Israel Table of Contents


The War of Independence was the most costly war Israel has fought; more than 6,000 Jewish fighters and civilians died. At the war's end in 1949, the fledgling state was burdened with a number of difficult problems. These included reacting to the absorption of hundreds of thousands of new immigrants and to a festering refugee problem on its borders, maintaining a defense against a hostile and numerically superior Arab world, keeping a war-torn economy afloat, and managing foreign policy alignments. Faced with such intractable problems, Ben-Gurion sought to ensure a fluid transition from existing prestate institutions to the new state apparatus. He announced the formation of a Provisional Council of State, actually a transformed executive committee of the Jewish Agency with himself as prime minister. Weizmann became president of the council, although Ben-Gurion was careful to make the presidency a distinctly ceremonial position. The provisional government would hold elections no later than October 1948 for the Constituent Assembly to draw up a formal constitution. The proposed constitution was never ratified, however, and on February 16, 1949 the Constituent Assembly became Israel's first parliament or Knesset.

A key element of Ben-Gurion's etatism was the integration of Israel's independent military forces into a unified military structure. On May 28, 1948, Ben-Gurion 's provisional government created the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the Hebrew name of which, Zvah Haganah Le Yisrael, is commonly abbreviated to Zahal, and prohibited maintenance of any other armed force. This proclamation was challenged by the Irgun, which sailed the Altalena, a ship carrying arms, into Tel Aviv harbor. Ben-Gurion ordered Haganah troops to fire on the ship, which was set aflame on the beach in Tel Aviv. With the two camps on the verge of civil war, Begin, the leader of the Irgun, ordered his troops not to fire on the Haganah. Although the Altalena affair unified the IDF, it remained a bitter memory for Begin and the Irgun. Begin subsequently converted his armed movement into a political party, the Herut (or Freedom Movement). By January 1949, Ben-Gurion had also dissolved the Palmach, the strike force of the Haganah.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress