The commemoration is often accompanied by a flurry of opinion pieces and news stories conveying the Palestinian narrative of Israel’s independence, which frequently contain false charges.
In May 2008, for example, an Op-Ed in the New York Times claimed “a people had been expelled from their land in a comprehensive ethnic cleansing operation, given the name ‘Plan D’ by Israelis” (Elias Khoury, 5/18/08, “For Israelis, an Anniversary. For Palestinians, a Nakba”). In fact, notwithstanding a limited number of tactical expulsions, “a people” was certainly not expelled. And Plan D was not at all a “comprehensive ethnic cleansing operation” — you can read the text of that plan here.
A news story published in the Washington Post likewise passed along this false charge of mass expulsion. Reporter Sylvia Moreno relayed, from organizers of an anti-Israel rally, the accusation that every Palestinian that fled the war was actually “expelled.” She wrote: “To make way for Israel, 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes and more than 400 of their villages were destroyed, organizers of the event said” (5/18/08, ”Palestinian Quilt Presents a Different Viewpoint; Creation of Israel Came At Great Cost, Some Say”). The reporter didn’t bother pointing out that this accusation has been debunked by prominent historians.
The piece below provides needed facts and context about the frequently distorted refugee issue.
During and after the 1948 war, hundreds of thousands of Arabs and Jews fled, and in some cases were forced from, their homes in Mandate Palestine and beyond. The effects of this flight are still today a major issue, as politicians, diplomats and other concerned parties try to resolve the Palestinian “refugee problem” — the status of the original Arab refugees and millions of their descendants, many of whom still live in refugee camps. The vast majority of Jewish refugees went to Israel, where they were absorbed with great difficulty. Despite having found a country committed to taking them in, they still seek redress and acknowledgment of their largely ignored plight.
Estimates vary on the number of Palestinians who became refugees as a result of the war. Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Central Bureau of Statistics estimated the number to be between 500,000 and 600,000. [Update: Historian Ephraim Karsh reached a similar conclusion after breaking down the flight by locale.] The British Foreign Office suggested the number was between 600,000 and 760,000. A 1950 report by the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine endorsed an estimate of 711,000 refugees by an “expert of the Statistical Office of the United Nations.”
Most broadly, the Arab flight can be divided into two time periods corresponding with the two major phases of fighting. Roughly half of those fleeing did so between November 1947 (when Palestinian Arabs responded to the United Nations partition recommendation with anti-Jewish violence) and May 1948 (when the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon invaded Palestine). During this period, the conflict more closely resembled a civil war, with Palestinian Jews battling Palestinian Arabs and several thousand Arab militiamen. A second phase of the fighting and flight occurred after May 1948, when neighboring Arab armies initiated the conventional phase of the war by joining in the fighting on the side of the Palestinians.
Some commentators divide the Palestinian exodus into three or four somewhat shorter waves. One prominent example of the ‘four wave’ characterization refers to 1) the flight of the Palestinian elite between November 1947 and March 1948; 2) a flight coinciding with the shift by the Jewish Haganah militia from defensive to offensive operations in April 1948 and lasting until a truce in June of that year; 3) the period between July, when that truce expired, and October, when a second truce ended; and lastly, 4) the period from October through November 1948.
Causes of Flight
Historians agree that there was no single cause of the Arab flight from Palestine. In large part, the masses fled because they saw the Palestinian elite doing the same thing. In part, it was in response to exhortations by Arab military and political leaders that Palestinian civilians evacuate their homes until the end of the fighting. Vast numbers were simply fleeing the heavy fighting that surrounded them, or that they expected to soon disrupt their lives. In some instances, Palestinians were forced from their homes by the Jewish military.
Following the Leaders
The Palestinian leadership and elite set an example for the rest of society by evacuating their towns and villages early during the conflict, usually long before fighting neared their towns, and some even before the civil war began. (Or as commander of the Arab Legion John Bagot Glubb put it, “villages were frequently abandoned even before they were threatened by the progress of war.”) This behavior not only shattered the morale of the Palestinian masses, but also, in the words of historian Shabtai Teveth, “amounted to clear — albeit unwritten — instructions to flee Palestine.”
The British High Commissioner for Palestine at the time, General Sir Alan Cunningham, described this phenomenon and its effect on the general population:
You should know that the collapsing Arab morale in Palestine is in some measure due to the increasing tendency of those who should be leading them to leave the country. For instance in Jaffa the Mayor went on 4 days leave 12 days ago and has not returned, and half the National Committee has left. In Haifa the Arab members of the municipality left some time ago; the two leaders of the Arab Liberation Army left actually during the recent battle. Now the Chief Arab Magistrate has left. In all parts of the country the [elite] effendi class has been evacuating in large numbers over a considerable period and the tempo is increasing.
Another British official, Palestine’s Chief Secretary Sir Henry Gurney, wrote that “It is pathetic to see how the [Jaffa] Arabs have been deserted by their leaders.”
Palestinian refugees at the Ein al-Hilweh camp in Lebanon
After Haifa’s chief Arab magistrate abandoned that city, a British intelligence report described the act as “probably the greatest factor in the demoralization of Haifa’s community.”
Explicit Instructions to Flee
Palestinian leaders also explicitly instructed Palestinians to leave their homes. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, told a delegation of Haifa Arabs in January 1948 that they should “remove the women and children from the danger areas in order to reduce the number of casualties,” and continued to encourage evacuations in the months that followed. Indeed, just a few months later, when Haifa’s British, Jewish and Arab leadership were working to negotiate a truce, the Arab side, in line with the Mufti’s orders but to the great surprise of everyone involved, insisted on a complete evacuation of all Arab residents.
Similarly, the national Palestinian leadership (or “Arab Higher Committee”) published a pamphlet in March 1948 urging the evacuation of women, children and the elderly from areas affected by the fighting. The local Palestinian leadership (or “National Committee”) in Jerusalem heeded this call, ordering Jerusalem Arabs to evacuate these populations, and asserting that those who resisted doing so would be seen as “an obstacle to the Holy War” and as “hamper[ing]” the actions of the Arab fighters.
Jordan’s Arab Legion ordered women and children out of Beisan, a town near the Jordanian border and an anticipated point of invasion by the Legion.
In Tiberias, local Arab leaders chose to clear the town of its Arab residents, and did so with the help of the British authorities. In Jaffa, after the British forced Jewish militiamen to withdraw from the city, local Arab leaders organized the evacuation of the roughly 20,000 residents who hadn’t already fled during or before the fighting.
Similar scenes played out in dozens of Arab villages across the land.
Some villagers were not merely instructed to leave, but actually expelled by Arab militiamen from outside the country who feared local Arabs might ally themselves with the Jews, or who wanted to use the residents’ homes for lodging.
In a number of instances, the Jewish leadership appealed for the Arabs stay. The surprise announcement by the Palestinian leadership of Haifa that “the Arab population wished to evacuate” was immediately followed by a tearful plea by the town’s Jewish mayor, Shabtai Levy, for the leaders to reconsider. The Haganah’s chief representative in Haifa also assured the Arabs that if they stayed, “they would enjoy equality and peace, and that we, the Jews, were interested in their staying on and the maintenance of harmonious relations.” The British commander in Haifa, Hugh Stockwell, emphatically insisted that the Arabs were making a mistake, and also urged them to change their decision, which reportedly came from the Arab Higher Committee in Beirut.
Even as Haifa’s Arabs were streaming out of the city on British boats and trucks, the Jewish establishment continued to urge an end to the exodus and to insist that those who had departed should return. “[E]very effort is being made by the Jews to persuade the Arab populace to stay and carry on with their normal lives,” reported the British Superintendent of Police. A member of the Arab National Committee, Farid Saad, admitted that Jewish leaders “have organized a large propaganda campaign to persuade [the] Arabs to return.” (Most, however, did not return. The Arabs fleeing Haifa made up approximately 10 percent of the total number of Palestinian Arab refugees, and influenced countless others to follow in their wake.)
Although fighting between Jewish and Arabs in Palestine began in late 1947, the Jewish military began offensive operations only in April 1948. (Before this point, the Jewish fighters operated only defensively.) Things had been going poorly for the Yishuv early in the fighting. The combination of the Jews’ precarious position and the knowledge that professional armies of neighboring Arab countries would soon be invading prompted a change in strategy — loosely along the lines of the Jewish contingency plan known as Plan D, which called for gaining control of key territory in order to protect Jewish towns and the frontiers of the Jewish state against the attacking armies. Already before this Jewish switch to the offensive, about 100,000 Arabs, mostly those with the financial resources to relocate to somewhere more comfortable, had fled their homes. As the expected date of the invasion by Arab countries approached, Israeli military commanders saw the control of Arab villages along the borders (which were expected to soon become the front lines of fighting and points of entry for Arab armies) and of villages along key transport routes as a key objective. If a village could not be searched and controlled due to resistance, Plan D allowed for troops to force residents from their homes, something that indeed happened in a number of cases.
There were never any blanket orders to expel the Arabs, and in fact the new Israeli army, at the behest of the government, made clear in July 1948 that “it is forbidden … to expel Arab inhabitants from villages, neighborhoods and cities, and to uproot inhabitants from their places without special permission or explicit order from the Defense Minister in each specific case.”
Although no such orders would be issued by Defense (and Prime) Minister David Ben-Gurion, the military in some cases nonetheless chose, mostly for operational reasons (such as securing vital roads, preventing sniping, preventing the use of villages as a base for Arab armies), to expel Arab residents who remained behind after their neighbors’ spontaneous flight. These decisions were occasionally overturned by government officials.
Lydda, an Arab town near Tel Aviv, which was the temporary Jewish capital, is a prominent example in which the combination of military expulsion orders, the government’s overturning of these orders, the military’s interpretation of the government’s position, significant fighting, and spontaneous flight resulted in a substantial numbers leaving.
In July 1948, the Israeli army invaded Lydda and the neighboring town of Ramle to help secure Tel Aviv and drive out Arab Legion troops based in the towns. As the fighting began, a considerable number of civilians fled in panic. The battles ended quickly, and the towns surrendered, Ramle formally and Lydda informally.
Then, with a few hundred Israeli troops controlling a pacified Lydda, Arab Legion armored cars attempted to enter the town, only to encounter Israeli resistance. This minor encounter spurred local residents, who seemed to think — wrongly — that the vaunted Legion was staging a counter-attack, to themselves open fire on Israeli troops.
The troops, shaken by the attacks, aware of their small numbers, and worried about their vulnerable position in a town of thousands of hostile residents, responded harshly to end the attack, striking at homes thought to be used by snipers and firing at townspeople who violated curfew. Some estimate that 250 were killed by Israeli troops during the fighting. The incident helped convince further masses of Arab residents to flee, and simultaneously helped convince the Israelis to clear the town of its insurgent population. An Israeli military order called for immediately expelling the residents of Lydda.
But as troops were still figuring out how to transport the Arabs, many of whom were already streaming out of the town on their own, Israel’s Minister for Minority Affairs, Bechor Shitrit, arrived in Lydda. Shitrit was furious when he learned of the deportation orders, and indignantly reported what was happening to Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett, who in turn spoke with Ben-Gurion. Sharett and Ben Gurion, in turn, told the IDF leadership that those who wanted to leave must be allowed to do so, those who wished to remain behind would be responsible for themselves, and women, children, elderly and sick residents must not be forced out of the town. The new orders, though, failed to end the removal or the voluntary exodus of the towns residents.
Factors associated with war in general — the deterioration of public services, food shortages, demoralization, the breakdown of law and order, misbehavior by armed militiamen and, not least, the din and danger of the fighting itself — all put strains on Palestinian Arab life, and certainly contributed to the flight.
Volunteer Arab militiamen from neighboring states, ostensibly sent to Palestine to protect local Arabs, often terribly mistreated the population of towns that hosted them. According to an account by one leading Palestinian, militiamen based in Jaffa and other cities robbed the locals, looted their homes, and defiled the “women’s honor.” A British report noted that the officers of one of these foreign militias “treat the locals like dirt.”
Rumor was also a factor. Arab-spread rumors about supposed Jewish atrocities apparently compelled some already demoralized locals to flee, while others left as a result of Jewish psychological operations — which intentionally spread rumors about impending attacks so as to induce an exodus from several villages.
Mostly generally, and perhaps most understandably, it was fear of war that spurred the Arabs of Palestine to decide to leave their homes. Whether they fled well before the fighting began, just as a battle for their village was set to begin, or during the exchange of fire itself, local townspeople did not want themselves or their families in harm’s way.
- “Charging Israel With Original Sin,” Shabtai Teveth, Commentary, September 1989
- “1948, Israel, and the Palestinians — The True Story,” Ephraim Karsh, Commentary, May 2008
- “The Palestine Arab Refugee Problem and its Origins,” Shabtai Teveth, Middle Eastern Studies, April 1990
- Fabricating Israeli History: The New Historians, Ephraim Karsh
- Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, Benny Morris
- Genesis 1948: The First Arab-Israeli War, Dan Kurzman
Jewish refugees from Iraq at Lod airport, 1950
Although relatively overlooked, a large number of Jews — over 800,000 — became refugees during and after Israel’s war for independence. An overwhelming majority were driven from their homes in the Arab world, a result of anti-Jewish sentiment amplified by the war. Others lost their homes in British Mandate Palestine as a direct result of the fighting — they either fled or were captured by Arab troops as the armies of neighboring states overran and destroyed their villages.
Jewish Refugees from Mandate Palestine
The number of Jews who lost their homes within the territory of Mandate Palestine as a direct result of the fighting was significantly less than the number of Arabs who fled from the region. In large part, this was because Arab armies failed to capture many Jewish towns, thus allowing many of the roughly 10,000 Jewish evacuees who fled the fighting to return to their homes after the war. It was also because, in the words of Palestinian leader Muhammad Nimr al-Khatib, “[t]he Palestinians had neighboring Arab states which opened their borders and doors to the refugees, while the Jews had no alternative but to triumph or to die.”
Still, in some cases Jews fled their homes when it became clear their village was on the verge of being lost to Arab forces. For example, women and children were evacuated from Gush Etzion, a block of four villages southwest of Jerusalem, as the situation there started to deteriorate. At Yad Mordechai and Kfar Darom, in the south, residents escaped just before the Egyptian army captured and destroyed the towns. The village of Atarot, north of Jerusalem, was evacuated under fire, its residents escaping on foot to Neve Yaakov. When the Arab Legion attacked Neve Yaakov the following day, the residents of that town fled and, along with the displaced from Atarot, found refuge in Hadassah Hospital.
Jewish villagers who did not flee before Arab forces gained control of their town were generally removed from their homes and held as prisoners of war. Prisoners from areas that remained under Arab control after the war were eventually transferred to Israel, where they had to find new homes. For example, residents of the Gush Etzion villages of Mesuot Yitzhak, Ein Tzurim and Revadim, which came under the control of the Arab Legion, were taken captive and resettled in new Israeli villages after the war. (The residents of the fourth Gush Etzion village, Kfar Etzion, were almost all massacred by Arab gunmen.)
The surrender of Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter to Arab Legion troops was immediately followed by the exile from the ancient city of roughly 1,300 Jews. Almost 300 others — males of fighting age — were taken captive. The impossibility of keeping a Jewish presence in the Old City, which had been inhabited by Jews from time immemorial, was underscored by the Arab mobs that marched on the departing residents and on a hospital housing severely injured Jews, only to be held off by the well-disciplined Arab Legion. The Jewish Quarter was ransacked and burned.
Even when Israel regained control of a captured village by the end of the war, residents generally could not return to their homes, as they were destroyed by the Arab conquerors. The residents of Mishmar Hayarden, for example, were taken into captivity by Syrian troops, who then destroyed the village before Israel regained control. The same happened when Nitzanim was overrun by Egyptian troops.
Jewish Refugees from the Arab World
Between 1948 and 1951, as a result of the War of Independence, about 400,000 Jewish refugees were absorbed by Israel after being driven from their homes from Arab lands. In total, well over 800,000 Jews indigenous to Arab and Muslim countries lost their homes and property following Israel’s independence, roughly 600,000 of whom found refuge in Israel. Although the number of Jewish refugees and the total area of their lost land exceeded that of their Arab counterparts, the similarity in the numbers of Jewish and Arab refugees has led some to describe the exodus of the two groups as a de facto population transfer.
With the UN’s 1947 decision to partition Palestine, the Jewish community in Iraq, which only a few years earlier had suffered a devastating pogrom, faced a new wave of harsh persecution.
The Iraqi government adopted what author and journalist Edwin Black described as “Nazi confiscatory techniques,” levying “exorbitant fines as punishment for trumped-up offenses.” Zionism was made a criminal offense. As Arab countries invaded the newly declared Jewish state, the Iraqi police ransacked Jewish homes and arrested hundreds of Jewish citizens. Hundreds more were dismissed from their public jobs. Crippling restrictions targeted Jewish commerce and travel. The government seized Jewish property, cut off municipal services to Jewish neighborhoods, and shut down Jewish newspapers
Researcher Esther Meir-Glitzenstein explained that “what had begun as voluntary emigration turned into an expulsion.” Eventually, about 120,000 people — almost the entire Jewish community — would escape the oppression, with little more than the clothes on their backs.
A similar scenario played out in Egypt. The events of 1948 brought a revival of anti-Jewish sentiment, complete with anti-Jewish riots and murders, the confiscation of Jewish property, legal restrictions affecting the employment of Jews and mass arrests. This prompted a wave of Jewish flight from the country, a trend that only increased in the decade that followed.
Violent anti-Jewish rioting in Yemen in the wake of the UN partition plan help spur tens of thousands of Yeminite Jews to leave their homes and migrate to Israel as part of Operation Magic Carpet. Murderous pogroms in Morocco in 1948 and 1953, and in Libya in 1945 and 1948, yielded similar results.
- The Edge of the Sword: Israel’s War of Independence, 1947-1949, Natanel Lorch
- Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Martin Gilbert
- Encyclopedia Judaica
- “1948, Israel, and the Palestinians — The True Story,” Ephraim Karsh, Commentary, May 2008
- “The evacuation of the noncombatant population in the 1948 war: three kibbutzim as a case study,” Nurit Cohen Levinovsky, Journal of Israeli History, March 2007.
- Jerusalem in the Twentieth Century, Martin Gilbert
- The Case of the Jews from Arab Countries: A Neglected Issue, Maurice Roumani
Earl Cox is an international broadcaster and journalist who has served in senior level positions with four US presidents. Due to his outspoken support for Israel, he has been recognized by Prime Minister Netanyahu as a Good Will Ambassador from Israel to the Jewish and Christian communities around the world and named the Voice of Israel to America by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
The cycle of violence between the Jews and the Egyptians continues with no end in sight in Egypt. After eight previous plagues that have destroyed the Egyptian infrastructure and disrupted the lives of ordinary Egyptian citizens, the Jews launched a new offensive this week in the form of the plague of darkness.
Western journalists were particularly enraged by this plague. “It is simply impossible to report when you can’t see an inch in front of you,” complained a frustrated Andrea Koppel of CNN. ”I have heard from my reliable Egyptian contacts that in the midst of the blanket of blackness, the Jews were annihilating thousands of Egyptians.
Their word is solid enough evidence for me.”
While the Jews contend that the plagues are justified given the harsh slavery imposed upon them by the Egyptians, Pharaoh, the Egyptian leader, rebuts this claim. ”If only the plagues would let up, there would be no slavery. We just want to live plague-free. It is the right of every society.”
Saeb Erekat, an Egyptian spokesperson, complains that slavery is justifiable given the Jews’ superior weaponry supplied to them by the superpower God.
The Europeans are particularly enraged by the latest Jewish offensive. ”The Jewish aggression must cease if there is to be peace in the region. The Jews should go back to slavery for the good of the rest of the world,” stated an angry French President Jacques Chirac.
Even several Jews agree. Adam Shapiro, a Jew, has barricaded himself within Pharaoh’s chambers to protect Pharaoh from what is feared will be the next plague, the death of the firstborn. Mr. Shapiro claims that while slavery is not necessarily a good thing, it is the product of the plagues and when the plagues end, so will the slavery.
“The Jews have gone too far with plagues such as locusts and epidemic which have virtually destroyed the Egyptian economy,” Mr. Shapiro laments. ”The Egyptians are really a very nice people and Pharaoh is kind of huggable once you get to know him,” gushes Shapiro.
The United States is demanding that Moses and Aaron, the Jewish leaders, continue to negotiate with Pharaoh. While Moses points out that Pharaoh had made promise after promise to free the Jewish people only to immediately break them and thereafter impose harsher and harsher slavery, Richard Boucher of the State Department assails the latest offensive.
“Pharaoh is not in complete control of the taskmasters,” Mr. Boucher states. ”The Jews must return to the negotiating table and will accomplish nothing through these plagues.”
The latest round of violence comes in the face of a bold new Saudi peace overture. If only the Jews will give up their language, change their names to Egyptian names and cease having male children, the Arab nations will incline toward peace with them, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah declared.
How can State of Israel reach an agreement with people who believe it should not exist?
It has been said doing the same thing repeatedly yet expecting different results is one definition of insanity. One can make a case this applies to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
For example, many look to a two state solution as the best way to resolve the conflict. Yet is this a new concept? The answer is no, it’s already been tried. It happened in 1947 with UN resolution 181 which partitioned two states for two peoples. In spite of being approved by a 72% majority, the implementation on the ground was a dismal failure. Why? The Arab nations refused to accept the UN vote and attacked Israel one day after declaring independence.
Since this attempt at Israel’s destruction there have been numerous wars, two intifadas, thousands of Israeli victims of terror attacks and a host of terror organizations birthed, all with a singular goal- the destruction of Israel.
Yet the Left would have us believe two states for two peoples is the only answer which can bring a lasting peace to the decades old conflict. However, there is a major problem. Sixty-five years after rejecting a two-state solution, the Arabs have yet to change their mind. They still refuse to accept it.
It’s not that they don’t want their own state. They certainly do. However, if accepting the existence of Israel as a Jewish state is a requirement in order for them to have their own, they prefer to remain stateless. Apparently the Left is ignoring this, or simply doesn’t believe it. Yet Arab public opinion confirms this.
A 2012 poll jointly conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion and American Pollster Stanley Greenberg contained the following results:
- 61% of Arabs/Palestinians do not accept two states for two peoples
- 66% would accept two states only as a first step toward one Arab-Palestinian state
- 92% said Jerusalem must be the capital of Palestine only
Other polls have produced similar findings.
These views reflect a belief that all the land Israel sits upon belongs to the Arabs. Why? They controlled it several hundred years ago, therefore it belongs to them forever. The Jews are seen as “occupiers.”
However, there is a fundamental flaw with this presumption. If you look back in history, is it fair to stop several hundred years ago, simply because it suits their agenda? If we are going to use ‘historical connection’ to make a case, why can’t the Jews point to theirs, which predates the Muslims by well over 2000 years? In spite of irrefutable historical and archeological evidence confirming Jewish presence, the aforementioned poll also showed 72% of Arab-Palestinians reject any Jewish connection to the land or Jerusalem.
This is a case of refusing to allow the facts to alter their agenda.
Pressuring Israel to unilaterally give up land
Yet in spite of Arab rejection of a two-state solution, PM Netanyahu has repeatedly said he’s willing to accept it. Why would he say this? Does he actually support it? Is he acquiescing to the Left? Is he saying it because there is so much worldwide support for it? Actually, it’s politics at the highest level.
I believe Netanyahu is astute enough to realize if he speaks against it he will be criticized and viewed as not wanting peace. Thus, in order to placate his critics he publically supports a two-state-solution. Yet in his heart I think he realizes it will not happen. Why? It won’t happen because no Arab leader is going to sign an agreement legitimizing Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state, with Jerusalem as its capital. Said leader would risk being killed by one of his own for accepting Jewish sovereignty on land the Muslims consider theirs.
By publically proclaiming support for a two-state solution, Netanyahu accomplishes something important. He continues to be viewed as flexible by world leaders. Plus, it takes the spotlight off him and places the burden of acquiescence on the Arabs.
He also knows previous Israeli PMs have made generous offers which were refused. Lest we forget the offer made to Yasser Arafat by PM Barak? It included giving up close to 100% of Judea and Samaria, and the division of Jerusalem. Yet Arafat rejected it because a sovereign state of Israel was part of the deal.
Then-President Bill Clinton was highly disappointed in Arafat and blamed him for the breakdown of negotiations. The refusal to accept Israel by the Arabs is not lost on Netanyahu.
Yet the Left keeps pressuring Israel to unilaterally give up land. This will not produce peace. It’s the Arabs’ rejection of Israel’s right to exist which is the obstacle. A question for the Left is how do you make compromises or negotiate with people who don’t believe you should exist?
Until such time as they can provide an answer, it’s one reason why the Left isn’t right.
Dan Calic is a writer, historian and speaker.
In the past, CAMERA has taken New York Times blogger Robert Mackey to task for “seeking out harsh criticism [of Israel] and passing it off as if that’s where the conversation begins and ends.” On Israel’s controversial introduction earlier this week of buses for Palestinian laborers working in Israel, Mackey does it yet again. This time, interestingly, it’s Palestinian voices he silences. In particular, he ignores Palestinian passengers who are are in favor of the new service.
As became clear from several media accounts this week, there are three main views regarding the new Israeli bus service for Palestinian workers traveling to their jobs in Israel. As the Associated Press reported,
Israel’s decision to launch a pair of “Palestinian-only” bus lines in the West Bank on Monday, presented by the government as a goodwill gesture and assailed by critics as racism but was welcomed by Palestinian riders – is shining a light on the messy situation created by 45 years of military occupation and Jewish settlements in the area. (Emphasis added.)
In his March 4 blog entry about the new bus service (“Israelis Divided Over Separate Bus Lines for Arabs and Jews in Occupied West Bank”), Mackey completely ignores the Palestinians workers who are quite content to pay the nominal fee and to travel without Israelis. Per AP:
Haroun Hamdan, a 44-year-old blacksmith from the Palestinian village of Salem, said riding buses with Jewish settlers has become so unpleasant that the Palestinians prefer to have their own buses.
He said settlers often complain when Palestinians enter their buses. Palestinians can be blocked from boarding, or kicked off or subject to verbal abuse once on board, he said. “Riding with settlers is humiliating, and involves a lot of suffering,” Hamdan said.
In one instance, Hamdan said a female Jewish settler tried to order him off a bus that had come from the large Israeli settlement of Ariel, but the bus driver refused to stop. He said his friends have had to walk 10 kilometers, or six miles, after being kicked off Israeli buses.
“The new bus line is better, because we won’t have to go through all of this,” he said, adding that the buses were a cheaper alternative to the private minivans that shuttle Palestinians to work inside Israel. A bus ticket costs anywhere from $1 to $3, compared to $6 demanded by the private drivers.
While Mackey does not include the satisfied Palestinian customers, he grants extensive space to critics, Israeli and otherwise. “Creating separate bus lines for Israeli Jews and Palestinians is a revolting plan,” Mackey quotes Jessica Montell of B’Tselem. “This is simply racism.” Mackey also reports:
Under the headline “Separate but Equal Bus Lines?,” the Tel Aviv daily Yedioth Ahronoth noted that Israeli activists from the group Peace Now heard echoes of the segregated public services for African-Americans in the 1950s in the plan. “The decision to separate bus lines in the territories is shocking and turns racism into the norm,” the activists said. “A Palestinian Rosa Parks is needed to insist upon sitting on Jewish bus lines.”
After also citing the outraged tweets of Yousef Munayyer, the director of the Palestine Center in Washington, Mackey closes with the view of Jeffrey Goldberg, now at the Atlantic:
Several critics of the new bus lines in Israel said they evoked not just the segregation of the American South but also the apartheid regime of South Africa. Mr. Goldberg, who has long argued that the unchecked growth of Israeli settlements is undermining the possibility of a two-state solution, reminded readers in a 2008 Op-Ed article that no less an Israeli patriot than former Prime Minister Ehud Barak once warned: “Every attempt to keep hold of this area as one political entity leads, necessarily, to either a nondemocratic state or a non-Jewish state. Because if the Palestinians vote, then it is a binational state, and if they don’t vote it is an apartheid state.”
In the comments section, “DanielZ” of Ann Arbor aptly notes:
The headline is “Israelis divided”, but you quote only left-wing critics (beyond government spokesmen), as well as Palestinian critics. You also don’t quote any Palestinian supporters, found easily in the Israeli media. Here is some context you don’t mention: (a) Palestinians who have passed “rigorous security checks” have killed Israelis in the past and (b) the bus lines serving the Palestinians offer them more convenient routes to work than the bus lines serving the Jewish towns; (c) given that Israelis can ride the Palestinians buses, and vice versa, they are not in fact legally separate, which inherently renders analogies to apartheid, Jim Crow, etc. suspect. And did you ever hear of Jim Crow towns offer blacks special routes to better serve them?
None of that excuses unjustified harassment by “settlers”, nor does it offer a justification for Israeli settlement policies. But if you are going to purport to report on such issues, citing everyone from “liberal American critics to leftist Israeli critics to Palestinian activist groups in the U.S.” is hardly providing the full story. Indeed, it’s hard to avoid noticing that you don’t quote a single person, Israeli or Palestinian, who actually lives in the West Bank.
In response, Mackey defends his decision to exclude Palestinians in favor of the new bus service as follows:
This is an overview of how the story has been reported in the Israeli press not a report from the region, so it cannot be comprehensive, but there are quotes from Israeli settlers and Palestinian workers who live in the West Bank in the primary articles readers can access by clicking on the links provided in the post.
There was no omission of pertinent facts. You appear determined to accuse me of bias, as if that is the only way that the information contained in this post can be understood, but the fact is that there were no testimonies from Palestinians praising the new bus lines in the reports in the Israeli press I read yesterday, which is when this post was written. There were, however, reports of great dissatisfaction with overcrowding on the buses from Palestinians that I did not include, not out of bias in favor of Israel’s transportation ministry, but simply for reasons of length and because readers of a blog who want to know more are encouraged to click the links and read the articles summarized. (Emphasis added.)
Mackey claims to have seen no reports in the (English-language) Israeli media March 4 mentioning pleased Palestinian travelers. It stretches the imagination to believe that Mackey, who, in his 7:17 p.m. EST post on the new buses, cited a Ha’aretz article dating back to November, and yet he could not find the following 11:40 a.m. Israel time Ha’aretz article:
This article appeared on Ha’aretz’s home page more than 12 hours before Mackey posted on the same topic, and he says he didn’t see it? And yet he managed to find a three-month-old Ha’aretzarticle? The March 4 Ha’aretz story that Mackey purportedly missed, headlined “As Israel’s separate bus lines start rolling, some Palestinians don’t seem to mind,” reports:
On Sunday, Khalil heard on the news that there would be a new bus transporting Palestinian laborers to and from the crossing point – and he was pleased.
The bus will cost him NIS 8.80. “That’s nothing,” he says. It’s a savings of NIS 12 in each direction, NIS 250 per month. Since he earns NIS 200 per day, that’s a significant amount, he says. At 4:20 Monday morning, he is already waiting for the special bus that will take him to work… .
It took the workers a few minutes to understand where they needed to go and which buses were headed where, but they quickly asked to get on one of the two lines. The first is to Ra’anana and Kfar Sava, and the second is to Petah Tikva, Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv. Thousands pushed onto the Tel Aviv line. There weren’t enough buses to meet the demand. After a few minutes came the complaints and suggestions for improvement.
One man working on the Meier-on-Rothschild luxury tower asked why the Tel Aviv bus stopped at the northern train station and did not continue on to the Central Bus Station. A group of workers looking to get to Herzliya asked why the Ra’anana–Kfar Sava line wasn’t extended to Herzliya. Many wondered about the buses’ return times. Several workers asked for buses to run on Fridays as well, since they pay “pirate” drivers even on Fridays. Representatives of the Afikim bus company and Lt. Col. Adel Masalha, the district coordination liaison, noted all the comments and promised changes in the near future.
Syria: death of a country
As Syria disintegrates, it threatens the entire Middle East. The outside world needs to act before it is too late
AFTER the first world war Syria was hacked from the carcass of the Ottoman empire. After the second, it won its independence. After the fighting that is raging today it could cease to function as a state.
As the world looks on (or away), the country jammed between Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Israel is disintegrating. Perhaps the regime of Bashar Assad, Syria’s president, will collapse in chaos; for some time it could well fight on from a fortified enclave, the biggest militia in a land of militias. Either way, Syria looks increasingly likely to fall prey to feuding warlords, Islamists and gangs—a new Somalia rotting in the heart of the Levant.
If that happens, millions of lives will be ruined. A fragmented Syria would also feed global jihad and stoke the Middle East’s violent rivalries. Mr Assad’s chemical weapons, still secure for now, would always be at risk of falling into dangerous hands. This catastrophe would make itself felt across the Middle East and beyond. And yet the outside world, including America, is doing almost nothing to help.
The road from Damascus
Part of the reason for the West’s hesitancy is that, from the start of the uprising in 2011, Mr Assad has embraced a strategy of violence. By attacking the Arab spring with tanks and gunships, he turned peaceful demonstrators into armed militias. By shelling cities he uprooted his people. By getting his Alawite brethren to massacre the Sunni majority, he has drawn in jihadists and convinced Syrians from other sects to stick with him for fear that his own fall will lead to terrible vengeance.
Syrian blood now flows freely and sectarian hatred is smouldering (see article). The fight could last years. Rebel groups have lately been capturing military bases. They control chunks of the north and east and are fighting in the big cities. But the rebels are rivals as well as allies: they are beginning to target each other, as well as the government’s troops.
Even if Mr Assad cannot control his country, he has every reason to fight on. He still enjoys the cultlike devotion of some of his Alawite sect and the grudging support of other Syrians who fear what might come next. He commands 50,000 or so loyal, well-armed troops—and tens of thousands more, albeit less trained and less loyal. He is backed by Russia, Iran and Iraq, which between them supply money, weapons, advice and manpower. Hizbullah, Lebanon’s toughest militia, is sending in its fighters, too. Mr Assad almost certainly cannot win this war; but, barring an unexpected stroke of fate, he is still a long way from losing it.
So far the fighting has claimed 70,000 or more lives; tens of thousands are missing. The regime has locked up 150,000-200,000 people. More than 2m are homeless inside Syria, struggling to find food and shelter. Almost 1m more are living in squalor over the border.
Suffering on such a scale is unconscionable. That was the lesson from the genocides and civil wars that scarred the last half of the past century. Yet President Barack Obama has suggested that saving lives alone is not a sufficient ground for military action. Having learnt in Afghanistan and Iraq how hard it is to impose peace, America is fearful of being sucked into the chaos that Mr Assad has created. Mr Obama was elected to win economic battles at home. He believes that a weary America should stay clear of yet another foreign disaster.
That conclusion, however understandable, is mistaken. As the world’s superpower, America is likely to be sucked into Syria eventually. Even if the president can resist humanitarian arguments, he will find it hard to ignore his country’s interests.
If the fight drags on, Syria will degenerate into a patchwork of warring fiefs. Almost everything America wants to achieve in the Middle East will become harder. Containing terrorism, ensuring the supply of energy and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction: unlike, say, the 15-year civil war in Lebanon, Syria’s disintegration threatens them all.
About a fifth of the rebels—and some of the best organised—are jihadists. They pose a threat to moderate Syrians, including Sunnis, and they could use lawless territory as a base for international terror. If they menace Israel across the Golan Heights, Israel will protect itself fiercely, which is sure to inflame Arab opinion. A divided Syria could tear Lebanon apart, because the Assads will stir up their supporters there. Jordan, poor and fragile, will be destabilised by refugees and Islamists. Oil-rich, Shia-majority Iraq can barely hold itself together; as Iraqi Sunnis are drawn into the fray, divisions there will only deepen. Coping with the fallout from Syria, including Mr Assad’s arsenal of chemical weapons, could complicate the aim of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb. Mr Obama wanted to avoid Syria, but Syria will come and get him.
Doing nothing is a policy, too
Syria is more dangerous today than it was in October, when this newspaper called for a no-fly zone in order to ground Mr Assad’s air force. Mr Obama’s policy of waiting for the conflagration in Syria to burn itself out is failing. Rather than see things deteriorate still further, he should act.
His aim should be to preserve what is left of Syria. That means trying to convince the people around Mr Assad that their choice is between ruinous defeat and turfing out the Assad family as a prelude to talks with the rebels. A no-fly zone is still needed to ground Mr Assad’s air force and destroy some of his missiles. It would be a big, bold signal of America’s resolve to Mr Assad’s supporters. America should recognise a transitional government, selected from Syria’s opposition. It should arm non-jihadist rebel groups—including with limited numbers of anti-aircraft missiles. France and Britain would back this, even if other Europeans would not. Russia supports Mr Assad in part to frustrate Mr Obama. Europe and America should keep on trying to tempt it to give him up, by promising it a stake in a liberated Syria.
There are no guarantees that this policy will work. But it will at least build links with the non-jihadist rebels whom America will need as allies in the chaos if Mr Assad stays. Today those moderate Syrians feel utterly abandoned.
The Qatar-based cable news company bought Current TV, a struggling cable channel founded by former US vice president Al Gore. Al Jazeera, which has struggled to get US distribution for its English-language channel, will launch a new US channel via Current TV. But Time Warner Cable, a key distributor for Current TV, said it was dropping the channel “as quickly as possible.” The deal, which analysts valued at up to $500 million, should still expand Al Jazeera’s reach from 5 million to 40 million US homes.