In my previous blog entry, Did Arab radio broadcasts urge the Palestinians to flee?, I looked at the Zionist claim that the flight of most, if not all, of the Palestinians who abandoned their homes in 1948 was a response to broadcast instructions from their leaders. I cited Christopher Hitchens, author of the essay Broadcasts in Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question, and David Gilmour, author of Dispossessed: The Ordeal of the Palestinians, who maintain there were no such broadcasts. In this entry, I look at why the alleged broadcasts are so important in the Zionist narrative.
But first, I will say what I mean by “broadcasts”. When I use this word, I am not referring to:
1. The broadcasts mentioned by Michael Palumbo in The Palestinian Catastrophe: The 1948 Expulsion of a People From Their Homeland. “For several days [after the Deir Yassin massacre] Arab radio stations broadcast all the gruesome details of the crime,” Palumbo writes (p. 58). “Radio Cairo informed its listeners that by the . . . massacre the Zionists were ‘. . . gradually revealing their announced determination to exterminate the Arabs’ (BBC report #47, p. 71). The effect of these radio broadcasts from the Arab capitals and from the Jewish Arabic-language stations (emphasis added) was to devastate totally the morale of the Palestinians. The Arab governments expected that accounts about Deir Yassin would stiffen the resolve of the Palestinians (emphasis added), but instead they became convinced of the inability of their own forces to protect them from a similar massacre.”
2. Advice or orders to evacuate, issued by Arab leaders on an ad hoc basis in response to the exigencies of the situations in particular areas. As Benny Morris has noted: “. . . on the local level, in dozens of localities around Palestine, Arab leaders advised or ordered the evacuation of women and children or whole communities, as occurred in Haifa in late April, 1948″ (Irish Times, February 21, 2008). I see nothing extraordinary in this. I am sure that if my country were invaded, and were resisting the invader, such “advice” and “orders” would be issued as the situation demanded.
By “broadcasts” I mean the broadcasts allegedly made from Arab capitals/power centers in which the “order” to leave was always, in the Zionist narrative, coupled with (a) an explanation of the reason for the evacuation, and/or (b) a promise of a reward for evacuating. Hence “There is evidence Arabs residents were encouraged by Arab invaders to flee to give Arab invaders a freer hand (emphasis added) (www.naiveabroad.com/index.php?page_id=315), and “Thousands of refugees had left before the war began, ordered by the Arab leaders themselves to evacuate their villages, in order to facilitate the movement of Arab armies (emphasis added), and to avoid Jewish reprisals. Promises were made that they would return soon to benefit from the spoils left in the wake of the conquering Arab forces” (emphasis added) (Israel Today, by Alexander Ramati, 1962).
What these postwar Zionist reports of “broadcasts” do, of course, is retrospectively make all 750,000 Palestinians who fled, in most cases in terror and destitution, complicit in what is portrayed as a heinous crime — so that the consciences of Zionists, who perversely cultivate pretensions to moral superiority, need not be troubled by the refugees’ current plight. A contemptuous comment I have come across time and time again in internet discussion forums is: “The Palestinians gambled and lost [in 1948]. They have only themselves to blame.”
Blame adroitly shifted to the refugees themselves
Israeli diplomat, politician and historian Shlomo Ben-Ami examines this issue in Scars of War, Wounds of Peace, 2006:
There is an old Zionist tale, constantly and indefatigably repeated down the years since 1948. It is the story that the Palestinian people lost their homeland because they followed their leaders’ orders to get out. They left to clear the way for the invading armies of the Arab states. After the Arabs had finished off young Israel, they hoped, all the people could come back and share in the spoils of victory.
We can well understand the attractions of such a theory for its proponents. It shifts the blame for Palestinian dispossession from the Israelis to the refugees themselves. According to the theory, they left their homes as part of the Arab invasion plot, which was genocidal in intent. Who can have much sympathy for those who intended genocide, even if they are shivering in squalid refugee camps? And who can blame Israel for not wanting them to come back again?
In other words, the Zionist conquest of Palestine, violent as it was, and as ruinous as it was to the indigenous population, involved no guilt whatsoever. Israel conquered a national territory out of the purest, most righteous instinct of self-defence.
Unfortunately, the story has not held up well over time.
It is not at all clear, as maintained by a conventional Israeli myth, that the Palestinian exodus was encouraged by the Arab states and by local (Palestinian) leaders. Benny Morris, (historian, Ben-Gurion University) found no evidence to show ‘that either the leaders of the Arab states or the Mufti ordered or directly encouraged the mass exodus’. Indeed, Morris found evidence to the effect that the local Arab leadership and militia commanders discouraged flight, and Arab radio stations issued calls to the Palestinians to stay put, and even to return to their homes if they had already left. True, there were more than a few cases where the local commanders ordered the evacuation of villages. But these seem to have been tactical decisions taken under very specific military conditions; they did not respond to an overall strategy either of the local Palestinian leaders or of the Arab states (p. 43).
As one would expect, the “evidence” adduced by the Zionists in support of their “story” is also flimsy. An internet site that lists items of “evidence” is United Jewish Communities, where you will find the following:
In his memoirs, Haled (sic) al Azm, the Syrian Prime Minister in 1948-49, also admitted the Arab role in persuading the refugees to leave:
“Since 1948 we have been demanding the return of the refugees to their homes. But we ourselves are the ones who encouraged them to leave. Only a few months separated our call to them to leave and our appeal to the United Nations to resolve on their return” (The Memoirs of Haled al Azm, Beirut, 1973, Part 1, pp. 386-387).
Needless to say, this does not constitute evidence any more than the report in the Economist does (see previous blog entry). Evidence comes from someone who has direct knowledge of something, and who is able to provide precise, pertinent information that can be checked for accuracy against the evidence of others. Otherwise, it’s nothing more than opinion or hearsay.
Another point to be borne in mind is the one made by Mark Tessler in A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1994:
…the Israeli case often utilizes Arab statements made after 1948. This point is emphasized by [Christopher] Sykes, an even-handed observer who in other instances provides information supportive of Israeli claims. Sykes notes that after the war “Arab journalists and broadcasters asserted on several occasions that the exodus was a planned Arab maneuver.” While such assertions were probably a mixture of boasting and rationalization, the important point is that they were made after the refugees had left. Nevertheless, according to Sykes, “they gave Zionist propagandists their cue” (Crossroads to Israel, 1917-1948, p. 354).
Not for the last time, vain Arab posturing played straight into Zionist hands.