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Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine By: Seth Frantzman
The Jerusalem Post | Wednesday, August 22, 2007


As negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority aimed at creating a Palestinian state willing to live side-by-side with Israel in peace resume, one of the major sticking points continues to be the Arab refugee issue. Bitter arguments among politicians and scholars continue to surround the creation of the refugee problem during Israel's War of Independence in 1948.

It has become fashionable in recent decades to frame the 1948 war as one in which the Arabs were victims of Zionist aggression. Anti-Zionist scholars such as Noam Chomsky, Rashid Khalidi and Ilan Pappe have presented the war as if the only important events were Deir Yassin and the flight or expulsion of Arabs from Haifa, Acre, Tiberias, west Jerusalem, Jaffa and numerous villages.

In this context, Ilan Pappe's work deserves special attention. He was born to a German Jewish family in Haifa in 1954. The former senior lecturer in the University of Haifa's Department of Political Science recently announced he was moving to the UK because it had become "increasingly difficult to live in Israel" with his "unwelcome views and convictions."

These views are those of the "new historians" - leftist scholars who in the 1980s began to reinterpret Israeli and Palestinian history. He is the author of six works on the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Middle East. In his recently released book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Pappe claims that Israel prepared a special plan for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine's Arab population known as Plan D for dalet. Pappe's "evidence" is derived from his interpretations of files found in the Hagana and Israel state archives.

One of his most damning pieces of evidence is the village surveys carried out by the Hagana's intelligence units. These surveys go into minute detail about many Arab villages, including the number of armed men, the mukhtar and any anti-Jewish activity in the village. Pappe lends further evidence to his thesis by showing that Jewish forces, whether Hagana, Irgun or Lehi, attacked Arab villages even before the declaration of the state on May 15, 1948.

But Pappe makes one egregious mistake. He never bothers to ask the same question of the Arabs he does of the Jews: What about their lists, their intelligence reports and their ethnic-cleansing plans? What were Arab intentions in the five months between the passage of the UN partition plan on November 29, 1947, and the birth of Israel?

The archives of The Palestine Post, now The Jerusalem Post and then the newspaper of record of Mandatory Palestine, provide some of the answers and tell a very different story from the one presented by Pappe.

Sixty-two Jews were murdered by Arabs in the first week after the UN partition plan was passed, and by May 15, 1948, a total of 1,256 Jews had been killed, most of them civilians. These deaths were caused by Arab militias, gangs, terrorists and army units which attacked every place of Jewish inhabitation in Palestine.

The attacks succeeded in placing Jerusalem under siege and eventually cutting off its water supply. All Jewish villages in the Negev were attacked, and Jews had to go about the country in convoys. In every major city where Jews and Arabs lived in mixed neighborhoods the Jewish areas came under attack. This was true in Haifa's Hadar Hacarmel as well as Jerusalem's Old City.

Massacres were not uncommon.

Thirty-nine Jews were killed by Arab rioters at Haifa's oil refinery on December 30, 1947. On January 16, 1948, 35 Jews were killed trying to reach Gush Etzion. On February 22, 44 Jews were murdered in a bombing on Jerusalem's Rehov Ben-Yehuda. And on February 29, 23 Jews were killed all across Palestine, eight of them at the Hayotzek iron foundry.

Thirty-five Jews were murdered during the Mount Scopus convoy massacre on April 13. And 127 Jews were massacred at Kfar Etzion on May 15, 1948, after 30 others had died defending the Etzion Bloc.

In Arab countries more than 100 Jews were also massacred and synagogues were burned in Aleppo and Aden, driving thousands of Jews from their homes.

Back in Palestine many small kibbutzim were subjected to attacks, including Gvulot, Ben-Shemen, Holon, Safed, Bat Yam and Kfar Yavetz - all in December. In January and February, it was the turn of Rishon Lezion, Yehiam, Mishmar Hayarden, Tirat Zvi, Sde Eliahu, Ein Hanatziv, Magdiel, Mitzpe Hagalil and Ma'anit.

In March and April these attacks culminated with an assault on Hartuv by 400 Arabs based in the village of Ishwa and an attack on Kfar Darom by members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Arab attackers also bombed The Palestine Post in February. In March, the Jewish Agency, the Solel Boneh building in Haifa and an Egged bus were also bombed.

Some of today's scholars prefer to present every massacre of Jews as a "response" to some Jewish deed, and to portray as a "myth" the very idea that Israel struggled desperately for existence in 1948.

But it was no myth.

The fact is 1,256 Jews were killed in five months. Even before the first Arab villages were captured in April, 924 Jews had already been killed. Ilan Pappe should have pondered what might have been if those Jews had not been slaughtered.

What if attacks and riots had not been the first Arab reaction to the partition plan?

Plan Dalet was a plan, it was one of many plans. The lists compiled by the Hagana had been cobbled together for a decade before 1948, but they were not blueprints - merely intelligence assessments. The British also kept lists of everything; they knew about weapons in various kibbutzim, about the Hagana and illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine. Those lists weren't blueprints for ethnic cleansing anymore than were the Hagana files on Arab villages.

When a Jewish area was overrun - and some were - the homes were looted or destroyed and any survivors were killed, as at Kfar Etzion (only three of the defenders survived the massacre).

The potential for the ethnic cleansing of Jewish Palestine was never realized because of the discipline, determination and sheer luck of the Yishuv.

If the Arabs had not carried out across the board attacks throughout the Yishuv between 1947 and 1948, perhaps the nature of the subsequent Jewish victory would have been different. As it was, the ceaseless attacks against all isolated Jewish settlements only gave Zionist commanders every reason to see neighboring Arab villages as threatening and to act accordingly.

Scholarship - including that of the "new historians" - on the 1948 war will remain incomplete until methodical studies are carried out about widespread and often well-planned Arab assaults on the Yishuv.

The writer is in the doctoral program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His master's thesis was on the 1948 war.


Seth Frantzman is doing his doctorate in Jerusalem at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His articles have appeared in the Jerusalem Post, Middle East Quarterly and the Tucson Weekly. He lives in Jerusalem.


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