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Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Nakba

"[A] contention is that most of the Israeli actions involving violence against Palestinian civilians were carried out by local commanders acting on their own initiative, and that there was consequently no grand Zionist design for the expulsion of Palestine's Arabs. This claim is at least partially supported by recent research, moreover, most notably by Morris's important study which documents many specific abuses by Jewish forces but nonetheless concludes that there was no explicit or official “expulsion policy."” Morris reports that until April 1948, by which time the first wave of refugees had departed, “there was no Yishuv plan or policy to expel the Arab inhabitants of Palestine, either from the area destined for Jewish statehood or those lying outside it.”" Further, the continuing Arab exodus of the next two months “caught the Yishuv leadership, including the authors of Plan D, by surprise.” And even during the fighting in July that brought Arab departures from Lydda, Ramleh, and other areas, “there was no Cabinet or IDF General Staff—level decision to expel. . . . [There was in fact] an explicit IDF General Staff order to all units and corps to avoid destruction of Arab villages and expulsion of Arab communities without prior authorization by the Defense Minister." Thus, despite his documentation of Zionist actions that contributed to the Palestinian exodus, Morris’s general conclusion is that “the Palestinian refugee problem was born of war, not by design, Jewish or Arab. lt was largely a by-product of Arab and Jewish fears and of the protracted, bitter fighting that characterized the first Israeli-Arab war.

In discussing the issue of atrocities, Israelis often assert that the use of violence against civilians was actually more common among the Arabs during the 1947-48 War, and that instances of so-called Jewish terrorism were consequently limited in relative as well as absolute terms. Those who make the case for Israel note that Arab spokesmen in 1948 threatened to carry out massacres against the Jews. They also point out that these words were in some instances accompanied by deeds. As a result, such analyses conclude, it was in reality the Arabs who waged a campaign of psychological warfare and who both threatened and practiced terrorism. Eban cites the following statement by the secretary-general of the Arab League as an example of Arab rhetoric and, presumably, of Arab intentions: “This will be a war of extermination. It will be a momentous massacre to be spoken of like the Mongolian massacre and the Crusades." An example of an act which gave tangible expression to such threats was the ambush of a Jewish convoy traveling to Hadassah Hospital and the Hebrew University, both in Jerusalem, under the protecting colors of the Red Cross. Seventy-seven Jewish doctors, nurses, teachers, and students were killed in the attack, which took place on April 11. Another was the massacre a month later of prisoners at Kfar Etzion, a Jewish community east of Jerusalem. According to one Israeli account, the Arab Legion’s conquest of the area was followed by the arrival of Arab villagers, “who massacred [Jewish] prisoners, both men and women being lined up and shot in cold blood: three men and a girl, who managed to escape under cover of darkness, were all who survived from the entire population to tell the tale."

Although some sources suggest that these attacks were an attempt to take revenge for the slaughter at Deir Yassin, there were atrocities committed by Arabs even before the Deir Yaxin episode. A vivid account is given by Uri Avnery, an Israeli journalist and politician who is highly critical of Zionist policy on most accounts. Avnery, who was himself a soldier in 1948, writes that in the early stages of the lighting “Arab irregulars and primitive villagers . . . killed and mutilated every Hebrew who fell into their hands. We all saw the pictures of the severed heads of our comrades paraded through the alleys of the old city of Jerusalem. . . No one can quite understand what happened later on without realizing the impact of these pictures on the small Hebrew community.” A related consideration is that such episodes may also have had a psychological impact on the Palestinians and heightened their own fears of Jewish terrorism, since Jews would naturally be expected to take revenge for real or threatened Arab atrocities. As Sykes suggests, “The terror was all the more since many Palestine Arabs had a bad conscience about atrocity toward the Jews." This point is also emphasized by Morris, whose account includes the statement of an English sergeant about the surrender of Jaffa: “The Arabs were frightened to death when they imagined to themselves that the Jews would do to them half of what they would have done to the Jews were the situations reversed."

Returning to the question of the Palestinian exodus, Israeli sources emphasize that the fear and panic which caused many Arabs to abandon their homes were to a large extent the result of rumors or exaggerated reports about Zionist atrocities that were circulated by the Arabs themselves, rather than by the Jews. This point is made by Sykes, among others, who adds that such behavior was highly counterproductive from the Arab point of view.

The Arab radio-propaganda dwelt on atrocity stories and exaggerated them. Unknowingly, the Arab propagandists did the work of the Irgun and the Sternists for them. The aim was to inflame men with hatred of the Jews; the effect was to fill them with terror of Arab readiness to take flight . . . became greater every day after the news of Deir Yassin had been first broadcast. It was reputed with inflated figures and invented vileness in excess of the vileness of the deed itself.

A similar assessment is made by Furlonge, who writes from a viewpoint sympathetic to the Arabs. He notes that news of Israeli atrocities was disseminated “by word of mouth and through Arab radios." He states also that “Arab governments, by trying to raise world indignation against the Israelis by spreading word of their misdeeds, caused panic amongst the unwarlike Palestine peasantry." This can be seen in the testimony of one of the refugees interviewed by Nazzal, for example. “We heard about the massacre of Deir Yassin," he recalled. “Arab newspapers and radios said a great deal. It encouraged us to arm ourselves, but it also scared us."

The conclusion to be drawn, Israeli spokesmen reiterate, is that there was no grand Zionist design for the expulsion of Palestine‘s Arabs. Actions involving violence against Arab civilians were far less extensive than charged by Israel's enemies; those abuses which did occur, while serious, were in many cases carried out by local commanders acting on personal initiative; and the panic sown among Palestinians by exaggerated accounts of “Zionist terrorism” was the result of Arab propaganda much more than a Jewish campaign of psychological war- fare. As noted above, the analyses of Morris, reflecting research rather than propaganda, are among the most serious attempts to demonstrate that there was no Israeli master plan for expelling the Arabs from Palestine. Morris repeats this conclusion in a recent exchange with critics, carried out, interestingly, in the pages of the journal of Palestine Studies, and he supports his argument with an account of Israel’s capture of the upper and central Galilee pocket in October 1948. The operation had been thoroughly planned weeks in advance, and upon its complexion “the IDF had full control of the territory, the fog of battle thoroughly covered the whole area, and Israel/the IDF could have done . . . whatever it wanted with impunity." Accordingly, Morris asks, “Why is it, then—if a policy of expulsion was in place and being implemented—that more than half the pocket's [6o,ooo Arab] inhabitants, many of them Muslims, were left in place?”

Supporters of Israel often add to their denials of a systematic expulsion policy the claim that Jews in some instances sought to prevent the Palestinian exodus. Zionists point out that Israel’s very Declaration of Independence calls upon the Arabs to remain in the country. “Even amidst the violent attacks launched against us for months past,‘ the document declares, “we call upon the sons of the Arab people dwelling in Israel to keep the peace and to play their part in building the state on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its institutions.” Zionists argue that they had every reason to work for the realization of these ideals. It was in Israel’s interest to demonstrate that the United Nations had proposed a workable as well as a fair compromise, and that a Jewish state could be established without preventing Palestinians from realizing their own aspirations for independence and statehood. This was particularly important in light of the Arab world's rejection of partition and Israel's need for international recognition.

The case of Haifa is cited most frequently to support the claim that Jews sought to persuade Arabs to remain in their communities of origin. Three weeks before independence was declared, the Jewish Workers’ Council of Haifa issued a proclamation urging the Arabs of the city not to flee. It stated, in part, “Do not fear . . . and do not bring upon yourself tragedy by unnecessary evacuation and self-imposed burdens. . . . In this city, yours and ours, Haifa, the gates are open for work, for life, and for peace for you and your family." In addition, once Arabs began to flee, the city’s Jewish mayor, Shabtai Levy, made a personal appeal to Palestinian authorities, urging them to call for a halt to the exodus. They refused, however, and Levy then went into the streets and implored the departing Arabs to remain, again without success.'” An independent account of these events mentioned by pro-Israeli sources is a British police report which declares that “every effort is being made by the Jews to persuade the Arab populace to stay and carry on with their normal lives, to get their shops and businesses open and to be assured that their lives and interests will be safe." Another account is an article in the Economist, from October 2., 1948. It states that “Jewish authorities . . . urged all Arabs to remain in Haifa and guaranteed them protection and security."

Although they applaud the efforts of the city's mayor and a number of other local Zionist officials, pro-Arab sources insist that events in Haifa are not indicative of Zionist policy elsewhere. They also point out, correctly, that supporters of Israel tend to generalize from the case of Haifa without presenting comparable documentation pertaining to other area. Nevertheless, there are at least a few other instances in which Jew: sought to prevent the Palestinian flight. During the early stages of the war, Jews sometimes distributed leaflets calling upon Palestinians to remain in their homes. Indeed, according to a credible Israeli observer, the Hagana in some cases risked the lives of its soldiers to distribute these leaflets to Arab villagers.” A few of Nazzal’s respondents also give accounts that support Israeli claims. According to a refuge from Hittin, for example, “We were not threatened by our Jewish neighbors at Kfar Hittin. As early 5 November . . . they approached us and assured us they did not want a war with us. Another, from El Khalisa, reports that the Jews distributed leaflets saying they wanted peace and asking villagers to remain in their homes, although he adds that most Arabs thought this to be a trick."

--- A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict / Mark A. Tessler
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