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Palestine Betrayed

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Certainly two massacres would have been enough to cause widespread panic and fear as an inducement to flee the villages. Yet another "new historian", Benny Morris (who has more recently rescinded his earlier ideas and become a recidivist historian - yet whose research cannot be denied) reported "a far more plausible reason for the Palestinian flight: a systematic Israeli policy of massacres in Palestinian towns and villages, at least 24 according to his most recent, conservative estimates; the rape of women and girls by Israeli soldiers; and arbitrary killings." Further:

""in the country's northern Palestinian heartland there was an unusually high concentration of executions of people against a wall or next to a well in an orderly fashion. That can't be chance".various officers "understood that the expulsion order they received permitted them to do these deeds in order to encourage the population to take to the roads"Ben-Gurion [see below] silenced the matter. He covered up for the officers who did the massacres." [3]

Karsh argues that there was no plan to systematically ethnically cleanse Palestine, yet it is known that the idea is an underlying theme of Zionist thought from its inception. And truthfully, again, there was no "systematic plan," just the underlying motive combined with whatever local situation evaluation the field commander found themselves dealing with while operating under a general plan to gain land and more land with as few Palestinians as possible.

Unfortunately for Karsh, the record of anecdotal histories of the massacres, killings, expulsion and destruction of villages immediately after the expulsions - while it does not deny the wish to live peacefully alongside the Jewish people - does not support his thesis that the Jewish leaders and military were at all accommodating to the Palestinian people. Nor does it support his argument that the Palestinians initiated all the fighting and that the supposedly under-armed, under-manned Jewish forces prevailed over enormous obstacles.

Ben-Gurion and "Jewish coexistence"

Ben-Gurion is frequently quoted along the theme of desiring the Arabs to remain in place and live peacefully in coexistence with the Jewish population. As mentioned previously, that was generally within the context of the main Zionist fear of demographic dominance by the Arab population. In his conversations with political leaders from the Arab countries around the region, his tone was always one of restraint and egalitarian purpose, accepting that the Arab population remain in place. Similarly with the local Palestinian leaders, his rhetoric as quoted was all about coexistence with the Arabs participating in the wonderful modernity of the Jewish people.

Any reader who follows politics should know that the rhetoric provided by political leaders has many purposes: to hide, conceal, manipulate, placate, dissimulate, and on. The rhetoric differs in tones of condescension depending on whether the target is considered to be in a superior position in consideration of the aid that could be provided, or whether the target is considered inferior and, as in this case, backwards, uncivilized, and potentially hostile to one's real intentions. Ben-Gurion spoke well, disarming his European critics, placating the antagonistic but manipulable Arab neighbours, yet ultimately saying nothing to the everyday Palestinian working and living in the villages and towns of the area he wished to control - other than what was spoken by the deeds of the Jewish militaries.

Ben-Gurion was no saviour offering freedom and democracy, which is really above and beyond coexistence, as evidenced by informative quotes that Karsh simply decided to ignore. Ben-Gurion "clarified in his diary that settlement and, when circumstances would allow it, the transfer of the indigenous population would ensure the realization of the Zionist dream".For Ben-Gurion, land was everything." [4] Early in 1948, he indicated, "If we receive in time the arms we have already purchased"we will be able not only to defend but also to inflict death blows on the Syrians in their own country - and take over Palestine as a whole".This is not a mystical belief but a cold and rational calculation based on practical examination."

Earlier, in 1937, before the holocaust added its impetus to the desire for Palestine, Ben-Gurion "demonstrated a clear stand: it was better that the smallest possible number of Arabs remain with the area of the state." In 1947, before the UN General Assembly Resolution was adopted, Ben-Gurion spoke to the Executive of the Jewish Agency indicating "in the clearest possible terms that ethnic cleansing formed the alternative or complementary means of ensuring that the new state would be an exclusively Jewish one. The Palestinians inside the Jewish state"could become a fifth column, and if so "they can either be mass arrested or expelled; it is better to expel them."[5]

And finally on Ben-Gurion exclusively, he stated in a closed forum meeting, "With compulsory transfer we have a vast area [for settlement]...I support compulsory transfer. I don't see anything immoral in it." [6] Other than perhaps it is against international law, against the will of the people, against common sense, and the means to the end is by way of massacres and demolitions, certainly gives another meaning to Ben-Gurion's sense of morality, the Jewish overlord ridding himself of the pestilent, backward, and uncivilized and uncultured Palestinians. How neighbourly, how democratic. These are not statements extolling the virtues of peaceful coexistence, either with regional neighbours or within Palestine.

New Historians and others

The new historians, as quoted above, were overwhelmingly Israeli academics and researchers availing themselves of both the newly released confidential government files as well as having direct access to the Palestinian population. Karsh's condescending - and with a high probability, erroneous - remarks that the new historians were "[totally unfamiliar] with the Arab world - its language, culture, history, and politics - and their condescending treatment of the Palestinians as passive objects"." needs to be reflected in turn upon Karsh himself, as he appears to have viewed the whole spectrum of ideas through rose-coloured polarized laser narrow lenses.

The few new historians quoted above are not the only few that have searched the records and examined the history of Israel from a new perspective such that the "saga of Israel's birth" has been given a new critical perspective that reaches beyond the officially proclaimed propaganda. Beyond those of Israeli heritage are other academics who are able to look at the historical record and give it its proper perspective, not just for the events of 1947-8 but within the overall context of Zionist intentions from the nineteenth century onward.

Avi Shlaim notes the "popular heroic-moralistic version of the 1948 war is the one that is taught in Israeli schools and used extensively in the quest for legitimacy abroad".Until recently this standard Zionist version of the events surrounding the birth of the State of Israel remained largely unchallenged outside the Arab world." The "new historians" he indicates are not all that new as "Many of the arguments that are central to the new historiography were advanced long ago by Israeli writers, not to mention Palestinian, Arab, and Western writers." His first example of the different interpretations concerns Ben-Gurion as being the driving force behind "the policy of expelling the Palestinians," but follows with the note that these ideas are foreshadowed by Lieutenant-Colonel Israel Baer a former official historian for the IDF in 1966. Shlaim also indicates "Although many of the arguments of the new historiography are not new, there is a qualitative difference"" the difference being "access to official Israeli and Western documents." [7]

As for the role of the historian, Shlaim says,

"the historian's most fundamental task is not to chronicle but to evaluate"to subject the claims of all the protagonists to rigorous scrutiny and to reject all those claims, however deeply cherished, that do not stand up to such scrutiny. In my view many of the claims advanced by the old historians do not stand up to serious scrutiny. But that does not mean that everything they say is untrue."

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Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and analyst who examines the world through a syncretic lens. His analysis of international and domestic geopolitical ideas and actions incorporates a lifetime of interest in current events, a desire to (more...)

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