Were the Expulsions Necessary?
*This article is part of a series*
The diplomatic arena had already decided that population transfer was the only effective solution for Palestine. The transfer would have been overseen by international bodies in a humane manner with plenty of incentives and financial compensation. Unfortunately for the Palestinian Arabs, some from within their ranks, along with armies from all surrounding Arab states sought a violent solution instead.
Military justifications for the expulsions have been referred to a couple of times now. For obvious reasons, those pushing the ethnic cleansing accusation do their utmost to denigrate the claim that expulsions were carried out for valid military considerations. If they were necessary from a military and security standpoint, the charge of ethnic cleansing is negated. A nuanced approach to this issue offers more than two possibilities where the expulsions were either motivated entirely by race or entirely by military necessity. Could not both be true to various degrees? The question at this point then, is to what extent were the expulsions necessary? The answer to this question creates a zero-sum scenario where to whatever extent expulsions were necessary, the accusation of "ethnic cleansing" loses credibility.
- "We only had five days left … until 15 May [the Arab invasions]. We regarded it as imperative to cleanse the interior of the Galilee and create Jewish territorial continuity in the whole of Upper Galilee. The protracted battles had reduced our forces and we faced major tasks in blocking the invasion routes. We therefore looked for a means that would not oblige us to use force to drive out the tens of thousands of hostile Arabs left in the [Eastern] Galilee and who, in the event of an invasion, could strike at us from behind. ... I gathered the Jewish mukhtars [headmen], who had ties with the different Arab villages, and I asked them to whisper in the ears of several Arabs that giant Jewish reinforcements had reached the Galilee and were about to clean out the villages of the Hula, [and] to advise them, as friends, to flee while they could. And the rumor spread throughout the Hula that the time had come to flee. The flight encompassed tens of thousands. The stratagem fully achieved its objective … and we were able to deploy ourselves in the face of the [prospective] invaders along the borders, without fear for our rear."1
- "Observers understood the grim logic behind the Haganah operations: the Jews, complained Arab League secretary-general ‘Azzam, were 'driving out the inhabitants [from areas] on or near roads by which Arab regular forces could enter the country … The Arab armies would have the greatest difficulty in even entering Palestine after May 15th.' He was right."2
- "In order to defend some areas where Jews were completely surrounded by Arabs ... the Haganah adopted scare-tactics that were intended to strike terror into the Arab population ... Many Arabs ... fled because of tactics such as rumors that a huge Jewish army from the West was about to land ... hand-grenades thrown on front porches of homes, jeeps driving by and firing machine guns into the walls or fences of houses, rumors circulated by Arabic-speaking Jews that the Haganah was far bigger than it really was ... Here it is important to note that Jews were responsible in this part of the Arab flight. But it was not because they wanted to ethnically cleanse the country, or to wipe out the Arabs. It was because they knew that outnumbered Jews, undefended in Arab enclaves would be slaughtered (as in fact was the case ... in the Gush Etzion villages and in the Jewish Quarter of ... Jerusalem, and ... Hebron in 1929)."3
- "None of this is to deny that Israeli forces did on occasion expel Palestinians. But this occurred not within the framework of a premeditated plan but in the heat of battle, and was dictated predominantly by ad-hoc military considerations. Even the largest of these expulsions … emanated from a string of unexpected developments on the ground and was in no way foreseen in military plans for the capture of the town. Finally, whatever the extent of the Israeli expulsions, they accounted for only a small fraction of the total exodus.”4
- Yitzhak Rabin describes the expulsion of the Arabs from Lod and Ramle in which he participated: "While the fighting was still in progress, we had to grapple with ... the populations of Lod and Ramleh, numbering some fifty thousand civilians. ... Clearly we could not leave Lod's hostile and armed populace in our rear, where it could endanger the supply route to Yiftach, which was advancing eastwards. ... Alon repeated his question: 'What is to be done with the population?' BG [Ben-Gurion] waved his hand in a gesture which said: Drive them out! ... I agreed that it was essential to drive the inhabitants out. ... Psychologically, this was one of the most difficult actions we undertook. ... Today, in hindsight, I think the action was essential. The removal of those fifty thousand Arabs was an important contribution to Israel's security, in one of the most sensitive of regions ... After the War of Independence, some of the inhabitants were permitted to return to their home towns.”5
- "[Operation] Nahshon heralded a shift from the defensive to the offensive and marked the beginning of the implementation of tochnit dalet (Plan D) – without Ben-Gurion or the HGS ever taking an in principle decision to embark on its implementation. But the Haganah had had little choice. With the Arab world loudly threatening and seemingly mobilizing for invasion, the Yishuv’s political and military leaders understood that they would first have to crush the Palestinian militias in the main towns and along the main roads and the country’s borders if they were to stand a chance of beating off the invading armies. And there was an ineluctable time frame. The Palestinians would have to be defeated in the six weeks remaining before the British departure, scheduled for 15 May."6
- "Neither the UN nor the Zionist leadership intended the transfer of land or even a portion of the Arab population out of the areas of Palestine designated for a Jewish state. It was only in the course of the bitter Arab-initiated civil war of 1948 that land was conquered, either as a consequence of Arab flight and abandonment or of their forced expulsion."7
- "The Israeli soldiers were not trained or experienced in occupying Arab communities and separating out armed guerillas from peaceful civilians. In any case, the Israelis had no manpower to spare for such delicate and sophisticated counterinsurgency operations, since they had to repel the armies of the invading Arab states even as they were forced to deal with the "local" guerilla-terrorists as well. These unfortunate military realities occasionally made expulsion of the inhabitants from "hostile" villages that served as bases of operation for guerilla attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians the only practical means of halting these attacks."8
Ethnic cleansing apologists without fail point to a specific military strategy the Haganah had forumulated prior to the May 1948 Arab invasions into Israel. It was called "Plan D" and anticipated foreign invasion from neighboring Arab states aided by local Arab forces. Plan D was primarily defensive in nature, but unlike Plans A, B, and C which were exclusively defensive, Plan D allowed for offensive measures such as expelling or occupying Arab villages that threatened Jewish supply and communications lines. These actions were approved not to win the war, allege Zionism's critics, but to cleanse the land of Arabs due to ideological preferences. Thus, the theme of utter disregard for the situation on the ground that defines almost every aspect of these critics' allegations of ethnic cleansing is present here as well.
- "These allegations rely on a single paragraph of Plan D's 75 pages and refer to one of the Plan's many aspects while taking this paragraph out of its context and ignoring or blurring the Plan's real task: defending the forthcoming Jewish state from outside invasion being assisted by domestic Arab subversion. ... The purpose was military: securing the hinterland after the British evacuation and with the invasion imminent. Occupation of villages was necessary to deny the invading enemy the use of main roads and potential bases for attacking neighbouring Jewish settlements. ... The text clarified unequivocally that expulsion concerned only those villages that would fight against the Haganah and resist occupation, and not all Arab hamlets."9
- "... contrary to the assertions of some ... [Plan D] was not a plan for mass expulsion or 'ethnic cleansing' of Palestinians ... it was not an offensive plan -- it was meant to [be] activated only in the event of an attack initiated by the Arab side ... It did not call for massacres ... It was not an 'expansionist' plan ..."10
- "Plan D has given rise over the decades to a minor historiographic controversy, with Palestinian and pro-Palestinian historians charging that it was the Haganah’s master plan for the expulsion of the country’s Arabs. But a cursory examination of the actual text leads to a different conclusion. The plan calls for securing the emergent state’s territory and borders and the lines of communication between the Jewish centers of population and the border areas. The plan is unclear about whether the Haganah was to conquer and secure the roads between the Jewish state’s territory and the blocs of Jewish settlement outside that territory. The plan 'assumed' that 'enemy' regular, irregular, and militia forces would assail the new state, with the aim of cutting off the Negev and Eastern and Western Galilee, invading the Coastal Plain and isolating Tel Aviv and Jewish Haifa and Jerusalem. The Haganah’s 'operational goals' would be 'to defend [the state] against … invasion,' assure 'free [Jewish] movement,' deny the enemy forward bases, apply economic pressure to end enemy actions, limit the enemy’s ability to wage guerilla war, and gain control of former Mandate government installations and services in the new state’s territory.
The plan gave the brigades carte blanche to conquer the Arab villages and, in effect, to decide on each village’s fate – destruction and expulsion or occupation. The plan explicitly called for the destruction of resisting Arab villages and the expulsion of their inhabitants. In the main towns, the brigades were tasked with evicting the inhabitants of resisting neighborhoods to the core Arab neighborhoods (not expulsion from the country). The plan stated: '[The villages] in your area, which have to be taken, cleansed or destroyed – you decide [on their fate], in consultation with your Arab affairs advisers and HIS officers.' Nowhere does the document speak of a policy or desire to expel 'the Arab inhabitants' of Palestine or of any of its constituent regions; nowhere is any brigade instructed to clear out 'the Arabs.'"11
- "Plan D was not a political blueprint for the expulsion of Palestine's Arabs: it was a military plan with military and territorial objectives."12
Not only was this plan primarily concerned with the defense of the state against invasion, but its implementation wasn't even organized or coordinated.
- "... Plan D had no D-Day and no zero hour. Its objectives were only partially accomplished ad hoc during the last month of the British mandate in Palestine, not as a single concerted preplanned operation."13
- "... Plan D itself was never launched, in an orchestrated fashion, by a formal leadership decision. Indeed, the various battalion and brigade commanders in the first half of April and perhaps even later, seemed unaware that they were implementing Plan D. In retrospect it is clear that the Haganah offensives of April and early May were piecemeal implementations of Plan D. ... The massive Haganah documentation from the first half of April contains no reference to an implementation of Plan D, and only rarely do such references appear in the Haganah’s paperwork during the following weeks."14
- "Plan Dalet was a plan, it was one of many plans. The lists compiled by the Hagana had been cobbled together for a decade before 1948, but they were not blueprints - merely intelligence assessments. The British also kept lists of everything; they knew about weapons in various kibbutzim, about the Hagana and illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine. Those lists weren't blueprints for ethnic cleansing anymore than were the Hagana files on Arab villages."21
When it came to realizing the dubious "Zionist goal" to "ethnically cleanse" the land of Arabs, the Zionist leadership did not use as a wonderful pretext the fact the international community was suggesting they do so, or the fact the international community itself had just done so. No, the Zionist leadership instead subjected themselves to a civil war and then a conventional military invasion resulting in over 6,000 of their own killed to push them to expelling Arabs based on sound military considerations. In a country desperate for Jewish immigrants to build up the state, this hardly resembles a masterminded operation. It instead looks remarkably similar to expelling the Arabs because they had to, not because they preferred to; the difference between military necessity and ethnic cleansing.
Unnecessary Expulsions and Missed Oppurtunities
An obvious military necessity has been demonstrated when it comes to explaining Israel's expulsion of some Arabs. But were any of the expulsions unnecessary? Yes, some were. While determining which of the expulsions were unnecessary is inherently subjective, an acknowledgement by Israel's own Ministry of Foreign Affairs Website states, "In the final stages of the fighting, Palestinian areas were intentionally destroyed by the Israeli army and, with no military justification, their inhabitants were expelled by force to beyond the armistice line that was marked at the war's end in 1949."15
Benny Morris identifies a number of villages whose dealings with the Jews had been friendly, or at least neutral, before and during the war that were nonetheless expelled in his study Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited16. He also explains that while Arab residents of some villages were not expelled immediately during or after the fighting, they were nonetheless expelled soon afterward once the dust cleared.
Such decisions could have been punitive in nature, driven by revenge, hatred, and yes, racism. Proponents of the "ethnic cleansing" accusation will no doubt conclude they were done to clear out Arab inhabitants from Israel to create a more homogeneous Jewish state. But placed in the proper perspective, the unnecessary expulsions (those with no military value) were a small minority of the expulsions as a whole, which themselves accounted for only a fraction of the overall Palestinian Arab refugees. As such, if one were to attribute all unnecessary expulsions to an ethnic cleansing plan, it would have to be viewed as a pathetic effort at best.
Another conundrum facing an alleged ethnic cleansing campaign is the fact some Arab villages that could have easily been expelled were left alone:
- "... Carmel and Laskov ordered the town’s [Nazareth] new military governor , Seventh Brigade OC Colonel Ben Dunkelman ... to expel the inhabitants. Dunkelman refused. Laskov appealed to Ben-Gurion: 'Tell me immediately, in an urgent manner, whether to expel [leharhik] the inhabitants from the town of Nazareth. In my opinion, all should be removed, save for the clerics.' Ben-Gurion backed Dunkelman. ... Orderly administration was imposed under the new governor, Major Elisha Sulz. IDF troops – except those serving in the military government – were barred from the town, and normal life was rapidly restored. Indeed, Nazareth soon filled with returning locals and refugees from surrounding villages."17
- "On the other hand, Arab villages from which guerilla-terrorist attacks did not originate, and that did not offer armed resistance to the Israeli forces, were left alone by the Israeli soldiers; or if they were occupied by the Israelis, the inhabitants were well treated, and were not asked to leave Israeli-held territory."18
- "There was an apparent relationship between the harshness of the Jews and the resistance of the locals or their previous behavior. Druze villages were usually left intact. Christian Arabs were often also not expelled, nor did they flee before the approaching Israeli forces. Muslims, especially those who had reason to fear retaliation for past behavior, either fled in advance or were expelled."19
No Reason Good Enough
For some people it matters not a whit about why an expulsion was carried out. They don’t care about the who, what, when, where, or why. Presumably, there is never a reason convincing enough to justify expulsion which ironically ranks expulsion as more detestable than murder, riots, malignant racism, or warfare. This outlook is not the result of a moral assessment that finds expulsion to be worse than the assorted hostility aimed at the Jewish community of Palestine. It is the necessary outlook for the diehard fault-finders who have never considered a reasonable assessment of Israel and probably never will. Few would reach the conclusion that the expulsions were uncalled for considering the atmosphere, so the only option left is to portray expulsion as unthinkable barbarism that can not be justified in any circumstances.
Take Norman Finkelstein, for example. In his book Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict20, Finkelstein begrudgingly admits “If he [Benny Morris] means that the Arabs, by electing to wage war, facilitated the expulsion, he is no doubt correct. Yet, this in no way belies the fact that it was an expulsion.” (Pg. 61) Even when Finkelstein can correctly place cause in front of effect and acknowledge that the Arab decision for war led to the Israeli decision to expel, he disapproves anyway. We are to be outraged not at the Arabs’ aggression and hostility but instead, at the Jews’ reaction to the dual-national threat of civil war and foreign invasion. This of course is nonsense.
Palestine Remembered puts it this way, “Nobody has the right to usurp the political and civil rights of another citizen PERIOD, regardless of the circumstances.” Regardless of the circumstances? So in the midst of an armed national struggle with foreign armies on the verge of invasion, the sole defending nation has no right to resort to expulsions even if they gain a military advantage by doing so? This sounds more like propagandistic rhetoric from the invading states rather than an objective assessment that expulsions are inherently unjust.
Palestine Remembered appeals to “civil rights” as if these exist to safeguard hostile, destabalizing citizens engaged in civil war and an invading foreign country. The idea that civil rights are dependant upon civil behavior is completely lost on Palestine Remembered, as is the fact that ethnic cleansing would have been the least violent intention the Arab armies had in mind for the Jewish community of Palestine.
These critics stop short of explaining what the Jews should have done instead. Such mindless condemnations beg the question, would the multitudes of dead civilians that would have resulted from open warfare in populated towns and villages been the better scenario? I'm not suggesting the expulsions were carried out with the safety of Arabs in mind, but the ultimate result, regardless, was that people were walking away instead of getting shot to death in the cross-fire of a battle.
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Navigate this series:
Part 1 - Expulsions and Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinian Arabs
Part 2 - Population Transfer in International Affairs
Part 3 - Were the Expulsions of Palestinian Arabs Necessary?
Part 4 - Terrorism as a Response to Expulsion
1 Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 159-160
2 Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 162
3 "Big Lies: Demolishing the Myths of the Propaganda War Against Israel" by David Meir-Levi, Pg. 16
4 "Rights and Wrongs: History and the Palestinian 'Right of Return'", Efraim Karsh, June 2001 http://www.aijac.org.au/review/2001/266/essay266.html
5 Said, Edward W., and Christopher Hitchens. Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question. London: Verso, 2001. 91-92
6 Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 116
7 Lassner, Jacob, and S. Ilan Troen. Jews and Muslims in the Arab World: Haunted by Pasts Real and Imagined. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. 309
8 Neuwirth, Rachel. The Expulsion Libel: 1948 Arab Exodus Reconsidered. April 13, 2008.
9 Gelber, Yoav. Palestine, 1948: War, Escape and the Emergence fo the Palestinian Refugee Problem. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2001. 303-306
10 http://www.mideastweb.org/pland.htm (Internet Archive confirms this quote as of Oct 12, 2007)
11 Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 120-121
12 Shlaim, Avi. The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000. 31
13 Gelber, Yoav. Palestine, 1948: War, Escape and the Emergence fo the Palestinian Refugee Problem. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2001. 305
14 Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 119
15 http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Archive/Articles/2000/Ending%20the%20Palestinians-%20Circle%20of%20Misery%20-%202-Apr- (Internet Archive confirms this quote as of Aug 18, 2004)
16 Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. Cambridge Middle East Studies. 2004.
17 Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 282-283.
18 American Thinker. The Expulsion Libel: 1948 Arab "Exodus" Reconsidered. April 13, 2008
19 Lozowick, Yaacov. Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars. New York: Doubleday, 2003. 99.
20 Finkelstein, Norman G. Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict. London: Verso, 2003.
21 Frantzman, Seth. Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine?. Jerusalem Post. Aug 16, 2007.