In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Arab-Israeli Wars, 1948–Present

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Primary Sources
  • Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
  • 1948–1949 War
  • 1956 Suez War
  • 1967 Six-Day War
  • 1973 Yom Kippur War
  • Israel and Lebanon Since 1978
  • The Palestinian Intifadas
  • Soldiers and Armies
  • Arab Military and Political Leaders
  • Israeli Military and Political Leaders
  • The United States and the Conflict

Military History Arab-Israeli Wars, 1948–Present
George L. Simpson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0013


The conflict between Jews and Arabs claiming the same land has historically erupted into wars, and has sometimes been an existential struggle. Historians and observers have offered starkly different narratives and engaged in bitter polemic. In fact, the disputants have not always accepted the legitimacy of the other side, and they often dispute the very facts themselves. There is a deep chasm between Arab and Israeli interpretations of the past, which is reflected in the impassioned and confrontational nature of much that has been written about the wars that the two sides have fought since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948. Moreover, the controversy is not as simple as this bifurcated presentation would imply. Among Israeli scholars there exists a fundamental split between those who generally accept Zionist interpretations and revisionists who call themselves “new historians” and are critical of what they see as the founding myths of Israel. While there is no comparable rift among Arab scholars, this does not mean that their interpretations necessarily are uncritical or alike. Indeed, repeated defeats in war, diplomatic setbacks, and the ongoing plight of so many of the Palestinian people give ample opportunity for the censure and condemnation of Arab leaders, not to mention the Israelis. Moreover, as debate about the past rages, and as new documents and sources become available, the historiography related to the Arab-Israeli dispute is dynamic and continually subject to revision.

General Overviews

While there are many studies devoted to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Tessler 2009 is comprehensive, balanced, and valuable for both the general reader and the scholar. Herzog and Gazit 2004 remains a standard as a military history from an Israeli perspective, and the chapters in Bar-On 2004 bring fresh perspectives on the Arab-Israeli wars. Said 1992 offers a broad Arab perspective that presents issues in moral terms without seeking objectivity. Hadawi 1989 and Khalidi 2006 complement Said and interpret political history from a Palestinian point of view. Morris 2001 and Shlaim 2001 present revisionist Israeli accounts of the Arab-Israeli dispute, with the former less condemnatory of Zionism and the latter scathingly critical of his country for allegedly missing opportunities for peace. Karsh 2010 counters by arguing that the Arab leadership has perpetuated the problem of Palestine for generations.

  • Bar-On, Mordechai, ed. A Never Ending Conflict: A Guide to Israeli Military History. New York: Praeger, 2004.

    Edited by Moshe Dayan’s personal assistant during the 1956 Suez War, this anthology includes the work of twelve Israeli historians and covers the period from the outbreak of the Arab Revolt in 1936 through that of the al-Aqsa intifada in 2000.

  • Hadawi, Sami. Bitter Harvest: A Modern History of Palestine. Rev. ed. New York: Olive Branch, 1989.

    Written by an Arab Christian from Jerusalem who fled his home during the 1948 War of Independence, and published in the immediate wake of the 1967 Six-Day War, this work argues that the dispute over Israel/Palestine is one primarily between Palestinians, rather than Arabs in general, and Jews.

  • Herzog, Chaim, and Shlomo Gazit. The Arab-Israeli Wars: War and Peace in the Middle East from the War of Independence through Lebanon. Rev. ed. London: Greenhill, 2004.

    This updated, straightforward version of what has become the standard account of the Arab-Israeli wars through the first three decades of Israel’s existence now covers events such as the al-Aqsa intifada. First published in 1982.

  • Karsh, Efraim. Palestine Betrayed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010.

    While the scope of this book goes beyond the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the author has made excellent use of primary sources, particularly the Israel State Archives, to produce a narrative that places blame for the disaster that befell the Palestinian population in that conflict on Arab leaders

  • Khalidi, Rashid. The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. Boston: Beacon, 2006.

    In this work, Khalidi, a well-known Palestinian-American academic, criticizes Palestinian leaders as well as the policies of Great Britain and the United States for victimizing the Palestinian masses.

  • Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881–2001. New York: Vintage, 2001.

    This broad overview by perhaps the most well-known Israeli revisionist historian offers insights into social and cultural aspects of the protracted dispute between Arabs and Jews, and the victimhood that both have long claimed.

  • Said, Edward W. The Question of Palestine. New York: Vintage, 1992.

    A Palestinian professor of English and leading figure in postcolonial theory, Said presents a passionate defense of Palestinian identity as well as what he presents as his people’s moral and human rights in their dispute with Israel, Zionism, and Western imperialism. First published in 1979.

  • Shlaim, Avi. The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001.

    In this work, Shlaim, a revisionist “new historian” and Oxford professor, examines forty years of Israel’s history, beginning with the creation of the Jewish state, to contend that Israeli leaders such as David Ben Gurion were not interested in peace with their Arab neighbors, but instead sought to use military strength and diplomatic alliances in pursuit of Zionist goals.

  • Tessler, Mark. A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.

    This remarkably objective and comprehensive study is well researched and makes for compelling history. This account sets a standard no other textbook or general account has thus far met.

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