May, the various Arab forces were largely ineffective, mostly defensive, some conspiratory .
At the last phase of the war , Egypt had to face the Israelis alone. The Israelis had an overall superiority of about 4 to one over the Egyptians, and much higher in individual battles. When the Egyptians were hard pressed in October, no Arab force came to their aid, either directly or indirectly by engaging the Israelis in the north or the centre. The Israelis could throw their lot against the Egyptians without fear of distraction. Ben Gurion knew this and used it fully, (Ben Gurion War Diary p.566, Shlaim p.235, Mahmoud p.157). As a result, the Israelis concentrated their might on the Egyptian front and occupied most of southern Palestine in one operation (Yo'av) before the Armistice Agreement was signed with Egypt.
Thus, the much-exaggerated Arab intervention, not only failed to recover the two-thirds of the Palestinian villages, ethnically cleansed before the Arab forces' arrival, but lost also the remaining one third of Palestinian villages which they had come to rescue.



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