Is Israel too greedy

70 Years of Israel: The Founding of the Jewish State

by Andreas Sedlmair and Cay Rademacher
A few hours after the founding of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948, Jewish soldiers are fighting against Arab units all over Palestine. The Jews, fired by Zionist ideals and pushed by the horror of the Holocaust, want to finally establish their own state in the land of the Bible. But the Arabs, who have lived here for generations, resist with violence. The struggle for Palestine escalates into an open war for the existence of Israel. And about the dispute that has made peace in this region impossible to this day

The 5th day of the Ijar in the year 5708. A handful of men sit or lie in a barren room filled with sound from a radio: exhausted young soldiers, rifles and submachine guns at their fingertips. Their leader is a 26-year-old, remarkably good-looking, but in his shy reticence almost grumpy-looking, who listens to the radio in silence and motionless.

He commands the 1,300 soldiers of the Harel Brigade of the Palmach, the elite group of Jewish fighters in Palestine. For a few weeks now, his men, many of whom are not even of legal age, have been involved in heavy fighting.

The afternoon sun burns hot over the mountains, for a few hours until dusk and the beginning of the Sabbath.

A fighter curled up in a corner of the stuffy room. A man's speech booms over the loudspeaker, the rough voice is distorted and wavering. "Hey, guys!", The soldier calls out, "I'm tired, turn off the radio. We can still listen to the nice words tomorrow!" One of his comrades picks up the old tube radio - the house becomes quiet. The commander says nothing and is probably only thinking about the next battle. The soldiers are camped in the Maale ha-Chamischa kibbutz, a few kilometers west of Jerusalem. Their silent leader is called Yitzhak Rabin.

The 5th day of the Ijar in 5708 Jewish calendar is May 14, 1948, and the radio address that disturbs the calm of the weary fighters is David Ben Gurion's proclamation of the establishment of the State of Israel, of which Yitzchak Rabin will be Prime Minister decades later .

Jerusalem, May 14, 1948, 4:00 a.m.

The occupiers give up. They are British soldiers. At the beginning of the 20th century, Jerusalem belonged to the Ottoman Empire, which entered the First World War on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary and also lost a lot of land with the war.

But that wasn't foreseeable at first. So during the war the government in London tried to win local allies against the Ottoman rulers. She found two at once. Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur James Balfour wrote in 1917 in a letter to one of the leading British Zionists, Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild, that his government “viewed with sympathy the establishment of a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine” - the later so-called “Balfour Declaration”.

But in parallel, Great Britain also supported the burgeoning nationalism of the Arabs. The British officer T. E. Lawrence - immortalized as "Lawrence of Arabia" - promised the Arabs that after the end of Turkish rule they could found their own states.

The only binding treaty that Great Britain had signed on the Middle East, however, was a secret agreement with France in which the two powers divided the region into "spheres of interest".

By a resolution of an international conference, Palestine, which essentially comprised the territory of present-day Israel (including the Palestinian autonomous territories) and initially also that of present-day Jordan, became a British mandate in 1920 - and His Majesty's government tried in vain for the next 28 years to maneuver out of the dilemma into which she had gotten herself into by her doubly broken promise.

For Arabs and Jews alike, Great Britain had become the power for whose recognition one vies, which one emulates in the military and administration - and which one wants to throw out of the country as an occupier.

Over the years British troops - in the end there were around 100,000 men in this country, which is smaller than Brandenburg and has fewer inhabitants than Berlin - has never been able to permanently prevent acts of violence by Arabs against Jews, by Jews against Arabs, and by both against the occupiers .

The politicians in London also failed to work out a plan for the future of the country that was acceptable to Jews and Arabs alike - not even when news of the Nazi genocide against the Jews of Europe piled up from 1943 onwards.

The Zionist leaders urged the British to open the country to as many refugees as possible and thus save them from the extermination camps. But the mandate power feared negative reactions from the Arab population of Palestine and insisted on strictly restricting immigration.

Yitzchak Rabin

Born in Jerusalem in 1922, the soldier fought against the British and, as the leader of an elite unit, also against the Arabs. He will govern Israel twice as prime minister - until he was assassinated in 1995

Even when hundreds of thousands of displaced Jews freed from the concentration camps after the end of the war hoped for a secure future in Palestine, the British attitude did not change. This led to a radicalization of the struggle among many Jews in Palestine.

Two underground organizations in particular tried harder to wear down the British through terror. Both groups were led by men who would be elected Prime Minister of Israel decades later. Jitzchak Shamir, who emigrated from Poland to Palestine in 1935, set the tone in the smaller and more radical group that called itself "Fighters for the Freedom of Israel" (Lechi).

Even more feared among the occupiers, however, was the Irgun, the "National Military Organization in Israel". Many of their fighters dreamed of a Greater Israel that extends beyond the Jordan, of an Israel without Arabs.

Their leader came from Brest-Litovsk, was arrested by the Soviet secret service NKVD at the beginning of the Second World War, but then came to Palestine via the Polish army in exile in 1942: a 34-year-old, lanky, ascetic man with scholarly glasses, hesitant-looking and more likely to be would trust himself to spend his life studying religious scriptures rather than leading a terrorist unit. But he was a good organizer and, speaking to his followers, could be a brilliant speaker: Menachem Begin.

Menachem Begin

The leader of the terror group Irgun, born in 1913 in what is now Belarus, is responsible for attacks against the British and Arabs. In 1977 he became Israel's Prime Minister - and in 1978 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

On July 22nd, 1946, the Irgun bombers struck the bloodiest blow: 91 people died in a bomb attack on the "King David" hotel in Jerusalem, in the south wing of which part of the British Mandate administration was housed: British, Arabs and Jews.

Not least under the influence of such terrorist acts, Great Britain finally decided in 1947 to give up the strip of land on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. The UN was supposed to determine the future of the Middle East - and on November 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the World Association approved a plan with a two-thirds majority that provided for a complicated division of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab-dominated state.

Jerusalem, coveted by both sides, should be placed under an international administration. Soon afterwards, the British announced the end of their mandate on May 15, 1948.

According to the UN plan, the Jews, who at that time made up almost a third of the population, were to receive 56 percent of the mandate area. David Ben Gurion, the chairman of the Jewish Agency accepted by the British as a point of contact and thus the unofficial leader of the Jewish population in Palestine, reluctantly agreed.

Born in Poland, which at that time still belonged to the tsarist empire and fueled there by Zionist and socialist ideals, David Gruen immigrated to Palestine at the age of 19 in 1906 and named himself Ben Gurion ("son of a lion"). From then on he lived solely to realize his ideals: within the Jews he promoted the kibbutz movement and was one of the founders of the first trade unions and the workers' party. And outwardly he fought first against the Ottomans, later against the British.

David Ben Gurion

The Zionist and trade unionist immigrated from Poland to Palestine in 1906 at the age of 19. On May 14, 1948, he declared Israel's independence and became the country's first prime minister

However, the Arabs in Palestine and the government representatives of Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries rejected the UN plan. "We will drive the Jews into the sea!" Threatened a spokesman for the Arab League.

Since then, since November 1947, there has been more and more fighting in the Holy Land. Arab irregulars smuggle rifles and explosives into the country via neighboring countries, which, being recognized states, can easily buy weapons on the international market. The Jews, whose nation does not yet officially exist, on the other hand, suffer from an agonizing shortage of war equipment. It is true that so shortly after the Second World War, Europe and the USA are full of superfluous armaments that are being sold at scrap prices. However, the Jewish smugglers are dependent on imports by sea, and so it is seldom possible to bring the secretly purchased weapons into the country bypassing the strict controls of the British.

What the Jews lack in equipment, they make up for with their organization. The Arabs, linked more by traditional clans than by a common political or military plan, face the Hagana, founded in 1920 as a secret self-protection organization and now a 60,000-strong militia.

More than 20,000 Jews fought on the Allied side in the World War, as simple soldiers, as officers, as radio or explosives specialists, as supply specialists or bomber pilots. Three brigades now form the Palmach. These shock troops, about 5,000 men, were formed within the Hagana in 1941; among them is the elite of the fighters brought up in Palestine.

At four o'clock in the morning, the day before the heavily contested UN plan came into effect, the first British soldiers - heavily armed and in combat suits - climb into their jeeps: advance commands of an inglorious withdrawal.

The city they are evacuating on this day is not a metropolis: only around 160,000 inhabitants live on the western edge of the biblical, rocky Joschafat Valley, to which, according to tradition, the trumpets of the Last Judgment will one day call all souls.

Around 50,000 people, strictly separated into Jews, Muslims, Christians and Armenians, live in the old town, a tangle of flat-roofed old houses, connected by narrow streets, alleyways, passages that are barely shoulder-wide.

At this early hour on the Temple Mount, the giant leaden dome of the Dome of the Rock shimmers faintly; at his feet rise a few roughly hewn stone blocks that have been smoothed by countless awe-inspiring touches - the wailing wall. And a few hundred meters to the west, two domes and a bell tower tower above the sea of ​​flat roofs: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

The new city lies in front of the walls of old Jerusalem in a semicircle running south. With the exception of a few mixed quarters, it is also divided into Jewish and Arab areas. And in the midst of it all, the British architecture dilemma: "Bevingrad", as the Jews contemptuously call it after Ernest Bevin, His Majesty's Foreign Minister - some residential and administrative buildings, entrenched behind barbed wire and barricaded streets. The beleaguered heart of the British Mandate Administration.

The first jeeps are now rolling west. Their engines roar on Jaffa Street, the busiest boulevard in the city, past the now closed cinemas, shops and cafes.

Haifa is 150 kilometers away, where ships of the Royal Navy anchor.

In Jerusalem, observers wait behind curtained windows, makeshift loopholes on roof parapets and in camouflaged shelters for the trigger. Somewhere someone is laying out machine-gun ammunition and hand grenades made from tin boxes of cigarettes. Thousands of fighters lurk in the "City of Peace" (as the name is translated) to see the last British truck roll away. To then attack their neighbors.

Jerusalem, Bevingrad, 7:00 a.m.

British soldiers pull apart the barbed wire barn on Jaffa Street. The sand-colored armored cars of His Majesty's First Life Guards Armored Car Squadron are slowly rolling out of the heart of the city.

They are joined by trucks loaded with military and civilian luggage: ammunition and files, camp beds, suitcases, first-aid kits, mirrors, tin cans, antiques, souvenirs. The other positions were also given up: the Allenby and El Alamein barracks in the south, the King David Hotel, the Notre Dame hospice.

Soldiers and officials are leaving the High Commissioner's residence southeast of the city, a building with a wonderful view of Jerusalem, but erected on a hill of all places that has been called the "Mountain of Evil Council" for centuries. Infantrymen evacuate Mount Zion in marching columns and get into provided buses.

Colorful flags flutter in the wind ahead of the units, and bagpipers walk in front of a few columns. The streets through which they march are still almost deserted.

The Scottish melodies have not yet faded when armed men and women sneak up on the now formerly British building. They hastily cut the barbed wire barbed apart with special scissors bought on the black market, then rushed towards the first building.

1000 Jewish fighters storm the deserted Bevingrad in a bloody and grotesque race with their Arab neighbors and enemies.

Soon soldiers rush from room to room, take cover and fire. A hand grenade explodes. But it is easier for the Jewish fighters than feared to get the Bevingrad area on Jaffa Street under control. The Arabs only offer resistance in two or three places, otherwise they flee to their quarters or the old town after short shootings. The superior organization of the Hagana pays off.

Their leaders have got copies of the British marching plans. They also control the city's telephone network so that they can eavesdrop on the conversations of their unsuspecting and increasingly confused Arab opponents over the next few hours. Sometimes they even call the houses in which opposing rioters are holed up in order to scare them with alarming phone calls.

It is an irony of history that the Jews on their conquest through the former British headquarters are accompanied by a British journalist who wants to report exclusively on this fight. Eric Downton of the Daily Telegraph sees that his compatriots have left a lot behind: 40,000 pairs of new shoes, stationery, a room full of flashlights, cigarettes, chocolate - and two neatly folded Union Jacks with black borders for funeral ceremonies.

He rushes through the former police station with a young soldier. The fighter does not belong to the Hagana, but to the Irgun. The soldier pushes open a door, stops abruptly - and then begins to cry. The noose of a gallows dangles in front of him.

It is the execution room of the occupying power. "This is where you hung my friends," the soldier whispers to the British journalist. In fact, dozens of Irgun members have been executed since the early 1940s.

For about five weeks now, the Arabs in Palestine have not feared anyone as much as the Irgun. Together with the Lechi, on April 9th, 132 heavily armed men and women attacked the village of Deir Jassin, an Arab settlement west of Jerusalem - and as one of the few places not involved in the constant attacks on kibbutzim or Jewish convoys.

Perhaps it was just the peacefulness that provoked the Irgun to attack. She thought she would have an easy game when she attacked at 4.30 a.m., but the people of Deir Jassin resisted - four attackers were killed by the villagers and dozen injured.

The Irgun's vengeance was terrible. By noon they slaughtered the residents, men, women and children, with MPs, knives and hand grenades; a woman eight months pregnant did not escape them either. After a few hours there were over 100 bodies in the destroyed village.

Decades later, in his memoirs, Begin dismissed Deir Jassin's crimes as "atrocity propaganda by Jew haters" (but proudly stated in the same sentence that the news of this event triggered a panic escape reaction in the Arab population).

The Hagana commanders were shocked.That same afternoon they drove the Irgun homicide squad out of the village. David Ben Gurion, deeply ashamed, sent the King of Transjordan, representing the Arabs, a telegram of condolences. But the Irgun was particularly hard hit by the rejection of the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, who excluded all those involved in the massacre from his community.

In revenge for Deir Jassin, Arab rioters attacked a convoy four days later that was driving to the Jewish hospital on Mount Scopus near Jerusalem. After hours of fire, at least 76 dead were found in the wrecked vehicles, many of them doctors and young nurses.

But no one disarms the Irgun, none of Deir Jassin's killers is ever convicted. Hagana and Irgun soldiers fight side by side this morning in Bevingrad and elsewhere in Jerusalem, held together by the common enemy rather than common ideas.

Their opponents are even less united: The 1.3 million Arabs in Palestine want to control the entire country, but they are divided. In theory, they are led by Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem. As early as 1921, the fanatical Jew hater was installed by the British as the highest spiritual authority in Palestine - and his will to power did not only extend to religious questions.

During an ultimately failed uprising by the Arabs against the Jews and the British, he went into exile in 1937, most of which he spent in Nazi Germany during the war. The Mufti hoped that Hitler's regime would support him in his struggle.

After barely escaping being charged as a war criminal in 1945, he is now waiting in Cairo for the right opportunity to assert his own claim to power in Palestine. Because it is by no means undisputed. There are rivals: army leaders, heads of large clans, self-appointed guerrilla chiefs.

Amin al-Husseini

The Mufti of Jerusalem, born in 1893, preaches violence. In exile since 1937, at times in National Socialist Germany, the religious leader fought against Israel until his death in 1974

In the five Arab countries that are threatening the future Jewish state with war, things are hardly any better. King Faruk of Egypt, 28 years old, corrupt and greedy, dreams of a new Grand Caliphate that will dominate Palestine and wrest control of the Suez Canal from the hated British.

The Iraqi government is publicly inciting against the Jews, but the strong words are followed by few, poorly equipped troops. In private circles, Baghdad's head of government makes it clear that he actually has nothing against the establishment of Israel if Britain would allow Iraq in return to swallow Syria.

In Damascus they know this very well and are mainly involved in the war against the Jews in order not to let their Arab rivals become too strong.

Lebanon, the Arab country with the smallest army, advocates an immediate guerrilla war more than any other country. At the same time, however, the prime minister ordered a considerable part of his weak army to Beirut - to protect the Jewish quarter of the capital against Arab rioters and thus to maintain public order.

And Transjordan?

King Abdullah must regard the name of his country as a humiliation, since London drew arbitrary borders in 1923 with British nonchalance and thus created a small desert empire "behind the Jordan" with which he, the Bedouin leader and descendant of an old ruling dynasty, was fobbed off had to after he was driven from the Arabian Peninsula by rival families.

But this country of all places has the most powerful army. The "Arab Legion" is numerically weak, but the 8,000 or so well-armed soldiers are mostly led and trained by British officers. King Abdullah is not even thinking of marching this legion to Tel Aviv.

He considers the establishment of a Jewish state to be legitimate and even has good - of course, top secret - contacts with the leadership circle around Ben Gurion: Just a few days before the British withdrew, Golda Meir, the head of the political department of the Jewish Agency, made a spectacular attempt to To move Abdullah to neutrality in the coming battle.

Disguised as an Arab woman and constantly changing her car to camouflage, the future Foreign Minister and Prime Minister of Israel and a companion drove secretly across the border into the Transjordan capital of Amman on the night of May 12th. The previously arranged conversation with the king was friendly but inconclusive. Golda Meir knew on the way back to Tel Aviv that her efforts had been in vain.

Because Abdullah wants to use the favorable opportunity to enlarge his empire at the expense of the Arab state envisaged in the UN partition plan. He wants to annex the land west of the Jordan - what will later be called the West Bank - and, of course, Al-Quds: Jerusalem, the Holy City.

So each of the Arab governments is playing its own game. Mutual distrust is at least as strong as the fighting spirit. A common high command and a common strategy practically do not exist. Ultimately, each government only participates because the others participate; each is afraid of falling behind if Palestine is partitioned. They only have one thing in common: no one thinks it is possible that the Jews could win.

Golda Meir

The politician, born in Kiev in 1898, moved to Palestine in 1921. There she is one of the most important negotiators for the Jewish freedom movement.

Tel Aviv, 4 p.m.

The Tel Aviv Museum on Rothschild Boulevard is a modern building made of concrete and glass, the former home of the city's first mayor. Heavily armed soldiers of the Hagana patrol around the museum, who only let the 200 invited guests pass. About 35 of them are members of the National Council, a body that emerged from the Jewish self-government that the British allowed early on. 13 delegates selected from among themselves make up the People's Directory, which is to become the provisional government of the new state in a few minutes.

Although the location of the event was kept secret until the very end, a large crowd has gathered in front of the building. It seems like the last perfidious trick of the British that their mandate does not expire until midnight - then it is already the Sabbath, believing Jews would also have to abstain from political actions. So the men around Ben Gurion decided to proclaim their state before dark, a few hours earlier than allowed by the UN.

Inside, in an unadorned hall on a low podium under a large picture of Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, and two white and blue flags with the Star of David, a 61-year-old, strong man with an untamed, white head of hair rises: David Ben Gurion.

He wears a black suit, a white shirt and - for once - a black tie. It goes quiet when he gets up. In his hand he is holding a scroll of parchment with ornate decorations. The actual text of the declaration, however, is written on two plain typewriter pages that were pinned to the parchment roll. There is not enough time to solemnly finalize Israel’s most important document.

The Kol Israel sound engineers huddled together in a toilet are ready for the radio broadcast. "The Land of Israel," their microphones now pick up Ben Gurion's voice, "was the birthplace of the Jewish people." The white-haired Lord then solemnly declares that they were driven out but never gave up dreaming of a return to the Promised Land.

In the past few decades the Jews have finally come back. They "made the desert fertile, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community that controlled their own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend themselves, they brought the fruits of progress all residents of the country and want an independent state.

And therefore, by virtue of the natural and historical right of the Jewish people and the resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations, we hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine, which is to bear the name Israel: "The state will be based on peace and justice and on equality The immigration restrictions for Jews from the British mandate would be lifted immediately. Ben Gurion asks the UN and the Jews in the diaspora for help in building the state. And he appeals again to the Arabs in Palestine and beyond the borders to go the path of peaceful cooperation.

The 200 present stand up and applaud. An old rabbi thanks in an almost failing voice "Him who has preserved and preserved us and led us in this time!".

Ben Gurion, now provisional prime minister of the new state, knocks on the table with a wooden hammer. "The session is closed," he announced. It is 4:37 p.m., before dawn and the beginning of the Sabbath. The state of Israel is born.

People celebrate in front of the Tel-Aviv Museum; Tens of thousands across the country have waited in front of the radio and cheered. Only Rabin's youthful fighters on the road to Jerusalem are so tired that they overslept the half hour steeped in history.

Wadi Schueib, Transjordan, 6 p.m.