February 13, 2011 at 3:54 pm 1 comment



Excerpt from his book “How to Avoid Armageddon

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“The first casualty when war comes is truth.”

– U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson 1918

In every conflict the opposing sides invariably have very different perceptions regarding its background and the actual events. What was the cause of the conflict? What were the actions taken by each side? How did the conflict end? Who was to blame for the outbreak of the conflict in the first place? While authoritarian, non-democratic, tyrannical regimes are more likely to use blatant falsehood than genuine democracies, nevertheless, even the most enlightened democracies seldom if ever present the history of any single event or development in a manner that is fully credible. That’s because even serious historians find it hard to be fully objective – especially when they deal with events that happened within their own lifetimes in their own countries. Furthermore, much of the material they use is from old newspaper reports, hearsay, or released government documents that are often impossible to verify for accuracy. The best that can be expected is an approximate account of past events. Also, there are historians and commentators, who become so imbued with even-handedness that their entire approach becomes slanted in favor of their countries’ adversaries, and are thus as unreliable as the jingoists.

One thing that can be said to be true regarding the Israel-Arab conflict, is that every aspect of this generations’ long clash is fraught with volumes of misinformation and selective omission by both sides as well as by outside commentators and researchers. The Arab refugee problem singularly reflects this.

In order to get a close rendering of the events and circumstances as they really were, one needs to double and triple check all the relevant data and consult sources of both sides as well as other reputable non-involved parties.
As a Jew and a loyal Israeli, I would reckon that even with the best of intentions, I cannot be fully objective about the ongoing conflict between my country and the Arab and Muslim world. Even though I was brought up to regard honesty and respect for others as important values, I admit to being unable to completely shake off all my prejudices, and also to indulge in wishful thinking from time to time. After all, these are natural tendencies. But they are contrary to the main premises suggested in this book, therefore I am resolved to try as far as possible to disconnect from my personal experiences, emotions and affiliations, although I doubt whether I will succeed completely. So I invite the reader to maintain a critical approach to my words, while relating to them with an open mind.

This preamble to the subject of the Arab Refugee Problem is essential because of the centrality of the issue to the whole conflict and the strong emotions it generates. However, in accordance with my earlier words I have tried to double check almost every statistic and assertion from different sources. While I cannot state categorically that everything here is absolutely accurate, I feel that it presents a pretty trustworthy rendition of the overall situation. Nevertheless I anticipate that many people – Arabs, Muslims, Jews and Israelis, as well as others, will find much here with which they cannot agree. My response to them is that I have found over and over again that notions I had once thought absolutely correct, turned out to be wrong; that I need to question the validity of my notions from time to time. This is an approach I would recommend to everyone.

* * *

To understand what the Arab refugee problem is all about, it is essential to be acquainted with the background. A census of Palestine, conducted in 1922 by Britain, the ruling Mandatory power at that time, showed a population of 757,182 people (78% Muslim, 11% Jewish and 11% Christians and other faiths. Most of the Christians were Arabs). Clearly the Arabs vastly outnumbered the Jews in Palestine and it is understandable that they would have strenuously opposed the decision of the victorious allies of the First World War – Britain, France and the United States – together with the League of Nations, to allocate a large part of the country as the national homeland for the Jewish people.

It should be remembered, however, that national independence had been promised to the Arabs throughout most of the Middle East. As part of this undertaking, Palestine itself was divided in 1923, with 77% of the country lopped off to create a new Arab state, subsequently called the Kingdom of Jordan. Within the next 25 years, there would be many cataclysmic events in the world as well as in the Middle East. Nazism and Fascism swept through Europe and parts of Africa. Communism spread considerably. The Second World War led to numerous border changes in Europe and Asia, with millions of displaced persons. A number of additional Arab countries won their independence.

Meanwhile, the Jewish population in Palestine had grown to constitute almost 40% of the country’s population. On November 29, 1947, prior to the end of the British Mandate, the United Nations Organization voted for a partition of what remained of Palestine after its initial division in 1923. Slightly less than half the land was to become an independent Arab state and the rest an independent Jewish state.

The Arabs, locally and throughout the Arab world, felt utterly betrayed by this decision and embarked on a war that was intended to end forever any Jewish claim or ability to acquire sovereignty in any part of Palestine.
For the Jews it was the most desperate of times, a mere three years after a third of their people had been killed during the Nazi Holocaust in Europe. The Jewish population in Palestine stood at a little over 600,000 souls, outnumbered and initially poorly armed in comparison with the Arabs.
There were two main stages in the war. The first stage began on November 30, 1947, the day after the United Nations voted to partition Palestine. All over the country, Jewish suburbs, villages and farming communities were attacked by local Arab forces, reinforced by thousands of volunteers from outside Palestine as well as, at a later stage, the well-trained Arab Legion of Jordan, which was under the command of British officers. During the first stages of the war, the situation of the Jews in many places was desperate. Cut off from the rest of the country, the Jewish areas of Jerusalem were under siege and the water supply had been cut. In other parts of the country supply lines were often cut and the Jews barely managed to hold their own, but because they were far better organized, they soon improved their overall situation dramatically.

The second main stage of the war began on May 14 when the British Mandate of Palestine expired and most of His Majesty’s armed forces and non-military personnel had left Palestine. At this point, armies from all the surrounding states, reinforced by contingents from more distant Arab countries, launched a simultaneous invasion against the Jews. During this stage there were four cease-fire agreements. The war continued until March 1949.

In a few cases during the war, Jewish positions were overrun by the Arab forces – as was the case in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Etzion bloc and elsewhere. But generally, the Jewish forces managed to stand firm against attacks by the local Arab forces as well as the invasion by the Arab countries, and eventually in spite of many bitterly-fought clashes, they got the upper hand throughout most of the battle zones and repulsed their enemies.

In many towns and villages Arab families fled or were forced out of their homes and lands. Estimates vary from between over 800,000 (Arab sources) to 726,000 (U.N. sources) to over 520,000 (official Israeli sources). In addition to the people displaced by the 1947-49 War, about 300,000 Arabs fled their homes during the 1967 war, and joined this refugee population. Many of these people were already refugees from the earlier war.

These are the bare facts that can be easily checked in any impartial reference book. But what do the parties to the conflict claim? How faithfully do these claims reflect what really happened? And to what extent have fairness and integrity determined the attitude of the international community in relating to what really happened? These are indeed crucial questions for solving the Arab-Israel conflict.

Most Israelis are of the opinion that the Jews were seriously threatened with annihilation. For almost three decades before the war, there had been frequent armed Arab attacks throughout the country, during which hundreds of Jews had been killed. Furthermore in the early months of 1948 there could be no mistaking Arab intentions or their ruthless tendencies in conflict. The Arabs had repeatedly promised that this was to be a war of annihilation of the Jews in Palestine. And the Jews expected – from their bitter experiences during a generation of ethnic struggle – that the Arabs would not show any mercy whatsoever to Jews, whether combatants, civilians, young or old, men, women or children.

Their fears were quickly realized when a number of mass killings of Jewish civilians took place. That these killings were often claimed to be in retaliation for Jewish killings of Arab civilians, did little to allay their fears. 39 Jewish civilian workers were killed by Arab rioters at Haifa’s oil refinery on December 30, 1947. The month of February started with a bombing of The Palestine Post in Jerusalem, killing three people and wounding dozens of others. Three weeks later, just down the street from this bombing, 53 Jews were killed when a bomb exploded in Ben-Yehuda Street. Then on March 11, twelve people were killed when a bomb went off at the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem. The dead had all been non-combatants.

Also, Jewish prisoners of war were apt to be slaughtered, such as the 128 Jewish combatants (including over a dozen women) who were killed at Kfar Etzion on May 15, 1948, after they surrendered.

On the other hand, the Arab version, since the mid-nineteen fifties, that can be gained by reading official and unofficial sources is largely that the local Arabs (always referred to as Palestinians – even though until that time the Jews of the country were also called Palestinians) were suddenly attacked by the Zionists and brutally evicted from their homes and lands, as part of a preconceived plan of ethnic cleansing. There is very scant reference to the intentions of the Arabs of that time to destroy the Jewish entity in the nascent state of Israel. Never is there any mention of mass killings of Jews that had been reported in Jewish and other sources, as well as official British Mandate documents.

Seldom if ever mentioned in current Arab sources, are the violent riots that had been carried out from time to time for almost three decades before the war. In studying dozens of accounts in Arab sources I have never read about the 1929 Hebron massacre of 67 unarmed Jews, and the 66 killed in Safad and other villages during this time. I have seen only one brief reference to the Hadassah medical convoy massacre on April 13, 1948, when 79 Jewish doctors, nurses and other personnel (mostly unarmed) were ambushed, killed and incinerated by Arab fighters while on their way to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus. Reading the Arab version one gets a distinct impression who is the ruthless, evil villain and who is the innocent victim. However, these are all events that were reported in official British documents (accessible through the British Government on-line archives) as well as in the international press of the time.

According to the Arab version, not only was their land stolen from them, not only were they raped, butchered, slaughtered and massacred, they were also banished from their land. However, modify the language and the objective observer can see some truth in these claims. Regarding “rape and being butchered,” some Israeli researchers agree that there were cases of rape throughout the year-and-a-half war. But it must be remembered that in every war there are cases of rape. That includes wars waged by Arabs to the present day. Regarding the words “butchered, slaughtered and massacred,” these are evocative dysphemisms for actions that take place in any war. When attacking someone with the intent to kill, the attacker might conceivably find himself “killed” or “fatally wounded.” That’s a fact of life. That’s what can happen when you launch a war – which is what the Arabs had done. I have made these comments, not as an attempt to exonerate Israel, but to amend the widely-held perspective that Israel’s actions to the present day, have generally been vile and wantonly detestable and exclusive to Israel alone.

Continued at The Arab Refugee Problem – 2

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Entry filed under: Jewish survival, Solutions for Palestine, Things not mentioned in the press, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .


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