Commentary Magazine


1948 and Beyond

To the Editor:

In his article, “Were the Palestinians Expelled?” [July-August], Efraim Karsh asks: “What exactly happened in Haifa? Was there ‘an act of expulsion’ as the Palestinians and Israeli ‘new historians’ have argued?” But Mr. Karsh does not cite a single “new historian” who claims that the Jews expelled the Arabs from Haifa. I hope that he is not thinking of Benny Morris, the leading student of this subject among the new historians. For Morris makes no such argument. In his book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, Morris recounts the events in Haifa in late April 1948 not very differently from Mr. Karsh. He too makes it clear that the Jewish leadership in the city passionately importuned the Arabs not to leave. His narrative is, to be sure, more nuanced than Mr. Karsh’s, and does make mention of Jews in Haifa who were not at all displeased to see the Arabs leave. But he does not accuse them of doing anything more than facilitating an exodus for which the Arabs themselves were primarily responsible.

Mr. Karsh writes that new documents at his disposal “make it possible to establish the truth about what happened in Haifa—and by extension, elsewhere in Palestine.” But one can establish what happened elsewhere in Palestine, later in 1948, only by presenting the pertinent evidence, not by extrapolating from what happened in Haifa. Morris, who makes no claim that there was an expulsion from Haifa, presents evidence of subsequent Jewish expulsions of Arabs from other areas of Palestine, including Lydda and Ramie. Does Mr. Karsh now possess evidence that will confute what Morris and other new historians have written about what happened in these places?

Allan Arkush
Newton, Massachusetts

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To the Editor:

Efraim Karsh convincingly details how the Arab leadership caused the Palestinian-Arab exodus from Haifa in 1948, and the impassioned campaign by the Jews to convince the Arabs to stay and persuade those who had already fled to return.

Nineteen years later, the Israelis launched a similar effort during the Six-Day war. After Israeli troops liberated the city of Hebron (the burial place of the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs), the Israeli government ordered them to let the defeated, fleeing Arabs return. This measure, in effect, rewarded the local Arabs for having massacred the Jews of Hebron in 1929 and 1936.

Mr. Karsh’s article makes it clear that the seeds of the coming Israeli tragedy were sown in 1948 and reside deep in the soul of a people who substitute hopes for unpleasant realities.

George E. Rubin
New York City

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To the Editor:

Efraim Karsh is to be congratulated for swimming upstream against the tide of post-1948 Jewish neuroses. The same decade in which the Palestinian Arabs left Israel saw countless millions uprooted in scores of other countries. Yet few if any are demanding compensation for Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia and Alsace, or for Hindus expelled from Pakistan. Then there were the over half-million Jews who fled for their lives from Arab countries. Even if Arab claims were indeed true, and Palestinians must be allowed to return and be compensated, then surely all refugees should be awarded the same right.

Stephen A. Berger
Ramat Gan, Israel

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Efraim Karsh writes:

Allan Arkush is concerned lest I wrongly fault the Israeli “new historian” Benny Morris for claiming “an act of expulsion” in Haifa. Let me set his mind at ease. The allegation was made by a fellow “new historian,” Ilan Pappé of the University of Haifa, who has often outbid Morris in the refashioning of Israeli history in line with the Palestinian “narrative.”

But this does not make Morris’s own account of the Haifa episode, or for that matter of the Palestinian exodus during the 1947-48 war, any more accurate or “nuanced.” Although Mr. Arkush is impressed by Morris’s mention of “Jews in Haifa who were not at all displeased to see the Arabs leave,” Morris provides no evidence whatsoever for the existence of such sentiments apart from ungrounded suppositions. And how could he? In Morris’s interpretation, the pre- and post-state Jewish armed forces (Hagana and Tsahal) were the main culprits responsible for the Palestinian exodus. But Morris’s failure to consult the archives of these two military organizations, which contain hundreds of thousands if not millions of relevant documents, deprives him not only of the ability to speak authoritatively on Jewish/Israeli intentions and activities but also of invaluable insights into the Palestinian/Arab side. Extensive files captured during the war include, in the case of Haifa alone, the complete protocols of the city’s Arab National Committee; that committee’s correspondence with the Arab Higher Committee, the effective “government” of the Palestinian Arabs; and the Arab League’s operational plans for northern Palestine.

Mr. Arkush questions whether the Haifa episode was at all representative of “what happened elsewhere in Palestine” at the time. It was. As in Haifa, most of the Palestinians who fled their homes in 1947-48 acted out of fear, disorientation, disillusionment with both their own leadership and with pan-Arab authorities, and, above all, a lack of communal cohesion and of the willingness to subordinate personal interest to the general good. Many fled before war reached their doorstep, and many were also forced to leave at the behest of their own leaders and/or the Arab states. Had they not so dispersed, the Palestinians would have been able to remain in their places of residence—as was the case with those who stayed put.

Haifa was the largest and best known example of forced exodus. But several days earlier, thousands of Tiberias Arabs had been similarly ordered to leave or bullied into leaving by their leaders. In Jaffa, the largest Arab community of Mandatory Palestine, the municipality organized the transfer of thousands of residents by land and sea. Added to this were the scores of villages vacated at the orders of local Arab militias and/or the armies of the Arab states.

This is hardly to deny occasional expulsions of Palestinian Arabs by Israeli forces in the heat of battle (most notably from the town of Lydda—though not from Ramie as Mr. Arkush suggests). But these accounted for a small fraction of the total exodus, and were more than matched by the expulsion of the entire Jewish population from areas in Palestine assigned by the United Nations partition resolution to the prospective Arab state.

Stephen A. Berger is therefore correct to argue that the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced out of Arab states possess a right of restitution at least as sound as that of the Palestinians. The Palestinians, after all, were unsuccessful aggressors who harnessed the entire Arab world to their attempt to destroy a neighboring national community. By contrast, the Jewish communities of the Arab states were nothing but hapless victims. They perpetrated no violence against the Arab majority in their respective countries of residence, nor were they even involved in the Palestine war. Their only “sin” was to be Jewish—not even Zionist—in highly intolerant societies.

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