1948, Israel, and the Palestinians - The True Story

[Commentary] Efraim Karsh - The "original sin" of Israel's founding "on the ruins of Arab Palestine," achieved through the deliberate and aggressive dispossession of its native population, is advanced not only by Israel's Arab enemies but by segments of advanced opinion in the West. The recent declassification of millions of documents from the period of the British Mandate (1920-1948) and Israel's early days paint a much more definitive picture of the historical record, revealing that the claim of dispossession is not only completely unfounded but the inverse of the truth. Far from being the hapless objects of a predatory Zionist assault, it was Palestinian Arab leaders who from the early 1920s onward, and very much against the wishes of their own constituents, launched a relentless campaign to obliterate the Jewish national revival. Had these leaders, and their counterparts in the neighboring Arab states, accepted the UN resolution of November 29, 1947, which called for the establishment of two states in Palestine, there would have been no war and no dislocation in the first place. Prior to the proclamation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, Zionist spokesmen held hundreds of meetings with Arab leaders at all levels. These included Abdullah ibn Hussein, founder of the emirate of Transjordan (later the kingdom of Jordan), incumbent and former prime ministers in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq, senior advisers of King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud (founder of Saudi Arabia), and Palestinian Arab elites of all hues. As the Jews set out to lay the groundwork for their nascent state, shooting, sniping, ambushes, and bombings, which in today's world would be condemned as war crimes, were daily events in the lives of Jewish civilians. The U.S. consul-general in Jerusalem, Robert Macatee, wrote in December 1947, "Innocent and harmless people, going about their daily business, are picked off while riding in buses, walking along the streets, and stray shots even find them while asleep in their beds. A Jewish woman, mother of five children, was shot in Jerusalem while hanging out clothes on the roof. The ambulance rushing her to the hospital was machine-gunned, and finally the mourners following her to the funeral were attacked and one of them stabbed to death." Arabs invented numerous nonexistent atrocities. The fall of Haifa, for example, gave rise to totally false claims of a large-scale slaughter, which circulated throughout the Middle East and reached Western capitals. Similarly false rumors were spread after the fall of Tiberias, during the battle for Safed, and in Jaffa, where in late April the mayor fabricated a massacre of "hundreds of Arab men and women." This scare-mongering was undoubtedly aimed at garnering the widest possible sympathy for the Palestinian plight and casting the Jews as brutal predators. But it backfired disastrously by spreading panic within the disoriented Palestinian society. By early April 1948 some 100,000 Palestinians had fled, though the Jews were still on the defensive and in no position to evict them. On March 23, 1948, Iraqi general Ismail Safwat, commander-in-chief of the Arab Liberation Army, the volunteer Arab force that did much of the fighting in Palestine in the months preceding Israel's proclamation of independence, noted with some astonishment that the Jews "have so far not attacked a single Arab village unless provoked by it." By the time of Israel's declaration of independence on May 14, the numbers of Arab refugees had more than trebled. Even then, none of the 170,000-180,000 Arabs fleeing urban centers, and only a handful of the 130,000-160,000 villagers who left their homes, had been forced out by the Jews. The exceptions occurred in the heat of battle and were uniformly dictated by ad-hoc military considerations.

2008-05-09 01:00:00

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