The Arab-Israeli War: America’s RoleOverview
This seven-minute video provides students with a concise and engaging contextualization of the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, with focus on the reasons underlying America’s neutrality, and the efforts of a small group of American veterans who violated that neutrality to smuggle arms and planes that played a decisive role in the outcome of the war. A resonant and compelling story of men who risked prison for a cause they believed in, the video provides vivid human texture to an important moment in history. The video also serves as an introduction to the topic of American-Israeli relations, and will help students better understand the broader context of America’s role in the Middle East since World War II.
This video contains footage filmed at concentration camps.
- What caused the Arab-Israeli War of 1948.
- Why the U.S. declared neutrality in that war.
- How a handful of American citizens violated that neutrality to support the Israeli government.
- Social Studies
- U.S. History
- World History
- U.S. Foreign Policy
- World War II
- 1940s America
- The Postwar Era (1945-1980)
- The Modern Era (1980-Present)
Introducing the Lesson
In the aftermath of World War II, the creation of the state of Israel ignited tensions with its Arab neighbors that rippled around the world.
To avoid conflict, the U.S. embargoed arms shipments to the Middle East, placing Israel at a disadvantage as the British had already supplied arms to Egypt and to Iran.
Desperate, Israel turned to sympathetic Americans for help, and Al Schwimmer answered the call. The World War II veteran, then just 30, began organizing an operation to smuggle arms.
Funded by American donations, Schwimmer bought up decommissioned military transport planes from the U.S. government, then assembled a ragtag army of veteran aviators. Many had flown with Schwimmer during World War II.
To avoid detection, Schwimmer’s 13 cargo planes took an indirect route across Panama, Brazil, and Morocco to Czechoslovakia, where they picked up arms and some 25 fighter planes. They flew on to Israel just as the conflict broke out in May 1948.
Throughout the nine-month war, Schwimmer’s pilots flew combat missions, bombed Cairo, and ferried supplies, helping the Jewish state survive its first war.
But the success came at a price: Schwimmer and 10 others were charged with arms smuggling and breaking the U.S. Neutrality Act. One man went to prison and the others were fined $10,000.
For Schwimmer, who along with the others eventually received a presidential pardon, it was a small price to pay.
- What were the causes of the Arab-Israeli war of 1948?
- Why did President Truman choose not to aid Israel?
- What role did European nations play in the conflict?
- How did the American citizens who aided Israel end up affecting the outcome of the war? What were the various motivations of those citizens for wanting to be involved?
- How has America’s relationship with Israel changed since Truman’s decision to deny aid to Israel in 1948?
- Do you think President Truman made the right decision to remain neutral in the war? Do you think the citizens who shipped arms to Israel made the right decision? Is it possible that both Truman and the citizens made the right decision? Do governments and citizens have different morals and obligations?
- Strategically, why was Israel extremely vulnerable at its founding in 1948?
- As an event in the timeline of the 20th century, what are some of the ways that the United States or Americans were causally related to the founding of Israel, and what are the effects of its founding upon U.S. history?
- Since 1948, the United States has developed a special relationship with Israel. What do you think are the roots of this relationship? Historically, have there been other countries that America had had a special relationship with? What was the basis of those relationships?
Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequences of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact or develop over the course of a text.
Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
Analyze multiple and complex causes and effect of events in the past.
Skill 3.A: Identify and describe a claim and/or argument in a non-text-based source.
Theme 6: America in the World (WOR).