"The Black Friday"
The Saga of Israel's Independence War
by Gad Nahshon
How can you understand the history of Israel? How can you explain the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian conflict? How can you figure out Israel's military history? The key to the answer is very simple: you must learn the detailed history of Israel's Independence War. The last cease fire agreement was signed with Syria as late as July, 1949 and Iraq never signed any agreement with Israel.
When I suggest this recommendation I mean you must read the story of this war as it has been written by Israel's most distinguished expert on military history, Dr. Uri Milstein. He is Israel's premier researcher of the history of this 1947-1948 saga. Dr. Milstein documented this saga in nine Hebrew volumes. This is a new fresh, unique, revisionist version of Israel's official history and account of this war. But Dr. Milstein, who is a controversial historian in Israel, mainly because of his devotion to the historical truth and his intellectual courage, is not a post-Zionist historian.
Ironically, the post-Zionists used his methods and his pioneering new evidence in order to make their points. They also decline to give Dr. Milstein proper recognition. The exception is Benny Morris, who reviewed Dr. Milstein's work in Time Magazine! Dr. Milstein has confronted the Israeli defense-security establishment which was rooted in the 1948 military elite. He therefore became a lonely fighter for the truth. For many years the English readers in this country could not learn about this war. There has been an intellectual loophole.
Thanks to 'University Press of America Inc.' (Lanham, Maryland 20706) the great work of Dr. Milstein has been translated, edited, and condensed from Hebrew to English. It was done by Alan Sacks who deserves many thanks for his superb work. Thanks to Dr. Uri Milstein, the American reader has an opportunity to learn about the war and understand the essence of Israel's military history. Dr. Milstein has illuminated the saga of this heroic war in which 6,000 soldiers and officers were killed so that Israel will survive.
Recently, the publisher released Vol. IV of this monumental work: 'History of Israel's War of Independence - Out of Crisis Came Decision." In 410 pages, Dr. Milstein detailed the period of January-April 1948. (Israel's Independence Day was May 14, 1948.) This volume discusses the new act by which 'Yishuv' (the Jews in Palestine - 650,000) moved from 'defense' to offense', the trauma of 'Black Friday' or the American retreat from the Nov. 29, 1947 U.N.'s partition plan in which a Jewish state was recognized, the first organized Arab's attack on the Jews or the Syrian-Iraqi Salvation Army, the war in the roads to Jerusalem or the 'Convoys Battles.' It was essentially the war on Jerusalem, a war against its siege and against its starvation. The most sensational chapter of this volume is chapter 16 in which Dr. Milstein discusses "Deir-Yassin" or the massacre of 120 Arabs, mostly civilians, in the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin.
When you read Milstein's discussions and many new revelations and when you read his unique analysis, you figure out that history often does repeat itself. It looks as if past, present, and future are one unity, one history, they are the same. It is very frustrating and puts doubts in our hope for a meaningful change in the Middle-East. In this volume, Dr. Milstein uses his unique method of historiography. Here are some examples:
He outlines the military mistakes of the 1948 commanders. The outcome is the dismantling of some myths. He believes that those who made mistakes should have never become generals in the post-1948 Israeli army. One the other hand, those who were true heroes such as Arieah Tepper-Amit Z"L, were pushed away from the army. In this volume, Milstein analyzed the mistakes of the Nebi-Daniel campaign (Jerusalem Front) or the disaster of 'Yehiam Convoy' (the attempt to save Kibbutz Yehiam in the western Galilee);
Milstein's thesis, which he has kept repeating in his many books and leading articles is: The Israeli army never really established a machinery focusing on drawing the right, painful conclusions from its mistakes. The outcome, he says: the army (Tsahal) keeps repeating mistakes and becomes a 'defeatist' kind of army. Why? The army is not an intellectual organization. And it should be, argued Milstein, knowing that he will always be suffering from a stigma of 'trouble maker' in Israel. By the way, Milstein does not say that he is always right. He calls for a free, open, intellectual discussion.
As to 'Dier Yassin', Milstein wrote: A. Only 120 people were massacred. But is was done by soldiers of the 'Etzel' or 'Irgun Tsvai Leumi,' the 'Irgun,' by the 'Lehi,' or 'Freedom Fighters of Israel' and...the 'Palmach' (the special storm-commando units of the Haganah). For many years, the common belief has been that this massacre was executed only by the dissident, underground organizations. (Do not forget the British left Palestine only on May 15, 1948!). But Milstein argued that the Palmach-Haganah which was the military organization of the majority of the Jews in Palestine under the leadership of Ben-Gurion, also participated in this massacre. It is also known that the Palmach's veterans, mostly with leftist orientations, are fighting against Milstein's theories. Why is it important to learn about this affair? Most of the Jews have condemned this massacre and attacked the Etzel and the Lehi, as monsters and war criminals. The Arab propaganda even exaggerated this tragedy. But the outcome of this affair was so traumatic to the Arabs that many of them ran away from Palestine. They escaped from the danger of more Jewish massacres of civilians. It should also be explained that this massacre was an act of retaliation to a massacre of Jewish civilians in the Jerusalem front. For many years, the Arab propaganda used this affair as the best of its tools of smearing Israel in the eyes of world public opinion. Of course we know of many Palestinian atrocities from 1929 and on. And we should not see the past throughout the glasses of the present.
In his volumes, Milstein always builds for us the 1948's Hall of Fame. He loves the soldiers more than their officers. He brings to our collective memory the names of those who are our forgotten heroes! He describes their acts of heroism in the lost battles. For example, Ben Ami Pachter, who died in the battle to save Kibbutz Yehiam (Yehiam Convoy). In the chapter about 'Hueda Convoy' (Jerusalem Front) another hero, Yoram Treves, inside the car, transmitted to his Commander: "I am wounded. I am going to blow myself up..." He knew that the Arabs will not only kill him, but they will mutilate his body.
Dr. Milstein documented the fact that the Yishuv leaders tried, in 1947 and 1948, to have a peace dialogue with the Arabs. This is an important evidence which contradicts the post-Zionists who tend to argue that the Jews wanted just to push the Palestinians out of Palestine.
Milstein always documents the linkage between the war and the status of Israel inside the world community. From January to March 1948, the U.S. and the U.N. figured out that the implementation of the 1948 'Partition Plan' was impossible. The U.S. administration, the State Department, and especially James Forrestal pressed for a change. On March 19, 1948, the U.S. suddenly announced its support for an alternative plan: The Trusteeship. This was our 'Black Friday.'
Milstein explained the reasons for this change: A. The military weakness of the Yishuv in March. Experts argued that the Arabs will win the war; B. The effectiveness of the anti-Zionist camp in the U.S.; C. The American fear that American soldiers will have to be sent to the region; D. The British policy of evacuation of Palestine.
The Jewish leaders were wrong thinking that the British plan to stay or comeback; E. George Kennan's report: U.S. support for the Yishuv will help the Soviets to penetrate into the Arab-Muslim world. They might also stay close to the fields of oil. It should be noted that many experts in the west argued that Israel is the one which will be a pro-Communist country.
Indeed, the rise of the Cold War did influence the American policy in 1947. As we know President Truman at the last moment, being under pressure of the pro-Zionist camp and Chaim Weizman, changed his mind again and declared: "There has not been, and will not be, any change in the long term policy that we discussed." Truman repeated his promise to Weizman in their last meeting that the U.S. is for the 'Partition Plan' or the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
In the beginning of April, the Yishuv managed to develop an offensive effective military campaign. It contributed to the hope that the 'Yishuv' will be able to accomplish its goal of creating a new state: "A note of optimism pervaded the meeting (of the Jewish Agency Executive).
The turnabout began with 'Operation Nahshon' and at its peak on April 9, was already apparent. By April, one could foresee that the Jews would not only proclaim a state the next month but would withstand an attack by foreign Arabs," wrote Milstein.
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