The first stage of the war, from the time of the Partition Plan till Operation Nachshon (11.29.1947 – 4.3.1948), was characterized by events which were initiated by the enemy. There were Arab riots all over the country; they created the riots and initiated the battles. In those days, the bitterest battle was over control of the roads – the road to Jerusalem, to Gush Etzion, to the Galilee and to the Negev. The Arab villages, which were situated close to the roads, constantly attacked travelers and supplies. Food and weapons did not reach the places where they were badly needed. Some of the convoys which were sent to help the besieged never reached their destination: the Nabi Daniel convoy, the Yehiam convoy, the Halamed Hei (35) convoy, the Hulda convoy and the Hadassah convoy.
In March, 1948, the situation was bleak. Many settlements in the North and in the south were isolated, Gush Etzion was besieged, the Old City was besieged and cut off. The convoy system was not working. The Yishuv called the month, “Black March”. A change was needed.
From Defense to Attack
In the second stage of the war, from Operation Nachshon till the declaration of the State of Israel (4.3.1948 – 5.15.1948), it was decided that the initiative would shift to Jewish hands. Plan D was put into motion. This consisted of operations whose goal was to capture mixed cities and thus break the strength of the Israeli Arabs. In the framework of Plan D, the following operations were carried out: Nachshon, Harel, Avraham, Yevusi, Hametz, Yiftach, Barak,Ben Ami, Matateh, Maccabi A and B and the conquest of Tiberias, Haifa, Safad, Acre and Jaffa. In addition, within the framework of Plan D, the road to Jerusalem was opened! Several dreadful events happened during this period: the tragedy of the Hadassah convoy, and the battles of Mishmar Haemek and Ramat Yohanan.
The Month of the Invasion
The third stage was from the declaration of the State of Israel and the invasion of Arab armies till the first ceasefire in the fighting (5.15.1948 – 6.11.1948). The day after Israel declared its independence, on Saturday, May 15, 1948, five Arab armies, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt, invaded the State of Israel. Israel found itself in the position of the few against the many. Israel had seven airplanes, while the enemy had 45, Israel had 13 tanks, while the enemy had 45, and Israel had 15 armored vehicles, while the Arab armies had 237. Thus, the young state found itself with few soldiers and little equipment opposing the forces of organized armies on three fronts: the northern, central and southern fronts.
The northern front: Three armies invaded in the north: Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Fierce battles were conducted at the two Degania kibbutzes, Degania A and Degania B, near the Sea of Galilee. The Syrians stormed the Degania kibbutzes, with the support of planes and artillery. The force was led by tanks and armored vehicles, followed by the infantry. The defenders of Degania fought courageously and succeeded in repulsing the attack. The Degania battle was the first time that the IDF used heavy weapons that came from abroad. The Syrians conquered the settlement of Mishmar Hayarden, which was their only achievement. The Syrian attack was stopped.
The southern front: The Egyptians attacked from the south. Their central line of attack was along the coast and their aim was to capture Tel Aviv. The Egyptian army tried to capture the settlements on the way, but it met with strong opposition, so it skirted the settlements. Kibbutz Yad Mordecai blocked its path to Tel Aviv. The Egyptian army launched a major attack. The defenders suffered heavy losses and after five days of fierce fighting, the kibbutz was evacuated. The five days in which the kibbutz stood up to the Egyptians were extremely important because it gave enough time for a shipment of air force planes to arrive in Israel and to be assembled.
The Central Front: The Jerusalem Area
The Jordanian army scored quite a few victories. It managed to capture several settlements around Jerusalem, further tightening the siege. Gush Etzion, Atarot, Neve Ya’akov, Bit Ha’arava. Ramat Rachel, and neighborhoods in Jerusalem were cut off and subject to attacks. The 100,000 residents of Jerusalem were under siege. They lacked food, medicine and water. IDF forces attempted to break through and bring supplies to the city. The residents defending the city were exhausted. Throughout the month long invasion, the city was blasted by artillery and mortars, whose aim was to break the spirit of the city’s civilian population, which had already been weakened by the hardships of the siege, and to cause the city to surrender. More than 10,000 rockets and bombs were fired on the city, wounding and killing hundreds, yet the civilian population bravely endured the bombings. The attempt to enter the New City failed and most of the efforts of the Arab Legion were focused on the Old City. 1700 Jewish people lived in the Old City, few of whom were fighters. Constant mortar and artillery fire forced the defenders to abandon their positions. The Jewish Quarter was shrinking in size and the situation was steadily worsening. On May 28, it was decided to negotiate surrender. The healthy men were taken prisoner, the elderly and the children were sent to the New City. 293 residents of the Jewish Quarter were taken prisoner by the Jordanians.
A Ceasefire and again Fighting
The first ceasefire (6.11.48 – 7.9.48) followed political activity at the U.N. Security Council concerning the problem in Israel. Bernadotte, the negotiator, demanded a two-way ceasefire. The IDF took advantage of the ceasefire to reorganize, to regain strength, to absorb new fighters, to conduct maneuvers and to arm itself with new weapons. During the ceasefire, the Burma Road was paved. On July 9, the Egyptians attacked and the battles lasted for ten days. In these battles, the IDF was united,with larger fighting forces, capable of initiating and attacking and with an air force…After another ceasefire, the critical stage was reached. Bitter battles were waged on all the fronts, which brought about an Israeli victory. In the South, Operation Yoav was conducted. This broke through the road to the Negev. In the North, Operation Hiram was waged, which led to Israel’s control of the Galilee. On the Egyptian front, the IDF conducted Operation Horev, which led to Israeli control of the Negev and the conquering of Eilat.
The Arabs were interested in a ceasefire since they were suffering multiple losses on the battlefield and they feared the expansion of Israel. The Jews were interested in a ceasefire mostly because they needed to be able to absorb the masses of immigrants that were pouring into Israel. In addition, they also hoped that it would be a permanent ceasefire and that the U.N. would recognize the status of the State of Israel. Thus, on 7.20.49, the two sides agreed to a ceasefire. A supervisory body was set up in which U.N. observers were to supervise the ceasefire. In these agreements, a “green line” was demarcated which was Israel’s official border with Jordan until the Six Day War.