Excerpts from The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited

(whereby he faults the Palestinian Arabs for the 1948 situation)

By Benny Morris

Above book on Google Books


In the countryside, each village tended to decide on a course and act alone, often fight- and falling- alone. Occasionally, militiamen from one or more villages would - often with a band of irregulars - attack a Jewish settlement or convoy.

During the 1948 war, Palestinian military power rested on a handful of mobile armed bands, each numbering several hundred irregulars, on town militias, and on individual village 'militias'.

The irregular bands -- the most prominent of which were al Jaish al Muqaddas, led by 'Abd al Qadir al Husseini, in the Jerusalem hills area, and Hassan Salameh's, in the countryside around Lydda and Ramle - were mainly reconstitutions of bands that had been active in 1936-1939. .....Most were affiliated to the AHC and were often at loggerheads with neighbouring town militias.... In ambushes on Yishuv convoys or attacks on settlements, bands were usually joined by local village militiamen....

pg 65

The UN General Assembly resolution of 29 November 1947, which endorsed the partition of Palestine into two states, triggered haphazard Arab attacks against Jewish traffic. The first roadside ambushes occurred near Kfar Syrking the following day, when two buses were attacked and seven Jewish passengers were shot dead. 1 The same day, snipers in Jaffa began firing at passers-by in Tel Aviv. The AHC, which flatly rejected the solution and any thought of partition, declared a three-day general strike, beginning on 1 December, thus releasing the urban masses for action. On 2 December 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 neighborhoods of Tel Aviv that adjoined Jaffa and its suburbs. Parts of Palestine were gripped by chaos; the escalation towards full-scale civil war had begun. As in 1936, NC's were set up in the Arab towns to direct the struggle and life in each locality, and bands of irregulars re-emerged in the hill country. The AHC reasserted itself as the leader of the national struggle.

Strategically speaking, the period December 1947 - March 1948 was marked by Arab initiatives and attacks and Jewish defensiveness, increasingly punctuated by Jewish reprisals. Arab gunmen attacked Jewish cars and trucks, from late December increasingly organised in British- and Haganah-protected convoys, urban neighbourhoods 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 centres to various parts of the countryside. The Haganah initially retaliated by specifically and accurately targeting the offending terrorist or militia group or village. But this often proved impossible and, in any case, failed to suppress Arab belligerence, and by February-March 1948 the organization began to

pg 66

dispense with such niceties and to indiscriminately hit Palestinian traffic and villages, but still with relative restraint and in retaliation. At the same time, the IZL and LHI, acting independently, beginning already in early December 1947, reverted to their 1937-1939 strategy of placing bombs in crowded markets and bus stops. ....

The Haganah also on occasion inadvertently employed terror, as in the attack on Jerusalem's Semiramis Hotel in January 1948, but normally cleaved to a policy of hitting the guilty and, when not, at least limiting the violence in scope and geographically to areas already marked by Ara-initiated violence.


In January 1948, in line with Arab League resolutions in December 1947 supporting indirect intervention, volunteers (some of the Iraqi and Surian soldiers and ex-soldiers), mostly under the flag of the newly formed Arab Liberation Army (ALA) began to infiltrate the country. That month, irregulars launched their first large-scale attacks on Jewish settlements with the aim of destruction and conquest, again Kfar Szold in the Galilee, and Kfar Uriah and the Etzion Bloc in the centre of the country.

During February and March, as the British stepped up their preparations for withdrawal and increasingly relinquished the reins of government, the battles between the Arab and Jewish militias, especially along the roads, intensified. ... In the countryside., the Arabs gained the upper hand by intermittently blocking the roads between the main Jewish population centres and isolated communities, especially west Jerusalem with its 100,00 Jews, the Etzion Bloc, south of Bethlehem , and the kibbutzim in western Galilee and the northern Negev approaches. The introduction by the Haganah of steel-plated trucks and buses in escorted convoys was more than offset, by late March, by improved Arab tactics and firepower. (British were increasingly unable and reluctant to protect Jews traffic). In the last days of March, irregulars trapped and destroyed the Khulda, Nabi Daniel and Yehiam convoys, severely depleting the Haganah's makeshift armoured-truck fleet.

pg 67

the prospect of imminent invasion by the regular Arab armies prompted the Haganah to switch at the start of April to the strategic offensive. By then, the Arab exodus from Palestine was well under way. By the end of March 1948, some 100,000 Arabs, mostly from the urban upper and middle classes of Jaffa, Haifa and Jerusalem, and from villages in Jewish-dominated areas such as the Jordan Valley and the Coastal Plain, had fled to Arab centres in the east, including Nazareth, Nablus, and Bethlehem, or out of the country altogether.

pg 68

The Yishuv entered the war without a plan or policy regarding the Arab civilian population in its midst.


Both the AHC and the ALA during February-March seemed to signal Palestine's Arabs that while low-level skirmishing by local militias and irregulars was fine and attacks on Jewish convoys, especially around Jerusalem , should be continued, a full scale assault on the Yishuv out of the question for the time being, though preparations for such an assault, to be unleashed just before or just after the British pullout, should be taken in hand.

pg 92

During the war's first three months, more than two dozen Arab villages and tribes sent out feelers to Jewish officials to conclude local non-belligerency agreements. They were mainly motivated by fear of Jewish attack or reprisal; in some measure, by traditional economic ties they wanted to maintain.

Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.