Creation of State

Jews in Palestine

The creation of Israel can only be fully understood with knowledge of the years leading up to 1947. There were acts of violence committed by both sides. Many Palestinian villages were destroyed and, ultimately, many Palestinian families—men, women, and children—were expelled from their homes. These years contrast with the atmosphere in the Holy Land before the war when Jews in Palestine as well as Muslims and Christians lived, prayed, and worked alongside one another largely in peace.

The Stern Gang

Between 1917 and 1947, Jewish groups like the Stern Gang (LEHI, an acronym for Lohamei Herut Israel) worked to rid Palestine of British authorities, who at times were restricting the immigration of Jews to Palestine.

The Stern Gang sought both a withdrawal of Britain from Palestine and an establishment of a Hebrew kingdom. In 1941, the Stern Gang published, “The Principles of Renaissance,” which identified the main principles of the group:

  1. The Jewish people are a unique people.
  2. The homeland is in Eretz-Israel, with its borders defined in the Torah.
  3. Israel took Eretz-Israel by violence. There it became a nation, and only there it will be reborn.

Furthermore, The Stern Gang proclaimed three main goals:

  1. Redemption of land
  2. Re-establishment of the Kingdom of Israel
  3. Rebirth of the nation

Freedom of Conscience and Worship

At the same time, outside of Palestine, the likelihood of military force in the creation of a Jewish state was recognized by the United States.

The Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, commonly known by its Yiddish acronym PICA, was established in 1924. This association played a major role in supporting the Yishuv in Mandatory Palestine and later the State of Israel until its disbandment in 1957.


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Certificate of the Jewish Colonial Trust, Jewish

The End of an Interfaith Friendly Climate

From 1917 to 1947, the interfaith-friendly climate experienced disruption as the “clashing of several sects of Christians, the Moslems and the Jews over the control and use of the holy places has been constant and persistent,” peaking with the Hebron massacre in 1929. Altogether, according to the 1931 Almanac, there were 870 Muslim deaths, 119 Jewish deaths, and four Christian deaths in the riots of 1929. 

Reporting maintained that “Arab interests were not fully safeguarded in the face of Jewish colonization, and that the Arab outbreak was incited primarily by Arab disappointment over non-realization of their political aspirations.”

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This May 1945 letter, from acting secretary Joseph Grew to President Truman, describes the opinion of President Roosevelt that to create a separate state for Jews in Palestine could only be created and maintained through military force, stating that “the Arabs, not only in Palestine but throughout the whole Near East, have made no secret of their hostility to Zionism and their Governments say that it would be impossible to restrain them from rallying with arms, in defense of what they consider to be an Arab country. We know that President Roosevelt understood this clearly, for as recently as March 3, after his trip to the Near East, he told an officer of the Department that, in his opinion, a Jewish state in Palestine could be established and maintained only by military force.”

An Increase in Attacks

Some believe that before Israel’s war for independence there was no Palestine. Some believe that there were no Palestinian people, and the land was deserted with no inhabitants. This belief is easily found distributed and shared online and in discourse surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict today. 

Likewise, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the term “Palestine” historically denotes the portion of Syria that was formerly in possession of the Israelites. In the Old Testament, the word “Canaan” is used to stand in for “Palestine” west of the Jordan River. Over time, the term “Palestine” superseded the longer term “Palestinian Syria,” which was used by first-century Romano-Jewish historian Josephus and Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, Philo. Roman emperor and founder of the Flavian Dynasty, Vespasian, officially designated the country as “Palestine” on coins after the suppression of the Jewish insurrection in 70 A.D. and the First Jewish-Roman War, which implied the territory belonged to the Jews. 

However, there were people already living in the land between the Jordan and the sea when Jews arrived in Palestine. Judaism teaches us that—whatever we call the families who were living in Palestine before the creation of Israel—it would be wrong to expel them and keep them refugees from their homes, whether they are Jewish or not.

During the next thirty years after 1917, there would be an increase in attacks between Muslims, Christians, and Jews. In the 1929 Hebron massacre, 199 Jews were killed. Each loss of life is horrible, yet the Muslims and Christians killed during the riots of 1929 (including 870 Muslims and 4 Christians) are not often mentioned.  This tragedy is often used to demonstrate that Jews were being mistreated in the Holy Land. However, there were also many peaceful Muslim, Jewish, and Christian people who were not involved in the violence. With increasing tensions and massive population shifts, the efforts from 1917 to 1947 to establish a state for Jews (in a land where a large majority of non-Jewish families were already living) set the stage for further conflict.

A Massive Population Shift

With the influx of Jewish immigrants into Palestine and growing tensions after the 1917 Balfour Declaration, civil war broke out on November 30, 1947. The war continued through 1949. 

The 1947 war was so dividing that it is referred to as the “War of Independence” in Hebrew and as “The Catastrophe,” or the Nabka in Arabic. It created a massive population shift as Palestinian families were separated from their homes. But why, after centuries of living alongside Jews in Palestine, did these families suddenly take their children and leave their homes, especially if their Jewish neighbors had—as many stories go— begged them to stay? Entire villages of peaceful non-Jewish families didn’t just leave their homes. They were largely forced out, as documented by the Israel Defense Force. 

Palestinian People Displaced

Christian-Palestinian pastor Father Elias Chacour is a leading voice in equal rights for Jewish, Muslim, and Christian families living in Israel. Chacour’s Christian family once lived in the former Palestinian village of Biram. Chacour remembers his father urging the community to be welcoming to incoming Jewish immigrants. During the Palestinian dispossession, Chacour’s hospitable family was also chased from their home. Biram was demolished four years later, replaced today by a kibbutz.  

Chacour is now a present absentee, a Palestinian who was expelled by Jewish or Israeli forces or fled from their home in Palestine during or before the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, but remained in the land that became Israel. Like other present absentees, despite being a citizen of Israel, he is a not permitted to return to his home.  Present absentees are also known as internally displaced Palestinians (IDPs).

Blood Brothers

In his book, Blood Brothers, Chacour recounts soldiers warning the villagers to get out of their homes and find a safe place because the village was in danger. Chacour writes that “at last the elders decided to not wait for the military commander’s signal to return. A delegation of men collected in the olive grove and climbed the hill to Biram.”

“Before long, they came running back, their faces a confusion of anguish and fear,” Chacour continues. 

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“Upon entering Biram and passing the first house, they had seen that the door was broken in. Most of the furniture and belongings were gone. What was left lay smashed and scattered on the floor. At the next house, it was the same, and at the house across the street… the soldiers leveled their guns at them, flicking off the safety switches. Angrily, one of them growled, ‘The land is ours. Get out now. Move!’ The betrayal cut like a knife. A few of the men were bitterly angry, seething with the thought that we had been tricked out of our village by these European men we had trusted. Others were simply bewildered. Pain etched every face.” 

Plan Dalet

Israeli Jewish historian Avi Shlaim, in his book The Iron Wall, states that the most important reason Palestinian families left their homes was because of Jewish military forces, and that these families were made refugees before any other Arab armies declared war.

“There were many reasons for the Palestinian exodus,” Shlaim writes, “including the early departure of the Palestinian leaders when the going got tough, but the most important reason was Jewish military pressure. Plan D was not a political blueprint for the expulsion of Palestine’s Arabs.”

“Plan Dalet” or “Plan D” was the name given by the High Command of the Jewish forces to the general plan for military operations within the framework of which the Jewish forces launched offensives in April and May 1948 in areas of Palestine. 

Shlaim writes that Plan D “was a military plan with military and territorial objectives.  However, by ordering the capture of Arab cities and the destruction of villages, it both permitted and justified the forcible expulsion of Arab civilians.  By the end of 1948 the number of Palestinian refugees had swollen to around 700,000. But the first and largest wave of refugees occurred before the official outbreak of hostilities on 15 May.”

The Capture of Deir Yassin

There was one town, Deir Yassin, where the Palestinian population was mistreated and massacred in a targeted attack on the local population. On April 9, 1948, the Irgun and Stern Gang, two Jewish terrorist organizations, allegedly led an attack on Deir Yassin—a village of about 750 residents located on high ground between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. 

While Deir Yassin had a peaceful reputation and was said to have driven out Arab militants, the village stood on a desired ground for a pathway that could supply Jews to Jerusalem. Though reported numbers vary, over 100 residents including women and children were allegedly killed. Several male residents of the village were also captured and paraded throughout Jerusalem.

A Coordinated Operation

The attack at Deir Yassin proves controversial in the discussion of the Israel-Palestine Conflict. While the Haganah (the Jewish colonial army that predated formation of the Israeli Defense Force) did have forces involved in the Deir Yassin killings, the operation also included the Irgun and the Stern Gang. The Jewish leadership in Palestine later sent an apology telegrammed to King Abdullah of Jordan. 

 A subsequent letter to the editor submitted to the New York Times, which included Albert Einstein as a signatory, decried the attack at Deir Yassin and warned the US against supporting “fascist” Jewish terrorist groups in Palestine.

Exhibit: Original handwritten and signed letter by Albert Einstein included in the Promised Land Museum archives

Eyewitness Accounts

The scene at Deir Yassin was later recorded by an eyewitness, Jacques de Reynier, the head of the International Red Cross emergency delegation. On April 10th, Reynier was stopped on a  road in Jerusalem by members of the Irgun, who refused him entry to the village. He bravely pushed through their lines and into homes.

According to Chacour’s Blood Brothers, he found “bodies cold. Here the ‘cleaning up’ had been done with machine-guns, then hand grenades. It had been finished off with knives, anyone could see that….as I was about to leave, I heard something like a sigh….it was a little girl of ten, mutilated by a hand grenade, but still alive…the native Jewish people were shocked and disgusted. In tears, they protested that such things violated their ancient beliefs. Upon hearing the news about Deir Yassin, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem flew into a fury.”

Operation Hiram

Many of us have been taught that Jewish forces never terrorized, raped, or looted Palestinians. However, on October 29th, 1948, Israeli soldiers killed between 50 and 70 Palestinians in Safsaf. Reports include the rape of several women, including a 14-year-old girl. After the massacre, residents fled the village in small groups and Safsaf became the first village overtaken in Operation Hiram, which had the goal of obtaining control of Galilee.

Over 400 Palestinian towns and villages expelled.
Deir Yassin and Safsaf were not the only villages attacked by Israeli forces.
Palestinian sources document over 400 towns from which the Palestinian population was expelled.

Did the depopulation of 400 Palestinian villages happen through 700,000 Palestinian men, women, and children simply deciding to abandon their beloved homes because of hatred of Jewish people?  Is that plausible?  Contrary to what is often taught about the founding of Israel, Palestinian families were forced from their homes and villages by Jewish forces.

The Haganah War Plans

The History of the Haganah and its Hebrew text describes plans for the expulsion of the entire population of villages, the destruction of the villages, and the mining of the debris.

The Haganah war plans included specific mention of the expulsion of entire Palestinian village populations —men women and children— the destruction of the villages, and the mining of the debris. Text calls for the “destruction of villages (setting fire to, blowing up, and planting mines in the debris), especially those population centers which are difficult to control continuously. Mounting search and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the village and conducting a search inside it. In the event of resistance, the armed force must be destroyed and the population must be expelled outside the borders of the state.”

Israeli Jewish historians Benny Morris and Avi Shlaim describe how much of the expulsions of Palestinian families occurred in and before April 1948, before any Arab armies declared war in May 1948.  While they do not say that there was a predetermined plan to rid Palestine of Palestinian families, they make clear that, by ordering the capture of Arab cities and the destruction of villages, Plan D both permitted and justified the forcible expulsion of Arab civilian families from their homes and villages.

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) published a contemporary report in 1948 that documented the causes of Palestinian flight. According to the IDF, the leading factor causing Palestinian families to flee was “direct, hostile Jewish operations against Arab settlements.” Other factors included the operations of Jewish terrorist groups and the effects of hostile IDF operations on nearby Arab settlements.

The Cause of Population Movement

In a report analyzing the IDF, Benny Morris writes that, “the Intelligence Branch then gives a detailed breakdown and explanation of these factors, stressing that ‘without doubt, hostile operations were the main cause of the movement of population.’”

The wave of emigration in each district, explains the report, followed hard upon “the increase and expansion of our operations in that district.” May brought a major increase in large-scale Jewish operations, so it also witnessed the widespread mass emigration of Arabs. The report states that the departure of the British…of course helped the evacuation, but it appears that the British withdrawal freed our hands for action more than it influenced the emigration directly.”

The full article by Benny Morris analyzing the IDF report can be found here.

Furthermore, Benny Morris’ reports In The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, that the refugee problem “was caused by attacks by Jewish forces on Arab villages and towns and by the inhabitant’ fear of such attacks, compounded by expulsions, atrocities, and rumors of atrocities—and by the crucial Israeli Cabinet decision in June 1948 to bar a refugee return.”

An excerpt from Benny Morris’ report.

 The Effects of Psychological Warfare

Israeli historian Benny Morris often wrote about the effect of psychological warfare on Palestinian flight. Whether it was due to broadcasted threats of death or rape, word of the fall of neighboring villages, or surprise attacks, psychological warfare was a tactic used by the IDF and the Haganah in the expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes.

In Righteous Victims, Morris states that “the fall of Safad and the flight of its inhabitants shocked the Arab villages of the Hula Valley, to the north. [Palmah commander Yigal] Allon launched a psychological warfare campaign (‘If you don’t flee immediately, you will all be slaughtered, your daughters will be raped,’ and the like, and almost all the villagers fled to Lebanon and Syria.”

In “The Causes and Character of the Arab Exodus from Palestine: the Israel Defense Forces Intelligence Branch Analysis of June 1948,” Morris writes that “one must again emphasize that the report and its significance pertain only up to 1 June 1948, by which time some 300,000400,000 Palestinians had left their homes. A similar number was to leave the Jewish-held areas in the remaining months of the war. The circumstances of the second half of the exodus — during the IDF conquest of Lydda and Ramle, and the central Galilee in July, the northern Negev in October and the northern Galilee in OctoberNovember — are a different story.”

On psychological warfare, Morris writes that “the Intelligence Branch notes that it was not always the dimensions of a Jewish attack which counted: it was ‘mainly the psychological’ factors which affected the rate of emigration. The report cites ‘surprise,’ protracted artillery barrages and use of loudspeakers broadcasting threatening messages as factors which had a strong influence in precipitating flight. An attack on one village or town often affected its neighbours. ‘The evacuation of a certain village because of an attack by us prompted in its wake many neighbouring villages [to flee]’, states the report”.

Use of Force

This 1979 New York Times article discusses Israel’s censorship of Yitzhak Rabin’s account of the expulsion of 50,000 Palestinian civilian men, women, and children from the towns of Ramle and Lydda. “‘Driving out’ is a term with a harsh ring,” Rabin writes in his original manuscript. 

“Psychologically, this was one of the most difficult actions we undertook,” Rabin continues. “The population of Lod did not leave willingly. There was no way of avoiding the use of force and warning shots in order to make the inhabitants march the 10 to 15 miles to the point where they met up with the legion. The inhabitants of Ramle watched and learned the lesson.” 

Is the use of force when drawing Palestinians from their homes a primary theme here? 

The author of the New York Times article, David Shipler, writes that Mr. Rabin’s account is confirmed and “does not differ markedly from others.”

Source: New York Times, David K. Shipler. See the full article here 

Count Folke Bernadotte

During World War II, Bernadotte had served as vice chairman of the Swedish Red Cross.  Just before the end of the war, he had led a rescue operation transporting inmates from German concentration camps to hospitals in Sweden. Accounts say that around 15,000 people were taken to safety in the “white buses” of the Bernadotte expedition, among them a few thousand Jews.

Count Folke Bernadotte later became the Swedish U.N. mediator assigned to deal with the 1948 crisis in Palestine. Regarding Palestinian refugees, he wrote in his Progress Report submitted to the U.N. that it was not “yet known what the policy of the Provisional Government of Israel with regard to the return of Arab refugees will be when the final terms of settlement are reached. It is, however, undeniable that no settlement can be just and complete if recognition is not accorded to the right of the Arab refugee to return to the home from which he has been dislodged by the hazards and strategy of the armed conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine.”

Count Folke Bernadotte writes further that “the majority of these refugees have come from territory which, under the Assembly resolution of 29 November, was to be included in the Jewish State. The exodus of Palestinian Arabs resulted from panic created by fighting in their communities, by rumours concerning real or alleged acts of terrorism, or expulsion. It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine, and, indeed, at least offer the threat of permanent replacement of the Arab refugees who have been rooted in the land for centuries.”

However, many Palestinians were denied the right to return to their homes as Jewish immigrants flowed into Palestine. It might be important to ask — what are principles of elemental justice that were broken in acts of expulsion? Bernadotte was later assassinated in Jerusalem by one of the Jewish terror organizations, the LEHI (Stern Gang), an organization led in part by future Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Return to Iqrit: how one Palestinian village is being reborn

Waging Peace: A Memorable Conversation with Father Elias Chacour

Palestine Remembered

The Violence of the War Years Continues

The war years differ drastically from the previous atmosphere in the Holy Land where Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived alongside one another in peace. Unfortunately, the violence of the war years had no end in sight as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be a pertinent, yet unresolved, social issue today.

Interested in learning about the years after 1948 in Israel and Palestine?

Check out our next exhibit: Terror + Conflicts.

And visit the Promised Land Museum to see how you can host an exhibit.



Palestinian families were violently expelled from their homes and villages. Was it intentional? Some would say yes, some might say no. In this instance, does it matter? 

Jewish morality teaches us that if parents take their children and flee war, they should be allowed to return to their homes–irrespective of their religion and irrespective of the people’s motivations who created the conditions that led to the family fleeing violence.

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Previously a peaceful region, Palestine would see far more violence, including terror attacks by both Arab and Jewish groups.