Erskine Childers: The Other Exodus
The present article was originally published in the London weekly The Spectator (May 12, 1961). Childers, the grandson of a well known Irish patriot and writer, also worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation. and subsequently became a leading official in Irish television.
The Palestine Arab refugees wait, and multiply, and are debated at the United Nations. In thirteen years, their numbers have increased from 650,000 to 1,145,000. Most of them survive only on rations from the U.N. agency, UNRWA. Their subsistence has already cost L.S. 110,000,000. Each year, UNRWA has to plead at New York for the funds to carry on, against widespread and especially Western lack of sympathy. There is one reason for, this impatience: the attitude created towards these refugees by Israeli argument. For over ten years, Israeli spokesmen have claimed that:Unless we understand how this problem was caused we cannot rightly judge how it should be solved.... The responsibility of the Arab Governments is threefold. Theirs is the initiative for its creation. Theirs is the onus for its endurance. Above all-theirs is the capacity for its solution. (Abba Eban to the U.N. 1957).In this inquiry, I propose only briefly to examine the last two of these three claims. The last, about a "solution," is that if the Arab host governments were willing, they could resettle the refugees quite easily outside Palestine-where, as Israel claims and as President Kennedy's 1960 election platform also had it, "there is room and-opportunity for them." This is not even remotely true. UNRWA's new chief, Dr. John Davis, has now bluntly and bravely warned against "facile assumptions that it rests with the host governments to solve the problem ... the simple truth is that the jobs ... do not exist today within the host countries." Nor can the jobs be created, Dr. Davis reports, because most of the refugees are unskilled peasants-precisely the host countries' worst problem among their own rapidly expanding populations.
These Arabs, in short, are displaced persons in the fullest, most tragic meaning of the term-an economic truth cruelly different from the myth. But there is also the political myth, and it too has been soothing our highly pragmatic Western conscience for thirteen years. This is the Israeli charge, solemnly made every year and then reproduced around the world, that these refugees are-to quote a character in Leon Uris's Exodus-"kept caged like animals in suffering as a deliberate political weapon."
This, again, Dr. Davis has now bravely called a "misconception." The reality here is that the refugees themselves fanatically oppose any resettlement outside Palestine. UNRWA even had to persuade them that concrete huts, even in the U.N. camps, replacing their squalid tents and hovels, would not be the thin end of a resettlement wedge. Unlike other refugees, these refuse to move; they insist on going home.
Why? The answer, I believe, lies in the third of the three issues Israel argues-in the cause itself of the mass exodus. The very fact that cause is argued by both sides is significant. Israel claims that the Arabs left because they were ordered to, and deliberately incited into panic, by their own leaders who wanted the field cleared for the 1948 war. It is also argued that there would today be no Arab refugees if the Arab States had not attacked the new Jewish State on May 15, 1948 (though 800,000 had already fled before that date). The Arabs charge that their people were evicted at bayonet-point and by panic deliberately incited by the Zionists.
Examining every official Israeli statement about the Arab exodus, I was struck by the fact that no primary evidence of evacuation orders was ever produced. The charge, Israel claimed, was "documented"; but where were the documents? There had allegedly been Arab radio broadcasts ordering the evacuation; but no dates„ names of stations, or texts of messages were ever cited. In Israel in 1958, as a guest of the Foreign Office and therefore doubly hopeful of serious assistance, I asked to be shown the proofs, I was assured they existed, and was promised them. None had been offered when I left, but I was again assured. I asked to have the material sent on to me. I am still waiting.
While in Israel, however, I met Dr. Leo Kohn, professor of political science at Hebrew University and an ambassador-rank adviser to the Israeli Foreign Office. He had written one of the first official pamphlets on the Arab refugees. I asked him for concrete evidence of the Arab evacuation orders. Agitatedly, Dr. Kohn replied: "Evidence? Evidence? What more could you want than this?" and he took up his own pamphlet. "Look at this `Economist' report," and he pointed to a quotation. "You will surely not suggest that the `Economist' is a Zionist journal?"
The quotation is one of about five that appear in every Israeli speech and pamphlet, and are in turn used by every sympathetic analysis. It seemed very impressive: it referred to the exodus from Haifa, and to an Arab broadcast order as one major reason for that exodus.
I decided to turn up the relevant (October 2) 1948 issue of the 'Economist.' The passage that as literally, gone around the world was certainly there, but I had already noticed one curious word in it. This was a description of the massacre at Deir Yassin as an "incident." No impartial observer of Palestine in 1948 calls what happened at this avowedly nonbelligerent, unarmed Arab village in April, 1948, an "incident"-any more than Lidice is called an "incident." Over 250 old men, women and children were deliberately butchered, stripped and mutilated or thrown into a well, by men of the Zionist Irgun Zvai Leumi.
Seen in its place in the full `Economist' article, it was at once clear that Dr. Kohn's quotation was a second-hand account, inserted as that of an eye-witness at Haifa, by the journal's own correspondent who had not been in that city at the time. And in the rest of the same article, written by the Economist correspondent himself, but never quoted by Israel, the second great wave of refugees were described as "all destitute, as the Jewish troops gave them an hour, in which to quit, but simultaneously requisitioned all transport."
It was now essential to check all other, even secondary, Israeli "evidence." Another stock quotation down the years has been that, supposedly, of the Greek-Catholic Archbishop of Galilee. For example, Israel's Abba Eban told the U.N. Special Political Committee in 1957 that the Archbishop had "fully confirmed'." that the Arabs were urged to flee by their own leaders.
I wrote to His Grace, asking for his evidence of such orders. I hold signed letters from him, with permission to publish, in which he has categorically denied ever alleging Arab evacuation orders; he states that no such orders were ever given. He says that his name has been abused for years; and that the Arabs fled through panic and forcible eviction by Jewish troops.
As none of the other stock quotations in Israeli propaganda are worth comment, I next decided to test the undocumented charge that the Arab evacuation orders were broadcast by Arab radio-which could be done thoroughly because the BBC monitored all Middle Eastern broadcasts throughout 1948. The records, and companion ones by a U.S. monitoring unit, can be seen at the British Museum.
There was nova single order, or appeal, or suggestion about evacuation from Palestine from any Arab radio station, inside or outside Palestine, in 1948. There is repeated monitored record of Arab appeals, even flat orders, to the civilians of Palestine to stay put. To select only two examples: on April 4, as the first great wave of flight began, Damascus Radio broadcast an appeal to everyone to stay at their homes and jobs. On April 24, with the exodus now a flood, Palestine Arab leaders warned that:Certain elements and Jewish agents are spreading defeatist news to create chaos and panic among the peaceful population. Some cowards are deserting their houses, villages or cities. . . Zionist agents and corrupt cowards will be severely punished (Al-Inqaz, the Arab Liberation Radio, at 12.00 hours).Even Jewish broadcasts (in Hebrew) mentioned such Arab appeals to stay put. Zionist newspapers in Palestine reported the same: none so much as hinted at any Arab evacuation orders.
The fact is that Israel's official charges, which have vitally influenced the last ten years of Western thought about the refugees, are demonstrably and totally hollow. And from this alone, suspicion is justified. Why make such charges at all? On the face of it, this mass exodus might have been entirely the result of "normal" panic and wartime dislocation.
We need not even -touch upon Arab evidence that panic was quite deliberately incited. The evidence is there, on the Zionist record. For example, on March 27, four days before the big offensive against Arab centres by the official Zionist (Haganah) forces, the Irgun's radio unit broadcast in Arabic. Irgun, a terrorist organisation like the Stern Gang, was officially disowned by Ben Gurion and the Haganah. Yet just four days before the Haganah offensive Irgun warned "Arabs in urban agglomerations" that typhus, cholera and similar diseases would break out, "heavily" among. them "in April and May."
The effect may be imagined. Two weeks later, it was this same Irgun, apparently so solicitous of Arab welfare, that butchered the people of Deir Yassin. Irgun then called a press conference to announce the deed; paraded other captured Arabs through Jewish quarters of Jerusalem to be spat upon; then released them to tell their kin of the experience. Arthur Koestler called the "bloodbath" of Deir Yassin "the psychologically decisive factor in this spectacular exodus." But this was only Irgun, it may be said. Is there evidence that official Zionist forces-the Haganah under Ben Gurion and the Jewish Agency-were inciting panic? An Israeli Government pamphlet of 1958 states that "the Jews tried, by every means open to them, to stop the Arab evacuation" (this same 1958 pamphlet has diluted Deir Yassin to "the one and only instance of Jewish high-handed (sic) action in this war").
There is one recorded instance of such an appeal. It is beyond dispute even by Arabs, that in Haifa the late gentle Mayor, Shabeitai Levi, with the tears streaming down his face, implored the city's Arabs to stay. But elsewhere in Haifa, Arthur Koestler wrote in his book that Haganah loudspeaker vans and the Haganah radio promised that city's Arabs escort to "Arab territory," and "hinted at terrible consequences if their warning were disregarded." There are many witnesses of this loudspeaker method elsewhere. In Jerusalem the Arabic warning from the vans was, "The road to Jericho is open! Fly from Jerusalem before you are all killed!" (Meyer Levin in Jerusalem Embattled). Bertha Vester, a Christian missionary, reported that another theme was, "Unless you leave your homes, the fate of Deir Yassin will be your fate." The Haganah radio station also broadcast, in Arabic, repeated news of Arabs fleeing "in terror and fear" from named places.
Still, however, we have plumbed this exodus only so far as panic is concerned. There are U.N. and Economist reports of forcible expulsion, which is something else. How much evidence is there for this? And were only the "unofficial" Irgun and Stern forces responsible? This is what Nathan Chofshi, one of the original Jewish pioneers in Palestine, wrote in an ashamed rebuttal of an American Zionist rabbi's charges of evacuation orders:If Rabbi Kaplan really wanted to know what happened, we old Jewish settlers in Palestine who witnessed the fight could tell him how and in what manner we, Jews, forced the Arabs to leave cities and villages ... some of them were driven out by force of arms; others were made to leave by deceit, lying and false promises. It is enough to cite the cities of Jaffa, Lydda, Ramleh, Beersheba, Acre from among numberless others. (in `Jewish Newsletter,' New York, February 9, 1959).Were official Zionist troops involved at any of these places? I propose to select, for the sake of brevity, only the Lydda-Ramleh area. It was about the exodus from this area, among others, that the Economist reported. "Jewish troops gave them an hour to quit."
In their latest book, which has been publicly endorsed by Ben Gurion, Jon Kimche and his brother devoted considerable detail to the Zionist offensive against Lydda and Ramich. It was undertaken by official Israeli forces under Yigael Alon. And the immediately responsible officer was Moshe Dayan, commander of the 1956 Sinai attack, now a Cabinet Minister. Kimche has described how, on July 11, 1948, Dayan with his columns:Ramallah, on the road to which these particular Arabs-numbering over 60,000 from this one area alone-were herded, was up in the Judean hills, outside Zionist-held territory. The "road to Jericho," which Arabs in Jerusalem were warned to take, brought them into the Jordan Valley. Some 85,000 are still there in one U.N. camp alone, under the Mount of Temptation. The Arab population of Acre, mentioned by Chofshi, exceeded 45,000: Acre was attacked by official Zionist troops.... drove at full speed into Lydda, shooting up the town and creating confusion and a degree of terror among the population . . . its Arab population of 30,000 either fled or were herded on the road to Ramallah. The next day Ramleh also surrendered and its Arab population suffered the same fate. Both towns were sacked by the victorious Israelis.
From this analysis of only some of the sources of the Arab exodus, then, it is clear beyond all doubt that official Zionist forces were responsible for expulsion of thousands upon thousands of Arabs, and for deliberate incitement to panic. Seen from the viewpoint of the Arab refugees themselves, little more would need to be said. And needless to say, even those Arabs expelled or who fled through "unofficially" incited panic can hardly be asked to look differently on the Israeli Government today. It pays former Irgunists and Sternists the same war pensions as former Haganah troops; its denial of expulsion is total.
But is it conceivable that Ben Gurion and his colleagues could have deliberately contemplated an "emptying" of Palestine? That a motive existed is beyond doubt. The U.N. partition scheme had in no way solved the "Arab problem" that a Jewish State would face. It would have given Zionism what its leaders publicly called the "irreducible minimum" of territory in a Palestine they claimed should entirely belong to them. And we know that the official Zionist movement had in fact no intention of accepting the U.N. territorial award. Six weeks before the British Mandate ended, before the Israeli State was proclaimed, and before the Arab States sent in their armies, an all-out Zionist military offensive was launched. Later, Ben Gurion publicly said of this offensive:As fighting spread, the (Arab) exodus was joined by Bedouin and fellahin (peasants), but not the remotest Jewish homestead was abandoned and nothing a tottering (British) administration could unkindly do stopped us from reaching our goal on May 14, 1948, in a State made larger and Jewish by the Haganah (cf. Rebirth and Destiny of Israel).The Jewish State envisaged by the U.N. would have contained a 45 per cent Arab population: the extra territory attacked by the Zionists before May 14 would have increased that ratio-for example, by more than 80,000 Arabs in Jaffa alone. But it was not just a question of numbers. The Arabs owned and occupied far too much of the territory's productive and social facilities to enable anything like the mass Jewish immigration of which Zionists dreamed.
What this meant in terms of motive can be seen in the statistics that followed the Arab exodus. More than 80 per cent of the entire land area of Israel is land abandoned by the Arab refugees. Nearly a quarter of all the standing buildings in Israel had been occupied by those Arabs. Ten thousand shops, stores and other firms inside new Israel had been Arab. Half of all the citrus fruit holdings in the new State had belonged to the Arabs now made refugees. By 1954, more than one-third of the entire Jewish population of Israel was living on "absentee property"--most of it now "absorbed" into the Israeli economy, and unilaterally sequestered by Israeli legislation against a "global" compensation offer.
It is, then, little wonder that old Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first President, described the Arab exodus as a "miraculous simplification of Israel's tasks." But was it "miraculous"? Unexpected? In no way part of combined military and economic planning of nascent Israel's leaders?
We come to perhaps the most grave evidence of all. The mass exodus began in April, 1948. By June, the U.N. Mediator was fully seized of it. He formally demanded a statement of policy from the new Israeli Government about the refugees. At first, he could get no satisfaction. Then, in an official letter dated: August 1, 1948, Israeli's Foreign Minister replied.
It was only four months since the first waves of flight; only eleven weeks since Israel had been proclaimed, ostensibly calling on the Arabs to "play their part in the development of the State." And it was at this time that a Government since claiming that this whole exodus was unexpected and despite its implorings, formally denied the refugees the right of return. Israel did not merely plead "security," but told the United Nations:On the economic side, the reintegration of the returning Arabs into normal life, and even their mere sustenance, would present an insuperable problem. The difficulties of accommodation, employment, and ordinary livelihood would be insuperable.The case rests. This is not the place to discuss a "solution," and no summary conclusion is needed, save perhaps to recall the words of an official Israeli spokesman, though in rather different import:Unless we understand how this problem was caused, we cannot rightly judge how it should be solved.The Arabs of Palestine now enter their fourteenth year of exile. If you go among them in the hills of Judea, they will take you by the arm to a crest of land and point downwards, across the rusty skeins of barbed wire. "Can you see it-over there beside those trees? That is my home."
It is shaming beyond all brief descriptions to move among these million people, as a Westerner. It is shaming for many Jews, and some speak o u` as Nathan Chofshi has bravely done:We came and turned the native Arabs into tragic refugees. And still we dare to slander and malign them, to besmirch their name. Instead of being deeply ashamed of what we did and trying to undo some of the evil we committed ... we justify our terrible acts and even attempt to glorify them.