Israeli “Atrocities” and the 1948 War

Reviewing two recent Hebrew books on the fate of Arab civilians during Israel’s War of Independence, Arnon Groiss dissects some of the myths about what Palestinians call the nakba, or catastrophe. One book, by Eliezer Tauber, examines the April 1948 battle of Deir Yassin, widely remembered as the site of an atrocity committed by the Irgun and another right-wing Zionist militia known as Leḥi. While there is little doubt that Jewish fighters killed civilians, including women and children, Tauber contends that the accepted story about this battle is radically incorrect:

Deir Yassin was the first case of house-to-house fighting in the 1948 war, as the [Arab] defenders did not run away but fought from their houses until the end. The attackers broke into the houses by blowing up their doors, hurling hand grenades inside, and storming in while shooting. This resulted in many casualties, including noncombatants. Yet except for a single case in which an attacker shot dead noncombatants who had surrendered and stepped out of their house, all the rest were killed during house-to-house fighting.

[Tauber’s] conclusion is based on testimonies gathered from both surviving villagers and attackers. The (false) accusations of civilian massacres appeared after the battle had ended, when forces of the Jewish mainstream Haganah underground organization entered the village, saw the many corpses, including women and children, and concluded that they had been murdered by Irgun and Leḥi fighters. Due to the bitter enmity between the Haganah and the two groups, the atrocity charges became widespread and hugely inflated.

Another group interested in inflating these charges was the Palestinian Arab leadership, seeking as it did to stir up public opinion in the neighboring Arab states so as to pressure their governments to join the war against the Jews after the end of the British Mandate in mid-May.

By contrast, the other book, by Adel Mann, perpetuates myths. Groiss continues:

The name Deir Yassin and the term nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) are basic elements of the Palestinian narrative, which have in turn made their way into the Israeli narrative with an increasing degree of undisputed acceptance. In this context, the two books represent opposite positions. Tauber’s study seeks to debunk the well-entrenched myth of the Deir Yassin massacre, while Manna strives to entrench the nakba in the Hebrew narrative. Yet a reading of the two books side by side promotes deeper insights into the 1948 events.

The Deir Yassin episode was unique throughout the entire war, not because of the alleged massacre but because its pattern of house-to-house fighting did not recur on a similar scale. According to Arab claims, verified by most scholars, the mere mention of Deir Yassin brought about mass flight or hasty surrender of villagers elsewhere, which made house-to-house fighting largely unnecessary. Consequently, in no other place were women and children killed in similar numbers as in Deir Yassin. . . .

There was [also] a major difference between the two parties as far as expulsions were concerned. The Jews let tens of thousands of Arabs stay in their homes under Israeli rule. The Arabs, by contrast, did no such thing, destroying entire localities and expelling their populations to the last person.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Haganah, Irgun, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Israeli War of Independence, War crimes

Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship