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Palestine Nakba 1948

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The Palestine Nakba Controversy

The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 was to have been accompanied by creation of an independent Arab Palestinian state. Instead, a war broke out, and at the end of the war, between 600,000 and 711,000 Arab Palestinians had left their homes and were refugees. The defeat of the Arab Palestinians and the creation of the refugee problem is called the "disaster" (Nakba) by pro-Palestinians, and it is blamed on a supposed Zionist conspiracy to "ethnically cleanse" Palestine, and on forced expulsion of the Arabs from their homes.

nakba: Palestinian Arab refugees
Palestine Nakba: Arab Palestinian Refugees

It cannot be disputed that a large number of Palestinian Arabs were displaced during the Israel war of Independence. Their suffering is real.  It cannot be disputed that the Jews (and later the IDF) carried out violent acts, often targeting civilians. The Irgun rolled barrels of explosives out of the backs of trucks in the Old City of Jerusalem and elsewhere, and the Haganah and Irgun attacked villages in various reprisal raids. They did it because the Arabs were terrorizing the Jews, attacking Jewish transportation and murdering people in ambushes. Reprisals were thought to discourage further attacks. Sometimes removing a hostile population was the only way to open roads or stop repeated attacks.  It is equally true that the Arab Palestinians committed atrocities against the Jews. They bombed Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, murdered people in Gush Etzion  and attacked the Jews of Tel Aviv and Haifa.

The Arabs however, were acting in defiance of a UN resolution, and their leadership announced  the express aim of exterminating the Jews of Palestine. The Arabs left Palestine in large numbers, whereas, despite large massacres and a bitter siege in Jerusalem, the Jews did not leave. The fact that the Arabs left can be attributed to response to Jewish violence, poor social organization, to exaggeration of Jewish atrocities and also to the circumstance that they lost the war. However, the Arabs began leaving Palestine fairly early in the conflict, when most of them believed they would win the war, and when the capacity of the Jews to exert physical coercion was limited by the presence of the British. Exaggerated atrocity stories about Deir Yassin and other real or alleged massacres may have prompted some to leave, but the Jews had quite real atrocity stories of Arab massacres of Jews, that were documented by eye-witnesses, yet they did not flee.

Those who favor the Nakba "narrative" point to the massacre committed by the Irgun and Lehi in Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948 and to the Haganah  Plan Dalet (Plan D), which they claim was a plan for "ethnically cleansing" of Palestine. The can also point to forced expulsion of Arabs in Lod and Ramle and a number of other real or alleged "massacres."

Palestine war - war crimes - Arab-Israe war 1948: convoy is attacked

Palestine Nakba:
Attack on a convoy

Those who deny this narrative can point out that the Irgun and Lehi were dissident organizations. They did not plan a massacre, and in any case their attack in Deir Yassin was not a part of Plan Dalet. Plan Dalet did not call for ethnic cleansing. It did call for holding and clearing villages that were occupied by Arab irregular troops and used as bases to attack transportation. These attacks had produced the total isolation of Jerusalem, which was held under siege.

In Haifa and Jaffo, the Jewish and British authorities pleaded with Arabs to stay. In numerous other places the Arabs fled of their own accords when the town was captured by the Jews. Lod and Ramle are situated close to Tel Aviv, to the international airport, and to the main road between Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem. The Arabs of Lod and Ramle,  who had played an incorrigible part in sabotaging Jewish transportation, were expelled later in the war, when it had become obvious that coexistence was virtually impossible. It is easy to read back into this expulsion the act of a cruel enemy that had planned a campaign of ethnic cleansing, especially in the light of subsequent Israeli military prowess. At the time, the entire southern half of Israel was still occupied by the Egyptian army, and the survival of the state was uncertain. 

The issue has been the subject of a long controversy beginning with allegations by Joseph Weitz that the Arabs themselves had initiated the flight. Weitz's allegations are suspect, because Weitz was an avid advocate of transferring Arabs out of Palestine and had been so since 1940 or 1941. In a 1948 report to the Israel government, Weitz wrote that "the migration of the Arabs of the Land of Israel was not caused by persecution, violence, expulsion...". According to Weitz, the flight was "deliberately organized by the Arab leaders in order to arouse Arab feelings of revenge, to artificially create an Arab refugee problem...and to prepare the ground for the invasion of Palestine by the Arab States who could then appear as saviors of their brother Arabs".

Jon Kimche, Joseph Schechtman and Professor Leo Kohn continued this line of advocacy, while Rashid Khalidi, , Erskine Childers, Ilan Pappe,  and Christopher Hitchens insisted that the exodus of Palestinian refugees was due only to Zionist violence, and that insinuated or stated that the violence was part of a planned policy to evict the Arabs of Palestine. A large number of quotes and documents have been doctored or fabricated and advanced by either side as "evidence." Some of these can be verified. Others appear with different dates in different places and are suspicious. None of them provide conclusive proof.

The issues surrounding "what happened" have been systematically confuted with the issues of "who bears responsibility" and "what should be done about the refugee problem.

Benny Morris on the Palestinian Arab Nakba

In his books and articles about the subject, Israeli historian Benny Morris has long equivocated and often contradicted his own conclusions. Thus, different advocates could draw any lessons they desired from much of Morris's writing: there was a plan to expel Arabs, there was no plan, the exodus was the work of transfer advocates, the exodus was due to fear in the Arab population, the exodus was due to breakdown of social structures among the Arabs.  He has often been quoted in support of the claim that the Arabs of Palestine were expelled by the Zionists according to a pre-arranged plan.

In a letter to the Irish Times of February 21, 2008, Benny Morris makes his current views on the refugee problem quite clear however.

Madam, - Israel-haters are fond of citing - and more often, mis-citing - my work in support of their arguments. Let me offer some corrections.

The Palestinian Arabs were not responsible "in some bizarre way" (David Norris, January 31st) for what befell them in 1948. Their responsibility was very direct and simple.

In defiance of the will of the international community, as embodied in the UN General Assembly Resolution of November 29th, 1947 (No. 181), they launched hostilities against the Jewish community in Palestine in the hope of aborting the emergence of the Jewish state and perhaps destroying that community. But they lost; and one of the results was the displacement of 700,000 of them from their homes.

It is true, as Erskine Childers pointed out long ago, that there were no Arab radio broadcasts urging the Arabs to flee en masse; indeed, there were broadcasts by several Arab radio stations urging them to stay put. But, on the local level, in dozens of localities around Palestine, Arab leaders advised or ordered the evacuation of women and children or whole communities, as occurred in Haifa in late April, 1948. And Haifa's Jewish mayor, Shabtai Levy, did, on April 22nd, plead with them to stay, to no avail.

Most of Palestine's 700,000 "refugees" fled their homes because of the flail of war (and in the expectation that they would shortly return to their homes on the backs of victorious Arab invaders). But it is also true that there were several dozen sites, including Lydda and Ramla, from which Arab communities were expelled by Jewish troops.

The displacement of the 700,000 Arabs who became "refugees" - and I put the term in inverted commas, as two-thirds of them were displaced from one part of Palestine to another and not from their country (which is the usual definition of a refugee) - was not a "racist crime" (David Landy, January 24th) but the result of a national conflict and a war, with religious overtones, from the Muslim perspective, launched by the Arabs themselves.

There was no Zionist "plan" or blanket policy of evicting the Arab population, or of "ethnic cleansing". Plan Dalet (Plan D), of March 10th, 1948 (it is open and available for all to read in the IDF Archive and in various publications), was the master plan of the Haganah - the Jewish military force that became the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) - to counter the expected pan-Arab assault on the emergent Jewish state. That's what it explicitly states and that's what it was. And the invasion of the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq duly occurred, on May 15th.

It is true that Plan D gave the regional commanders carte blanche to occupy and garrison or expel and destroy the Arab villages along and behind the front lines and the anticipated Arab armies' invasion routes. And it is also true that mid-way in the 1948 war the Israeli leaders decided to bar the return of the "refugees" (those "refugees" who had just assaulted the Jewish community), viewing them as a potential fifth column and threat to the Jewish state's existence. I for one cannot fault their fears or logic.

The demonisation of Israel is largely based on lies - much as the demonisation of the Jews during the past 2,000 years has been based on lies. And there is a connection between the two....

Morris had made similar statements previously in interviews and articles, surprising many who had used his writings in support of Arab Palestinian claims.

Ethnic Cleansing in the Palestinian Nakba

Palestinian Refugees - 1948
Palestine Refugees - Palestinian Jews of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City being expelled. .

Indeed, there were instances of ethnic cleansing in the Israeli-Arab war of 1948, and of planned massacres. There were  two irrefutable, uncontestable and unchallenged instances of ethnic cleansing  in the Israel war of independence . The first occurred when the Arab Legion, under British officers, conquered Gush Etzion. Following a massacre of defenders, the remaining inhabitants were expelled and ethnically cleansed, the four kibbutzim were looted thoroughly. The looting started before the fighting had finished. The second instance of ethnic cleansing occurred in the old city of Jerusalem, at the end of May in 1948. Again the culprit was the British officered Legion, by now called the "Jordan Legion" to free the British from any association with its war crimes. The British officers were now officially "volunteers."  Under the watchful eyes of the soldiers of the Legion, the entire remnant of the Jewish population of the old city of Jerusalem, about 1,700 people who had remained there despite repeated pogroms, were ethnically cleaned (See  The Ethnic Cleansing of Jerusalem ).

There were also a number of intentional massacres in Palestine that can be proven. Most of them were committed by Arabs. The smaller actions consisted of ambushes on isolated settlements and persons, murder of the victims and mutilation of the corpses. This practice had been going on for several years, and the photos of the mutilated corpses were preserved by British Palestine police. The most infamous massacre however, occurred with the willing assent of the British. This war crime was the planned targeting of a convoy of medical personnel and patients bound for Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem. About 80 persons, doctors and nurses and patients, including the director of the hospital, were murdered in cold blood on April 13, 1948. (see The Hadassah Convoy Massacre )

Palestinian Grand Mufti Hajj Amin al Husseini (Hussayni) with Nazi Troops
Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini featured on the cover of Vienna Illustrated (Wiener Illustrierte) magazine under the Nazi regime.

The Jews had every reason to fear that the Arabs would massacre them en masse, since that is what Arab leaders promised. The leader of the Palestinian Arabs was the Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini, an escaped Nazi war criminal. His rival, the leader of the Arab Liberation Army, Fawzi Al Qaukji was likewise a product of the Nazi war machine. The Mufti, who spent the war years in Germany recruiting SS troops for the Nazis, had told the British that he planned for the Jews of Palestine, the same solution as had been adopted for the Jews of Europe: extermination.

The Arabs of Palestine, instigated by the Mufti, had a history of pogroms against the Jewish communities in 1920, 1921, 1929 and in the so called Arab Uprising of 1936-1939. On the eve of the war, Palestinian and other Arab leaders had issued blood curdling calls to murder the Jews, and apparently had called on the Arabs of the Palestine mandate to leave their homes and allow Arab armies to finish the work of conquering the land.

The Palestine Nakba - First Stage

The Arab Israeli war of 1948 took place in two stages. During the first stage the British were in the country. It was not physically possible for the Jews to expel Arabs by force. Jewish forces were weak and the British would prevent massive operations. Nonetheless, between 100,000 and 300,000 refugees had fled by May 15, 1948, before the British left Palestine.

On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly had voted to partition the British Mandate territory known as Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state, implementing the provisions of international law embodied in the League of Nations British Mandate for Palestine.  (See  UN Resolution 181: Palestine Partition.). The Arabs opposed the UN decision and the creation of the Jewish state . The Arab League Secretary,  Abdul Rahman Azzam Pasha, said after the UN vote, "The partition line will be nothing but a line of fire and blood." (Bregman Ahron and El-Tahri, Jihan, Israel and the Arabs, TVbooks, N.Y. 1998 p. 28). 

The Arab League considered plans for massive persecution of Jews, which were eventually implemented and resulted in massive expulsion of the Jews of Arab countries. The Arabs began rioting in Jerusalem, attacking Jewish towns and transportation, while the British looked on. The Jews counter attacked, and Arabs began leaving Palestine, as their disorganized leadership crumbled.  As early as January 30, 1948, The Jaffa newspaper, As Sha'ab warned, "The first of our fifth column consists of those who abandon their houses and businesses and go to live elsewhere....At the first signs of trouble they take to their heels to escape sharing the burden of struggle."

The warning was to no avail. The exodus of Arab refugees continued. In the largest cities, Haifa and Yaffo-Tel-Aviv, Arab attacks on Jewish neighborhoods were met by more effective Jewish counterattacks. At  the end of April, Arabs fled Yaffo and Haifa en masse, despite the pleas of the British and of Israeli authorities. 

According to the US Consul in Haifa,  ". . . local mufti-dominated Arab leaders" were urging "all Arabs to leave the city, and large numbers did so."  (Aubrey Lippincott, U.S. Consul General in Haifa, April 22, 1948 )

Likewise, Jamal Husseini, the nephew of Grand Mufti Hajj Amin El Husseini, reported to the UN that, "

"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."  ( Jamal Husseini, Acting Chairman of the Palestine Arab Higher Committee, speaking to the United Nations Security Council. UNSC Official Records (N. 62), April 23, 1948, p. 14.)  

Time Magazine of May 3, 1948, reported of Haifa:

 "The mass evacuation, prompted partly by fear, partly by orders of Arab leaders, left the Arab quarter of Haifa a ghost city. More than pride and defiance was behind the Arab orders. By withdrawing Arab workers, their leaders hoped to paralyze Haifa. Jewish leaders said wishfully: "They'll be back in a few days. Already some are returning."

The London Times of May 5, 1948 reported:

"The Arab streets are curiously deserted and, evidently following the poor example of the more moneyed class there has been an exodus from Jerusalem too, though not to the same extent as in Jaffa and Haifa."

Palestine Nakba Second Stage

Despite Arab opposition, on May 14 1948, as the British were leaving Palestine, David Ben Gurion declared the independent state of Israel. The Israel Declaration of Independence  stated in part:

In the midst of wanton aggression, we still call upon the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to return to the ways of peace and play their part in the development of the State, with full and equal citizenship and due representation in its bodies and institutions - provisional or permanent.

We offer peace and neighborliness to all the neighboring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Hebrew nation for the common good of all.

The reaction of the Arab states was quite different. On May 15, in defiance of the U.N. the Arab states attacked Israel. According to the Egyptian newspaper, Akbar al Youm of October 12, 1963, on May 15, 1948,  " the Mufti of Jerusalem appealed to the Arabs of Palestine to leave the country, because the Arab countries were about to enter and fight in their stead."

According to the New York Times of May 16, 1948, The Arab League Secretary,  Abdul Rahman Azzam Pasha stated, “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.”

According to Palestinian Nimr al Hawari, in his book, Sir Am Nakba (the Secret of the Nakba) published in Nazareth in 1965, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri as Said stated,

"We will smash the country with our guns and obliterate every place the Jews seek shelter in. The Arabs should conduct their wives and children to safe areas until the fighting has died down."

This would seem to be fairly unequivocal proof that the Arabs began the war, and moreover, that Arab leaders actually encouraged the flight of the refugees at the start of the war.

The Egyptians invaded Gaza and Israel, and bombed Tel Aviv. The Jordanians invaded Jerusalem, the  To justify their aggression, the Arab League issued a declaration that stated in part:

The Governments of the Arab States emphasize, on this occasion, what they have already declared before the London Conference and the United Nations, that the only solution of the Palestine problem is the establishment of a unitary Palestinian State... (whereby) the holy places will be preserved and the rights of access thereto guaranteed.


The Arab States most emphatically declare that (their) intervention in Palestine was due only to these considerations and objectives, and that they aim at nothing more than to put an end to the prevailing conditions in (Palestine). For this reason, they have great confidence that their action will have the support of the United Nations; (that it will be) considered as an action aiming at the realization of its aims and at promoting its principles, as provided for in its Charter.

The Arabs were "confident" that the UN would assist them in defying a resolution of the UN!  The declaration also stated that:

The Zionist aggression resulted in the exodus of more than a quarter of a million of its Arab inhabitants from their homes and in taking refuge in the neighbouring Arab countries. The events which have taken place in Palestine have unmasked the aggressive intentions and the imperialist designs of the Zionists, including the atrocities committed by them against the peace-loving Arab inhabitants, especially in Dayr Yasin, Tiberias and others.

According to all accounts, no atrocities were committed in Tiberias. The Haganah reacted to Arab attacks on Jews, and the Arabs left voluntarily. The revelation that a quarter of a million Arabs had already fled Palestine while the British were still in control is a clear indication that the flight of the refugees was not due to forcible expulsion, since the "force" available to the underground Jewish armies was negligible while there were 100,000 British troops in Palestine.

Palestine Refugee Nakba Retrospectives

By August of 1948, the situation had clearly changed. The Arab countries now had large numbers of refugees, it was obvious they would not win the war, and the alarming problem was evident to all.

John Bagot Glubb ("Glubb Pasha"), the commander of Jordan's Arab Legion, was quoted  in the London Daily Mail of  August 12, 1948. as admitting, 

"Villages were frequently abandoned even before they were threatened by the progress of war"  

Monsignor George Hakim, Greek Orthodox Catholic Bishop of Galilee, was quoted in the Beirut newspaper, Sada al-Janub of  August 16, 1948 as saying:

 "The refugees were confident their absence would not last long, and that they would return within a week or two.

Their leaders had promised them that the Arab Armies would crush the 'Zionist gangs' very quickly and that there was no need for panic or fear of a long exile."

Hakim later denied he had made the statement.

Just after the war, and even later,  the problem, and whose fault it was, was abundantly clear to the Arabs as well as the Jews. Emile Ghoury, secretary of the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee, in an interview with the Beirut Telegraph published on Sept. 6, 1949, stated:

" The fact that there are these refugees is the direct consequence of the act of the Arab states in opposing partition and the Jewish state. The Arab states agree upon this policy unanimously and they must share in the solution of the problem."

Following a visit to refugees in Gaza in June 1949, British diplomat Sir John Troutbeck reported the following

'But while they express no bitterness against the Jews...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." (recorded in British FO document  #371/75342/XC/A/4991

A report by Habib Issa in the Lebanese newspaper, Al Hoda of June 8, 1951, stated:

"The Secretary-General of the Arab League, Azzam Pasha, assured the Arab peoples that the occupation of Palestine and Tel Aviv would be as simple as a military promenade.  He pointed out that they were already on the frontiers and that all the millions the Jews had spent on land and economic development would be easy booty, for it would be a simple matter to throw Jews into the Mediterranean. 

“Brotherly advice was given to the Arabs of Palestine to leave their land, homes and property and to stay temporarily in neighboring fraternal states, lest the guns of the invading Arab armies mow them down."

Al Difaa, Jordan, of September 6, 1954 quoted a refugee as saying:

"The Arab governments told us: Get out so that we can get in," one refugee said. "So we got out, but they did not get in."

The Jordanian daily Al Urdun of April 9, 1953, quoted Yunes Ahmed Assad, a refugee from Deir Yassin, as saying:

 "The Arab Exodus …was not caused by the actual battle, but by the exaggerated description spread by the Arab leaders to incite them to fight the Jews. …For the flight and fall of the other villages it is our leaders who are responsible because of their dissemination of rumors exaggerating Jewish crimes and describing them as atrocities in order to inflame the Arabs ... By spreading rumors of Jewish atrocities, killings of women and children etc., they instilled fear and terror in the hearts of the  Arabs in Palestine, until they fled leaving their homes and properties to the enemy."

Sometimes, the admissions of Arab commentators were also tempered by reference to the real or imagined Zionist atrocities. Edward Atiyah, who was London Secretary of  The Arab League, wrote in his book, “The Arabs” London: Penguin Books  1955, p.183.

"This wholesale exodus was due partly to the belief of the Arabs, encouraged by the boastings of an unrealistic Arabic press and the irresponsible utterances of some of the Arab leaders that it could only be a matter of weeks before the Jews were defeated by the armies of the Arab states and the Palestinian Arabs enabled to re-enter and retake possession of their country. But it was also, and in many parts of the country, largely due to a policy of deliberate terrorism and eviction followed by the Jewish commanders in the areas they occupied, and reaching its peak of brutality in the massacre of Deir Yassin.".

Khaled al 'Azm, Syrian Prime Minister during the war, wrote in his memoirs:

among the reasons for the Arab failure in 1948 was] "the call by the Arab Governments to the inhabitants of Palestine to evacuate it and to leave for the bordering Arab countries, after having sown terror among them...Since 1948 we have been demanding the return of the refugees to their homes. But we ourselves are the ones who encouraged them to leave...We have brought destruction upon a million Arab refugees, by calling upon them and pleading with them to leave their land, their homes, their work and business..." . Khaled al-`Azm, Memoirs. Beirut 1973. Part 1, pp. 386-387

The above quotes are remarkable for the fact that most of them are based on "after the fact" retrospectives, and for that fact that they all came from Arab sources. It was the Arabs, and particularly the Arabs of Palestine, who insisted that the Nakba was caused by the pleas of Arab leaders. We cannot say if these were fabrications due to inter-Arab rivalry, or just selective memory, but the accounts are not just those of Zionist sympathizers and did not originate with Zionists as the pro-Palestinian "debunkers" insist. Apparently, however, there were such calls to leave Palestine in May of 1945 by the Mufti and by Nuri as Said at least.

It is true that many of the quotes regarding voluntary departure of the refugees relate to Haifa and Jaffo. However, these massive flights of tens of thousands occurred early in the fighting. The Deir Yassin massacre is cited as a "pivotal" event, but it involved about 100 people in a single village. The massive flights from Haifa and Yaffo could not fail to have served as examples for further flights later in the war. Safed was likewise captured on May 10, 1948, before Israeli independence. The Arabs of Safed fled before the Hagannah entered the town. The same pattern was repeated in other large towns in the south, when the Egyptians withdrew: Beersheba, Isdood (Ashdod) and Majdal (Ashkelon) were almost totally empty of Arab inhabitants. Beersheba and Isdood were captured in October of 1948, and Majdal was captured on November 6.  By then it was not possible that the inhabitants thought that they were leaving their homes for only a few days.

The Perpetuation of the Nakba Tragedy

The Jewish refugees in Israel, and those who became refugees from Arab countries, were absorbed into Israeli society. In two or three years, Israel absorbed a population of refugees equivalent to the entire Jewish population of Palestine in 1948. By 1950, the Jewish population of Israel had approximately doubled. There was no Jewish Palestine Nakba.

By the end of the war, however, the Arab states had decided to make return of the refugees the centerpiece of their campaign against Israel, and to use it as a device for destroying Israel. They convinced Falke Bernadotte to include return of the refugees as a demand in his last report. When Bernadotte was assassinated, the Arab states and their supporters attempted to pass a UN resolution that would mandate both return of the refugees and removal of the Negev from Israel, as Bernadotte had recommended. The US scuttled the demand for detaching the Negev from Israel. By this time, the Israelis had dislodged the Egyptians from the northern Negev and opened the road south. But UN Resolution 194 did call for return of refugees who wished to "live in peace with their neighbors." The resolution did not specify Arab refugees only, and it did not specify that to "live in peace with their neighbors" included acceptance of UN resolution 181, which had called for creation of Jewish and Arab states.


The birth of the Palestine Nakba mythology

The Arab states and the supporters of the Palestinian Arabs gradually developed the myth that the Jews had conspired to expel the Arabs of Palestine, and that this expulsion had been the plan of the Jewish leadership in 1948, and even a plan of the Zionists beginning with Theodor Herzl. After visiting Turkish ruled Jerusalem, Herzl had written the novel Altneuland, which envisioned a mulipluralistic Jewish state in which Arabs and Jews had equal rights. Early Zionists had insisted on safeguarding the rights of the Arabs of Palestine.  But reality did not interfere with such fantasies.


Erskine Childers and the Palestinian Nakba Myth

In the 1960s, Erskine Childers published the results of a "study" he had done of the Palestine Nakba, that purportedly "proved" that the Arab refugees had not been urged by their leaders to leave Palestine. In a May 12, 1961 article in the Spectator (on the Web here: users.cloud9.net/~recross/israel-watch/ErskinChilders.html) he popularized his results. This article is cited by numerous Nakba enthusiasts to "prove" that "Zionists" fabricated history. Childers alleged that only Zionists claimed that the Arab leaders had asked Arabs to leave Palestine. He claimed that the only proof of these calls offered by Israelis was in a single issue of the Economist of October 1948. He ignored the New York Times, Time magazine, and most other Arab sources cited above. He He ignored the statements of the Arab Higher Committee representatives, the Prime Minister of Iraq, the Prime Minister of Syria  and the Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini. As we have seen, it was the Arabs themselves who insisted that Arab leaders urged the Arabs of Palestine to leave. Childers wrote:


As none of the other stock quotations in Israeli propaganda are worth comment, I next decided to test the undocumented charge that the Arab evacuation orders were broadcast by Arab radio. 

The idea of examining radio broadcasts was apparently originated by Childers. In later years however, it was alleged that it was "Zionists" who spread the story of these broadcasts. Childers claimed to have read all the transcripts of every Arab broadcast in the Middle East in that period, and claimed that they had all been monitored by the British and Americans. His claim is itself is somewhat tenuous. The period covers almost a year. He would have had to have read every word of every broadcast on every station in the Middle East from January to August 1948 at least. Thousands of hours of broadcasting from numerous stations. Even today, the BBC monitoring service and the US FBIS do not claim to record every word of every broadcast. Childers claimed that he had read the records of all these broadcasts and that they were complete, and that in all these broadcasts there was no evidence that Arab leaders asked the Arab population of Palestine to leave.

The quality of Childers' scholarship and objectivity can be assessed from this statement in the article:

More than 80 per cent of the entire land area of Israel is land abandoned by the Arab refugees.

The above figure is absurd. 55% of the land area of green line Israel is Negev desert. In 1945, this land was estimated to contain at most 50,000 nomadic Bedouin, and almost none of the Negev land was registered to any owner. About 48% of the land of the Palestine mandate was government owned. Of the arable land, about 6 or 8 million dunam, the Zionists had reclaimed 1 million dunam from swampland. How could 80% of the land of Israel be land that was abandoned by Arab refugees?

There is a conspicuous absence from Childers' account, that has never been challenged. Both Arab and Zionist sources directly or indirectly quote statements by the Mufti, by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri as Said and Azzam Pasha, Secretary General of the Arab League calling on Arabs to leave Palestine on or about May 15, 1948. Childers does not mention any such statements on May 15, or at the time that the partition resolution was passed. He does mention calls by local leaders and media for Arabs to stay put, but he doesn't tell us what the major leaders said in full. Surely it would be incredible if these leaders, and other Arab leaders, had said nothing at all on the eve of the war, besides, perhaps, counseling Arab Palestinians to stay put. They must have said something. It would be equally incredible if no radio station and no Arab newspaper had found anything that Arab leaders said on this occasion to be noteworthy. Did they forecast a difficult war or  an easy one? Did they promise a future of bright cooperation to the Jews of the Palestine mandate? Did they counsel moderation? Childers doesn't explain. According to his account, it seems that the leaders in question had no opinions at all regarding the war, or else none of the radio stations and media in the entire Middle East thought that it might be important to record those opinions.  

Israeli contribution  to the Palestinian Nakba Myth

The biggest boost to the Palestinian "narrative" of expulsion in the Nakba came from Israeli historians. The "new historians," angry at the occupation and their exclusion from power, developed the thesis that the forcible  transfer of Arabs from Palestine was an integral part of Zionist ideology, using distorted and sometimes totally incorrect quotes of Ben Gurion and others, tendentious logic, fabricated "evidence" and one-sided narratives.

Ilan Pappe and others furthered the idea that "the Zionists" had plotted the Nakba - the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. On more than one occasion, Pappe has explained that in his view, facts don't matter, as only pedants concern themselves with facts. In one case, he backed an MA student who falsified data to "prove" that Israeli troops of the Alexandroni brigade had perpetrated a massacre in a place called Tantura. Even after his student, Teddy Katz, had retracted his claims after being confronted with evidence of tampering with the data, Pappe continued to defend him. In military Hebrew, the phrases for moping up snipers and stragglers after a military operation are "tihur hashetach" and "nikui hashetach." Literally translated, these phrases mean "purification of the area" and "cleaning of the area." Pappe and others persuaded their audiences that these phrases, which appear in numerous military communications, are codes for "ethnic cleansing."

The behavior of Israel in refusing to allow return of the refugees was made to seem monstrous by distorting the facts of 1948. Accounts of the Nakba never mention the Nazi ideology of the Grand Mufti. They never mention the vows of Arab leaders to destroy Israel, or the crucial strategic role that the "innocent civilians" of the Arab towns and villages played in attacking Jewish transportation and harboring the volunteer forces of the Mufti and the ALA of Kaukji.

It is also easy to project the values and reality of the twenty-first century back on to 1948. The name of "Israel" today conjures up in the mind's eye a nuclear power, the state with the most powerful army in the Middle East. But Israel was once a totally helpless state with virtually no army, no tanks, no artillery and  no air force.  For today's audiences, the Palestine Nakba narrative of 1948 can be made to appear like an older version of the news photos of Israeli tanks in Gaza and the West Bank today.

In 1945, Germany had lost World War II. The Sudetens Germans, who had agitated for the Nazi takeover of Czechoslovakia, were expelled, and their land and property were confiscated by the Czech state. Similarly, a large swath of East Germany,  including  Silesia and  the free city of Danzig, now Gdansk, became a part of Poland. Germans lost property and were expelled. Nobody claims that they must be repatriated or that this "ethnic cleansing" must be reversed. The birth of India and Pakistan in 1947, was also accompanied by massive population exchanges. Again, nobody claims that these "refugees" must be "returned" to their homes after half a century or given compensation in order to allow a peace settlement. But such transfers, perfectly respectable as late as 1945, are considered taboo when in the case of the Palestinian Arab 'Nakba.'

A second boost was given to the myth of ethnic cleansing and transfer by right wing Zionists, likewise inspired by the situation created by the occupation. In order to legitimize their own racist ideas of expelling Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza, some of them have tried to rewrite Zionist history to show that transfer was always a legitimate Zionist idea, that use of force was always part of Zionism, and that the Arab flight of 1948 was due to a deliberate plan of expulsion. If it was justified then, they argue, then it is justified now.

In truth, there were advocates of voluntary transfer in the Zionist movement and others who accepted it, however reluctantly, when it became apparent that there might be no other way to obtain a Jewish state. In a few cases, the notion of "voluntary" became very elastic.  Joseph Weitz was an ardent advocate of transfer beginning in 1941. He didn't seem to be too worried about the question of whether or not this transfer was voluntary or the people received compensation. However,  there is no evidence that his ideas became official policy prior to the Israel war of Independence. He was put in charge of making use of abandoned Arab villages and lands, but there is nothing to suggest that he was allowed to "encourage" Arabs to abandons their lands.  

The pro-Palestinian advocates of the "ethnic cleansing" thesis would have us believe that the Jewish community in Palestine, which numbered half as many people as the Arabs, and which was surrounded by large Arab countries, planned and instigated a genocidal war even though they had virtually no weapons and were not allowed to obtain weapons under the mandatory authorities, and even though the record clearly shows that it was the Arabs of Palestine who instigated the violence, and the Arab states that had invaded Israel. 


Other Israeli Voices on the Palestinian Nakba

Yoav Gelber, in his book, Palestine 1948, offers the following reconstruction of events in 1948. When the Arabs began fleeing, Zionist leaders visited each abandoned town in turn. They could not initially understand what had happened and why the Arabs had left. They began to construct an explanation for themselves, based on the assumption that the leaders must have told them to leave. According to Gelber, there were, in fact, no broadcasts or speeches by leaders that encouraged the Arabs to leave, but the Israelis believed that these must have existed. Later, Palestinians, ashamed that they had left, also adopted the myth of the broadcast appeals, in order to justify their abandonment of Palestine.  This version might apply to the first stage of the Nakba, when Arabs left more or less voluntarily. It could not apply to the period after May 15, 1948, when in towns such as Lod and Ramla, the IDF clearly encouraged or forced Palestinian Arabs to leave, or forced "stragglers" to leave as in Isdood and Majdal, after the main body of the populace had left.

Anita Shapira's study of the fate of Hirbet Hizah (Shapria, Anita, Hibet Hizah, Between Rememberance and forgetting, Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, and Society, Fall 2000, Vol. 7, No. 1, Pages 1-62  http://inscribe.iupress.org/doi/abs/10.2979/JSS.2000.7.1.1?cookieSet=1&journalCode=jss) , a literary work, gives another viewpoint. Hirbet Hizeh was written in 1949 by Izhar Smilansky. It was a story about a fictional Arab village where the men had left, and the women and children were being evacuated by the IDF. The hero expresses grave doubts about the morality of what they are doing, but is greeted by indifference or references to the exigencies of war and the fact that the place would be settled by new immigrants. Nobody in Israel claimed that the story was a distortion of reality or anti-Zionist propaganda. In 1964 it was adopted for use in the Hebrew literature curriculum, and subsequently it was made into a film for television. Therefore, the claim that Zionists totally suppressed and denied the expulsion of refugees could not be true, and the "revelations" of new historians like Benny Morris were really revealing nothing new. However, in the intervening years, the claim that Arabs were told to leave Israel by their leaders was also adopted and lived alongside the other memory. They are not incompatible. Some Arabs left, apparently following the example and perhaps the urgings of the local representatives of the Higher Arab Committee, who almost always left early in the fighting. Others were expelled later in the war as part of operational necessity, or because in places like Isdood and Majdal only a few Arab inhabitants were left and it was impossible to maintain a viable community.

Right of Return and Abuse of the Nakba

The issue of how the Arabs of Palestine came to refugees is not directly relevant to the claimed "right of return" to Israel, though it has been abused by both sides for this purpose. UN General Assembly resolution 194 is not binding in international law. The right of return, wherever it has been exercised, is not granted to enemy belligerents in an aggressive war. It is granted to persons who want to return to their homeland and live there as loyal citizens. However the overriding concern is self determination. The partition resolution called for  two states for two peoples, and that the League of Nations mandate had already recognized the right of the Jewish people to self determination. Self-Determination is Jus Cogens, that takes precedence over other claims in international law. Return of the Arab Palestinian refugees, or rather, return of their numerous descendants to Israel, would make the Jews a minority in Israel and void the Jewish right to self determination (see Right of Return of Palestinian Refugees in International Law ).

The real Palestinian Arab Nakba

The perpetuation of the Palestine Nakba is artificial. It is due to political decisions rather than necessity. A Palestinian Arab state could have absorbed the refugees of 1948, just as Israel absorbed refugees from Europe and the Arab world, but the Arab states made no serious moves to implement a Palestinian Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza, though rival Palestinian governments were set up briefly by Jordan in the West Bank and by Egypt in Gaza.

Instead, the Arabs of Palestine were kept in camps. The Arabs sought to use the issue as a lever for the destruction of Israel, but had no intention of allowing an independent Palestinian Arab state. Rather, "Palestine" was always part of the general cause of Arab nationalism. The issue at stake was never the "loss" of self-determination of the Palestinian Arabs, since the Arabs had never had self rule and did not want self rule until the Zionists had come to the land.

The UN set up a special mechanism, the UNRWA, to provide emergency services for the refugees. The "emergency" has lasted about 60 years. The refugee population, swelled by a prodigious birth rate as well as fraud, has reached many millions. If 100,000 refugees were repatriated each year forever, the population of Arab Palestinian refugees would still keep growing, yet Arab opposition to a humane solution is so stalwart that nobody dares to suggest seriously that the UNRWA should be dissolved or that alternative solutions should be sought for the Arab Palestinian refugees. The perpetuation of the refugee problem for political reasons is the real and enduring Nakba, the disastrous tragedy of the Arabs of Palestine. 


An Arab View of the Palestinian Nakba

Iraqi author 'Aref 'Alwan has written a frank appraisal of the Palestinian Nakba. It is important reading for everyone who wants to consider the issue fairly.

The Nakba: A Great Lie

"When the Salafi mob in Gaza tied the hands and feet of a senior Palestinian official and hurled him, alive, from the 14th floor, I asked myself: What political or religious precepts must have been inculcated into the minds of these young people to make them treat a human life with such shocking cruelty?
"Earlier, I had watched on TV as the bodies of two Israeli soldiers were thrown from the second floor [of a building] in a Palestinian city. Whether or not it was the same Salafi mob behind that incident, [one asks oneself]: What language, [or rather,] what historic linguistic distortion could have erased from the human heart [all] moral sensibilities when dealing with a living and helpless human being?
"Arabs who are averse to such inhuman behavior must help me expose and eliminate the enormous lie that has for 60 years justified, extolled, and supported brutality. [Such behavior] is no longer limited to the expression of unconscious [impulses] by individuals, but constitutes a broad cultural phenomenon, which began in Lebanon, [spread to] Iraq and Palestine, and then [spread] -- slowly but surely -- to other Arab states as well.
"This enormous lie is what the Arabs called the Nakba -- that is, the establishment of two states in Palestine: the state of Israel, which the Jews agreed to accept, and the state of Palestine, which the Arabs rejected.
"In our times, when science, with its accurate instruments, can predict climatic changes that will lead to drought or the movement of tectonic plates that causes earthquakes, it is inconceivable that a modern man can, without making a laughingstock of himself, attribute the destruction of cities ancient or modern to the wrath of Allah. Nevertheless, today, 80% of Arabs claim this to be the case. They are neither embarrassed nor afraid of being laughed at.
"This high percentage includes not only the illiterates who densely populate rural areas, villages, and small and large cities, but also students, teachers, lecturers, graduates of institutions of higher education, scientists, technology experts, physicians, graduates of religious universities such as Al-Azhar, historians, and politicians who have held or are currently holding public office.
"It is those numerous educated elites who have forced the Arab mentality into a narrow, restrictive, and deficient cultural mold, spewing violence, terrorism, and zealotry, and prohibiting innovative thought... All this was done to instill a false sense of oppression in the hearts of the Arabs, and to destroy them with the infectious disease of despair and confusion.
"[This attitude] is rooted in the 1947 Arab League resolution stating that Palestine is a 'stolen' land and that none but a Muslim Arab is entitled to benefit from it as an autonomous [political entity], even if another's historic roots there predate those of the Muslims or the Arabs."

The Nakba Boomerang  

"[The upshot] of this confusion in [Arab] mentality is that the lie has boomeranged on the Arabs. [Thus] appeared [on the scene] Saddam Hussein, Hafez Al-Assad, Bashar Al-Assad, Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi, Hassan Nasrallah, Nabih Berri, Khaled Mash'al, Isma'il Haniya, and Mahmoud Al-Zahar, whose young [thugs] threw the senior Palestinian official from the 14th floor. Finally, from the foot of the eastern mountains bordering the Middle East came Ahmadinejad, who is committed to preparing the way for the anarchy and destruction that accompanies the advent of the long-awaited Mahdi, who will resolve the Palestinian problem.
"Today, owing to the ideological distortions that have afflicted the Arab popular consciousness since the so-called Nakba, and [also owing] to the lies that have accumulated around this notion, [the label of] 'terrorism' has become attached to Arabs, wherever they are.
"Despite the great political and cultural efforts by large and important Arab states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and some Gulf states to restore Arab ties with the rest of the world, and to curb the culture of terrorism in Arab societies, they have all failed. This is because these attempts to rectify [the situation], from both within and without [the Arab countries], both stemmed from and were a logical extension of the concept of the Nakba.
"This proves that the Arabs have no hope of extricating themselves from the cultural and political challenge of terrorism unless they come up with [new] and different [fundamental] premises, and with an outlook completely free of the fetters of the religious ritual that they have devised in modern times and called the Nakba.
"Although Palestinian senior officials, leaders, educated circles, and public figures, whose patriotism is beyond doubt, have come to terms with the existence of the State of Israel, the aforementioned 80% of Arabs... do not accept this view, and consider it religious apostasy. Leaders of the [Arab] states in the region, and party leaders, inflame sentiment, entrancing them with the drumbeat of extremism.
"With the strident chorus of its secretaries, the Arab League ensures that every car crash in Gaza or the West Bank is interpreted as an Israeli conspiracy against the Arab future. This is because the Arab League... was established as a pan-Arab entity whose main function was to write reports and studies rife with distortions of fact so as to quell the conscience of any Arab who dared think independently and expunge [the concept of] the Nakba from his consciousness. [It has done] this instead of devising creative strategies for cultural and economic development, so as to improve the deteriorating standard of living in the Arab societies."

The Nakba is Rooted in a Culture that Does Not Recognize the Right of the Other

"Why did the partition resolution, which gave a state in Palestine to the Jews and one to the Arabs next to it, become the Nakba -- [the star] that rises and sets daily over the Arab lands without emitting even the tiniest ray of light to illuminate the path for their peoples?
"Did the Jews have any less right to Palestine than the Arabs? What historic criteria can be used to determine the precedence of one [nation's] right over that of the other?
"Refusing to recognize the right of the other so as to usurp his rights was a governing principle of the Islamic conquests from the time of 'Omar bin Al-Khattab; during that historical period it was the norm. [But] at the turn of the [20th] century, this principle was abandoned and prohibited, because it sparked wars and [violent] conflict. The international community passed laws restricting the principle of non-acceptance of the other, in the founding principles of the League of Nations in 1919. Subsequently, with the U.N.'s establishment, these laws were developed [further], with appendices and commentary, to adapt them to the current historical era and to express the commonly accepted values of national sovereignty and peoples' right to self-determination.
"But because of their sentimental yearning for the past and zealous adherence to [old] criteria, the Arabs purged their hearts of any inclination to adjust to the spirit of the age. They thus became captives of the principle of non-acceptance of the other and of denying the other [the right] to live, [among] other rights.


The Palestinian Nakba, Peace and Justice for Palestine

There is no way of ever obtaining total and complete justice in the real world. Those who insist on "Peace with Justice" should take care of what they wish for. The Nazi Grand Mufti of Jerusalem escaped punishment at Nuremberg because he was freed by the French, apparently in order to interfere with British policy in Palestine. He died in his bed. The tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of Jews who were killed by the Nazis because of the Mufti are never going to get justice. The Jewish refugees from Arab lands are probably never going to be compensated for the properties they lost, or for centuries of humiliation under Muslim rule. The Jews of Jerusalem who died in the siege of hunger, disease or enemy bombs and bullets will not get justice. The innocent Arabs, and there were undoubtedly innocents, who died or were expelled in 1948 are not going to get justice. The Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Turks and British who invaded and held the land of Israel are never going to face justice either. The great injustice that is being done to the Jews of Israel and the Arabs of Palestine is perpetuation of the conflict and the hatred in the name of impossible and reprehensible goals.



Copyright 2008 by Ami Isseroff. This page is at https://zionism-israel.com/his/Palestine_Nakba.htm


Some related materials:  1948 Israel War of Independence (Arab-Israeli war) Timeline (Chronology) Israel War of Independence


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