Feb. 16, 2004 20:59 Updated Feb. 16, 2004 23:08
Remembering 1948 the way it was
By MAURICE OSTROFF
to Prof. Benny Morris for having the courage to publicly reconsider some of his earlier conclusions and for acknowledging
that Israel did what it had to do in 1948. (The Jerusalem Post, February 10). Apart from a few points with which one might
take issue, Morris's article offers a balanced summary of the conflict, in marked contrast to his earlier writings, which
emphasized Israel's alleged wrongdoings.
Morris complains that as a new historian he has been accused of seeking to
shatter the founding myths of the Israeli state and of lending moral weight to the Palestinian cause. The problem is that
his works did not shatter myths; they treated historical facts about the nature of Israel's birth as myths. That he lent moral
weight to the Palestinian cause is proven by the eagerness with which his exaggerations of Israel's warts are still eagerly
amplified and quoted out of context on anti-Israel web sites.
To his great credit, Morris acknowledged this in a July
2001 article in The Guardian. He wrote that Israel's critics latched on to those of his findings that highlighted Israeli
responsibility, while ignoring the fact that the problem was a direct consequence of the war Arab states had launched. Also
disturbing in his Post article is Morris's claim that the expulsions from Lod and Ramle were ordered by Yitzhak Rabin as part
of a dark policy of ethnic cleansing, unjustifiably injecting this emotional term, coined decades later during the Bosnia
This allegation goes against overwhelming evidence of the IDF's humanitarian doctrine. For example on July
15, David Ben-Gurion issued an unequivocal order warning against the desecration of monasteries and churches and ordering
merciless firing on soldiers caught looting. Omission of this type of information in the article creates a distorted picture.
Morris bolsters his theory of a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing by inferring a correlation between what he considers
a near-consensus reached in the 1930s and 1940s among Zionist leaders on the necessity of transfer and the events in Lydda.
]Can any intelligent reader accept that the musings by Zionists abroad had any influence on events in the heat of battle in
1948 Israel? Significantly, in this same article, Morris contradicts his own thesis by admitting that the idea of transfer
never crystallized into a formal Zionist policy, and that most of the Arabs fled voluntarily. He even concedes that some left
because they were advised to do so by their leaders. The claim that Rabin gave the order to expel the inhabitants of Lydda
It was Yigal Allon, not Rabin, who was responsible for Operation Dani, during which Lod and Ramle were
captured. The claim that Rabin gave the order was made in a 1979 article in The New York Times, based on a revelation by the
translator of Rabin's memoirs, who leaked passages which had been deleted from the book by order of a ministerial committee.
But in the same Times article Allon himself is quoted as saying: "I was [Rabin's] commander, and my knowledge of the facts
is therefore more accurate. I did not ask the late Ben-Gurion for permission to expel the population of Lydda. I did not receive
such permission and did not give such orders."
To avoid distorting history it is essential to refer to the events leading
up to the expulsion. Operation Dani was aimed at relieving Jerusalem and neutralizing the threat posed by Arab forces in the
Lod/Ramle bulge, which contained thousands of troops including units of the highly trained Arab Legion.
The Arabs were attempting to cut off Tel Aviv from the southern part of the country by linking up with the Egyptian army
at Ashdod. Israeli forces included Moshe Dayan's battalion, which captured Lod and Ramle. How to understand the circumstances?
The vital importance of the capture of these towns was later confirmed by colonel el-Tel of the Arab Legion, who wrote that
the fall of Lydda and Ramle marked the end of Arab threats to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Mike Isaacson, who now lives
in Pretoria, South Africa, served as a Mahal volunteer in Dayan's battalion. This is how he described his experience to me:
July 10 when the battalion attacked Lydda, the Arab leadership surrendered. Lydda's leaders were told they could continue
to live in peace, provided they surrendered their arms and accepted Israeli sovereignty. They agreed. "Leaving only a few
soldiers as guards, the battalion left Lydda to return to Ben Shemen. However, when two Arab Legion armored cars appeared
on the horizon the next day, giving the impression that Legion reinforcements were arriving, the Lydda Arabs reneged on their
agreement. They didn't give the Israeli soldiers in the town the choice of being expelled. They slaughtered them. "In the
meantime, the battalion was surprised to find itself in Ramle sooner than intended. Instead of taking the road to Ben Shemen,
the leading vehicle, driven by Jimmy Kantey, had in error turned towards Ramle at the crossroad.... "As a consequence of the
massacre of the Israeli soldiers, the troops on returning to Lydda could not accept a fifth column in their midst and forced
thousands of families out of the towns during the next three days.
Most were put on buses to Transjordan. Others, less
fortunate, made their way walking the few miles to the Jordanian lines. "The history for the Arab refugees would have taken
a different turn if the Lydda residents had not reneged on their surrender agreement. It should also be borne in mind that
hundreds of expellees returned during the following months, and that both Lydda (now known as Lod) and Ramle still contain
sizable Arab populations...." AS WITH the Israeli soldiers in Lydda, other Jewish sectors captured by Arabs were never given
the option of expulsion.
A notable example: On May 12, when the Jordanians struck Kibbutz Etzion, the battle lasted
until the last handful of survivors, without arms and ammunition, raised their hands in surrender, only to be mowed down by
machine gunners. Personal accounts reveal a more truthful picture of events than selective quotations of extracts from archives
by historians who have to make assumptions about the significance and context of the records they examine.
It is not
too late. While there are still a few survivors of the War of Liberation alive, it would be valuable if our historians would
interview as many as possible so as to obtain a realistic concept about the creation of the State of Israel and the motivation
of the people who participated in it. True, personal recollections may be embellished, and time may have fogged some memories.
But if one interviews several people in different parts of the world who participated in the same events, there will be enough
common essentials to lend credence to the gist.
The writer, a Mahal volunteer in the War of Independence and one of
the pioneers of Israel's radar, commanded one of the state's earliest radar stations.
Footnote added in 2009
an interview with the BBC in 1997, Hazem Nusseibeh, who had been an editor of the Palestine Broadcasting Service's Arabic
news service in 1948, explained that one of the major reasons the Palestinians fled in 1948 was a story tha he and Palestinian
leader Hussein Khalid had fabricated about a massacre and rapes at Deir Yassin. They invented this story in the hope of encouraging
Arab countries to enter the conflict, but it misfired.
He said "This was our biggest mistake", because Palestinians
fled in terror and left the country in huge numbers after hearing the false atrocity claims.