Reviewing three Hebrew-language works about Israel’s War of Independence, Yoav Gelber begins with Eliezer Tauber’s study of the battle of Deir Yassin, long assumed to have culminated in a massacre of Arabs by the Jewish Irgun and Leḥi militias. Tauber demonstrates that (like the “massacre” in Lydda) it was nothing of the sort. Both sides, however, greatly exaggerated the number of Arab casualties for propaganda purposes, with consequences that also bear examining:
[Before the battle of Deir Yassin], the bulk of the Arab population had looked on the fighting from the sidelines. The local Arab leadership in Jerusalem strove to excite the Palestinians, and bolster their motivation to fight. This was the main purpose of the propaganda campaign that Hussein Khalidi, the only member of the Higher Arab Executive who remained in the country, and his associates launched in the days following the battle. They achieved the opposite outcome: instead of inspiring the Arabs’ stamina and will to fight, the inflated numbers of casualties and faked atrocity rumors shocked and intimidated the non-combatant population and considerably encouraged the mass flight.
Nonetheless, I think that Tauber overstates the part of Deir Yassin in causing the Arab mass flight. Before Deir Yassin, about 100,000 Arabs left their homes, huts, or tents and went to the neighboring countries or to purely Arab regions within Mandatory Palestine. The Palestinians have tried to minimize the scope of this early wave of refugees and claim that only members of the elite fled, but the refugee population was much larger and more varied.
Gelber concludes his review by offering some general conclusions about the 1948 war:
The Palestinians’ refusal and inability to build institutional and administrative infrastructure that would take over the Arab areas from the receding mandatory authorities caused anarchy and created a vacuum that was only partly filled by the Arab armies later, after the invasion. The few vain attempts to create quasi-governmental institutions were an exception testifying to the rule and took place mainly in Jerusalem. [As a result], invading Arab armies increasingly had to devote attention and logistical resources to fill the vacuum at the expense of their military mission.