THE TRUTH ABOUT ISRAEL IN 1948
1948, Israel, and the Palestinians: Annotated Text
Efraim Karsh ,Commentary Magazine.
Sixty years after its establishment by an internationally recognized act of self-determination, Israel remains the only state in the world that is subjected to a constant outpouring of the most outlandish conspiracy theories and blood libels; whose policies and actions are obsessively condemned by the international community; and whose right to exist is constantly debated and challenged not only by its Arab enemies but by segments of advanced opinion in the West.
During the past decade or so, the actual elimination of the Jewish state has become a cause célèbre among many of these educated Westerners. The “one-state solution,” as it is called, is a euphemistic formula proposing the replacement of Israel by a state, theoretically comprising the whole of historic Palestine, in which Jews will be reduced to the status of a permanent minority. Only this, it is said, can expiate the “original sin” of Israel’s founding, an act built (in the words of one critic) “on the ruins of Arab Palestine” and achieved through the deliberate and aggressive dispossession of its native population.
This claim of premeditated dispossession and the consequent creation of the longstanding Palestinian “refugee problem” forms, indeed, the central plank in the bill of particulars pressed by Israel’s alleged victims and their Western supporters. It is a charge that has hardly gone undisputed. As early as the mid-1950’s, the eminent American historian J.C. Hurewitz undertook a systematic refutation, and his findings were abundantly confirmed by later generations of scholars and writers. Even Benny Morris, the most influential of Israel’s revisionist “new historians,” and one who went out of his way to establish the case for Israel’s “original sin,” grudgingly stipulated that there was no “design” to displace the Palestinian Arabs.
The recent declassification of millions of documents from the period of the British Mandate (1920-1948) and Israel’s early days, documents untapped by earlier generations of writers and ignored or distorted by the “new historians,” paint a much more definitive picture of the historical record. They reveal that the claim of dispossession is not only completely unfounded but the inverse of the truth. What follows is based on fresh research into these documents, which contain many facts and data hitherto unreported.
Far from being the hapless objects of a predatory Zionist assault, it was Palestinian Arab leaders who from the early 1920’s onward, and very much against the wishes of their own constituents, launched a relentless campaign to obliterate the Jewish national revival. This campaign culminated in the violent attempt to abort the UN resolution of November 29, 1947, which called for the establishment of two states in Palestine. Had these leaders, and their counterparts in the neighboring Arab states, accepted the UN resolution, there would have been no war and no dislocation in the first place.
The simple fact is that the Zionist movement had always been amenable to the existence in the future Jewish state of a substantial Arab minority that would participate on an equal footing “throughout all sectors of the country’s public life.” The words are those of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founding father of the branch of Zionism that was the forebear of today’s Likud party. In a famous 1923 article, Jabotinsky voiced his readiness “to take an oath binding ourselves and our descendants that we shall never do anything contrary to the principle of equal rights, and that we shall never try to eject anyone.”
Eleven years later, Jabotinsky presided over the drafting of a constitution for Jewish Palestine. According to its provisions, Arabs and Jews were to share both the prerogatives and the duties of statehood, including most notably military and civil service. Hebrew and Arabic were to enjoy the same legal standing, and “in every cabinet where the prime minister is a Jew, the vice-premiership shall be offered to an Arab and vice-versa.”
If this was the position of the more “militant” faction of the Jewish national movement, mainstream Zionism not only took for granted the full equality of the Arab minority in the future Jewish state but went out of its way to foster Arab-Jewish coexistence. In January 1919, Chaim Weizmann, then the upcoming leader of the Zionist movement, reached a peace-and-cooperation agreement with the Hashemite emir Faisal ibn Hussein, the effective leader of the nascent pan-Arab movement. From then until the proclamation of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948, Zionist spokesmen held hundreds of meetings with Arab leaders at all levels. These included Abdullah ibn Hussein, Faisal’s elder brother and founder of the emirate of Transjordan (later the kingdom of Jordan), incumbent and former prime ministers in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq, senior advisers of King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud (founder of Saudi Arabia), and Palestinian Arab elites of all hues.
As late as September 15, 1947, two months before the passing of the UN partition resolution, two senior Zionist envoys were still seeking to convince Abdel Rahman Azzam, the Arab League’s secretary-general, that the Palestine conflict “was uselessly absorbing the best energies of the Arab League,” and that both Arabs and Jews would greatly benefit “from active policies of cooperation and development.”6 Behind this proposition lay an age-old Zionist hope: that the material progress resulting from Jewish settlement of Palestine would ease the path for the local Arab populace to become permanently reconciled, if not positively well disposed, to the project of Jewish national self-determination. As David Ben-Gurion, soon to become Israel’s first prime minister, argued in December 1947:
If the Arab citizen will feel at home in our state, . . . if the state will help him in a truthful and dedicated way to reach the economic, social, and cultural level of the Jewish community, then Arab distrust will accordingly subside and a bridge will be built to a Semitic, Jewish-Arab alliance.
On the face of it, Ben-Gurion’s hope rested on reasonable grounds. An inflow of Jewish immigrants and capital after World War I had revived Palestine’s hitherto static condition and raised the standard of living of its Arab inhabitants well above that in the neighboring Arab states. The expansion of Arab industry and agriculture, especially in the field of citrus growing, was largely financed by the capital thus obtained, and Jewish know-how did much to improve Arab cultivation. In the two decades between the world wars, Arab-owned citrus plantations grew sixfold, as did vegetable-growing lands, while the number of olive groves quadrupled.
No less remarkable were the advances in social welfare. Perhaps most significantly, mortality rates in the Muslim population dropped sharply and life expectancy rose from 37.5 years in 1926-27 to 50 in 1942-44 (compared with 33 in Egypt). The rate of natural increase leapt upward by a third.
That nothing remotely akin to this was taking place in the neighboring British-ruled Arab countries, not to mention India, can be explained only by the decisive Jewish contribution to Mandate Palestine’s socioeconomic well-being. The British authorities acknowledged as much in a 1937 report by a commission of inquiry headed by Lord Peel:
The general beneficent effect of Jewish immigration on Arab welfare is illustrated by the fact that the increase in the Arab population is most marked in urban areas affected by Jewish development. A comparison of the census returns in 1922 and 1931 shows that, six years ago, the increase percent in Haifa was 86, in Jaffa 62, in Jerusalem 37, while in purely Arab towns such as Nablus and Hebron it was only 7, and at Gaza there was a decrease of 2 percent.
Had the vast majority of Palestinian Arabs been left to their own devices, they would most probably have been content to take advantage of the opportunities afforded them. This is evidenced by the fact that, throughout the Mandate era, periods of peaceful coexistence far exceeded those of violent eruptions, and the latter were the work of only a small fraction of Palestinian Arabs. Unfortunately for both Arabs and Jews, however, the hopes and wishes of ordinary people were not taken into account, as they rarely are in authoritarian communities hostile to the notions of civil society or liberal democracy. In the modern world, moreover, it has not been the poor and the oppressed who have led the great revolutions or carried out the worst deeds of violence, but rather militant vanguards from among the better educated and more moneyed classes of society.
So it was with the Palestinians. In the words of the Peel report:
We have found that, though the Arabs have benefited by the development of the country owing to Jewish immigration, this has had no conciliatory effect. On the contrary . . . with almost mathematical precision the betterment of the economic situation in Palestine [has] meant the deterioration of the political situation.
In Palestine, ordinary Arabs were persecuted and murdered by their alleged betters for the crime of “selling Palestine” to the Jews. Meanwhile, these same betters were enriching themselves with impunity. The staunch pan-Arabist Awni Abdel Hadi, who vowed to fight “until Palestine is either placed under a free Arab government or becomes a graveyard for all the Jews in the country,” facilitated the transfer of 7,500 acres to the Zionist movement, and some of his relatives, all respected political and religious figures, went a step further by selling actual plots of land. So did numerous members of the Husseini family, the foremost Palestinian Arab clan during the Mandate period, including Muhammad Tahir, father of Hajj Amin Husseini, the notorious mufti of Jerusalem.
It was the mufti’s concern with solidifying his political position that largely underlay the 1929 carnage in which 133 Jews were massacred and hundreds more were wounded—just as it was the struggle for political preeminence that triggered the most protracted outbreak of Palestinian Arab violence in 1936-39. This was widely portrayed as a nationalist revolt against both the ruling British and the Jewish refugees then streaming into Palestine to escape Nazi persecution. In fact, it was a massive exercise in violence that saw far more Arabs than Jews or Englishmen murdered by Arab gangs, that repressed and abused the general Arab population, and that impelled thousands of Arabs to flee the country in a foretaste of the 1947-48 exodus.
Some Palestinian Arabs, in fact, preferred to fight back against their inciters, often in collaboration with the British authorities and the Hagana, the largest Jewish underground defense organization. Still others sought shelter in Jewish neighborhoods. For despite the paralytic atmosphere of terror and a ruthlessly enforced economic boycott, Arab-Jewish coexistence continued on many practical levels even during such periods of turmoil, and was largely restored after their subsidence. 
Against this backdrop, it is hardly to be wondered at that most Palestinians wanted nothing to do with the violent attempt ten years later by the mufti-led Arab Higher Committee (AHC), the effective “government” of the Palestinian Arabs, to subvert the 1947 UN partition resolution. With the memories of 1936-39 still fresh in their minds, many opted to stay out of the fight. In no time, numerous Arab villages (and some urban areas) were negotiating peace agreements with their Jewish neighbors; other localities throughout the country acted similarly without the benefit of a formal agreement.
Nor did ordinary Palestinians shrink from quietly defying their supreme leadership. In his numerous tours around the region, Abdel Qader Husseini, district commander of Jerusalem and the mufti’s close relative, found the populace indifferent, if not hostile, to his repeated call to arms. In Hebron, he failed to recruit a single volunteer for the salaried force he sought to form in that city; his efforts in the cities of Nablus, Tulkarm, and Qalqiliya were hardly more successful. Arab villagers, for their part, proved even less receptive to his demands. In one locale, Beit Safafa, Abdel Qader suffered the ultimate indignity, being driven out by angry residents protesting their village’s transformation into a hub of anti-Jewish attacks. Even the few who answered his call did so, by and large, in order to obtain free weapons for their personal protection and then return home.
There was an economic aspect to this peaceableness. The outbreak of hostilities orchestrated by the AHC led to a sharp drop in trade and an accompanying spike in the cost of basic commodities. Many villages, dependent for their livelihood on the Jewish or mixed-population cities, saw no point in supporting the AHC’s explicit goal of starving the Jews into submission. Such was the general lack of appetite for war that in early February 1948, more than two months after the AHC initiated its campaign of violence, Ben-Gurion maintained that “the villages, in most part, have remained on the sidelines.”
Ben-Gurion’s analysis was echoed by the Iraqi general Ismail Safwat, commander-in-chief of the Arab Liberation Army (ALA), the volunteer Arab force that did much of the fighting in Palestine in the months preceding Israel’s proclamation of independence. Safwat lamented that only 800 of the 5,000 volunteers trained by the ALA had come from Palestine itself, and that most of these had deserted either before completing their training or immediately afterward. Fawzi Qawuqji, the local commander of ALA forces, was no less scathing, having found the Palestinians “unreliable, excitable, and difficult to control, and in organized warfare virtually unemployable.”
This view summed up most contemporary perceptions during the fateful six months of fighting after the passing of the partition resolution. Even as these months saw the all but complete disintegration of Palestinian Arab society, nowhere was this described as a systematic dispossession of Arabs by Jews. To the contrary: with the partition resolution widely viewed by Arab leaders as “Zionist in inspiration, Zionist in principle, Zionist in substance, and Zionist in most details” (in the words of the Palestinian academic Walid Khalidi), and with those leaders being brutally candid about their determination to subvert it by force of arms, there was no doubt whatsoever as to which side had instigated the bloodletting.
Nor did the Arabs attempt to hide their culpability. As the Jews set out to lay the groundwork for their nascent state while simultaneously striving to convince their Arab compatriots that they would be (as Ben-Gurion put it) “equal citizens, equal in everything without any exception,” Palestinian Arab leaders pledged that “should partition be implemented, it will be achieved only over the bodies of the Arabs of Palestine, their sons, and their women.” Qawuqji vowed “to drive all Jews into the sea.” Abdel Qader Husseini stated that “the Palestine problem will only be solved by the sword; all Jews must leave Palestine.”
They and their fellow Arab abetters did their utmost to make these threats come true, with every means at their disposal. In addition to regular forces like the ALA, guerrilla and terror groups wreaked havoc, as much among noncombatants as among Jewish fighting units. Shooting, sniping, ambushes, bombings, which in today’s world would be condemned as war crimes, were daily events in the lives of civilians. “[I]nnocent and harmless people, going about their daily business,” wrote the U.S. consul-general in Jerusalem, Robert Macatee, in December 1947,
are picked off while riding in buses, walking along the streets, and stray shots even find them while asleep in their beds. A Jewish woman, mother of five children, was shot in Jerusalem while hanging out clothes on the roof. The ambulance rushing her to the hospital was machine-gunned, and finally the mourners following her to the funeral were attacked and one of them stabbed to death.
As the fighting escalated, Arab civilians suffered as well, and the occasional atrocity sparked cycles of large-scale violence. Thus, the December 1947 murder of six Arab workers near the Haifa oil refinery by the small Jewish underground group IZL was followed by the immediate slaughter of 39 Jews by their Arab co-workers, just as the killing of some 100 Arabs during the battle for the village of Deir Yasin in April 1948 was “avenged” within days by the killing of 77 Jewish nurses and doctors en route to the Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus.
Yet while the Jewish leadership and media described these gruesome events for what they were, at times withholding details so as to avoid panic and keep the door open for Arab-Jewish reconciliation, their Arab counterparts not only inflated the toll to gigantic proportions but invented numerous nonexistent atrocities. The fall of Haifa (April 21-22), for example, gave rise to totally false claims of a large-scale slaughter, which circulated throughout the Middle East and reached Western capitals. Similarly false rumors were spread after the fall of Tiberias (April 18), during the battle for Safed (in early May), and in Jaffa, where in late April the mayor fabricated a massacre of “hundreds of Arab men and women.” Accounts of Deir Yasin in the Arab media were especially lurid, featuring supposed hammer-and-sickle tattoos on the arms of IZL fighters and accusations of havoc and rape.
This scare-mongering was undoubtedly aimed at garnering the widest possible sympathy for the Palestinian plight and casting the Jews as brutal predators. But it backfired disastrously by spreading panic within the disoriented Palestinian society. That, in turn, helps explain why, by April 1948, after four months of seeming progress, this phase of the Arab war effort collapsed. (Still in the offing was the second, wider, and more prolonged phase involving the forces of the five Arab nations that invaded Palestine in mid-May.) For not only had most Palestinians declined to join the active hostilities, but vast numbers had taken to the road, leaving their homes either for places elsewhere in the country or fleeing to neighboring Arab lands.
Indeed, many had vacated even before the outbreak of hostilities, and still larger numbers decamped before the war reached their own doorstep. “Arabs are leaving the country with their families in considerable numbers, and there is an exodus from the mixed towns to the rural Arab centers,” reported Alan Cunningham, the British high commissioner, in December 1947, adding a month later that the “panic of [the] middle class persists and there is a steady exodus of those who can afford to leave the country.”
Echoing these reports, Hagana intelligence sources recounted in mid-December an “evacuation frenzy that has taken hold of entire Arab villages.” Before the month was over, many Palestinian Arab cities were bemoaning the severe problems created by the huge influx of villagers and pleading with the AHC to help find a solution to the predicament. Even the Syrian and Lebanese governments were alarmed by this early exodus, demanding that the AHC encourage Palestinian Arabs to stay put and fight.
But no such encouragement was forthcoming, either from the AHC or from anywhere else. In fact, there was a total lack of national cohesion, let alone any sense of shared destiny. Cities and towns acted as if they were self-contained units, attending to their own needs and eschewing the smallest sacrifice on behalf of other localities. Many “national committees” (i.e., local leaderships) forbade the export of food and drink from well-stocked cities to needy outlying towns and villages. Haifa’s Arab merchants refused to alleviate a severe shortage of flour in Jenin, while Gaza refused to export eggs and poultry to Jerusalem; in Hebron, armed guards checked all departing cars. At the same time there was extensive smuggling, especially in the mixed-population cities, with Arab foodstuffs going to Jewish neighborhoods and vice-versa.
The lack of communal solidarity was similarly evidenced by the abysmal treatment meted out to the hundreds of thousands of refugees scattered throughout the country. Not only was there no collective effort to relieve their plight, or even a wider empathy beyond one’s immediate neighborhood, but many refugees were ill-treated by their temporary hosts and subjected to ridicule and abuse for their supposed cowardice. In the words of one Jewish intelligence report: “The refugees are hated wherever they have arrived.”
Even the ultimate war victims—the survivors of Deir Yasin—did not escape their share of indignities. Finding refuge in the neighboring village of Silwan, many were soon at loggerheads with the locals, to the point where on April 14, a mere five days after the tragedy, a Silwan delegation approached the AHC’s Jerusalem office demanding that the survivors be transferred elsewhere. No help for their relocation was forthcoming.
Some localities flatly refused to accept refugees at all, for fear of overstraining existing resources. In Acre (Akko), the authorities prevented Arabs fleeing Haifa from disembarking; in Ramallah, the predominantly Christian population organized its own militia—not so much to fight the Jews as to fend off the new Muslim arrivals. Many exploited the plight of the refugees unabashedly, especially by fleecing them for such basic necessities as transportation and accommodation.
Yet still the Palestinians fled their homes, and at an ever growing pace. By early April some 100,000 had gone, though the Jews were still on the defensive and in no position to evict them. (On March 23, fully four months after the outbreak of hostilities, ALA commander-in-chief Safwat noted with some astonishment that the Jews “have so far not attacked a single Arab village unless provoked by it.”) By the time of Israel’s declaration of independence on May 14, the numbers of Arab refugees had more than trebled. Even then, none of the 170,000-180,000 Arabs fleeing urban centers, and only a handful of the 130,000-160,000 villagers who left their homes, had been forced out by the Jews.
The exceptions occurred in the heat of battle and were uniformly dictated by ad-hoc military considerations—reducing civilian casualties, denying sites to Arab fighters when there were no available Jewish forces to repel them—rather than political design. They were, moreover, matched by efforts to prevent flight and/or to encourage the return of those who fled. To cite only one example, in early April a Jewish delegation comprising top Arab-affairs advisers, local notables, and municipal heads with close contacts with neighboring Arab localities traversed Arab villages in the coastal plain, then emptying at a staggering pace, in an attempt to convince their inhabitants to stay put.
What makes these Jewish efforts all the more impressive is that they took place at a time when huge numbers of Palestinian Arabs were being actively driven from their homes by their own leaders and/or by Arab military forces, whether out of military considerations or in order to prevent them from becoming citizens of the prospective Jewish state. In the largest and best-known example, tens of thousands of Arabs were ordered or bullied into leaving the city of Haifa on the AHC’s instructions, despite strenuous Jewish efforts to persuade them to stay. Only days earlier, Tiberias’ 6,000-strong Arab community had been similarly forced out by its own leaders, against local Jewish wishes. In Jaffa, Palestine’s largest Arab city, the municipality organized the transfer of thousands of residents by land and sea; in Jerusalem, the AHC ordered the transfer of women and children, and local gang leaders pushed out residents of several neighborhoods.
Tens of thousands of rural villagers were likewise forced out by order of the AHC, local Arab militias, or the ALA. Within weeks of the latter’s arrival in Palestine in January 1948, rumors were circulating of secret instructions to Arabs in predominantly Jewish areas to vacate their villages so as to allow their use for military purposes and to reduce the risk of becoming hostage to the Jews.
By February, this phenomenon had expanded to most parts of the country. It gained considerable momentum in April and May as ALA and AHC forces throughout Palestine were being comprehensively routed. On April 18, the Hagana’s intelligence branch in Jerusalem reported a fresh general order to remove the women and children from all villages bordering Jewish localities. Twelve days later, its Haifa counterpart reported an ALA command to evacuate all Arab villages between Tel Aviv and Haifa in anticipation of a new general offensive. In early May, as fighting intensified in the eastern Galilee, local Arabs were ordered to transfer all women and children from the Rosh Pina area, while in the Jerusalem sub-district, Transjordan’s Arab Legion likewise ordered the emptying of scores of villages.
As for the Palestinian Arab leaders themselves, who had placed their reluctant constituents on a collision course with Zionism in the 1920’s and 1930’s and had now dragged them helpless into a mortal conflict, they hastened to get themselves out of Palestine and to stay out at the most critical moment. Taking a cue from these higher-ups, local leaders similarly rushed en masse through the door. High Commissioner Cunningham summarized what was happening with quintessential British understatement:
You should know that the collapsing Arab morale in Palestine is in some measure due to the increasing tendency of those who should be leading them to leave the country. . . . For instance, in Jaffa the mayor went on four-day leave 12 days ago and has not returned, and half the national committee has left. In Haifa the Arab members of the municipality left some time ago; the two leaders of the Arab Liberation Army left actually during the recent battle. Now the chief Arab magistrate has left. In all parts of the country the effendi class has been evacuating in large numbers over a considerable period and the tempo is increasing.
Arif al-Arif, a prominent Arab politician during the Mandate era and the doyen of Palestinian historians, described the prevailing atmosphere at the time: “Wherever one went throughout the country one heard the same refrain: ‘Where are the leaders who should show us the way? Where is the AHC? Why are its members in Egypt at a time when Palestine, their own country, needs them?’”
Muhammad Nimr al-Khatib, a Palestinian Arab leader during the 1948 war, would sum up the situation in these words: “The Palestinians had neighboring Arab states which opened their borders and doors to the refugees, while the Jews had no alternative but to triumph or to die.”
This is true enough of the Jews, but it elides the reason for the refugees’ flight and radically distorts the quality of their reception elsewhere. If they met with no sympathy from their brethren at home, the reaction throughout the Arab world was, if anything, harsher still. There were repeated calls for the forcible return of the refugees, or at the very least of young men of military age, many of whom had arrived under the (false) pretense of volunteering for the ALA. As the end of the Mandate loomed nearer, the Lebanese government refused entry visas to Palestinian males between eighteen and fifty and ordered all “healthy and fit men” who had already entered the country to register officially or be considered illegal aliens and face the full weight of the law.
The Syrian government took an even more stringent approach, banning from its territory all Palestinian males between sixteen and fifty. In Egypt, a large number of demonstrators marched to the Arab League’s Cairo headquarters and lodged a petition demanding that “every able-bodied Palestinian capable of carrying arms should be forbidden to stay abroad.” Such was the extent of Arab resentment toward the Palestinian refugees that the rector of Cairo’s al-Azhar institution of religious learning, probably the foremost Islamic authority, felt obliged to issue a ruling that made the sheltering of Palestinian Arab refugees a religious duty.
Contempt for the Palestinians only intensified with time. “Fright has struck the Palestinian Arabs and they fled their country,” commented Radio Baghdad on the eve of the pan-Arab invasion of the new-born state of Israel in mid-May. “These are hard words indeed, yet they are true.” Lebanon’s minister of the interior (and future president) Camille Chamoun was more delicate, intoning that “The people of Palestine, in their previous resistance to imperialists and Zionists, proved they were worthy of independence,” but “at this decisive stage of the fighting they have not remained so dignified.”
No wonder, then, that so few among the Palestinian refugees themselves blamed their collapse and dispersal on the Jews. During a fact-finding mission to Gaza in June 1949, Sir John Troutbeck, head of the British Middle East office in Cairo and no friend to Israel or the Jews, was surprised to discover that while the refugees
express no bitterness against the Jews (or for that matter against the Americans or ourselves) they speak with the utmost bitterness of the Egyptians and other Arab states. “We know who our enemies are,” they will say, and they are referring to their Arab brothers who, they declare, persuaded them unnecessarily to leave their homes. . . . I even heard it said that many of the refugees would give a welcome to the Israelis if they were to come in and take the district over.
Sixty years after their dispersion, the refugees of 1948 and their descendants remain in the squalid camps where they have been kept by their fellow Arabs for decades, nourished on hate and false hope. Meanwhile, their erstwhile leaders have squandered successive opportunities for statehood.
It is indeed the tragedy of the Palestinians that the two leaders who determined their national development during the 20th century—Hajj Amin Husseini and Yasir Arafat, the latter of whom dominated Palestinian politics since the mid-1960’s to his death in November 2004—were megalomaniacal extremists blinded by anti-Jewish hatred and profoundly obsessed with violence. Had the mufti chosen to lead his people to peace and reconciliation with their Jewish neighbors, as he had promised the British officials who appointed him to his high rank in the early 1920’s, the Palestinians would have had their independent state over a substantial part of Mandate Palestine by 1948, and would have been spared the traumatic experience of dispersion and exile. Had Arafat set the PLO from the start on the path to peace and reconciliation, instead of turning it into one of the most murderous terrorist organizations in modern times, a Palestinian state could have been established in the late 1960’s or the early 1970’s; in 1979 as a corollary to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty; by May 1999 as part of the Oslo process; or at the very latest with the Camp David summit of July 2000.
Instead, Arafat transformed the territories placed under his control in the 1990’s into an effective terror state from where he launched an all-out war (the “al-Aqsa intifada”) shortly after being offered an independent Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and 92 percent of the West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital. In the process, he subjected the Palestinian population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to a repressive and corrupt regime in the worst tradition of Arab dictatorships and plunged their standard of living to unprecedented depths.
What makes this state of affairs all the more galling is that, far from being unfortunate aberrations, Hajj Amin and Arafat were quintessential representatives of the cynical and self-seeking leaders produced by the Arab political system. Just as the Palestinian leadership during the Mandate had no qualms about inciting its constituents against Zionism and the Jews, while lining its own pockets from the fruits of Jewish entrepreneurship, so PLO officials used the billions of dollars donated by the Arab oil states and, during the Oslo era, by the international community to finance their luxurious style of life while ordinary Palestinians scrambled for a livelihood.
And so it goes. Six decades after the mufti and his henchmen condemned their people to statelessness by rejecting the UN partition resolution, their reckless decisions are being reenacted by the latest generation of Palestinian leaders. This applies not only to Hamas, which in January 2006 replaced the PLO at the helm of the Palestinian Authority (PA), but also to the supposedly moderate Palestinian leadership—from President Mahmoud Abbas to Ahmad Qureia (negotiator of the 1993 Oslo Accords) to Saeb Erekat to prime minister Salam Fayad—which refuses to recognize Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state and insists on the full implementation of the “right of return.”
And so it goes as well with Western anti-Zionists who in the name of justice (no less) call today not for a new and fundamentally different Arab leadership but for the dismantlement of the Jewish state. Only when these dispositions change can Palestinian Arabs realistically look forward to putting their self-inflicted “catastrophe” behind them.
1948, Israel, and the Palestinians: Annotated Text
1 J.C. Hurewitz, The Struggle for Palestine (New York: Norton, 1950).
2 Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem 1947-1949 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 286; Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 588.
3 Vladimir Jabotinsky, The Jewish War Front (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1940), p. 216.
4 Originally published in Russian under the title “O Zheleznoi Stene,” in Rassvyet, Nov. 4, 1923, the “Iron Wall” was reprinted several times, including in The Jewish Herald (South Africa), Nov. 26, 1937 (internet ed. http://www.mideastweb.org/ironwall.htm).
5 Jabotinsky, The Jewish War Front, pp. 216-20.
6 A.S. Eban, “Note of Conversation with Abdel Rahman Azzam Pasha, London, Sept. 15, 1947,” in Neil Caplan, Futile Diplomacy (London: Frank Cass, 1986), Vol. 2, pp. 274-76.
7 David Ben-Gurion, Bama’araha (Tel Aviv: Mapai Publishing House, 1949), Vol. 4, Part 2, p. 265.
8 Palestine Royal Commission, Report. Presented to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in Parliament by Command of his Majesty, July 1937 (London: HMSO; rep. 1946; hereafter Peel Commission Report), pp. 94, 157-58; Z. Abramowitz and Y. Guelfat, Hameshek Ha’arvi Be’eretz Israel Uve’artzot Hamizrah Hatichon (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuhad, 1944), pp. 48-50.
9 A Survey of Palestine. Prepared in December 1945 and January 1946 for the Information of the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry (reprinted 1991 in full with permission from Her Majesty’s Stationary Office by the Institute for Palestine Studies, Washington D.C.), Vol. 2, pp. 708-15.
10 Peel Commission Report, p. 93 (vii).
11 For early manifestations of Arab-Jewish coexistence see, for example, Colonial Office, Palestine. Report on Palestine Administration, 1923 (London: HMSO, 1924), p. 26; Colonial Office, Palestine. Report on Palestine Administration, 1924 (London: HMSO, 1925), pp. 28, 32, 50; Colonial Office, Palestine. Report on Palestine Administration, 1926 (London: HMSO, 1927), p. 33; Colonial Office, Palestine: Report of the High Commissioner on the Administration of Palestine 1920-1925 (London: HMSO, 1925), pp. 40-41; Chaim Weizmann, “Progress and Problems,” Confidential Report to Colonial Office, Feb. 15, 1922, The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann. Vol. I, Series B, August 1898-July 1931 (New Brunswick & Jerusalem: Transaction Books & Israel Universities Press, 1983), p. 366; Frederick H. Kisch, Palestine Diary (London: Victor Gollancz, 1938), pp. 48-49, 54, 73.
12 Peel Commission Report, pp. 63, 271.
13 “Conversation with Awni Abdel Hadi,” June 3, 1920, Hagana Archive (hereinafter HA), 80/145/11.
14 Kenneth W. Stein, The Land Question in Palestine, 1917-1939 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), pp. 182, 228-39.
15 While in 1936, according to official British statistics, 195 Arabs were killed by their Arab brothers, compared with 37 Britishmen and 80 Jews, two years later these figures rose to 503 Arab fatalities, compared with 255 and 77 Jewish and British deaths respectively. Fatalities in 1939 remained on a similar level: 414 Palestinian Arabs murdered by Arab gangs, as opposed to 94 Jews and 37 Brits. Some Palestinian Arab sources put the number of murdered Arabs at a staggering 3,000-4,500.
In a letter to Abdel Qader Husseini on November 18, 1938, Hassan Saleme, styling himself “Leader of Jaffa, Ramallah, and Lydda Area,” informed his fellow gang leader that “complaints are being received from the villagers of the Jerusalem District as a result of pillaging, looting, killing, and torturing committed by some of the vile people who are wearing the clothing of the holy warriors [i.e., members of “the Holy Jihad,” as Abdel Qader’s force was called]. . . . I admit that there are among the murdered people some who have been sentenced to death, but what are the faults of the innocent whose money is stolen, whose cattle are looted, whose women are violated, whose jewels are pillaged, and who suffer in many other ways of which you have undoubtedly heard? Our rebellion has become a rebellion against the villages and not one against the Government or the Jews.”
See: A Survey of Palestine, Vol. 1, pp. 38, 46, 49; General Staff H.Q., Jerusalem, “History of the Disturbances in Palestine 1936-1939,” Dec. 1939, Public Record Office (hereinafter PRO), WO 191/88; Kenneth Waring, “Arab Against Arab: Evidence of Rebel Documents,” Times, Jan. 18, 1939. For an annotated Hebrew translation of a comprehensive collection of original documents of the Arab gangs see Ezra Danin (ed.), Te’udot Udmuyot Meginzei Haknufiot Ha’arviot Bemoraot 1936-1939 (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1981; first published in 1944).
16 Thus, for example, Arab purchases of Jewish wheat dropped dramatically in 1937 but rose sharply the following year owing to particularly poor crops, with some 70 percent of the Jewish wheat sold to the Arab sector. Conversely, prior to the 1936-39 violence, about a third of the Palestinian Arab agricultural output was sold to the Jewish sector. Even land sales to Jews continued apace, with the lion’s share of the 1,300-plus transactions in 1936-39 involving ordinary people. Likewise, when in December 1938 the Jewish workers of the port of Haifa refused service to a German ship after a German naval officer insulted a Jewish porter, their Arab colleagues swiftly followed suit.
See Abramowitz and Guelfat Hameshek Ha’arvi, pp. 99-105; Stein, The Land Question, p. 182; “Minutes of the Meeting of the Jewish Agency’s Executive,” Jan. 1, 1939, David Ben-Gurion Archive, Sde Boker (hereinafter BGA).
17 See, for example, Hashmona’i to Ben Yehuda, “Relations with Neighboring Villages, Dec. 24, 1947, Israel Defense Forces Archives (hereinafter IDFA) 1948/500/28; Hashmona’i to Shadmi, “The Suba Village,” Dec. 22, 1947, IDFA, 1948/500/32; 01104 to Tene, “Relations between Qatanna and Ma’ale Hahamisha,” Dec. 23, 1947, ibid.; Yavne, “Beit Hanina,” Jan. 2, 1947 & “The Qiryat Anavim-Abu Gosh Area” Jan. 7, 1948, HA 105/72, pp. 27-28; 01123 to Tene, “An Arab Peace Overture,” Jan. 14, 1948, ibid., p. 46; Segal to Ben Yehuda, “Peace with Maliha, Jan. 10, 1948, IDFA 1949/2644/402; Zafrira Din, “Interview with Josh Palmon on June 28, 1989,” HA 80/721/3; Noam, “Aqir’s Peace Overture,” Dec. 12, 1947, HA 105/72, p. 6; Tzefa, “Peace Offer by Ghuweir Abu Shusha,” Dec. 16, 1948, ibid.; Tiroshi, “Requests by Neighborhood Arabs for Peace with the Jews,” Dec. 18, 1947, ibid., p. 8; “01112 to Tene, “Kafr Qara and Kfar Glikson,” Jan. 25, 1948, ibid., p. 68; 01101 to Tene, “Meeting between the Ard Saris Mukhtar and Dr. Bihem, Head of the Kfar Atta Municipality,” Jan. 22, 1948, ibid., p. 71; “Tene News—Daily Summary,” Dec. 16, 1947, HA 105/61, p. 59; “For Our Members, Daily News Bulletin No. 19,” Dec. 31, 1947, ibid., p. 127; “Fortnightly Intelligence Newsletter No. 58,” issued by HQ British Troops in Palestine (for the period 2359 hrs 18 Dec. 47-2359 hrs 1 Jan. 48), PRO, WO 275/64, p. 2.
18 See, for example, Naim, “In the Villages,” Dec. 25, 1947, HA 105/22, p. 123; 00004 to Tene, “Qalandiya Opposes Gang Concentrations,” Dec. 30, 1947, IDFA 1948/500/28; Yavne, “Occurrences in Romema,” Jan. 2, 1948, HA 105/72, p. 27; Yavne, “Silwan-Ramat Rahel,” Jan. 1, 1948, ibid., p. 30; Yavne, “Dissatisfaction with Abdel Qader Husseini,” ibid., p. 32; Qiryat Anavim people to Yavne, “Qatanna Residents Expelled an Arab Gang from the Village,” Jan. 5, 1948, ibid., p. 32; 02104 to Tene, “Workers from Maliha and Qaluniya who Refuse to Attack Jews,” Jan. 7, 1948, ibid., p. 33; 00004 to Tene, “Meeting of Bani Hassan in Maliha to Discuss Attitude to Armed Gangs,” Jan. 14, 1948, ibid., p. 46; 02204 to Tene, “Maliha,” Jan. 14, 1948, ibid., p. 47; 02204 to Tene, “Qattana,” Jan. 17, 1948, ibid., p. 50; 02104 to Tene, “Anti-Gang Resistance,” Jan. 28, 1948, ibid., p. 72; 02104 to Tene, “Refusal to Provide Volunteers,” Feb. 1, 1948, ibid., p. 76; 02104 to Tene, “Villages’ Fear of Retaliation,” Feb. 1, 1948, ibid., p. 80; Yavne, “Battir and other Villages,” Feb. 4, 1948, ibid., p. 84; 02204 to Tene, “Opposition to Abdel Qader’s Operation by Qastel,” Feb. 6, 1948, ibid., p. 91; Yavne to Tene, “Shu’afat,” Feb. 24, 1948, ibid., p. 114; Hiram to Tene, “Shafa’amr,” Feb. 26, 1948, ibid., p. 116; “Tene News,” Dec. 31, 1947 & Jan. 2-4, 1948, HA 105/61, pp. 121-22, 158-59; “Annex to News Concentration No. 100,” Feb. 20 & 24, 1948, IDFA 1949/2605/2; “Maliha,” Jan. 1, 1948, IDFA 1949/2504/4; log of events in Suba, Mar. 2-Apr. 13, 1948, IDFA 1949/5545/114, p. 141.
19 “For Our Members. Daily Information Circular No. 12,” Dec. 21, 1947, HA 105/61, p. 70; “Tene New,” Dec. 31, 1947, ibid., p. 125; Avram, “Jammasin: News Items,” Jan. 9, 1948, HA 105/23, p. 114; Tiroshi, “Dispatch of Arab Merchandise,” Dec. 15, 1947, HA 105/72, p. 7; Naim to Tene, “Position of the Gaza Felaheen,” Feb. 15, 1948, ibid., p. 103; Naim to Tene, “Evacuation of the Wahidat Territory,” Feb. 22, 1948, ibid., p. 111; 00004 to Tene, “Moods in Sur Bahir,” Dec. 22, 1947, IDFA 1948/500/60; Avram, “The Miska Arabs,” Jan. 8, 1948, HA 105/54a, p. 19; Hiram to Tene, “Meeting between the Yehiam Mukhtar and Tarshiha’s Mayor,” Feb. 22, 1948, ibid., p. 31; Tiroshi to Tene, “Appeal for a Ceasefire and Good Neighborly Relations,” Apr. 7, 1948, ibid., p. 53; Tiroshi to Tene, “Peace Overtures by Baqa Gharbiya,” Apr. 20, 1948, ibid., p. 79; Grar to Tene, “Yasur,” Apr. 21, 1948, ibid., p. 84.
20 David Ben-Gurion, Behilahem Israel (Tel Aviv: Mapai Publishing House, 1951; third ed.), pp. 28, 43, 54; Ben-Gurion, Bama’araha, Vol. 4, Part 2, p. 284.
21 Meahorei Hapargod (Hebrew edition of an official report by an Iraqi parliamentary committee on the 1948 war, published in September 1949; Tel Aviv: Ma’arachot, 1954), pp. 9, 98-99; “Fortnightly Intelligence Newsletter No. 64,” issued by HQ British Troops in Palestine (for the period 2359 hrs 10 Mar.-2359 hrs 23 Mar. 48), PRO, WO 275/64, p. 4. Arif al-Arif, al-Nakba: Nakbat Bait al-Maqdis wa-l-Firdaws al-Mafqud (Beirut: al-Maktaba al-Asriya, 1956), Vol. 1, pp. 138-39.
22 Walid Khalidi, From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem Until 1948 (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1987), p. lxix.
23 Ben-Gurion, Bama’araha, Vol. 4, Part 2, p. 260; Hebrew translation of Hajj Amin Husseini’s interview with Le Journal d’Egypt on Nov. 10, 1947, HA, 105/105a, p. 47; Radio Beirut, Nov. 12, 1947, in Foreign Broadcasts Information Service (FBIS), European Section: Near & Middle East and North African Transmitters, 13 Nov. 1947, II2, 5; “Fortnightly Intelligence Newsletter No. 64,” issued by HQ British Troops in Palestine (for the period 2359 hrs 10 Mar.-2359 hrs 23 Jan. 48), PRO, WO 275/64, p. 4; Arab Press Service (Cairo), FBIS, European Section: Near & Middle East and North African Transmitters, Dec. 16, 1947, II1; “Weekly Summary for the Alexandroni Brigade, Mar. 2, 1948,” HA 105/143, p. 105; “In the Arab Public,” Mar. 30, 1948, HA 105/100, p. 14.
24 Macatee to Secretary of State, Dec. 31, 1947, National Archives, Washington, D.C. (hereinafter NA), RG 84/800, pp. 1-2.
25 According to a report by the Palestine Post’s Haifa correspondent, the Arab workers in the refinery set upon their Jewish colleagues already before the IZL’s bombing (from Sakran to Tene, Dec. 31, 1947, IDFA 1949/481/62). This claim was amplified by an IZL radio broadcast on January 4, 1948, which pointed out that prior to the bombing Armenian workers at the plant had warned their Jewish friends of an imminent attack, and some Jewish workers took notice and left before the massacre. The broadcast also noted the pre-positioning of cold arms throughout the plant and the fact that the massacres ensued in the farthest corner of the refinery, some two miles from the bombing, where the explosion could not be heard. See, David Niv, Ma’arahot Ha’irgun Hatzva’i Hale’umi (Tel Aviv: Hadar, 1980), Vol. 6, pp. 19-20. For contemporary reports on the massacre, see: “Report of the Communal Commission of Inquiry on the Haifa Refinery’s Disaster (Dec. 30, 1947), Jan. 25, 1948, HA 80/460/11; “The Refinery Massacre,” HA 80/460/11; “Information Bulletin,” No. 30, Dec. 30, 1947, HA 105/61, p. 117; “To Our Members—Daily information Bulletin,” Dec. 31, 1947, HA 105/61, p. 126.
26 The IZL categorically denied any massacres, claiming that the casualties had been caused in the course of heavy fighting. The eminent Palestinian historian Arif al-Arif concedes the occurrence of heavy fighting. He claims that the villagers killed more than 100 Jewish fighters (the actual figure was four dead and 32 wounded), but alleges that only seven of the 110 Arab fatalities were killed in action and that the rest were peaceful civilians murdered in their homes (al-Nakba, p. 173). By contrast, a Hagana intelligence report issued three days after the event underscores the operational incompetence and disarray of the attacking forces, as well as their lack of discipline (manifested inter alia in acts of plunder), but makes no mention of a massacre. al-Nakba, p. 173; Yavne to Tene, “The Etzel and Lehi Operation in Deir Yasin,” Apr. 12, 1948, IDFA 1948/500/35; Irgun Command, “Statement on the Deir Yasin Affair” & “Statement” & “Condemn the Hypocrisy,” April 1948, Irgun Archive (hereinafter IA), K4-4/10. For mid-1950’s affidavits of battle participants denying any massacre see: IA, K4-1/10, 9/10. An extensive collection of press and scholarly writings can be found in IDFA 2004/26/70. See also: “Deir Yasin Occupied by the Irgun and Lehi” & “The Jewish Agency Condemns the Irgun and Lehi Operation in Deir Yasin” & “The Chief Rabbinate Strongly Condemns the Deir Yasin Incident,” Ha’aretz, Apr. 11, 12, 1948; “Battle Participant Evidence: 60 Hours in Deir Yasin,” Mivrak, Apr. 19, 1948, IA K4; High Commissioner for Palestine to Secretary of State for the Colonies, “Deir Yasin,” Apr. 13, 1948, Cunningham Papers, Middle East Center, St. Antony’s College, Oxford University; High Commissioner for Palestine to Secretary of State for the Colonies, “Weekly Intelligence Appreciation,” Apr. 17, 1948, Cunningham Papers; “An Arab from Deir Yasin Reveals on the Deir Yasin Anniversary: The Jews Didn’t Plan a Massacre but Conducted a Battle,” Herut, Jun. 3, 1953; “Prime Minister Menachem Begin in Interview with Lord Bethel: Deir Yasin--a tragedy in the Irgun’s history, but casualties were caused in the course of fighting; there was no massacre,” Yediot Aharonot, Jun. 22, 1979.
27 Dov Joseph, The Faithful City: the Siege of Jerusalem, 1948 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), pp. 74-75; Harry Levin, Jerusalem Embattled. A Diary of the City under Siege, March 25, 1948 to July 18, 1948 (London: Victor Gollancz, 1950), p. 70; Jerusalem Headquarters, “Haddassah University, Feb. 17-Jun. 22, 1948,” IDFA 1948/500/44; “Conclusions of the Commission of Inquiry about the Sheik Jarah Disaster of Apr. 13, 1948,” Apr. 18, 1948 HA 57/95; “Report by Shalom Hurwitz on the Mount Scopus Convoy Disaster in Sheik Jarah on Apr. 13, 1948,” Jun. 6, 1948, BGA.
28 Cunningham to Creech-Jones, Apr. 25 & 28, 1948, Cunningham Papers, III/4/52 & III/4/117; Tzuri to Tene, “News Items about the Tiberias Exodus,” Apr. 21, 1948, HA 105/257, p. 347; “Tene News—Daily Summary,” Apr. 18, 1948, HA 105/62, p. 93; Kenneth W. Bilby, New Star in the Near East (New York: Doubleday, 1950), p. 30; Filastin, Apr. 13, 14, 16, 1948; al-Difa, Apr. 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 1948; Radio Jerusalem in Arabic to the Middle East, Apr. 13, 1948 & Radio Damascus, Apr. 14, 1948, in FBIS, Apr. 15, 1948, p. II4; Radio al-Sharq al-Adna (Jerusalem), Apr. 15, 1948, ibid., Apr. 16, 1948, p. II5; BBC Television Channel 2, “The Fifty Years War: Israel and the Arabs,” Program 1, broadcast on Mar. 15, 1998.
29 From Palestine (General Sir A. Cunningham) to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, “Weekly intelligence Appreciation,” Dec. 22, 1947, Cunningham Papers; from Palestine (General Sir A. Cunningham) to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, “Weekly intelligence Appreciation,” Jan. 24, 1948, PRO, CO 537/3869.
30 “Tene News—Daily summary,” Dec. 16, 1947, HA 105/61, p. 59; “For Our Members, Daily News Bulletin No. 19,” Dec. 31, 1947, ibid., p. 127; al-Ayam (Damasc
THE EXPULSION LIBEL
The Expulsion Libel: 1948 Arab "Exodus" Reconsidered - by Rachel
I often receive letters from readers that raise relevant and
important questions. One such letter, from Mr. David Gesundheit, gently
reproves me for he describes as
"one inaccuracy . . . that I would like to point out. It is stated
[by R.N.] that the Israelis did not expel Palestinian Arabs from what is
now Israel. The truth is that there were some Palestinian Arabs that
were evacuated from their towns. Albeit it was a minority, but there
were some. Israel was at war and you can justify this action because of
it, but nevertheless it did occur."
What follows is my response to Mr. Gesundheit's legitimate concerns.
When I wrote that "[Israel] did not expel the Palestinian Arabs," I did
not mean that no Israelis have forced any Arab residents of Palestine to
evacuate their homes at any place or at any time during the past sixty
years. Rather I meant that there was never any mass expulsion of the
Arab population as a whole from Palestine/Israel, or from any region or
part of Palestine/Israel, either during the Israeli War of Independence
in 1947-49(the usual time-frame given by the anti-Israel "revisionist"
or "new" historians for the alleged expulsion) or at any other time, and
that it was never the policy or objective of Israel's government to make
Israel or Palestine "Arab-free," or of "ethnically cleansing" the
country of Arabs. If there ever was such a policy, then it would be
impossible to explain how 1.4 million Arabs live in what is now
sovereign Israeli territory today -- many more than lived in the same
territory before the state of Israel was founded. Just before the
outbreak of first major Arab-Israeli war on November 30, 1947, a few
months before Israelis declared their independence, there were at most
900,000 Arabs living in this same area.
Today there are large Arab populations in every region of modern-day
Israel -- the Galilee region in the north, the central coastal plain,
the Judean hills, the "Shefela" or foothills region, and the Negev
desert in the south. Arabs are at least 20 per cent of Israel's
present-day population. Arabs are half the population of two Israeli
cities, Ramla and Lod, from which the Arab residents were, according to
many historical accounts, expelled by Israeli soldiers during the War of
Naturally, I am skeptical of these accounts, since they don't explain
why there are more Arabs residing in these two cities (which were only
small towns in 1948) than there were before the Arabs were allegedly
expelled from them. Akko, another Israeli city, still has an Arab
majority, just as it did in 1948, before Israeli soldiers gained control
of it. There are large Arab communities in Israel's three largest
cities, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Jerusalem, and Haifa, as well as in the city of
Beersheva, which was a tiny village in 1948, but now has a combined
Jewish and Arab population of over 100,000 people.
Over 100 of the Arab villages that were in what is now Israel before
the nation was reestablished in 1948 are still in Israel today; some of
them, such as Umm-el-Fahm, Nazareth, and Sakhnin, have grown into
all-Arab cities over the past sixty years. The Israeli government has
also built new towns for its Arab citizens at locations that were
previously uninhabited, and provided new homes and land to the Arab
"settlers" in these communities at little or no cost to them.
And all of this Arab population is additional to the Arab inhabitants
of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza region, who now number (depending on which
population estimate you choose to believe) somewhere between 2.4 and 3.6
million people. This makes for a total present-day Arab population of
what had been the territory of western Palestine under the British
mandate of somewhere between 3.6 and 5 million people -- about three
times the total Arab population of this territory right before the War
of Independence, and seven to ten times the Arab population in 1891. And
if we include what is now the Kingdom of Jordan in "Palestine," which we
should, since it was the eastern section of the original British
Palestine Mandate territory, then the total Arab population of Palestine
has risen for about 1.7 million immediately before Israel became
independent to perhaps eight million today. Some expulsion!
As for the more specific and limited question of whether the Israel
Defense Forces expelled some Palestinian Arabs from their homes in some
villages, and possibly one town (Lydda or Lod, then with a population of
15-30 thousand people) during the Israel War of Independence sixty years
ago, the answer is, "yes, but only because the Israelis were compelled
to carry out these measures in self-defense." The Israeli soldiers, in
some places and at certain times in the course of the war, had no other
way to repel a massive armed offensive by a coalition of thousands, if
not tens of thousands, of Palestinian Arab guerilla-terrorist
"civilians," acting in concert with tens of thousands of guerilla
"volunteers" and regular army soldiers who poured into Palestine from
six Arab states, but to remove the Arab inhabitants, or some of them,
from certain villages that served as bases of operation and sources of
recruits for the Palestinian and other Arab guerilla-terrorists.
The Israeli forces were extremely reluctant to take any measures
against their Palestinian Arab neighbors, whom most of the Israeli or
Palestinian Jews regarded with respect and even affection. But the
Israeli soldiers were sometimes forced to take such measures because
many of these same Arab neighbors, acting on instructions or orders from
their political leadership, had launched a violent, sustained attack on
the Jewish population of Israel-Palestine. If the Israel-Jewish defense
forces had not undertaken some harsh counter-guerilla measures in some
localities, the Palestinian-Israeli Jewish community, which then
numbered only 650,000-750,000 people, and which was interspersed among
nearly twice that many Arabs, might easily have suffered complete
The overwhelming preponderance of the evidence strongly indicates that
it was Arab, not Israeli, actions that were the primary cause of the
displacement of Palestinian Arabs during the war.
The war was begun not by Israel, but by the Palestinian Arab leaders
and by the governments of the Arab states, in an effort not only to
strangle the infant Jewish state in its crib, but also to exterminate
its Jewish inhabitants. The Palestinian and other Arab leaders were
quite frank about having begun the war. Jamal Husseini, the Acting
Chairman of the Arab Higher Committee for Palestine, told the United
Nations Security Council on April 16, 1948:
The representative of the Jewish Agency told us yesterday that they
were not the attackers, that the Arabs had begun the fighting. We did
not deny this. We told the whole world that we were going to fight.
Ismayil Safwat, one of the commanders of the Palestinian Arab
guerilla-terrorists, admitted in March, 1948 that:
"The Jews haven't attacked any Arab village, unless attacked first."
Nor did the Palestinian and other Arab leaders make any attempt to
conceal their genocidal objectives. The supreme Palestinian Arab leader,
Hajj Amin el-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem , exhorted his followers
over Radio Cairo,
"I declare a holy war, my Moslem brothers! Murder the Jews! Murder
Other Palestinian leaders made similar pronouncements. As for the
objectives of the Arab states' invasion of Palestine-Israel, they were
expressed clearly enough by the Secretary General of the League of Arab
States. According to a report in The New York Time son May 16, 1948,
"On the day that Israel declared its independence, Azzam Pasha,
Secretary General of the Arab League, at Cairo press conference declared
"jihad", a holy war. He said that the Arab states rejected partition and
would set up a "United State of Palestine." Pasha added: 'This will be a
war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of
like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.' "
The Palestinian Arab guerilla/terrorists began the war with a massacre
of Jewish civilian passengers in a bus passing through the Arab town of
Lydda (now Lod), on November 30, 1947. They subsequently attacked nearly
every Jewish village and urban neighborhood in Palestine, and closed all
of the major roads in Palestine to Jews through a regular system of
ambushes and sniper attacks. They also killed upwards of two thousand
Jews, at least half of them civilians, and wounded thousands of others
in the course of the war. In addition to attacking their Jewish
neighbors on their own, the Palestinian Arab guerilla/terrorists
cooperated closely with the invading armies of the six intervening Arab
states, who attacked the Jews with artillery, tanks, aircraft and
British-trained, and sometimes British-commanded, soldiers.
The Palestinian Arab guerilla-terrorists' siege of the roads created
severe shortages of food and fuel in some Jewish communities, most
notably in the Jerusalem area, where the Jewish inhabitants had to be
put on starvation rations by their own government and came close to
starving to death. The Arab guerilla-terrorists even blew up the water
aqueduct to the Jewish sections of Jerusalem, forcing the inhabitants to
drink only carefully rationed rain water.
For defending themselves against both the armed Palestinian Arab
"civilians" and the invasion forces of the Arab states, the Israelis had
only a hastily organized army that was really an ad hoc civilian
militia, poorly armed, and consisting mainly of men and women who had no
previous military training or experience, and who were drafted from
their normal civilian occupations only after the Arab attacks had
already begun. Only a small core of men and women, less than 10,000,
were fully trained and more or less professional soldiers. The Israeli
soldiers were not trained or experienced in occupying Arab communities
and separating out armed guerillas from peaceful civilians. In any case,
the Israelis had no manpower to spare for such delicate and
sophisticated counterinsurgency operations, since they had to repel the
armies of the invading Arab states even as they were forced to deal with
the "local" guerilla-terrorists as well. These unfortunate military
realities occasionally made expulsion of the inhabitants from "hostile"
villages that served as bases of operation for guerilla attacks on
Israeli soldiers and civilians the only practical means of halting these
On the other hand, Arab villages from which guerilla-terrorist attacks
did not originate, and that did not offer armed resistance to the
Israeli forces, were left alone by the Israeli soldiers; or if they were
occupied by the Israelis, the inhabitants were well treated, and were
not asked to leave Israeli-held territory. In a few cases, Arabs from
villages in which only a few families remained were asked to resettle
elsewhere in Israel, in more populous Arab villages a few miles away.
Where most of the inhabitants of a village had chosen to remain, the
village was left in place and undisturbed. That is why over a hundred of
the Arab communities dating to before Israel's independence still exist
in Israel, and have in fact expanded their populations by as much as
sevenfold in sixty years -- one of the most rapid population growth
rates in the world.
But Israeli counterinsurgency operations and security measures
accounted for only a small minority of the Palestinian Arabs who became
refugees during the War of Independence, or who claimed refugee status
after the war. A much larger number of Arabs fled their homes in
response to the urging, or even the orders and threats, of Arab
politicians and/or military commanders. Substantial contemporary
documentary evidence, much of it published at the time, clearly
indicates that both the Palestinian Arab leadership and the governments
of the Arab states that attacked Israel at this time called on their own
people to evacuate large areas of the country. For example, Kenneth
O.Bilby, the correspondent in Palestine for the New York Herald Tribune
during the War of Independence wrote in a book published shortly
afterwards that said:
The Arab exodus, initially at least, was encouraged by many Arab
leaders, such as Haj Amin el Husseini, the exiled pro-Nazi Mufti of
Jerusalem, and by the Arab Higher Committee for Palestine. They viewed
the first wave of Arab setbacks as merely transitory. Let the Palestine
Arabs flee into neighboring countries. It would serve to arouse the
other Arab peoples to greater effort, and when the Arab invasion struck,
the Palestinians could return to their homes and be compensated with the
property of Jews driven into the sea.
After the war, the Palestine Arab leaders did try to help people --
including their own -- to forget that it was they who had called for the
exodus in the early spring of 1948. They now blamed the leaders of the
invading Arab states themselves. These had added their voices to the
exodus call, though not until some weeks after the Palestine Arab Higher
Committee had taken a stand.
- Kenneth O. Bilby, New Star in the Middle East, (Doubleday,
And the British news magazine The Economist, no friend of Israel or the
Zionist movement, reported on October 2, 1948, while the war was still
in progress, that
Of the 62,000 Arabs who formerly lived in [the Palestinian, now
Israeli, city of] Haifa not more than 5,000 or 6,000 remained. Various
factors influenced their decision to seek safety in flight. There is
but little doubt that the most potent of the factors were the
announcements made over the air by the Higher Arab Executive, urging the
Arabs to quit... It was clearly intimated that those Arabs who remained
in Haifa and accepted Jewish protection would be regarded as renegades.
On May 3, 1948, the American news magazine Time reported that
The mass evacuation, prompted partly by fear, partly by order of Arab
leaders, left the Arab quarter of Haifa a ghost city.... By withdrawing
Arab workers their leaders hoped to paralyze Haifa .
Sir Alan Cunningham, the last high commissioner for the British
administration of Palestine, which was in the process of withdrawing
from the country while the fighting raged, wrote to the Colonial Office
in London on February 22, 1948, and again on April 28, 1948, that
British authorities in Haifa have formed the impression that total
evacuation is being urged on the Haifa Arabs from higher Arab quarters
and that the townsfolk themselves are against it.
The American consulate in Haifa had telegraphed Washington on April 25
that "local Mufti-dominated Arab leaders urge all Arabs (to) leave (the)
city [Haifa] and large numbers are going." Three days later the
consulate followed up this communication with another that said,
"reportedly Arab Higher Committee ordering all Arabs (to) leave."
On April 23, Jamal Husseini, the Acting Chairman for the Arab Higher
Committee for Palestine , admitted as much in a speech to the United
Nations Security Council:
The Arabs did not want to submit to a truce. They rather preferred to
abandon their homes, their belongings and everything they possessed in
the world and leave the town. This is in fact what they did.
And on April 27, 1950, only two years after the Arab evacuation of
Haifa, the Arab National Committee of Haifa asserted in a memorandum
submitted to the governments of the Arab states that
The removal of the Arab inhabitants... was voluntary and was carried
out at our request... The Arab delegation proudly asked for the
evacuation of the Arabs and their removal to the neighboring Arab
countries.... We are very glad to state that the Arabs guarded their
honour and traditions with pride and greatness.... When the
[Arab]delegation entered the conference room [for negotiations with the
Jewish authorities in Haifa] it proudly refused to sign the truce and
asked that the evacuation of the Arab population and their transfer to
neighboring Arab countries be facilitated.
In June 1949, only six months after the conclusion of hostilities, Sir
John Troutbeck, the head of the British Middle East office in Cairo and,
according to historian Efraim Karsh, "no friend to Israel or the Jews,"
made a fact-finding visit to Gaza and interviewed some of the Arab
refugees there. Troutbeck reported that he had learned from these
interviews that the refugees
...express no bitterness against the Jews (or for that matter against
the Americans or ourselves) [but] they speak with the utmost bitterness
of the Egyptians and other Arab states. "We know who our enemies are,"
they will say, and they are referring to their Arab brothers who, they
declare, persuaded them unnecessarily to leave their home... I even
heard it said that many of the refugees would give a welcome to the
Israelis if they were to come in and take the district over.
And the Palestinian Arab newspaper Falastin, only a month after the war
ended (Feb. 19, 1949), reported that
The Arab states which had encouraged the Palestinian Arabs to leave
their homes temporarily in order to be out of the way of the Arab
invasion armies, have failed to keep their promise to help these
Whatever their motives for giving such reckless, irresponsible
instructions to the Palestinian Arabs, the leaders of the jihad against
Israel, including both the chiefs of the Arab States and the Palestinian
Arab leaders, bear a heavy load of guilt for inflicting suffering on
their own people, and then dishonestly blaming Israel for the
consequences of their own actions. The time is long overdue for the Arab
League governments to accept responsibility for the people whom they
have displaced and in many cases left stateless by their attempt, in
cooperation with the Palestinian Arab leadership, to strangle Israel and
exterminate her people in the year of her birth. And it is high time
that today's Arab leaders, and the Palestinian Arab terrorist
organizations whom they finance and sponsor, cease to exploit, as a
propaganda weapon in their ongoing war against Israel, the suffering
that an earlier generation of Arab leaders inflicted on their own
John Landau contributed to the article.
Documentation and Further Reading : The quotations from Arab and
British sources in this article may be found on the world wide web at
Israel Defender here, and:
Two articles by Efraim Karsh,"Were the Palestinians expelled? The story
of Haifa,", and "Rights and Wrongs: History and the Palestinian "Right
of Return," form the best general introductions to the origins of the
Palestinian Arab refugee community, and the causes of the Palestinian
"exodus" of 1948. Eli E. Hertz, Arab and Jewish Refugees-The Contrast,
and David Meir-Levi, Big Lies: Demolishing The Myths of the Propaganda
War Against Israel, also provide useful summaries of these historical
events. In addition, all of the web pages linked above provide
important and useful information on this subject.
Seth Franzman's article in the August 16, 2007 issue of the Jerusalem
Post,, provides a good summary of the "military" background of terrorism
and aggression against the Israeli Jewish community. Those wishing to
study the military background of the Palestinian Arab refugee exodus in
greater depth should consult Netenel Lorch, The Edge of the Sword:
Israel's War of Independence 1947-1949, and One Long War, both available
from amazon.com; as well as John and David Kimche, A Clash of Destinies:
The Arab-Jewish War and the Founding of the State of Israel, also
published under the alternative title Both Sides of the Hill: Britain
and the Palestine War, which is available under both titles from
Demographic information about Israel 's Jewish and Arab population is
available from Israel 's Central Bureau of Statistics.
CELEBRATE ISRAEL AT 60!
Celebrate 60 years of Israel's independence by joining the first ever
UK 'Salute to Israel' parade!
Please visit our website at:
MEDIA AS POLITICAL PROPAGANDA
Laina Farhat-Holzman: Media as political propaganda
Our Founding Fathers regarded a press free from government interference as an essential institution for the protection of democracy. The press was to inform voters through a diversity of viewpoints and to prevent the abuse of power that thrives in the absence of scrutiny.
In the real world, however, media often serve as mouthpieces of the government in power or a distraction of scandal and gossip as we often find in the American and European popular tabloids.
In some dictatorships there is only one view permitted -- the dictator's -- and foreign journalists are barred. In Burma and North Korea, we have seen the necessity to clandestinely cover Burma's flood-storm disaster or Korea's recurring starvation.
But in sophisticated dictatorships Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, foreign journalists were permitted but were under constraint. Uncooperative journalists were expelled. Journalists couldn't cover the country at all if they were expelled, so they had to wait until the end of their tour of duty to tell the truth.
One area of the world that needs to be covered honestly is the Arab Middle East -- an area that plays a major role in American foreign policy. Israel has a rambunctiously free press, but the Arab world, particularly the Palestinian territories and Gaza, is a different case. Local journalists foolish enough to expose graft or corruption will not live long. Foreign journalists must be pro-Palestinian or they are expelled. And some foreign journalists let themselves be used for political propaganda.
Perhaps you will remember one searing image that came out of Gaza: the image of Mohammed Al Dura, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, crouching in terror behind his father as Israeli bullets flew and ultimately killed the child and wounded the father. The Palestinian media turned it into a major propaganda piece to convince the Muslim world -- and Europe -- that Israeli soldiers deliberately shot the child in a 45-minute hail of machine-gun fire. This image has permeated the psyches of Muslims everywhere, resulting in streets named for the "martyr" and postage stamps commemorating this horror for eternity.
The photo image and story came from a Palestinian journalist and was broadcast by a French journalist working for one of the official French TV networks. CNN saw the photos and rejected them as dubious, but later covered the issue after the "respectable" French network showed them. They assumed that due diligence validated the photos.
Philippe Karsenty, a French journalist and media critic, has taken a different show on the road. On May 13, at UC Santa Cruz, a consortium of scholars for peace in the Middle East, Stand With Us and Leviathan, sponsored his talk. We saw footage before and after the "incident" and some very damning evidence that the entire Dura incident was staged. The footage shown on French and world TV was edited; we saw original footage. The testimonies of the Palestinian and French journalists were very inconsistent. They claimed that the Israelis fired for 45 minutes against a wall, intending to kill the father and the boy he was protecting. However, the film showed no firing coming from the Israeli barracks at all; it also showed only seven small round bullet holes in the wall, and not a drop of blood -- quite impossible after 45 minutes of firing that would have dismantled the wall as well the father and son.
A dead child's body was photographed in the morgue, but this child did not look like what we could see of Dura. Furthermore, the death of the child, his identification in the morgue, and the funeral, complete with printed posters, all took place an hour or two after the shooting. That efficiency should be bottled and sold. Karsenty, who was sued by French TV 2, has won his case in court, validating his accusations of fraudulent journalism.
The supposedly wounded father was shown with very old scars, not new bullet wounds -- and apparently when investigated were found to be from a previous brush with Palestinian factions. The entire filming was so blatantly fraudulent that it is embarrassing to see. The horror is the damage this piece of theater has done.
Buyer beware. This is not journalism.