Israeli History/Challenges for a New State

Israel faced many problems in between 1949 and 1967. The ethnic cleansing of Arab towns had (temporarily) set aside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but impoverished Jewish refugees from angered Arab nations created an entirely new set of ethnic problems, and the deeply divided government was barely functioning.

Jews in Arab Countries


More than a thousand Jews were killed in antisemitic rioting during the 1940s in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Yemen which helped trigger the mass exodus of Jews from Arab countries. The Law of Return provided all Jews the legal right to immigrate to Israel and immediately become citizens of Israel if they choose to do so. the only exception are those whom the Minister of Interior considers a threat to the public health, welfare, or security of the state

The Right to Return was not written until 1950, but hours after the declaration of independence, olim came flooding in. There were 100,000 in the first six months, then over 250,000 in 1949.[1]

June 1941: Mufti of Jerusalem, who had fled Palestine, inspired the pro-Nazi coup of Rashid Ali. this sparked rioting and a pogrom in Baghdad. Jews had lived in Iraq for 2,700 years. armed Iraqi mobs with the complicity of the police and the army . murdered 180 Jews and wounded almost 1,000. additional outbreaks 1946-49. after establishment of Israel in 1948, Zionism became a capital. In 1950, Iraqi Jews were permitted to leave the country within a year, provided that they forfeit their citizenship. 1951 the property of Jews who emigrated from Iraq was frozen and economic restrictions were placed on the remaining Jews.

From 1949-1951 Jews were evacuated from Iraq in Operations Ezra and Nehemiah. another 20,000 were smuggled out through Iran. 1952 Iraq's government barred Jews from emigrating. Jews were publicly hanged after false charges of hurling a bomb at the Baghdad office of the US Information Agency

1944 after Syria gained independence from France, the new government banned Jewish emigration to Palestine. the teaching of Hebrew in Jewish schools was severely restricted. attacks escalated and boycotts were called against Jewish businesses. 1947 after partition, Arab mobs in Aleppo destroyed the 2,500 year old community. scores of Jews were killed. over 200 homes, shops, and synagogues were destroyed. thousands of Jews illegally fled Syria to go to Israel. Jews only minority group whose passports identified their religion. freedom of movement was severely restricted. Jews who tried to flee faced either the death penalty of imprisonment at hard labor. Jews could not have government or bank jobs. Jews could not acquire telephones of driver's licenses, and could not purchase property. Jewish bank accounts were frozen. the Jewish cemetery in Damascus was paved over to build an airport road. Jewish schools were closed and handed over to Muslims

It's been said that there were cases of rape in Ramlah. I can forgive rape, but I will not forgive other acts which seem to me much worse. When they enter a town and forcibly remove rings from the fingers and jewelry from someone's neck, that's a very grave matter... Many are guilty of it.
Mordehai Bentov, recorded in Minutes of Cabinet Meetings on 4 July 1948.

Across the world, from Burma to America, Jews were emigrated to Israel by diplomats and Mossad agents-- usually at expensive prices as part of an economic deal. These early immigration movements did not distinguish between ethnicities such as Sephardic and Arabic, focusing only on the political and economic situations of the Jewish populations of each country, and emphasizing communities in distress. In Morocco, for example, the Jewish Agency found an entire village that had gone blind due to trachoma.[2] Some countries did not want their Jews to leave at all. In these instances Mossad arranged secret smuggling operations on cargo boats, camels, and caravans. However, Mossad also extracted profits from Zionist agencies for each new olim, and made a habit of filling every boat to capacity and bringing in olim ahead of schedule. By 1952 it was disbanded and replaced with an official Secret Service.[3]

Those from Europe, including Romania and Hungary, have no pioneering spirit at all. They expect a life of luxury and will live only in the city. [They] do not learn the language. ... Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians, and Tripolitanians: Most of them speak Hebrew, having belonged to pioneering, Zionist movements (especially the Iraqis and Iranians). Their ambition is to live on the land, in some cases even in kibbutzim.
—Ruth Klieger, report to the Prime Minister's Office

Immigration to the new state of Israel rose to four times the maximum estimated capacity. Survivors of pogroms came to Israeli ports only to be offloaded into squalid camps, and ironically deloused with sprays of DDT, akin to Nazi concentration camps. Medical assistance was nonexistent, floors were covered in human waste, food portions were meager-- sometimes only bread, milk, and a few olives-- and inhabitants were kept in the camps for months on end. Once immigrants left the camps, the kibbutzim and other agricultural systems were also overwhelmed with applicants and trainees. When the camps were shut down in 1949, olim were scattered around Israel to work for their food.[4]

Operation Magic Carpet


But Israel was similarly unprepared for another influx of olim from Yemen, Operation Magic Carpet; a doctor described 12,000 starving immigrants, many of them naked or half-naked, crowded into a "transit" site that was meant to hold 500 without as much as a tent to protect them from the elements. This reflected not only the slow progress of systematizing aliyah but also the conditions in Yemen, where child mortality was estimated at 80 percent, most of the population was constantly sick, and surviving children were quickly married to other Jews to prevent them from being kidnapped by the sultan and converted to Islam.[5] While Israel was not an immediate improvement over Yemen, Zionist agencies quickly began discussing an investnment in the future of the Yemenites, aiming to improve literacy, women's rights, health and social conditions. It was written in a Jewish Agency pamphlet that "we must not allow them to become ... the shoeshine boys of our society."[6]

Even years after the fact, opinions about the outcome of Operation Magic Carpet were mixed:

There were Yemenite children who knew entire chapters of the Bible by heart, and I, a Hebrew teacher, taught them as if they didn't know any Hebrew, because their accent differed from mine. And what did I teach them?--The cat sat on the mat. I did them harm. Today I feel that it was a disaster, not only to the immigrants but to the entire community.
—Rabbi Kalmann Kahana[7]
Nowhere in the world has there ever been such an educational enterprise, in such dimensions ... an entire educational system was created for them out of nothing, and it was done at a time of economic hardship, in the midst of an international struggle and a military threat against the very existence the state. That's what that was!
—Dr. Baruch Ben-Yehuda[8]



Government formed in 1948 included representatives from all the various segments of the Zionist movement, religious factions, and anti-Zionists. to assure this unity, secular leaders had to make concessions guaranteeing that aspects of Jewish law would be institutionalized in the new government such as: observance of Shabbos and dietary laws.

A constitution was first proposed in 1949. Leftists objected on the basis that the document did not declare the basis of the State to be Socialism. Religious factions feared that a written constitution would cement the values of secular Zionism. They argued that constitution was not necessary because the Torah was in essence the constitution

U.S. officials were concerned that Israel might not be a democracy, as many Jews came from parts of the Soviet Union, and a large percentage of these were associated with socialist political parties and ideologies. American policymakers feared Israel would become a Soviet ally - particularly those policymakers hostile toward Zionism in the first place. The Soviet Union was key to the adoption of the partition resolution in the United Nations. The USSR was also second nation to recognize Israel, after the US.

Israeli government pursued some socialist economic policies: state ownership of major institutions -airline -telephone company -utilities. But Israel was committed to the western democratic camp and had rejected communism. As a result, the USSR then turned on Israel and supported Israel's enemies politically, economically, and militarily


   A. Before UN partition vote, Golda Meir was sent by Ben-Gurion to met with 
      King Abdullah
      i. they agreed Jews would not object to Adbullah annexing the area 
         allocated for the Arab State
      ii. Meir met Abdullah in Amman with the hope that Jordan would not 
          enter the impending war
      iii. Abdullah told Meir he allied himself with the other Arab states
   B. Jordan in Jerusalem
      i. Jordan heavily subsidized by British government and its army
      ii. Arab Legion was trained, supported and led by British officers
      iii. this Arab force was the one that the Jews were not able to expel 
           during the War of Independence
      iv. Transjordan was in control of a large amount of territory west of 
          the Jordan river AKA the West Bank and half of the city of 
          Jerusalem including the Old City
         a. Abdullah made it clear that the Jews were not allowed access to 
            holy places like the Kotel
         b. UN, Vatican, and other who had expressed concern as to the future 
            of Jerusalem and with it the freedom of all to worship there soon 
            did not keep interest
      v. Abdullah's decision to annex parts of Palestine that he conquered 
         angered fellow Arabs
         a. Abdullah ignored this and renamed the area the Hashemite Kingdom 
            of Jordan after his family the Hashemites
      vi. Israel doubled its poplation through immigration as Jordan did the 
          same by unifying the territory on both sides of the Jordan River
   C.  Interesting to Note
      i. on May 11, 1949 Israel was admitted as the 59th member on the UN
      ii. Jordan's application was vetoed by the Soviet Union two years 
          earlier because the Russians believed Abdullah was a British puppet

Arab Boycott

   A. declared on Dec. 9, 1945 by the Arab League Council
      i. stated "Jewish products and manufactured goods shall be considered 
         undesirable to the Arab Countries."
      ii. this is before Israel was declared a State and even before the UN 
          voted for partition
      iii. Jewish was the term used as opposed to Zionist
   B. The boycott had three categories
      1. boycott prohibits direct trade between Israel and the Arab nations
      2. companies doing business in Israel
      3. blacklisting of firms that trade with other companies doing business 
         in Israel
         a. Coca-Cola was sold in Israel so Arabs countries boycotted the 
         b. Pepsi stayed away from Israel and continued to do business in 
   C. Economics in Israel
      i. at this time Israel did not have the resources to easily and quickly 
         absorb so many immigrants
      ii. years later many immigrants who grew up in ma'abarot -camps of tin 
          shacks and tents- harbored resentment towards the government for 
          its failure to ease their transition
   D. 1977 US Congress Prohibited US Companies From Cooperating With The Arab 
      i. President Carter
      ii. Carter mentioned that the boycott affected Jewish members of the 
          American society and that it was the antagonist to free trade
   E. US Foreign Policy
      i. Truman replaced by Eisenhower
        a. after 1948 War, Truman began a modest foreign aid program for 
           Israel, Ike quickly reduced that amount
        b. Ike used the aid to extract concessions from the Israelis 
           throughout his term
            -for example, 1955 payments were suspended to force Israel to 
             stop work on a hydroelectric project on the Jordan river
       c. Ike refused to sell weapons to Israel
       d. when Israel formally moved the foreign ministry and other       
          government institutions to the capital, Jerusalem, Eisenhower 
          criticized the decision and refused to move the US Embassy from Tel 
          Aviv - where it still remains!! Petition
   F. Eisenhower's New Middle East Policy Would Influence American 
      Decision-Makers For The Remainder Of The Century
      a. Ike decided that the Middle East was vital to American security 
         interests because of the oil reserves
      b. Ike also worried about the spread of Communism in Middle East
   G. Building of Alliances in the Middle East 
      a. Baghdad Pact 1955 - pro-Western regimes in Turkey and Iraq
      b. later that year Great Britain, Iran, and Pakistan joined creating 
         the Middle East Treaty Organization which later became the Central 
         Treaty Organization
      c. US wanted Egypt to become part of the Alliance
         -US prepared to offer Nasser arms and aid if his country joined
         -British opposed to this because of Suez
      d. Nasser actively opposed the alliance and began undermining it
      e. US did not join the Baghdad Pact
      f. Aswan Dam - 1955 Eisenhower offered to help Egypt build the Aswan 
         -Nasser felt the project would give outsiders too much influence 
          over his economy
         -eventually Nasser decided to accept the offer in July 1956
         -July 19 US formally withdrew its offer
      g. a few days after Nasser learned of US withdrawal, Nasser nationalized 
         the Suez Canal
         -France and Great Britain were furious
         -US condemned Nasser but cautioned its allies against military  

Suez Canal

   A. Egypt Closed the Suez Canal to Israeli Shipping After Signing the 
      Armistice Agreement
      i. August 9, 1949 UN Mixed Armistice Commission upheld Israel's 
         complaint that Egypt was illegally blocking the canal
      ii. September 1, 1967 the Security Council ordered Egypt to open the 
          canal to Israeli shipping
      iii. Egypt refused to comply
   B. Egypt "attacks" Israel
      i. 1955 Nasser began to import weapons from the Soviet Bloc to build 
         his arsenal for a confrontation with Israel
      ii. in the short-term Nasser used a different tactic announced on 
          August 31, 1955 "Egypt has decided to dispatch her heroes, the 
          disciples of Pharaoh and the sons of Islam, and they will cleanse 
          the land of Palestine... There will be no peace on Israel's border 
          because we demand vengeance, and vengeance is Israel's death."
      iii. Egypt sent fedayeeh - Arab terrorists - trained and equipped by 
           Egyptian Intelligence to engage in hostile action on the border 
           and infiltrate Israel to commit acts of sabotage and murder
      iv. the fedayeen mostly operated from bases in Jordan so that Jordan 
          would feel the brunt of Israel's retaliation
      v. these terrorist attacks violated the armistice agreement yet the UN 
         Security Council condemned Israel for its counter-attacks
      vi. 1953 Israel had created a secret unit to retaliate against the 
         -it infiltrated their bases and struck both preemptively and 
         -Unit 101, as it was called, was led by Ariel Sharon
      vii. Egyptian blockade of Straits of Tiran - Israel's only supply route 
           with Asia
      viii. Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal in July, 1956
      ix. October 25, 1956 Egypt signed a tripartite agreement with Syria and 
          Jordan which put Nasser in command of the three armies
   B. Canal Plans
      i. British and French not happy with Nasser over situation
      ii. the French had grown close to new Israeli government; politically, 
          militarily, and diplomatically
         -French became Israel's primary source of arms for about a decade 
          and provided Israel key elements that let Israel develop a nuclear 
         -British still allied with Jordan and not friendly with Israel
      iii. French decided that they could use Israel's fear of Egyptian 
           aggression and the continuing blockade as a pretext for their own 
           strike against Nasser
      iv. British decided to join in
      v. the three countries agreed on a plan whereby Israel would land 
         paratroopers near the Canal and send its armor across the Sinai 
         dessert. The British and French troops would be deployed to 
         "protect" the canal
      vi. October 29, 1956 Israel attacked Egypt eighth days before the US 
          presidential election
      vii. more than 100,000 Israeli soldiers were mobilized in less than 72 
           hours and the air force was fully operational within 43. 
           Paratroopers landed in the Sinai and Israeli forces quickly 
           advanced unopposed toward the Suez Canal then halted in compliance 
           with the demands of England and France
      viii. the Egyptians ignored the Anglo-French ultimatum to withdraw 
            because they were asked to retreat from the Sinai to the west 
            bank of the canal, whereas the Israelis were permitted to stay 
            only 10 miles east of the canal
      ix. US sponsored a Security Resolution calling for an immediate Israeli
          withdrawal on October 30
      x. England and France vetoed the resolution
      xi. the next day France and England launched air operations, bombing 
          Egyptian airfields near Suez. Israeli forces continued fighting 
          after this. The IDF's armored corps swept across the dessert 
          capturing the entire Sinai peninsula by November 5
      xii. Nov. 5 British and French paratroops landed near Port Said and 
           amphibious ships dropped commandos onshore. British troops 
           captured Port Said and advanced within 25 miles of Suez city 
           before the British government abruptly agreed to a cease-fire
      xiii. by the end of the fighting, Israel had the Gaza Strip and had 
            advanced as far as Sharm al-Sheikh along the Red Sea
      ivx. a total of 231 Israeli soldiers died in the fighting

Weapons to Israel

   A. US/Kennedy
      i. main source of weapons to Israel was France
      ii. US encouragement of 3rd party arms suppliers that had enabled 
          Israel to meet its defense needs
      iii. US was supplying weapons directly like recoilless rifles to 
           Israel, but secretly
      iv. not until 1962 did Israel receive its first major weapons system 
          from US
          a. Kennedy agreed to sell HAWK anti-aircraft missiles
          b. state department opposed this but Kennedy justified this because 
             Nasser had been supplied long-range bombers from the Soviet 
          c. the HAWK system required IDF soldiers to be given extensive 
             training in the US and that spare parts be supplied to Israel
   B. Johnson
      i. almost immediately after inheriting the presidency, Johnson was 
         pressured by Israelis and lobbyists to supply Israel with tanks and 
      ii. 1964 Johnson Administration began to consider a tank sale, but the 
          Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that Israel had no need for tanks
          a. they felt US should place a higher priority on restraining the 
             flow of weapons to the Middle East
          b. Joint Chiefs of Staff said that if it was decided to sel tanks 
             then they should only be sold as replacements for obsolete tanks 
             and that they be supplied discreetly
          c. this became impossible when...
      iii. 1965 is was revealed that US had been indirectly supplying arms to 
           Israel via West Germany since 1962 under the terms of a secret 
           agreement made 1960
         a. Arab Nations resounded to this by threatening to recognize East 
            Germany and by pressuring West Germany to halt sales
         b. US stepped in to fulfill the remainder of the contract
      iv. US policy was of even-handedness
         a. it had a similar sale of tanks to Jordan
         b. the administration did not supply large amounts of weapons to 
            either the Arabs or Israelis
         c. Johnson did not want to provide one state with a military 
            advantage over another
      v. February 1966 the US State Department announced the sale of 200 
         Patton Tanks to Israel
      vi. then in May it announced a new agreement for Skyhawk jet bombers to 
          be supplied to Israel
         a. first sale of offensive weapons to Israel
         b. public acknowledgement that US was willing and actually providing 
            the weapons

Beginning of PLO

   A. 1963 Palestine Liberation Organization, started by the Arab League
      i. the Palestine Liberation Army was established by Ahmed Shukeiri when   
         he was asked to wage a terror campaign
      ii. the PLO has different groups like
         a. Fatah - Yasir Arafat's group
         b. the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
      iii. 1964 during a meeting for the first Palestinian Congress the PLO 
           formally came into being as an effort to give a voice to the 
           Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon
      iv. Nasser had some influence over these factions
      v. the key articles laid out in the Palestine National Charter or 
         Palestinian Covenant called for the destruction of Israel
   B. Fighting
      i. 1965 35 raids conducted in Israel
      ii. 1966 41
      iii. first 4 months of 1967 37 attacks
      iv. targets of these attacks were always civilians
      v. the majority of the attacks were from Palestinian guerillas entering 
         Israel from Jordan, the Gaza Strip, and Lebanon
         a. the orders for these attacks were coming from Cairo and Damascus
         b. Nasser's objective was to harass the Israelis and to undermine 
            King Hussein's regime in Jordan
      vi. Hussein viewed the PLO as a direct and indirect threat to his power
         a. he closed the PLO offices in Jerusalem in 1967 and arrested many 
            of the group's members


   A. Syria became more hostile after the breakup of the United Arab Republic
      i. the Syrian army used the Golan Heights, being 3,000 feet above the 
         Galilee to shell Israeli farms and villages
      ii. in 1965 and 1966 Syria's attacks gew so frequent that children
          living in Kibutzim in the Huleh Valley had to sleep in bomb 
   B. Israel repeatedly protested Syria's bombardment to the UN Mixed 
      Armistice Commission
      i. the UN Mixed Armistice Commission was in charge of policing the 
      ii. nothing was done to stop Syrian aggression
      iii. Israel instead was condemned by the United Nations when it 
   C. Retailiation
      i. April 7, 1967 Israeli planes shot down 6 Syrian fighter planes - 
         these Syrian planes MiGs were supplied by the Soviet Union
      ii. soon after the Soviets - who had been providing military and 
          economic assistance to Syria and Egypt - gave Damascus information 
          alleging a massive Israeli military buildup in preparation for an 
         a. Israel denied this claim repeatedly
         b. Syria decided to invoke a defense treaty with Egypt and asked 
            Nasser to come to its aid
   D. Prewar
      i. May 15, Israel's Independence Day, Egyptian troops began moving into 
         the Sinai and congregating near the Israeli border
      ii. by May 18, Syrian troops were prepared for battle along the Golan 
      iii. May 16, Nasser ordered the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) that was 
           stationed in the Sinai since 1956 to withdraw
         a. Secretary General U. Thant complied with the demand
         b. Thant did not bring the matter to the attention of the General 
            Assembly like he was supposed to do
      iv. May 22, Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to all Israeli shipping 
          and all ships traveling to Eilat
         a. this cut off Israel's only supply route with Asia
         b. it also stopped the flow of oil from Israel's main supplier, Iran
         c. President Johnson, of the US, expressed the belief that the 
            blockade was illegal and tried unsuccessfully to test it
         d. Johnson also advised Israel not to take any military action
      v. Nasser challenged Israel to fight almost daily after the blockade
      vi. May 30, King Hussein of Jordan signed a defense pact with Egypt
      vii. President Abdur Rahman Aref of Iraq stated "The existence of 
           Israel is an error which be be rectified. This is our opportunity 
           to wipe out the ignoming which has been with us since 1948. Our 
           goal is clear - to wipe Israel off the map."
      viii. June 4 Iraq joined the military alliance with Egypt, Jordan, and 
      ix. the Arab forces mobilized comprised of ~465,000 troops
         i. more than 2,800 tanks
         ii. 800 aircraft circled Israel
      x. right before the war Johnson warned that "Israel will not be alone 
         unless it decided to go alone."
      xi. Israel needed the element of surprise in order to win
         a. June 5, the order was given to attack Egypt


  1. Segev 1986, p.95.
  2. Segev 1986, p.162
  3. Segev 1986, pp.95-113
  4. Segev 1986, pp.117-138
  5. Segev 1986, pp.182-185
  6. Segev 1986, p.187
  7. 229
  8. 229