Will Fact Ever Displace Anti-Israel Fiction?
by Denis MacEoin September 5, 2014
Anti-Israel propaganda has been driven from the start by lies distortions and a massive rewriting of history. Blame for everything is piled on the Jews, while the crimes of the Arabs, including the Palestinians, are exonerated.
The American Vice-Consul, along with British officers and the British High Commissioner, Sir Alan Cunningham, stated at the time that the Arabs were encouraging flight while the Jews were doing all in their power to prevent it.
The Hagana's behavior was the exact opposite of "ethnic cleansing." Once order was restored, Arabs were appointed to key posts and part of the supplies originally earmarked for the Jewish inhabitants were given freely to the Arabs.
Just now I'm feeling a bit ashamed of being Irish. Although our music, dance, and Nobel-prize winning literature have helped us punch above our weight in the ring of international culture, our politics has never been a model for anyone -- and it is getting worse.
Back in 2011, for instance, Israel's Foreign Ministry stated that Ireland had undoubtedly become the most hostile country to Israel in the European Union, "pushing all of Europe's countries to a radical and uncompromising approach."
Oddly enough, Ireland also has a reputation as a country relatively free from anti-Semitism. According to John Gallen, anti-Jewish incidents are thirty-two times more likely in the U.S. than in the Poblacht na hÉireann. One of the reasons there are almost no anti-Semitic incidents in Ireland is that there are very few Jews in the Irish Republic in the first place: under 2000 (0.04% of the population).
This information is based on data from the European Jewish Congress and the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism, Tel-Aviv University; but I remain sceptical.
Anti-Israel rhetoric in Ireland is commonplace, and the press regularly prints diatribes against the Jewish state. A particularly galling example of this occurred when the Irish Examiner, a newspaper with a long history and a claimed readership of 189,000 per day (but a circulation of about 37,000), published an op-ed piece on July 31 by a little-known journalist, Victoria White, the wife of Eamonn Ryan, leader of the Green Party in the Irish parliament, the Dáil.
Entitled, "We are washing our hands of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians", this piece was an uncompromising diatribe, a spittle-flecked assault on Israel that dragged out the usual false claims of "ethnic cleansing" during Israel's War of Independence in 1947 and 1948.
Ms. White seems either to have stumbled on or been given an infamous and widely discredited book by an anti-Israel Israeli "historian," Ilan Pappé. His book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006), has long been castigated as a non-history in which facts are distorted, important information disregarded, and only one side of the story told. There is no space here to write a review of Pappé's fiction, but it is the sort of book, like the equally discredited, totally fraudulent "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," that poorly educated pro-Palestinian activists revel in without setting eyes on other histories by far better historians than Pappé.
It is obvious that White has not read anything else. She does not quote even once from any of the major historical studies of this crucial period, such as Efraim Karsh's deeply-researched Palestine Betrayed (2010) or Benny Morris's archive-based re-evaluation, 1948: The First Arab-Israeli War. White thinks she knows all the answers. She does not.
Now, an op-ed like White's in a small Irish newspaper may be small enough beer in itself, yet it is important to comment on what it stands for. White may be taken to stand for that vast brood of anti-Israel writers, journalists, and hacks who cobble together a warped narrative out of one or two books and a couple of pamphlets by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, while quite happily dismissing professional historians who work on archival material from across a mountain of sources.
The demonization of Israel through false or simplistic images of the struggle for Israel's independence has penetrated right to the heart of the pro-Palestinian soul. Like most amateurs, White never checks or cross-checks her sources. She takes sides without any mastery of the facts, and fetishizes Palestinian victimhood as if it were the golden standard by which all moral issues must be judged. So her diatribe merits a rational, historical refutation.
Where better to start than the beginning, five lines into her argument, where she says that, in Ilan Pappé's book, "I read about the campaign to ethnically cleanse the city of Haifa of Palestinians." "Oh dear," I thought, "not Haifa." She could not have chosen a worse example, whether she had studied for years or just stuck a pin in the map.
There was no "ethnic cleansing" in Haifa. What happened is closely recorded by Arab, Israeli, British and even American observers, and sources cited by Efraim Karsh in Palestine Betrayed. In a chapter entitled, "Fleeing Haifa," they paint a picture totally at odds with Pappé's fiction. White evidently does not understand the proper context here, namely that, following the UN decision to partition the Palestine Mandate (then under British control), the Jews gladly accepted their much diminished portion of the territory. The Arabs did not, and instead embarked on a Civil War. When the Jews finally established their state as the British took themselves off back to Blighty, seven armies from various Arab nations invaded Israel, provoking a war that lasted until the signing of an armistice agreement on July 20, 1949, following an astonishing Israeli victory and much anguish, which still continues, for those Arabs who had set out to exterminate the Jews in a religious war.
At that time, Haifa was the second city in Mandated Palestine and the key seaport. It was inhabited almost equally by Jews and Arabs, between whom relations were in the main cordial. After the war, a Palestinian myth about Haifa grew up and dominated world perceptions of the "expulsion" of Arabs from the city. We now have reliable documents, however, that tell another story.
We now know that Arabs started fleeing from Haifa even before the 1947 partition plan, when wealthy Haifan Arabs, knowing that war was inevitable — as they planned to launch it — started to go to places they considered safe. In October 1947, a British intelligence briefing stated that "leading Arab personalities are acting on the assumption that disturbances are near at hand, and have already evacuated their families to neighboring Arab countries."
By November, more were fleeing, even though no Jews had threatened them. Things got worse by December of that year, when 15,000-20,000 Arabs, out of a population of almost 71,000, had already fled.
By that time, Syrian, Lebanese and Iraqi volunteers had entered Haifa with the aim of driving out the Jews. There was general pandemonium and growing fear -- a fear greatly exacerbated by scaremongering propaganda from the Arab radio and press. In January, the National Committee, Haifa's leading Arab body, started to recommend mass flight. They followed this up in March by ordering the removal from the city of women and children. By early April, the population had dropped to about half its original size.
It was April 21-22 when the Hagana troops were forced to engage in a battle with armed Arab irregular troops. The Jewish Zone Commander issued a guarantee that if the Arabs chose to remain, they would enjoy equality and peace. The city's Jewish Mayor, the elderly Shabtai Levy, pleaded with the Arab leadership to let his Arab citizens stay, but they turned him down. Those same Arab leaders were asked to sign an extremely fair truce, but they responded by declaring, "We will not sign. All is already lost, and it does not matter if everyone is killed so long as we do not sign the document." Within days, only 3,000 Arabs remained in the town.
On the 27th of April, the Jewish force distributed a leaflet that urged fleeing Arabs to return. "Peace and order reign supreme across the town and every resident can return to his free life and resume his regular work in peace and security." There were radio broadcasts to this same effect, in all of which reassurance was given to the Arabs. This came after the Hagana had taken the town. The Hagana's behavior was the exact opposite of "ethnic cleansing." Once order was restored, Arabs were appointed to key posts, and part of the supplies originally earmarked for the Jewish inhabitants were given freely to the Arabs.
Is this Zionist propaganda? Well, the documents are there, and the American Vice-Consul Aubrey Lipincott along with British officers and the British High Commissioner, Sir Alan Cunningham, stated at the time that the Arabs were encouraging flight while the Jews were doing all in their power to prevent it. On April 25, Lippincott cabled Washington: "Jews hope poverty will cause laborers [to] return [to] Haifa as many are already doing despite Arab attempts [to] persuade them [to] keep out." The following day, the British district superintendent of police remarked that, "every effort is being made by the Jews to persuade the Arab populace to stay and carry on with their normal lives, to get their shops and businesses open, and to be assured that their lives and interests will be safe."
On April 28, the U.S. consul sent another cable: "Reportedly Arab Higher Committee ordering all Arabs [to] leave." And on that same day, Cunningham reported that "British authorities in Haifa have formed the impression that total evacuation is being urged on the Haifa Arabs from higher Arab quarters and that the townsfolk themselves are against it."
Karsh summarizes the situation at the end of a separate article: "In Haifa, one of the largest and most dramatic locales of the Palestinian exodus, not only had half the Arab community fled the city before the final battle was joined, but another 5,000-15,000 apparently left voluntarily during the fighting while the rest, some 15,000-25,000 souls, were ordered or bullied into leaving against their wishes, almost certainly on the instructions of the Arab Higher Committee. The crime was exclusively of Arab making. There was no Jewish grand design to force this departure, nor was there a psychological 'blitz.' To the contrary, both the Haifa Jewish leadership and the Hagana went to great lengths to convince the Arabs to stay.
"What happened in Haifa reflected the wider Jewish attitude in Palestine. All deliberations of the Jewish leadership regarding the transition to statehood were based on the assumption that, in the Jewish state that would arise with the termination of the British Mandate, Palestine's Arabs would remain as equal citizens."
Perhaps this is enough to show convincingly that the repeated claim of "ethnic cleansing" in 1947-48 is an outright lie. Countless other documents and public records tell this same story. It is a matter of history, and not speculation for ill-informed journalists to make merry with.
Jewish fighters during the Battle of Haifa. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)
The story of an absence of ethnic cleansing in Haifa is only part of the much wider story of the war as a whole, during which Arab leaders and military commanders ordered Palestinian Arabs to leave in order to allow the Arab Liberation Army, the Arab Legion, and other Arab armies to get through so they could more easily slaughter the Jews. In other places, as in Haifa, Arab inhabitants fled but were driven out in only one instance, after intense fighting between Israeli troops and foreign invading troops supplemented by local residents. This happened in the joint towns of Lydda (now Lod) and Ramla, taken by Israeli forces in July 1948. "This," writes Karsh, "was the first, indeed the only, instance in the war where a substantial urban population was driven out by Jewish or Israeli forces."
In all places where Arab inhabitants refused to fight against Israeli forces, everyone stayed put and, after the war, settled down as respected Arab citizens of Israel. There was no ethnic cleansing and no expulsion from Shafa Amr, Bu'eina, Uzayr, Ilut, Kafr Kanna, Kafr Manda, Rummana, 'Ayn Mahil, Tur'an, Iksal, Dabburiyya, Reina, Sakhnin, Hurfaysh, Fasuta, Dayr Asad, Dayr Hanna, Sajur, Rama, Nahf, Jish, Majd Kurum. And even settlements where heavy fighting took place were left intact. Today, Israelis and tourists flock to Abu Ghosh for the Arab restaurants there, still run by Israeli Arabs who, for centuries, have been providing welcome hospitality to sojourners near Jerusalem.
When Israeli troops took Nazareth in June, strict orders were given that no holy places were to be desecrated in the smallest way. David Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, gave an even blunter order: "No people are to be moved from Nazareth".
Let Benny Morris have the final word: "Neither Ben-Gurion nor the Zionist movement 'planned' the displacement of the 700,000-odd Arabs who moved or were removed from their homes in 1948. There was no such plan or blanket policy. Transfer was never adopted by the Zionist movement as part of its platform; on the contrary, the movement always accepted that the Jewish state that arose would contain a sizeable Arab minority."
Victoria White, like so many haters of Israel, bases wild claims on invalid information. She refers to incidents of Israeli massacres at Deir Yassin and Sasa. There is no doubt that Israeli forces behaved badly in both incidents, but they happened in time of war and in the teeth of fierce fighting on the Arab side. The story of a great massacre at Deir Yassin was blown up out of all proportion by Arab propagandists. Between 100 and 120 villagers died (many, perhaps most, of them combatants). These figures were immediately inflated to 254 by almost everyone. Before the fighting there, the Etzel and Lehi troops were specifically ordered not to kill women, children or POWs.
At Sasa only 60 died. White also mentions a massacre of 230 Arabs at Tantura. The only source for this is her old friend Ilan Pappé. In fact, just over 70 villagers were killed, not in a 'massacre' but when they put up a hard resistance to Israeli troops fighting in an all-out war for their country's survival.
The truth is that Israeli alleged "war crimes" in 1948 pale in comparison with Allied crimes and massacres during World War Two, which included many killings of German and Italian prisoners of war. Such crimes, though despicable, were a direct result of fighting an enemy whose every action was a crime. Placed within that context, the small number of Israeli excesses and the tiny number of rapes — about one dozen recorded — committed by Israel soldiers do not lose their moral censure, but acquire a very different context. What's worse, White is happy to retail exaggerated stories of Israeli misconduct yet totally avoids any reference to massacres committed in cold blood by Arab soldiers: the fighting on May 12-15 at the Etzion Bloc, when the Jewish defenders surrendered and 240 men and women were slaughtered; the Hebron massacre of 1929, when 67 Jews were murdered, or the infamous ambush of a convoy of lecturers, students, nurses and doctors travelling to Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital, when 78 Jews were murdered, most of them roasted alive. Doesn't that bear telling? Wasn't that a war crime? Do I sense, from Pappé's and White's lack of balance, that only Jews commit terrible deeds, even when they don't?
Anti-Israel propaganda has been driven from the start by lies, distortions, and a massive re-writing of history. Blame for everything is piled on the Jews, while the crimes of the Arabs, including the Palestinians, are exonerated. Israel was and is a legally established state, and the 1947-48 war was initiated, sustained, and fought as a jihad by Arabs in an attempt to kill as many Jews as possible two years after the end of the Holocaust.
The charges against Israel — just like those being made today over Gaza — must be refuted one by one through the judicious use of accurate historical facts, an emphasis on the morality of Israel's struggle to survive, an equal stress on the immorality of those who seek to wipe the tiny nation out, and a firm refutation of charges brought by the ignorant and the gullible.
 On the 1948-49 war as religious in character, see Morris, 1948, pp. 393-4 and index under "jihad". And see "Benny Morris: 'The 1948 War Was an Islamic Holy War'", Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2010, pp. 63-69.
 Sixth Airborne Division, "Weekly Intelligence Summary No. 61, Based on Information Received up to Oct. 23, 1947, WO 275/120, p. 3; "Fortnightly Intelligence Newsletter No. 54," issued by HQ British Troops in Palestine, Nov. 8, 1947, WO 275/64, p.2. Cited Karsh, Palestine Betrayed, p. 124.
 Quoted Karsh, Palestine, p. 138.
 Ibid, p. 139.
 Ibid, pp. 141-42.
 Efraim Karsh, "Were the Palestinians expelled?", Commentary Magazine, 1 July 2000.
 Quoted Karsh, Palestine, p. 216
 Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. Cambridge, 2004, pp.419-420.
 Morris, unpublished letter to the Independent, reproduced in Tom Gross, "Benny Morris responds to 'numerous historical errors' in The Independent", Mideast Dispatch Archive, 6 Dec., 2006
 Morris, 1948, pp. 126-27.