“While UN talked, the Jews were carving Palestine with a sword. In a whirlwind week they seized Haifa, attacked Jaffa, won Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee and tried to cut the Arab supply road into Jerusalem. For the first time since the Romans leveled Jerusalem 1,800 years ago, a Jewish army ate Passover matzoth and bitter herbs around campfires in the field. Said Jewish Agency Chairman David Ben-Gurion: ‘We stand on the eve of the Jewish State … heartened by the victories of our army … We have just begun to buckle on the sword.’”
As Israel celebrates its first 70 years, there is no shortage of articles which analyze its successes and failures. But what those articles can’t do is capture what it was to live through those early harrowing months both in Israel and around the world. To a get a unique feel for those times, I’ve searched for original magazine and newspaper articles that were created back then and are now available online. In other words, a snapshot of what you might have been able to learn about the new State of Israel if you had an Internet connection back in 1948.
Just after the establishment of the state, Time magazine featured King Abdullah of Transjordan on its first cover story about the war. The article paints this picture of the early fighting. (subscription required) The Arab Legion “destroyed the Jewish settlement of Kfar Etzion and four others. In southern Palestine, Egyptian troops crossed the border into the sandy wastes of the Negeb Desert to seize Jewish settlements on the road to Gaza. In northern Palestine, where Haganah was trying to secure the Galilee region, Syrian and Lebanese detachments attacked Jewish settlements. Egyptian air force planes swooped over Tel Aviv in the first strafing and bombing raids of the war.”
It wasn’t until August that Time put an Israeli, prime minister Ben-Gurion, onto its cover. By then, the tone of article changed considerably. “The new Israelis walked with a confident swagger along beach front at Tel Aviv. They talked confidently – indeed, stridently – of a state of ten million, not necessarily confined to the present boundaries of Israel.”
The article delivers what feels like a primer on the country when it tells readers about the revived language of Hebrew. “A dead language, a language of scholarship and liturgy for centuries, Hebrew has been revived and made the official language of Israel. In earlier days, some of the old folks were shocked to hear Hebrew used in everyday speech. When a mother scolded, ‘Little Ittomar, blow your nose,’ in the tongue of the prophets, oldsters winced.” It is “not to be confused with Yiddish, which is Low German mixed with Hebrew and Slav words, written in Hebrew characters.”
Speaking of Hebrew, you can read the entire front page of the May 14 edition of Yediot Ahronot, the “Newspaper of the Land of Israel.” The headline reads, “The State of Israel will be established at 4 p.m.” Other articles talk about how the Jewish forces have entered Jaffa and the last British soldier has exited the country.
Three days later, the Palestine Post proclaimed, “STATE OF ISRAEL IS BORN”. You can look at a reproduction of the front page as well as other highlights where you’ll learn that Etzion settlers had been taken P.O.W., Acre had been captured by Jewish forces and “a big surprise of the local tennis season was the defeat of the veteran champion, Finklekraut, by Apel in the Palestine Tennis Championships.”
Even the most casual student of Middle East history will appreciate the work during by the Center for Online Judaic Studies. They have scanned or linked to hundreds of newspaper articles which appeared during the crucial period between November 1947 and September 1948.
- Ship Is Halted With 1,000 Jews for Palestine, Chicago Sunday Tribune, Feb. 29, 1948
- Drop Partition, Arabs Insist, NY Times, Mar. 17, 1948
- Is Palestine War a Myth? San Francisco Chronicle, May 12, 1948
- Quiet Settles over Palestine at Truce Hour, NY Herald Tribune, June 11, 1948
- Exodus’ Refugees Head for Israel, San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 16, 1948
But there is also the unexpected such as a 1947 ad by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to…
Lv. New York …. Friday
Ar. Lydda …. Monday
ONE WAY $607.00
- TRIP $1094.30
And then there was an issue that gives a real taste of the times that had no connection to partition or war or the world stage but everything to do with the sensibilities of an important segment of the Jews in the land.
Jews Solve Gift Problem in Palestine, NY Sun, Nov. 23, 1947. The problem? The Jews were members of Kibbutz Kfar Giladi, half of whom had just received radios from relatives. In that egalitarian society, where each family had the same living quarters, the same furniture and the same amount of clothing as any other family, it would not do that half would have radios and half, not. As the New York Sun explained, “Those who had none were envious of their neighbors. The latter were half ashamed to turn on the radio and enjoy a broadcast.”
“Finally,” said [Kibbutz member Heshel] Kremetzky, “some one who had a radio came up with a scheme on which we all agreed. We had put aside sufficient money so that every family could have a one-week vacation in Tel Aviv or some other city, as a holiday from life on the kibbutz.
“We decided to take this money and buy radios for those who had none. It will call for equal sacrifice from the havens and have-nots. We’ll still have our week’s vacation from farm duties, but we’ll have to spend it at home.”