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Debate on the 1948 Exodus: Myths, Old and New

Debate on the 1948 Exodus: Myths, Old and New

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Published by: Truth Spreader on Jul 27, 2012
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DEBATEONTHE1948EXODUS
MYTHS,
OLD
ANDNEW
NORMANFINKELSTEINInrecentyears,amoreorlesscohesivebodyofworkhasemergedwhichchallengesthereceivedwisdomontheoriginsoftheIsraeli-Arabconflict.Variouslylabelled"newhistory,""revisionisthistory,"orsimply"history"(asagainstthe"pre"historyofanearliergeneration),thisscholarshipse-verely
qualifies=-withouc,
however,roundlydismissing-thestandardinter-pretationoftheeve,unfolding,andaftermathofthe1948war.Itsauthors,mostlyIsraeli,arguefivemajorpoints:
1)
theZionistmovementdidnoten-thusiasticallyembracethepartitionofPalestine;2)thesurroundingArabstatesdidnotuniteasone
to
destroythenascentJewishstate;3)thewardidnotpitarelativelydefenselessandweakJewishDavidagainstarelativelystrongArabGoliath;4)Palestine'sArabsdidnottakeflightatthebehestofAraborders;and5)Israelwasnotearnestlyseekingpeaceatthewar'send.InthisessayIwanttofocusontheworkofBennyMorris,aformerdiplo-maticcorrespondentofthe
JerusalemPost
whoreceivedhisdoctoratefromCambridgeUniversity.Morrisisthemostinfluentialandprolificofthe"new"historians.
1
Thecentralconcernofhisresearchisthemostpassion-atelydisputedchapterofthe1948war:theflightintoexileofPalestine'sindigenousArabpopulation.Morris'sfirststudy,
TheBirth
if
thePalestinianRefogeeProblem,
1947-1949,2wasnear-universallyacclaimedasaclassic,amodelofscholarlyrigoranddetachment.Therecentpublicationof
Birth's
companionvolume,1948
andAfter:IsraelandthePaiestinians,3
is
anespe-NormanFinkelstein,whoreceivedhisPh.D.inPoliticalSciencefromPrincetonUniversity,currentlyteachesinNewYork.HeisgratefultoRoaneCarey,NoamChomsky,AllanNairn,andFrankSheedforcommentsonanearlierversionofthisarticle.
J~um41
~f
PalestineStiuii,s
XX!.
no
1(Amumn1991).
pp.
66-89_
 
DEBATEONTHE1948EXODUS:FINKELSTEIN
67
ciallypropitiousoccasionfortakingstockofhis-and,byextension,the"new"hisrory's-eachievement.In
Birth,
MorrisdefinitivelyshattersoneofthemostenduringmythsabouttheoriginsoftheIsraeli-Arabconflict-butonly
to
substituteanotherthatisscarcelymorecredibleinitsplace.TheaimofMorris'sstudyistoexplainwhyroughly700,000PalestiniansfledtheirhomesinthewakeoftheNovember
1947
UnitedNationsGeneralAssemblyResolutionsupportingthecreationofanArabandJewishstateinMandatoryPalesdne."Thebook'scentralthesisisthatneitherofthestan-dardaccountsofthePalestinians'exoduscanwithstandclosescholarlyscru-tiny:theZionistsdidnotexpelthemwithpremeditation,astheArabsallege,andtheinvadingArabstatesdidnoturgethemtoleave,astheZionistsal-lege.Thetruth,asMorrisseesit,ratherlies"inthevastmiddleground"betweenthesetwoextremes:ThePalestinianrefugeeproblemwasbornofwar,notbydesign,JewishorArab.Itwaslargelyaby-productofArabandJewishfearsofthepro-tracted,bitterfightingthatcharacterisedthefirstIsraeli-Arabwar;insmallerpart,itwasthedeliberatecreationofJewishandArabmilitarycommandersandpoliticians.(1948,p.88;
Bitth,
p.286)Morrisfurtherassertsthat,underthegivencircumstances=-i.e.,mutualfearandhostility,war,andsoon-thecreationofthePalestinianrefugeeprob-lemwas"almostinevitable."
(Birth,
p.
286)
TheresultsofMorris'sresearchthusapparentlybeliethemostdamagingArabclaims"andexonerateIsraelofanyrealculpabilityforthecatastrophethatbefellPalestine'sindigenouspopulationin
1948.
6
Whiletheseconclu-sionswillnotsatisfythoseamongIsrael'spartisanswhowillacceptnothingbutArabculpability,theyneverthelesssubstituteanewversionofwhatoc-curredin
1948
whichaswellrequiresjudiciousanalysis.InthisessayIwillarguethatMorrishassubstitutedanewmyth,oneofthe"happymedian,"fortheold.MycontentionwinbethattheevidenceMorrisadducesdoesnotsupporthistemperateconclusionsandthatthetruthliesverymuchclosertotheArabextreme."Specifically,IwillarguethatMorris'scentralthesisthattheArabrefugeeproblemwas"bornofwar,notbyde-sign"isbeliedbyhisownevidencewhichshowsthatPalestine'sArabswereexpelledsystematicallyandwithpremeditation.
"Born
oj
War.Not
by
Design"?
MorrismaintainsthatthePalestinianArabrefugeeproblemwas"largelyaby-productofArabandJewishfearsandoftheprotracted,bitterfightingthatcharacterisedthefirstIsraeli-Arabwar."Simplyput,itwas"bornofwar,notbydesign."Yet,inanoteto
Birth,
Morrissuggestsarathersignificantqualifi-cationofthisview:Theworld"expelled"wasoftenusedratherlooselybyIsraelisin19+8.Itwasquiteoftenassumedbynon-witnessesthatagivencommunityhadbeenexpelledwheninfactithadleftbeforeIsraeliforcesarrived.The
 
68
JOURNALOfPAlESTlNESTIJDIES
desire
to
seetheArabsleaveoftentriggeredtheassumptionthatcom-manders-whoitwaspresumedsharedthisdesire-hadhad
to
actovertlyanddirectlytoobtainthisresult,whenthishadnotbeenthecase.
But
if
denial
qf
theright
to
returnwasaform
if
"expulsion,"thenagreatmanyvillag-ers-whohadwaitedneartheirvillagesforthebattletodie
down.
beforetryingtoreturnhome-canbeconsidered"expellees."
(p,343,note
7;
emphasisadded)Thus,Morrisagreesthat,inatleastonecrucialsense,"agreatmany"Palestinianrefugeesweresystematicallyexpelledfromtheirhomes.ThisthenraisesthequestionsofwhethertheZionistsintendedthattheArabsneefromtheirhomesandwhethertheyactedinamannerconsonantwiththisintennon.Iftheanswer
to
these
twO
questionsisalsointheaffirmative,then
it
becomesimpossibletosustainMorris'sthesisthattherefugeeproblemwas"bornofwar,notbydesign."Onecouldmaintainthat,giventhearmedhostilities,theZionistshadnoalternativeexcepttoexpeltheindigenousArabpopulation;butonecouldnotstillmaintainthattheArabnightwasanunintendedorunanticipated"by-product"ofthewar.Beforeturningtotheevidenceinthisregard,itisnotwithoutinteresttoconsidertheArabestimateofZionistintentionsontheeveofthewar.Mor-
ris
citesaBritishreportontheconferenceofArabprimeministersinDecem-ber1
947,
inwhichtheArabviewofZionistambitionswassummarizedasfollows:TheultimateaimofalltheZionistswas"theacqutsltionofaUofPalestine,allTransjordanandpossiblysometractsinSouthernLebanonandSouth-ernSyria."TheZionist"politicians,"aftertakingcontroloftheCOUntry,wouldatfirsttreattheArabs"nicely."Butthen,oncefeeling"strongenough,"theywouldbegin"squeezingtheArabpopulationofftheirlands...[and]ifnecessaryoutoftheState."Later,theywouldexpandtheJewishstateattheexpenseofthePalestinianArabstate.However,themostmilitantHaganahcommanderswished
to
movemorequickly....ExploiungtheweaknessanddisorganizationoftheArabs,theywouldfirstrenderthem--especiallyinJaffaandHaifa-"completelypowerless"andthenfrightenorforcethemintoleaving,"theirplacesbeingtakenbyJew-ishimmigrants."TheArableaders...thoughtthatthereexistedastillmoreextremeJewishplan,oftheRevisionists,callingformoreimmediateexpansion.
(Birth,
p.24)ForallthemonumentalcorruptionandincompetenceoftheArableaders,onecannotbutbeimpressedbytheprescienceoftheiranalyses.Curiously,Morrisvirtuallyadmitsasmuchbut,inapeculiartumofphrase,describestheseArab"prognoses"as"inthenatureofself-fulfillingprophecies."
(Birth,
p.
24)
If
hemeansthattheArabs,byelecting
to
wagewar,facilitatedtheexpulsion,heisnodoubtcorrect.Yet,thisinnowaybeliesthefactthat
it
was
anexpulsion.TheArabnightfromPalestinedividesintobasically
twO
stages,thefirstcoveringtheperiodfromthe
29
November
1947UN
GeneralAssemblyreso-lutiontotheIsraeliindependencedeclarationinMay
1948,
andthesecond

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