NOTE: THIS IS THE FOURTH IN A SERIES OF POSTS PROVIDING A COMPREHENSIVE PALESTINE-ISRAEL TIMELINE. THE COMPLETED TIMELINE WILL BE AVAILABLE AS A PDF AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE SERIES.
World War II
British wartime policy in Palestine was intended to keep the mandate tranquil. The British administration placed restrictions on Arab political activity and refused to allow exiled Arab leaders to return.
The Yishuv committed itself to the British war effort against Hitler; it also attempted to subvert the White Paper of 1939 (see our previous post) and prepared for armed confrontation with Britain once Germany was defeated.
In support of the Allied cause, thousands of Jewish volunteers joined the British forces, eventually forming a Jewish Brigade. These troops provided the Haganah (a Jewish defense force) with a cadre of trained veterans for fighting against Britain after 1945.
The Haganah, although technically illegal in Palestine, was allowed by the British administration to acquire weapons openly. When the Axis threat subsided after 1942, Haganah members retained their arms along with their intimate knowledge of the British military network in Palestine.
Leaders of the Yishuv continued to regard the British presence in Palestine as the primary obstacle to their dream of establishing a Jewish national home.
The Jewish Agency mounted a concerted effort to rescue European Jews and bring them into Palestine illegally.
PALESTINE-ISRAEL TIMELINE: 1942-1948
1942: A meeting of US Zionists adopts a set of resolutions titled the Biltmore Program, calling for open immigration to Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth there.
1944: Jewish irregular armed units — Irgun and Lehi (the Stern Gang) — operating independently of Jewish Agency control (but at times with its tacit approval) launch a campaign of terror against British personnel and Arab civilians.
1945: The Jewish Agency joins the conflict.
1945-1947: Yishuv mounts a campaign of sabotage against the British administration in Palestine designed to achieve the immediate establishment of a Jewish state.
1945-1948: US President Harry Truman publicly endorses and promotes the Biltmore Program, demonstrating not only humanitarian concerns but also an awareness of the growing power of the Zionist lobby within the Democratic Party.
1946: Irgun blows up a wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
February 1947: British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, recognizing that Britain has lost control of the situation in Palestine, refers the matter to the United Nations. The General Assembly creates a UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) and charges it with investigating conditions in Palestine and submitting recommendations.
September 1947: Britain announces that the Palestine mandate will be terminated on May 15, 1948. Palestine is plunged into intercommunal war. Irgun massacres the 250 civilian inhabitants of the village of Dayr Yassin near Jerusalem. In retaliation, an Arab unit ambushes a Jewish medical relief convoy on the outskirts of Jerusalem and kills a number of doctors.
November 29, 1947: The UN General Assembly approves the partition of Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states and accords international status to Jerusalem. The Arab League and its member states (especially Egypt, Syria, and Iraq) adopt a hard-line stance on the Palestinian issue as a means of demonstrating their anti-imperialism and asserting their newfound independence in foreign policy. They reject all attempts at compromise, including the UN partition plan. Britain refuses to assist in the implementation of the UN partition plan.
Spring 1948: Major centers of Arab population falling into the proposed Jewish state are in Jewish control. About 400,000 Palestinians have fled.
April 1948: Haganah authorizes a campaign – called Plan D — against potentially hostile Arab villages.
May 14, 1948: The last British high commissioner, General Alan Cunningham, quietly leaves Haifa. The Union Jack is lowered and British rule in Palestine comes to an end. Palestine is without a government and without political institutions.
May 14, 1948: David Ben-Gurion proclaims the independence of the state of Israel. The new state is immediately recognized by the United States and the Soviet Union.
June 1948: Units of Haganah are reorganized as the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and are placed under the authority of the civilian minister of defense. Two dissident military organizations, the Irgun (led by Menachem Begin) and the smaller Lehi, refuse to give up their autonomy and continue to conduct independent military operations. Eventually, though, all remaining autonomous military units are absorbed into the IDF, ensuring that the central state exercises control of all military forces.
June 1948: The ship Altalena arrives off the Israeli coast with a shipment of arms destined for the Irgun. Ben-Gurion orders the IDF to prevent the arms from being unloaded. An armed struggle ensues, the Altalena sinks, and several members of the Irgun are killed or wounded. Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin (the leader of Irgun) become deep-seated enemies.
May 15, 1948: Units from the armies of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan, and Iraq invade Israel.
May 15-June 11, 1948: First round of fighting.
June 1948: First UN armistice.
July 9-18, 1948: Second round of combat.
July 1948: Second armistice.
December 1948: Arab forces are defeated, there is an enlargement of Israeli territory, and the UN proposal for a Palestinian Arab state collapses.
1948-1949: Incidents of forced expulsion of Arabs continue.
1948-1949: Over a 12 month period, each of the belligerent Arab states concludes an armistice agreement with Israel. They do not recognize Israel or accept cease-fire borders as final. Palestine is basically partitioned among Israel,Egypt (which remains in occupation of the Gaza Strip), and Transjordan (which has taken the old city of Jerusalem). There is no Palestinian Arab state and over 700,000 people are now refugees.
1948: David Ben-Gurion is a popular choice as Israel’s first prime minister. He holds the offices of prime minister and minister of defense for most of the period from 1949-1963.