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> Freemasonry in Ottoman Palestine
> The Time the Peasants Entered Jerusalem
> Re-examining Egyptian Rule: Who laid the...
> Palestinian Education
> The Players - Some of the people who had a part in...
> The Crusades are part of Palestinian history, but...
> Interesting highlights on Jerusalem after 1291
> The colorful history of Bethlehem
> The Expulsions of 1948
> Pre 1948 Palestine. What really happened ?
> The Jewish connection with Palestine
> Church of the Nativity
> History of Palestine
> A brief history of Bethlehem
> Lepers, Lunatics and Saints
> Palestinian Identity
> An overview of the 20th century history of Palestine
> Debate about history, 16-2-2006, between...
The story of the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians during Israel's ironically called “War of Independence,” as interpreted by the Israelis , had been explored at a conference at Exeter University on May 26 1990. With the recent appointment of Yitzhak Shamir's right-wing government, the relevance of studying the expulsion of 1948 was all too apparent.
Re the Palestinian dispossession of 1948. The first speaker, a Palestinian Israeli citizen, related how the Arabs in Israel in recent months felt threatened by right-wing politicians, as well as organized Israelis, who advocate the “transfer” of Palestinians out of the Zionist state and the occupied territories in a repeat of 1948.
A summary of what happened in 1948, drawn from some interesting points made at the Exeter University conference. History could, repeat itself in a somewhat different way. What might be seen in the immediate future was a new, larger exodus of Palestinians from Israel and the occupied territories. The audience was challenged to point out how this was wrong.
Regrettably, speaker after speaker rose to admit his or her own pessimistic view that expulsion rather than large-scale return was the more realistic possibility for Palestinians in the foreseeable future. It became more imperative to study the expulsions of 1948.
Origin of the Controversy
The 1948 war remains one of the crucial events in the Zionist-Palestinian conflict.
Its origin can be traced to the beginning of Jewish colonization in Palestine in the late 19th century.
Long a part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, the Holy Land became a British mandate territory after World War I. During this period, the population of Palestine, which had been 95 percent Arab ( non Jewish ), developed a nascent nationalism as a result of the growing opposition to the Zionist intrusion.
There was sporadic conflict, especially in the 1930's, when the Palestinian dissipated their strength against the British.
An inevitable clash with the Zionists occurred, in November 1947, when the U.N. General Assembly approved a plan to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.
During the war, in which the Palestinians received lukewarm support from the neighboring Arab countries, the Zionists enlarged the Jewish state by force of arms so that it would occupy 80 percent of historic Palestine.
Some 150,000 Arabs remained in the new state of Israel, and about 750,000 were pushed out –creating the refugee problem that has plagued the Middle East ever since.
From the outset, the official Israeli version of the 1948 events accused the Palestinians of causing the war and charged them with being responsible for their own exodus from their homeland.
As early as August 10, 1948, Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett, deliberately twisted facts, and informed U.N. Secretary-General Trygve Lie that the Palestinians had “left in obedience to direct orders by local military commanders and partly as a result of the panic campaign spread among Palestinian Arabs by the leaders of the individual Arab states.”
For many years this story, with further embellishments, was propagated by Zionist authors and generally accepted throughout the western world, particularly the United States.
Jewish Propaganda .
In the book Exodus, Leon Uris refers to “the absolutely documented fact that the Arab leaders wanted the civilian population to leave Palestine as a political issue and a military weapon.”
In the motion picture version, viewers actually hear (conveniently in English) mythic radio broadcasts in which the Palestinians are ordered to leave their homes by their leaders, who are inspired by Nazi advisors.
The Israeli forces, gallantly headed by actor Paul Newman, make a persistent but futile attempt to persuade the Palestinians to remain. The Arabs are terrorized into leaving by the “Mufti's Gang” who are carrying out a diabolic scheme.
Numerous Zionist accounts claim that the Palestinians fled in 1948 “on orders from the Arab High Command” and because of “the fiery propaganda by Arab League orators,” beamed into Palestine from surrounding Arab capitals. Other Zionist authors maintain “many Arabs were encouraged to leave by their own leaders who promised that they would be able to return.”
Various reasons have been offered as to why the Arab leaders ordered the Palestinians to leave their homes.
One explanation suggests that they wanted to provide “a clear field of fire” for the Arab armies that were being sent to Palestine, as well as to show that the Arabs refused to accept the partition plan.
Some pro-Israeli writers indicate that Arab leaders ordered the Palestinians to leave their homes because they feared that they might help the Israelis fight the Arab armies that were being sent to rescue them.
It is not difficult to understand why the Israeli government and its supporters propagated this story. If they could show that the Palestinians were responsible for their own exile, it would justify the policy of forbidding the refugees to return and later the refusal to allow a West Bank-Gaza state.
In recent years this extreme view has become difficult to maintain because of the abundant evidence contradicting the claim that the Palestinians were responsible for their own exile.
Erskine Childers and Walid Khalidi were among the early scholars who pointed out the distortions in the Zionist view of the Palestinian exodus. Using transcripts or audio transmissions, they showed that Arab leaders did not order the Palestinians to flee and that Zionist plans promoted expulsions in many parts of Palestine. But their work had little effect in the United States, where the Hollywood image of the “War of Independence” was the prevalent view.
Joan Peters' From Time Immemorial represents a recent effort to discredit the Palestinians' claim to their own land and revive myths about 1948. Peters asserts that the Palestinians are not the descendants of the indigenous inhabitants of the Holy Land, but infiltrators from surrounding Arab countries.
She even implies that the Jews of Palestine have been the innocent victims of a Palestinian invasion before 1948, designed to displace the indigenous Jews! Peters uses extensive footnotes in order to prove that the Palestinians were not indigenous to Palestine and that they were not expelled in 1948.
Of course, Peters ignores most of the legitimate books and doctoral dissertations on Palestine demography, much of which is the work of Jewish scholars.
In most European countries Peters' work has been described as “preposterous,” “not history,” and a blemish on Zionist historiography.
In the United States, despite exposes by Norman Finkelstein and others, Peters' book is taken seriously by extreme right-wing Zionists and others who should know better.
In recent years, however, a less extreme Zionist view of Israeli history has emerged. Largely reflecting the view of the center-left in their country, the Israeli “revisionists” have gained wide acceptance in this country among liberal Zionist circles.
Tom Segev, a well-known Israeli journalist, received a degree in European history from Boston University. He has written about the Nazi era and has been often quoted on war crime matters, particularly the recent Damjanjuk case. Segev's book on the early days of the Jewish state was a best seller in Israel, with wide distribution in the United States. It is by far the best written of the Israeli works.
Contrast this with the work of Benny Morris, who writes in the driest possible academic style that makes no attempt at readability. His book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, is a work designed to be quoted rather than read. Despite its flaws and the frequent self-contradictions, there is some usable information and evidence of considerable research in official archives. Like Segev, Morris is an Israeli journalist with a Ph.D. in European history. At last report he was working at the Brookings Institute on a book dealing with Israeli foreign relations in the 1950s.
Until his death, Simha Flapan was National Secretary of Israel's left Mapam party, director of its Arab affairs department, and a distinguished peace activist. In view of his leftist background, it is not surprising that his book is more critical of many aspects of Zionist policy in the 1948 era. Flapan has been widely praised by many supporters of the Palestinian cause, but his defense of Zionisism is apparent in his work.
Jewish writers show a tendency to accept the carefully screened files released by the Israel State Archives, Central Zionist Archives and various document collections and official histories published in Israel.
Equally noticeable is a marked reluctance to supplement their work with far more reliable non-Israeli sources or Israeli sources which are inconsistent with their theses.
Typical is Tom Segev's consideration of the highly controversial question of Mossad's [Israeli intelligence] involvement in the bombing of a Baghdad synagogue in order to terrorize Iraqi Jews into fleeing to Israel. Segev writes:
When the files of the Mossad were opened to researchers, they were shown to include a correspondence between the Mossad's agents in Baghdad and their superiors in Tel Aviv on the subject of the synagogue attack.
The BBC and CIA broadcasts monitoring of the Middle East, which have greater reliability than the highly selective Israel State Archives broadcast monitoring used by Benny Morris.
This is no small oversight, since most of the central questions concerning the exodus of Palestinians in 1948 involve radio transmissions. These include the Arab attempts to convince the Palestinians to remain in their homes and the Zionist campaign of psychological warfare designed to persuade the Palestinians to flee.
Both the BBC and CIA records show that broadcasts by Palestinian authorities and Arab governments urging their people to stay and Zionist psychological warfare radio transmissions urging Arab civilians to flee were very common in 1948.
Benny Morris, who uses the radio transcripts from the Israel State Archives, mentions few such broadcasts in his works. Ironically, the BBC and CIA monitoring services are an important source of information for every major newspaper. As a former journalist for the Jerusalem Post, Benny Morris is certainly familiar with them.
Equally disappointing is the failure of the Israeli historians to use the U.N. archives, especially the reports of the United Nations observers in Palestine in 1948. Though they all came from western countries such as France and the USA, which were pro-Zionist, the U.N. observers filed objective field reports which describe the expulsions being carried out by the Israelis during the latter part of the war.
All archives, of course, are censored, but on different subjects. The U.N. archives are censored in order to protect the reputation of the organization and prominent personalities associated with it.
It is unlikely that American, British or U.N. archives would censor material on the Palestinian exodus of 1948, which is of no direct concern to them. Clearly, both Arab and Israeli sources on the 1948 exodus must be used with great care, particularly if the information is self-serving.
One favorite source is Ben-Gurion's diary. Although useful, it should be treated with great caution, since Morris himself tells us that the diary is motivated by the Israeli leader's concern for his place in history and the image of the new state he wishes to project for posterity. This does not prevent Morris from using the diary as a major source for his analysis of the Palestinian flight as well as other sensitive subjects.
Benny Morris tells us, “I decided to refrain almost completely from using interviews with Jews and Arabs as sources of information. I was brought up believing in the value of documents.”
Morris' regard for documentation is indeed commendable, were it not for his tendency to choose sources which support his views, while avoiding those document collections which contain information inconsistent with his principal arguments.
His decision not to use the testimony of Israeli veterans is unfortunate, since some of them have spoken candidly about Israeli atrocities and expulsion of civilians at Deir Yassin, Lydda-Ramle and Jaffa.
Clearly, the testimony of and the memoirs of Palestinian survivors of 1948, was verified by non-Arab sources.
For example, there is the case of Amina Musa, an Arab peasant woman from Kabri, a small village in Galilee, who described the devastation of her village on May 21, 1948, during a Zionist attack aimed at apprehending Faris Sirhan, a Palestinian nationalist leader in the area.
Within the diary of General McNeil, a retired British officer with large landholdings in Galilee, the entry for May 21 reads: “Every house in Kabri demolished. Faris Sirhan's big new house was the first to go up. He is a member of the Arab Higher Committee in Damascus.” On other occasions It is found that the refugees' estimates of casualties in Zionist atrocities was lower than those of the U.S. and other neutral observers, who, in some cases, counted the bodies of victims.
Of course, not all Palestinian testimony is without error. Taken together with non-Arab verification, however, it can be a useful source for students of this period, particularly since 1948 is not just a historical controversy but also a human tragedy.
Segev's book has a definite human dimension, providing much personal testimony that brings the story to life. His reliance on Israeli sources is understandable, since his central focus is the Israeli domestic scene.
But the first section of his book, which deals with Arabs in the new Jewish state, suffers from a lack of sources which reflect a Palestinian perspective.
Arab memoirs or oral testimony would have been highly appropriate here.
Flapan's book is the most disappointing with regard to sources. Based largely on the document collections published by the Israeli Government, it contains only a small amount of new material from Israeli archives and U.S. State Department files. In addition to neglecting the U.N. Archives and BBC and CIA monitoring services and the testimony of Israeli veterans, Flapan has failed to utilize the British Archives. This is a major shortcoming in a book which is supposed to cover the whole range of diplomatic, military and political aspects of the war and pre-war era.
Who Started The War?
Few periods of history are as shrouded in myth as the era when the Zionist state was created.
Dispelling the myths, including those surrounding the origin of the 1948 war.
Clearly, the underlying cause of the conflict was the Zionist realization that a state could not be formed without removing the large Arab population which was increasing faster than the rate of Jewish immigration.
Flapan claims “the documents show that the war was not inevitable.” Various peace proposals, according to Flapan, were favored by the left Zionists, but were outvoted by David Ben-Gurion, the future prime minister, and his dominant Labor Party faction. Chief among these abortive peace plans was an American proposal that would have created a three-month truce during which the U.N. partition resolution and the proclamation of a Jewish state would have been postponed.
Although possibly delayed, the war could not have been avoided indefinitely. The Jewish state created by the U.N. partition resolution was not viable, but the Zionists favored it, since they believed that it would be a jumping-off point to a larger Arab-free state.
In 1937, Ben-Gurion told a Zionist meeting, “I favor partition of the country because when we become a strong power after the establishment of the state, we will abolish partition and spread throughout Palestine.”
A year earlier, Ben-Gurion had written his son that if the Palestinians could not be removed from the country by negotiations, then “we will expel the Arabs and take their place.”
Morris' propaganda claims that the primary responsibility for initiating hostilities rests with the Palestinians who “intended to destroy the Jewish state and possibly also the Yishuv [Jewish community] .”
He thereby attempts to resurrect the myth that the Arabs started the war in order to massacre the Jewish colonists in Palestine.
Clearly both sides in late 1947 and early 1948, after the passage of the U.N. partition resolution, contributed to the escalating violence, since they realized that a war was inevitable.
In December 1947, the Irgun and Stern Jewish terrorist gangs and other Jewish terrorist organizations responded to the Palestinian demonstrations against the U.N. partition resolution. On December 13, British High commissioner Sir Alan Cunningham reported to London:
The initial Arab outbreaks were spontaneous and unorganized and were more demonstrations of displeasure at the U.N. decision than determined attacks on Jews. The weapons initially employed were sticks and stones and had it not been for Jewish recourse to firearms, it is not impossible that the excitement would have subsided and little loss of life been caused. This is more probable since there is reliable evidence that the Arab Higher Committee as a whole, and the Mufti in particular, although pleased at the strong response to the strike call, were not in favor of serious outbreaks.
Cunningham believed that Haganah [the military force of the Jewish Agency] was involved in provoking an escalation of the conflict. On December 15, the High Commissioner reported that the Jewish Agency was also responsible for the “dissident” Stern Gang and Irgun terrorism. He noted, “the dissident groups are now working so closely together that the Agency's claim that they cannot control the dissidents is inadmissible.” Cunningham's assertion that the Arabs were not solely responsible for starting the conflict is confirmed by the text of a meeting of the Zionist leaders in January 1948 where Gad Machnes, an expert on Arab affairs, reported, “The Palestinian Arabs were divided and a majority among them did not want a war.”
There is a a common theme of most Zionist historians, which is used to excuse the numerous atrocities committed by Jewish forces in the so called “War of Independence.”
In reality, there is no reason to believe that the Arab states planned the extermination of Jewish colonists in Palestine in 1948. Indeed, all the evidence argues against it.
Monitorings of the Palestinian and Arab states' radio broadcasts during 1948 reveal that no threats of extermination were made against the Zionist colonists in Palestine. The statements circulated for many years by Zionist historians have long since been proven to be fake.
With the exception of the retaliation for the Deir Yassin massacre, Jewish civilians captured by Arabs in 1948 were well treated. This was even noted by Haganah radio, which on March 29 reported on some wounded Jews who fell into Arab hands. “Arab doctors arrived in cars, and promptly gave medical assistance to all wounded Jews.” [ When the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem fell to Arab forces, according to U.N. observers and Jewish civilians, the behavior of Arab troops was above reproach.
How Were the Palestinians Expelled?
The principal myth perpetuated by the Zionists is that the Zionists had no intention of expelling Arabs from the state they were organizing. According to Tom Segev, in early 1948 the Jewish Agency made plans for “the integration of the Arabs into the life of the state.”
There is, however, no reason to believe that Ben-Gurion and his associates had given up their plans for an enlarged Jewish state from which most of the Palestinians would be excluded.
They were well aware that the state proposed by the partition resolution left the Jews in danger of becoming a minority in their Zionist nation, which would not be viable unless large numbers of Arabs were excluded. But the Zionists were not sure how to get rid of the Palestinians.
While the fighting escalated in early 1948, Jewish Agency technical experts drew up plans for a state in which the Arab population would enjoy limited rights but would be denied any real power.
A memorandum developed by A. Lotsky outlined “Principles and Aims of our Policy Towards the Arabs.” According to this document, a major aim in the new Zionist state would be to reduce Arab “political identification” and “prevent political and religious activism.” The ultimate goal of Zionist policy in the new state would be “to encourage the emigration of discontented Arabs.” Various legal and financial harassment was suggested in order to encourage Arab emigration.
The 1948 war provided the opportunity for the Zionists to eject the Palestinians at gunpoint.
During the early phase of the Zionist-Palestinian conflict, the Arab exodus was relatively slow. This was largely a middle-class phenomenon. Flapan stresses the effect of Zionist economic warfare and the destruction of the Palestinian urban base, as well as the expulsion from surrounding villages, as a principal cause of the exodus in the first months of the war.
He also mentions the Zionist campaign of psychological warfare, including leaflets dropped from the air, as a cause of Palestinian flight. Flapan's description of this early flight would have been enhanced if he had used British documents and Palestinian testimony which are available for this period.
Indeed, Benny Morris' description of the Palestinian exodus from Haifa reveals the shortcomings of an attempt to utilize predominantly official Israeli sources. For one thing, he relegates the discussion of Zionist psychological warfare to a single paragraph. He neglects the stories spread by several Jewish radio stations of epidemics and vandalism by Arab troops. Nor does Morris mention the testimony of many Jewish witnesses, including Leo Heiman and Arthur Koestler, as well as British and American diplomatic and military people, which indicates that a campaign of Zionist psychological warfare was a major factor in the exodus of Palestinians from Haifa.
In his footnotes, Morris makes about a half dozen claims of errors and omissions in Walid Khalidi's early article on the fall of Haifa, which ironically is far more accurate than Morris' in the light of more recent objective information. Morris neglects not only the Zionist campaign of psychological warfare, but also Irgun looting and the Arab radio broadcast, which attempted to stem the exodus from Haifa.
There are other inaccuracies in Morris' description of the situation in Haifa, particularly his effort to discredit the British explanation of why for a brief period the Zionists tried to prevent the exodus of the remaining Arabs in the city after the majority had fled. There were, in fact, a number of reasons, among them the economic situation. But Morris believes that the British evaluation (that the Jews wanted the Arabs to remain in Haifa because they required their labor) was “probably based on prejudice,” thus implying that the British were motivated by anti-Semitism.
There is overwhelming evidence, in addition to numerous British reports, that economic considerations were an important factor in the desire of many Jewish officials to keep at least some Arabs in Haifa in late April 1948. The American diplomatic representative in Haifa, Aubrey Lippincott, believed this to be the situation after talking to many Zionist leaders. There is also a report in the Central Zionist Archives showing that Golda Meir wanted some Arabs to remain in Haifa because, “we suffer from a lack of workers in the city.” She was told by a Jewish leader in Haifa that “two to three thousand Arab workers must be brought into the oil refineries, otherwise production will cease.”
Morris also overlooks Israeli evidence with regard to the Deir Yassin massacre. He correctly points out that the atrocity “had the most lasting effect of any single event of the war in precipitating the flight of Arab villagers from Palestine.” However, Morris relegates a description of the massacre to one paragraph in which he twists “the weight of evidence suggesting that the dissident Stern Gang and Irgun terrorist gangs did not go in with the intention of committing a massacre, but lost their heads during the battle.”
This assertion is contradicted by the testimony of the Jewish terrorists who attacked Deir Yassin, making it clear that a massacre was discussed before the raid.
According to an Irgun officer, Yehuda Lapidot, the Stern terrorist Gang “put forward a proposal to liquidate the residents of the village after the conquest in order to show the Arabs what happens when the Irgun and Stern terrorist gangs set out together on an operation.” Benzion Cohen, Irgun commander of the raid, recalled that at a pre-attack meeting, “the majority was for liquidation of the men in the village and others that opposed us, whether it be old people, women and children.”
Morris is equally mistaken about the causes of the intervention of the Arab states in the war between the Zionists and the indigenous population of Palestine. He notes that the leaders of the Arab states “understood that they would need a good reason to justify armed intervention in Palestine on the morrow of the planned British departure–the mass exodus presented as a planned Zionist expulsion afforded such a reason.”
The Arab states were not looking for a reason to enter the war, but for an excuse to stay out. After the easy Jewish victories, especially in Haifa, Arab leaders saw that the Zionists had developed a formidable fighting machine which their huge and well armed military forces,
Arab masses, however, in Beirut, Baghdad, Cairo, Amman and Damascus, were getting reports of Zionist atrocities,
On April 25, 1948, King Abdullah of Transjordan met with the Iraqi Regent, the Lebanese Prime Minister and various Arab military leaders. The British Ambassador in Transjordan, Sir Alex Kirkbridge, noted that the royal leaders were “very apprehensive of embarking on a campaign against forces of unknown strength.
Indeed, in view of the military weakness of the Arab states, it is not surprising that the Arab leaders were reluctant to take on the Zionist forces which grew until they reached over 70,000 men under arms.
Further, the [Israeli Forces were known for brutality and unthinkable cruelty. In many areas of Palestine, the exodus of civilians was motivated by fear of massacres since Deir Yassin, well advertised, was not an isolated incident.
Morris likes to claim that Zionist “atrocities were limited in size, scope and time.” It is difficult to understand how he is so sure of this, since he admits the official Israeli investigation of Zionist atrocities during the 1948 year “remains classified and closed to historians.”
Unfortunately, Morris has made no effort to supplement his research with U.N. and other objective sources which give an accurate picture of IDF atrocities and the Israeli efforts to cover them up in 1948 and ever since.
Morris bases his description of the expulsion of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the Lydda-Ramle area on the official Israeli history and a book by Elhahan Oren which he admits was “written under the constraints of IDF censorship.” Using these biased sources, Morris concludes that there was no deliberate Lydda massacre and that the exodus from the area was substantially voluntary.
He overlooks a August 16 report in the private papers of Ezra Dannin, Ben-Gurion's advisor on Arab affairs, who wrote about Lydda-Ramle: “If the High Command believes that by destruction, killing and human suffering, its aims will be achieved faster, then I would not stand in its way.” Dannin added, “It is good for both peoples that there will be a complete separation.” Morris neglects the numerous other sources which support Dannin's admission that great brutality was used in order to achieve a “complete separation” of the Palestinian population.
Morris' failure to use U.N. documentation is most noticeable in relation to Operation Hiram in Galilee, in which atrocities were committed in many villages. Not isolated incidents, they were, according to a U.N. report, part of “the known policy of some factions of the Israeli forces in uprooting Arabs from their native villages in Palestine by force or threat.”
Morris tries to downplay Zionist atrocities, often quoting official claims that Arab civilians resisted, although U.N. and other sources indicate that the massacres were unprovoked. His claims that the massacres in Galilee and elsewhere had little effect on the exodus is not borne out by the testimony of Arab refugees who indicate that news of the atrocities spread quickly from village to village. Morris' effort to portray Zionist atrocities as a normal consequence of the conflict is not convincing.
Blueprint for Expulsion ?
The first sentence of Morris' conclusion generally represents his summation of the causes of the Palestinian exodus of 1948: “The Palestinian refugee problem was born of war, not by design, Jewish or Arab.” While generally more critical of the Israeli official positions, Simha Flapan concludes that the view of the Palestinian exodus by both Israelis and Palestinians is incorrect. Flapan mentions “Zionist pressure tactics that range from economic and psychological warfare to systematic ousting of the Arab population by the Army.” But he concludes that the Palestinians' view of the 1948 exodus is incorrect because, “This is not to say that these tactics were part of a deliberate Zionist plan, as the Arabs contended.” Flapan believes that a written plan to expel Palestinians town by town, village by village, would have been rejected by Jewish ruling councils because “these bodies were heavily influenced by liberal, progressive, labor and socialist Zionist parties.” Flapan here, of course, is reflecting his delusion that left Zionists were by their nature humane, though he later admits that leftist Israeli military commanders and Mapam kibbutzim showed no reluctance in expelling Palestinians and stealing their land.
While it is true that some blatantly propagandistic pamphlets and other works suggest a precise Zionist blueprint to expel Arabs from their newly forming state, most Palestinian scholars would agree that there was a Zionist intention “to eliminate non-Jews wherever and whenever possible.” Every Zionist understood that no Jewish state in Palestine would be viable with nearly half its population Arab and in view of the enormously high Palestinian birth rate. Ben-Gurion himself accepted the partition resolution with the intention of enlarging the new state and ridding it of its large Arab population when the opportunity arose. Morris quotes Ben-Gurion's statement at the meeting of the Mapai Center on December 3, 1947, shortly after the passage of the partition resolution: “There can be no stable and strong state so long as it has a majority of only 60 percent.” The war conveniently enabled Zionists to solve the problem of their new state's large Arab population and its limited boundaries. It is unfortunate that Morris sees no connection between the desire of the Zionists to create a state with a solid Jewish majority and the expulsion of the Palestinians under cover of the 1948 war. The fact that there was no precise blueprint does not absolve the Zionists of responsibility for their campaign of psychological warfare, atrocities and terror which was responsible for the flight of most Arab Palestinians in 1948.
Few events in history are the results of a precise blueprint. Human events, particularly in war time, do not lend themselves to planning in advance. In 1948 Ben-Gurion gave the expulsion of Palestinians high priority, but it was not his only concern. Like all political leaders, Ben-Gurion had to take each step one at a time, as warranted by events, in order to achieve his long-term goal of a Jewish state of substantial size that would be free of a large Arab majority.
Hitler had no precise blueprint en route to his goal of attaining German mastery of Europe, but this does not absolve him of guilt for starting World War II and his other enormous crimes. Of course, the expulsion of 750,000 civilians from their homeland in Palestine is not nearly as bad as Hitler's atrocities, but it was not a victimless crime. The smoking gun is contained in the reports of U.N. neutral observers, who noted numerous Israeli atrocities in the later part of the war, designed to terrorize Palestinians into fleeing their homes. The U.N. observers also report an Israeli effort to conceal their crimes. During the early war period, the smoking gun can be found in the numerous reports from a variety of sources which indicate a campaign of Zionist psychological warfare aimed at Palestinian civilians in 1948. This is ignored by Benny Morris because it is inconsistent with his thesis that no one is to blame for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem.
It is unfortunate that Benny Morris and Tom Segev declined to attend the conference at Exeter University, which was protested by several British Zionist organizations. England has a well organized Zionist lobby with considerable influence in the government, the news media and the universities. Its power is certainly not as great as the American pro-Israel lobby, however. Since the Zionist monopoly on the news media in Britain was broken in the 1970s, it is possible to see both sides of the story in newspapers and on television. My own book on 1948, The Palestinian Catastrophe, was made into a documentary for British TV. My new book, Imperial Israel, is currently being considered as a basis for a BBC film which will include new evidence that the Israelis have implemented a “transfer” policy since 1967, resulting in the expulsion of tens of thousands of Palestinians.
There are several organizations of anti-Zionist Jews in the country. Opposition to Zionism among the Jewish community has a long history in Great Britain. There are also large and well organized Muslim and Arab communities which exercise a strong pro-Palestinian influence. The conference at Exeter University was well attended by Britains of Middle Eastern origin.
Particular appreciation at the Exeter conference was given to the presentation of Dr. Sharif Kanaana of Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, who spoke on the “Patterns of the Exodus of the Palestinians in 1948.” He provided a thought-provoking analysis of the 1948 exodus, which contradicted the Israeli revisionists. Of particular interest was Kanaana's observation that the atrocities committed in 1948 followed a particular pattern, since they occurred across Palestine at locations where they would cause the greatest terror among the Palestinian civilian population. Equally stimulating was Kanaana's assertion that given their overwhelming superiority, the Zionists could have achieved victory much sooner in 1948, but were delayed because of their preoccupation with expelling the Arab population. What Morris calls “clearing the borders” in the later part of the war, according to Dr. Kanaana, is really an explanation for military operations aimed not at a defeated enemy, but at the civilian population of Palestine.
Dr. Kanaana sees the 1948 expulsion as part of a 100-year pattern of Zionist efforts to expel the indigenous population of Palestine. This pattern dates from the late 19th century to the present. Kanaana sees the ultimate aim as the creation of a state conforming to the Zionist program outlined in 1919. This completed Zionist state will encompass all of historic Palestine, including the West Bank and Gaza, plus large parts of Syria, Lebanon, and especially Jordan. The Sinai, which was given back to Egypt under the Camp David agreement, was never part of the Zionist design. As for the ultimate aim for Zionism, Professor Kanaana warns, “The project is not complete.”
Dr. Sharif Kanaana came to the conference from his home in Ramallah. Few people interested in the Palestinian-Zionist conflict could doubt his analysis that the forces which were at work in 1948 still motivated the Israeli leadership. The influx of Soviet Jews will surely be used as a rationale to expel Palestinians.
The Exeter conference ended with a discussion of the revisionist claim that there was no blueprint for the expulsion of Arab civilians in 1948. While Palestinian historians on the panel mutually agreed that there was no concise blueprint, several speakers from the floor insisted that various pieces of evidence prove a premeditated conspiracy in 1948. Prof. Yousef Choueiri of Exeter, who chaired the panel, pointed out that the use of the word “conspiracy” should be avoided because it conjures up images of the anti-semitic “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” libel. When anyone implies a conspiracy to expel Arab civilians in 1948, it diverts attention away from the solid evidence indicating that a historic injustice took place.
Many documents from non-Israeli sources reveal the Zionist campaign of psychological warfare against the civilian population in 1948 was designed to persuade them to flee their homeland. While obviously not as incriminating as the American, British and United Nations sources, there are some documents from Israeli archives which suggest a general design to expel Palestinians from their new state in 1948. Why were these Israeli documents made available to researchers?
Apparently, the Israelis had three choices. They could have kept their material totally closed, unconditionally available, or restricted to scholars. Granting total access to all files from 1948 would have been unthinkable. No nation would allow the unrestricted opening of all its files which dealt with such a sensitive subject as the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Total closure of all 1948 files was equally impossible. The Israelis are a people who pride themselves on their western practices. While doing my own research, I was told by an Israeli archivist: “Of course, like all civilized countries, we open our archives under a 30-years rule.” To have kept all the files on 1948 closed would have been not only an admission of guilt but would have been similar to the policy of Third World countries to which Israelis consider themselves superior. Thus, keeping the files of the Office of Advisors on Arab Affairs and many files from the Ministry of Minorities closed, while removing, according to the assistant director of the Israel State Archive, “about two percent” of the material from open files was the only policy possible for Israel. A few embarrassing documents were released. But in general the Israeli Government's policy of limited access has been successful in convincing many people, via the revisionists, that the Jewish state is not responsible for creating the refugee problem that has plagued the Middle East for so many decades.
Assessment of Revisionists
Despite the obvious shortcomings of their work, particularly with regard to sources, why have the revisionists, especially Benny Morris, been so widely praised? First, it is because many, especially academics, value form over substance. Books written in an academic style are generally assumed to be objective and well-researched, yet dry academic prose and extensive footnotes are poor substitutes for objective sources. While realistic criteria for judging historical work may be lacking, first and foremost would be consideration of the historian's data base. In writing and analyzing a controversial period such as 1948, official Arab and Israeli sources should be avoided as far as possible. There is an obvious consideration overlooked by many reviewers.
Wide acceptance of the revisionists is also due in part to the political appeal of their message. A conclusion that neither side was guilty in the creation of the refugee problem is obviously attractive, since it is seen as being compatible with a two-state solution of the Israel-Palestinian dispute, which is popular with many intellectuals. An honest judgment that most of the Palestinians who fled in 1948 were the victims of a campaign of terror and psychological warfare has been portrayed by the Zionists as an extremist position which supports the Palestinians who reject compromise with Israel. Most historians find it difficult to separate their judgments of 1948 from their views on the current political situation. Thus the Israeli revisionist conclusions on the causes of the Palestinian exodus is good politics but bad history.
Simha Flapan's analysis of the Palestinian exodus, while considerably better than Benny Morris', is marred by his attempt to reconcile his humanitarian socialist principles with the Zionist goal in 1948 of attaining a predominantly Jewish state. The fact is that Zionists shared the guilt for the expulsion of Palestinian civilians in 1948, because like all the Israelis they realized that no Jewish state in Palestine would have been possible without reducing the Arab population. Flapan's work is not history, but a blatant attempt to justify his political viewpoint. His comparisons between David Ben-Gurion in 1948 and Menachem Begin's invasion of Lebanon belong in a political tract, not a historical work.
There is no reason to be totally negative about the Israeli revisionists. Their greatest appeal is evident in comparisons to the work of previous Zionist historians, who always attempt to blame the Palestinians for their own victimization. Perhaps sometime in the next century Israeli historians will be able to unambiguously admit that a historic injustice was committed in 1948. For the present, it is too much to ask that Zionist historians can make such an admission. We have only to look at how long it took America to face up to the injustices committed against blacks and Indians in the creation of their country. In Israel, the process of reevaluation has begun, but a totally honest view of 1948 cannot come until long after a political settlement has been reached between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
Andrew Dabdoub - New Orleans, Louisiana.