The "Third" Side of the Coin: a Bottom-Up History of Israel's War of Independence

Israeli Jolly Ball

The "Third" Side of the Coin: a Bottom-Up History of Israel's War of Independence

Tuesday, 25 May 2021 - 2:15pm to 3:15pm
ZOOM Online Webinar
Paula Kabalo, Ben-Gurion University
Peter Bergamin (Mansfield) and Yaacov Yadgar (St. Anne’s)
Israel Studies Seminar


At the centre of this study stands the organizational array of civic and voluntary entities that represented sectors and subgroups in the Jewish population of pre-independence and formative Israel as they coped with the blow occasioned by the war that engulfed them from late 1947 to early 1949.

As the war unfolded, the voices of ordinary ci­vilians were heard, expressing along with their personal distress that of the rest of their community, and, above all, the hardships and struggle that were their lot and, at the same time, their proactive approach to this hard­ship and their unwillingness to be passive and static in view of their plight. By choosing the coping mechanism of self-associating, they demonstrated their capabilities for action and thus became a force to be reckoned with.

The purpose of choosing civic association as an axis for retelling the plot of Israel’s War of Independence is to propose a path of research by which one may understand the depth of the war experience as it was un­dergone by the variegated community mosaic that makes up a society.

The study analyses the events of the Israeli War of In­dependence as a humanitarian crisis characterized by the devastation of quotidian life, loss of sources of livelihood, displacement and separation from the familiar community tapestry, and carrying on amid protracted uncertainty. Those who experienced the war had to contend with its impli­cations as it proceeded and create paths to rehabilitation and recovery af­terward.

By contemplating civic associations in the War of Independence, one extends the discus­sion to new conceptual and theoretical domains: ways in which communi­ties cope with crises and, foremost, studies that track the functioning of social networks and civic associations in order to explain why one group displays resilience while another evidences weakness and fragility. Even if such patterns of self-instigated action not always yielded the hoped-for results, they provided casualties of disaster with an instrument with which they challenged the situation imposed on them, and became active casualties whose voices are heard—stakeholders and community members who had a say and whose distress neither blurred  their identity nor rendered them into pas­sive objects on history’s chessboard.


Paula Kabalo is currently the director of the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the study of Israel and Zionism, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. In the years 2011-2017 she served as the founding chair of the Woodman-Scheller Israel Studies International MA program. From 2017 she is also the founding head of the Azrieli Center for Israel Studies at the institute, a complex of research hubs aiming to un-code core themes related to the Israel phenomena and the Zionist Idea. Paula served as historical consultant for the documentary, 'Ben-Gurion: Epilogue' and is a member of the steering committee of the Ben-Gurion Archives exhibition hall, which is under construction.

Her research focus is on the history of citizen associations and Civil Society in Israel and the inter-relations between David Ben-Gurion and various strata of society in Israel and the Jewish World.  Kabalo mapped, reviewed and shed light on the role of common people in central historical junctions. Her book: Shurat Ha'Mitnadvim – The Story of a Civic Association (Am Oved and TAU, 2007), is a case study for the understanding of the evolution of Israel's democracy. Her recent book: Israeli Community Action – Living Through the War of Independence (IUP, 2020), portraits patterns of community resilience and self-help organizations during Israel's war of independence.  In addition, she has published dozens of articles on the patterns and roles of civic associations during Israel's early history (pre and post 1948), on the history of Israel's youth, on state-citizen relations in Israel and on David Ben-Gurion's leadership, through the prism of leader-follower theories (LMX and more). Currently she is looking into community organizations and local leadership in Israeli urban neighbourhoods, an ISF grant project that focuses on neighbourhood committees.

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