At the end of World War II with all its horrors of the Holocaust, devastated Jewish survivors in Europe longed for a return to their homeland. Their dreams were to be delayed when Great Britain remained in control of Palestine, as they had since their defeat of the Turks in World War I, by mandate of the United Nations, and with a growing dilemma: How to walk the tightrope between world opinion and the Arab nations.
After the shock and revulsion of the Holocaust, much of the world increasingly demanded that the Jews be allowed to return to their homeland in Palestine—arguably thought to be a place of safety for them. Arabs in the region were adamantly opposed to the move. Greatly frustrated by the situation, the British announced in February 1947 that control of Palestine would be ceded to the United Nations, even then a hotbed of anti-Semitism.
In November 1947, the UN offered a plan for partition that would divide the region into an Arab state and a Jewish state, calling for British troops to leave Palestine by August 1948. The Jews welcomed the proposal; the Arabs scorned it. Some British leaders felt it would be impossible for a Jewish state to flourish in the face of such hostility from the Arabs. But on May 14, as Egyptian fighter-bombers roared overhead and British troops readied for departure, Ben-Gurion and his political partners gathered at the museum in Tel Aviv. At 16:00 [4:00 PM], Ben-Gurion opened the ceremony by banging his gavel on the table, prompting a spontaneous rendition of Hatikvah, soon to be Israel’s national anthem, from the 250 guests.
For 2,000 years, Israel had been a nation in exile; overnight it had astonishingly become an autonomous state on the world stage. But, the following day, Israel was attacked by the five Arab nations that ringed her borders: Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. There was no peace in the beginning, despite the world’s efforts to bring Israel to life in a negotiated manner.
Ben-Gurion’s announcement of Israel’s rebirth was the initial step in a war that would last one year, three months, and ten days; it would test Israel’s very resolve and preparedness. At the outset of the confrontation, it was obvious that Israeli forces were greatly outnumbered. One army, alone—the Egyptians—boasted 40,000 ground troops armed with approximately 135 armored fighting vehicles, heavy artillery, and 60 planes in its arsenal—including bombers and single-seat fighter planes. Forces in Egypt and Jordan had been trained and led by British army officers. The Israelis were faced with those daunting figures, yet marched forward determined and unbowed.
To protect their land and its inhabitants cost the Israelis over $500 million and approximately one percent of its population at that time—6,373 men, women and children. How many lives might have been saved had the United States and its Western Allies sufficiently armed the Jews so that they were able to protect their land and people!