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.

       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.

       Not only was this plan primarily concerned with the defense of the state against invasion, but its implementation wasn't even organized or coordinated.

       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:

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.