Category Archives: History of the State of Israel

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s Segregationist Founder

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s Segregationist Founder
Seth J. FrantzmanMay 18, 2015

‘The danger we face is that the great majority of those children whose parents did not receive an education for generations will descend to the level of Arab children,” Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared at a July 1962 meeting. He was speaking with the head of a teachers federation on the question of whether to segregate “Mizrahi” children, whose parents came from Muslim countries, from “Ashkenazi” children in school.

In the document from the Labor Party archives, revealed recently in Haaretz, a shocking image is conjured up. Did Israel’s first leader really consider segregating Jewish children according to country of origin? Why did he use racially tinged terms of abuse, worrying that Israel would become “Levantine” and “descend” to be “like the Arabs”?

The document is emblematic of a tragic Israeli problem, the legacy of the disastrous policies put in place in the early years of the state that at the time seemed in line with prevailing European concepts but did irreparable harm.

Consider the case revealed on April 9 by author Orna Akad at the blog +972. She related how 23 years ago she went to a workshop at the community of Neve Shalom. “One of the participants in the workshop was also a member of the community’s admission committee… we came up to her full of hope and said proudly that we are a couple, a Jewish woman and an Arab man, and that we would like to register and appear before the community’s admission committee,” Akad said. The woman had bad news: “We are a community which encourages life together in coexistence, but we are opposed to mixed marriage.”

If you are perplexed, you should be. Israel’s small communities have an unusual way of organizing themselves. An “acceptance” or admissions committee regulates almost every single community outside a major town. You can’t just move to a place, you have to ask to be admitted. It is why a May 2012 headline screamed, “Sderot activists win right to move to Kibbutz Gevim.” They didn’t want to be kibbutz members, just to live in an expansion area of the kibbutz. But one committee member had blocked them, reportedly saying, “We are trying to introduce new blood into the community, but new blood needs to match what is already there.” The newcomers were not “attuned to community life.”

  How did some 1,000 communities in Israel become gated communities, so that people who are Arab, Ethiopian or other minorities can be denied the right to live where they want either directly or as result of euphemistic rulings like that they are “not attuned to community”? This is one of the main legacies of 1950s Israel.

Admissions committees created ethnically homogenous Jewish communities (Yemenites in one place, Hungarians in another). Worse, a segregated education system for Jews and Arabs cemented total separation so that 99% of pupils study in either Jewish or Arab schools through the end of high school. The education system was put in place in 1949, but it should have been obvious that “separate development” was a road to future disaster.

David Ben-Gurion is often portrayed as a mythical formative figure in the early years of the Jewish state. In Anita Shapira’s 2014 biography she lionizes him: “He knew how to create and exploit the circumstances that made its [Israel’s] birth possible.” Peter Beinart similarly paints a picture of early Israel endowed with liberal and socialist principles. “Labor Zionists insisted that the character of Jewish life in Palestine, and of the eventual Jewish state, was as important as the state itself.” The well-known author Ari Shavit wrote in his book, “My Promised Land,” that “the newborn state [of Israel] was one of the most egalitarian democracies in the world.” Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen romanticized Israel’s early years as “fighting intellectuals, rifle in one hand and a volume of Kierkegaard in the other.”

There is a massive nostalgia and a total misunderstanding of the nature of the state in those years. Israel was not egalitarian in the 1950s; it was a divided society, in which Arab citizens, having watched the vast majority of their community flee or be expelled from the country in 1948, were kept under military-imposed curfew. It was a society in which security concerns trumped civil rights, in which nationalistic military parades were common, and ethnic and religious divisions were cemented.

The founders of the state saw themselves as embarking on a massive social engineering experiment. As these new documents reveal, Ben-Gurion imagined that the Jews who had come from Arab countries would soon outnumber Jews of European origin — “In another 10-15 years they will be the nation, and we will become a Levantine nation, [unless] with a deliberate effort we raise them…” he said. The country had a responsibility to elevate this population from its many generations of living in, as he disparagingly put it “downtrodden, backward countries.” The disdain for Arab culture was extreme, despite the fact that Arabs in British Mandatory Palestine held high positions, were the intellectual elite of the country and had a sophisticated society.

The discrimination of the 1950s haunts Israel today. It persists in the media, as when Tel Aviv’s Ashkenazi elite is referred to as a “white tribe,” or when Russian immigrants are mocked as having “crime in their blood” and a successful Arab citizen like TV host Lucy Aharish is described in one article as not “dressing like an Arab.” The segregated schools and admissions committees created a balkanized society. Rather than romanticizing the leader who perpetuated these divisions, people should imagine an Israel in the future that reforms the failed legacy. Reduce segregation and encourage diverse communities. Interrogate the past, don’t whitewash it.

Seth J. Frantzman is the opinion editor of The Jerusalem Post.

Israelis rattled by search for truth about the Nakba: First “truth commission” in Israel

Israelis rattled by search for truth about the Nakba
14 December 2014

‘truth commission’ avoids issue of reconciliation as veteran Israeli fighters due to confess to 1948 war crimesMiddle East Eye – 9 December 2014

The first-ever “truth commission” in Israel, to be held on Wednesday, will feature confessions from veteran Israeli fighters of the 1948 war who are expected to admit to perpetrating war crimes as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled from their homes.

The commission is the culmination of more than decade of antagonistic confrontations between a small group of activists called Zochrot, the Hebrew word for Remembering, and the Israeli authorities as well as much of the Jewish public.

Founded in 2002, Zochrot is dedicated to educating Israeli Jews about what Palestinians call the Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe, referring to Israel’s creation on the ruins of their homeland more than six decades ago. The group also campaigns for the right of return for Palestinian refugees to Israel, probably the biggest taboo in Israeli society.

The commission, which has no official standing, could be the first of several such events around Israel, to investigate atrocities and war crimes committed in different localities, said Liat Rosenberg, Zochrot’s director.

“We have looked to other such commissions around the world as models, most obviously in South Africa,” she said. “But unlike the one there, ours does not include the element of reconciliation because the conflict here has yet to be resolved.

“We cannot talk about reconciliation when the Nakba is ongoing. We are still in a situation where there is apartheid, constant violations of human rights and 70 percent of the Palestinian community are refugees.”

The commission is likely to provoke outrage from the Israeli government, which passed the so-called Nakba Law in 2011 to try to make it harder to commemorate Palestinian suffering. The impact of the law is being widely felt. Just last month, the culture ministry vowed to block a government grant to a Tel Aviv cultural centre that hosted a Zochrot film festival on the Nakba.
Names kept secret

Rosenberg said Israeli veteran fighters and Palestinian witnesses participating in the truth commission had asked for their names to be kept secret until the hearings for fear that friends and family would put pressure on them to withdraw.

The commission is being held in the city of Beersheva, a once-Bedouin town that was ethnically cleansed in 1948 and is today the largest Jewish city in the Negev region in southern Israel.

Zochrot said it had chosen the city to host the first event event because forced expulsions of Bedouin from the Negev had taken place not only in 1948, but had continued on a large scale, out of view of observers, for many years afterwards.

The commission is the latest project by Zochrot that discredits a traditional Israeli narrative that some 750,000 Palestinians left under orders from Arab leaders and that Israel’s army acted only in self-defence. Such beliefs have fed into the common assumption from the Israeli public that Israel’s army is the “most moral in the world”.

“This is not just about researching the truth,” said Rosenberg. “The truth of the Nakba is to a large degree known, but the task is to expose the truth to the Israeli Jewish public – both so that it is forced to take responsibility for what happened and so there can be accountability.”

The commission is the direct result of a project launched by Zochrot two years ago to create an alternative archive of the Nakba, based on filmed testimonies from Palestinian refugees and Israeli veterans. Activists fear that, as the generation of refugees and fighters dies off, they will take their secrets to the grave.

Israeli military archives relating to the 1948 war began being opened to academics in the late 1980s. This led to a group of so-called “new historians” overturning the traditional accounts of that period and unearthing written evidence of massacres and ethnic cleansing operations for the first time.
Archives closed

However, historians have reported in recent years that the Israeli authorities have become more reluctant to open files and many of the more controversial episodes of the 1948 war are still unclear.

Rosenberg hopes the commission will begin to fill some of the gaps.

According to Rosenberg, three Israeli fighters and three Palestinian witnesses will testify before a panel of six commissioners. The commissioners will then question them further about events and make follow up recommendations.

The hearings are due to be streamed online.

One veteran of the fighting in the Negev, Amnon Neumann, has already gone on record in testimony that can be seen in Zochrot’s film archive.

He has said the Bedouin in the Negev – contrary to popular Israeli perception – put up almost no resistance to advancing Jewish forces because they lacked “a military capacity” and “had no weapons”. Nonetheless, he said, the Israeli army terrified the Bedouin villagers out of their homes by shooting either at them, or above their heads.

“We drove them out. Women and children went to Gaza. … By the morning there was nobody there. We burnt their houses,” Neumann said.

When villagers tried to sneak back to tend crops or vineyards under the cover of night, he recounted, the soldiers opened fire. “We would shoot and kill them. This was part of the horrible things we did.”

In other filmed testimony, Mordechai Bar-On, an officer in 1948 with the Givati Brigade, confirmed that orders were to shoot “infiltrators” – a reference to refugees who tried to return to their villages. “Even if there were women and children. I remember I told myself that we would do it. … There was an order to kill, not even catch them,” Bar-On said.

For the most part, the Israeli veterans are coming forward now out of a feeling of guilt.

“At that time I did not see anything wrong with what we were doing,” Neumann said. “If I was told to do things that I do not want to mention [here], I did them with no doubts at all. … Not now. It is already 50, 60 years that I am filled with regret.”

But challenges remain, and despite veterans coming forward, piecing together events can still be difficult.

Rosenberg said many of those giving filmed testimony, including Neumann, have been reluctant to go into details of the war crimes they participated in. It is now hoped that the questioning by the commissioners will encourage participants to be even more forthcoming.
Put on trucks to Gaza

The commission will also move beyond the 1948 period and examine expulsions in the semi-desert Negev region, comprising nearly two-thirds of Israel’s landmass, for the 12 years following the war.

Isolated from the rest of the new state of Israel, the Negev was largely unmonitored as the Israeli military carried out expulsions of Bedouin throughout the 1950s, said Raneen Jeries, a Zochrot organiser.

More than 2,000 Palestinian inhabitants of al-Majdal, which later became the Jewish city of Ashkelon, were put on trucks and shipped to Gaza nearly two years after the war ended, according to Nur Masalha, a Palestinian historian and expert on Israeli “transfer” policies.

Jeries said the legacy of the events of 1948 was being felt to this day, with policies of expulsion continuing in the Negev and the occupied territories.

Haaretz reporter Amira Hass revealed three months ago that the Israeli military was planning to forcibly relocate for a second time the Jahalin tribe. The tribe was driven out of the Negev in 1948 and fled to the safety of the West Bank, then under Jordanian control. However, Israel occupied the land after the 1967 war, and it seems that Israeli authorities now want to expel some 12,500 Jahalin tribes people, this time to a site near Jericho.

Zochrot had been successful in forcing Israelis to recognise the Nakba and a darker side to the 1948 war, said Neve Gordon, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva, where the truth commission is to be held.

“A decade ago, if I mentioned the Nakba in a class of 150 students, hardly any of them would have known what I meant. Now 80 or 90 per cent would know,” Gordon told MEE.

Gordon also attributed the change both to Zochrot’s activities and statements by Arab legislators representing Israel’s large Palestinian minority, comprising a fifth of the total population.
Law against commemoration

But as the issue of the Nakba has become more visible in Israel, sensitivity about it has only grown. Ahead of Nakba Day last May, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at the Palestinian Authority for commemorating the day, saying: “They are standing silent to mark the tragedy of the establishment of Israel, the state of the Jewish people.”

Palestinians were educating their children with “endless propaganda” calling for the disappearance of Israel, he said.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett went further, saying: “We need not tolerate Israeli Arabs who promote Nakba Day.”

The government has backed up its rhetoric with legislation, passing a Nakba Law in 2011 that denies public funds to institutions and organisations that commemorate the Palestinians’ dispossession. The measure is partly seen as a reaction to Zochrot’s growing success.

The original legislation, which would have criminalised any commemoration of the Nakba – making many of Zochrot’s activities illegal – was water-downed after Israel came under strong international pressure.

In Zochrot’s early years, its main efforts were directed at escorting Israeli Jews and Palestinian refugees to some of the more than 500 Palestinian villages that Israel destroyed during and after the 1948 war. The villages were razed to prevent refugees from returning home.

The remnants of most of the villages are now barely traceable, hidden under forests planted by a charity called the Jewish National Fund or lost within gated communities in which only Jews can live.

Zochrot has continued such visits, placing signposts to remind the new Jewish inhabitants that their communities are built on the ruins of Palestinian homes, often belonging to neighbours living a short distance away. A large proportion of Israel’s Palestinian minority were internally displaced by the 1948 war and live close to their original homes but are barred from returning.
Backlash on campuses

Eitan Bronstein, who founded Zochrot, said the current challenge was how to change Israeli Jews’ perception of the Nakba.

“They now recognise the word but what does it mean to them? Many, it seems, think it is simply a negative label Palestinians have attached to Israel’s establishment. We have an Independence Day that they call their Nakba,” Bronstein said.

“We need to educate them about the events of the Nakba, what occurred and our responsibility for it. They have to stop thinking of it as just propaganda against Israel.”

The right wing, including the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, has grown increasingly rattled by Zochrot’s agenda-setting programme of events.

The popularity of a far-right youth movement, Im Tirtzu, has grown rapidly on Israeli university campuses over the past few years, in part as a backlash to commemorations of the Nakba by Zochrot and Palestinian students.

Last month, when Zochrot held its second Nakba and Right of Return Film Festival in Tel Aviv, the culture minister, Limor Livnat, immediately threatened to pull a government grant worth more than $450,000 from the cinema that hosted it.

“The state cannot bear the cost of funding of an entity that encourages debate over what the Palestinians call ‘the right of return’,” Livnat said in a statement. She was reported to have based her decision on her reading of the Nakba Law.

“The antagonism towards Zochrot and the idea of the Nakba is part of the educational process,” said Bronstein. “It is a necessary phase Israel needs to pass through if we are to get to a point of reconciliation.”
Unfazed by threats

Bronstein and others have faced angry opposition from the Israeli public and police as they have tried to stage Nakba commemorations – most notably in Tel Aviv in 2012, when they were surrounded by riot police for four hours. Three Zochrot activists were arrested.

Yet Zochrot’s organisers, whose members include both Jewish and Palestinian citizens, seem largely unfazed by the threats and hostility their group generates.

Last year Zochrot arranged a conference that for the first time examined not just the principle of the right of return but practical ways to implement it.

This year the group launched a phone app, called iNakba, in three languages, which provides users with detailed maps and information on the destroyed villages.

Jeries said it had had thousands of downloads, giving Israelis for the first time the chance to peel away the subsequent layers of construction and forestation to see what was destroyed, often on their doorstep.

Tagged as: Bedouin, destroyed villages, Nakba
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Reshaping territory: The story of Israel’s shifting borders

Reshaping territory: The story of Israel’s shifting borders

Does this country have an underlying strategy of expansion, or are its widening borders a natural consequence of the Arab-Israeli conflict? ‘Borderline Choices’ takes readers on a tour of some of the seminal decisions that have affected Israel’s de facto map.

By Yossi Melman |Ha’aretz,  Jan. 16, 2012

Hakhraot Gvuliot ‏(Borderline Choices‏), by Uri Neeman and David Arbel. Yedioth Books ‏(Hebrew) 271 pages, NIS 118.

This is an intriguing book about Israel’s borders. To be more precise, about the decisions about peace and security that led to the determination of its elastic and still shifting borders.

The Zionist movement and, afterward, the State of Israel, persistently refrained from setting definitive borders, and its de facto borders were born of wars and of Israel’s withdrawal from, and return of, territory. But if you’re expecting to see a pattern here, think again. Yes, the authors write, one would have thought that “the shaping of Israel’s borders, a process still taking place today, was influenced by basic aspirations, political processes and of course the worldviews and decisions of leaders who planned their actions with a view to the end result.” But in fact that often isn’t what happened, with Israel’s borders being shaped by changing opportunities rather than grand schemes or, even worse, conspiracies.

For example, the decision by Levi Eshkol’s government to go to war in June 1967 does not appear to have been intended to influence Israel’s borders, but in retrospect, it clearly had a decisive influence on them. Since the Six-Day War, Israel has returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in exchange for a peace treaty and withdrawn from the Gaza Strip, but it continues to hold onto the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

In “Borderline Choices,” David Arbel and Uri Neeman, both Mossad veterans, analyze eight situations in which Israeli leaders were required to deal with the issue of the state’s borders. They begin with David Ben-Gurion’s decision to adopt the partition plan accepted by the UN General Assembly in November 1947, and move on to the decisions to annex the land captured in the War of Independence ‏(which was meant to be part of a Palestinian state‏) and to start a preemptive war in 1967 but not in 1973. They also cover the peace agreement with Egypt and Israel’s 1982 withdrawal from Sinai ‏(in return for continued control of the West Bank and Gaza‏) and the decision the following year to destroy the semblance of a Palestinian state in Lebanon and to remove Fatah from there in order to ensure continued control of the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the 1993 Oslo Accords, that document Israel’s willingness to return to a division of the land. The final topic is Ariel Sharon’s decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, in 2005.

Some of the authors’ opinions can be expected to generate controversy. For example, Neeman and Arbel claim that Menachem Begin was a full partner who knew about and sanctioned Sharon’s plan to invade Lebanon in 1982, in order to force the Palestinians to move from Lebanon into Jordan and encourage the establishment of a Palestinian state there. Another argument, taken from the field of conspiracy theory, says that on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, the military and political leadership hoped to exploit the Arab attack to perpetuate Israeli control of the territories captured in the 1967 war. And another of the book’s claims, although not particularly original, is that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin lacked sufficient information when he agreed to the open-ended Oslo process.

The book is written clearly and concisely. An entire chapter is devoted to each of the decisions under consideration, and a map makes it easier for readers to distinguish among the changes in Israel’s borders since the time of the partition plan. Most of the source material for the book comes from public sources. This is a pity. Because of the sensitivity of the subject under consideration, and since the writers are intelligence specialists practiced in the gathering of information, one might have expected that they would make a greater effort to locate primary sources, especially in the chapter on Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem.

Deciding on their own

The authors describe how some of the military and political decisions intended to shape Israel’s borders were made by premiers working with only a few select cabinet ministers and no in-depth discussion. In some cases the prime ministers decided on their own, as Rabin did when he accepted the Oslo map cooked up by aides to Shimon Peres, and Sharon did when he decided to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

In the book’s closing words, the authors quote from Ben-Gurion’s exhortation to exclude any mention of borders from Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which was being drafted at the time: “Since ancient times, the borders of the Jewish people’s autonomy have retreated and advanced in accordance with the permutations of history.” And indeed, the War of Independence, in the first days of the state, left borders that were different from those apportioned by the partition plan. And the situation continues to change.

Arab scholars and intellectuals see Ben-Gurion’s words, and the decisions about land and borders that have been made since, as proof that Israel always intended to expand. But mainstream Zionist historiographers disagree and see Israel as merely taking advantage of the opportunities created by historical processes to repeatedly reshape the country’s borders. It would have been better if the authors had devoted some attention to this issue and expressed an opinion on whether Israel has always had an underlying strategy of expansion or its widening borders are simply a natural consequence of the never-ending Arab-Israeli conflict.

The authors do, however, consider the question of whether Israel can continue to rule over the West Bank. The answer is no.

Reality dictates that the Land of Israel must be divided into two sovereign countries between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. The principle of such a division is acceptable to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as to most Arab nations and the international community. There is some doubt, however, about whether the leaders of Israel and Palestine will display statesmanship and gather the political courage needed to agree on where to draw the border between them. The alternative to such a decision, the authors say, is a bloody clash that will in any case send both sides back to the starting line − the division of the Land of Israel into two nation-states.

Yossi Melman reports and comments on security and intelligence issues for Haaretz. His new book, “Running: An Autobiography,” was published last month ‏(in Hebrew‏) by Yedioth Books.

Palestinians, Egyptian Jews and propaganda
Palestinians, Egyptian Jews and propaganda
by Joseph Massad
Joseph Massad is Associate Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University
Despite claims to the contrary, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows when Jewish Egyptians reflect on Egypt.
Last Modified: 07 Jan 2013 05:31

“The statements made by Issam al-Aryan, a senior leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, calling on Egyptian Jews in Israel to return home, are hardly novel,” writes author [AFP]

The current propaganda war in Egypt about the Palestinians and about Egyptian Jews, which was provoked by the recent pronouncements of Issam al-Aryan, a senior leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, is nothing but a distraction from the real problems that the country faces with the increasing incompetence of the Morsi government and the opportunism of his vocal opposition.

If this propaganda war did not have major implications with regards to Israel and US plans to undermine the Egyptian uprising and to control its outcome so as to serve US and Israeli interests, it would be nothing but a storm in a teacup. That it has many regional and international implications is what produces the ongoing media frenzy in the country and internationally.

The statements made by al-Aryan calling on Egyptian Jews in Israel to return home, however, are hardly novel. Indeed Egypt had already done so under Anwar Sadat’s rule back in 1975 at the urging of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

In 1975, and based on its understanding that the departure of Arab Jews to go to Israel under the Arab anciens regimes was a boon to the Zionist colonisation of Palestine, the PLO undertook to call for the repatriation of Arab Jews and demanded that the current Arab leaders (none of whom had been in power when Arab Jews left their countries in the 1950s and 1960s) issue an open invitation to them.

Morocco, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, Iraq and Egypt responded to the PLO call and issued an open invitation to Arab Jews to return home. Despite these efforts, neither Israel nor its Arab Jewish communities heeded the call.

Discriminating against Arab Jews

Indeed, it would not be until the last couple of decades that Israel began to exploit the question of Arab Jewry as a counterweight to Palestinian demands for their internationally supported right of return to Palestine from which the Zionists had expelled them.

The same Ashkenazi Jewish leadership that discriminated and discriminates against Arab Jews in Israel began to lead the effort of demanding compensation for Arab Jewish property losses while liberal Zionist commentators and their supporters in the West began to issue statements which summarised what happened in 1948 and after as an equitable “population exchange” between “Arabs” and “Jews” (often compared to the situation of India and Pakistan), and calling on the Palestinians to relinquish all their demands for return and compensation.

That the Palestinians were massacred and forcibly expelled from their homeland while Arab Jews left the Arab world in their majority due to Zionist harassment and endangerment of their lives is often forgotten by such propaganda.

Zionists and Israeli propagandists saw in this comparison another venue to prove how civilised Israel is and how barbaric the Arabs are. The argument goes as follows: The Arab countries mistreated the Palestinian refugees and refused to grant them nationalities and settle them in their new homes and kept them languishing in refugee camps while civilised Israel gave Arab Jews Israeli nationality, and indeed settled them outside refugee camps.

The Zionist contradiction on this question is a bit scandalous. On the one hand, Israel claims that it is the homeland of all Jews, and on the other it argues that Arab Jews came as refugees to the country, rather than “returned” to it.

The Israeli claim about the Palestinian refugees is only partly true, as many Palestinians have been given nationality in some Arab countries (notably Jordan), but unlike Israel, which gave the stolen land and property of the Palestinians it expelled to its Jewish colonial settler population, including to Arab Jews (though the latter received the less valuable lands and property in accordance with Israel’s European Ashkenazi racism against Arab Jews), Arab countries did not settle the Palestinians on Jewish property or in Jewish homes.

Thus, the Israeli crime of stealing Palestinian property and giving it to Jews, which is prohibited by international law, is trotted out as the actions of the civilised Jewish settler-colony compared to the barbaric Arabs. In this context, it is important to affirm that it is the Palestinians who are owed compensation for their stolen property by all the Jewish colonial settlers who have been living on it for some six decades, including Arab Jews.

The fact that Arab Jews were not expelled from any Arab country, even from those where some of them suffered from harassment by the authorities or even from segments of society at large is central to this narrative. In Yemen and Iraq, Israel undertook to remove the Jewish communities through various criminal means, most notably through Mossad bombings of Jewish locations in Iraq, and secret deals with varying Arab regimes, including that of Yemen.

In Algeria, Israel recruited members of the 100,000-strong Jewish community (all of whom carried since 1870 French nationality by virtue of the Crémieux decree issued by France, keeping in mind that a good percentage of them by then were European settlers) to spy on the National Liberation Front revolutionaries and report back to the French authorities.

Indeed, Israeli military forces would carry out military training on occupied Algerian soil with the French occupation authorities in the 1950s. This hardly endeared Algerian Jews to Algerian Muslims, who were suffering under one of the most brutal European occupations in Africa. This situation was of course brought about by French colonial policy of divide and rule, as Algerian Jews had fought in the resistance to the French in the mid-19th century with Emir Abd al-Qadir and Muslim Algerians.

Anger against Egyptian Jews

In Egypt, Egyptian Jewish interests would be attacked in 1948 by members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the non-Islamist Young Egypt Party (Misr al-Fatah), which led to the departure of a small number of Jews (especially those with foreign nationality). Israel would later recruit Egyptian Jews as spies who would undertake a bombing campaign in 1954 to undermine Nasser’s standing in the West. Israel would also invade the country in 1956 along with the French and British and occupy Egyptian territory.

At the time, the Egyptian government expelled all French and British nationals in the country (about 17,000), including the Jews among them, as enemy citizens. When Nasser undertook a policy of nationalisation, families who owned big businesses, which were slated for nationalisation, began to leave the country. This included rich Egyptian Muslims, Christians and Jews (many of whom held foreign nationalities), and it also included Syrian Christians, Armenians, Greeks and Italians.

In the wake of the Lavon Affair (in Arabic, it is significantly called the “Lavon Scandal”) in 1954, much popular anger ensued against Egyptian Jews, which was hardly surprising, even though the government discourse tried to maintain the distinction between the community and the terrorist recruits during the ensuing trials of the terrorists.

This should be contrasted with American anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism, which, as As’ad Abukhalil recently noted, continues to target Arab Americans and Muslim Americans eleven years after 9/11, even though not a single one of the terrorists who committed the crimes of that day was an Arab American or a Muslim American.

Indeed just a few weeks ago, a racist New Yorker pushed a young Indian man (who was Hindu) in front of a subway train to his death. “I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers,” the suspect told prosecutors. This was the latest victim of American racist violence against Arab and Muslim Americans and of Indian Hindus and Sikhs mistaken for them.

We must also keep in mind that a substantial percentage of the Jews in Egypt were not legally Egyptian, as they did not carry Egyptian nationality and many did not even speak Arabic and carried European passports (Italian, Russian, British and French), a fact that intensified the perception in some popular quarters that they were not loyal to the country. This of course was not the case with the old Egyptian Arab Jewish community (especially the Qarra’in Jews) whose lives were eclipsed by the large and powerful Ashkenazi and Sephardi families who arrived in Egypt in the 19th and early 20th century.

That the Nasser regime did not do enough to safeguard members of the Jewish community from harassment by its own agencies and to shield it from popular anger is true enough and should be subject to much blame, but this is not the same as expelling a population, or deporting it.

This situation also coincided with the ongoing Israeli campaign to bring Arab Jews to Palestine through various criminal means and secret deals, which were successful in Iraq and Yemen and were ongoing in Morocco and which resulted in the destruction of these communities altogether. Israel’s direct efforts to bring about the departure of half of Egypt’s small Jewish community of some 60,000 to Israel (the rest went to France and the Americas) is still not fully known but should not be ignored in analysing the situation.

That most of the terrorist attacks against Jewish interests in Egypt took place under the rule of the Egyptian King Farouk in the 1940s and early 1950s seems irrelevant to the few Egyptian Zionist propagandists today, who appeared this week on Egyptian television and wrote articles in the Egyptian press, insinuating that all that went wrong with Egyptian Jews should be blamed on Nasser and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Indeed, such propagandists completely factor out Israeli actions from bringing about the departure of Egyptian Jews. One propagandist referred to the departure of Egyptian Jews as “nuzuh” or “flight”, and agreed with al-Aryan, whom he opposes otherwise, that Jews were indeed “expelled” from Egypt.

We are even treated to the strange claims by the same propagandist that Egyptian Jews he met in the US and France continue to love Egypt, Arabs and Muslims. While there is no doubt that many Egyptian Jews, wherever they may be, harbour positive feelings towards Egypt, many of those prominent among them in the West have expressed much hatred towards Egypt and the Arab world.

Indeed, many among the latter have become prominent because of their hateful views of Egypt while those Egyptian Jews who love Egypt are ignored and given less prominence in the West and Israel.

‘Silent’ about the country of origin

Propagandists on behalf of Zionism often cite the Sephardi Cicurel family, which held British citizenship (a fact they forget to mention), as an asset to Egypt. What is forgotten often is that Moreno Cicurel who immigrated to Egypt from Smyrna (Izmir) and started the major family business, Les Grands Magasins Cicurel, was the maker of the first Zionist flag which flew over Jerusalem in December 1917 for 20 minutes before being taken down by the British.

His granddaughter Lili would marry future French Prime Minister Pierre Mendes-France, whose socialist government fell in 1955, though he would serve as foreign minister in the Guy Mollet government (of the Radical Socialist Party to which Mendes-France belonged) until May 1956.

It was during Mendes-France’s term as prime minister in 1955 that Israeli nuclear scientists were invited to participate in France’s nuclear programme. Israel’s later deal with the French in 1956 to participate in the tripartite invasion of Egypt was concluded with one of the rewards being that France would build Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor where Israel’s nuclear bombs would be manufactured.

It was Israel’s current president Shimon Peres, who supervised the deal then, who tells us:

Before the final signing [of the Sevres Protocol where the plan was hatched to invade Egypt], I asked Ben-Gurion for a brief adjournment, during which I met Mollet and Bourges-Maunoury alone. It was here that I finalised with these two leaders an agreement for the building of a nuclear reactor at Dimona, in southern Israel… and the supply of natural uranium to fuel it. I put forward a series of detailed proposals and, after discussion, they accepted them.

In 1973, Golda Meir would threaten to nuke Egypt using these bombs. Throughout this period, Lili Cicurel, to my knowledge, not once made a public statement, either opposing the French invasion of Egypt or its alliance and nuclear assistance to Israel (she died in 1967).

Indeed, the Cicurel business was not even nationalised. Lili’s uncle Salvator, whose assets were all already outside Egypt, sold the business to the Muslim Gabri family before leaving the country in 1957. The Cicurel business, which was by then owned by the Gabris, would be nationalised by Nasser in 1961.

As for the propaganda that the Cicurels were harassed by the Nasserist government, it is just that: propaganda. As for Mendes-France, he would become a sponsor of Palestinian-Israeli “peace dialogues” in the 1970s in his own home.

Not only did many prominent Egyptian Jews in the West remain silent about their country of origin, many of them are part and parcel of the Western campaigns against Egypt, the Arabs, and Muslims more generally.

Today, the Alexandria-born Haim Saban, the American Likudnik billionaire, is hardly a friend of anything Arab and is a major supporter of extreme Israeli racist and colonial policies.

The Cairo-born Nadav Safran, the former Harvard professor on the CIA payroll, propagandised against Arabs and Muslims and was an early Zionist since before 1948 and was already a colonial settler living in a kibbutz in 1946. He fought in the 1948 Zionist war for the conquest of Palestine.

Propagandistic generalisations

As for Egyptian Jews in the US who have written memoirs about their time in Egypt, one of them complains in his memoirs about the disgusting smells of Egyptians who “smell” of fenugreek.

Of course, there are other Egyptian Jews who are not as prominent and who continue to love Egypt, but propagandistic generalisations of the sort being pushed by the few non-Jewish Egyptian Zionists today that “all Egyptian Jews” in the US and France, at least, if not those in Israel as well, love Egypt and the Arabs, are hardly apt when so many prominent Egyptian Jews expressly manifest their anti-Egyptian and anti-Arab attitudes in the West, let alone in Israel.

Another major commentator in the US on Egyptian Jews is one Lucette Lagnado, who along with her Jewish parents left Egypt in 1963. She would come back to visit after 2005 and published a memoir. She had a book-reading in Zamalek at the Diwan Bookstore where she befriended one of the owners, Hind Wasef, who welcomed her to Cairo and introduced her to Diwan’s customers who welcomed her in turn.

In the meantime, however, Lagnado propagandises like many other Zionists, about the “population exchange” formula, among other Zionist myths. She tells us, towing the Israeli line, of how Jews were “forced out” of their homes in the Arab world while Palestinians simply “fled” Israel.  

Since the revolution, however, and despite the hospitality shown to her by Egyptians when she visited, Lagnado has been propagandising against the new order and tells her Wall Street Journal readers that she will not go back to the country given that the new government is led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Who knows, maybe after al-Aryan’s invitation she will, even though his invitation seems to include only Egyptian Jews in Israel.

As for half of the Egyptian Jewish community who ended up in Israel, many of them would fight in the wars against Egypt and the Arabs, and some became military spokespersons for the Israelis, who often appear on Al Jazeera and speak Egyptian Arabic. It is unclear if those too are being invited back to Egypt.

That all of this was provoked by al-Aryan is not coincidental. In the last few months, the Egyptian remnants of the Mubarak regime and anti-Muslim Brotherhood liberals have continued to market Mubarak’s anti-Palestinian campaigns in the country by claiming that President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are planning to give Sinai to Gaza Palestinians. Even such illustrious figures as the economist, Galal Amin, participated in spreading these false rumours.

That many of these people (Amin excepted) who fulminate about Sinai and the Palestinians have been silent for three decades on the fact that Sinai remains outside Egyptian sovereignty as a result of the Camp David Accords, and who do not give a hoot about Sinai’s Egyptian population is quite telling of their suspicious agenda. That they have suddenly sprung to attention defending Sinai against a fictional propaganda story that Sinai would be given to the Palestinians is reprehensible at best. Other rumours about the Palestinians abound, such as Morsi’s alleged depriving Egyptians of electricity, which he is allegedly giving for free to Gaza Palestinians.

Concomitant with these rumours is the Egyptian government’s and the opposition’s race to please the United States and its Zionist lobby. While the very same Issam al-Aryan spoke about the tragedy of the Jewish holocaust while in the US on a Muslim Brotherhood promotional trip in May 2011, the naïve and charisma-less Mohamed el-Baradei upped the ante by telling a German newspaper that elected Salafi and Brotherhood members of parliament should not be trusted to draft the Egyptian constitution because they allegedly deny the holocaust!

Al-Aryan’s recent pronouncements on Egyptian Jews are part of this campaign of who can prove to the Americans and the Zionists that they can better serve US and Zionist interests.

This unfortunate level which the post-revolutionary Egyptian protagonists have reached tells us how successful counter-revolutionary forces in Egypt have become, and how they are undermining revolutionary gains and distracting Egyptians from the real economic, social and political challenges facing the country.

Joseph Massad is author of The Persistence of the Palestinian Question published by Routledge.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

The assassination of Count Bernadotte, 1948

In the Shadow of Stern:
The Inside Story of a LEHI Intelligence Officer

by Arno Weinstein

DURING THE early days of Israel’s formation as an independent nation, there were those who saw the Jewish quest of two thousand years as a diplomatic struggle, and there were those for whom it meant war.

It may be that history has yet to judge the more critical of the two, for each position developed followers that continue to struggle with each other, as they did from the earliest years of the Zionist mission.

Those elements within the nascent Jewish State that relied on the violent removal of foreign powers from Mandate Palestine included the Fighters for Freedom of Israel (LEHI). The organization was founded by Avraham Stern and sought the liberation of Eretz Israeland the establishment of an autonomous Jewish polity.

This is the story of one intelligence officer of the LEHI. His name is Stanley Goldfoot. South African by birth, Mr. Goldfoot today resides in Jerusalem, and remains ever vigilant of Israel’s future. The editors of B’tzedek were granted an interview with Mr. Goldfoot in an attempt to better understand one of the more dramatic events in the history of the LEHI and the nation of Israel. That event was the execution of United Nations’ mediator Count Folke Bernadotte in the fall of 1948. 


I met Avraham Stern. I only met him twice, unfortunately. The Jews gave him away. The British pulled the trigger — they shot him — but the British would have never had found him, never without Jewish collaboration. I listened to him, he gave a talk on the ‘Future State, and How Can We Spread Our Membership without Diluting It.’ That was one of the big things with him — to try and spread, but not dilute. That‚s what he told me. Stern was a great man, you could feel his presence; he radiated a certain confidence, an understanding. It was a great loss to the Jewish people when Stern was murdered.” Stanley Goldfoot’s dedication to the words and memory of Avraham Stern are as strong today as they were in the years prior to, and during, the formation of the Jewish State, when the goal of the LEHI was the liberation of Eretz Israe l and the establishment of the Third Commonwealth.

For Stanley Goldfoot there was no alternative other than to be part of Avraham Stern’s organization. LEHI appealed to me — it was freedom. It’s intellectual level was high; their ambitions, and their aims were noble. I believed that there should be a Jewish State. We’d seen the tragedy of Hitler. We’d seen what happened in Europe. It wasn’t over yet, it was during the war, of course. We saw what was happening — millions of Jews being killed.”

As a young English-speaking immigrant to British Mandate Palestine, Stanley Goldfoot was particularly suited for his activities as an intelligence officer in an illegal, underground organization.

One of his more successful schemes during his years as a LEHI fighter was the founding of a scholarly journal concerning itself with the Middle East. Through these unsuspecting and lawful means, Goldfoot was able to secure press credentials as a foreign correspondent. With the unknowing aid of such figures as Abba Eban, Goldfoot created a ruse upon which the most up-to date British military intelligence was at his disposal. The information he gathered not only went toward the publishing of articles in his journal, but additionally, and more importantly, directly to the LEHI high-command in Tel Aviv. Goldfoot was present at all press briefings by the British Mandate Authority and later United Nations’ personnel and had virtually unlimited access to the key figures dominating the scene. Freedom of movement in a Jerusalem frequently subject to curfews was an additional benefit of press credentials and his journal. Goldfoot was able to gather intelligence information for his clandestine organization as well as be in places restricted to the ordinary Jewish citizen.

“We had some good times. The days were never long enough. You know, the journal alone was a full time project,” remembers Goldfoot. “The Journal of the Middle East Society was created with a friend, [Nachum] Nimri. He was a pal and also a member of Stern. We worked together most of the time and he was also general secretary ofChevrat Ashlag , the Palestine Potash Company.

“We saw that the press, the foreign press especially, was a wonderful way o sources of information, because all these people were dying to be interviewed – dying to be – and a press man could get in anywhere at that time with no restrictions. Press people were excluded from every military curfew.”

For Goldfoot and his associates the conclusion was obvious, “So we decided that we would make our own magazine, our own journal, which would enable us to go when and where we liked. I went to Syria with the journal, I went to Beirut many times, because a press man could go anywhere. It was a special category. We got our funds from membership.

“We invited Abba Eban to a meeting and said ‘let’s form this journal, Journal of the Middle East,’ and he thought it was a brilliant idea. Eban was unaware of the journal’s real purpose – he really thought it was a scholarly journal – and that it was, as well.

“We had press passes, we could go anywhere with [them], night or day. And there was no such thing as a curfew for the holders of press passes. Once, I remember, Tel Aviv was under a three day curfew. Well, no problem, I could drive to Tel Aviv and bring messages, meet my friends.

“We got in entries from all over the world. Abba Eban was very thrilled with writing it [the Objectives and Purposes of the journal] up. It went as follows. “Goldfoot picked up a yellowed, but well preserved copy of the publication he had fished out of a back room closet and began to read.

“The Middle East Society of Jerusalem was founded in January of 1946 to provide a forum for the free exchange of ideas and opinions on the problems of the Middle East. One of the society’s objectives is to publish a periodical to reflect the scope and range of the society’s interests. Publications dealing with these subjects are mostly edited in Western countries by specialists who have no direct current link with the area they investigate. But proximity, like detachment, has its virtue, and it would be surprising if men and women, who were able to contemplate the Middle Eastern scene from its very center had nothing of merit to contribute to the general good. This journal, while welcoming those afar, is preeminently the expression of those close at hand. Orientalists, archaeologists, antiquarians, sociologists, and historians are living here amongst their own material which they can scrutinize without impediment of distance. They can attune the process of research to a wider sense of local urgencies, and are well placed for a comparative study of Middle Eastern conditions. The object of this journal is to provide them with their opportunity.

“This journal will accept for publication all opinions while committing itself to none. And certainly, no contributions which have merit as research will be excluded on any grounds of political predilections. Controversy is in the Middle-Eastern air, but it is possible to rise above it into clearer realms of honest thought, where men of diverse views can meet in harmony. The geographical purview of this journal is limited to the Arabic speaking countries, Turkey and Persia, but conditions and events on the fringes of this area must effect its life directly, so that no physical frontiers can be rigidly defined. The editors have devoted much anxious thought to the question whether turbulence of our present state offers a congenial occasion for launching this project. They have considered that the difficulties of the times should be interpreted as a challenge, not as a deterrent. The habits of objective thought may assist the peoples of the Middle East to achieve a deeper harmony amongst themselves and a clearer sense of kinship with the wider world.”

Beaming with pride, Goldfoot ended his reading, looked up and smiled. He said, “The journal was read all over the world – England, Saudi Arabia. It was brilliant, if I do say so myself, and Eban had no idea what we were really up to.

“According to Goldfoot, one example of the value of his position was the intelligence he provided to the Irgun prior to the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. “I wasn’t involved with the actual bombing of the King David Hotel. I helped to plan it, but had nothing to do with the carrying out of the action. We did cooperate with the Irgun. We cooperated to a certain extent, but don’t forget, at the time of the split there was a lot of bitterness between the two sections [Irgun “Alef” and “Bet”] because they didn’t believe [in attacking the British while the Allies were still at war with Nazi Germany], Begin especially, said we have to cooperate – and collaborate with the British. But we said that we don’t, for they are our enemy. Begin refused to say that the British are our enemy. He never said that. And [Avraham] Stern said that the British are our number one enemy. They wanted to beat Hitler, and so did we. And Begin said let’s help the British beat Hitler, because he’s the one to get. He never thought of the British as the enemy, at the time. That was the difference.”

To Liberate Jerusalem 

One of the main objectives of the LEHI in Jerusalem and the young Stanley Goldfoot was the total liberation of Jerusalem from both Arab and international hands. In the late summer and early autumn months of 1948 the New City of Jerusalem was still considered Israeli-occupied territory while the Old City still remained firmly in the control of the Jordanian Arab Legion. For LEHI, the battle for Jerusalem meant not only the capture of the Old City, but the holding on to the New City. Jerusalem represented the restoration of true Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. The LEHI considered Jerusalem the eternal capital of the Jewish nation upon which all hopes and dreams of redemption rested. All those who stood in the way of a liberated Jerusalem were viewed as acceptable targets by the LEHI fighters.

In the 1948 attempt to gain the Old City of Jerusalem by the regular Jewish army forces (against the orders of David Ben-Gurion), the LEHI had greater plans of destroying the Dome of the Rock Muslim shrine and rebuilding the Third Jewish Temple once the area was taken. With the failure of the Jewish advance on the Old City, the Sternist dream was not to be realized. However, they were determined to secure all of the new sections of Jerusalem as the capital of the state. Standing in the way of such a declaration was the world community’s desire to settle the conflict over Jerusalem by internationalizing the city. The representative of “internationalization plan” was the United Nations’ forces stationed in the region.

For the members of the LEHI, Count Folke Bernadotte, as UN mediator for “Palestine,” came to symbolize the foreign oppression of the Jewish claim to the Land of Israel.

On August 10, 1948, a demonstration was held in front of the Belgian Consulate in Jerusalem, against Bernadotte, that was intended to embarrass the new Jewish government. The LEHI voiced their opposition to United Nations’ policies specifying Count Bernadotte as their target. LEHI members, lead by Israel Eldad, carried signs reading “Remember Lord Moyne!” (a direct reference to the successful execution of the British Mandate official in Cairo by the LEHI ) and “Stockholm Is Yours; Jerusalem Is Ours!” (referring to Bernadotte’s native capital). The event was peacefully disbanded by the recently appointed commander of Israeli troops in Jerusalem, Moshe Dayan. With this event, LEHI made their position clear naming Bernadotte as the prime target in their opposition to international forces in Jerusalem.

Bernadotte had advocated a total demilitarization of Jerusalem and blamed the Jewish forces for “aggressive” behavior in the city. Jerusalem was under regular bombardment from Arab irregulars, as well as subject to sniping attacks from the occupied Arab sections. While Bernadotte turned a blind eye to the Arab infractions of the imposed international truce, he found any Jewish response as provocative and inciteful.

Bernadotte refused to dignify Jewish resistance to the “Bernadotte Plan “to internationalize Jerusalem. From all evidence available, Bernadotte did not consider himself in any danger, ignoring LEHI placards throughout Jerusalem demanding that he leave the country and remove the international presence impeding Jewish control of the city. Bernadotte saw LEHI demands as unworthy chatter of extremists. Continued threats to his life were also ignored by the aristocratic Count.

Bernadotte was on record with his vision for the Middle East. He outlined his plan for the future of the Land of Israel, as the United Nations’ head mediator, on numerous occasions. Bernadotte’s position was summarized in the United Nations General Assembly “Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator on Palestine” (A. 648) 18 September, 1948, submitted to the Secretary General for Transmission to the Members of the United Nations [the day following his death].

Bernadotte on the subject of Partition:

1. The resolution Adopted by the General Assembly on 29 November 1947 provided not for simple partition of Palestine, but for partition with economic union. It envisaged the creation of an Arab State, a Jewish State, and the City of Jerusalem as a corpus seperatumunder a special international regime administered by the United Nations. These three entities, largely because of justifiable doubts concerning the economic viability of the proposed Arab State and the City of Jerusalem, were to be linked together in an Economic Union of Palestine. The obvious disadvantages of territorial partition were thus to be corrected to some extent by economic union. [Part I, Pg. 5]

24. As Mediator, I had to seek possible solutions which would be voluntarily accepted by both parties. I sought, therefore, arrangements which might reveal some common denominator in the relations between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. In my talks with them, both parties freely admitted the utter necessity for peaceful relations between Arabs and Jews in Palestine, and both admitted the importance of economic unity in the country. ” [Part I, Pg. 13]

Bernadotte on the subject of The Jewish State:

5. The most significant development in the Palestine scene since last November is the fact that the Jewish State is a living, solidly entrenched, vigorous reality. That it enjoys de jureor de factorecognition from an increasing number of States, two of which are permanent members of the Security Council, is an incidental but arresting fact. The Provisional Government of Israel is today exercising, without restrictions on its authority or power, all the attributes of full sovereignty. The Jewish State was not born in peace as was hoped for in the resolution of 29 November, but rather, like many another State in history, in violence and bloodshed. The establishment of this State constitutes the only implementation which has been given to there solution, and even this was accomplished by a procedure quite contrary to that envisaged for the purpose in the resolution. In establishing their State within a semi-circle of gunfire, the Jews have given a convincing demonstration of their skill and tenacity.

6. As I pointed out in my report to the Security Council of 12 July (s/888, pages 16-17), the Jewish State is:

‘a small State, precariously perched on a coastal shelf with its back to the sea and defiantly facing on three sides a hostile Arab world. Its future may be assessed as uncertain, and if it survives this war, its security will be likely to present a serious problem for a good time to come . . . . ‘ [Part I, Pg. 6]

Bernadotte on the subject of Jewish immigration:

13. The issue of Jewish immigration remains a burning issue in Palestine, but in the very nature of the case it is submerged in the larger issue of the existence of the Jewish State. It is entirely natural that the Jewish position, insistent upon a fully sovereign Jewish State to determine its own immigration policy. The Arabs, on the other hand, rejecting entirely the concept of the Jewish State, would also deny the right of Jewish immigration into an Arab-dominated Palestine. The settlement of the issue of the Jewish State will minimize the international importance of the immigration issue. The Jews, however, in the interest of promoting friendly relations with their Arab neighbors, would do well, in defining their immigration policy, to take carefully into account the basis of Arab fears and to consider measures and policies designed to allay them. [Part I, Pg. 9]

9. The Provisional Government of Israel, in a letter dated 5 July 1948, objected to the deviations from the General Assembly resolution of 29 November 1947, and particularly to the suggestions concerning the regulation of immigration and the status of Jerusalem. They offered no counter suggestions but urged a reconsideration of my “whole approach to the problem. ” [Part I, Pg. 14]

. . should unrestricted immigration indefinitely continue in Palestine there might in the future arise a serious economic and political problem beyond the control of any Jewish Government. It cannot be ignored that immigration affects not only the Jewish State and the Jewish people but also the surrounding Arab World. [Part I, Pg. 15]

Bernadotte on the subject of Jerusalem:

Jerusalem stands in the heart of what must be Arab territory in any partition of Palestine. To attempt to isolate this area politically and otherwise from surrounding territory presents enormous difficulties. Moreover, while I fully appreciate that the question of Jerusalem is of great concern, for historical and other reasons, to the Jewish community of Palestine, Jerusalem was never intended to be a part of the Jewish State. [Part I, Pg. 15]

VI. The Resolution of the General Assembly of 29 November 1947 Arab and Jewish Attitudes

1. General Assembly resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947 provided for the partition of Palestine into a Jewish State, an Arab State and an international territory of the City of Jerusalem, within the framework of an economic union embracing all three. This plan was accepted by the representatives of the Jewish Agency but rejected by the Arab States and the spokesman of the Higher Arab Committee, who declared that they did not consider themselves bound by the resolution. On 14 May 1948, the Jews declared the existence of a State of Israel, and when on the following day the Mandate officially ended, the newly-proclaimed Provisional Government of Israel claimed that it was acting according to that resolution as far as circumstances permitted, and that it made no claim to territory beyond the boundaries of the partition resolution of 29 November.

2. The Arab States, on the other hand, claiming that the resolution of the Assembly was illegal and unjust, contended that they had come legitimately to the assistance of the Arabs of Palestine. Their opposition to the resolution of 29 November has continued unabated.

3. The Provisional Government of Israel, according to recent pronouncements, has apparently modified its attitude to the resolution of 29 November. Although the general position of the Provisional Government of Israel rests broadly on the foundation of the Assembly resolution, it is now being urged that boundaries should be modified to take more fully into account both the present military situation and the necessity for more readily defensible frontiers. In regard to Jerusalem, there is a more skeptical attitude towards internationalization and a marked tendency to press for the inclusion of at least the Jewish part of Jerusalem in the State of Israel. [Part I, Pg. 25]

The Execution

“We intend to kill Bernadotte and any other United Nations’ observers who come to Jerusalem,” Goldfoot told C. L. Sulzberger of The New York Times less than two months before the execution. The brash young men and women of the LEHI did not make idle threats. Plans had already been in the works to rid Eretz Israe l of foreign personnel with Count Bernadotte at the top of the list.

And so it came on Friday, September 17, 1948 the command structure of the LEHI began preparations for their assault on Bernadotte and his execution. Count Bernadotte was stationed at the United Nations’ Headquarters on the island of Rhodes. From Rhodes, Bernadotte would make his trips to the region and inspect the UN forces occupying the Land of Israel. Aware that Bernadotte was to be in Jerusalem on September 17th, the LEHI high-command in Tel Aviv gave the order for his execution.

Bernadotte’s itinerary was public information, however, Goldfoot knew that the Count’s actual movements in Jerusalem would be changed as a matter of standard procedure. The only persons, aside from UN personnel and the Hagana military guards protecting Bernadotte, that were privy to the changes, would be the press, at a last minute briefing. Goldfoot, as a member of the press, therefore waited at the Government Press Office for the most up-to-date “revised” schedule of Count Bernadotte’s activities.

According to Goldfoot, “Bernadotte was to be transported from the United Nations’ headquarters in the Talpiot section of Jerusalem after he arrived from Rhodes. From the airport to the headquarters in Talpiot, he would be driven by the Hagana convoy and transported to the center of new Jerusalem. First, to the Belgian Consulate, on Marcus square, and from there, to the YMCA. From this information we figured out that he should be leaving the High Commissioner’s residence [Talpiot] at about four o’clock.

“He would be in Talpiot. As opposed to what they [the Israel Government Press Agency] had listed on the official itinerary. All the press people, none of them waited for the “revised” update — were running like mad to Mandlebaum Gate [in the Old City], the idiots, to wait for him. I came back to the camp [LEHI headquarters in Jerusalem] and said to Meir [Zetler, LEHI commander in Jerusalem], ‘Here’s the thing — four o’clock we have to be there. He’ll be coming up the hill at four o’clock. ‘ That’s exactly what happened.”

Three vehicles were used in the operation. Two lead cars, one with Meir Zetler and one with Goldfoot who directed the activities. A jeep was used to transport those who were to actually carry out the execution.

“We got four LEHI members into a jeep and stopped the jeep just off the main road coming uphill. 

“Meir Zetler and I drove ahead in other cars and pointed the jeep as to where to wait. The jeep pulled across the road, stopped the convoy. Everybody [LEHI Fighters] was dressed in Khaki and looked like army troops. Each one carried a gun, a shmietzer, a German shmietzer, which is a very efficient gun. Yehoshua Cohen walked up to the second car in the Bernadotte convoy, everybody knows that the VIPs don’t travel in the first car, and he said to the guy, sitting next to the driver, ‘Count Bernadotte?’ And when he replied, ‘Yes,’ Yehoshua fired at Bernadotte. He shot him dead on the spot. And unfortunately, Colonel Serout, the French officer, sitting next to him also got it. It was unintentional. He got back in the jeep when he was absolutely sure that the fellow couldn’t possibly survive after what he had gotten and drove off. Just as a side note, the Hagana guard assigned to escort Bernadotte didn’t have any knowledge of what the LEHI was up to. A guy by the name of Hilman was the poor fellow who pointed out Bernadotte to us.

“No one could do anything. What could they [the troops guarding Bernadotte] do? What could they do? It was such a shock. Such a surprise. Nobody knew what had happened. Somebody would go and shoot Bernadotte in the heart of Jerusalem? This was the point.

“Meir Zetler was watching up on top of the hill where the Van Leer Institute is now. It was just an empty hill then. Meir rushed back to the camp and I went back to the camp later. He packed up all sorts of papers and began to burn all sorts of documents. He already arranged a hiding place for himself and another fellow, ‘Shika’ — who had been sentenced to be hanged by the British. He was due to be hanged in Jerusalem, in the Jerusalem Prison next to the Russian compound, he was acting as our secretary then. He was never hanged by the British because they left [Eretz Israel] on the 13th of May, and his date for hanging, I think, was a number of days later in May. His crime was for carrying arms. He was caught after an action.

“Anyway, the four in the jeep drove to the camp, picked up some of the things they needed and went off to where they had a hiding place. I did not have a hiding place, because Meir told me, ‘Stanley, you wait for them. You wait for the army and talk to them. ‘ So I waited there that night while the others hid, but the next morning the army didn’t come. We had been under siege in Jerusalem. We had trouble getting food. We had to use grass to make soup — from weeds and grass and so on. We had to queue up for water. And all the children as well. The Jerusalem-Tel Aviv road was cut by the Arabs. But this [Bernadotte’s execution] happened on Friday at ten past five. By ten past eight, Saturday morning, an Israeli convoy of tanks came through with artillery. How did they get through? They didn’t try to save Jerusalem before the execution. The Israel Army came through — with no problems because of the hysteria created by the events.

“Back then the army had not gone through a politicization. The army was great then. The Palmach, however, was different. The Palmach people were taught differently. Trained differently. Different outlook. They were more international. They weren’t so Jewish. You didn’t see any kippot in the Palmach. You didn’t see any religious ceremonies of any kind. You did in the Hagana. There was nothing really Jewish about the Palmach. Wingate trained them, “the Night Raiders,” but many don’t regard Wingate as their hero, because he was too religious. Wingate was too religious for them. Orde Wingate was a bible-thumping Christian. “

The Aftermath

The New York Times , Saturday, September 18, 1948 — Front Page:

“Bernadotte Is Slain In Jerusalem; Killers Called Jewish Irregulars; Security Council Will Act Today”

For Stanley Goldfoot and his comrades in the LEHI, the execution of Count Folke Bernadotte gave the impetus for the Israeli army to move into Jerusalem. And even though the capture of the Old City eluded the Jewish forces in 1948, Goldfoot believes that without the actions of the LEHI, the New sections of Jerusalem would have remained in international hands, slowly made Judenrein by the Arab blockade.

Once the regular Israeli army had positioned itself in Jerusalem, the orders were given to disband the LEHI camp through mass arrests. Goldfoot and numerous other LEHI members were arrested and taken to the Acre prison where they were to await trial on charges of assassination. This was to begin yet another chapter in the story of the LEHI fighters as they waged battle against both the international forces stationed in Eretz Israel and the early government of the new Jewish State. The visions of how the fledgling Jewish nation was to conduct itself, its self-definition and its outward behavior, were in dispute from the beginnings of the state. In many respects the conflicts within the State of Israel today are extended versions of the visions conceived fifty years ago.

Survival of the Fittest?

Survival of the Fittest?

An Interview with Benny Morris


Ha’aretz, 16 January 2004

Note: Benny Morris is the dean of Israeli ‘new historians’, who have done so much to create a critical vision of Zionism–its expulsion and continuing oppression of the Palestinians, its pressing need for moral and political atonement. His 1987 book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, chronicled the Zionist murders, terrorism, and ethnic cleansing that drove 600,000-750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948, thus refuting the myth that they fled under the orders of Arab leaders. A second edition of this book is due out this month, chronicling even more massacres, and a previously unsuspected number of rapes and murders of Palestinian women. Thus Morris continues to provide crucial documentation for Palestinians fighting the heritage of Al-Nakba, "The Catastrophe."


But in an astonishing recent Ha’aretz interview, after summarizing his new research, Morris proceeds to argue for the necessity of ethnic cleansing in 1948. He faults David Ben-Gurion for failing to expel all Arab Israelis, and hints that it may be necessary to finish the job in the future. Though he calls himself a left-wing Zionist, he invokes and praises the fascist Vladimir Jabotinsky in calling for an "iron wall" solution to the current crisis. Referring to Sharon’s Security Wall, he says, "Something like a cage has to be built for them. I know that sounds terrible. It is really cruel. But there is no choice. There is a wild animal there that has to be locked up in one way or another." He calls the conflict between Israelis and Arabs a struggle between civilization and barbarism, and suggests an analogy frequently drawn by Palestinians, though from the other side of the Winchester: "Even the great American democracy could not have been created without the annihilation of the Indians."


That’s nice and clear. Now one can find fault with the analogy, as did one outraged reader of Ha’aretz, who suggested that the annihilation of the Indians was the prototype for American imperialism, not the precondition for American democracy. But such arguments are almost beside the point. Morris’s chilling candor effectively removes him from the realm of rational argument, and hauls Sharon’s fascist vision of a Greater Israel out into the light of day. There’s no point in saying, "You’re talking about ethnic cleansing!" for Morris says bluntly, "There are circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing." There’s no point in saying, "You’re denying Palestinian suffering!" for after chronicling that suffering in scrupulous detail, he observes brightly, "You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands." There’s no point in saying, "This is racist!" for Morris has abandoned humanist ethical universalism, invoking the pied-noir Camus to do so: "He was considered a left-winger and a person of high morals, but when he referred to the Algerian problem he placed his mother ahead of morality. Preserving my people is more important than universal moral concepts."

When momma makes it into a political analogy, somebody’s about to bleed: never get between a colon and his motherland, particularly if his motherland used to be your motherland. Here, Morris leaves Enlightenment universalism for a volkische ethics of blood and bone that has haunted world history from Herder to Milosevic. But another French-Algerian, Jules Roy, answered Camus (and Benny Morris): "It is not a matter of choosing one’s mother over justice. It is a matter of loving justice as much as one’s mother."


Jim Holstun


Jim Holstun is professor of English at University at Buffalo. His most recent book, Ehud’s Dagger: Class Struggle in the English Revolution (Verso,
2000) won the prestigious Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize in 2001.


Benny Morris says he was always a Zionist. People were mistaken when they labeled him a post-Zionist, when they thought that his historical study on the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem was intended to undercut the Zionist enterprise. Nonsense, Morris says, that’s completely unfounded. Some readers simply misread the book. They didn’t read it with the same detachment, the same moral neutrality, with which it was written. So they came to the mistaken conclusion that when Morris describes the cruelest deeds that the Zionist movement perpetrated in 1948 he is actually being condemnatory, that when he describes the large-scale expulsion operations he is being denunciatory. They did not conceive that the great documenter of the sins of Zionism in fact identifies with those sins. That he thinks some of them, at least, were unavoidable.

Two years ago, different voices began to be heard. The historian who was considered a radical leftist suddenly maintained that Israel had no one to talk to. The researcher who was accused of being an Israel hater (and was boycotted by the Israeli academic establishment) began to publish articles in favor of Israel in the British paper The Guardian.


Whereas citizen Morris turned out to be a not completely snow-white dove, historian Morris continued to work on the Hebrew translation of his massive work "Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001," which was written in the old, peace-pursuing style. And at the same time historian Morris completed the new version of his book on the refugee problem, which is going to strengthen the hands of those who abominate Israel. So that in the past two years citizen Morris and historian Morris worked as though there is no connection between them, as though one was trying to save what the other insists on eradicating.


Both books will appear in the coming month. The book on the history of the Zionist-Arab conflict will be published in Hebrew by Am Oved in Tel Aviv, while the Cambridge University Press will publish "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited" (it originally appeared, under the CUP imprint, in 1987). That book describes in chilling detail the atrocities of the Nakba. Isn’t Morris ever frightened at the present-day political implications of his historical study? Isn’t he fearful that he has contributed to Israel becoming almost a pariah state? After a few moments of evasion, Morris admits that he is. Sometimes he really is frightened. Sometimes he asks himself what he has wrought.


He is short, plump, and very intense. The son of immigrants from England, he was born in Kibbutz Ein Hahoresh and was a member of the left-wing Hashomer Hatza’ir youth movement. In the past, he was a reporter for the Jerusalem Post and refused to do military service in the territories. He is now a professor of history at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Be’er Sheva. But sitting in his armchair in his Jerusalem apartment, he does not don the mantle of the cautious academic. Far from it: Morris spews out his words, rapidly and energetically, sometimes spilling over into English. He doesn’t think twice before firing off the sharpest, most shocking statements, which are anything but politically correct. He describes horrific war crimes offhandedly, paints apocalyptic visions with a smile on his lips. He gives the observer the feeling that this agitated individual, who with his own hands opened the Zionist Pandora’s box, is still having difficulty coping with what he found in it, still finding it hard to deal with the internal contradictions that are his lot and the lot of us all.


Rape, massacre, transfer


Benny Morris, in the month ahead the new version of your book on the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem is due to be published. Who will be less pleased with the book – the Israelis or the Palestinians?


"The revised book is a double-edged sword. It is based on many documents that were not available to me when I wrote the original book, most of them from the Israel Defense Forces Archives. What the new material shows is that there were far more Israeli acts of massacre than I had previously thought. To my surprise, there were also many cases of rape. In the months of April-May 1948, units of the Haganah [the pre-state defense force that was the precursor of the IDF] were given operational orders that stated explicitly that they were to uproot the villagers, expel them and destroy the villages themselves.


"At the same time, it turns out that there was a series of orders issued by the Arab Higher Committee and by the Palestinian intermediate levels to remove children, women and the elderly from the villages. So that on the one hand, the book reinforces the accusation against the Zionist side, but on the other hand it also proves that many of those who left the villages did so with the encouragement of the Palestinian leadership itself."


According to your new findings, how many cases of Israeli rape were there in 1948?


"About a dozen. In Acre four soldiers raped a girl and murdered her and her father. In Jaffa, soldiers of the Kiryati Brigade raped one girl and tried to rape several more. At Hunin, which is in the Galilee, two girls were raped and then murdered. There were one or two cases of rape at Tantura, south of Haifa. There was one case of rape at Qula, in the center of the country. At the village of Abu Shusha, near Kibbutz Gezer [in the Ramle area] there were four female prisoners, one of whom was raped a number of times. And there were other cases. Usually more than one soldier was involved. Usually there were one or two Palestinian girls. In a large proportion of the cases the event ended with murder. Because neither the victims nor the rapists liked to report these events, we have to assume that the dozen cases of rape that were reported, which I found, are not the whole story. They are just the tip of the iceberg."


According to your findings, how many acts of Israeli massacre were perpetrated in 1948?


"Twenty-four. In some cases four or five people were executed, in others the numbers were 70, 80, 100. There was also a great deal of arbitrary killing. Two old men are spotted walking in a field – they are shot. A woman is found in an abandoned village – she is shot. There are cases such as the village of Dawayima [in the Hebron region], in which a column entered the village with all guns blazing and killed anything that moved.


"The worst cases were Saliha (70-80 killed), Deir Yassin (100-110), Lod (250), Dawayima (hundreds) and perhaps Abu Shusha (70). There is no unequivocal proof of a large-scale massacre at Tantura, but war crimes were perpetrated there. At Jaffa there was a massacre about which nothing had been known until now. The same at Arab al Muwassi, in the north. About half of the acts of massacre were part of Operation Hiram [in the north, in October 1948]: at Safsaf, Saliha, Jish, Eilaboun, Arab al Muwasi, Deir al Asad, Majdal Krum, Sasa. In Operation Hiram there was a unusually high concentration of executions of people against a wall or next to a well in an orderly fashion.


"That can’t be chance. It’s a pattern. Apparently, various officers who took part in the operation understood that the expulsion order they received permitted them to do these deeds in order to encourage the population to take to the roads. The fact is that no one was punished for these acts of murder. Ben-Gurion silenced the matter. He covered up for the officers who did the massacres."


What you are telling me here, as though by the way, is that in Operation Hiram there was a comprehensive and explicit expulsion order. Is that right?


"Yes. One of the revelations in the book is that on October 31, 1948, the commander of the Northern Front, Moshe Carmel, issued an order in writing to his units to expedite the removal of the Arab population. Carmel took this action immediately after a visit by Ben-Gurion to the Northern Command in Nazareth. There is no doubt in my mind that this order originated with Ben-Gurion. Just as the expulsion order for the city of Lod, which was signed by Yitzhak Rabin, was issued immediately after Ben-Gurion visited the headquarters of Operation Dani [July 1948]."


Are you saying that Ben-Gurion was personally responsible for a deliberate and systematic policy of mass expulsion?


"From April 1948, Ben-Gurion is projecting a message of transfer. There is no explicit order of his in writing, there is no orderly comprehensive policy, but there is an atmosphere of [population] transfer. The transfer idea is in the air. The entire leadership understands that this is the idea. The officer corps understands what is required of them. Under Ben-Gurion, a consensus of transfer is created."

Ben-Gurion was a "transferist"?


"Of course. Ben-Gurion was a transferist. He understood that there could be no Jewish state with a large and hostile Arab minority in its midst. There would be no such state. It would not be able to exist."


I don’t hear you condemning him.


"Ben-Gurion was right. If he had not done what he did, a state would not have come into being. That has to be clear. It is impossible to evade it. Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen here."


When ethnic cleansing is justified


Benny Morris, for decades you have been researching the dark side of Zionism. You are an expert on the atrocities of 1948. In the end, do you in effect justify all this? Are you an advocate of the transfer of 1948?


"There is no justification for acts of rape. There is no justification for acts of massacre. Those are war crimes. But in certain conditions, expulsion is not a war crime. I don’t think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes. You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands."


We are talking about the killing of thousands of people, the destruction of an entire society.


"A society that aims to kill you forces you to destroy it. When the choice is between destroying or being destroyed, it’s better to destroy."


There is something chilling about the quiet way in which you say that.


"If you expected me to burst into tears, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I will not do that."


So when the commanders of Operation Dani are standing there and observing the long and terrible column of the 50,000 people expelled from Lod walking eastward, you stand there with them? You justify them?


"I definitely understand them. I understand their motives. I don’t think they felt any pangs of conscience, and in their place I wouldn’t have felt pangs of conscience. Without that act, they would not have won the war and the state would not have come into being."


You do not condemn them morally?




They perpetrated ethnic cleansing.


"There are circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing. I know that this term is completely negative in the discourse of the 21st century, but when the choice is between ethnic cleansing and genocide – the annihilation of your people – I prefer ethnic cleansing."


And that was the situation in 1948?


"That was the situation. That is what Zionism faced. A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on."


The term `to cleanse’ is terrible.


"I know it doesn’t sound nice but that’s the term they used at the time. I adopted it from all the 1948 documents in which I am immersed."


What you are saying is hard to listen to and hard to digest. You sound hard-hearted.


"I feel sympathy for the Palestinian people, which truly underwent a hard tragedy. I feel sympathy for the refugees themselves. But if the desire to establish a Jewish state here is legitimate, there was no other choice. It was impossible to leave a large fifth column in the country. From the moment the Yishuv [pre-1948 Jewish community in Palestine] was attacked by the Palestinians and afterward by the Arab states, there was no choice but to expel the Palestinian population. To uproot it in the course of war.


"Remember another thing: the Arab people gained a large slice of the planet. Not thanks to its skills or its great virtues, but because it conquered and murdered and forced those it conquered to convert during many generations. But in the end the Arabs have 22 states. The Jewish people did not have even one state. There was no reason in the world why it should not have one state. Therefore, from my point of view, the need to establish this state in this place overcame the injustice that was done to the Palestinians by uprooting them."


And morally speaking, you have no problem with that deed?


"That is correct. Even the great American democracy could not have been created without the annihilation of the Indians. There are cases in which the overall, final good justifies harsh and cruel acts that are committed in the course of history."


And in our case it effectively justifies a population transfer.


"That’s what emerges."


And you take that in stride? War crimes? Massacres? The burning fields and the devastated villages of the Nakba?

"You have to put things in proportion. These are small war crimes. All told, if we take all the massacres and all the executions of 1948, we come to about 800 who were killed. In comparison to the massacres that were perpetrated in Bosnia, that’s peanuts. In comparison to the massacres the Russians perpetrated against the Germans at Stalingrad, that’s chicken feed. When you take into account that there was a bloody civil war here and that we lost an entire 1 percent of the population, you find that we behaved very well."


The next transfer


You went through an interesting process. You went to research Ben-Gurion and the Zionist establishment critically, but in the end you actually identify with them. You are as tough in your words as they were in their deeds.


"You may be right. Because I investigated the conflict in depth, I was forced to cope with the in-depth questions that those people coped with. I understood the problematic character of the situation they faced and maybe I adopted part of their universe of concepts. But I do not identify with Ben-Gurion. I think he made a serious historical mistake in 1948. Even though he understood the demographic issue and the need to establish a Jewish state without a large Arab minority, he got cold feet during the war. In the end, he faltered."


I’m not sure I understand. Are you saying that Ben-Gurion erred in expelling too few Arabs?


"If he was already engaged in expulsion, maybe he should have done a complete job. I know that this stuns the Arabs and the liberals and the politically correct types. But my feeling is that this place would be quieter and know less suffering if the matter had been resolved once and for all. If Ben-Gurion had carried out a large expulsion and cleansed the whole country – the whole Land of Israel, as far as the Jordan River. It may yet turn out that this was his fatal mistake. If he had carried out a full expulsion – rather than a partial one – he would have stabilized the State of Israel for generations."


I find it hard to believe what I am hearing.


"If the end of the story turns out to be a gloomy one for the Jews, it will be because Ben-Gurion did not complete the transfer in 1948. Because he left a large and volatile demographic reserve in the West Bank and Gaza and within Israel itself."


In his place, would you have expelled them all? All the Arabs in the country?


"But I am not a statesman. I do not put myself in his place. But as an historian, I assert that a mistake was made here. Yes. The non-completion of the transfer was a mistake."


And today? Do you advocate a transfer today?


"If you are asking me whether I support the transfer and expulsion of the Arabs from the West Bank, Gaza and perhaps even from Galilee and the Triangle, I say not at this moment. I am not willing to be a partner to that act. In the present circumstances it is neither moral nor realistic. The world would not allow it, the Arab world would not allow it, it would destroy the Jewish society from within. But I am ready to tell you that in other circumstances, apocalyptic ones, which are liable to be realized in five or ten years, I can see expulsions. If we find ourselves with atomic weapons around us, or if there is a general Arab attack on us and a situation of warfare on the front with Arabs in the rear shooting at convoys on their way to the front, acts of expulsion will be entirely reasonable. They may even be essential."


Including the expulsion of Israeli Arabs?


"The Israeli Arabs are a time bomb. Their slide into complete Palestinization has made them an emissary of the enemy that is among us. They are a potential fifth column. In both demographic and security terms they are liable to undermine the state. So that if Israel again finds itself in a situation of existential threat, as in 1948, it may be forced to act as it did then. If we are attacked by Egypt (after an Islamist revolution in Cairo) and by Syria, and chemical and biological missiles slam into our cities, and at the same time Israeli Palestinians attack us from behind, I can see an expulsion situation. It could happen. If the threat to Israel is existential, expulsion will be justified."


Cultural dementia


Besides being tough, you are also very gloomy. You weren’t always like that, were you?


"My turning point began after 2000. I wasn’t a great optimist even before that. True, I always voted Labor or Meretz or Sheli [a dovish party of the late 1970s], and in 1988 I refused to serve in the territories and was jailed for it, but I always doubted the intentions of the Palestinians. The events of Camp David and what followed in their wake turned the doubt into certainty. When the Palestinians rejected the proposal of [prime minister Ehud] Barak in July 2000 and the Clinton proposal in December 2000, I understood that they are unwilling to accept the two-state solution. They want it all. Lod and Acre and Jaffa."


If that’s so, then the whole Oslo process was mistaken and there is a basic flaw in the entire worldview of the Israeli peace movement.


"Oslo had to be tried. But today it has to be clear that from the Palestinian point of view, Oslo was a deception. [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat did not change for the worse, Arafat simply defrauded us. He was never sincere in his readiness for compromise and conciliation."


Do you really believe Arafat wants to throw us into the sea?

"He wants to send us back to Europe, to the sea we came from. He truly sees us as a Crusader state and he thinks about the Crusader precedent and wishes us a Crusader end. I’m certain that Israeli intelligence has unequivocal information proving that in internal conversations Arafat talks seriously about the phased plan [which would eliminate Israel in stages]. But the problem is not just Arafat. The entire Palestinian national elite is prone to see us as Crusaders and is driven by the phased plan. That’s why the Palestinians are not honestly ready to forgo the right of return. They are preserving it as an instrument with which they will destroy the Jewish state when the time comes. They can’t tolerate the existence of a Jewish state – not in 80 percent of the country and not in 30 percent. From their point of view, the Palestinian state must cover the whole Land of Israel."


If so, the two-state solution is not viable; even if a peace treaty is signed, it will soon collapse.


"Ideologically, I support the two-state solution. It’s the only alternative to the expulsion of the Jews or the expulsion of the Palestinians or total destruction. But in practice, in this generation, a settlement of that kind will not hold water. At least 30 to 40 percent of the Palestinian public and at least 30 to 40 percent of the heart of every Palestinian will not accept it. After a short break, terrorism will erupt again and the war will resume."


Your prognosis doesn’t leave much room for hope, does it?


"It’s hard for me, too. There is not going to be peace in the present generation. There will not be a solution. We are doomed to live by the sword. I’m already fairly old, but for my children that is especially bleak. I don’t know if they will want to go on living in a place where there is no hope. Even if Israel is not destroyed, we won’t see a good, normal life here in the decades ahead."


Aren’t your harsh words an over-reaction to three hard years of terrorism?


"The bombing of the buses and restaurants really shook me. They made me understand the depth of the hatred for us. They made me understand that the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim hostility toward Jewish existence here is taking us to the brink of destruction. I don’t see the suicide bombings as isolated acts. They express the deep will of the Palestinian people. That is what the majority of the Palestinians want. They want what happened to the bus to happen to all of us."


Yet we, too, bear responsibility for the violence and the hatred: the occupation, the roadblocks, the closures, maybe even the Nakba itself.


"You don’t have to tell me that. I have researched Palestinian history. I understand the reasons for the hatred very well. The Palestinians are retaliating now not only for yesterday’s closure but for the Nakba as well. But that is not a sufficient explanation. The peoples of Africa were oppressed by the European powers no less than the Palestinians were oppressed by us, but nevertheless I don’t see African terrorism in London, Paris or Brussels. The Germans killed far more of us than we killed the Palestinians, but we aren’t blowing up buses in Munich and Nuremberg. So there is something else here, something deeper, that has to do with Islam and Arab culture."


Are you trying to argue that Palestinian terrorism derives from some sort of deep cultural problem?


"There is a deep problem in Islam. It’s a world whose values are different. A world in which human life doesn’t have the same value as it does in the West, in which freedom, democracy, openness and creativity are alien. A world that makes those who are not part of the camp of Islam fair game. Revenge is also important here. Revenge plays a central part in the Arab tribal culture. Therefore, the people we are fighting and the society that sends them have no moral inhibitions. If it obtains chemical or biological or atomic weapons, it will use them. If it is able, it will also commit genocide."


I want to insist on my point: A large part of the responsibility for the hatred of the Palestinians rests with us. After all, you yourself showed us that the Palestinians experienced a historical catastrophe.


"True. But when one has to deal with a serial killer, it’s not so important to discover why he became a serial killer. What’s important is to imprison the murderer or to execute him."


Explain the image: Who is the serial killer in the analogy?


"The barbarians who want to take our lives. The people the Palestinian society sends to carry out the terrorist attacks, and in some way the Palestinian society itself as well. At the moment, that society is in the state of being a serial killer. It is a very sick society. It should be treated the way we treat individuals who are serial killers."


What does that mean? What should we do tomorrow morning?


"We have to try to heal the Palestinians. Maybe over the years the establishment of a Palestinian state will help in the healing process. But in the meantime, until the medicine is found, they have to be contained so that they will not succeed in murdering us."


To fence them in? To place them under closure?


"Something like a cage has to be built for them. I know that sounds terrible. It is really cruel. But there is no choice. There is a wild animal there that has to be locked up in one way or another."


War of barbarians


Benny Morris, have you joined the right wing?


"No, no. I still think of myself as left-wing. I still support in principle two states for two peoples."


But you don’t believe that this solution will last. You don’t believe in peace.


"In my opinion, we will not have peace, no."

Then what is your solution?


"In this generation there is apparently no solution. To be vigilant, to defend the country as far as is possible."


The iron wall approach?


"Yes. An iron wall is a good image. An iron wall is the most reasonable policy for the coming generation. My colleague Avi Shlein described this well: What Jabotinsky proposed is what Ben-Gurion adopted. In the 1950s, there was a dispute between Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett. Ben-Gurion argued that the Arabs understand only force and that ultimate force is the one thing that will persuade them to accept our presence here. He was right. That’s not to say that we don’t need diplomacy. Both toward the West and for our own conscience, it’s important that we strive for a political solution. But in the end, what will decide their readiness to accept us will be force alone. Only the recognition that they are not capable of defeating us."


For a left-winger, you sound very much like a right-winger, wouldn’t you say?


"I’m trying to be realistic. I know it doesn’t always sound politically correct, but I think that political correctness poisons history in any case. It impedes our ability to see the truth. And I also identify with Albert Camus. He was considered a left-winger and a person of high morals, but when he referred to the Algerian problem he placed his mother ahead of morality. Preserving my people is more important than universal moral concepts."


Are you a neo-conservative? Do you read the current historical reality in the terms of Samuel Huntington?


"I think there is a clash between civilizations here [as Huntington argues]. I think the West today resembles the Roman Empire of the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries: The barbarians are attacking it and they may also destroy it."


The Muslims are barbarians, then?


"I think the values I mentioned earlier are values of barbarians – the attitude toward democracy, freedom, openness; the attitude toward human life. In that sense they are barbarians. The Arab world as it is today is barbarian."


And in your view these new barbarians are truly threatening the Rome of our time?


"Yes. The West is stronger but it’s not clear whether it knows how to repulse this wave of hatred. The phenomenon of the mass Muslim penetration into the West and their settlement there is creating a dangerous internal threat. A similar process took place in Rome. They let the barbarians in and they toppled the empire from within."


Is it really all that dramatic? Is the West truly in danger?


"Yes. I think that the war between the civilizations is the main characteristic of the 21st century. I think President Bush is wrong when he denies the very existence of that war. It’s not only a matter of bin Laden. This is a struggle against a whole world that espouses different values. And we are on the front line. Exactly like the Crusaders, we are the vulnerable branch of Europe in this place."


The situation as you describe it is extremely harsh. You are not entirely convinced that we can survive here, are you?


"The possibility of annihilation exists."


Would you describe yourself as an apocalyptic person?


"The whole Zionist project is apocalyptic. It exists within hostile surroundings and in a certain sense its existence is unreasonable. It wasn’t reasonable for it to succeed in 1881 and it wasn’t reasonable for it to succeed in 1948 and it’s not reasonable that it will succeed now. Nevertheless, it has come this far. In a certain way it is miraculous. I live the events of 1948, and 1948 projects itself on what could happen here. Yes, I think of Armageddon. It’s possible. Within the next 20 years there could be an atomic war here."


If Zionism is so dangerous for the Jews and if Zionism makes the Arabs so wretched, maybe it’s a mistake?


"No, Zionism was not a mistake. The desire to establish a Jewish state here was a legitimate one, a positive one. But given the character of Islam and given the character of the Arab nation, it was a mistake to think that it would be possible to establish a tranquil state here that lives in harmony with its surroundings."


Which leaves us, nevertheless, with two possibilities: either a cruel, tragic Zionism, or the forgoing of Zionism.


"Yes. That’s so. You have pared it down, but that’s correct."


Would you agree that this historical reality is intolerable, that there is something inhuman about it?


"Yes. But that’s so for the Jewish people, not the Palestinians. A people that suffered for 2,000 years, that went through the Holocaust, arrives at its patrimony but is thrust into a renewed round of bloodshed, that is perhaps the road to annihilation. In terms of cosmic justice, that’s terrible. It’s far more shocking than what happened in 1948 to a small part of the Arab nation that was then in Palestine."


So what you are telling me is that you live the Palestinian Nakba of the past less than you live the possible Jewish Nakba of the future?

"Yes. Destruction could be the end of this process. It could be the end of the Zionist experiment. And that’s what really depresses and scares me."


The title of the book you are now publishing in Hebrew is "Victims." In the end, then, your argument is that of the two victims of this conflict, we are the bigger one.

"Yes. Exactly. We are the greater victims in the course of history and we are also the greater potential victim. Even though we are oppressing the Palestinians, we are the weaker side here. We are a small minority in a large sea of hostile Arabs who want to eliminate us. So it’s possible than when their desire is realized, everyone will understand what I am saying to you now. Everyone will understand we are the true victims. But by then it will be too late."









Book review: Avi Shlaim’s ‘The Iron Wall- Israel and the Arab World’

This is a landmark review of Avi Shlaim’s book "The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World", newly translated from English to Hebrew, in which Shlaim demonstrates that Israel was never really interested in peace with its Arab neighbours.  Also biographical information on Avi Shlaim, who was born in Baghdad. 

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Ha’aretz Friday Magazine August 12, 2005

No peaceful solution


By Meron Rapoport

And apparently, despite his very innocent appearance, with his curls and his  slow speech, Avi Shlaim – the third and least familiar member of the group  of new historians – knows that he is a sort of enemy of the people, and even  enjoys it with refined British enjoyment. And now he has come to Israel,  armed with his book, "The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World."

After reading the 573 pages of the book, one can understand why Sharon and  Livnat do not want Shlaim to be taught here: in very readable prose, based  on facts, he surveys the history of Israel’s contacts with the Arab world  from 1948 to 2000, and states decisively ("The job of the historian is to  judge," he says) that the Israeli story that Israel has always stretched out  its hand to peace, but there was nobody to talk to – is groundless. The  Arabs have repeatedly outstretched a hand to peace – says Shlaim – and  Israel has always rejected it. Each time with a different excuse.

Among the new historians, Avi Shlaim is the most "classical." Benny Morris  began as a journalist with a conscience, served time in a military prison  for refusal to serve in Lebanon, and from this starting-point, came to write  the "new history" about the creation of the refugee problem. Ilan Pappe was  an activist in the non-Zionist left even before he went to complete his  doctoral studies at Oxford.

Shlaim did not come from a political background. He studied history at  Cambridge so he could serve as a diplomat in the Israeli Foreign Service, a  job chosen for him by his mother, who fell in love with the British Foreign  Service when her family found refuge in the British Embassy in Baghdad  during the anti-Jewish riots there in 1941.

Only after he had taught international relations for several years at the  University of Reading (specializing in European issues), and only after  moving to Oxford, did he begin to take an interest in the history of that  country, Israel, where he had lived between the ages of five and 16, and  where he did two-and-a-half years of military service. This interest began  in no small part thanks to one student, whose doctoral thesis he read as an  outside examiner. The name of the student was Ilan Pappe.

Chance brought the new historians together. In 1988, Simha Flapan published  his book "The Birth of Israel: Myths and Reality," Ilan Pappe published  "Britain and the Arab-Israel Conflict, 1948-51," Benny Morris published "The  Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem" and Shlaim published "Collusion  Across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement and the Partition of  Palestine." Shabtai Tevet, Ben-Gurion’s biographer, published in Haaretz a  no-holds-barred attack on what he called "the new historians." Benny Morris  replied, and he and Ilan Pappe continued to fight that war, which quickly  went beyond a simple academic debate.

But while Morris and Pappe were clashing here with the guardians of the "old  history," which claimed that the Palestinian refugees left of their own free  will and that the Zionist movement was always peace-loving, Shlaim remained  in England, continued to teach at Oxford, to publish articles and to write  books about the Israeli-Arab conflict. "The Iron Wall" was published in  Great Britain in 2000, and sold over 45,000 copies, a best-seller in  academic terms. Since then it has been translated into four languages, first  into Arabic and recently into Portuguese, in Brazil.

The book is being published in Hebrew only now, at the initiative of Yaakov  Sharett, the son of Israel’s first foreign minister Moshe Sharett, who  decided on his own to translate the book, and approached Aliyat Gag  publishers with a completed manuscript. Shlaim had already approached five  publishers in Israel asking them to translate the book, and was turned down.  "Not interesting," they told him. This is Shlaim’s first book to appear in  Hebrew.

A life of luxury in Baghdad

Not only does Shlaim’s academic career differ from that of his friends, so  does his biography. Pappe was born on the Carmel in Haifa, Morris was born  in England. Shlaim was born in Baghdad in 1945, to a wealthy family with a  magnificent three-story house and 10 servants, including a special servant  who went to the market to do the shopping. His father was an importer of  building materials, and hobnobbed with the heads of the Iraqi government,  including then-prime minister Nuri Said.

"Most of the ministers were customers of ours," says Shlaim. "They used to  come to our house and order building materials for their houses. They never  paid, but in return they ordered work for the government from us, and paid  much more than necessary. That was corruption, but not brutal corruption, as  with Saddam Hussein. That was an old Arab political culture, a culture of  compromise."

His mother was connected to the British government. Her father was the  British army’s head interpreter in Iraq during World War II, two of her  brothers served in British intelligence as interpreters, and received  British citizenship. That helped them later on, when they wanted to leave  Iraq.

Shlaim describes a home in which Judaism was not an important component of  his parents’ identity. "Judaism was ritual," he says. "My parents used to  attend the synagogue once a year, at home we spoke Judeo-Arabic, we listened  to Arabic music. Nor was Zionism important, my parents had no empathy for  it. There were Zionist agents who tried to create propaganda, but it didn’t  impress the Jewish elite and the middle class. There was no tradition of  persecution or anti-Semitism in Iraq."

The first pogrom took place in 1941, in Farhoud, in the context of the  (pro-Nazi) Iraqi rebellion against British rule. The real problems began  with Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, says Shlaim, when the harassment  began. The climax came when a hand grenade was thrown into the central  synagogue in Baghdad in 1951, "and from that day to this, there have been  rumors that an Israeli agent tossed the grenade."

And have you, as a historian, tried to check out these rumors?

"At the state archives, I asked for the file on Baghdad in 1950. Although by  law these documents are already supposed to be released, they told me that  the file was closed and that I couldn’t see it. An acquaintance of mine told  me that he had examined the file, and that there was no Israeli involvement  recorded in it. All those involved in bringing the Jews of Iraq to Israel –  Shlomo Hillel, Mordechai Ben Porat – vigorously deny that there was such  involvement."

And what do you think?

"I don’t have enough tools as a historian. I only know that Sharett wrote in  his diary, relating to the `stinking affair’ in Egypt (in which Israeli  agents placed bombs in movie theaters in Cairo, to cause conflict between  Egypt and Britain), that `there was a similar case in Iraq.’ He doesn’t  explain, but Sharett apparently suspected that the Mossad had tossed the  grenade.

"I think – I can’t prove it – that there was an understanding between the  Iraqi government and the Israeli government. An understanding, not an  agreement. Israel asked Iraq to let the Jews immigrate, the Iraqis said: We  are not opposed, but the Jews are filling central positions here in the  Iraqi economy, so Israel said: Leave the Jewish property in Iraq. That  accords with the behavior of the Iraqi government. Immediately after the  grenade was thrown, the Jews of Iraq started to panic, and then the  government issued a law that any Iraqi – they wrote `Iraqi’ rather than  `Jew’ specifically – who wanted to leave the country, could leave if he  registered by a certain date, but would have to surrender his citizenship.

"Out of the 130,000 Jews in Iraq, 100,000 registered, including my father.  And then, immediately afterward, a new law was issued, to the effect that  any Iraqi who had given up his citizenship was giving up all his other  rights, including property rights. My father was sure that he would have  enough time to sell his property, but then it turned out that he had lost  everything: a house and warehouses and merchandise worth half a million  pounds sterling at the time. In the end, he was even forced to cross the  border illegally on a mule, because he was the guarantor of the debts of  another Jew who had disappeared. I, my mother and my sisters, with our  British citizenship, left Iraq on a regular flight to Cyprus, and met up  with my father in Israel."

Then you in effect agree with the members of the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow,  who say that the Jews were brought from the Arab countries to provide "raw  material" to shore up Zionism in Israel?

"That theory is very convincing. We won the War of Independence and founded  a state, but the number of inhabitants was very small, fewer than 1 million.  For Ben-Gurion, the top priority was aliyah (immigration), and the large  reservoir of Jews was no longer in Europe, but in the Arab countries. We are  not refugees, nobody expelled us from Iraq, nobody told us that we were  unwanted. But we are the victims of the Israeli-Arab conflict."

He knows what nationalism is

Shlaim, five years old at the time, landed with his parents in Ramat Gan.  His father managed to bring some money with him, and tried to do business  here, but failed. "They cheated him. In Baghdad, if you gave a check and it  bounced, you wouldn’t show your face again. Here it was a badge of honor,"  says Shlaim. His mother, who hadn’t worked a day in her life, found work as  a telephone operator in the Ramat Gan municipality. She acclimated, as did  Shlaim and his sisters. They learned Hebrew quickly, although they continued  to speak Arabic with their parents.

He was somewhat ashamed of his father, especially when he would call to him  in Arabic in the street, but he didn’t dare to ask him not to speak Arabic  to him in front of strangers. "He was a broken man, but he continued to  dress and to behave like a respectable man, very polite, he didn’t interrupt  and he was not aggressive," says Shlaim. "He brought with him from Baghdad  all the suits that his tailor had sewn for him from British fabric. He  didn’t have any work, and he would go down to the street, in a suit and an  ironed shirt and a tie, and go to the cafes to sit with his friends from  Iraq, who also had no work, and also walked around in the street in their  suits."

And did you try to talk to him?

"He didn’t talk about Iraq, he was silent. Today I’m interested in his  trauma and I’m interested in why he didn’t speak at the time. Maybe he spoke  and I didn’t show any interest. Children, apparently, are not interested in  history. He died in 1971."

Quite a few Iraqi children were in Shlaim’s class in Ramat Gan, but the  Ashkenazi children set the tone. "I didn’t encounter discrimination, and I  didn’t feel deprived, but the atmosphere was that anything Ashkenazi was  good, and anything Arab was primitive," says Shlaim. "I felt I had  accomplished something when I had Ashkenazi friends. I remember that one boy  placed his hand on my shoulder and said to me: You’re my best friend. I was  amazed that he didn’t feel that I was inferior."

In the classroom, Shlaim sat in back, didn’t do homework, didn’t say a word.  His grades were poor. To everyone’s surprise, he passed the seker, the test  that was administered at the time in eighth grade, prior to the selection  for high schools. His homeroom teacher was surprised too, and made sure to  tell him so. "Her name was Miriam Glans, and she was a good teacher, of  yekke (German Jewish) origin. But she was hostile. When I received the  results of the seker, she came to me and said: `You know that you passed  only because of special dispensations they give Mizrahim (Jews of North  African or Middle Eastern origin)."

Were you insulted?

"I was insulted, but I didn’t say anything. She should have been happy, she  shouldn’t have said that."

This humiliation marked the beginning of Shlaim’s successful career. Two  years later, to save him from the clutches of the high school that  prophesied certain failure for him, Shlaim’s mother decided to send him to  England, to her brother who had immigrated there after leaving Iraq. Shlaim  arrived in London in 1962 at the age of 16, studied in a Jewish school, and  no longer felt like a foreigner. Just the opposite. The fact that he came  from Israel turned him into a star, an attraction. He completed high school  with high grades, returned to Israel to serve in the army, and even now  recalls his swearing-in ceremony during basic training.

"It was in the Judean Hills, and the slogan was `In blood and fire Judea  fell, in blood and fire it will rise.’ I remember that I had the feeling  that we were surrounded by enemies and that I was ready to die for the  homeland. Today that helps me as a researcher. I know what nationalism is. I  have felt it inside me."

After the army he returned to study history at Cambridge, married a  great-granddaughter of David Lloyd George, who was the British prime  minister at the time of the Balfour Declaration, returned to Israel to be  accepted into the Israeli Foreign Service, but then was informed that he had  received a position as a reader at the University of Reading’s department of  international relations. In 1987 he was appointed a professor at Oxford,  where he is a Fellow at the prestigious St. Anthony’s College. And as far as  is known, he achieved all that without special dispensations for Mizrahim.

I didn’t feel ashamed, but I was astonished

At the start of his academic career, says Shlaim, he made a deliberate  decision not to deal with the Middle East conflict. Slowly but surely,  however, he was pulled into it. An article here, an article there. In 1982  he came to Israel with a stipend to write a study on the influence of the  Israel Defense Forces on Israeli foreign policy. Just then the archives  dealing with the 1948 war were opened, and Shlaim found himself sitting in  the State Archive for days on end. "Then my eyes were opened," he says. "I  had the knowledge acquired in childhood, and I believed in Israel’s purity  of arms, I believed that Israel was the victim. I discovered documents that  showed me other things."

Benny Morris once told me that when he found a document that proved an act  of massacre or murder, he was happy about the historical discovery, but felt  shame as an Israeli. What did you feel?

"I didn’t sit in the IDF archive and I wasn’t exposed to documents about  acts of murder or rape. I worked with diplomatic papers. I didn’t feel  shame, but I was astonished. I knew that in every country there’s a gap  between rhetoric and practice, but I don’t know of any country where the gap  is as great as in Israel. All the leaders speak about peace, Golda Meir used  to say that she was willing to travel anywhere in the world to make peace.  But these were not truthful words. In the archive, in the Israeli papers, I  found that all the Arab leaders were practical people, people who wanted  peace.

"Take, for example, Hosni Zaim (the Syrian chief of staff who took over the  government in 1949 and was deposed a few months later – M.R.). He said that  his ambition was to be the first Arab leader to make peace with Israel. He  proposed an exchange of ambassadors, agreed to absorb a quarter of a million  Palestinian refugees in Syria, but demanded that the border pass through the  middle of Lake Kinneret. He didn’t issue any ultimatum about the rest of the  refugees. I was astonished by the Israeli reaction. Ben-Gurion said: First  we’ll sign a cease-fire agreement with Syria, then we’ll see. That destroyed  my childhood version. It’s not that Ben-Gurion didn’t want peace, he wanted  peace, but on the basis of the status quo. Israel said at the time that  there was nobody to talk to. The truth is that Israel was actually saying  that there was nothing to talk about."

Based on this statement, which took shape among the shelves of the State  Archive in Jerusalem, Shlaim wrote his book "Collusion in Transjordan,"  which was published the same year as the books by Morris, Pappe and Flapan,  those same famous – or infamous – "new historians," depending on the eye of  the beholder.

In an article by Shlaim a few years ago, he summarized what seemed to him  the five main arguments of the new historians:

* The official version said that Britain tried to prevent the establishment  of a Jewish state; the "new historians" claimed that it tried to prevent the  establishment of a Palestinian state

* The official version said that the Palestinians fled their homes of their  own free will; the "new historians" said that the refugees were chased out  or expelled

* The official version said that the balance of power was in favor of the  Arabs; the "new historians" said that Israel had the advantage both in  manpower and in arms

* The official version said that the Arabs had a coordinated plan to destroy  Israel; the "new historians" said that the Arabs were divided

* The official version said that Arab intransigence prevented peace; the  "new historians" said that Israel is primarily to blame for the dead end.

This group has meanwhile disintegrated. Morris’ ideological revolution after  the outbreak of the second intifada, during which he in effect justified the  expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948, distanced him from Shlaim. "He went  off his rocker, and expressed racist views," says Shlaim. "That undermines  him as a scholar."

In Shlaim’s opinion, Pappe made a mistake by politically defending the  research of Teddy Katz about the massacre in Tantura, and made an even  bigger mistake when he supported the academic boycott of Israel. "That is a  totally stupid and absurd idea," he says. "Under no circumstances am I  willing to support an embargo on dialogue." He maintains good personal  relations, by the way, with both of them.

From the start, Shlaim was interested in the last of the five points  discussed by the new historians: He was interested in the history of the  dead end in the relations between Israel and the Arab world. "The Iron Wall"  is an abridged history of this dead end. The book took its name from the  famous article published by revisionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky in 1923.  "Their voluntary agreement is out of the question …," wrote Jabotinsky in  that article. "This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only  under the protection of a force independent of the local population – an  iron wall that the native population cannot break through."

Jabotinsky was in the minority at the time, Mapai (the forerunner of the  Labor Party) was in the majority, and Ben-Gurion disdained Jabotinsky. But  in effect, claims Shlaim, Ben-Gurion and the Zionist movement, and the State  of Israel in its wake, adopted the theory of the "iron wall." In other  words, they believed that the only important thing was to "establish facts  on the ground," and therefore, there was no point in entering negotiations  with the Arabs. They only forgot the end of Jabotinsky’s article, remarks  Shlaim, where he said that after the Arabs had come to terms with the "iron  wall," it would be possible to speak to them about mutual concessions.

According to Shlaim, the first 10 years of the State of Israel prove this  argument. King Farouk of Egypt wanted an agreement, and Israel rebuffed him.  King Abdullah of Jordan wanted an agreement, and Israel rebuffed him as  well. We have already mentioned Zaim of Syria. Even the archenemy Nasser,  writes Shlaim in one of the surprising revelations of the book, sent  emissaries and even a personal letter to then-prime minister Sharett, to put  out feelers for an agreement. He was also turned down out of hand.

The book gives a clear sense of a state that could not get enough. Moshe  Dayan, then chief of staff, pressed for war with Egypt to capture the Gaza  Strip and Sharm el-Sheikh, and "raised a suggestion" to capture the West  Bank. Yigal Allon pressed for remedying the "long-term mistake" made in  1948, by capturing and annexing the West Bank. Ben-Gurion toyed with this  idea and once with another idea; in 1956, a moment before the Sinai  Campaign, he explained his great dream to his new friends from France:  Israel would occupy the Sinai Peninsula, take over the West Bank and  dismantle the Kingdom of Jordan, and reach the Litani River in Lebanon,  establishing a Maronite state in northern Lebanon. The entire Israeli  leadership (with the exception of Moshe Sharett), says Shlaim, adopted the  idea of the "iron wall." The only argument was about where to place it.

Every meeting is important

Mordechai ("Moraleh") Bar-On was there when Ben-Gurion revealed his "grand  plan" in the Sevres Palace near Paris. He was then serving as the head of  Dayan’s office, and was involved in many secret and non-secret contacts.  Today he himself is a historian, as well as a personal friend of Shlaim. We  are sitting on the balcony of Bar-On’s home in Jerusalem’s German Colony,  the bastion of the Israeli elite, a place to which Shlaim never belonged,  and discussing what happened.

Bar-On was active in Peace Now, and he does not really have any argument  with Shlaim as to the facts. He has a serious disagreement with him  regarding Shlaim’s interpretation of them. It’s true that Israel rejected  all the Arab proposals, he says, and it’s true that up until May 1967, the  Arabs had no real plan to attack Israel. But the Arab proposals were  unacceptable, and the war was unavoidable, because the Arabs could not  forget what the Israelis had done to them in 1948.

Bar-On remembers Ben-Gurion’s "grand plan" speech. "I was embarrassed when I  heard it, it sounded like a text from the Versailles Conference," he says.  But he admits that thoughts of expansion, at least in the direction of  Egypt, were very common in the 1950s. "It’s true that from 1955 on, Dayan  pressed for war with Egypt. He begged the Old Man [Ben-Gurion] to embark on  `a war of deterrence,’ and the Old Man didn’t agree. In December 1955, Dayan  met with 50 officers and asked them who supported a war of deterrence. All  of them, with one exception, voted in favor. Dayan didn’t receive permission  from Ben-Gurion to embark on a war of choice, but he did get permission to  cause the situation to deteriorate. In one of the retaliation operations in  the demilitarized area in Nitzana, he wanted to leave the forces in place  until morning, in the hope that Egypt would attack."

In the end, Ben-Gurion ordered him to withdraw the forces and Dayan gave in.  Bar-On admits that Dayan wanted to get Egypt out of the Gaza Strip and  create a strip from El Arish to Sharm el-Sheikh under Israeli control. "That  was territorial expansion," says Bar-On, "but it stemmed from what Dayan saw  as Israel’s strategic weakness. There was no ideological issue here."

Shlaim, on the other hand, considers Dayan and Ben-Gurion the source of all  evil. Ben-Gurion was a wicked man, Dayan thought in terms of a perpetual  conflict. Sharett was the only one who tried to fight them. He represented  another school, a school that believed that dialogue with the Arabs was  possible, that what Israel did, and even what Israel said, affected the  dynamics of the conflict. "I think that there were two schools," says  Shlaim, "and when Ben-Gurion dismissed Sharett in 1956, he destroyed the  moderate school, and it was never revived. That school had no leader, Abba  Eban didn’t count."

Nonsense, says Bar-On with a dismissive wave of his hand, "there weren’t two  schools. There was a strong, dominant school, that of Ben-Gurion, and there  was a small, weak one, that of Sharett."

Shlaim claims that the retaliation operations in the 1950s, Dayan’s baby,  led to a deterioration, to an intensification of the hatred and to a  distancing of the chance for dialogue. That was why Sharett fought against  it with all his might. Fought and lost. Bar-On agrees that at least in the  Egyptian sector, the retaliation operations were what gave rise to the  fedayeen operations from the Gaza Strip, and they in turn led to the Sinai  Campaign. But Dayan thought, says Bar-On, that the Arabs hated us in any  case, and therefore it made no difference how much force we used.

Bar-On thinks he was right. "Sharett thought that if we behaved nicely, the  Arabs wouldn’t make trouble. And if we didn’t behave nicely, Arab hatred  would increase. I think that he was mistaken on two counts. There were  750,000 Palestinian refugees in Israel, we screwed them in 1948, they had  good reasons for hatred, so what if we added another two or three kilos of  hatred? If it was possible to carry out a good operation, it had to be done.  The basic situation in the Arab world was refusal to accept the situation of  1948, and it was childish to think that anything would help."

This is exactly where Shlaim differs with Bar-On. Abdel Rahman Sadek, who  was the Egyptian press officer in Paris, conducted the contacts with Israel  on Nasser’s behalf in 1955. "This dialogue was not about peace," says  Shlaim, "it was about relieving the tension, reducing the propaganda,  lifting trade restrictions, things that could have improved the atmosphere,  served as a lead."

Bar-On: A lead to what?

Shlaim: "To an attempt to understand one another, to the beginning of a  dialogue beyond the lines of conflict."

Bar-On: "I totally disagree here with Avi. Abdullah could not have passed a  peace treaty in his government. The matter of Zaim was not serious.  Ben-Gurion was mistaken in not meeting with him, only because that would  have prevented Avi from writing his article. Nasser was more serious, but  they were not talking about peace there. Israel did not want to get peace  under the minimal conditions that the Arabs were willing to discuss: the UN  Partition Plan borders and the return of the refugees. Had we agreed to  that, there would be no State of Israel today."

Shlaim: "Not everything is war or peace. There are also interim agreements.  Every contact, every meeting is important. The Sinai Campaign intensified  the hostility, intensified the hatred; in 1964 they created the PLO  (Palestine Liberation Organization), established a united Arab headquarters.  For the first time, the goal of the Arab League was to destroy Israel. That  was the result of the Sinai Campaign, and that is what led to the Six-Day  War."

The two actually agree about the Six-Day War. In 1967, the moment occurred  when the iron wall became a reality in Arab awareness. From that moment on,  the Arabs understood that they could not defeat Israel, and the only way to  get anything from it was through negotiations. Bar-On says that "through a  wise process," it would have been possible at the time to return the  territories and achieve peace. Shlaim says that immediately after the war,  Jordan’s King Hussein offered a full peace in return for withdrawal from the  West Bank, but "Galili and Allon and the other land robbers" replied in the  negative. Shlaim believes that this negative answer was the continuation of  a policy that has been in force since 1948, and maybe even prior to that.  Bar-On believes it was a localized mistake.

Shlaim considers Sharon a direct successor of the "iron wall" approach.  "Sharon never believed that the process could be resolved by peaceful  means," says Shlaim. "He was always the master of violent solutions. He has  been the prime minister for four years, and he hasn’t had a single meeting  about the final-status agreement. For Jabotinsky, the iron wall was a  metaphor. For Sharon, the wall has turned into a physical reality that mars  the landscape, destroys the environment and in the long term is destroying  two societies, Palestinian society and Israeli society. The left supports a  fence, but I don’t believe that it will lead to an agreement."

But what does Shlaim know? Shlaim told me when we were still in the cafe  that since he was a child, Israel has looked to him like an "Ashkenazi  trick" of which he doesn’t feel a part. "I’m not certain even now that I  know how that trick works." n