In his recent biography of David Ben-Gurion—who was born 133 years ago yesterday—the journalist and historian Tom Segev blames Israel’s founding prime minister for his country’s supposed “original sin” of driving Palestinian Arabs from their homes. Efraim Karsh, in his review, shows how Segev ignores and distorts evidence:
Ben-Gurion himself argued as early as 1918 that “had Zionism desired to evict the inhabitants of Palestine, it would have been a dangerous utopia and a harmful, reactionary mirage.” And as late as December 1947, shortly after Palestinian Arabs had unleashed wholesale violence to subvert the newly passed United Nations partition resolution, he told his Labor party that “in our state there will be non-Jews as well—and all of them will be equal citizens; equal in everything without any exception; that is: the state will be their state as well.” In line with this conception, committees laying the groundwork for the nascent Jewish state discussed the establishment of an Arabic-language press, the incorporation of Arab officials in the administration, and Arab-Jewish cultural interaction.
Ignoring these facts altogether, Segev accuses Ben-Gurion of using the partition resolution as a springboard for implementing the age-old “Zionist dream” of “maximum territory, minimum Arabs,” though he brings no evidence for this supposed behavior beyond a small number of statements that are either taken out of context or simply distorted or misrepresented. To take one representative example: “Ben-Gurion jotted down [in his diary] a long list of questions that awaited his decision, among which was ‘Should the Arabs be expelled?’” Segev writes.
Dated May 8, 1948, just under a week before Ben-Gurion proclaimed the state of Israel, this diary entry . . . doesn’t read “Should the Arabs be expelled?” but rather “Should Arabs be expelled?” And this question was posed in relation not to the Palestinian Arab community as a whole but to the small number of Arabs caught in the fighting. . . . [T]his was an exclusively tactical measure dictated by ad-hoc military considerations, notably the need to deny strategic sites to the enemy if there were no available Jewish forces to hold them.