The 1948 Arab–Israeli War, known by the Israelis as the War of Independence and War of Liberation, and by Palestinians as the Catastrophe, was the first in a series of wars fought between the newly declared State of Israel and its Arab neighbors in the long-running Arab-Israeli conflict.
The war commenced upon the termination of the British Mandate of Palestine in mid-May 1948 following a previous phase of civil war in 1947–1948. After the rejection of the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine (UN General Assembly Resolution 181) that would have created an Arab state and a Jewish state side by side, five Arab states invaded the territory of the former British Mandate of Palestine. Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria attacked the state of Israel, leading to fighting mostly on the former territory of the British Mandate and for a short time also on the Sinai Peninsula and southern Lebanon. The war concluded with the 1949 Armistice Agreements, but it did not mark the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In the Arab-Israeli War of 1948-1949 Arab forces (including the armies of Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq as well as Palestinian guerrillas) had expected an easy victory over the small and isolated Jewish state, but despite heavy casualties Israel won. Israel had numerical superiority throughout the war and by its final stages outnumbered Arab troops by 2 to 1. Arms supplies from the Communist-bloc nation of Czechoslovakia also gave the Israeli army an advantage in weaponry. Israel also benefited from lack of cohesive unity and strategy among the Arab countries and the willingness of Transjordan’s King Abdullah ibn Hussein to seek an accommodation. After the war Israel increased the land under its control far beyond what it had been given by the partition plan, from 55 percent to 79 percent of what had been Palestine. The region just west of the Jordan River known as the West Bank came under the control of Transjordan (which was renamed Jordan in 1949). Egypt gained control of the Gaza Strip, a small region bordering the southern end of Israel’s Mediterranean coast.
The plan to forcibly expel large numbers of Palestinian Arabs had also been successful. By the end of 1948 more than 500 Palestinian Arab villages had been destroyed and Arab neighborhoods in nearly a dozen cities had been ethnically cleansed. Thousands of Palestinians were massacred in ethnic cleansing operations, often as retribution for Israeli casualties during the war or as recrimination for Arab attacks on Jews during the Arab Revolt of 1936. The war created a population of about 700,000 Palestinian Arab refugees who fled Israel and ended up in camps maintained by the United Nations (UN) in neighboring Arab states. Many of these camps were in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Lebanon. With the exception of Jordan, Arab countries generally refused to allow Palestinians to settle outside the camps or to be granted citizenship. As a result, the conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs continued to fester.