In 1947, when Britain conceded that it would accept the United Nations-sponsored plan to partition its mandate in Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, but would not put its forces to enforce the plan, it was yet another sign of Britain’s retreat from empire.
By the day the mandate expired — 15 May 1948 — the Jewish community had declared the establishment of the State of Israel, and four Arab armies were marching towards its borders. As Syrian, Iraqi, Egyptian, and Transjordanian troops (along with battalions from Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia, as well as a few British officers who commended some of these battalions) entered the mandate, the first Arab–Israeli War began.
The result was not a swift decisive victory hoped by the Arabs. The 10 months of fighting followed, interrupted by several truces, at the end of which Israel controlled all the areas for the proposed Jewish state as well as almost 60% of the area for the Arab state. Jordan managed to hold on to the West Bank and Egypt the Gaza Strip, but their victory was Pyrrhic. Around 700,000 Palestinians were expelled by the conflict and became refuges across the Arab world.
The photo above was taken at the very last campaign of the war, as the Israelis pressed on into the southern Negev desert. Outside the abandoned British police post at Umm Al-Rashrash, on the west side of the Gulf of Aqaba (the biblical Elath), the Israelis raised a makeshift flag which would soon be immortalized as the Ink Flag; it said something about the state of Israeli army in 1949 that the brigade did not even have a flag, and the soldiers used a sheet, drew two ink stripes, and sewed on a Star of David torn off a first-aid kit. The photo — reminiscent of the flag raising on Iwo Jima just a few years earlier — was taken by the soldier Micha Perry.
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