The Negev Triangle of 1948
Of the 418 Palestinian towns and villages, destroyed or depopulated in 1948 and after, some 48 lay in the Negev area; 3 in the Beersheba District, and 45 in the Gaza District.
In the Beersheba District, the villages of al-Imara (El Imara), al-Jammama (Jammameh) and al-Khalasa (El Khalasa) constitutes the doomed Palestinian villages. But in the Gaza District, among the 45 wiped-out Palestinian villages, the towns and villages of al-Faluja, Iraq Suwaydan and Iraq al-Manshiyya have entered history for two reasons: -
The ferocity of the battles which took place between the Egyptian army and the Israeli invaders, first; and the presence of many prominent young Egyptian officers, including Major Gamal Abdul Nasser, later the Egyptian President and the Pan-Arab nationalism’s hero, who battled the Israeli invaders and resisted the ensuing siege of Egyptian troops at al-Faluja Pocket; a siege that turned out to be a case of great embarrassment to Cairo and other Arab capitals.
Many Jewish settlements and factories were to be built after 1948 by the newcomers to commemorate these battles at which Nasser and his compatriots had taken part.
Within hindsight, the Israeli press began reporting, in the wake of the second uprising against occupation, on the dwindling fortunes of the Negev’s colonies and industrial establishments, which were built in the aftermath of the 1948 war. For example, Ha’aretz reported last year a telling story about the laying off of hundreds of workers from a factory of clothes, which was built in the early 1950s to commemorate the “ defeat of Nasser’s army”, in the words of Pinhas Saphir, then Israel’s minister of industry. Saphir drove a Chilean millionaire in the early hours of a summer day in 1950s to a remote spot in the Negev in an attempt to fool the latter that he was driving him to a suburb of Tel Aviv. Failing to convince his interlocutor in the first trip, he drove him to the same destination again asking him to build the factory there. When the businessman hesitated to have an industrial establishment be built in the desert, Saphir ordered him on behalf of Ben-Gurion this time to go ahead with the project, saying not far from here the Israeli army had defeated Colonel Nasser’s army and we want to commemorate this historic event. In fact the collapsing Israeli economy has been highlighted lately by endless press reports; it became a worry-some issue in the election of January 28, 03.
Notwithstanding the outcome of the Negev’s battles of 1948, the going developments in occupied Palestine in the wake of the Palestinian Intifada against occupation had its roots in the catastrophe of 1948. In retrospect, it is worthwhile touring the Negev Triangle of 1948 ahead of the systematic destruction of 48 Palestinian towns and villages.
When Ben-Gurion ordered in 1948 the Israeli army to break through the triangle of the Egyptian forces encircling the Negev from three sides, these forces in Palestine were grouping in three blocs, which each one had been stationed on one side of the triangle in charge of certain task: -
Firstly, the western side, paralleling the Mediterranean coast and extending from ‘Rafah’ and ‘Majdal’ crossing Gaza was manned by the main bloc of the Egyptian army led by the commander in chief of the Egyptian forces in Palestine, Major General Mohammad Ahmad El Mawawi as of the beginning of the operations until October-then removed from his post leaving it to General Ahmad Fuad Sadeq, who arrived on 20 October to the HQ in El Areesh (behind Rafah).
The force was composed of 11 infantry battalions backed by three artillery battalions and engineering units, as well as signal and administrative. In fact it is difficult to make serious valuation of it, as the most of the formations were incomplete-- some of which were no more than organizational skeletons, which lacked officers and soldiers, as well as adequate arms and ammunition and means of transport.
Secondly, the second –eastern-side of the Egyptian military triangle, south of Palestine, was within the domain of the volunteering forces, which had taken part in the war ahead of the Egyptian Army. It walked from ‘Ouja’ to ‘Aslouj’ to ‘Beersheba’ and ‘Hebron’; its vanguard arrived in the outskirts of Jerusalem. The volunteers were a military force, but, however, very difficult to describe with scientific or even descriptive accuracy.
These forces--as indicated by its name-- comprised soldiers (many of them were Muslim Brothers) who volunteered to fight in Palestine, or officers, filled with zeal, had been ordered to volunteer. And when this occurred, it was believed that their force was all what Cairo had in mind for Palestine, as the entrance of the Egyptian army was not decided upon yet.
As for the Prime Minister ‘Mahmoud Fahmy al-Naqrashy’, sending the volunteers was enough to absolve Egypt from further responsibility towards Palestine. But he was overwhelmed by a royal decision for Egypt to enter the war.
However, it turned out that the volunteers had penetrated deep, reaching the Jerusalem’s outskirts. Notwithstanding the fact that they did not take part in big battles, their speedy advance gained them a resounding reputation, especially that their leader was the highly respectable and inspiring officer, Qaem Maqam “Ahmad Abdul Aziz”. However, the reputation of this force and the character of it leader were to face a real danger, because of its speedy advance to the extent that its logistic lines had extended for 80 km.
Thirdly, the third side of the triangle of the Egyptian forces was the so- called line of the north Negev; this side in fact was the wide base of the turned over triangle; it extended from Beit Jibreen, to transverse the central Negev up to the Majdal.