In his July 2014 Mosaic essay, Martin Kramer dismantled Ari Shavit’s assertion that “Zionism carrie[d] out a massacre” at Lydda in 1948 – a claim Shavit has spread not only in his book, My Promised Land, but in his New Yorker article, “Lydda, 1948: A City, a Massacre, and the Middle East Today.” Kramer recently presented his findings to an Israeli audience that included Lydda veterans and others intimately familiar with the 1948 war – who expressed surprise and anger at Shavit’s allegation. This post provides still another reason to doubt Shavit’s claim: in 1948, The New York Times covered the April “massacre” at Deir Yassin and the later operation at Lydda – but reported no “massacre” at Lydda. And for the reasons set forth below, it is virtually certain that the Times would have reported it if it had occurred at Lydda.
On July 12, 1948 – the day on which Shavit claims “Zionism” conducted a midday “massacre” of more than 200 civilians in Lydda (about twice the deaths at Deir Yassin) – the Times carried an extensive report about the Lydda operation. The news article was datelined the day before, and was written by one of the Times’ most distinguished foreign correspondents, Gene Currivan, who covered World War II before he covered the founding of Israel in 1948. Currivan reported that:
The strategically situated towns of Ramleh and Lydda, which were constant threats to the Tel Aviv area and control the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road, were surrounded tonight by Israeli forces. They were encircled after the last remaining Arab strongholds on the periphery of the Ramleh-Lydda area had been captured this morning. …
Mopping up operations were still going on tonight, with armored cars of both sides darting back and forth and mortar fire crashing about. However, because of the seeming hopeless position of the Arabs, there appeared to be little hope of anything better for them than a disorderly retreat.” [Emphasis added].
Currivan and his editors would have considered a Lydda “massacre” the following day “news fit to print” – to put it mildly. But Currivan’s next report on Lydda, datelined July 12 (published on July 13) reported the capture of Lydda and Ramleh “on this all-important front” and noted that Lydda “had offered considerable resistance at first and suffered heavy casualties as a result.” Currivan’s succeeding report, datelined July 13 (published July 14) reported “the complete capture of Lydda,” with the exception of a holdout of Arab fighters at the police station, and noted that Arab civilians had suddenly departed Lydda after its capture. In none of his reports did Currivan report anything remotely approaching a “massacre.”
This is the journalistic equivalent of the non-barking dog: (1) the Lydda operation occurred three months after Deir Yassin, which the Times had covered; (2) Lydda was a significant strategic site; (3) the Times had an experienced war correspondent covering the Lydda operation; and yet (4) the Times reported no “massacre” there. A massacre at Lydda would have been a major development and important news. But there was no bark from the Times.
Kramer’s Mosaic article drew a favorable response from Efraim Karsh, who also challenged a related Shavit claim: that “Zionism” was responsible for the expulsion of Arab civilians from Lydda – an “inevitable phase,” in Shavit’s words, “of the Zionist revolution.” Contrary to Shavit’s contention, more evidence comes from the Times archives: on November 2, 1979, the newspaper published a letter from Ephraim Lotan, a staff officer under General Yigal Allon (who directed the Lydda operation). Lotan wrote that he had “talked to quite a few of [the Arabs] while they were walking along the road” toward Latrun (the remaining Arab Legion stronghold in the area) after the Lydda operation:
As officer in charge of an engineering unit which was clearing the mines ahead of the motorized unit and the regular army unit moving toward Latrun, I was one of the first to see the masses of Arabs walking toward Latrun, most of them on foot, some on horses and donkeys, some on bicycles. They were taking with them their most important belongings – the women carrying their possessions on their heads, the men with packs on their backs. Every mile or so they left parts of their burdens on the side of the road; the packs were just too heavy. Now, 31 years later, the picture is as vivid as it was in 1948.
I stopped quite a few times to talk to the men to find out what happened and why they were leaving their houses and property. The answers were different, but no one said that he was forced out of his house. … I am certain that no order was given to any Israeli army unit (Palmach or other) to evacuate the Arabs. In the position I had at the time I would have known about such an order.
Needless to say, not one of us objected to the Arabs’ departure, but my only explanation for the exodus is that they were panic-stricken. [Emphasis added].
Was there a “massacre” at Lydda? Did “Zionism” order the expulsion of the Arabs there? Ari Shavit owes readers a response to the contrary evidence presented by Kramer and Karsh, as well as to the devastating critique by Harvard professor Ruth Wisse (who wrote that the commitment to truth is a “further casualty of this book”), to that of Alex Safian at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) (who provides even more facts that Shavit either ignored or misstated), and to other stinging critiques.
Mosaic offered Shavit the opportunity to respond six months ago, but he declined it. He has also failed to respond in any other venue. If his refusal to confront contrary evidence persists, and he continues to ignore the published critiques of highly respected scholars and researchers, there will be a conclusion that can be drawn from that silence as well.