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on April 5, 2003
Osprey, a well-known publisher of militaria: campaign histories, troop studies, equipment analysis, etc., has brought this fine history of the 1948 War for Israeli Independence. The book uses another title for the conflict: The Palestine War of 1948, which is preferred in some British academic circles. Efraim Karsh is an Israeli academic working in the United Kingdom. He has extensively written covering different aspects of Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The book is a concise (92 page) study of the conflict covering the rising paramilitary action before the British withdrawal until the eventual ceasefires declared between Israel and the Arab invaders. There is some analysis also of the Palestinian-Arab refugee issue as well as early Arab and Jewish state building. The real jewels of the book, of course, are its' many beautiful photographs, gorgeous illustrations, and helpful maps and graphs. A very useful timeline or chronology is also included. Karsh does include a bibliography, but doesn't use footnotes to reference his writing. His bibliography includes a wide variety of authors including Arabs, Israelis, anti-Zionists, and Zionists: Musa Alami, Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, Chaim Herzog, Efraim Karsh, Issa Khalaf, Rashid Khalidi, Walid Khalidi, Jon and David Kimche, Dan Kurzman, Walter Laqueur, and Natanel Lorch.
Another of the book's attractive aspects is that the book includes some oft forgotten details of the war. Some of these details include the fact that the people we now call Palestinians identified themselves as parts of a greater Arab nation rather than an individual people seeking individual sovereignty. Neither does Karsh forgot to include that the Jews have had a continuous presence in Israel for thousands of years. Many writers gloss over this fact and call the Israelis colonists, settlers, or foreign peoples. They are not. Israel is their home and has been for thousands of years. Karsh also writes about the early connections between the Nazis and the Arabs in Israel / Palestine.
I highly recommend this book as an excellent introductory volume to the 1948 War for Israeli Independence.
Review by: Maximillian Ben Hanan
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on April 17, 2004
Karsh is perhaps the single best historian on the events surrounding Israel's independence in 1948 and any work of his is highly recommended. As far as the comments of the reader below go, Karsh wrote an entire book, "Fabricating Israeli History: The 'New Historians'" that documents not only the inaccuracies but the emendations, misquotations, mistranslations and outright lies of the likes of Avi Shlaim. The latest salvo in this contest between true historians like Karsh and politically motivated absurdists like Shlaim can be viewed in a letter exchange between Karsh and Benny Morris in the March 2004 issue of Commentary Magazine available on-line in the Commentary Magazine website archive (though you may have to pay for access). Anyone considering the merits of Karsh's work would do well to start there. The point worth bearing in mind is that evenhandedness is fine as far it goes, but only so long as it does not result in giving equal time to facts and to distortions. Should, say, a scholar of the Holocaust who took the time out to write an entire book debunking Holocaust deniers give space to their distortions in a general introduction to the Holocaust? And while for complex psychological reasons painting liberal democratic and humane Western nations as demonic while refashioning rebarbative people and governments as noble victims gives comfort to many on the Left, it makes for no more valid history than the tendentious rantings of certain professors of English and Comparative Literature or Linguisitics about matters outside their fields of expertise. If you want to read lies too, fiction is often enjoyable. But don't miss Karsh if you'd actually like the facts. Oh, and as to the shock expressed by the reviewer below about the lack of footnotes: This book is a general introduction, a volume in a series of slender books on important wars put out by an English publishing house. There are no footnotes to any books in the series. The decision not to have footnotes, one would imagine, is likely that of the editors of the series, not the individual authors.
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on October 29, 2002
An absolutely compelling read on the Middle East by Efraim Karsh, the Head of Mediterranean Studies at Kings College, University of London.
Examined in detail are the origins and progressions of the conflict between the Jewish & Arab populations of `British' Mandatory Palestine, prior to the re-birth of the Jewish state in 1948, together with an in-depth study of the subsequent Arab invasion of Israel by the armies of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
The latter invasion of the Jewish state following an Arab decision to reject the UN Resolution calling for the partition of `Palestine' into two independent states, (one Arab & one Jewish with Jerusalem as an `international' city, with all citizens having the right of either Jewish or Arab citizenship).
Efraim Karsh provides excellent background material so relevant to any serious or sincere understanding of this time in history. He makes an essential reference to a direct quotation at the time of the public declaration of Jamal Al-Hussein, the Vice-president of the A.H.C. (Arab High Committee - the effective Palestinian-Arab `government');-
"We are sadly and PERMANENTLY determined to fight to the last man against the existence in our country of ANY Jewish state, no matter how small it is..."
Karsh also quotes with similar relevancy the damning , callous and chilling indictment of the prevalent hatred towards the Jews, still so soon after the Holocaust, when he makes reference to the general public circular of the same Arab High Committee which publicly declared;-
"The Arabs have taken into their own hands, the FINAL SOLUTION of the Jewish problem. The problem will be solved only in blood and fire. The Jews will be driven out."
The subsequent ensuing conflict based clearly upon an intended genocide resulting in the loss of some 1% of the fledgling Jewish states' population.
In further illustration of the context of the struggles in this land, Karsh proceeds to illustrate that the roots of this conflict and unrest stretch way back to the Roman destruction of Jewish statehood in the Land that subsequently became known later as `Palestine'.
Karsh declares that, despite having had a continuous presence in their own homeland without at any time having this presence severed, the Jews became a numerical minority under a long succession of foreign occupiers during the next 1,900 years or so. Such foreign occupiers including the Byzantines, the Seljuk Turks, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottoman Turks, the British and the Arabs. Highlighted is the fact that, despite these periods of foreign occupation, the Jews never gave up their claim/right to their homeland. Facts illustrated by Karsh by long forgotten or sidestepped by the international community.
Returning to the time of the British Mandate, Karsh also documents the Jewish immigration into Palestine and the treatment of what the British classed as `illegal immigrants' by the British forces occupying Palestine at that time. The provision of British concentration camps on Cyprus for those Jews `caught' and the Arab-Jewish-British struggles in the Land also being demonstrated.
Details and maps and plentifully provided and commendable detail is included relating to both sides in the conflict, plus the inevitable consequences & conclusions pertaining to the conflict itself are studied.
Karsh shows another oft-forgotten factor in that around the time of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which supported a Jewish homeland in then Palestine, resident Arabs actually welcomed the moves. Palestinian Arab residents having been recently subject to Ottoman rule and most of these Arab residents viewed themselves as subjects of the Ottoman empire and were themselves totally impervious to the nationalistic tendencies of small `extremist' groups. Hence the increasing Jewish presence of the post First World War years encountered little widespread opposition.
Of course events rapidly changed and Karsh documents these commendably, including how Britain (granted the League of Nations Mandate at San Remo in 1920) reneged on it's agreement to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. Britain, with a stroke of a pen, giving the huge majority of then Palestine to the formation of the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan. Britain, in furtherance of it's policy of Arab appeasement, proceeding to greatly restrict further Jewish immigration into the remnant of Palestine....the rest is history.
This is highly recommended, essential reading on the Palestinian-Israeli issue and is a priceless addition to anyone's library.
Approaching only 100 pages or so, this study is precise, concise and provides easy reference to those who do not wish to delve through enormous lengthy studies.
As one of a relatively new series of books, I can only recommend and encourage Karsh and other authors to publish additional such precise studies in this same series on the just as relevant issues surrounding the 1967 Six Day War, 1973 Yom Kippur War, 1982 Lebanon conflict, plus the Palestinian intifadas and parallel issues.
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on February 8, 2016
This book reminds us of the Balfour declaration in 1917, the Zionist movement to reestablish Israel, the alliance of Palestinian leaders with Nazi's in WWII because of their shared goals of annihilating the Jewish race from the earth, the reluctance of western Europe to flood Palestine with survivors from the holocaust coupled with the determination of some to bring those survivors through the blockade to Palestine. This book by Efraim Karsh provides ample pictures, charts and information supplemented with artwork to provide a solid understanding of the what, where and why of crucial series of battles which have shaped Israel and the Arab states since.
The Essential History series is one of the best Osprey book series. I appreciate the unbiased approach to history which this series consistently displays.
I have over 500 Osprey titles and enjoy reading and benefit from the information contained in the volumes.
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on March 29, 2016
This is an excellent brief historical account which corrects many of the misconceptions about the origins of the Arab-Israel conflict and the Palestinian refugee issue. Harsh demonstrates that the Palestinian Arabs were displaced as a consequence of Arab, not Jewish, aggression, and that many Palestinian Arabs actively participated in the aggression that left them displaced. He also shows how wealthy Palestinians and Palestinian "intellectuals, fled their country voluntarily at the first sign of danger, leaving ordinary Palestinians leaderless and frightened, so that they fled as well. Had the Arab League states and the Palestinian Arab leaders sought a peaceful settlement rather than going to war with the Palestinian Jews, there would have been few if any Palestinian refugees.
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VINE VOICEon August 7, 2004
It is probably impossible at this point in history to write a completely objective history of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the first Arab-Israeli War that it sparked. Most people tend to view either the Israelis or the Palestinians as the victims of aggression, and the other party as responsible for everything that followed from the UN vote on partition in 1947. Efraim Karsh has written an excellent summary of the 1948 War from the Israeli point of view. Pro-Arab readers will not find this account objective, but then there is certainly a paucity of Arab sources which can approach the subject of "the Zionist Entity" (i.e. Israel) with anything like the relative even-handedness that Karsh is able to muster. As far as objectivity goes, Karsh is probably more unfair to the British and the Americans than he is to the Palestinians. Military readers will find this volume useful, but they will notice that the detail on military operations is somewhat superficial. Nevertheless, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Palestine War 1948 is an excellent addition to Osprey's Essential Histories series.

Karsh begins the volume with a well-written that outlines the background to the conflict, stretching from the Britain's 1917 Balfour Declaration that supported the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine, to the 1937 Peel Commission which called for the creation of separate Jewish and Arab states in Palestine to the 1947 UN Partition Plan. Karsh paints the Palestinian Arabs as adamantly opposed to any kind of compromise from the 1920s on, but he fails to note that the Zionists were offered the option of creating a Jewish homeland in less controversial parts of the British Empire and refused it out of hand. The section on the opposing sides is particularly good, but I wish that Osprey would change the format to require a simple table that summarizes the population and troop strength of each side. Karsh is particularly interesting in noting that Arab military operations in Palestine were dominated by Iraqi and Syrian generals and that the Israelis were not as badly out-numbered as often thought. The volume includes ten maps: the Middle East 1948; the UN partition Plan; the Battle for Haifa; the Arab invasion of Israel; the situation after the first truce; Operation "Danny," Operation "Horev," the first Israeli attack on Latrun; Operation "Uvda," the 1949 armistice line. No maps depicting fighting around Jerusalem - an odd omission since much of the fighting took place on the approaches to the city. The bibliography is a bit short for such a controversial subject - only eleven references - and it omits Dupuy's Elusive Victory, which is one of the better military accounts available.

Karsh's narrative of the war itself begins with the Arabs' categorical rejection of any partition and the outbreak of war immediately upon the announcement of the UN partition plan in November 1947. Karsh writes that the Arab states around Palestine - Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Syria - had their own diverse objectives and each wanted to incorporate Palestinian territory into their own countries. It seems that Karsh is suggesting that Palestine was going to get carved up anyway, so the Israelis might as well get their fair share - a bit of a self-justifying rationalization. Karsh also tends to suggest that the Palestinian people did not fight for their own land - that they let other Arabs fight for them and then ran away when things got bad - but this ignores the thousands of Palestinian guerrillas that did harass Israeli lines of communication. Lacking a state and an army, the Palestinians were poorly positioned to conduct large-scale military operations, but Karsh's aspersions on their willingness to fight also lean toward rationalizing the seizure of Palestinian lands. As Karsh sees it, the Israelis had their backs against the wall early in the war as they struggled to sustain supply lines to isolated towns, but when they shifted to an offensive strategy in April 1948 they gained the initiative that led to victory. Karsh sees the Palestinian leadership's decision to evacuate major cities like Haifa as a foolish move that snowballed into more than 500,000 refugees by the end of the war.

While Karsh tends to justify Israel's harsh treatment of the Palestinians by claiming that they didn't fight much and they were going to lose their land anyway, his treatment of the British and the Americans is even more blatantly biased. Karsh avoids mentioning the role of foreigners in shaping Israel's defense force, such as British Colonel Orde Wingate and American Colonel David "Mickey" Marcus. Wingate formed and trained the first Jewish armed units to resist Arab attacks in 1936 these troops would become the Palmach, as well as becoming an ardent Zionist. Marcus arrived in Israeli in May 1948 and was given command of Israeli forces in Jerusalem until he was killed two weeks later; the "Burma Road" mentioned by Karsh was Marcus' idea. While Karsh omits mentioning either Wingate or Marcus, he does frequently mention British indifference to Arab attacks on Israelis, which readers may find mean-spirited. Perhaps if Karsh had mentioned the fact that Jewish terrorists blew up the British headquarters in the King David Hotel in July 1946, killing 91 British, this indifference might have made more sense. Karsh also criticizes the American fear that Israel might become a Marxist state, but then forgets to mention that the first country to recognize Israel was the USSR and the first large arms shipments to Israel came from Czechoslovakia. In 1948, the Arab regimes looked fairly pro-Western, but Israel was suspect in US and British eyes.

As Karsh sees it, Israelis did not so much steal Palestinian land as the Palestinians abandoned their land due to duplicity and betrayal by their own leaders. There are certainly grains of truth in this view, but if it were strictly true, then the Palestinians today would have no reason to continue their struggle against Israel.
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on June 14, 2011
To say that the historiography of the Middle East, above the Israeli -Arab wars has been subject as much vehement dispute as the history of the Middle East would be an incredible understatement. Before beginning this review, it is probably best to briefly look at the historiography of the first Arab-Israeli war in order to place Karsh's work in proper context.

Very broadly speaking, just as there is one school of thought for whom Israel can do no right and the Palestinians no wrong, and another which that Israel can do no wrong and the Palestinians no right, there two schools of thought relating to the genesis of Israel. One sees the establishment of the Jewish state as a brutal colonialist inclusion which can was only effected through the ethnic cleansing of the Arab population. The other sees the foundation of Israel as the rightful return of Jewish sovereignty over land which many Jews feel a deep spiritual connection to, and argues that the Palestinians were not expelled, but instead fled in 1947-49. The latter view was the dominant one in Israel for until the 1980s when the so-called "New Historians" emerged to challenge that narrative, and essentially argued that the Palestinian version of massive expulsions is indeed correct. This is more than a mere academic as anyone who follows contemporary Middle East politics knows that one of the most hottest issues in the Arab-Israeli dispute is over the Palestinian demand for a "right of return", namely that all of the Palestinian refugees and their descendants should be allowed to return to their ancestral land. Perhaps for this reasons, the battle between the "New Historians" and the traditionalists has been one of the most bitterly fought out historiographical disputes of our time. Major Efraim Karsh, an Israeli historian very much belongs to the traditionalist camp, and his book is an excellent introduction to the Israeli orthodox (in the historical sense) view of the 1947-49 war.

As an introduction in general to the first Arab-Israeli, this book will be hard to excel. Well illustrated with maps and photos, written with verve and authority, Karsh gives a masterly summary of the issues, the forces, the fighting, and the legacy of the first and in many ways most important of the Arab-Israeli wars. Surprisingly, given its importance, there is little written in English about the 1948 war, and Karsh fills a huge gap with his book. There is little doubt as to whose side Karsh is on, but it is hard to disagree with his contention the principle reason for the outbreak of the war rested with the Arab leaders who rather foolishly chose to reject the UN partition plan of 1947 in favour of war. Karsh makes the point, that is often overlooked in many western accounts, that the war did not begin with the end of the British Mandate in May 1948, but rather almost six months earlier within hours of the vote to partition Palestine on November 30, 1947. With that vote, the Mandate slid into civil war. All that merely happened in May 1948 was the internationalization of that war with the founding of Israel on May 14th, and the invasion of the new state by the armies of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and above all, Jordan. Certainly, by devoting space to the civil war in the Palestine Mandate Karsh provides a better context for understanding what it happened afterwards following the founding of Israel. Besides for giving a solid account of the military operations, Karsh also provides a good diplomatic backdrop to the action, especially Britain's pro-Arab campaign to reduce the borders of, if not destroy altogether Israel.

Karsh makes the very important that the most important Jewish asset was the superior organizational strength of the Yishuv, which allowed the Israelis to prevail despite being out-numbered and initially out-gunned. The greatest weakness of not only the Palestinians, but also the entire Arab war effort was the factionalism which saw Arab strength time after time dissipated along national, clan, religious and family lines. Time after time, Karsh demonstrates what truly wretched leadership the Arabs and especially the Palestinians suffered from. It is all together typical that the Palestinians should had two armies in the field because of disagreements amongst their leaders while the Israelis had one. Second, Karsh highlights the second crucial difference was that superior Israeli political and military leadership. The Arab leaders from both a political and military point of view come as this book looking very bad, being as self-interested and petty as they were incompetent and corrupt. It is noteworthy that the most formidable Arab force, the Arab Legion of Jordan was commanded by British officers. By contrast, the officer corps of the Israeli Defence Force displayed (for the most part) the sort of skills and leadership that helped to make the IDF such a legendary force. There are no bad soldiers, only bad officers. Karsh, through his sympathies are with his nation, demonstrates that there were just as many brave Arab as they were brave Israelis, one made the difference was that the courageous Israelis had considerably better officers leading them into battle.

There are some surprisingly omissions such as the neglect of the arms from Czechoslovakia that were so helpful to Israel, the campaign against British rule in 1945-47 and the Altalena incident. What is certainly going to be most contentious about this book is Karsh's claim that there were very few expulsions of Arabs and that most of the Palestinians fled. Even Karsh admits, that there were some expulsions, which he argues were ad hoc military responses to problem of guerrilla warfare instead of a premeditated masterplan for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. The Palestinians and the New Historians claim that the Israel expelled the Arab inhabitants whereas traditionalist Israeli historians claim that the Palestinians fled or were expelled by their own side. The truth lies somewhat between these extremes. It is clear that some of the Palestinians fled and some of the Palestinians were expelled. What is under dispute is whatever the majority of the Palestinians were expelled or not. Karsh makes a strong and convincing case for the latter proposition, but this reviewer does not feel that he is sufficiently qualified to rule in his favor. This is a very fiercely fought historical ground, and this reviewer is simply not an expert enough to navigate his way through this battlefield without stepping on a landmine or two. But without these caveats, this book is still recommend for those seeking an introduction to the subject, through is probably best to read a book by one of the New Historians at the same time for balance.
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on December 29, 2013
This book is part of Osprey's "Essential Histories" series and as such is relatively short, at only 96 pages in length, about a third of which consist of illustration of one type or another. Hence if the reader is seeking an in-depth academic tome this is not the book to purchase. The most that can be hoped for, out of something this short, is a short succinct introduction to the topic. In straight forward set piece battlefield style wars this series does not do a bad job (in general) but when it comes down to examining complicated wars that are civil or guerilla war in nature, they do not do a fantastic job. Given its topic, unfortunately this book is no exception.

One of the major weaknesses the book has is in setting up the picture prior to the war and that lead up to it. There is little mention of the Zionist movement, from the late 1800s to before the war for example. This is particularly important as this movement was akin a European settler movements that moved through the Americas, Australia or South Africa. The movement was similar in that its goal was to, essentially, establish a Jewish homeland in a land that was nearly entirely inhabited by Gentiles. Prior to the turn of the century, for example, the Jewish percentage of the population of this area was tiny. Such a movement would also have to make the indigenous population subservient or, more likely, to lead to their expulsion. This is major omission that Dr. Karsh makes in his book.

DR. Karsh also has spends much space on Arab terrorism against Jews but almost none on Jewish terrorism against either Arabs or the British. He also posits that the Arabs left because their leaders told them to, not that they were forced to or that, even if he had been correct in this supposition, that the nature of the movement to found Israel would not have forced their expulsion. How can any movement to form a new state on another's land not force the expulsion of indigenous population?

The book also makes some numerous contradictory statement. For example, it states (explicitly) British policy was against the formation of the State of Israel for fear of alienating the Arab world. Yet the British enacted the Balfour Act and recognized the state of Israel. This is a direct contradiction. In addition there is no discussion of why the other UN security members (other than the US) did vote for the recognition of Israel (France, China and the Soviet Union). This is another very serious omission as the diplomatic recognition was a very important fact in that nation's establishment.

The last major weakness of the book is that it concentrates on set piece (or relatively set piece) battles when the fact of the matter was that the war was decided, much more importantly, through guerilla or non-conventional military confrontations. Although Dr. Karsh discusses both his emphasis is on the former. The implication is that these conventional battles decided the war while, in reality, it was the long drawn out guerilla war that did.

In short, the narrative to the war is not too bad but the book has too many major weaknesses, weaknesses that undermine it to a large degree.
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on October 25, 2006
The "Essential Histories" series from Osprey could easily be compared to the Cliff Notes series. They'll give you a nice introduction to a topic you are not familiar with, but no real depth. Most volumns are under 100 pages; therefore, don't expect many "man in the trenches" stories.

This volumn is one of the finest in the series, probably due in some part with a relatively short time frame, with few clashes and small numbers involved, compared to most conficts. The author does a fine job, from the underlining history to the outbreak of hostilities, until the end of the war. Additionally, he does a nice job of introducing the reader to the objectives of the United States and Britian as well.
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on September 11, 2007
A book to be treasured. It summarizes the conflict in an easy to read language and shatters the myths of the Palestinian (Arab) benevolence. It's a fine shorter version of the longer, and denser, "Oh Jerusalem" account. It does not overwhelm so much in detail but lets you see the picture more fully, from a little more distance. We see the military actions as well as the motivations and personal takes of the sides involved.

Reader-friendly and not sold to political correctness. It shed light for me on issues like the origin of the Palestinian refugee problem. Nothing better to clarify ideas than the very testimony of the Arabs involved. See what Palestinian intellectual Hisham Sharabi had to argue for his leaving the land in December 1947, in the middle of the fight (and leaving for the terrible US!): "There were others to fight on my behalf (...) they were peasants (whose) natural place was here, on this land. As for us -the educated ones- we were on a different plane. We were struggling on the intellectual front." So much for the Arab cause. There are more such jewels to read. Also:

"huge numbers of Palestinians were also driven out of their homes by their own leaders and/or by Arab military forces ... to prevent them from becoming citizens of the nascent Jewish State". Just wonderful. And: "Had the Jewish State lost the war, its territory would not have been handed over to the Palestinians but rather divided among forces, for the simple reason that none of the Arab regimes viewed the Palestinians as a distinct nation." This statement is backed inside, read and get the full scope.
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