An exhaustive review of the archival evidence tells a ruinous tale of villainy and betrayal.
Sixty years after its establishment by an internationally recognized act of self-determination, Israel remains the only state in the world that is subjected to a constant outpouring of the most outlandish conspiracy theories and blood libels; whose policies and actions are obsessively condemned by the international community; and whose right to exist is constantly debated and challenged not only by its Arab enemies but by segments of advanced opinion in the West.
During the past decade or so, the actual elimination of the Jewish state has become a cause célèbre among many of these educated Westerners. The “one-state solution,” as it is called, is a euphemistic formula proposing the replacement of Israel by a state, theoretically comprising the whole of historic Palestine, in which Jews will be reduced to the status of a permanent minority. Only this, it is said, can expiate the “original sin” of Israel’s founding, an act built (in the words of one critic) “on the ruins of Arab Palestine” and achieved through the deliberate and aggressive dispossession of its native population.
This claim of premeditated dispossession and the consequent creation of the longstanding Palestinian “refugee problem” forms, indeed, the central plank in the bill of particulars pressed by Israel’s alleged victims and their Western supporters. It is a charge that has hardly gone undisputed. As early as the mid-1950’s, the eminent American historian J.C. Hurewitz undertook a systematic refutation, and his findings were abundantly confirmed by later generations of scholars and writers. Even Benny Morris, the most influential of Israel’s revisionist “new historians,” and one who went out of his way to establish the case for Israel’s “original sin,” grudgingly stipulated that there was no “design” to displace the Palestinian Arabs.
The recent declassification of millions of documents from the period of the British Mandate (1920-1948) and Israel’s early days, documents untapped by earlier generations of writers and ignored or distorted by the “new historians,” paint a much more definitive picture of the historical record. They reveal that the claim of dispossession is not only completely unfounded but the inverse of the truth. What follows is based on fresh research into these documents, which contain many facts and data hitherto unreported.
Far from being the hapless objects of a predatory Zionist assault, it was Palestinian Arab leaders who from the early 1920’s onward, and very much against the wishes of their own constituents, launched a relentless campaign to obliterate the Jewish national revival. This campaign culminated in the violent attempt to abort the UN resolution of November 29, 1947, which called for the establishment of two states in Palestine. Had these leaders, and their counterparts in the neighboring Arab states, accepted the UN resolution, there would have been no war and no dislocation in the first place.
The simple fact is that the Zionist movement had always been amenable to the existence in the future Jewish state of a substantial Arab minority that would participate on an equal footing “throughout all sectors of the country’s public life.” The words are those of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founding father of the branch of Zionism that was the forebear of today’s Likud party. In a famous 1923 article, Jabotinsky voiced his readiness “to take an oath binding ourselves and our descendants that we shall never do anything contrary to the principle of equal rights, and that we shall never try to eject anyone.”
Eleven years later, Jabotinsky presided over the drafting of a constitution for Jewish Palestine. According to its provisions, Arabs and Jews were to share both the prerogatives and the duties of statehood, including most notably military and civil service. Hebrew and Arabic were to enjoy the same legal standing, and “in every cabinet where the prime minister is a Jew, the vice-premiership shall be offered to an Arab and vice-versa.”
If this was the position of the more “militant” faction of the Jewish national movement, mainstream Zionism not only took for granted the full equality of the Arab minority in the future Jewish state but went out of its way to foster Arab-Jewish coexistence. In January 1919, Chaim Weizmann, then the upcoming leader of the Zionist movement, reached a peace-and-cooperation agreement with the Hashemite emir Faisal ibn Hussein, the effective leader of the nascent pan-Arab movement. From then until 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, Faisal’s elder brother and 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 late as September 15, 1947, two months before the passing of the UN partition resolution, two senior Zionist envoys were still seeking to convince Abdel Rahman Azzam, the Arab League’s secretary-general, that the Palestine conflict “was uselessly absorbing the best energies of the Arab League,” and that both Arabs and Jews would greatly benefit “from active policies of cooperation and development.”6 Behind this proposition lay an age-old Zionist hope: that the material progress resulting from Jewish settlement of Palestine would ease the path for the local Arab populace to become permanently reconciled, if not positively well disposed, to the project of Jewish national self-determination. As David Ben-Gurion, soon to become Israel’s first prime minister, argued in December 1947:
If the Arab citizen will feel at home in our state, . . . if the state will help him in a truthful and dedicated way to reach the economic, social, and cultural level of the Jewish community, then Arab distrust will accordingly subside and a bridge will be built to a Semitic, Jewish-Arab alliance.
On the face of it, Ben-Gurion’s hope rested on reasonable grounds. An inflow of Jewish immigrants and capital after World War I had revived Palestine’s hitherto static condition and raised the standard of living of its Arab inhabitants well above that in the neighboring Arab states. The expansion of Arab industry and agriculture, especially in the field of citrus growing, was largely financed by the capital thus obtained, and Jewish know-how did much to improve Arab cultivation. In the two decades between the world wars, Arab-owned citrus plantations grew sixfold, as did vegetable-growing lands, while the number of olive groves quadrupled.
No less remarkable were the advances in social welfare. Perhaps most significantly, mortality rates in the Muslim population dropped sharply and life expectancy rose from 37.5 years in 1926-27 to 50 in 1942-44 (compared with 33 in Egypt). The rate of natural increase leapt upward by a third.
That nothing remotely akin to this was taking place in the neighboring British-ruled Arab countries, not to mention India, can be explained only by the decisive Jewish contribution to Mandate Palestine’s socioeconomic well-being. The British authorities acknowledged as much in a 1937 report by a commission of inquiry headed by Lord Peel:
The general beneficent effect of Jewish immigration on Arab welfare is illustrated by the fact that the increase in the Arab population is most marked in urban areas affected by Jewish development. A comparison of the census returns in 1922 and 1931 shows that, six years ago, the increase percent in Haifa was 86, in Jaffa 62, in Jerusalem 37, while in purely Arab towns such as Nablus and Hebron it was only 7, and at Gaza there was a decrease of 2 percent.
Had the vast majority of Palestinian Arabs been left to their own devices, they would most probably have been content to take advantage of the opportunities afforded them. This is evidenced by the fact that, throughout the Mandate era, periods of peaceful coexistence far exceeded those of violent eruptions, and the latter were the work of only a small fraction of Palestinian Arabs. Unfortunately for both Arabs and Jews, however, the hopes and wishes of ordinary people were not taken into account, as they rarely are in authoritarian communities hostile to the notions of civil society or liberal democracy. In the modern world, moreover, it has not been the poor and the oppressed who have led the great revolutions or carried out the worst deeds of violence, but rather militant vanguards from among the better educated and more moneyed classes of society.
So it was with the Palestinians. In the words of the Peel report:
We have found that, though the Arabs have benefited by the development of the country owing to Jewish immigration, this has had no conciliatory effect. On the contrary . . . with almost mathematical precision the betterment of the economic situation in Palestine [has] meant the deterioration of the political situation.
In Palestine, ordinary Arabs were persecuted and murdered by their alleged betters for the crime of “selling Palestine” to the Jews. Meanwhile, these same betters were enriching themselves with impunity. The staunch pan-Arabist Awni Abdel Hadi, who vowed to fight “until Palestine is either placed under a free Arab government or becomes a graveyard for all the Jews in the country,” facilitated the transfer of 7,500 acres to the Zionist movement, and some of his relatives, all respected political and religious figures, went a step further by selling actual plots of land. So did numerous members of the Husseini family, the foremost Palestinian Arab clan during the Mandate period, including Muhammad Tahir, father of Hajj Amin Husseini, the notorious mufti of Jerusalem.
It was the mufti’s concern with solidifying his political position that largely underlay the 1929 carnage in which 133 Jews were massacred and hundreds more were wounded—just as it was the struggle for political preeminence that triggered the most protracted outbreak of Palestinian Arab violence in 1936-39. This was widely portrayed as a nationalist revolt against both the ruling British and the Jewish refugees then streaming into Palestine to escape Nazi persecution. In fact, it was a massive exercise in violence that saw far more Arabs than Jews or Englishmen murdered by Arab gangs, that repressed and abused the general Arab population, and that impelled thousands of Arabs to flee the country in a foretaste of the 1947-48 exodus.
Some Palestinian Arabs, in fact, preferred to fight back against their inciters, often in collaboration with the British authorities and the Hagana, the largest Jewish underground defense organization. Still others sought shelter in Jewish neighborhoods. For despite the paralytic atmosphere of terror and a ruthlessly enforced economic boycott, Arab-Jewish coexistence continued on many practical levels even during such periods of turmoil, and was largely restored after their subsidence. 
Against this backdrop, it is hardly to be wondered at that most Palestinians wanted nothing to do with the violent attempt ten years later by the mufti-led Arab Higher Committee (AHC), the effective “government” of the Palestinian Arabs, to subvert the 1947 UN partition resolution. With the memories of 1936-39 still fresh in their minds, many opted to stay out of the fight. In no time, numerous Arab villages (and some urban areas) were negotiating peace agreements with their Jewish neighbors; other localities throughout the country acted similarly without the benefit of a formal agreement.
Nor did ordinary Palestinians shrink from quietly defying their supreme leadership. In his numerous tours around the region, Abdel Qader Husseini, district commander of Jerusalem and the mufti’s close relative, found the populace indifferent, if not hostile, to his repeated call to arms. In Hebron, he failed to recruit a single volunteer for the salaried force he sought to form in that city; his efforts in the cities of Nablus, Tulkarm, and Qalqiliya were hardly more successful. Arab villagers, for their part, proved even less receptive to his demands. In one locale, Beit Safafa, Abdel Qader suffered the ultimate indignity, being driven out by angry residents protesting their village’s transformation into a hub of anti-Jewish attacks. Even the few who answered his call did so, by and large, in order to obtain free weapons for their personal protection and then return home.
There was an economic aspect to this peaceableness. The outbreak of hostilities orchestrated by the AHC led to a sharp drop in trade and an accompanying spike in the cost of basic commodities. Many villages, dependent for their livelihood on the Jewish or mixed-population cities, saw no point in supporting the AHC’s explicit goal of starving the Jews into submission. Such was the general lack of appetite for war that in early February 1948, more than two months after the AHC initiated its campaign of violence, Ben-Gurion maintained that “the villages, in most part, have remained on the sidelines.”
Ben-Gurion’s analysis was echoed by the Iraqi general Ismail Safwat, commander-in-chief of the Arab Liberation Army (ALA), the volunteer Arab force that did much of the fighting in Palestine in the months preceding Israel’s proclamation of independence. Safwat lamented that only 800 of the 5,000 volunteers trained by the ALA had come from Palestine itself, and that most of these had deserted either before completing their training or immediately afterward. Fawzi Qawuqji, the local commander of ALA forces, was no less scathing, having found the Palestinians “unreliable, excitable, and difficult to control, and in organized warfare virtually unemployable.”
This view summed up most contemporary perceptions during the fateful six months of fighting after the passing of the partition resolution. Even as these months saw the all but complete disintegration of Palestinian Arab society, nowhere was this described as a systematic dispossession of Arabs by Jews. To the contrary: with the partition resolution widely viewed by Arab leaders as “Zionist in inspiration, Zionist in principle, Zionist in substance, and Zionist in most details” (in the words of the Palestinian academic Walid Khalidi), and with those leaders being brutally candid about their determination to subvert it by force of arms, there was no doubt whatsoever as to which side had instigated the bloodletting.
Nor did the Arabs attempt to hide their culpability. As the Jews set out to lay the groundwork for their nascent state while simultaneously striving to convince their Arab compatriots that they would be (as Ben-Gurion put it) “equal citizens, equal in everything without any exception,” Palestinian Arab leaders pledged that “should partition be implemented, it will be achieved only over the bodies of the Arabs of Palestine, their sons, and their women.” Qawuqji vowed “to drive all Jews into the sea.” Abdel Qader Husseini stated that “the Palestine problem will only be solved by the sword; all Jews must leave Palestine.”
They and their fellow Arab abetters did their utmost to make these threats come true, with every means at their disposal. In addition to regular forces like the ALA, guerrilla and terror groups wreaked havoc, as much among noncombatants as among Jewish fighting units. Shooting, sniping, ambushes, bombings, which in today’s world would be condemned as war crimes, were daily events in the lives of civilians. “[I]nnocent and harmless people, going about their daily business,” wrote the U.S. consul-general in Jerusalem, Robert Macatee, in December 1947,
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.
As the fighting escalated, Arab civilians suffered as well, and the occasional atrocity sparked cycles of large-scale violence. Thus, the December 1947 murder of six Arab workers near the Haifa oil refinery by the small Jewish underground group IZL was followed by the immediate slaughter of 39 Jews by their Arab co-workers, just as the killing of some 100 Arabs during the battle for the village of Deir Yasin in April 1948 was “avenged” within days by the killing of 77 Jewish nurses and doctors en route to the Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus.
Yet while the Jewish leadership and media described these gruesome events for what they were, at times withholding details so as to avoid panic and keep the door open for Arab-Jewish reconciliation, their Arab counterparts not only inflated the toll to gigantic proportions but invented numerous nonexistent atrocities. The fall of Haifa (April 21-22), 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 (April 18), during the battle for Safed (in early May), and in Jaffa, where in late April the mayor fabricated a massacre of “hundreds of Arab men and women.” Accounts of Deir Yasin in the Arab media were especially lurid, featuring supposed hammer-and-sickle tattoos on the arms of IZL fighters and accusations of havoc and rape.
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. That, in turn, helps explain why, by April 1948, after four months of seeming progress, this phase of the Arab war effort collapsed. (Still in the offing was the second, wider, and more prolonged phase involving the forces of the five Arab nations that invaded Palestine in mid-May.) For not only had most Palestinians declined to join the active hostilities, but vast numbers had taken to the road, leaving their homes either for places elsewhere in the country or fleeing to neighboring Arab lands.
Indeed, many had vacated even before the outbreak of hostilities, and still larger numbers decamped before the war reached their own doorstep. “Arabs are leaving the country with their families in considerable numbers, and there is an exodus from the mixed towns to the rural Arab centers,” reported Alan Cunningham, the British high commissioner, in December 1947, adding a month later that the “panic of [the] middle class persists and there is a steady exodus of those who can afford to leave the country.”
Echoing these reports, Hagana intelligence sources recounted in mid-December an “evacuation frenzy that has taken hold of entire Arab villages.” Before the month was over, many Palestinian Arab cities were bemoaning the severe problems created by the huge influx of villagers and pleading with the AHC to help find a solution to the predicament. Even the Syrian and Lebanese governments were alarmed by this early exodus, demanding that the AHC encourage Palestinian Arabs to stay put and fight.
But no such encouragement was forthcoming, either from the AHC or from anywhere else. In fact, there was a total lack of national cohesion, let alone any sense of shared destiny. Cities and towns acted as if they were self-contained units, attending to their own needs and eschewing the smallest sacrifice on behalf of other localities. Many “national committees” (i.e., local leaderships) forbade the export of food and drink from well-stocked cities to needy outlying towns and villages. Haifa’s Arab merchants refused to alleviate a severe shortage of flour in Jenin, while Gaza refused to export eggs and poultry to Jerusalem; in Hebron, armed guards checked all departing cars. At the same time there was extensive smuggling, especially in the mixed-population cities, with Arab foodstuffs going to Jewish neighborhoods and vice-versa.
The lack of communal solidarity was similarly evidenced by the abysmal treatment meted out to the hundreds of thousands of refugees scattered throughout the country. Not only was there no collective effort to relieve their plight, or even a wider empathy beyond one’s immediate neighborhood, but many refugees were ill-treated by their temporary hosts and subjected to ridicule and abuse for their supposed cowardice. In the words of one Jewish intelligence report: “The refugees are hated wherever they have arrived.”
Even the ultimate war victims—the survivors of Deir Yasin—did not escape their share of indignities. Finding refuge in the neighboring village of Silwan, many were soon at loggerheads with the locals, to the point where on April 14, a mere five days after the tragedy, a Silwan delegation approached the AHC’s Jerusalem office demanding that the survivors be transferred elsewhere. No help for their relocation was forthcoming.
Some localities flatly refused to accept refugees at all, for fear of overstraining existing resources. In Acre (Akko), the authorities prevented Arabs fleeing Haifa from disembarking; in Ramallah, the predominantly Christian population organized its own militia—not so much to fight the Jews as to fend off the new Muslim arrivals. Many exploited the plight of the refugees unabashedly, especially by fleecing them for such basic necessities as transportation and accommodation.
Yet still the Palestinians fled their homes, and at an ever growing pace. By early April some 100,000 had gone, though the Jews were still on the defensive and in no position to evict them. (On March 23, fully four months after the outbreak of hostilities, ALA commander-in-chief Safwat 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—reducing civilian casualties, denying sites to Arab fighters when there were no available Jewish forces to repel them—rather than political design. They were, moreover, matched by efforts to prevent flight and/or to encourage the return of those who fled. To cite only one example, in early April a Jewish delegation comprising top Arab-affairs advisers, local notables, and municipal heads with close contacts with neighboring Arab localities traversed Arab villages in the coastal plain, then emptying at a staggering pace, in an attempt to convince their inhabitants to stay put.
What makes these Jewish efforts all the more impressive is that they took place at a time when huge numbers of Palestinian Arabs were being actively driven from their homes by their own leaders and/or by Arab military forces, whether out of military considerations or in order to prevent them from becoming citizens of the prospective Jewish state. In the largest and best-known example, tens of thousands of Arabs were ordered or bullied into leaving the city of Haifa on the AHC’s instructions, despite strenuous Jewish efforts to persuade them to stay. Only days earlier, Tiberias’ 6,000-strong Arab community had been similarly forced out by its own leaders, against local Jewish wishes. In Jaffa, Palestine’s largest Arab city, the municipality organized the transfer of thousands of residents by land and sea; in Jerusalem, the AHC ordered the transfer of women and children, and local gang leaders pushed out residents of several neighborhoods.
Tens of thousands of rural villagers were likewise forced out by order of the AHC, local Arab militias, or the ALA. Within weeks of the latter’s arrival in Palestine in January 1948, rumors were circulating of secret instructions to Arabs in predominantly Jewish areas to vacate their villages so as to allow their use for military purposes and to reduce the risk of becoming hostage to the Jews.
By February, this phenomenon had expanded to most parts of the country. It gained considerable momentum in April and May as ALA and AHC forces throughout Palestine were being comprehensively routed. On April 18, the Hagana’s intelligence branch in Jerusalem reported a fresh general order to remove the women and children from all villages bordering Jewish localities. Twelve days later, its Haifa counterpart reported an ALA command to evacuate all Arab villages between Tel Aviv and Haifa in anticipation of a new general offensive. In early May, as fighting intensified in the eastern Galilee, local Arabs were ordered to transfer all women and children from the Rosh Pina area, while in the Jerusalem sub-district, Transjordan’s Arab Legion likewise ordered the emptying of scores of villages.
As for the Palestinian Arab leaders themselves, who had placed their reluctant constituents on a collision course with Zionism in the 1920’s and 1930’s and had now dragged them helpless into a mortal conflict, they hastened to get themselves out of Palestine and to stay out at the most critical moment. Taking a cue from these higher-ups, local leaders similarly rushed en masse through the door. High Commissioner Cunningham summarized what was happening with quintessential British understatement:
You should know that the collapsing Arab morale in Palestine is in some measure due to the increasing tendency of those who should be leading them to leave the country. . . . For instance, in Jaffa the mayor went on four-day leave 12 days ago and has not returned, and half the national committee has left. In Haifa the Arab members of the municipality left some time ago; the two leaders of the Arab Liberation Army left actually during the recent battle. Now the chief Arab magistrate has left. In all parts of the country the effendi class has been evacuating in large numbers over a considerable period and the tempo is increasing.
Arif al-Arif, a prominent Arab politician during the Mandate era and the doyen of Palestinian historians, described the prevailing atmosphere at the time: “Wherever one went throughout the country one heard the same refrain: ‘Where are the leaders who should show us the way? Where is the AHC? Why are its members in Egypt at a time when Palestine, their own country, needs them?’”
Muhammad Nimr al-Khatib, a Palestinian Arab leader during the 1948 war, would sum up the situation in these words: “The Palestinians had neighboring Arab states which opened their borders and doors to the refugees, while the Jews had no alternative but to triumph or to die.”
This is true enough of the Jews, but it elides the reason for the refugees’ flight and radically distorts the quality of their reception elsewhere. If they met with no sympathy from their brethren at home, the reaction throughout the Arab world was, if anything, harsher still. There were repeated calls for the forcible return of the refugees, or at the very least of young men of military age, many of whom had arrived under the (false) pretense of volunteering for the ALA. As the end of the Mandate loomed nearer, the Lebanese government refused entry visas to Palestinian males between eighteen and fifty and ordered all “healthy and fit men” who had already entered the country to register officially or be considered illegal aliens and face the full weight of the law.
The Syrian government took an even more stringent approach, banning from its territory all Palestinian males between sixteen and fifty. In Egypt, a large number of demonstrators marched to the Arab League’s Cairo headquarters and lodged a petition demanding that “every able-bodied Palestinian capable of carrying arms should be forbidden to stay abroad.” Such was the extent of Arab resentment toward the Palestinian refugees that the rector of Cairo’s al-Azhar institution of religious learning, probably the foremost Islamic authority, felt obliged to issue a ruling that made the sheltering of Palestinian Arab refugees a religious duty.
Contempt for the Palestinians only intensified with time. “Fright has struck the Palestinian Arabs and they fled their country,” commented Radio Baghdad on the eve of the pan-Arab invasion of the new-born state of Israel in mid-May. “These are hard words indeed, yet they are true.” Lebanon’s minister of the interior (and future president) Camille Chamoun was more delicate, intoning that “The people of Palestine, in their previous resistance to imperialists and Zionists, proved they were worthy of independence,” but “at this decisive stage of the fighting they have not remained so dignified.”
No wonder, then, that so few among the Palestinian refugees themselves blamed their collapse and dispersal on the Jews. During a fact-finding mission to Gaza in June 1949, Sir John Troutbeck, head of the British Middle East office in Cairo and no friend to Israel or the Jews, was surprised to discover that while the refugees
express no bitterness against the Jews (or for that matter against the Americans or ourselves) they speak with the utmost bitterness of the Egyptians and other Arab states. “We know who our enemies are,” they will say, and they are referring to their Arab brothers who, they declare, persuaded them unnecessarily to leave their homes. . . . I even heard it said that many of the refugees would give a welcome to the Israelis if they were to come in and take the district over.
Sixty years after their dispersion, the refugees of 1948 and their descendants remain in the squalid camps where they have been kept by their fellow Arabs for decades, nourished on hate and false hope. Meanwhile, their erstwhile leaders have squandered successive opportunities for statehood.
It is indeed the tragedy of the Palestinians that the two leaders who determined their national development during the 20th century—Hajj Amin Husseini and Yasir Arafat, the latter of whom dominated Palestinian politics since the mid-1960’s to his death in November 2004—were megalomaniacal extremists blinded by anti-Jewish hatred and profoundly obsessed with violence. Had the mufti chosen to lead his people to peace and reconciliation with their Jewish neighbors, as he had promised the British officials who appointed him to his high rank in the early 1920’s, the Palestinians would have had their independent state over a substantial part of Mandate Palestine by 1948, and would have been spared the traumatic experience of dispersion and exile. Had Arafat set the PLO from the start on the path to peace and reconciliation, instead of turning it into one of the most murderous terrorist organizations in modern times, a Palestinian state could have been established in the late 1960’s or the early 1970’s; in 1979 as a corollary to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty; by May 1999 as part of the Oslo process; or at the very latest with the Camp David summit of July 2000.
Instead, Arafat transformed the territories placed under his control in the 1990’s into an effective terror state from where he launched an all-out war (the “al-Aqsa intifada”) shortly after being offered an independent Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and 92 percent of the West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital. In the process, he subjected the Palestinian population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to a repressive and corrupt regime in the worst tradition of Arab dictatorships and plunged their standard of living to unprecedented depths.
What makes this state of affairs all the more galling is that, far from being unfortunate aberrations, Hajj Amin and Arafat were quintessential representatives of the cynical and self-seeking leaders produced by the Arab political system. Just as the Palestinian leadership during the Mandate had no qualms about inciting its constituents against Zionism and the Jews, while lining its own pockets from the fruits of Jewish entrepreneurship, so PLO officials used the billions of dollars donated by the Arab oil states and, during the Oslo era, by the international community to finance their luxurious style of life while ordinary Palestinians scrambled for a livelihood.
And so it goes. Six decades after the mufti and his henchmen condemned their people to statelessness by rejecting the UN partition resolution, their reckless decisions are being reenacted by the latest generation of Palestinian leaders. This applies not only to Hamas, which in January 2006 replaced the PLO at the helm of the Palestinian Authority (PA), but also to the supposedly moderate Palestinian leadership—from President Mahmoud Abbas to Ahmad Qureia (negotiator of the 1993 Oslo Accords) to Saeb Erekat to prime minister Salam Fayad—which refuses to recognize Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state and insists on the full implementation of the “right of return.”
And so it goes as well with Western anti-Zionists who in the name of justice (no less) call today not for a new and fundamentally different Arab leadership but for the dismantlement of the Jewish state. Only when these dispositions change can Palestinian Arabs realistically look forward to putting their self-inflicted “catastrophe” behind them.
1 J.C. Hurewitz, The Struggle for Palestine (New York: Norton, 1950).
2 Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem 1947-1949 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 286; Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 588.
3 Vladimir Jabotinsky, The Jewish War Front (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1940), p. 216.
4 Originally published in Russian under the title “O Zheleznoi Stene,” in Rassvyet, Nov. 4, 1923, the “Iron Wall” was reprinted several times, including in The Jewish Herald (South Africa), Nov. 26, 1937 (internet ed. http://www.mideastweb.org/ironwall.htm).
5 Jabotinsky, The Jewish War Front, pp. 216-20.
6 A.S. Eban, “Note of Conversation with Abdel Rahman Azzam Pasha, London, Sept. 15, 1947,” in Neil Caplan, Futile Diplomacy (London: Frank Cass, 1986), Vol. 2, pp. 274-76.
7 David Ben-Gurion, Bama’araha (Tel Aviv: Mapai Publishing House, 1949), Vol. 4, Part 2, p. 265.
8 Palestine Royal Commission, Report. Presented to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in Parliament by Command of his Majesty, July 1937 (London: HMSO; rep. 1946; hereafter Peel Commission Report), pp. 94, 157-58; Z. Abramowitz and Y. Guelfat, Hameshek Ha’arvi Be’eretz Israel Uve’artzot Hamizrah Hatichon (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuhad, 1944), pp. 48-50.
9 A Survey of Palestine. Prepared in December 1945 and January 1946 for the Information of the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry (reprinted 1991 in full with permission from Her Majesty’s Stationary Office by the Institute for Palestine Studies, Washington D.C.), Vol. 2, pp. 708-15.
10 Peel Commission Report, p. 93 (vii).
11 For early manifestations of Arab-Jewish coexistence see, for example, Colonial Office, Palestine. Report on Palestine Administration, 1923 (London: HMSO, 1924), p. 26; Colonial Office, Palestine. Report on Palestine Administration, 1924 (London: HMSO, 1925), pp. 28, 32, 50; Colonial Office, Palestine. Report on Palestine Administration, 1926 (London: HMSO, 1927), p. 33; Colonial Office, Palestine: Report of the High Commissioner on the Administration of Palestine 1920-1925 (London: HMSO, 1925), pp. 40-41; Chaim Weizmann, “Progress and Problems,” Confidential Report to Colonial Office, Feb. 15, 1922, The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann. Vol. I, Series B, August 1898-July 1931 (New Brunswick & Jerusalem: Transaction Books & Israel Universities Press, 1983), p. 366; Frederick H. Kisch, Palestine Diary (London: Victor Gollancz, 1938), pp. 48-49, 54, 73.
12 Peel Commission Report, pp. 63, 271.
13 “Conversation with Awni Abdel Hadi,” June 3, 1920, Hagana Archive (hereinafter HA), 80/145/11.
14 Kenneth W. Stein, The Land Question in Palestine, 1917-1939 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), pp. 182, 228-39.
15 While in 1936, according to official British statistics, 195 Arabs were killed by their Arab brothers, compared with 37 Britishmen and 80 Jews, two years later these figures rose to 503 Arab fatalities, compared with 255 and 77 Jewish and British deaths respectively. Fatalities in 1939 remained on a similar level: 414 Palestinian Arabs murdered by Arab gangs, as opposed to 94 Jews and 37 Brits. Some Palestinian Arab sources put the number of murdered Arabs at a staggering 3,000-4,500.
In a letter to Abdel Qader Husseini on November 18, 1938, Hassan Saleme, styling himself “Leader of Jaffa, Ramallah, and Lydda Area,” informed his fellow gang leader that “complaints are being received from the villagers of the Jerusalem District as a result of pillaging, looting, killing, and torturing committed by some of the vile people who are wearing the clothing of the holy warriors [i.e., members of “the Holy Jihad,” as Abdel Qader’s force was called]. . . . I admit that there are among the murdered people some who have been sentenced to death, but what are the faults of the innocent whose money is stolen, whose cattle are looted, whose women are violated, whose jewels are pillaged, and who suffer in many other ways of which you have undoubtedly heard? Our rebellion has become a rebellion against the villages and not one against the Government or the Jews.”
See: A Survey of Palestine, Vol. 1, pp. 38, 46, 49; General Staff H.Q., Jerusalem, “History of the Disturbances in Palestine 1936-1939,” Dec. 1939, Public Record Office (hereinafter PRO), WO 191/88; Kenneth Waring, “Arab Against Arab: Evidence of Rebel Documents,” Times, Jan. 18, 1939. For an annotated Hebrew translation of a comprehensive collection of original documents of the Arab gangs see Ezra Danin (ed.), Te’udot Udmuyot Meginzei Haknufiot Ha’arviot Bemoraot 1936-1939 (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1981; first published in 1944).
16 Thus, for example, Arab purchases of Jewish wheat dropped dramatically in 1937 but rose sharply the following year owing to particularly poor crops, with some 70 percent of the Jewish wheat sold to the Arab sector. Conversely, prior to the 1936-39 violence, about a third of the Palestinian Arab agricultural output was sold to the Jewish sector. Even land sales to Jews continued apace, with the lion’s share of the 1,300-plus transactions in 1936-39 involving ordinary people. Likewise, when in December 1938 the Jewish workers of the port of Haifa refused service to a German ship after a German naval officer insulted a Jewish porter, their Arab colleagues swiftly followed suit.
See Abramowitz and Guelfat Hameshek Ha’arvi, pp. 99-105; Stein, The Land Question, p. 182; “Minutes of the Meeting of the Jewish Agency’s Executive,” Jan. 1, 1939, David Ben-Gurion Archive, Sde Boker (hereinafter BGA).
17 See, for example, Hashmona’i to Ben Yehuda, “Relations with Neighboring Villages, Dec. 24, 1947, Israel Defense Forces Archives (hereinafter IDFA) 1948/500/28; Hashmona’i to Shadmi, “The Suba Village,” Dec. 22, 1947, IDFA, 1948/500/32; 01104 to Tene, “Relations between Qatanna and Ma’ale Hahamisha,” Dec. 23, 1947, ibid.; Yavne, “Beit Hanina,” Jan. 2, 1947 & “The Qiryat Anavim-Abu Gosh Area” Jan. 7, 1948, HA 105/72, pp. 27-28; 01123 to Tene, “An Arab Peace Overture,” Jan. 14, 1948, ibid., p. 46; Segal to Ben Yehuda, “Peace with Maliha, Jan. 10, 1948, IDFA 1949/2644/402; Zafrira Din, “Interview with Josh Palmon on June 28, 1989,” HA 80/721/3; Noam, “Aqir’s Peace Overture,” Dec. 12, 1947, HA 105/72, p. 6; Tzefa, “Peace Offer by Ghuweir Abu Shusha,” Dec. 16, 1948, ibid.; Tiroshi, “Requests by Neighborhood Arabs for Peace with the Jews,” Dec. 18, 1947, ibid., p. 8; “01112 to Tene, “Kafr Qara and Kfar Glikson,” Jan. 25, 1948, ibid., p. 68; 01101 to Tene, “Meeting between the Ard Saris Mukhtar and Dr. Bihem, Head of the Kfar Atta Municipality,” Jan. 22, 1948, ibid., p. 71; “Tene News—Daily Summary,” Dec. 16, 1947, HA 105/61, p. 59; “For Our Members, Daily News Bulletin No. 19,” Dec. 31, 1947, ibid., p. 127; “Fortnightly Intelligence Newsletter No. 58,” issued by HQ British Troops in Palestine (for the period 2359 hrs 18 Dec. 47-2359 hrs 1 Jan. 48), PRO, WO 275/64, p. 2.
18 See, for example, Naim, “In the Villages,” Dec. 25, 1947, HA 105/22, p. 123; 00004 to Tene, “Qalandiya Opposes Gang Concentrations,” Dec. 30, 1947, IDFA 1948/500/28; Yavne, “Occurrences in Romema,” Jan. 2, 1948, HA 105/72, p. 27; Yavne, “Silwan-Ramat Rahel,” Jan. 1, 1948, ibid., p. 30; Yavne, “Dissatisfaction with Abdel Qader Husseini,” ibid., p. 32; Qiryat Anavim people to Yavne, “Qatanna Residents Expelled an Arab Gang from the Village,” Jan. 5, 1948, ibid., p. 32; 02104 to Tene, “Workers from Maliha and Qaluniya who Refuse to Attack Jews,” Jan. 7, 1948, ibid., p. 33; 00004 to Tene, “Meeting of Bani Hassan in Maliha to Discuss Attitude to Armed Gangs,” Jan. 14, 1948, ibid., p. 46; 02204 to Tene, “Maliha,” Jan. 14, 1948, ibid., p. 47; 02204 to Tene, “Qattana,” Jan. 17, 1948, ibid., p. 50; 02104 to Tene, “Anti-Gang Resistance,” Jan. 28, 1948, ibid., p. 72; 02104 to Tene, “Refusal to Provide Volunteers,” Feb. 1, 1948, ibid., p. 76; 02104 to Tene, “Villages’ Fear of Retaliation,” Feb. 1, 1948, ibid., p. 80; Yavne, “Battir and other Villages,” Feb. 4, 1948, ibid., p. 84; 02204 to Tene, “Opposition to Abdel Qader’s Operation by Qastel,” Feb. 6, 1948, ibid., p. 91; Yavne to Tene, “Shu’afat,” Feb. 24, 1948, ibid., p. 114; Hiram to Tene, “Shafa’amr,” Feb. 26, 1948, ibid., p. 116; “Tene News,” Dec. 31, 1947 & Jan. 2-4, 1948, HA 105/61, pp. 121-22, 158-59; “Annex to News Concentration No. 100,” Feb. 20 & 24, 1948, IDFA 1949/2605/2; “Maliha,” Jan. 1, 1948, IDFA 1949/2504/4; log of events in Suba, Mar. 2-Apr. 13, 1948, IDFA 1949/5545/114, p. 141.
19 “For Our Members. Daily Information Circular No. 12,” Dec. 21, 1947, HA 105/61, p. 70; “Tene New,” Dec. 31, 1947, ibid., p. 125; Avram, “Jammasin: News Items,” Jan. 9, 1948, HA 105/23, p. 114; Tiroshi, “Dispatch of Arab Merchandise,” Dec. 15, 1947, HA 105/72, p. 7; Naim to Tene, “Position of the Gaza Felaheen,” Feb. 15, 1948, ibid., p. 103; Naim to Tene, “Evacuation of the Wahidat Territory,” Feb. 22, 1948, ibid., p. 111; 00004 to Tene, “Moods in Sur Bahir,” Dec. 22, 1947, IDFA 1948/500/60; Avram, “The Miska Arabs,” Jan. 8, 1948, HA 105/54a, p. 19; Hiram to Tene, “Meeting between the Yehiam Mukhtar and Tarshiha’s Mayor,” Feb. 22, 1948, ibid., p. 31; Tiroshi to Tene, “Appeal for a Ceasefire and Good Neighborly Relations,” Apr. 7, 1948, ibid., p. 53; Tiroshi to Tene, “Peace Overtures by Baqa Gharbiya,” Apr. 20, 1948, ibid., p. 79; Grar to Tene, “Yasur,” Apr. 21, 1948, ibid., p. 84.
20 David Ben-Gurion, Behilahem Israel (Tel Aviv: Mapai Publishing House, 1951; third ed.), pp. 28, 43, 54; Ben-Gurion, Bama’araha, Vol. 4, Part 2, p. 284.
21 Meahorei Hapargod (Hebrew edition of an official report by an Iraqi parliamentary committee on the 1948 war, published in September 1949; Tel Aviv: Ma’arachot, 1954), pp. 9, 98-99; “Fortnightly Intelligence Newsletter No. 64,” issued by HQ British Troops in Palestine (for the period 2359 hrs 10 Mar.-2359 hrs 23 Mar. 48), PRO, WO 275/64, p. 4. Arif al-Arif, al-Nakba: Nakbat Bait al-Maqdis wa-l-Firdaws al-Mafqud (Beirut: al-Maktaba al-Asriya, 1956), Vol. 1, pp. 138-39.
22 Walid Khalidi, From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem Until 1948 (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1987), p. lxix.
23 Ben-Gurion, Bama’araha, Vol. 4, Part 2, p. 260; Hebrew translation of Hajj Amin Husseini’s interview with Le Journal d’Egypt on Nov. 10, 1947, HA, 105/105a, p. 47; Radio Beirut, Nov. 12, 1947, in Foreign Broadcasts Information Service (FBIS), European Section: Near & Middle East and North African Transmitters, 13 Nov. 1947, II2, 5; “Fortnightly Intelligence Newsletter No. 64,” issued by HQ British Troops in Palestine (for the period 2359 hrs 10 Mar.-2359 hrs 23 Jan. 48), PRO, WO 275/64, p. 4; Arab Press Service (Cairo), FBIS, European Section: Near & Middle East and North African Transmitters, Dec. 16, 1947, II1; “Weekly Summary for the Alexandroni Brigade, Mar. 2, 1948,” HA 105/143, p. 105; “In the Arab Public,” Mar. 30, 1948, HA 105/100, p. 14.
24 Macatee to Secretary of State, Dec. 31, 1947, National Archives, Washington, D.C. (hereinafter NA), RG 84/800, pp. 1-2.
25 According to a report by the Palestine Post’s Haifa correspondent, the Arab workers in the refinery set upon their Jewish colleagues already before the IZL’s bombing (from Sakran to Tene, Dec. 31, 1947, IDFA 1949/481/62). This claim was amplified by an IZL radio broadcast on January 4, 1948, which pointed out that prior to the bombing Armenian workers at the plant had warned their Jewish friends of an imminent attack, and some Jewish workers took notice and left before the massacre. The broadcast also noted the pre-positioning of cold arms throughout the plant and the fact that the massacres ensued in the farthest corner of the refinery, some two miles from the bombing, where the explosion could not be heard. See, David Niv, Ma’arahot Ha’irgun Hatzva’i Hale’umi (Tel Aviv: Hadar, 1980), Vol. 6, pp. 19-20. For contemporary reports on the massacre, see: “Report of the Communal Commission of Inquiry on the Haifa Refinery’s Disaster (Dec. 30, 1947), Jan. 25, 1948, HA 80/460/11; “The Refinery Massacre,” HA 80/460/11; “Information Bulletin,” No. 30, Dec. 30, 1947, HA 105/61, p. 117; “To Our Members—Daily information Bulletin,” Dec. 31, 1947, HA 105/61, p. 126.
26 The IZL categorically denied any massacres, claiming that the casualties had been caused in the course of heavy fighting. The eminent Palestinian historian Arif al-Arif concedes the occurrence of heavy fighting. He claims that the villagers killed more than 100 Jewish fighters (the actual figure was four dead and 32 wounded), but alleges that only seven of the 110 Arab fatalities were killed in action and that the rest were peaceful civilians murdered in their homes (al-Nakba, p. 173). By contrast, a Hagana intelligence report issued three days after the event underscores the operational incompetence and disarray of the attacking forces, as well as their lack of discipline (manifested inter alia in acts of plunder), but makes no mention of a massacre. al-Nakba, p. 173; Yavne to Tene, “The Etzel and Lehi Operation in Deir Yasin,” Apr. 12, 1948, IDFA 1948/500/35; Irgun Command, “Statement on the Deir Yasin Affair” & “Statement” & “Condemn the Hypocrisy,” April 1948, Irgun Archive (hereinafter IA), K4-4/10. For mid-1950’s affidavits of battle participants denying any massacre see: IA, K4-1/10, 9/10. An extensive collection of press and scholarly writings can be found in IDFA 2004/26/70. See also: “Deir Yasin Occupied by the Irgun and Lehi” & “The Jewish Agency Condemns the Irgun and Lehi Operation in Deir Yasin” & “The Chief Rabbinate Strongly Condemns the Deir Yasin Incident,” Ha’aretz, Apr. 11, 12, 1948; “Battle Participant Evidence: 60 Hours in Deir Yasin,” Mivrak, Apr. 19, 1948, IA K4; High Commissioner for Palestine to Secretary of State for the Colonies, “Deir Yasin,” Apr. 13, 1948, Cunningham Papers, Middle East Center, St. Antony’s College, Oxford University; High Commissioner for Palestine to Secretary of State for the Colonies, “Weekly Intelligence Appreciation,” Apr. 17, 1948, Cunningham Papers; “An Arab from Deir Yasin Reveals on the Deir Yasin Anniversary: The Jews Didn’t Plan a Massacre but Conducted a Battle,” Herut, Jun. 3, 1953; “Prime Minister Menachem Begin in Interview with Lord Bethel: Deir Yasin–a tragedy in the Irgun’s history, but casualties were caused in the course of fighting; there was no massacre,” Yediot Aharonot, Jun. 22, 1979.
27 Dov Joseph, The Faithful City: the Siege of Jerusalem, 1948 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), pp. 74-75; Harry Levin, Jerusalem Embattled. A Diary of the City under Siege, March 25, 1948 to July 18, 1948 (London: Victor Gollancz, 1950), p. 70; Jerusalem Headquarters, “Haddassah University, Feb. 17-Jun. 22, 1948,” IDFA 1948/500/44; “Conclusions of the Commission of Inquiry about the Sheik Jarah Disaster of Apr. 13, 1948,” Apr. 18, 1948 HA 57/95; “Report by Shalom Hurwitz on the Mount Scopus Convoy Disaster in Sheik Jarah on Apr. 13, 1948,” Jun. 6, 1948, BGA.
28 Cunningham to Creech-Jones, Apr. 25 & 28, 1948, Cunningham Papers, III/4/52 & III/4/117; Tzuri to Tene, “News Items about the Tiberias Exodus,” Apr. 21, 1948, HA 105/257, p. 347; “Tene News—Daily Summary,” Apr. 18, 1948, HA 105/62, p. 93; Kenneth W. Bilby, New Star in the Near East (New York: Doubleday, 1950), p. 30; Filastin, Apr. 13, 14, 16, 1948; al-Difa, Apr. 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 1948; Radio Jerusalem in Arabic to the Middle East, Apr. 13, 1948 & Radio Damascus, Apr. 14, 1948, in FBIS, Apr. 15, 1948, p. II4; Radio al-Sharq al-Adna (Jerusalem), Apr. 15, 1948, ibid., Apr. 16, 1948, p. II5; BBC Television Channel 2, “The Fifty Years War: Israel and the Arabs,” Program 1, broadcast on Mar. 15, 1998.
29 From Palestine (General Sir A. Cunningham) to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, “Weekly intelligence Appreciation,” Dec. 22, 1947, Cunningham Papers; from Palestine (General Sir A. Cunningham) to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, “Weekly intelligence Appreciation,” Jan. 24, 1948, PRO, CO 537/3869.
30 “Tene News—Daily summary,” Dec. 16, 1947, HA 105/61, p. 59; “For Our Members, Daily News Bulletin No. 19,” Dec. 31, 1947, ibid., p. 127; al-Ayam (Damascus), Dec. 21, 1947, as brought in “News on Arab Military Preparations,” Jan. 1, 1948, Central Zionist Archives (CZA), S25/3999.
31 Hashmona’i, “News Items: Economy,” Feb. 2, 1948, IDFA 1948/500/60; “In the Arab Camp: News Summary,” Feb. 29 & Mar. 28, 1948, IDFA 2004/535/479, pp. 3-4; “Yishuv Circular No. 16,” Jan. 31, 1948, K4-31/1/12, IA; Committee for Economic Defense, “News from the Arab Economy, Bulletin No. 6,” Apr. 17-19, 1948, HA 105/143, p. 240.
32 Hayogev, Jan. 5, 1948, HA 105/215a, p. 48; “Among the Arabs,” Feb. 22, 1948, IDFA 1948/500/60; 02204 to Tene, “The Lifta People’s Position,” Feb. 9, 1948, HA 105/32a, p. 61; Tiroshi to Tene, “Situation of the Refugees,” Apr. 12, 1948, HA 105/257; Tiroshi, “Summary of News for the Alexandroni Brigade,” Apr. 16, 1948, HA 105/143, p. 231; Director of Operations/Intelligence Directorate, “News Summary on the Eastern and Northern Fronts,” Jun. 3, 1948, IDFA 1975/922/1044; “Arab News Items,” Apr. 25, 1948, IDFA 1948/500/55; “Annexes to News Bulletin No. 205,” Apr. 29, 1948, IDFA 1949/2605/2.
33 “Annexes to News Bulletin No. 185,” Apr. 20, 1948, IDFA 1949/2605/2; “Deir Yasin,” Apr. 17, 1948, IDFA 1949/2605/6, p. 7.
34 Hiram to Tene, “Acre Inhabitants and Defenders Refuse to Receive More Refugees,” Apr. 27, 1948, HA 105/257.
35 Thus, for example, after an attack on Ramat Hakovesh (on April 19) by the neighboring village of Miska, the kibbutz mukhtar told the villagers to leave or bear the consequences of their aggression, which they did. Likewise, in the midst of a Jewish operation in the eastern Galilee, the secretary of kibbutz Genossar, together with the mukhtar of the Arab village of Majdal, convinced the Majdal inhabitants to vacate the village and surrender their weapons. In Khirbat Beit Lid and Khirbat Azzun, the villagers were advised to leave since the Jewish forces would not be able to ensure their safety. See: Tiroshi, “Summary of News for the Alexandroni Brigade, Apr. 27, 1948,” HA 105/143, p. 235; Tiroshi to Tene, “Vacation of Miska,” Apr. 27, 1948, HA 105/257, p. 79; Tzuri to Tene, “Arab Majdal,” Apr. 23, 1948, ibid., p. 4; Tiroshi to Tene, “Departure of Arabs from the Neighborhood,” Apr. 16, 1948, ibid., p. 89; Tiroshi to Tene, “Vacation of Khirbat Azzun,” Apr. 20, 1948, ibid., p. 3.
36 Ezra Danin, Zioni Bekhol Tnai (Jerusalem: Kidum, 1987), Vol. 1, pp. 216-17; Zafrira Din, “Interview with Josh Palmon on June 28, 1989,” HA 80/721/3.
37 I have documented the Haifa episode at some length in “Nakbat Haifa: the Collapse and Dispersion of a Major Palestinian Community,” Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 37, No. 4 (October 2001), pp. 25-70.
38 A fortnight after the exodus, British High Commissioner Cunningham reported to London that the Tiberias Jews “would welcome [the] Arabs back” (High Commissioner for Palestine to Secretary of State, May 5, 1948, Cunningham Papers). See also: Tzuri to Golani, “News Summary: Tiberias,” Apr. 21, 1948, HA 105/143, p. 275; Hagana Operational Directorate, “Logbook of the War of Independence, p. 260; MacMillan, “Palestine: Narrative of Events,” Apr. 17/18, 18, 1948, p. 37.
39 See, for example, Qiryati-Dafna to all fronts, “Occurrences in Jaffa, [Apr.] 11, 1948-[Apr.] 20, 0740,” May 2, 1948, IDFA 1949/8275/162; Palestine (Cunningham) to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, May 1, 1948, FO 371/68547/E5665/4/71.
40 Tene to Dan & Hillel, Nov. 30, 1947, HA 105/61, p. 5; 00004 to Tene, “Report Summary, Dec. 7, 1947,” HA 105/61, p. 9; Yavne to Tene, “For Our Members in the Bases,” Dec. 9, 1947, ibid., p. 18; “For Our Members in the Bases,” Bulletin Nos. 15 & 16, Dec. 10 & 11, 1947, ibid., pp. 24, 37; Yavne, “Evacuation of Women and Children from Lifta,” Dec. 28, 1947, HA 105/215, p. 23; 00004 to Tene, “Arabs Erecting Military Posts in Lifta,” Dec. 14, 1947, IDFA 1949/5253/104; “The Old City,” Dec. 26, 1947, ibid.; “Families Leaving Lifta,” Jan. 1, 1948, ibid.; Hashmona’i, “Demographic Changes in Jerusalem,” Jan. 25, 1948, IDFA 1948/500/60; “In the Arab Camp,” Jan. 25, 1948, ibid.; “Anger in Beit Safafa over the use of the Village by Armed Gangs for Attacks on Mekor Haim,” Jan. 28, 1948, ibid.; “Beit Safafa” & “The Evacuation of Beit Safafa,” Feb. 15 & 18, 1948, ibid.; Yavne to Tene, “Deir Abu Tur,” Feb. 21, 1948, HA 105/215, p. 81; Hashmona’i, “Annexes to News Concentration No. 114,” Mar. 16, 1948, IDFA 1949/2605/2; 01204 (Hatzil) to Tene, Jan. 21, 1948, HA 105/72, p. 52; Yavne to Tene, “Complain by the Beit Safafa Mukhtar to the NC,” Feb. 16, 1948, ibid., p. 105; “In the Arab Camp: News Summary,” Mar. 14, 1948, p. 2, IDFA 2004/535/479; “In the Arab Camp: News Summary,” Mar. 29, 1948, p. 2, ibid.; Yavne to Tene, Feb. 15, 1948, HA 105/215, p. 41.
41 “Tene News,” Jan. 19, 1948, HA 105/61a, p. 85; 02117 to Tene, “In Wadi Hunein,” Jan. 5, 1948, HA 105/148, p. 195; Tiroshi to Tene, “Dannaba,” Feb. 17, 1948, ibid., p. 219; 01132 to Tene, “Vacation of Mir,” Feb. 8, 1948 & “The Evacuation of Jamala,” Feb. 8, 1948, HA 105/215, p. 44; Tiroshi to Tene, “Arab Hawarith,” Feb. 18, 1948, ibid., p. 14; Avram to Tene, “Reinforcement from Syria,” Feb. 11, 1948, HA 105/215a, p. 83; “Arab News Items,” Apr. 17, 1948, IDFA 1948/500/55; 02112 to Tene, “Arab al-Fuqara,” Feb. 9, 1948, IDFA 1949/6400/66; 02122 to Tene, “From Salim Abdel Rahman,” Dec. 12, 1947, ibid.; 01122 to Tene, “Assorted News Items,” Dec. 2, 1947, ibid.; “Annexes to News Bulletin No. 114,” Mar. 16, 1948, IDFA 1949/2605/2; “Annexes to News Bulletin No. 122,” Mar. 23, 1948, ibid.; “Annexes to News Bulletin No. 126,” Mar. 30, 1948, ibid.; “Urgent Arab News Items,” Mar. 29, 1948, IDFA 1948/550/55; Tzefa to Tene, “Vacation of Khisas,” Mar. 26, 1948, HA 105/257, p. 106; Tzefa to Tene, “Ulmaniya and Waddi Luz,” Mar. 5, 1948, ibid., p. 33; Tiroshi to Tene, “Bureika,” Mar. 6, 1948, ibid., p. 33; Yavne to Tene, “Isawiya,” Mar. 30, 1948, ibid.; Tzefa to Tene, “Vacation of Women and Children from Arab Villages in the Upper Galilee,” Feb. 25, 1948, HA 105/215, p. 20; Tiroshi to Tene, “Sarkas,” Feb. 19, 1948, ibid.; p. 14; Tiroshi to Tene, “Arab al-Nufeiat,” Mar. 30, 1948 & “Sarkas,” Apr. 20 & “Evacuation of Sarkas,” Apr. 22, IDFA 1949/6400/66; Alexandroni “Sarkas,” Mar. 11, 1948, ibid.; Yosef Weitz, Yomanai Ve’igroti Labanim (Tel Aviv: Masada, 1965), Vol. 3, pp. 257, 277; Yavne to Tene, “Deprature of Inhabitants and Entry of Foreigners,” Apr. 18, 1948, HA 105/257; Hiram to Tene, “Arab Propaganda Regarding Evacuations,” Apr. 30, 1948, ibid.; Tene, “Migration of the Palestinian Arabs in the Period 1.12.47-1.6.48. Annex 1: Vacated Arab Villages,” June 30, 1948, IDFA, 1957/100001/781, p. 4; Naim to Tene, “Evacuation of Arabs,” Apr. 8, 1948, HA 105/143, pp. 171, 185; Yavne, “Arab News Items,” Apr. 27, 30, 1948, ibid., pp. 309, 319; Tzuri to Tene, “Assorted News,” May 6, 1948, ibid., p. 343; Naim to Tene, “Vacation of Sarafand Kharab,” Apr. 8, 1948, HA 105/257, p. 290; Tzefa to Tene, “Vacation of Arab Villages,” Apr. 6, 1948, ibid., pp. 24, 53; Tiroshi to Tene, “Fajja Vacated of its Residents,” Apr. 14, 1948, ibid., p. 8; Tiroshi to Tene, “Partial Vacation of Qannir,” Apr. 29, 1948 & “The Qannir Residents Moved to Arara,” Apr. 29 & “Qanir,” May 3, 1948, IDFA 1949/7249/129; Yosef Weitz diary, May 4, 1948, CZA, A246/13, pp. 2373-74; Hiram to Tene, “Vacation of the Arab Zubeidat Tribe,” Apr. 16, 1948, HA 105/54a, p. 67; report by an Arab source on the Arab Legion’s order to vacate villages, May 12, 1948, IDFA 1949/5545/114, p. 11.
42 Cunningham to Secretary of State for the Colonies, Apr. 26, 1948, Cunningham Papers; “Fortnightly Intelligence Newsletter No. 67,” issued by HQ British Troops in Palestine (for the period 2359 hrs 19 Apr.-2359 hrs 3 May 48), PRO, WO 275/64, p. 1. See also: General Sir A. Cunningham to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, “Weekly Intelligence Appreciation,” May 1, 1948, PRO, CO 537/3869.
43 Arif, al-Nakba, p. 179.
44 Muhammad Nimr Khatib, Min Athar al-Nakba (Damascus: al-Matba’a al-Amumiya, 1951), p. 287.
45 Beirut Radio, May 4, 1948, FBIS, European Section: Near & Middle East and North African Transmitters, May 5, 1948, II2; “Summary of News for the Alexandroni Brigade,” Apr. 9, 1948, HA 105/143, p. 174; Philip Ernst (American Consul in Port Said) to Department of State, “Arrival of Palestine Arab Refugees,” Apr. 29, 1948 (dispatched May 11), RG 84, 800–Refugees; Beirut Radio, Apr. 25, 1948, SWB, No. 48, Apr. 29, 1948, p. 60; Campbell (Cairo) to High Commissioner for Palestine, May 1, 1948, Cunningham Papers.
46 Beirut Radio, May 7, 1948, in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts: Western Europe, Middle East, Far East, and Americas (SWB), No. 50, May 13, 1948, Part III, p. 57.
47 Sir J. Troutbeck, “Summary of general impressions gathered during week-end visit to the Gaza district,” June 16, 1949, PRO, FO 371/75342/E7816, p. 123.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
For a very limited time, we are extending a six-week free trial on both our subscription plans. Put your intellectual life in order while you can. This offer is also valid for existing subscribers wishing to purchase a gift subscription. Click here for more details.
1948, Israel, and the Palestinians: Annotated Text
Must-Reads from Magazine
The news that Hungary’s prime minister will visit Israel next week has sparked outrage from liberal Jews both in Israel and abroad. Opponents raise two main objections. One would be serious if true, but it doesn’t seem to be. The other is sheer hypocrisy–and it’s an excellent example of the way liberal Jews routinely hold Israel to standards they apply to no other country on earth.
The hypocritical objection is that Viktor Orban is an authoritarian. “Sad company to keep,” tweeted Brookings Institute fellow Tamara Cofman Wittes after hearing that Orban was definitely coming and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (who is admittedly more problematic) might be. Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro also questioned the wisdom of welcoming Orban and other authoritarians. “While Israel’s unique security and other requirements understandably impel it to develop as wide a network of relationships as it can,” he said, “I think it will want to avoid finding its own democratic identity tarnished by, of its own choosing, aligning less with the club of democracies and more with this very different coalition.”
This is simply ridiculous. Aside from the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also regularly hosted liberal leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel (several times) and Barack Obama, with French President Emmanuel Macron reportedly planning to visit later this year, the reality is that most countries in the world today are authoritarian, and even a growing number of Western democracies have authoritarian leaders. Thus, any country which wants to maintain relationships with more than a handful of other countries will end up hosting a lot of authoritarian leaders, which is why every other Western democracy also does so.
In fact, other Western democracies often host leaders considerably more objectionable than Orban, and with less justification. I can understand hosting Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping despite their aggressive foreign policies; Russia and China are too important to be ignored. But just this month, Switzerland and Austria welcomed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, as did France and Italy in 2016, even though Rouhani’s government is actively abetting the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people in Syria and Yemen and brutally crushing dissent at home. That’s far worse than hosting Orban, whose government isn’t killing anyone.
Moreover, Hungary is genuinely important to Israel’s core foreign policy interests, since it has repeatedly helped quash anti-Israel decisions by Israel’s largest trading partner, the European Union. What vital contributions does Iran make to Europe’s core interests that justify overlooking its complicity in mass murder?
In short, liberal Jews are criticizing Israel for doing exactly what every other Western democracy does—except that other Western countries are even more egregious, and with fewer excuses.
Now let’s consider the serious objection, which is that Orban foments anti-Semitism in Hungary. Most Israelis would agree that their government shouldn’t whitewash anti-Semitism; that’s why Netanyahu’s recent statement downplaying Poland’s role in the Holocaust sparked outrage far beyond the ranks of his usual opponents. If true, this charge would be a valid reason to oppose Orban’s visit.
The problem is that the evidence doesn’t support it. That isn’t because Hungary has no anti-Semitism problem; indeed, a major study published last month showed that almost two-thirds of Hungarian Jews think it does. Moreover, Orban has undeniably made some problematic statements.
Nevertheless, the study found an objective and significant improvement over the past 18 years, almost half of which were under Orban’s rule. For instance, the number of Jews who reported hearing anti-Semitic remarks in the street dropped from an astronomical 75 percent in 1999 to 48 percent (still outrageously high) last year, while the number who reported experiencing three or more anti-Semitic incidents fell from 16 to 6 percent.
This jibes with JTA’s in-depth report on Hungarian anti-Semitism earlier last month. In light of the data cited above, the fact that the Hungarian Jewish community’s anti-Semitism watchdog, TEV, recorded just 37 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 (down from 48 in 2016) only shows that anti-Semitic comments are massively underreported. What was noteworthy, however, is that not a single reported incident involved violence.
By comparison, reporter Cnaan Liphshiz noted, the United Kingdom, with a Jewish population only about 2.5 times that of Hungary, recorded 145 physical assaults in its total of 1,382 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017. Austria, with a Jewish population less than a tenth of Hungary’s, recorded five cases of physical violence among its 503 anti-Semitic incidents last year—and, incidentally, that was under a left-wing government led by the Social Democrats. Conservative Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz took power only in December 2017.
Thus, Jews in Britain or Austria were far more likely to suffer anti-Semitic violence than their Hungarian brethren. Indeed, unlike their counterparts in, say, France or Belgium, Jews with beards and kippahs told Liphshiz they feel safe walking Hungary’s streets.
Hungarian Jewish community leaders also said a 2014 revision of the legal code enacted by Orban’s government significantly increased prosecution and punishment of anti-Semitic offenses. “It was a big step forward,” said TEV’s secretary-general, Kalman Szalai. Nor, incidentally, did the Jewish leaders Liphshiz interviewed think Orban’s attacks on George Soros—Exhibit A in most liberal Jewish indictments of Orban—were anti-Semitic (a point I made last year).
In other words, as Szalai said, “It’s not that Hungary doesn’t have anti-Semitism . . . But it also has little to no anti-Semitic violence, and responsive authorities in the judiciary, the police force and also in government.” All of which makes it hard to argue that Orban should be shunned as a dangerous anti-Semite. That is, unless you think, as liberal Jews increasingly seem to do, that right-wing authoritarians are by definition dangerous anti-Semites.
And once you remove the straw man of anti-Semitism, you’re left with the double standard in all its glory: Israel alone has no right to host authoritarian leaders important to its interests, even as other Western democracies routinely host worse leaders with less justification. By insisting that Israel shouldn’t host Orban, liberal Jews are effectively saying that Israel, alone of all the countries of the world, has no right to conduct a normal foreign policy.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
For a very limited time, we are extending a six-week free trial on both our subscription plans. Put your intellectual life in order while you can. This offer is also valid for existing subscribers wishing to purchase a gift subscription. Click here for more details.
The Iran deal haunts its sponsors.
In a rare lucid moment in January 2016, then-Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that the Tehran regime would use some of the funds from the Iranian nuclear deal to fund terrorism.
“I think that some of [the money] will end up in the hands of the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] or other entities, some of which are labeled terrorists,” he said in the interview with CNBC in Davos. “You know, to some degree, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that every component of that can be prevented.” It’s worth watching footage of the interview to observe Kerry’s nonchalance as if the possibility of transferring money to some of the world’s most lethal terrorist groups bothered him not in the least.
Flash forward more than two years later, and Reuters reports:
Germany’s federal prosecutor on Wednesday remanded in custody an Iranian diplomat suspected of having been involved in a plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in France but said the suspect could still be extradited to Belgium.
Belgium is already investigating two Belgians of Iranian origin arrested earlier this month for plotting an explosive attack on the annual “Great Assembly” of Iranian opposition exiles last month on the outskirts of Paris.
In a statement, the German federal prosecutor said the Austria-based Iranian diplomat is suspected of commissioning a couple living in Antwerp to carry out the attack and providing them with a detonation device and homemade explosive TATP.
Mercifully, European security forces unraveled the plot before the attack took place. But imagine if they had failed. Imagine the blood spilled and body parts scattered outside a rubbled convention center in Paris; the smoke rising high above the densely populated urban core of the French capital. Now think back to Kerry’s arrogance and indifference to what it would mean for the U.S. and its allies to grease the wheels of Iran’s terror machine.
Say what you will about President Trump’s penchant for hyperbole, but his characterization of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action–“the worst deal ever”–was spot on.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
For a very limited time, we are extending a six-week free trial on both our subscription plans. Put your intellectual life in order while you can. This offer is also valid for existing subscribers wishing to purchase a gift subscription. Click here for more details.
Hypocrisy is no obstacle.
In the early days of “The Resistance,” back when the movement was purportedly focused on forming broad coalitions that spanned ideological divides, it was common to hear its members lament Donald Trump’s assault on treasured American norms and conventions. The patina of legitimacy this organizing principal lent to the anti-Trump left’s more unsavory members and tactics is no longer operative. For the power-starved left, it seems that those norms and conventions are part of the problem.
Among the norms not codified in law that nevertheless buttress the power-sharing relationships that have preserved the republic’s stability for decades is the Supreme Court’s balanced number of justices, which has stood at nine for nearly 150 years. The panic that tore through liberal ranks following Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement led the left to exhume one of the Democratic Party’s worst ideas: court packing.
It’s not entirely clear what kind of strategy liberals have devised to ensure that Democrats and only Democrats would get to dilute the conservative majority’s influence, but they sure are passionate about it. And this is not a fringe movement. From far-left websites like The Outline, Paste, and Jacobin to mainstream liberal venues like the Huffington Post and the Washington Post opinion page, resurrecting the idea that contributed to the GOP’s astounding victories in the 1938 midterm elections is just what the doctor ordered.
The Court is one of three branches now dedicated to advancing the “ideology and agenda of international fascism,” Huffington Post political reporter Zach Carter insisted. Roosevelt University political science professor David Faris penned an elaborate fantasy in which Democrats regain the presidency and Congress, the “illegitimate” Justice Neil Gorsuch resigns, and both parties agree to support a constitutional amendment to end lifetime appointments to the bench. To claim that boosting the number of justices on the nation’s high court was not a controversial proposal, Vox.com’s Dylan Matthews cited precedent established in Mussolini’s Italy. Seriously. “Court-packing is a tool,” he wrote, “it can be used for authoritarian ends, or for democratic ones.” Presumably, you are supposed to trust that the people advocating court packing to achieve that which they cannot through the political process are not the authoritarians here.
It isn’t just the Supreme Court’s organization but the U.S. Constitution itself that becomes a source of liberal consternation whenever Democrats are out of power. Specifically, the U.S. Senate, which is resistant to proportionality by the Founders’ design, has also supposedly become a tool of despotism.
“I want to repeat a statistic I use in every talk,” American Enterprise Institute scholar and Atlantic editor Norm Ornstein began. “[B]y 2040 or so, 70 percent of Americans will live in 15 states. Meaning 30 percent will choose 70 senators. And the 30 [percent] will be older, whiter, more rural, more male than the 70 percent.” He concluded that this was, “unsettling, to say the least,” though it is telling that he felt comfortable describing the collective habits of a group that is defined by a common gender and race in negative terms without any fear of blowback. As for Ornstein’s condemnation of the Senate’s lack of proportionality, the AEI scholar is practically coy in comparison to those on the left.
Take, for example, Ian Millhiser, who recently penned a hysterical screed on the subject. Originally headlined “In U.S. Senate elections, people of color count as 3/4s of a person,” the Center for American Progress’s blog wisely ditched the racial agitation and settled on claiming that the upper chamber of Congress is “facing a legitimacy crisis.” Why? Because of the way it has been structured since the Constitution was ratified. Indeed, without making the Senate unresponsive to population shifts, it’s unlikely that the Constitution would have been ratified in the first place. The compromise that produced the nation’s bicameral legislature was a stroke of American brilliance that yielded not only the nation’s founding charter but the Bill of Rights, the subsequent amendments, and the flourishing of human rights they enabled. To Millhiser, though, the Senate is racist because minorities tend to sort into shared communities and, therefore, receive less representation in the upper chamber.
Reforming or abolishing the Senate altogether isn’t a new idea for the left, but it tends only to rise to the fore when Democrats are in the minority. They do not dwell on Article V of the Constitution, which declares “that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.” Since no state is likely to consent to its disenfranchisement, this isn’t going to happen anytime soon. But of course, not all of the left’s coup fantasies are unfeasible or even unpopular.
The move to abolish the Electoral College received new momentum following Donald Trump’s unlikely presidential victory, but the campaign to transform the presidency into the product of pure democracy is an old one. As of May, 11 states and the District of Columbia have signed onto the nonbinding National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which would effectively eliminate the Electoral College by compelling a state to apportion its votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the popular vote. It’s no coincidence that the only states that have adopted this anti-republican measure vote reliably Democratic on the presidential level. This legally dubious campaign has the support of liberals ranging from Robert Reich to Al Gore to the New York Times editorial board (you guessed it: the Electoral College is racist). Even Hillary Clinton has managed to overcome the shame associated with advocating the abolition of the institution that cost her the presidency in order to support this proposal.
Any fair-minded observer must conclude that the left’s appeal to the sacred inviolability of America’s cherished norms was only another convenient avenue for regaining power. There is no convention or settled principle so sacred that it cannot be attacked in the name of “progress.”
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
Podcast: The pro-and anti-Trump conservative debate.
Brit Hume argues on Twitter: “I suppose you can also be pro-tax cuts, pro-deregulation, pro-defense increases, pro-gun rights, pro-life and anti-Trump. But at some point, it begins to seem ridiculous.” John McCormack of the Weekly Standard ripostes: “I suppose you can oppose sexual assault, conspiracy theories, lying, adultery, mocking American POWs, sanitizing dictators & white supremacists, and still be pro-Trump. But at some point, it begins to seem ridiculous.” This perfect distillation of the fight on the Right is the subject of maybe the best podcast we’ve ever done. Give a listen.
Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
And it long predates Trump.
The latest NATO summit got underway in Brussels this week, and President Trump brought all of his signature rhetorical subtlety to the Belgian capital. Off the bat at a meeting Wednesday with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump accused Germany of being “captive” to Russia. The remark ruffled diplomatic feathers in the Western alliance and touched off a predictable freakout among reporters and pundits back home.
When Trump insults Merkel and Germany, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell tweeted, “Putin wins.” Mitchell’s horror was shared across the foreign-policy establishment. Many American liberals like to think of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel as a one-woman bulwark against populism and Putinism at a time when the putative leader of the free world—Trump—is an unabashed populist and, they suspect, a crypto-Putinist.
Reality is a lot messier.
Yes, Trump’s suggestion that Germany is “captive” to Russia was a bit much. But it is true that, among the top NATO powers, Berlin has often struck a wobbly pose in response to Russian aggression and other threats to the West. With few exceptions, the country’s leaders view Germany less as a member of the Western military alliance and more as a commercial and diplomatic intermediary between East and West. Germany’s drift toward Moscow—there is no other way to describe it—began long before Trump came on the scene.
Start with the Nord Stream II pipeline, which provided the immediate context for Trump’s barb. The project—a joint venture of Gazprom, the Vladimir Putin-linked energy giant, and several European firms—would allow Russia to deliver some 55 billion cubic meters of gas directly to Germany. Running on the Baltic seabed, Nord Stream II would bypass existing land routes, which is why it has nearly all of Central and Eastern Europe up in arms.
Nord Stream II would allow the Kremlin to expand its energy dominance and isolate the likes of Poland and Ukraine, which not only lose out on transit fees but also the strategic leverage they enjoy over Moscow—i.e., the fact that they can block the westward flow of Russian gas and therefore a significant share of Putin’s energy income. The Merkel government, which backs Nord Stream II vigorously, is deaf to the ominous historical echoes of Germany and Russia dividing the region among themselves.
The Trump administration, like its predecessor, is opposed. As Richard Grenell, the American envoy to Germany, told me recently, “The U.S. shares widespread European concerns about projects like Nord Stream II that would undermine Europe’s own energy diversification efforts.” Grenell also warned that firms working on “Russian energy export pipelines are operating in an area that carries sanctions risk.”
A senior Republican congressional staffer, who has repeatedly met with the Germans on these issues in recent months, was blunter still: “Nord Stream II is Germany making money by putting Europe under Russian energy hegemony. The Trump administration has been fighting tooth and nail to stop it. So have bipartisan coalitions in Congress. But the Germans say it’s in their national interest and won’t budge.”
Then there is Germany’s less-than-serious response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine. Encouraged by President Obama to take the lead in talks with Moscow, Berlin softened the Western line in word and deed. In 2015, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the country’s most serious newspaper, called the German position on Russia’s encroachments a “pink line.” That was after an especially brutal Russian rocket assault against eastern Ukraine that left 30 civilians dead.
Germany’s response to the attack? It was serious, said then-Foreign Minister (now-President) Frank-Walter Steinmeier, but not one signaling a “quantitative change in the situation.” The previous year, as some 15,000 suspected Russian troops poured into eastern Ukraine and another 40,000 amassed by the border, then-German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel was quick to warn NATO that “the impression must not be given that we’re playing with military options even in theoretical terms.”
Time and again, Gabriel, Steinmeier, and other German leaders have denounced NATO exercises meant to reassure allies in Central and Eastern Europe as “saber rattling” and “war cries.” Their proposed alternative: dialogue and cooperation and, well, gas deals. Berlin also reportedly opposed plans to rotate NATO armored forces through Poland and the Baltic States, and German leaders weighed on the Obama administration not to arm Kiev (not that the 44th president needed much persuading to abandon embattled allies).
To be fair, all this reflects popular sentiment in Germany. Opinion polling consistently shows that the majority of Germans don’t view Russia as a military threat, don’t support economic sanctions against Moscow, and don’t want German troops defending Poland and the Balts if Putin attacked them.
The reasons for this German ambivalence are complex. Not all of it can be attributed to cowardice or greed for euros. But it would be nice if the American reporters and pundits who imagine that Merkel can do no wrong, while Trump can do no right, would brush up on history—which did not, in fact, begin in 2016.