The 6th Chapter of “History of West Asia and North Africa in the Twentieth Century” Lecture Series | The Palestine War: 1947-1949

On the afternoon of May 11th, 2021, Prof. Eugene Rogan, Member of the Academic Committee of Institute for International and Area Studies, Tsinghua University (IIAS-THU), and Professor of Middle East History at the University of Oxford, gave an online lecture on the theme of “The Palestine War: 1947 – 1949” to the audience, including students from IIAS and other leading academic institutions home and abroad. This lecture is the sixth chapter in a series of lectures on “History of West Asia and North Africa in the Twentieth Century” and was hosted by Wang Tingyi, Assistant Professor at IIAS.

This chapter focused on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from 1939 to 1949 and the outbreak of the first Arab-Israeli war.

In 1939, the British government issued a White Paper to restrict Jewish immigrants, announcing limits on the number of Jewish immigrants entering Palestine. Zionists were intensively opposed to it, believing that it violated Britain’s original promise of to support the Zionist movement. In January 1944, Irgun and Stern Gang led the Jewish uprising. In July 1946, an explosion of King David Hotel shocked the world, injuring hundreds of people. In February 1947, Britain resorted to the United Nations for help, hoping the UN send an international mission to resolve the Palestinian dispute. The United Nations then sent a special Palestinian affairs mission , including representatives from 11 countries. However, as the members of the mission were completely unfamiliar with Palestinian affairs, they intensified local conflicts instead. In 1947, on the first anniversary of the bombing of King David Hotel, two British sergeants were cruelly strangled by Irgun. This incident led to the upsurge of anti-Jewish in Britain. Prof. Rogan explained that this reflected the influence of the Palestinian situation on public opinion in Britain and made the British people opponents of Jewish statehood interests.

In 1947, the United Nations announced a solution to the Palestinian issue, that is, the two-state solution. However, due to the uneven distribution of resources, the plan intensified the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and led to the outbreak of the first Arab-Israeli war. On May 14th, 1948, Britain officially ended its mandate in Palestine and handed over its sovereignty to the United Nations. On May 15th, 1948, Ben Gurion declared the founding of the State of Israel.

In May 1948, the first Arab-Israeli war broke out, which was divided into three stages by Prof. Rogan. He pointed out that the changes in the armaments and morale of the Arab and Israeli sides were diametrically opposite. The Israeli army would replenish its armaments and upgrade its strength during each truce period, while the Arab Coalition forces were losing ground due to lack of supplies. When explaining the reasons for the defeat of the Arab Coalition forces, Prof. Rogan stressed two key reasons. First, the internal morale of the Arab Coalition forces was lax, and the Arab countries were suspicious and hostile to each other. Second, the five Arab countries gained independence from the colonial power not long ago, and their military strength was extremely weak, which made them hardly compete with the Israeli army.

Finally, Prof. Rogan pointed out that the Arab-Israeli War in 1948, like World War I, is one of the major turning points in the modern history of the Middle East because it changed the political map of the region. Under news political contexts, the establishment of the State of Israel put the whole region in a state of war, and subsequently triggered a series of wars.

After the lecture, Prof. Rogan had heated discussions with the audience and gave wonderful answers to a number of questions raised by the audience, including whether Palestine refugees were the biggest obstacle to the implementation of the two-state solution, Jordan’s role in the first Arab-Israeli war and the identity of Palestinian Arabs.

Professor Eugene Rogan
BA Columbia, MA PhD Harvard, MA Oxford
Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History
Director, St Antony’s College Middle East Centre

Eugene Rogan is Director of the Middle East Centre at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. He has a B.A. in economics from Columbia, and an M.A. and PhD in Middle Eastern history from Harvard. He taught at Boston College and Sarah Lawrence College before taking up his post in Oxford in 1991, where he teaches the modern history of the Middle East to both undergraduates and graduates as well as providing DPhil supervision. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2017.

He is author of The Arabs: A History (Penguin, 2009, 3rd edition 2018), which has been translated in 18 languages and was named one of the best books of 2009 by The Economist, The Financial Times, and The Atlantic Monthly. His earlier works include Frontiers of the State in the Late Ottoman Empire (Cambridge University Press, 1999), for which he received the Albert Hourani Book Award of the Middle East Studies Association of North America and the Fuad Köprülü Prize of the Turkish Studies Association; The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948 (Cambridge University Press, 2001, second edition 2007, with Avi Shlaim), which has been published in Arabic, French, Turkish and Italian editions; and Outside In: On the Margins of the Modern Middle East (I.B. Tauris, 2002).

His new book, The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, 1914-1920, was published in February 2015.

Text by: Wang Zijing
Typesetting by: Wang Zijing
Reviewed by: Wang Tingyi & Zhang Yuan