Commentary Magazine


1947-48

To the Editor:

The refusal of Gary V. Smith [Letters from Readers, March, in a discussion of David Gutmann's “The Palestinian Myth,” October 1975] to place the blame and ultimate responsibility for Arab flight from Palestine during 1947-48 squarely on the divided and corrupt Arab leadership itself should be held up to scrutiny in the light of what the world has witnessed during the last ten months of civil war in Lebanon. Mass atrocities, mutilations, indiscriminate killing, blackmail, arson, looting, and mass flight were and remain the norm in inter-Arab conflicts. The Arab civil population of Haifa and Jaffa realized long before April 1948 that their lives and property were in jeopardy from the poorly disciplined, irregular, and corrupt Arab forces as much as from the prospect of a Jewish military victory.

Dr. Herbert Pritzke was an escaped German prisoner of war who served as Chief Medical Officer for the Arab forces in Jaffa. His eyewitness account, Bedouin Doctor (Dutton, 1957) is the objective reporting of a foreign volunteer:

There was no discipline, no military police. no muster rolls, no list of personnel. No one ever knew who belonged to which unit or where the different units were. This incurable disorder was shamelessly exploited.

Things happened as they were bound to happen under such leadership. By the end of April, the Jaffa front was completely disintegrated. The town was almost deserted. Less than a tenth of the 80,000 inhabitants remained in their homes, and even this remnant was trying by all means possible to get out of the town. Fear of their own bullying and cruel compatriots spurred them to leave home and property, not less than the imminent occupation of the town by the Jewish besiegers. More-over, bandits, more dangerous than the occupying force, were roaming through the town singly and in groups robbing and murdering.

It was clear that the depopulated and demoralized town must soon be overrun by the Jews. We Germans, who met almost daily in my room in the hospital, found ourselves in a very precarious situation. As representatives of law and order, we could to some extent check the depredations of the bandits and looters, which did not make us popular with them. At the same time, we felt that we were hated by the embittered citizens because we could not save their town. If we managed to survive the final chaos, we could look forward to no prospect of future but captivity. The Arabs themselves no longer showed any keenness to fight for their country.

Dr. Pritzke makes no mention whatsover regarding Deir Yassin but bears out the remarks of David Gutmann that from the beginning “it was a dirty, nasty little war fought at close quarters by intertwined populations” and that at the outset of the war the Arab side possessed a clear superiority in firepower.

Norman Berdichevsky
University of New Orleans
New Orleans, Louisiana

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