Thank you, Mr. President


America is not a perfect democracy. We have faults.

But, as far as I am concerned, Barack Obama was the best President I have ever known in my 50+ years.

Thank you, Mr. President

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Ten Myths

A proper understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires exposing numerous myths about its origins and the reasons it persists.

Myth #1 – Jews and Arabs have always been in conflict in the region.

Although Arabs were a majority in Palestine prior to the creation of the state of Israel, there had always been a Jewish population, as well. For the most part, Jewish Palestinians got along with their Arab neighbors. This began to change with the onset of the Zionist movement, because the Zionists rejected the right of the Palestinians to self-determination and wanted Palestine for their own, to create a “Jewish State” in a region where Arabs were the majority and owned most of the land.

For instance, after a series of riots in Jaffa in 1921 resulting in the deaths of 47 Jews and 48 Arabs, the occupying British held a commission of inquiry, which reported their finding that “there is no inherent anti-Semitism in the country, racial or religious.” Rather, Arab attacks on Jewish communities were the result of Arab fears about the stated goal of the Zionists to take over the land.

After major violence again erupted in 1929, the British Shaw Commission report noted that “In less than 10 years three serious attacks have been made by Arabs on Jews. For 80 years before the first of these attacks there is no recorded instance of any similar incidents.” Representatives from all sides of the emerging conflict testified to the commission that prior to the First World War, “the Jews and Arabs lived side by side if not in amity, at least with tolerance, a quality which today is almost unknown in Palestine.” The problem was that “The Arab people of Palestine are today united in their demand for representative government”, but were being denied that right by the Zionists and their British benefactors.

The British Hope-Simpson report of 1930 similarly noted that Jewish residents of non-Zionist communities in Palestine enjoyed friendship with their Arab neighbors. “It is quite a common sight to see an Arab sitting in the verandah of a Jewish house”, the report noted. “The position is entirely different in the Zionist colonies.”

Myth #2 – The United Nations created Israel.

The U.N. became involved when the British sought to wash its hands of the volatile situation its policies had helped to create, and to extricate itself from Palestine. To that end, they requested that the U.N. take up the matter.

As a result, a U.N. Special Commission on Palestine (UNSCOP) was created to examine the issue and offer its recommendation on how to resolve the conflict. UNSCOP contained no representatives from any Arab country and in the end issued a report that explicitly rejected the right of the Palestinians to self-determination. Rejecting the democratic solution to the conflict, UNSCOP instead proposed that Palestine be partitioned into two states: one Arab and one Jewish.

The U.N. General Assembly endorsed UNSCOP’s in its Resolution 181. It is often claimed that this resolution “partitioned” Palestine, or that it provided Zionist leaders with a legal mandate for their subsequent declaration of the existence of the state of Israel, or some other similar variation on the theme. All such claims are absolutely false.

Resolution 181 merely endorsed UNSCOP’s report and conclusions as a recommendation. Needless to say, for Palestine to have been officially partitioned, this recommendation would have had to have been accepted by both Jews and Arabs, which it was not.

Moreover, General Assembly resolutions are not considered legally binding (only Security Council resolutions are). And, furthermore, the U.N. would have had no authority to take land from one people and hand it over to another, and any such resolution seeking to so partition Palestine would have been null and void, anyway.

Myth #3 – The Arabs missed an opportunity to have their own state in 1947.

The U.N. recommendation to partition Palestine was rejected by the Arabs. Many commentators today point to this rejection as constituting a missed “opportunity” for the Arabs to have had their own state. But characterizing this as an “opportunity” for the Arabs is patently ridiculous. The Partition plan was in no way, shape, or form an “opportunity” for the Arabs.

First of all, as already noted, Arabs were a large majority in Palestine at the time, with Jews making up about a third of the population by then, due to massive immigration of Jews from Europe (in 1922, by contrast, a British census showed that Jews represented only about 11 percent of the population).

Additionally, land ownership statistics from 1945 showed that Arabs owned more land than Jews in every single district of Palestine, including Jaffa, where Arabs owned 47 percent of the land while Jews owned 39 percent – and Jaffa boasted the highest percentage of Jewish-owned land of any district. In other districts, Arabs owned an even larger portion of the land. At the extreme other end, for instance, in Ramallah, Arabs owned 99 percent of the land. In the whole of Palestine, Arabs owned 85 percent of the land, while Jews owned less than 7 percent, which remained the case up until the time of Israel’s creation.

Yet, despite these facts, the U.N. partition recommendation had called for more than half of the land of Palestine to be given to the Zionists for their “Jewish State”. The truth is that no Arab could be reasonably expected to accept such an unjust proposal. For political commentators today to describe the Arabs’ refusal to accept a recommendation that their land be taken away from them, premised upon the explicit rejection of their right to self-determination, as a “missed opportunity” represents either an astounding ignorance of the roots of the conflict or an unwillingness to look honestly at its history.

It should also be noted that the partition plan was also rejected by many Zionist leaders. Among those who supported the idea, which included David Ben-Gurion, their reasoning was that this would be a pragmatic step towards their goal of acquiring the whole of Palestine for a “Jewish State” – something which could be finally accomplished later through force of arms.

When the idea of partition was first raised years earlier, for instance, Ben-Gurion had written that “after we become a strong force, as the result of the creation of a state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine”. Partition should be accepted, he argued, “to prepare the ground for our expansion into the whole of Palestine”. The Jewish State would then “have to preserve order”, if the Arabs would not acquiesce, “by machine guns, if necessary.”

Myth #4 – Israel has a “right to exist”.

The fact that this term is used exclusively with regard to Israel is instructive as to its legitimacy, as is the fact that the demand is placed upon Palestinians to recognize Israel’s “right to exist”, while no similar demand is placed upon Israelis to recognize the “right to exist” of a Palestinian state.

Nations don’t have rights, people do. The proper framework for discussion is within that of the right of all peoples to self-determination. Seen in this, the proper framework, it is an elementary observation that it is not the Arabs which have denied Jews that right, but the Jews which have denied that right to the Arabs. The terminology of Israel’s “right to exist” is constantly employed to obfuscate that fact.

As already noted, Israel was not created by the U.N., but came into being on May 14, 1948, when the Zionist leadership unilaterally, and with no legal authority, declared Israel’s existence, with no specification as to the extent of the new state’s borders. In a moment, the Zionists had declared that Arabs no longer the owners of their land – it now belonged to the Jews. In an instant, the Zionists had declared that the majority Arabs of Palestine were now second-class citizens in the new “Jewish State”.

The Arabs, needless to say, did not passively accept this development, and neighboring Arab countries declared war on the Zionist regime in order to prevent such a grave injustice against the majority inhabitants of Palestine.

It must be emphasized that the Zionists had no right to most of the land they declared as part of Israel, while the Arabs did. This war, therefore, was not, as is commonly asserted in mainstream commentary, an act of aggression by the Arab states against Israel. Rather, the Arabs were acting in defense of their rights, to prevent the Zionists from illegally and unjustly taking over Arab lands and otherwise disenfranchising the Arab population. The act of aggression was the Zionist leadership’s unilateral declaration of the existence of Israel, and the Zionists’ use of violence to enforce their aims both prior to and subsequent to that declaration.

In the course of the war that ensued, Israel implemented a policy of ethnic cleansing. 700,000 Arab Palestinians were either forced from their homes or fled out of fear of further massacres, such as had occurred in the village of Deir Yassin shortly before the Zionist declaration. These Palestinians have never been allowed to return to their homes and land, despite it being internationally recognized and encoded in international law that such refugees have an inherent “right of return”.

Palestinians will never agree to the demand made of them by Israel and its main benefactor, the U.S., to recognize Israel’s “right to exist”. To do so is effectively to claim that Israel had a “right” to take Arab land, while Arabs had no right to their own land. It is effectively to claim that Israel had a “right” to ethnically cleanse Palestine, while Arabs had no right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in their own homes, on their own land.

The constant use of the term “right to exist” in discourse today serves one specific purpose: It is designed to obfuscate the reality that it is the Jews that have denied the Arab right to self-determination, and not vice versa, and to otherwise attempt to legitimize Israeli crimes against the Palestinians, both historical and contemporary.

Myth #5 – The Arab nations threatened Israel with annihilation in 1967 and 1973

The fact of the matter is that it was Israel that fired the first shot of the “Six Day War”. Early on the morning of June 5, Israel launched fighters in a surprise attack on Egypt (then the United Arab Republic), and successfully decimated the Egyptian air force while most of its planes were still on the ground.

It is virtually obligatory for this attack to be described by commentators today as “preemptive”. But to have been “preemptive”, by definition, there must have been an imminent threat of Egyptian aggression against Israel. Yet there was none.

It is commonly claimed that President Nasser’s bellicose rhetoric, blockade of the Straits of Tiran, movement of troops into the Sinai Peninsula, and expulsion of U.N. peacekeeping forces from its side of the border collectively constituted such an imminent threat.

Yet, both U.S. and Israeli intelligence assessed at the time that the likelihood Nasser would actually attack was low. The CIA assessed that Israel had overwhelming superiority in force of arms, and would, in the event of a war, defeat the Arab forces within two weeks; within a week if Israel attacked first, which is what actually occurred.

It must be kept in mind that Egypt had been the victim of aggression by the British, French, and Israelis in the 1956 “Suez Crisis”, following Egypt’s nationalization of the Suez Canal. In that war, the three aggressor nations conspired to wage war upon Egypt, which resulted in an Israeli occupation of the Sinai Peninsula. Under U.S. pressure, Israel withdrew from the Sinai in 1957, but Egypt had not forgotten the Israeli aggression.

Moreover, Egypt had formed a loose alliance with Syria and Jordan, with each pledging to come to the aid of the others in the event of a war with Israel. Jordan had criticized Nasser for not living up to that pledge after the Israeli attack on West Bank village of Samu the year before, and his rhetoric was a transparent attempt to regain face in the Arab world.

That Nasser’s positioning was defensive, rather than projecting an intention to wage an offensive against Israel, was well recognized among prominent Israelis. As Avraham Sela of the Shalem Center has observed, “The Egyptian buildup in Sinai lacked a clear offensive plan, and Nasser’s defensive instructions explicitly assumed an Israeli first strike.”

Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin acknowledged that “In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

Yitzhak Rabin, who would also later become Prime Minister of Israel, admitted in 1968 that “I do not think Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent to the Sinai would not have been sufficient to launch an offensive war. He knew it and we knew it.”

Israelis have also acknowledged that their own rhetoric at the time about the “threat” of “annihilation” from the Arab states was pure propaganda.

General Chaim Herzog, commanding general and first military governor of the occupied West Bank following the war, admitted that “There was no danger of annihilation. Israeli headquarters never believed in this danger.”

General Ezer Weizman similarly said, “There was never a danger of extermination. This hypothesis had never been considered in any serious meeting.”

Chief of Staff Haim Bar-Lev acknowledged, “We were not threatened with genocide on the eve of the Six-Day War, and we had never thought of such possibility.”

Israeli Minister of Housing Mordechai Bentov has also acknowledged that “The entire story of the danger of extermination was invented in every detail, and exaggerated a posteriori to justify the annexation of new Arab territory.”

In 1973, in what Israelis call the “Yom Kippur War”, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise offensive to retake the Sinai and the Golan Heights, respectively. This joint action is popularly described in contemporaneous accounts as an “invasion” of or act of “aggression” against Israel.

Yet, as already noted, following the June ’67 war, the U.N. Security Council passed resolution 242 calling upon Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories. Israel, needless to say, refused to do so and has remained in perpetual violation of international law ever since.

During the 1973 war, Egypt and Syria thus “invaded” their own territory, then under illegaloccupation by Israel. The corollary of the description of this war as an act of Arab aggression implicitly assumes that the Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza Strip were Israeli territory. This is, needless to say, a grossly false assumption that demonstrates the absolutely prejudicial and biased nature of mainstream commentary when it comes to the Israeli-Arab conflict.

This false narrative fits in with the larger overall narrative, equally fallacious, of Israeli as the “victim” of Arab intransigence and aggression. This narrative, largely unquestioned in the West, flips reality on its head.

Myth #6 – U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 called only for a partial Israeli withdrawal.

Resolution 242 was passed in the wake of the June ’67 war and called for the “Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” While the above argument enjoys widespread popularity, it has no merit whatsoever.

The central thesis of this argument is that the absence of the word “the” before “occupied territories” in that clause means not “all of the occupied territories” were intended. Essentially, this argument rests upon the ridiculous logic that because the word “the” was omitted from the clause, we may therefore understand this to mean that “some of the occupied territories” was the intended meaning.

Grammatically, the absence of the word “the” has no effect on the meaning of this clause, which refers to “territories”, plural. A simple litmus test question is: Is it territory that was occupied by Israel in the ’67 war? If yes, then, under international law and Resolution 242, Israel is required to withdraw from that territory. Such territories include the Syrian Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

The French version of the resolution, equally authentic as the English, contains the definite article, and a majority of the members of the Security Council made clear during deliberations that their understanding of the resolution was that it would require Israel to fully withdraw from all occupied territories.

Additionally, it is impossible to reconcile with the principle of international law cited in the preamble to the resolution, of “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”. To say that the U.N. intended that Israel could retain some of the territory it occupied during the war would fly in the face of this cited principle.

One could go on to address various other logical fallacies associated with this frivolous argument, but as it is absurd on its face, it would be superfluous to do so.

Myth #7 – Israeli military action against its neighbors is only taken to defend itself against terrorism.

The facts tell another story. Take, for instance, the devastating 1982 Israeli war on Lebanon. As political analyst Noam Chomsky extensively documents in his epic analysis “The Fateful Triangle”, this military offensive was carried out with barely even the thinnest veil of a pretext.

While one may read contemporary accounts insisting this war was fought in response to a constant shelling of northern Israeli by the PLO, then based in Lebanon, the truth is that, despite continuous Israeli provocations, the PLO had with only a few exceptions abided by a cease-fire that had been in place. Moreover, in each of those instances, it was Israel that had first violated the cease-fire.

Among the Israeli provocations, throughout early 1982, it attacked and sank Lebanese fishing boats and otherwise committed hundreds of violations of Lebanese territorial waters. It committed thousands of violations of Lebanese airspace, yet never did manage to provoke the PLO response it sought to serve as the casus belli for the planned invasion of Lebanon.

On May 9, Israel bombed Lebanon, an act that was finally met with a PLO response when it launched rocket and artillery fire into Israel.

Then a terrorist group headed by Abu Nidal attempted to assassinate Israeli Ambassador Shlomo Argov in London. Although the PLO itself had been at war with Abu Nidal, who had been condemned to death by a Fatah military tribunal in 1973, and despite the fact that Abu Nidal was not based in Lebanon, Israel cited this event as a pretext to bomb the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, killing 200 Palestinians. The PLO responded by shelling settlements in northern Israel. Yet Israel did not manage to provoke the kind of larger-scale response it was looking to use as a casus belli for its planned invasion.

As Israeli scholar Yehoshua Porath has suggested, Israel’s decision to invade Lebanon, far from being a response to PLO attacks, rather “flowed from the very fact that the cease-fire had been observed”. Writing in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Porath assessed that “The government’s hope is that the stricken PLO, lacking a logistic and territorial base, will return to its earlier terrorism…. In this way, the PLO will lose part of the political legitimacy that it has gained … undercutting the danger that elements will develop among the Palestinians that might become a legitimate negotiating partner for future political accommodations.”

As another example, take Israel’s Operation Cast Lead from December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009. Prior to Israel’s assault on the besieged and defenseless population of the Gaza Strip, Israel had entered into a cease-fire agreement with the governing authority there, Hamas. Contrary to popular myth, it was Israel, not Hamas, who ended the cease-fire.

The pretext for Operation Cast Lead is obligatorily described in Western media accounts as being the “thousands” of rockets that Hamas had been firing into Israel prior to the offensive, in violation of the cease-fire.

The truth is that from the start of the cease-fire in June until November 4, Hamas fired no rockets, despite numerous provocations from Israel, including stepped-up operations in the West Bank and Israeli soldiers taking pop-shots at Gazans across the border, resulting in several injuries and at least one death.

On November 4, it was again Israel who violated the cease-fire, with airstrikes and a ground invasion of Gaza that resulted in further deaths. Hamas finally responded with rocket fire, and from that point on the cease-fire was effectively over, with daily tit-for-tat attacks from both sides.

Despite Israel’s lack of good faith, Hamas offered to renew the cease-fire from the time it was set to officially expire in December. Israel rejected the offer, preferring instead to inflict violent collective punishment on the people of Gaza.

As the Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center noted, the truce “brought relative quiet to the western Negev population”, with 329 rocket and mortar attacks, “most of them during the month and a half after November 4”, when Israel had violated and effectively ended the truce. This stands in remarkable contrast to the 2,278 rocket and mortar attacks in the six months prior to the truce. Until November 4, the center also observed, “Hamas was careful to maintain the ceasefire.”

If Israel had desired to continue to mitigate the threat of Palestinian militant rocket attacks, it would have simply not ended the cease-fire, which was very highly effective in reducing the number of such attacks, including eliminating all such attacks by Hamas. It would not have instead resorted to violence, predictably resulting in a greatly escalated threat of retaliatory rocket and mortar attacks from Palestinian militant groups.

Moreover, even if Israel could claim that peaceful means had been exhausted and that a resort military force to act in self-defense to defend its civilian population was necessary, that is demonstrably not what occurred. Instead, Israel deliberately targeted the civilian population of Gaza with systematic and deliberate disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks on residential areas, hospitals, schools, and other locations with protected civilian status under international law.

As the respected international jurist who headed up the United Nations investigation into the assault, Richard Goldstone, has observed, the means by which Israel carried out Operation Cast Lead were not consistent with its stated aims, but was rather more indicative of a deliberate act of collective punishment of the civilian population.

Myth #8 – God gave the land to the Jews, so the Arabs are the occupiers.

No amount of discussion of the facts on the ground will ever convince many Jews and Christians that Israel could ever do wrong, because they view its actions as having the hand of God behind it, and that its policies are in fact the will of God. They believe that God gave the land of Palestine, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to the Jewish people, and therefore Israel has a “right” to take it by force from the Palestinians, who, in this view, are the wrongful occupiers of the land.

But one may simply turn to the pages of their own holy books to demonstrate the fallaciousness of this or similar beliefs. Christian Zionists are fond of quoting passages from the Bible such as the following to support their Zionist beliefs:

“And Yahweh said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: ‘Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are – northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants could also be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.” (Genesis 13:14-17)

“Then Yahweh appeared to him and said: ‘Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you. Dwell in the land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father.” (Genesis 26: 1-3)

“And behold, Yahweh stood above it and said: ‘I am Yahweh, God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants.” (Genesis 28:13)

Yet Christian Zionists conveniently disregard other passages providing further context for understanding this covenant, such as the following:

“You shall therefore keep all My statutes and all My judgments, and perform them, that the land where I am bringing you to dwell may not vomit you out.” (Leviticus 20:22)

“But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments … but break My covenant … I will bring the land to desolation, and your enemies who dwell in it shall be astonished at it. I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste … You shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up.” (Leviticus 26: 14, 15, 32-33, 28)

“Therefore Yahweh was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone…. So Israel was carried away from their own land to Assyria, as it is to this day.” (2 Kings 17:18, 23)

“And I said, after [Israel] had done all these things, ‘Return to Me.’ But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also.” (Jeremiah 3: 7-8)

Yes, in the Bible, Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, told the Hebrews that the land could be theirs – if they would obey his commandments. Yet, as the Bible tells the story, the Hebrews were rebellious against Yahweh in all their generations.

What Jewish and Christian Zionists omit from their Biblical arguments in favor of continued Israel occupation is that Yahweh also told the Hebrews, including the tribe of Judah (from whom the “Jews” are descended), that he would remove them from the land if they broke the covenant by rebelling against his commandments, which is precisely what occurs in the Bible.

Thus, the theological argument for Zionism is not only bunk from a secular point of view, but is also a wholesale fabrication from a scriptural perspective, representing a continued rebelliousness against Yahweh and his Torah, and the teachings of Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus the Christ) in the New Testament.

Myth #9 – Palestinians reject the two-state solution because they want to destroy Israel.

In an enormous concession to Israel, Palestinians have long accepted the two-state solution. The elected representatives of the Palestinian people in Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had since the 70s recognized the state of Israel and accepted the two-state solution to the conflict. Despite this, Western media continued through the 90s to report that the PLO rejected this solution and instead wanted to wipe Israel off the map.

The pattern has been repeated since Hamas was voted into power in the 2006 Palestinian elections. Although Hamas has for years accepted the reality of the state of Israel and demonstrated a willingness to accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip alongside Israel, it is virtually obligatory for Western mainstream media, even today, to report that Hamas rejects the two-state solution, that it instead seeks “to destroy Israel”.

In fact, in early 2004, shortly before he was assassinated by Israel, Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin said that Hamas could accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Hamas has since repeatedly reiterated its willingness to accept a two-state solution.

In early 2005, Hamas issued a document stating its goal of seeking a Palestinian state alongside Israel and recognizing the 1967 borders.

The exiled head of the political bureau of Hamas, Khalid Mish’al, wrote in the London Guardian in January 2006 that Hamas was “ready to make a just peace”.  He wrote that “We shall never recognize the right of any power to rob us of our land and deny us our national rights…. But if you are willing to accept the principle of a long-term truce, we are prepared to negotiate the terms.”

During the campaigning for the 2006 elections, the top Hamas official in Gaza, Mahmoud al-Zahar said that Hamas was ready to “accept to establish our independent state on the area occupied [in] ’67”, a tacit recognition of the state of Israel.

The elected prime minister from Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, said in February 2006 that Hamas accepted “the establishment of a Palestinian state” within the “1967 borders”.

In April 2008, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter met with Hamas officials and afterward stated that Hamas “would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders” and would “accept the right of Israel to live as a neighbor next door in peace”. It was Hamas’ “ultimate goal to see Israel living in their allocated borders, the 1967 borders, and a contiguous, vital Palestinian state alongside.”

That same month Hamas leader Meshal said, “We have offered a truce if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, a truce of 10 years as a proof of recognition.”

In 2009, Meshal said that Hamas “has accepted a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders”.

Hamas’ shift in policy away from total rejection of the existence of the state of Israel towards acceptance of the international consensus on a two-state solution to the conflict is in no small part a reflection of the will of the Palestinian public. A public opinion survey from April of last year, for instance, found that three out of four Palestinians were willing to accept a two-state solution.

Myth #10 – The U.S. is an honest broker and has sought to bring about peace in the Middle East.

Rhetoric aside, the U.S. supports Israel’s policies, including its illegal occupation and other violations of international humanitarian law. It supports Israel’s criminal policies financially, militarily, and diplomatically.

The Obama administration, for example, stated publically that it was opposed to Israel’s settlement policy and ostensibly “pressured” Israel to freeze colonization activities. Yet very early on, the administration announced that it would not cut back financial or military aid to Israel, even if it defied international law and continued settlement construction. That message was perfectly well understood by the Netanyahu government in Israel, which continued its colonization policies.

To cite another straightforward example, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate passed resolutions openly declaring support for Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, despite a constant stream of reports evidencing Israeli war crimes.

On the day the U.S. Senate passed its resolution “reaffirming the United States’ strong support for Israel in its battle with Hamas” (January 8, 2009), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a statement demanding that Israel allow it to assist victims of the conflict because the Israeli military had blocked access to wounded Palestinians – a war crime under international law.

That same day, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement condemning Israel for firing on a U.N. aid convoy delivering humanitarian supplies to Gaza and for the killing of two U.N. staff members – both further war crimes.

On the day that the House passed its own version of the resolution, the U.N. announced that it had had to stop humanitarian work in Gaza because of numerous incidents in which its staff, convoys, and installations, including clinics and schools, had come under Israeli attack.

U.S. financial support for Israel surpasses $3 billion annually. When Israel waged a war to punish the defenseless civilian population of Gaza, its pilots flew U.S.-made F-16 fighter-bombers and Apache helicopter gunships, dropping U.S.-made bombs, including the use of white phosphorus munitions in violation of international law.

U.S. diplomatic support for Israeli crimes includes its use of the veto power in the U.N. Security Council. When Israel was waging a devastating war against the civilian population and infrastructure of Lebanon in the summer of 2006, the U.S. vetoed a cease-fire resolution.

As Israel was waging Operation Cast Lead, the U.S. delayed the passage of a resolution calling for an end to the violence, and then abstained rather than criticize Israel once it finally allowed the resolution to be put to a vote.

When the U.N. Human Rights Council officially adopted the findings and recommendations of its investigation into war crimes during Operation Cast Lead, headed up by Richard Goldstone, the U.S. responded by announcing its intention to block any effort to have the Security Council similarly adopt its conclusions and recommendations. The U.S. Congress passed a resolution rejecting the Goldstone report because it found that Israel had committed war crimes.

Through its virtually unconditional support for Israel, the U.S. has effectively blocked any steps to implement the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The so-called “peace process” has for many decades consisted of U.S. and Israeli rejection Palestinian self-determination and blocking of any viable Palestinian state.

Yasser Arafat, the late PLO Chairman and leader of Fatah, wrote in a Sep. 9, 1993 letter to former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin prior to the signing of the 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles:

“The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.

The PLO accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.

The PLO considers that the signing of the Declaration of Principles constitutes a historic event, inaugurating a new epoch of peaceful coexistence, free from violence and all other acts which endanger peace and stability. Accordingly, the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance, prevent violations and discipline violators

In view of the promise of a new era and the signing of the Declaration of Principles and based on Palestinian acceptance of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the PLO affirms that those articles of the Palestinian Covenant which deny Israel’s right to exist, and the provisions of the Covenant which are inconsistent with the commitments of this letter are now inoperative and no longer valid. Consequently, the PLO undertakes to submit to the Palestinian National Council for formal approval the necessary changes in regard to the Palestinian Covenant.”

Sep. 9, 1993 – Yasser Arafat 

Posted in Israel, Middle East, NWO, Palestine, Peace, Religion, The Truth, USA | Leave a comment

LEHI – “Stern Gang”

The goals of terror:

  • It demonstrates … against the true terrorist who hides behind his piles of papers and the laws he has legislated.
  • It is not directed against people, it is directed against representatives. Therefore it is effective.
  • If it also shakes the Yishuv from their complacency, good and well.

“Deir Yassin massacre was not only necessary, but without it the state of Israel could not have emerged.” Menachem Begin


Logo of the Lehi movement, a historic militant revisionist Zionist movement.


Lehi, often known pejoratively as the Stern Gang, was a Zionist paramilitary organization founded by Avraham (“Yair”) Stern in Mandatory Palestine. Its avowed aim was to evict sythe British authorities from Palestine by resort to force, allowing unrestricted immigration of Jews and the formation of a Jewish state, a “new totalitarian Hebrew republic”. It was initially called the National Military Organization in Israel, upon being founded in August 1940, but was renamed Lehi one month later. It defined itself as a terrorist group.

Lehi split from the Irgun militant group in 1940 in order to continue fighting the British during World War II. Lehi initially sought an alliance with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, offering to fight alongside them against the British in return for the transfer of all Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe to Palestine. Believing that Nazi Germany was a lesser enemy of the Jews than Britain, Lehi twice attempted to form an alliance with the Nazis. During World War II, it declared that it would establish a Jewish state based upon “nationalist and totalitarian principles”.

After Stern’s death in 1942, the new leadership of Lehi began to move it towards support for Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union. In 1944, Lehi officially declared its support for National Bolshevism. It said that its National Bolshevism involved an amalgamation of left-wing and right-wing political elements – Stern said Lehi incorporated elements of both the left and the right – however this change was unpopular and Lehi began to lose support as a result.

Lehi and the Irgun were jointly responsible for the massacre in Deir Yassin. Lehi assassinated Lord Moyne, British Minister Resident in the Middle East, and made many other attacks on the British in Palestine. On 29 May 1948, the government of Israel, having inducted its activist members into the Israel Defense Forces, formally disbanded Lehi, though some of its members carried out one more terrorist act, the assassination of Folke Bernadotte some months later, an act condemned by Bernadotte’s replacement as mediator, Ralph Bunche. After the assassination, the new Israeli government declared Lehi a terrorist organization, arresting and convicting some 200 members. Just before the first Israeli elections, a general amnesty to Lehi members was granted by the government, on 14 February 1949. In 1980, Israel instituted a military decoration, an “award for activity in the struggle for the establishment of Israel”, the Lehi ribbon. Former Lehi leader Yitzhak Shamir became Prime Minister of Israel in 1983.

Lehi had three main goals:

  • To bring together all those interested in liberation (that is, those willing to join in active fighting against the British).
  • To appear before the world as the only active Jewish military organization.
  • To take over Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) by armed force.

An article titled “Terror” in the Lehi underground newspaper He Khazit (The Front ) argued as follows:

Neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat. We are very far from having any moral qualms as far as our national war goes. We have before us the command of the Torah, whose morality surpasses that of any other body of laws in the world: “Ye shall blot them out to the last man.”

But first and foremost, terrorism is for us a part of the political battle being conducted under the present circumstances, and it has a great part to play: speaking in a clear voice to the whole world, as well as to our wretched brethren outside this land, it proclaims our war against the occupier.

We are particularly far from this sort of hesitation in regard to an enemy whose moral perversion is admitted by all.

The article described the goals of terror:

  • It demonstrates … against the true terrorist who hides behind his piles of papers and the laws he has legislated.
  • It is not directed against people, it is directed against representatives. Therefore it is effective.
  • If it also shakes the Yishuv from their complacency, good and well.

Yitzhak Shamir, one of the three leaders of Lehi after Avraham Stern’s assassination, argued for the legitimacy of Lehi’s actions:

There are those who say that to kill [T.G.] Martin [a CID sergeant who had recognised Shamir in a lineup] is terrorism, but to attack an army camp is guerrilla warfare and to bomb civilians is professional warfare. But I think it is the same from the moral point of view. Is it better to drop an atomic bomb on a city than to kill a handful of persons? I don’t think so. But nobody says that President Truman was a terrorist. All the men we went for individually – Wilkin, Martin, MacMichael and others – were personally interested in succeeding in the fight against us.

So it was more efficient and more moral to go for selected targets. In any case, it was the only way we could operate, because we were so small. For us it was not a question of the professional honor of a soldier, it was the question of an idea, an aim that had to be achieved. We were aiming at a political goal. There are many examples of what we did to be found in the Bible – Gideon and Samson, for instance. This had an influence on our thinking. And we also learned from the history of other peoples who fought for their freedom – the Russian and Irish revolutionaries, Giuseppe Garibaldi and Josip Broz Tito.

Avraham Stern laid out the ideology of Lehi in the essay 18 Principles of Rebirth:

  1. THE NATION: The Jewish people is a covenanted people, the originator of monotheism, formulator of the prophetic teachings, standard bearer of human culture, guardian of glorious patrimony. The Jewish people is schooled in self-sacrifice and suffering; its vision, survivability and faith in redemption are indestructible.
  2. THE HOMELAND: The homeland in the Land of Israel within the borders delineated in the Bible (“To your descendants, I shall give this land, from the River of Egypt to the great Euphrates River.” Genesis 15:18) This is the land of the living, where the entire nation shall live in safety.
  3. THE NATION AND ITS LAND: Israel conquered the land with the sword. There it became a great nation and only there it will be reborn. Hence Israel alone has a right to that land. This is an absolute right. It has never expired and never will.
    1. Redemption of the land.
    2. Establishment of sovereignty.
    3. Revival of the nation.
      There is no sovereignty without the redemption of the land, and there is no national revival without sovereignty.
These are the goals of the organization during the period of war and conquest:
  1. EDUCATION: Educate the nation to love freedom and zealously guard Israel’s eternal patrimony. Inculcate the idea that the nation is master to its own fate. Revive the doctrine that “The sword and the book came bound together from heaven.” (Midrash Vayikra Rabba 35:8)
  2. UNITY: The unification of the entire nation around the banner of the Hebrew freedom movement. The use of the genius, status and resources of individuals and the channeling of the energy, devotion and revolutionary fervour of the masses for the war of liberation.
  3. PACTS: Make pacts with all those who are willing to help the struggle of the organization and provide direct support.
  4. FORCE: Consolidate and increase the fighting force in the homeland and in the Diaspora, in the underground and in the barracks, to become the Hebrew army of liberation with its flag, arms, and commanders.
  5. WAR: Constant war against those who stand in the way of fulfilling the goals.
  6. CONQUEST: The conquest of the homeland from foreign rule and its eternal possession.
These are the tasks of the movement during the period of sovereignty and redemption:
  1. SOVEREIGNTY: Renewal of Hebrew sovereignty over the redeemed land.
  2. RULE OF JUSTICE: The establishment of a social order in the spirit of Jewish morality and prophetic justice. Under such an order no one will go hungry or unemployed. All will live in harmony, mutual respect and friendship as an example to the world.
  3. REVIVING THE WILDERNESS: Build the ruins and revive the wilderness for mass immigration and population increase.
  4. ALIENS: Solve the problem of alien population [i.e. the Arab inhabitants of Palestine] by exchange of population.
  5. IN-GATHERING OF THE EXILES: Total in-gathering of the exiles to their sovereign state.
  6. POWER: The Hebrew nation shall become a first-rate military, political, cultural and economical entity in the Middle East and around the Mediterranean Sea.
  7. REVIVAL: The revival of the Hebrew language as a spoken language by the entire nation, the renewal of the historical and spiritual might of Israel. The purification of the national character in the fire of revival.
  8. THE TEMPLE: The building of the Third Temple as a symbol of the new era of total redemption.

In the early years of the state of Israel Lehi veterans could be found supporting nearly all political parties and some Lehi leaders founded a left-wing political party called the Fighters’ List with Natan Yellin-Mor as its head. The party took part in the elections in January 1949 and won a single parliamentary seat. A number of Lehi veterans established the Semitic Action movement in 1956 which sought the creation of a regional federation encompassing Israel and its Arab neighbors on the basis of an anti-colonialist alliance with other indigenous inhabitants of the Middle East.

Some writers have stated that Lehi’s true goals were the creation of a totalitarian state. Perlinger and Weinberg write that the organisation’s ideology placed “its world view in the quasi-fascist radical Right, which is characterised by xenophobia, a national egotism that completely subordinates the individual to the needs of the nation, anti-liberalism, total denial of democracy and a highly centralised government.” Perliger and Weinberg state that most Lehi members were admirers of the Italian Fascist movement.

Many Lehi combatants received professional training. Some attended the state military academy in Civitavecchia, in Fascist Italy. Others received military training from instructors of the Polish Armed Forces in 1938–1939. This training was conducted in Trochenbrod (Zofiówka) in Wołyń Voivodeship, Podębin near Łódź, and the forests around Andrychów. They were taught how to use explosives. One of them reported later: “Poles treated terrorism as a science. We have mastered mathematical principles of demolishing constructions made of concrete, iron, wood, bricks and dirt.”

The group was initially unsuccessful. Early attempts to raise funds through criminal activities, including a bank robbery in Tel Aviv in 1940 and another robbery on 9 January 1942 in which Jewish passers-by were killed, brought about the temporary collapse of the group. An attempt to assassinate the head of the British secret police in Lod in which three police personnel were killed, two Jewish and one British, elicited a severe response from the British and Jewish establishments who collaborated against Lehi.

Stern’s group was seen as a terrorist organisation by the British authorities, who instructed the Defence Security Office (the colonial branch of MI5) to track down its leaders. In 1942, Stern, after he was arrested, was shot dead in disputed circumstances by Inspector Geoffrey J. Morton of the CID. The arrest of several other members led momentarily to the group’s eclipse, until it was revived after the September 1942 escape of two of its leaders, Yitzhak Shamir and Eliyahu Giladi, aided by two other escapees Natan Yellin-Mor (Friedman) and Israel Eldad (Sheib). (Giladi was later killed by Lehi under circumstances that remain mysterious.) Shamir’s codename was “Michael”, a reference to one of Shamir’s heroes, Michael Collins. Lehi was guided by spiritual and philosophical leaders such as Uri Zvi Greenberg and Israel Eldad. After the killing of Giladi, the organization was led by a triumvirate of Eldad, Shamir, and Yellin-Mor.

According to a compilation by Nachman Ben-Yehuda, Lehi was responsible for 42 assassinations, more than twice as many as the Irgun and Haganah combined during the same period. Of those Lehi assassinations that Ben-Yehuda classified as political, more than half the victims were Jews.

In mid-1940, Stern became convinced that the Italians were interested in the establishment of a fascist Jewish state in Palestine. He conducted negotiations, he thought, with the Italians via an intermediary Moshe Rotstein, and drew up a document that became known as the “Jerusalem Agreement”. In exchange for Italy’s recognition of, and aid in obtaining, Jewish sovereignty over Palestine, Stern promised that Zionism would come under the aegis of Italian fascism, with Haifa as its base, and the Old City of Jerusalem under Vatican control, except for the Jewish quarter. In Heller’s words, Stern’s proposal would “turn the ‘Kingdom of Israel’ into a satellite of the Axis powers.”

Late in 1940, Lehi, having identified a common interest between the intentions of the new German order and Jewish national aspirations, proposed forming an alliance in World War II with Nazi Germany. It offered assistance in transferring the Jews of Europe to Palestine, in return for Germany’s help in expelling Britain from Mandatory Palestine.

Late in 1940, Lehi representative Naftali Lubenchik went to Beirut to meet German official Werner Otto von Hentig (who also was involved with the Haavara or Transfer Agreement, which had been transferring German Jews and their funds to Palestine since 1933). Lubenchik told von Hentig that Lehi had not yet revealed its full power and that they were capable of organizing a whole range of anti-British operations.

The organization offered cooperation in the following terms. Lehi would support sabotage and espionage operations in the Middle East and in eastern Europe anywhere where they had cells. Germany would recognize an independent Jewish state in Palestine/Eretz Israel, and all Jews leaving their homes in Europe, by their own will or because of government injunctions, could enter Palestine with no restriction of numbers.

Stern also proposed recruiting some 40,000 Jews from occupied Europe to invade Palestine with German support to oust the British.

On 11 January 1941, Vice Admiral Ralf von der Marwitz, the German Naval attaché in Turkey, filed a report (the “Ankara document”) conveying an offer by Lehi to “actively take part in the war on Germany’s side” in return for German support for “the establishment of the historic Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis, bound by a treaty with the German Reich.”

According to Yellin-Mor:

Lubenchik did not take along any written memorandum for the German representatives. Had there been a need for one, he would have formulated it on the spot, since he was familiar with the episode of the Italian “intermediary” and with the numerous drafts connected with it. Apparently one of von Hentig’s secretaries noted down the essence of the proposal in his own words.

According to Joseph Heller, “The memorandum arising from their conversation is an entirely authentic document, on which the stamp of the ‘IZL in Israel’ is clearly embossed.”

Von der Marwitz delivered the offer, classified as secret, to the German Ambassador in Turkey and on 21 January 1941 it was sent to Berlin. There was never any response.

A second attempt to contact the Nazis was made at the end of 1941, but it was even less successful. The emissary Yellin-Mor was arrested in Syria before he could carry out his mission.

This proposed alliance with Nazi Germany cost Lehi and Stern much support. The Stern Gang also had links with, and support from, the Vichy France Sûreté’s Lebanese offices.

They adopted the tactics of groups such as the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Combat Organization of the Polish Socialist Party in Czarist Russia, and the Irish Republican Army. To this end, Lehi conducted small-scale operations such as individual assassinations of British officials (notable targets included Lord Moyne, CID detectives, and Jewish “collaborators”), and random shootings against soldiers and police officers. Another strategy, adopted in 1946, was to send bombs in the mail to British politicians. Other actions included sabotaging infrastructure targets: bridges, railroads, telephone and telegraph lines, and oil refineries, as well as the use of vehicle bombs against British military, police, and administrative targets. Lehi financed its operations from private donations, extortion, and bank robbery. Its campaign of violence lasted from 1944 to 1948. Initially conducted together with the Irgun, it included a six-month suspension to avoid being targeted by the Haganah during the Hunting Season, and later operated jointly with the Haganah and Irgun under the Jewish Resistance Movement. After the Jewish Resistance Movement was dissolved, it operated independently as part of the general Jewish insurgency in Palestine.

On 6 November 1944, Lehi assassinated Lord Moyne, the British Minister Resident in the Middle East, in Cairo. Moyne was the highest ranking British official in the region. Yitzhak Shamir claimed later that Moyne was assassinated because of his support for a Middle Eastern Arab Federation and anti-Semitic lectures in which Arabs were held to be racially superior to Jews. The assassination rocked the British government, and outraged Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister. The two assassins, Eliahu Bet-Zouri and Eliahu Hakim were captured and used their trial as a platform to make public their political propaganda. They were executed. In 1975 their bodies were returned to Israel and given a state funeral. In 1982, postage stamps were issued for 20 Olei Hagardom, including Bet-Zouri and Hakim, in a souvenir sheet called “Martyrs of the struggle for Israel’s independence.”

On 25 April 1946, a Lehi unit attacked a car park in Tel Aviv occupied by the British 6th Airborne Division. Under a barrage of heavy covering fire, Lehi fighters broke into the car park, shot soldiers they encountered at close range, stole rifles from arms racks, laid mines to cover the retreat, and withdrew. Seven soldiers were killed in the attack, which caused widespread outrage among the British security forces in Palestine. It resulted in retaliatory anti-Jewish violence by British troops and a punitive curfew imposed on Tel Aviv’s roads and a closure of places of entertainment in the city by the British Army.

On 12 January 1947, Lehi members drove a truckload of explosives into a British police station in Haifa killing four and injuring 140, in what has been called ‘the world’s first true truck bomb’.

Following the bombing of the British embassy in Rome, October 1946, a series of operations against targets in the United Kingdom were launched. On 7 March 1947, Lehi’s only successful operation in Britain was carried out when a Lehi bomb severely damaged the British Colonial Club, a London recreational facility for soldiers and students from Britain’s colonies in Africa and the West Indies. On 15 April 1947 a bomb consisting of twenty-four sticks of explosives was planted in the Colonial Office, Whitehall. It failed to explode due to a fault in the timer. Five weeks later, on 22 May, five alleged Lehi members were arrested in Paris with bomb making material including explosives of the same type as found in London. On 2 June, two Lehi members, Betty Knouth and Yaakov Levstien, were arrested crossing from Belgium to France. Envelopes addressed to British officials, with detonators, batteries and a time fuse were found in one of Knouth’s suitcases. Knouth was sentenced to a year in prison, Levstien to eight months. The British Security Services identified Knouth as the person who planted the bomb in the Colonial Office. Shortly after their arrest, 21 letter bombs were intercepted addressed to senior British figures. The letters had been posted in Italy. The intended recipients included Bevin, Attlee, Churchill and Eden. Knouth aka Gilberte/Elizabeth Lazarus. Levstein was travelling as Jacob Elias; his fingerprints connected him to the deaths of several Palestine Policemen as well as an attempt on the life of the British High Commissioner. In 1973, Margaret Truman wrote that letter bombs were also posted to her father, U.S. President Harry S. Truman, in 1947. Former Lehi leader Yellin-Mor admitted that letter bombs had been sent to British targets but denied that any had been sent to Truman.

Shortly after the 1947 publication of The Last Days of Hitler, Lehi issued a death threat against the author, Hugh Trevor-Roper, for his portrayal of Hitler, feeling that Trevor-Roper had attempted to exonerate the German populace from responsibility.

During the lead-up to the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Lehi mined the Cairo–Haifa train several times. On 29 February 1948, Lehi mined the train north of Rehovot, killing 28 British soldiers and wounding 35. On 31 March, Lehi mined the train near Binyamina, killing 40 civilians and wounding 60.

The conflict between Lehi and mainstream Jewish and subsequently Israeli organizations came to an end when Lehi was formally dissolved and integrated into the Israeli Defense Forces on 31 May 1948, its leaders getting amnesty from prosecution or reprisals as part of the integration.

Although Lehi had stopped operating nationally after May 1948, the group continued to function in Jerusalem. On 17 September 1948, Lehi assassinated UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte. The assassination was directed by Yehoshua Zettler and carried out by a four-man team led by Meshulam Makover. The fatal shots were fired by Yehoshua Cohen. The Security Council described the assassination as a “cowardly act which appears to have been committed by a criminal group of terrorists”.

Three days after the assassination, the Israeli government passed the Ordinance to Prevent Terrorism and declared Lehi to be a terrorist organization. Many Lehi members were arrested, including leaders Nathan Yellin-Mor and Matitiahu Schmulevitz who were arrested on 29 September. Eldad and Shamir managed to escape arrest. Yellin-Mor and Schmulevitz were charged with leadership of a terrorist organization and on 10 February 1949 were sentenced to 8 years and 5 years imprisonment, respectively. However the State (Temporary) Council soon announced a general amnesty for Lehi members and they were released.

Some of the Lehi leadership founded a left-wing political party called the Fighters’ List with the jailed Yellin-Mor as its head. The party took part in the elections in January 1949 and won one seat. Thanks to a general amnesty for Lehi members granted on 14 February 1949, Yellin-Mor was released from prison to take up his place in the Knesset. However, the party disbanded after failing to win a seat in the 1951 elections.

In 1956, some Lehi veterans established the Semitic Action movement, which sought the creation of a regional federation encompassing Israel and its Arab neighbors on the basis of an anti-colonialist alliance with other indigenous inhabitants of the Middle East.

Not all Lehi alumni gave up political violence after independence: former members were involved in the activities of the Kingdom of Israel militant group, the 1957 assassination of Rudolf Kastner, and likely the 1952 attempted assassination of David-Zvi Pinkas.

In 1980, Israel instituted the Lehi ribbon, red, black, grey, pale blue and white, which is awarded to former members of the Lehi underground who wished to carry it, “for military service towards the establishment of the S“Unknown Soldiers” anthem

The words and music of a song “Unknown Soldiers” (also translated “Anonymous Soldiers”) were written by Avraham Stern in 1932 during the early days of the Irgun. It became the Irgun’s anthem until the split with Lehi in 1940, after which it became the Lehi anthem.

A number of Lehi’s members went on to play important roles in Israel’s public life.

  • Geula Cohen, member of the Knesset
  • Israel Eldad, leader in the Israeli national camp
  • Boaz Evron, left-wing journalist
  • Maxim Ghilan, Israeli journalist, author and peace activist
  • Uri Zvi Greenberg
  • Amos Kenan, writer
  • Baruch Korff
  • Yitzhak Shamir, Israeli prime minister 1983–1984 and 1986–1992.
  • Shimon Tzabar
  • Natan Yellin-Mor, member of the Knesset 1949–1951, leftist advocate of peace with Arabs.

Peace is the beauty of life. It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man, the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth. Menachem Begin

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Ben Yehuda

The Ben Yehuda Street bombings refer to a series of attacks by Palestinian Arabs and suicide bombers on civilians in downtown Jerusalem, Israel in 1948 and later on. The attacks were carried out on Ben Yehuda Street, a major thoroughfare, later a pedestrian mall, named for the founder of modern Hebrew, Eliezer Ben Yehuda.


1948 Ben Yehuda Street bombing
Location Ben Yehuda Street, Jerusalem
Coordinates 31°48′N 35°12′ECoordinates: 31°48′N 35°12′E
Date February 22, 1948
Target Pedestrian shopping mall
Attack type
car bombs
Deaths 58
Non-fatal injuries

On February 22, 1948, three British Army trucks led by an armoured car driven by Arab irregulars and British deserters exploded on Ben Yehuda Street killing from 49 to 58 civilians[1][2] and injuring from 140 to 200.[3][4][5][6] The bomb had been created by Fawzi al-Qutb. The convoy was led by a Jerusalemite militant, ‘Azmi al-Ja’uni, who spoke fluent English and could pass himself off as a British officer.[4] Two British deserters, Eddie Brown, a police captain who claimed that the Irgun had killed his brother, and Peter Madison, an army corporal, had been persuaded to join the attack, also by the promise of substantial financial rewards.[7]

A leaflet stating that the explosion was in response to an Irgun bomb attack three days earlier, in Ramla on the 19th of February, was distributed the following evening. It was signed by Abd al-Qadir who assumed responsibility for the operation.[3][8] Abd al-Qadir himself, in Cairo the day after, left a statement to Al-Ahram to the same effect and the Army of the Holy War High Command reiterated the declaration in Palestine.[4] Husayn al-Khalidi, secretary of the Arab Higher Committee deplored the act as ‘depravity unfit for the Arab spirit,’[4] while the committee itself, in an attempt to distance itself from the incident, tried to throw doubt on the authenticity of Abd al-Qadir’s public statements.[4]

In the ensuing confusion, Jewish residents immediately blamed the British for the attack. David Ben-Gurion, on visiting the site of the carnage, has been cited as putting some responsibility for this Arab attack on the shoulders of Jewish thugs, stating, “I could not forget that our thugs and murderers had opened the way.”[9] The Irgun spread word ordering militants to shoot on sight any Englishman.[10] By day’s end, eight British soldiers had been shot dead, while a ninth was murdered while laid up in a Jewish clinic for treatment of a wound.[3] The day after, on 23 February, a Jewish offensive, deploying mortars, was launched against the Arab village of Musrara, in Jerusalem, killing seven Arabs, including an entire family. The Arabs believed it was in revenge for the Ben-Yehuda Street bombing, though, according to Itamar Radai, at the time the Jews and their official institutions blamed only the British for the incident. [11] Lehi also reacted several days later by blowing up a train full of British soldiers as it drew out of Rehovot station, killing 27.[3]


1975 Ben Yehuda Street Bombing
Location Zion Square, leading onto Ben Yehuda Street, Jerusalem
Coordinates 31°48′N 35°12′ECoordinates: 31°48′N 35°12′E
Date July 4, 1975
Target Pedestrian shopping mall
Attack type
time bomb
Deaths 15
Non-fatal injuries
Perpetrator Ahmad el-Sukar

On Friday, July 4, 1975, a refrigerator that had five kilograms of explosives packed into its sides exploded on Zion Square, a main square leading to Ben Yehuda Street and Jaffa Road. Fifteen people were killed and 77 injured in the attack. Ahmad el-Sukar, who was responsible for placing the bomb, was released from Israeli prison in 2003 as a gesture to Arafat.

On November 13, 1975, an explosive charge went off near Cafe Naveh on Jaffa Road, near the pedestrian mall. Seven people were killed and 45 injured.


On May 3, 1976, thirty-three passers-by were injured when a booby-trapped motor scooter exploded at the corner of Ben Yehuda and Ben Hillel Streets. Among those injured were the Greek consul in Jerusalem and his wife. The following day, on the eve of Independence Day, the municipality organized an event at the site of the attack, under the slogan “Nevertheless.”[12]


On January 1, 1979, a car bomb was found opposite Cafe Atara on the pedestrian mall and was neutralized about half an hour before it was to have blown up.

On March 24, 1979, one person was killed and 13 people were injured when an explosive charge blew up in a trash can in Zion Square.


1997 Ben Yehuda Street Bombing
Location Ben Yehuda Street, Jerusalem
Coordinates 31°48′N 35°12′ECoordinates: 31°48′N 35°12′E
Date September 4, 1997
Target Pedestrian shopping mall
Attack type
suicide bombers
Deaths 5 (+ 3 suicide bombers)
Perpetrators Hamas

On September 4, 1997, three Hamas suicide bombers simultaneously blew themselves up on the pedestrian mall, killing five Israelis. The bombing was carried out by Palestinians from the village of Asira al-shamaliye.[13]

Three 14-year-old girls were killed in the attack: Sivann Zarka, Yael Botvin and Smadar Elhanan.[14] Elhanan was the daughter of peace activist Nurit Peled-Elhanan and the granddaughter of Israeli general and politician Mattityahu Peled.

The family of Yael Botvin, a U.S. citizen, filed a lawsuit in the United States against the Islamic Republic of Iran.[15]

A default judgment of $251 million in compensatory and punitive damages was awarded to the relatives of Americans killed in the attack. There were few assets of the Iranian government in the United States following the judgment. The plaintiffs threatened to seize valuable Persian artifacts located in Chicago museums and sell them for proceeds, leading to the Chicago’s Persian heritage crisis, as well as suing the account of the Bank Melli Iran in the Bank of New York, but having the United States Department of Justice speak as amicus curiae in support of Bank Melli, advising that the bank had no responsibility for turning the funds over, resulted in a ruling against the students.[16]

On December 2, 2013, five U.S. families who were victims of the Iran-backed suicide bombing were awarded $9 million in federal court.[17]


2001 Ben Yehuda Street Bombings
Part of the Second Intifada militancy campaign
Location Ben Yehuda Street, Jerusalem
Coordinates 31°48′N 35°12′ECoordinates: 31°48′N 35°12′E
Date December 1, 2001
Target Pedestrian shopping mall, responding paramedics
Attack type
suicide bombers and a car bomb
Deaths 11 (+ 2 suicide bombers)
Non-fatal injuries

On December 1, 2001, two suicide bombers detonated themselves on Ben Yehuda Street, followed by a car bomb set to go off as paramedics arrived. Thirteen people were killed, including a number of soldiers out of uniform, and 188 were injured. Hamas claimed responsibility,[18] stating that it was in retaliation for the killing of senior Hamas militant Mahmud Abu Hanoud. A Hamas spokesman in Gaza stated that these bombings did not assuage its lust for vengeance and that it would carry out further bombings.[19][20] Lawsuits were filed against Arab Bank, NatWest and Crédit Lyonnais for channeling money to Hamas.[21]


  • Assaf Avitan, 15 [22]
  • Ido Cohen, 17 (died of his wounds on December 8) [23]
  • Michael Moshe Dahan, 21 [24]
  • Ya’akov Danino, 17 [25]
  • Yosef El-Ezra, 18 [26]
  • Sgt. Nir Haftzadi, 19 [27]
  • Yuri (Yoni) Korganov, 20 [28]
  • Golan Turgeman, 15 [29]
  • Guy Vaknin, 19 [30]
  • Adam Weinstein, 14 [31]
  • Moshe Yedid-Levy, 19 [32]

Non-lethal attacks

  • September 8, 1971: A grenade was thrown into the entrance of Cafe Alno on Ben Yehuda Street. It did not explode and there were no injuries.
  • December 12, 1974: An explosive device went off in Ben Yehuda Street. Thirteen people were injured lightly to moderately.
  • April 9, 1976: A car bomb was dismantled on Ben Yehuda Street shortly before it was to have exploded.
  • May 2, 1981: A police sapper was moderately injured by an explosive charge that had been placed in a trash can near Cafe Alno.
  • August 15, 1984: A car bomb was discovered on Ben Yehuda Street and defused about 10 minutes before it was to have exploded. In the car were about 12 kilograms of explosives and three kilograms of iron nails.
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Deir Yassin


Yad Vashem, Israel’s official holocaust museum, is built 2000 feet from the Deir Yassin massacre site

Mordechai Ra’anan, the Irgun commander in Jerusalem, told reporters on April 10 that 254 Arab bodies had been counted, a figure published by The New York Times on April 13.

The Deir Yassin massacre took place on April 9, 1948, when around 120 fighters from the Zionist paramilitary groups Irgun and Lehi attacked Deir Yassin, a Palestinian Arab village of roughly 600 people near Jerusalem. The assault occurred as Jewish militia sought to relieve the blockade of Jerusalem during the civil war that preceded the end of British rule in Palestine.[1]

Dier Yassin massacre 1948 Egyptian commemoration stamp issued in 1965

According to Irgun sources, the village guards felt surprised by “the Jews” entering their village at night and opened fire on the Irgun force.[2] The village fell after fierce house-to-house fighting. During and after the battle for the village, at least 107 Palestinians were killed, including women and children—some were shot, while others died when hand grenades were thrown into their homes.[3] Despite an original boast by the victors that 254 had been killed, Aref al-Aref counted 117 victims, 7 in combat, and the rest in their homes.[4]According to a count conducted by International Red Cross representative Jacques de Reynier, apart from bodies left lying in the streets, 150 corpses were found in one cistern alone, among them people who had been either decapitated or disemboweled.[5] Several villagers were taken prisoner and may have been killed after being paraded through the streets of West Jerusalem.[6] Morris wrote that there were also cases of mutilation and rape.[7] Four of the attackers were killed, with around 35 injured.[8]

The killings were condemned by the leadership of the Haganah—the Jewish community’s main paramilitary force—and by the area’s two chief rabbis. The Jewish Agency for Israel sent Jordan’s King Abdullah a letter of apology, which he rebuffed.[1] Abdullah held the Jewish Agency responsible for the massacre, because they were the head of Jewish affairs in Palestine.[9] He warned about “terrible consequences” if more incidents like that occurred.[10]

The deaths became a pivotal event in the Arab–Israeli conflict for their demographic and military consequences. The narrative was embellished and used by various parties to attack each other—by the Palestinians against Israel; by the Haganah to play down their own role in the affair; and by the Israeli left to accuse the Irgun and Lehi of blackening Israel’s name by violating the Jewish principle of purity of arms.[11] News of the killings sparked terror among Palestinians, encouraging them to flee from their towns and villages in the face of Jewish troop advances, and it strengthened the resolve of Arab governments to intervene, which they did five weeks later.[1]

United Nations United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine
Jerusalem Corpus Separatum

The attack on Deir Yassin took place after the United Nations proposed on November 29, 1947 (UN Resolution 181) that Palestine be divided into an Arab state and a Jewish one. Jerusalem was to belong to neither state, but was to be administered separately; Deir Yassin lay within the boundaries of the proposed plan for Jerusalem. The Arabs rejected the proposal, and civil war broke out.

In the months leading up to the end of British rule, in a phase of the civil war known as “The Battle of [the] Roads”, the Arab League-sponsored Arab Liberation Army (ALA)—composed of Palestinians and other Arabs—attacked Jewish traffic on major roads in an effort to isolate the Jewish communities from each other.[12] The ALA managed to seize several strategic vantage points along the highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv—Jerusalem’s sole supply route and link to the western side of the city (where 16 percent of all Jews in Palestine lived)—and began firing on convoys traveling to the city. By March 1948, the road was cut off and Jerusalem was under siege. In response, the Haganah launched Operation Nachshon to break the siege. On April 6, in an effort to secure strategic positions, the Haganah and its strike force, the Palmach, attacked al-Qastal, a village two kilometers north of Deir Yassin overlooking the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. On April 9, Irgun and Lehi forces attacked nearby Deir Yassin.[13]

Deir Yassin

Map showing Deir Yassin and surrounds in 1948

Deir Yassin was a Palestinian Arab village of several hundred residents, all Muslim, living in 144 houses.[14] The International Committee of the Red Cross reported that there were 400 residents; Yoav Gelber writes that there were 610, citing the British mandatory authority figures; and Menachem Begin‘s biographer, Eric Silver, 800 to 1,000.[15] It was situated on a hill west of Jerusalem, 800 meters above sea level, overlooking the main highway entering Jerusalem.[16] The village was relatively prosperous, thanks to the excavation of limestone from its quarries, which allowed the residents to make a good living from stone-cutting. By most accounts, they lived in peace with their Jewish neighbors in nearby villages, particularly those in Givat Shaul, an Orthodox community just across the valley, some of whom reportedly tried to help the Deir Yassin villagers during the Irgun-Lehi invasion.[17]

On January 20, 1948, the villagers met leaders of the Givat Shaul community to form a peace pact. The Deir Yassin villagers agreed to inform Givat Shaul should Palestinian militiamen appear in the village, by hanging out certain types of laundry during the day—two white pieces with a black piece in the middle—and at night signaling three dots with a flashlight and placing three lanterns in a certain place. In return, patrols from Givat Shaul guaranteed safe passage to Deir Yassin residents, in vehicles or on foot, passing through their neighborhood on the way to Jerusalem.[18] Yoma Ben-Sasson, Haganah commander in Givat Shaul, said after the village had been captured that, “there was not even one incident between Deir Yassin and the Jews.”[19]

Arab militia

Arab militiamen had tried to set up camp in the village, leading to a firefight that saw one villager killed. Just before January 28, Abd al Qadir had arrived with 400 men and tried to recruit some villagers, but the elders voiced their opposition and the men moved on. The leader of the village, the mukhtar, was summoned to Jerusalem to explain to the Arab Higher Committee (AHC), the Palestinian Arab leadership, what the village’s relationship was with the Jews: he told them the villagers and the Jews lived in peace. No steps were taken against him, and he was not asked to cancel the peace pact.[20] On February 13, an armed gang of Arabs arrived to attack Givat Shaul, but the Deir Yassin villagers saw them off, the result of which was that the gang killed all the village’s sheep. On March 16, the AHC sent a delegation to the village to request that it host a group of Iraqi and Syrian irregulars to guard it. The villagers said no then, and again on April 4,[21] though Irgun fighters said they did encounter at least two foreign militiamen during the April 9 invasion.[22]

The view that the relationship between Deir Yassin and its neighbors was invariably peaceful is disputed by Yehuda Lapidot (underground name, “Nimrod”), the Irgun’s second-in-command of the operation to take the village. He writes that there had been occasional skirmishes between Deir Yassin and Givat Shaul residents, and that on April 3, shots had been fired from Deir Yassin toward the Jewish villages of Bet Hakerem and Yefe Nof. He writes that the village was defended by 100 armed men, that ditches had been dug around it, that Iraqi and Palestinian guerrillas were stationed there, and that there was a guard force stationed by the village entrance.[22] Benny Morris writes that it is possible some militiamen were stationed in the village, but the evidence is far from definitive, in his view.[23] In Gelber’s view, it is unlikely that the peace pact between Deir Yassin and Givat Shaul continued to hold in April, given the intensity of hostilities between the Arab and Jewish communities elsewhere. He writes that shots had been exchanged on April 2 between Deir Yassin and several Jewish communities. Over the next few days, the Jewish community at Motza and Jewish traffic on the road to Tel Aviv came under fire from the village. On April 8, Deir Yassin youth took part in the defence of the Arab village of al-Qastal, which the Jews had invaded days earlier: the names of several Deir Yassin residents appeared on a list of wounded compiled by the British Palestine police.[24]

Irgun and Lehi militia


Israel’s sixth prime minister, Menachem Begin, was Irgun leader at the time of the attack, though not present. The King David Hotel bombing was planned by Menachem Begin—later to be the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize.

The Jewish forces that entered Deir Yassin belonged in the main to two extremist, underground, paramilitary groups, the Irgun (Etzel) (National Military Organization) and the Lehi (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel), also known as the Stern Gang, both aligned with the right-wing revisionist Zionist movement. Formed in 1931, Irgun was a militant group that broke away from the mainstream Jewish militia, the Haganah. During the 1936–39 Arab revolt in Palestine, in which Palestinian Arabs rose up against the British mandate authorities in protest at mass Jewish immigration into the country, Irgun’s tactics had included bus and marketplace bombings, condemned by both the British and the Jewish Agency. Lehi, an Irgun splinter group, was formed in 1940 following Irgun’s decision to declare a truce with the British during World War II. Lehi subsequently carried out a series of assassinations designed to force the British out of Palestine. In April 1948, it was estimated that the Irgun had 300 fighters in Jerusalem, and Lehi around 100.[25]

The Palmach, the strike force of the Haganah—whose leadership was aligned with the political left (see Mapai)—also took part, though to a lesser extent. Morris writes that two Palmach squads evacuated the wounded, and helped invade and secure some of the villagers’ houses. When the Irgun and Lehi fighters ran low on ammunition, they obtained thousands of rounds from the Haganah. Haganah squads also provided covering fire, and fired on villagers fleeing south towards Ayn Karim.[26]

Battle plans

Decision to attack


David Shaltiel, Haganah commander in Jerusalem, approved the attack.[27]

The attack on the village was important for two reasons, according to Yehuda Lapidot of the Irgun. In the view of Irgun and Lehi, it posed a threat to Jewish neighborhoods and the main road to the coastal plain, and it was the first time Jewish forces had gone on the offensive, as opposed to responding to attacks. An assault on the village would show the Arabs that the Jews intended to fight for Jerusalem.[22]

Eric Silver writes that Irgun and Lehi commanders approached David Shaltiel, the Haganah commander in Jerusalem, for approval. He was initially reluctant, because the villagers had signed a non-aggression pact, and suggested attacking Ein Karem instead. The Lehi and Irgun commanders complained that this would be too hard for them. Shaltiel ultimately yielded, on condition that the attackers remain in the village rather than leaving it empty, to prevent it becoming an Arab military base.[28] His approval met with resistance. Meir Pa’il, an intelligence officer with the Palmach, the Haganah’s strike force, objected to violating the peace pact with the village, but Shaltiel maintained that he had no power to stop them. Pa’il said in 1998 that Yitzchak Levi, head of Haganah intelligence in Jerusalem, had proposed the inhabitants be notified, but Shaltiel had refused to endanger the operation by warning them.[29]

According to Morris, it was agreed during planning meetings that the residents would be expelled. Lehi further proposed that any villagers who failed to flee should be killed to terrify the rest of the country’s Arabs. Most of the fighters at the meetings, from both the Irgun and Lehi, favored killing the male villagers, but the Irgun high command, including Menachem Begin, objected. According to Lapidot, the troops were specifically ordered not to kill women, children, or prisoners.[23]

Pre-attack briefing

Jewish military briefing at Deir Yassin

Mordechai Raanan with Menachem Begin during a visit to Washington, D.C.

According to the Haganah, the attack force consisted of about 120 men—80 from the Irgun and 40 from Lehi.[30] They met for briefings on April 8, a few hours before the attack began. Lehi would stage its attack from Givat Shaul, and the Irgun from Beit HaKerem. Lapidot writes that the mood at the Irgun meeting was festive. It was the first time a large number of underground fighters had met openly, and the collaboration between the groups increased their sense of solidarity. They chose a password to reflect the mood, “Ahdut Lohemet” (“Fighters’ Solidarity”). This was the phrase that would signal the start of the attack. According to Lapidot, Mordechai Raanan, the Irgun district commander in Jerusalem, stressed that women, children, and the elderly must not be harmed, and that the villagers were to be warned by loudspeaker to give them a chance to escape. The road to Ayn Karim would be left open so they could head there.[22]

The attack



Irgun statement in Hebrew about the attack[31]


English translation

After the briefing, the fighters were driven to their assigned positions. Despite their confidence, the fighters were by all accounts ill-prepared, untrained, and inexperienced.[26]

The Irgun force approached Deir Yassin from the east and south, and arrived at the edge of the village at about 4:30 AM. The Lehi force was supposed to be taking their positions around the village at the same time, but were in fact late. The Irgun commanders had no way to contact them, and had to assume they were on schedule. Fighting began when at 04:45, when a village sentry spotted them moving in, and he called out in Arabic, “Mahmoud”. One of the Irgun fighters thought he had said “Ahdut”, part of the password. He responded with the second half of the password, “Lohemet”. According to the Irgun commander the Arabs shouted “Yahud” (Jews) and opened fire.[2] A fierce gunbattle then broke out. The Irgun force came under fire from a three-man village guard in a concrete pillbox, and from houses in the village as residents scrambled for their rifles to join the battle, firing out of windows. The Irgun men replied with withering fire towards the pillbox and into the village. When the Lehi force, which was late, finally arrived at the other end of the village to begin the attack, the fighting was already underway. The Lehi force was spearheaded by an armored car with a loudspeaker. The plan was to drive the car into the center of the village and blare a warning through urging the residents to run towards Ein Karim. Instead, the car plunged into a homemade tank trap directly in front of the village, and as it struggled to get out, the Arabs opened fire on it. The loudspeaker activated, but was largely obscured due to the sounds of heavy gunfire, though Abu Mahmoud, a villager, told the BBC in 1998 that he did hear the warning.[32][33]

Irgun and Lehi commanders had believed the residents would flee, but the fighters encountered resistance. The residents did not realize that the point of the attack was conquest, thinking it just a raid, and failed to run while they had the chance.[34] The villagers’ sniper fire from higher positions in the west, especially from the mukhtar’s house, effectively contained the attack. Some Lehi units went for help from the Haganah’s Camp Schneller in Jerusalem.[35] The men had no experience of attacking an Arab village in daylight, and lacked support weapons. Following an order from Benzion Cohen, the Irgun commander, they resorted to house-to-house attacks, throwing grenades into every house before charging in and spraying the rooms with automatic fire.[36]

The Lehi forces slowly advanced, engaging in fierce house-to-house fighting. In addition to fierce Arab resistance, they also faced other problems; weapons failed to work, a few tossed hand grenades without pulling the pin, and a Lehi unit commander, Amos Keynan, was wounded by his own men.[37] Ezra Yachin of Lehi recalled, “To take a house, you had either to throw a grenade or shoot your way into it. If you were foolish enough to open doors, you got shot down—sometimes by men dressed up as women, shooting out at you in a second of surprise.”[38] Meanwhile, the Irgun force on the other side of the village was also having a difficult time. When the Irgun commander Benzion Cohen was wounded, his place was taken by Yehuda Lapidot. It took about two hours of fierce house-to-house fighting to reach the center of the village.[33] By 7:00 a.m., discouraged by the heavy Arab fire and their own increasing casualties, Irgun commanders relayed a message to the Lehi camp that they were considering retreating. Lehi commanders relayed back that they had already entered the village and expected victory soon. The large number of Jewish wounded was a problem. A Magen David Adom station was called for an ambulance. The fighters took beds out of the houses, and doors off their hinges, laid the wounded on them, and ordered Arab women and old men to carry the injured to the ambulance. According to an Irgun participant, many of the stretcher bearers were hit by Arab fire.[39]

Lapidot sent word to Mordechai Raanan, who was watching the progress from Givat Shaul, to send explosives. Soon afterward, Raanan and his aides appeared with knapsacks filled with TNT. The Irgun fighters were then instructed to dynamite houses as they advanced. Under heavy covering fire, the dynamite teams advanced and set charges to houses. In certain instances, the force of the explosions destroyed entire parts of houses, burying the Arab fighters and civilians inside them. A total of 15 houses were blown up.[33] In the afternoon, a Palmach unit from the Haganah arrived with two armored vehicles and two two-inch mortars.[40] The mortar was fired three times at the mukhtar’s house, which stopped the sniper fire. According to one Palmach participant, “six of us went house to house, throwing grenades and bursting in.”[40] Lehi officer David Gottlieb said the Palmach had accomplished “in one hour what we could not accomplish in several hours”.[41]

The killing and the aftermath

Numbers killed

The fighting was over by about 11:00 am. Jacques de Reynier, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Palestine, visited Deir Yassin on April 11, 1948, and observed “a total of more than 200 dead, men, women, and children”.[42] Mordechai Ranaan, Irgun’s district commander in Jerusalem, gave a news conference at Givat Shaul at which he claimed 240 were killed. This story was repeated by the BBC and the Hebrew news services. The New York Times, April 13, 1948, reported that 254 Arabs were killed at Deir Yassin.[43] Sharif Kan’ana of Bir Zeit University interviewed survivors and published figures in 1988: 107 villagers had died, 11 of them armed, with 12 wounded.[44] An Irgun fighter testified years later that Irgun and Lehi men had killed 80 prisoners after the fighting was over. Gelber writes that the figure is inflated and has not been corroborated. Kan’ana writes that 25 villagers were executed and thrown into the quarry after the battle, which Gelber regards as accurate.[45]

Meir Pa’il account

Morris writes that the Irgun and Lehi troops began pillaging the houses and corpses, stealing money and jewelery from the survivors, and burning corpses.[26] Morris also wrote that there were cases of mutilation and rape.[7] Many of the eyewitness accounts come from Haganah officers. Eliahu Arbel, Operations Officer B of the Haganah’s Etzioni Brigade, arrived at the scene on April 10. “I have seen a great deal of war,” he said years later, “but I never saw a sight like Deir Yassin.”[46] Morris writes that the most detailed report comes from Meir Pa’il, a Palmach intelligence officer who said he visited the village on April 9 to observe the operation on behalf of the Haganah:

The dissidents [Irgun and Lehi] were going about the village robbing and stealing everything: Chickens, radio sets, sugar, money, gold and more … Each dissident walked about the village dirty with blood and proud of the number of persons he had killed. Their lack of education and intelligence as compared to our soldiers [i.e., the Haganah] was apparent… In one of the houses at the centre of the village were assembled some 200 women and small children. The women sat quietly and didn’t utter a word. When I arrived, the “commander” explained that they intended to kill all of them. [But] in the evening I heard that the women and children had been transported and released in Musrara.[47]

Pa’il writes that the Haredi people of Givat Shaul came to help the villagers at around 2 p.m., and were able to stop the killing:[48]

[A] crowd of people from Givat Shaul, with peyot (earlocks), most of them religious, came into the village and started yelling “gazlanim” “rotzchim”—(thieves, murderers) “we had an agreement with this village. It was quiet. Why are you murdering them?” They were Chareidi (ultra-orthodox) Jews. This is one of the nicest things I can say about Hareidi [sic] Jews. These people from Givat Shaul gradually approached and entered the village, and the Lehi and Irgun people had no choice, they had to stop. It was about 2:00 or 3:00 PM. Then the Lehi and Irgun gathered about 250 people, most of them women, children and elderly people in a school house. Later the building became a “Beit Habad”—”Habad House”. They were debating what to do with them. There was a great deal of yelling. The dissidents were yelling “Let’s blow up the schoolhouse with everyone in it” and the Givat Shaul people were yelling “thieves and murderers—don’t do it” and so on. Finally they put the prisoners from the schoolhouse on four trucks and drove them to the Arab quarter of Jerusalem near the Damascus gate. I left after the fourth truck went out.

It was Friday afternoon. It must have been about 4:00–5:00 P.M because the religious people had begun leaving to prepare for the Sabbath.[17]

Israeli military historian Uri Milstein wrote in 1998 that Pa’il was not in Deir Yassin on April 9. Milstein said there were contradictions in Pa’il’s claims and an absence of any mention of Pa’il in other Haganah accounts of the incident. All Irgun and Lehi veterans Milstein interviewed denied having seen Pa’il in Deir Yassin, and the Lehi intelligence officer who Pa’il claimed invited him to Deir Yassin denied having done so. In addition, Haganah members who were in the area (including the deputy commander of the Palmach force that took part in the attack), some of whom personally knew Pa’il and were specifically mentioned in his account, denied having seen him there. Milstein argues that there was no organized massacre, though according to Morris he acknowledges that whole families were gunned down during the fighting. According to Milstein, Pa’il said he despised the “dissidents” of the Irgun and Lehi, thus giving him a political motive to submit a falsified report. Milstein also claims that Haganah intelligence reports on the incident were doctored by the authors or their superiors to discredit the Irgun and Lehi because of political in-fighting within the Jewish community.[49]

Villagers taken to Jerusalem, possibly killed

Morris writes that the Irgun and Lehi troops loaded some survivors, including women and children, onto trucks, and drove them through the streets of West Jerusalem, where they were jeered, spat at, and stoned.[26] Harry Levin, a Haganah broadcaster, reported seeing “three trucks driving slowly up and down King George V Avenue bearing men, women, and children, their hands above their heads, guarded by Jews armed with sten-guns and rifles.”[50] Contrary to Pa’il’s account that people from Givat Shaul had helped the prisoners, Mordechai Gichon of the Haganah wrote on April 10 that they had taken part in the torture of prisoners, referring to their being kicked and shoved with rifle butts.[51]

Pi’al reported to Haganah intelligence on April 10 that he saw five Arab men being paraded through the streets, and later saw their bodies in a quarry near Givat Shaul. Morris writes that this is supported by a report from Dr. Z. Avigdori, the chairman of the Jerusalem branch of the Palestine Physicians Association, and his deputy, Dr. A. Druyan, who were sent by the Jewish Agency to examine the scene on April 12. They walked from house to house, counting and examining corpses. Their report said they found 46 corpses. The cause of death had been injuries from bullets or bombs, and that “all the bodies were dressed in their own clothes, limbs were whole and we saw no signs of mutilation.” They also said they found five male bodies in a house by the village quarry.[52]


Fifty-five orphans from the village were left by the Jaffa Gate to fend for themselves.

Mordechai Gihon, a Haganah intelligence (HIS) officer in Jerusalem, reported on April 10 seeing people carry bodies to the quarry east of Deir Yassin: “We entered the village around 3:00 in the afternoon [of April 9] … In the village there were tens of bodies. The dissidents got them out of the roads. I told them not to throw the bodies into cisterns and caves, because that was the first place that would be checked….” He described beatings, looting, and the stripping of jewelry and money from prisoners. He wrote that the initial orders were to take the men prisoner and send the women and children away, but the order was changed to kill all the prisoners. The mukhtar’s son was killed in front of his mother and sisters, he said.[53]

The head of the HIS in Jerusalem, Yitzhak Levy, wrote in reports dated April 12 and 13: “The conquest of the village was carried out with great brutality, whole families [including] women, old people and children were killed and there are piles and piles of dead.”[26] He wrote that a mother and child who had been moved from Deir Yassin to Sheikh Badr were killed there by Lehi fighters. Seven old men and women, who had been taken to Jerusalem, were taken back to Deir Yassin and killed in the quarry there, he wrote, and an Arab man, believed to be a sniper, was killed and his corpse burned in front of foreign journalists.[26]

Fifty-five children from the village whose parents had been killed were taken to the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, and left there. They were found by a Palestinian woman, Hind Husseini, a member of the prominent Palestinian Husseini family. She at first rented two rooms for them, bringing them food every day, before moving them to the Sahyoun convent. In July, she moved them again, this time to her family home, a large house her grandfather had built in Jerusalem in 1891. She renamed the house Dar Al-Tifl Al-Arabi (Arab Children’s House), and set up a foundation to finance it. The orphanage continues to this day.[54]

Irgun–Lehi press conference

On the evening of April 9, the fighters invited American journalists to a house in Givat Shaul, where they served tea and cookies while explaining the attacks. A spokesman said he regretted the casualties among the women and children, but they were inevitable because every house had to be reduced by force.[55] Ten houses had been blown up entirely, he said, though Yoav Gelber writes that this is untrue; he says the Irgun and Lehi forces had not been carrying explosives.[34] Other houses had their doors blown off and hand grenades thrown inside.[55] Morris writes that the killing continued after April 9. Several residents who had either hidden or pretended to have died were apparently killed by Lehi men on April 10 or 11.[51]

Haganah and Palestine Police Force reports

A number of sources alleged there had been instances of rape. Yitzhak Levy, head of Haganah Intelligence, wrote on April 13: “LHI [Lehi] members tell of the barbaric behavior of the IZL [Irgun] toward the prisoners and the dead. They also relate that the IZL men raped a number of Arab girls and murdered them afterward….” [56] Levy went on to say that he was not certain the allegations were true.[56] The main source of the rape allegations was Assistant Inspector-General Richard Catling of the British Palestine Police Force. He wrote one or more reports based on interviews he conducted in Silwan with some of the Deir Yassin women:

On 14th April at 10 a.m. I visited Silwan village accompanied by a doctor and a nurse from the Government Hospital in Jerusalem and a member of the Arab Women’s Union. We visited many houses in this village in which approximately some two to three hundred people from Deir Yassin village are housed. I interviewed many of the women folk in order to glean some information on any atrocities committed in Deir Yassin but the majority of those women are very shy and reluctant to relate their experiences especially in matters concerning sexual assault and they need great coaxing before they will divulge any information. The recording of statements is hampered also by the hysterical state of the women who often break down many times whilst the statement is being recorded. There is, however, no doubt that many sexual atrocities were committed by the attacking Jews. Many young schoolgirls were raped and later slaughtered. Old women were also molested. One story is current concerning a case in which a young girl was literally torn in two. Many infants were also butchered and killed. I also saw one old woman who gave her age as one hundred and four who had been severely beaten about the head with rifle butts. Women had bracelets torn from their arms and rings from their fingers and parts of some of the women’s ears were severed in order to remove earrings.[57]

Yoav Gelber writes that Catling was “an old and bitter enemy” of the Irgun and Lehi. The whereabouts of his original reports are unknown, and writers refer to them only indirectly, citing Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins’s book O Jerusalem (1972) as their source. Lapierre and Collins write that copies of three of Catling’s reports were in their possession when they wrote the book.[58]

Red Cross visit

Jacques de Reynier, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Palestine, and his assistant Dr. Alfred Engel, visited Deir Yassin on April 11. In his personal memoirs, published in 1950, Reynier wrote: “a total of more than 200 dead, men, women, and children. About 150 cadavers have not been preserved inside the village in view of the danger represented by the bodies’ decomposition. They have been gathered, transported some distance, and placed in a large trough (I have not been able to establish if this is a pit, a grain silo, or a large natural excavation). … [One body was] a woman who must have been eight months pregnant, hit in the stomach, with powder burns on her dress indicating she’d been shot point-blank.”[42] He wrote that he had encountered a “cleaning-up team” when he arrived the village.

The gang [the Irgun detachment] was wearing country uniforms with helmets. All of them were young, some even adolescents, men and women, armed to the teeth: revolvers, machine-guns, hand grenades, and also cutlasses in their hands, most of them still blood-stained. A beautiful young girl, with criminal eyes, showed me hers still dripping with blood; she displayed it like a trophy. This was the “cleaning up” team, that was obviously performing its task very conscientiously.

I tried to go into a house. A dozen soldiers surrounded me, their machine-guns aimed at my body, and their officer forbade me to move … I then flew into one of the most towering rages of my life, telling these criminals what I thought of their conduct, threatening them with everything I could think of, and then pushed them aside and went into the house

…I found some bodies, cold. Here the “cleaning up” had been done with machine-guns, then hand grenades. It had been finished off with knives, anyone could see that … as I was about to leave, I heard something like a sigh. I looked everywhere, turned over all the bodies, and eventually found a little foot, still warm. It was a little girl of ten, mutilated by a hand grenade, but still alive …[42]

After his inspection, the Irgun asked him to sign a document to say he had been received courteously and thanking them for their help. When he refused, they told him he would sign it if he valued his life. “The only course open to me was to convince them that I did not value my life in the least,” he wrote.[42]

Menachem Begin hailed the taking of Deir Yassin as a “splendid act of conquest” that would serve as a model for the future: in a note to his commanders he wrote: ‘Tell the soldiers: you have made history in Israel with your attack and your conquest. Continue thus until victory. As in Deir Yassin, so everywhere, we will attack and smite the enemy. God, God, Thou has chosen us for conquest.’[59]


Appeals to the British

The Arab emergency committee in Jerusalem learned of the attack around nine in the morning of April 9, including reports about the killing of women and children. They requested the help of the British, but did nothing further. In the late afternoon, they started to hear reports of women and children being paraded through the streets of Jerusalem. They sent the prisoners food and again appealed to the British army to intervene, to no avail.[34] Gelber writes that the British were not keen to take on the Irgun and Lehi, who would have fought back if attacked, unlike the Haganah. High Commissioner Sir Alan Cunningham urged that troops be sent to Deir Yassin, but General Sir Gordon MacMillan, commander of the Palestine Forces, said he would risk British lives only for British interests. The RAF commanding officer offered to fire rockets on the Jewish forces in the village, but the light bombers had been sent to Egypt and the rockets to Iraq.[60] Cunningham later said the RAF had brought a squadron of Tempest aircraft from Iraq to bomb the village, but he cancelled the operation when he learned the Haganah had arrived there and had garrisoned it.[61]


The Jordanian newspaper Al Urdun published a survivor’s account in 1955, which said the Palestinians had deliberately exaggerated stories about atrocities in Deir Yassin to encourage others to fight, stories that had caused them to flee instead. Everyone had reason to spread the atrocity narrative. The Irgun and Lehi wanted to frighten Arabs into fleeing; the Arabs wanted to provoke an international response; the Haganah wanted to tarnish the Irgun and Lehi; and the Arabs and the British wanted to malign the Jews.[62] In addition, Milstein writes, the left-wing Mapai party and David Ben-Gurion, who became Israel’s first prime minister on May 14, exploited Deir Yassin to stop a power-sharing agreement with the right-wing Revisionists—who were associated with Irgun and Lehi—a proposal that was being debated at the time in Tel Aviv.[63] Mordechai Ra’anan, the Irgun commander in Jerusalem, told reporters on April 10 that 254 Arab bodies had been counted, a figure published by The New York Times on April 13.[64] In 1987, in a study regarded as authoritative, Sharif Kan’ana of Bir Zeit University concluded by interviewing survivors that 107 had died, with 12 wounded.[44]

Hazem Nuseibeh, the news editor of the Palestine Broadcasting Service at the time of the attack, gave an interview to the BBC in 1998. He spoke about a discussion he had with Hussayn Khalidi, the deputy chairman of the Higher Arab Executive in Jerusalem, shortly after the killings: “I asked Dr. Khalidi how we should cover the story. He said, ‘We must make the most of this.’ So he wrote a press release, stating that at Deir Yassin, children were murdered, pregnant women were raped, all sorts of atrocities.”[65] Gelber writes that Khalidi told journalists on April 11 that the village’s dead included 25 pregnant women, 52 mothers of babies, and 60 girls.[66]

The stories of rape angered the villagers, who complained to the Arab emergency committee that their wives and daughters were being exploited in the service of propaganda.[67] Abu Mahmud, who lived in Deir Yassin in 1948, was one of those who complained. He told the BBC: “We said, ‘There was no rape.’ He [Hussayn Khalidi] said, ‘We have to say this so the Arab armies will come to liberate Palestine from the Jews.'”[65] “This was our biggest mistake,” said Nusseibeh. “We did not realize how our people would react. As soon as they heard that women had been raped at Deir Yassin, Palestinians fled in terror. They ran away from all our villages.”[65] He told Larry Collins in 1968: “We committed a fatal error, and set the stage for the refugee problem.”[68] A villager known as Haj Ayish stated “there had been no rape.” He questioned the accuracy of the Arab radio broadcasts that “talked of women being killed and raped”, and instead believed that “most of those who were killed were among the fighters and the women and children who helped the fighters.”[69] Mohammed Radwan, one of the villagers who fought the attackers, said: “There were no rapes. It’s all lies. There were no pregnant women who were slit open. It was propaganda that … Arabs put out so Arab armies would invade. They ended up expelling people from all of Palestine on the rumor of Deir Yassin.”[70] Radwan added “I know when I speak that God is up there and God knows the truth and God will not forgive the liars.”[70] Historian Abdel Jawad states that women at Deir Yassin spoke to British interrogators about rapes occurring and their opinion that this was the worst thing that happened. He states that it was something that could not be discussed in their society and was never talked of by the men.[71] Citing Hasso (2000:495) Isabelle Humphries and Laleh Khalili note that in Palestine men’s honour was tied to “the maintenance of kin women’s virginity (when unmarried) or exclusive sexual availability (when married)”, and that this culture led to the suppression of the narratives of rape victims.[72]

In 1969, the Israeli Foreign Ministry published an English pamphlet “Background Notes on Current Themes: Deir Yassin” denying that there had been a massacre at Deir Yassin, that the village was the home of an Iraqi garrison, and calling the massacre story “part of a package of fairy tales, for export and home consumption”.[73] The pamphlet led to a series of derivative articles giving the same message, mostly outside Israel.[73] Menachem Begin’s Herut party disseminated a Hebrew translation in Israel, causing a widespread but largely non-public debate within the Israeli establishment.[73] Several former leaders of the Haganah demanded that the pamphlet be withdrawn on account of its inaccuracy, but the Foreign Ministry explained that “While our intention and desire is to maintain accuracy in our information, we sometimes are forced to deviate from this principle when we have no choice or alternative means to rebuff a propaganda assault or Arab psychological warfare.”[73] Yitzhak Levi, the 1948 leader of Hagana Intelligence, wrote to Begin: “On behalf of the truth and the purity of arms of the Jewish soldier in the War of Independence, I see it as my duty to warn you against continuing to spread this untrue version about what happened in Deir Yassin to the Israeli public. Otherwise there will be no avoiding raising the matter publicly and you will be responsible.”[73] Eventually, the Foreign Ministry agreed to stop distributing the pamphlet, but it remains the source of many popular accounts.[73]

Exodus and invasion


Golda Meir, disguised as an Arab, appealed to King Abdullah of Jordan not to invade.

Maxime Rodinson argued that the massacre at Deir Yassin, and the fear of further terrorism that it inspired in the Palestinian population, was a major cause of the subsequent Palestinian flight.[74] Mapam‘s leaders later concluded that the fall of Deir Yassin and Haifa were the two pivotal events of the Palestinian exodus. On April 14, Irgun radio broadcast that villages around Deir Yassin and elsewhere were being evacuated. HIS intelligence reported that the residents of Beit Iksa and Al Maliha had fled. The village of Fureidis appealed for arms. The villages of Fajja and Mansura reached a peace agreement with their Jewish neighbors. Arabs fled from Haifa and Khirbet Azzun. A Haganah attack on Saris encountered no resistance, because of the fear of Deir Yassin, in the view of the British.[75] Menachem Begin, leader of the Irgun at the time of the attack, though not present at the village, wrote in 1977:


Abdullah said Deir Yassin had changed things, and that invasion was now unavoidable.

The enemy propaganda was designed to besmirch our name. In the result it helped us. Panic overwhelmed the Arabs of Eretz Israel. Kolonia village, which had previously repulsed every attack of the Haganah, was evacuated overnight and fell without further fighting. Beit-Iksa was also evacuated. These two places overlooked the main road; and their fall, together with the capture of al-Qastal by the Haganah, made it possible to keep open the road to Jerusalem. In the rest of the country, too, the Arabs began to flee in terror, even before they clashed with Jewish forces. Not what happened at Deir Yassin, but what was invented about Deir Yassin, helped to carve the way to our decisive victories on the battlefield … The legend was worth half a dozen battalions to the forces of Israel.[76]

The Deir Yassin attack, along with attacks on Tiberias, Haifa, and Jaffa, put pressure on Arab governments to invade Palestine. News of the killings had aroused public anger in the Arab world, which the governments felt unable to ignore.[75] Syria’s foreign minister remarked that the Arab public’s desire for war was irresistible. The arrival of tens of thousands of refugees further convinced them to act. A consensus favoring invasion began to emerge the day after Deir Yassin, at a meeting on April 10 in Cairo of the Arab League Political Committee.[77] Golda Meir, disguised in an Arab robe, met king Abdullah in Amman on May 10–11, the second such meeting between them. During their first, Abdullah had agreed to a partition of Palestine to include a Jewish state. Now, he retracted, suggesting instead a Jewish canton within a Hashemite kingdom. Deir Yassin had changed things, he said. Meir reported later that Abdullah was approaching war “as a person who is in a trap and can’t get out”. The Arab invasion began at midnight on May 14, when Abdullah fired a symbolic shot in the air, and shouted “Forward!”[78]

Deir Yassin today


Remains of the village inside the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center.

In 1949, despite protests, the Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Shaul Bet was built on what had been Deir Yassin’s land, now considered part of Har Nof, an Orthodox area.[79] Four Jewish scholars, Martin Buber, Ernst Simon, Werner Senator, and Cecil Roth, wrote to Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, asking that Deir Yassin be left uninhabited, or that its settlement be postponed. They wrote that it had become “infamous throughout the Jewish world, the Arab world and the whole world”. Settling the land so soon after the killings would amount to an endorsement of them. Ben-Gurion failed to respond, though the correspondents sent him copy after copy. Eventually his secretary replied that he had been too busy to read their letter.[80]

In 1951, construction of the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center began, using some of the village’s houses, now hidden behind the hospital’s fence, with entry closely restricted.[81] Har HaMenuchot, a Jewish cemetery, lies to the north. To the south is a valley containing part of the Jerusalem Forest, and on the other side of the valley, a mile and a half away, lie Mount Herzl and the Holocaust memorial museum, Yad Vashem.[82] Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi wrote in 1992:

Many of the village houses on the hill are still standing and have been incorporated into an Israeli hospital for the mentally ill that was established on the site. Some houses outside the fence of the hospital grounds are used for residential and commercial purposes, or as warehouses. Outside the fence, there are carob and almond trees and the stumps of olive trees. Several wells are located at the southwestern edge of the site. The old village cemetery, southeast of the site, is unkempt and threatened by debris from a ring road that has been constructed around the village hill. One tall cypress tree still stands at the center of the cemetery.[83]

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Massacres during the 1948 Palestine war

Killings and massacres during the 1948 Palestine war resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and unarmed soldiers.

Historians disagree concerning the effect these killings and massacres had on the 1948 Palestinian exodus and if whether or not these killings and massacres were carried out with the intent of hastening it.

fter about 30 years of nationalist conflict in Mandatory Palestine between Palestinian Arabs and Jewish Zionists and while no agreement could be found between parties, the British decided in February 1947 to terminate the Mandate and, on 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 (II) recommending the adoption and implementation of a plan of partition of Palestine.

The vote was immediately followed by a civil war in which Palestinian Arabs (supported by the Arab Liberation Army) and Palestinian Jews, fought against each other while the region was still fully under British rule. On 15 May 1948, following the Israeli Declaration of Independence the previous day, the armies of a number of Arab countries invaded what had just ceased to be Mandatory Palestine, turning it into the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.

The war caused the death of more than 20,000 people. The yishuv and later the Israelis suffered between 5,700 and 5,800 dead. The number of victims on the Arab side is unclear, but according to Benny Morris, it might have been slightly higher. In his book, Morris also mentions an estimation of 12,000 by Haj Amin al-Husseini in 1950. These losses amounted to around 1 percent of the population of each community.

Depending on the sources and the definition, between 10 and 70 massacres occurred during the 1948 war.

According to Benny Morris, Yishuv (or later Israeli) soldiers killed roughly 800 Arab civilians and prisoners of war. Most of these killings occurred as villages were overrun and captured during the Second phase of the Civil War, Operation Dani, Operation Hiram and Operation Yoav.

According to Benny Morris, Jewish forces were responsible for 24 massacres during the war. Aryeh Yizthaki attests to 10 major massacres with more than 50 victims each. Palestinian researcher Salman Abu-Sitta records 33, half of them occurring during the civil war period. Saleh Abdel Jawad has listed 68 villages where acts of indiscriminate killing of prisoners, and civilians took place, where no threat was posed to Yishuv or Israeli soldiers.

The main massacres and attacks against Jewish civilians were the Haifa Oil Refinery massacre where 39 Jews were killed by Arab workers after Irgun members had thrown a bomb into the crowd, and the Kfar Etzion massacre where around 120-150 defenders were killed by Arab irregulars, according to some accounts with the participation of Arab Legion soldiers. With 80 deaths, the Hadassah medical convoy attack is also reported in some sources as a massacre because it included the mass killing of medical personnel by Arabs.

Both Israeli archives and Palestinian testimonies confirm killings occurred in numerous Arab villages. According to Morris, the “worst cases” were the Saliha massacre with 60 to 70 killed, the Deir Yassin massacre with around 112, Lydda massacre with around 250 and the Abu Shusha massacre with 60-70. In Al-Dawayima, accounts of the death toll vary. Saleh Abd al-Jawad reports 100-200 casualties, Morris has estimated “hundreds” and also reports the IDF investigation which concluded 100 villagers had been killed. David Ben-Gurion gave the figure of 70-80. Saleh Abd al-Jawad reports the village’s mukhtar account that 455 people were missing following the al-Dawayima massacre, including 170 women and children.

Controversy surrounds the assertion that a massacre by Israelis took place at Tantura.

At the beginning of the Civil war, Jewish militias organized several bombing attacks against civilians and military Arab targets. On 12 December 1947, the Irgun placed a car bomb opposite the Damascus Gate, the main entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem, killing 20 people. On 4 January 1948, the Lehi detonated a lorry bomb against the headquarters of the paramilitary al-Najjada located in Jaffa’s Town Hall, killing 15 Arabs and injuring 80. During the night between 5 and 6 January, in Jerusalem, the Haganah bombed the Semiramis Hotel that had been reported to hide Arab militiamen, killing 24 people. The next day, Irgun members in a stolen police van rolled a barrel bomb into a large group of civilians who were waiting for a bus by the Jaffa Gate, killing around 16. Another Irgun bomb went off in the Ramla market on 18 February, killing 7 residents and injuring 45. On 28 February, the Palmach organised a bombing attack against a garage in Haifa, killing 30 people.

On 22 February 1948, supporters of Amin al-Husseini organised, with the help of British deserters, three attacks against the Jewish community in Jerusalem. Using car bombs aimed at the headquarters of the Palestine Post, the Ben Yehuda Street market and the backyard of the Jewish Agency’s offices, killing 22, 53 and 13 Jewish people respectively.

During the first months of 1948, the railway between Cairo and Haifa was often targeted. On 31 March, it was mined near Binyamina, a Jewish settlement in the neighborhood of Caesarea, killing 40 persons and wounding 60. The casualties were all civilians, mostly Arabs. Although there were some soldiers on the train, none were injured. The Palestine Post and the New York Times attributed the attack to Lehi.

The causes of the massacres are a matter of controversy. Morris considers that the killings and massacres occurred “[l]ike [in] most wars involving built-up areas.” According to Ilan Pappé, these took place in the context of an ethnic cleansing that “carr[ied] with it atrocious acts of mass killing and butchering of thousands of Palestinians were killed ruthlessly and savagely by Israeli troops of all backgrounds, ranks and ages.”

During the Civil War, the Haganah operatives had been cautioned against harming women and children but the Irgun and Lehi did not observe this distinction, while “Palestinian Arab militias often deliberately targeted civilians.” Due to the fact the British Mandate was not yet over, neither side could set up regular Prisoner of War camps and therefore take prisoners.

During the Arab-Israeli War, the fighting armies were more or less disciplined and “the killings of civilians and prisoners of war almost stopped, except for the series of atrocities committed by the IDF forces”.

Despite their rhetoric, Arab armies committed few atrocities and no large-scale massacre of prisoners took place when circumstances might have allowed them to happen, as when they took the Old City of Jerusalem or the villages of Atarot, Neve Yaakov, Nitzanim, Gezer and Mishmar Hayarden. On the contrary, on 28 May, when the inhabitants and fighters of the Old City surrendered, in fear for their lives, the Transjordanian Arab Legion protected them from the mob and even wounded or shot dead other Arabs.

With regard to massacres perpetrated by the IDF at the end of the war and particularly during Operation Hiram, where around 10 massacres occurred, Morris and Yoav Gelber consider that lack of discipline cannot explain the events. Gelber points out the “hard feelings [of the soldiers] towards the Palestinians” and the fact that the Palestinians had not fled like in former operations. Benny Morris thinks that they were related to a “general vengefulness and a desire by local commanders to precipitate a civilian exodus”.

To explain the difference in the number of killings and massacres, Morris speculates that “[t]his was probably due to the circumstance that the victorious Israelis captured some four hundred Arab villages and towns during April–November 1948, whereas the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab Liberation Army failed to take any settlements and the Arab armies that invaded in mid-May overran fewer than a dozen Jewish settlements”. He considers too that belligerents behaved reasonably well and that the “1948 [war] is noteworthy for the relatively small number of civilian casualties both in the battles themselves and in the atrocities that accompanied them” in comparison, for example, “with the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s or the Sudanese civil wars of the past fifty years”.

According to historians, whether deliberate or otherwise, the massacres did have a strong impact on the exodus of the Palestinian Arab population. For example, the Deir Yassin massacre is considered to have generated more panic among the Arab population than all other previous operations together and to have caused a mass flight of Palestinians in numerous areas, partly because the actual events at Deir Yassin were greatly embellished by the media.

Additionally, the Deir Yassin massacre became a strong argument for the Arab states to intervene against Israel. Arab League chief Azzam Pasha stated that ‘The massacre of Deir Yassin was to a great extent the cause of the wrath of the Arab nations and the most important factor for sending [in] the Arab armies’.

After the Partition vote, some Arab leaders threatened the Jewish population of Palestine. For example, they spoke of “driving the Jews into the sea” or ridding Palestine “of the Zionist Plague”.

According to the Israeli traditional historiography, these statements reflected the Arab intentions. While Benny Morris considers the real picture of the Arab aims to be more complex, notably because they were well aware they could not defeat the Jews, he argues that the Yishuv was indeed threatened with extinction and feared what would happen if the Arabs won. Gelber, on the other hand, regards these public statements as ‘meaningless’ and judges that the ‘actions [of their armies] imply that the aims of the Arab invasion were decidedly limited and focused mainly on saving Arab Palestine from total Jewish domination’.

During the conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine before the war, the criterion of “purity of arms” was used to distinguish between the respective attitudes of the Irgun and Haganah towards Arabs, with the latter priding itself on its adherence to this principle. Generally speaking, this precept requires that “weapons remain pure [and that] they are employed only in self-defence and [never] against innocent civilians and defenceless people”. But if it “remained a central value in education” it was “rather vague and intentionally blurred” at the practical level.

In 1946, at a meeting held between the heads of the Haganah, Ben-Gurion predicted a confrontation between the Arabs of Palestine and the Arab states. Concerning the “principle of purity of arms”, he stressed that: “The end does not justify all means. Our war is based on moral grounds” and during the 1948 War, the Mapam, the political party affiliated to Palmach, asked for “a strict observance of the Jewish Purity of arms to secure the moral character of [the] war”.

When he was criticized by Mapam members for his attitude concerning the Arab refugee problem, Ben-Gurion reminded them the events of Lydda and Ramla and the fact Palmach officers had been responsible for the “outrage that had encouraged the Arabs’ flight made the party uncomfortable.”

According to Avi Shlaim, “purity of arms” is one of the key features of ‘the conventional Zionist account or old history’ whose ‘popular-heroic-moralistic version of the 1948 war’ is ‘taught in Israeli schools and used extensively in the quest for legitimacy abroad’. Morris adds that ‘[t]he Israelis’ collective memory of fighters characterized by “purity of arms” is also undermined by the evidence of [the dozen case] of rapes committed in conquered towns and villages.’ According to him, ‘after the war, the Israelis tended to hail the “purity of arms” of its militiamen and soldiers to contrast this with Arab barbarism, which on occasion expressed itself in the mutilation of captured Jewish corpses.’ According to him, ‘this reinforced the Israelis’ positive self-image and helped them “sell” the new state abroad and (…) demonized the enemy’.

There is a controversy among historians concerning the events of Tantura. On the night between 22 and 23 May 1948, soldiers of the Alexandroni brigade attacked the village. The fighting caused the deaths of a few dozen Arabs and 14 Israeli soldiers.

According to the analysis of Gelber, based on a counting of the inhabitants, the refugees, the POW’s and the deaths, there were no people missing and therefore no massacre could have occurred. Morris’s analysis concludes that the documentation and the interviews do not prove that a massacre occurred but that the hypothesis cannot be simply dismissed. Ilan Pappé considers that the testimonies of former Alexandroni soldiers and Palestinian refugees prove, on the contrary, that at least 200 unarmed Tantura villagers were killed, whether in revenge for the death of Israeli soldiers due to sniper shots or later when they were unjustifiably accused of hiding weapons.

Nadine Picaudou studied the evolution of Palestinian historiography on the 1948 war. She argues that the Deir Yassin massacre long remained the only one discussed ‘as if it sufficed to summarize the tragedy of Palestinian victims’. She thinks that during the period for which ‘collective memory conflated with Palestinian nationalist mobilization, one exemplary event sufficed to express the tragedy’. Referring to the study performed in 2007 by Saleh Abd al-Jawad, Zionist Massacres: the Creation of the Palestinian Refugee Problem in the 1948 War, she writes that the massacres engaged Palestinian historians’ concerns relatively late, but that when ‘Palestinians began to write their history, the issue of massacres inevitably became one of the relevant factors in accounting for the mass exodus.’

Nadine Picaudou also underlines that ‘Palestinian historiography has retained the nakba paradigm, which reduces the Palestinians to the status of passive victims of Israeli policies, as [illustrated by] the limited attention accorded by researchers to the 1947-48 battles (…)’.

In the context of the 1948 war, several historians pointed out the nuance, sometimes polemically, that can exist between a “battle” and a “massacre”.

Deir Yassin

The village of Deir Yassin was located west of Jerusalem, but its strategic importance was debatable and its inhabitants were not participants in the war. On 9 April, around 120 men from the Irgun and the Lehi attacked the village in the context of the Operation Nachshon. The poorly armed inhabitants showed unexpected resistance to the attack by fighting back. The assailants suffered four dead. Jacques de Reynier, head of the International Red Cross delegation in Palestine, visited Deir Yassin on April 11, 1948 and observed “a total of more than 200 dead, men, women, and children.” After the fighting, some villagers were executed after being exhibited in the streets of Jerusalem. A group of prisoners were executed in a nearby quarry and others at Sheikh Bader. Historians estimate today the total number of deaths at 100 to 120.

In 2007, Israeli military historian Uri Milstein published a controversial book, Blood Libel at Deir Yassin in which he claims that the events of Deir Yassin were the result of a battle and not of a massacre. Moreover, he goes further and, rejects the reality of the atrocities that followed the attack of the village. Nadine Picadou also nuances the events and considers that in the Palestinian historiography, ‘the massacre of Deir Yassin eclipsed the battle of Deir Yassin’. Morris considers that the capture of the village, insignificant on the military point of view, can hardly be considered as a “battle”.

In 1948, Hadassah hospital was located in the enclave of the Mount Scopus, at Jerusalem from where it dominated several Arab quarters. On 14 April, a convoy carrying medical personnel, some injured fighters, munitions and some reinforcement troops, that was protected by Haganah soldiers and armoured cars, tried to reach the enclave. Arab fighters had been informed by an Australian officer that the convoy’s mission was to use the enclave to attack Arab quarters and cut off the road to Ramallah. A large Arab force then ambushed the convoy, and, in the fight, several vehicles were shot up, and couldn’t withdraw. The battle raged for seven hours and British intervention was late in coming. 79 people from the convoy were killed, mainly civilians. Following the incident, Jacques de Reynier urged that in future all convoys be relieved of military escorts and placed under Red Cross protection. This was quickly agreed to. He also asked that the enclave be demilitarised under similar conditions, but this was refused by the Zionist authorities.

While the whole event is usually seen as a massacre, Morris considers it to have been, rather, a battle, given that there was shooting between Arab and Haganah militia and targeted a supply convoy headed for Mount Scopus. He points out however that the death toll incurred by medical personal, who were unarmed, was massive and that seventy-eight people were “slaughtered”.

In July 1948, the Israelis launched the Operation Danny to conquer the cities of Lydda and Ramle. The first attack on Lydda occurred on the afternoon of 11 July when the 89th battalion mounted on armoured cars and jeeps raided the city “spraying machine-gun fire at anything that moved”. “Dozens of Arabs (perhaps as many as 200)” were killed. According to Morris, the description of this raid written by one of the soldiers “combine[s] elements of a battle and a massacre”.

Later, Israeli troops entered the city and took up position in the town center. The only resistance came from the police fort that was held by some Arab Legionnaires and irregulars. Detention compounds were arranged in the mosques and the churches for adult males and 300–400 Israeli soldiers garrisoned the town. In the morning of 12 July, the situation was calm but around 11:30 an incident occurred; two or three armored cars entered the town and a firefight erupted. The skirmish made Lydda’s townspeople believe that the Arab Legion was counter-attacking and probably a few dozen snipers fired against the occupying troops. Israeli soldiers felt threatened, vulnerable because they were isolated among thousands of hostile townspeople and ‘angry [because] they had understood that the town had surrendered’. ‘[They] were told to shoot ‘at any clear target’ or, alternatively, at anyone ‘seen on the streets’. The Arab inhabitants panicked. Many rushed in the streets and were killed.

There is controversy among historians about the events that followed. According to Morris, at the Dahmash mosque some prisoners tried to break out and escape, probably fearing to be massacred. IDF threw grenades and fired rockets at the compound and several dozens Arabs were shot and killed. The Palestinian historiography describes the events differently. According to it, it was civilians that had taken refuge in the mosque, thinking that the Israelis would not dare to profane the sanctuary. The Israelis killed all the people there making 93 to 176 dead. Alon Kadish and Avraham Sela write that there is a confusion between two mosques. According to them, detenees were only gathered around the Great Mosque, where no incident occurred and it is a group of 50-60 armed Arabs who barricaded in the Dahmash mosque. Its storming resulted in the death of 30 Arab militiamen and civilians, including elderly, women and children.

The deaths of July 12 are regarded in the Arab world and by several historians as a massacre. Walid Khalidi calls it “an orgy of indiscriminate killing.” Morris writes that the “jittery Palmahniks massacr[ed] detenees in a mosque compound.” According to Gelber, it was a “bloodier massacre” than at Deir Yassin. Alon Kadish and Avraham Sela write that it was “an intense battle where the demarcation between civilians, irregular combatants and regular army units hardly existed.”

Here is a non-exhaustive table of killings or massacres that took place during the war:

Date Event Perpetrators Victims Notes
18 December 1947 Al-Khisas, Safed Jewish Palmach 10 Arab villagers 10 Arabs dead including five children
30 December 1947 Haifa Oil Refinery massacre Jewish Irgun, Arab workers 6 Arab and 39 Jewish workers 39 Jewish workers killed by Arab workers in the immediate aftermath of an Irgun grenade attack on the Arab workers that had killed 6 and wounded 42
31 December 1947 Balad al-Shaykh massacre, Haifa Jewish Palmach Between 17 and 70 Arab villagers. 3 Jewish forces casualties. Jewish retaliation for the Haifa Oil Refinery massacre. The raiding unit’s orders were to ‘kill maximum adult males.’
5 January 1948 Jaffa ‘Serrani’ Town Hall Jewish Lehi 26 Arab villagers Lehi detonated a truck bomb outside town hall, killing 26 and injuring hundreds.
5 January 1948 Semiramis Hotel bombing, Jerusalem Jewish Haganah perhaps Irgun 24-26 civilians Bomb planted which killed 24-26 people, including the Spanish vice-consul, Manuel Allende Salazar.
8 January 1948 Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem Jewish driver 17 Arab civilians A Jewish driver, attempting to throw a bomb at an Arab checkpoint, accidentally rolled the device into an Arab cafe.
14 Feb 1948 Sa’sa’, Safed Jewish Palmach 60 Arab villagers 60 Arabs killed inside their houses, including small children; 16 houses were demolished. Considered a model raid by Israeli forces.
22 February 1948 Ben Yehuda Street bombing, Jerusalem British deserters and Arab irregulars 58 Jewish civilians Killing 58 Jewish civilians and injuring 140. Arab High Command took responsibility, imploring the Jewish community to stick to the rules of war.
11 March 1948 Jewish Agency for Israel Arab forces 13 Jewish non-combatants Arabs killed 13 Jews in a bombing
13 & 16 March 1948 al-Husayniyya, Safad Jewish Palmach 30 Arab villagers Over 30, including women and children. The massacre also caused many to flee the area. The total death toll was put at dozens by Israeli sources
9 April 1948 Deir Yassin massacre, Jerusalem Jewish Irgun, Palmach and Lehi fighters. 100 to 120 Arab villagers (including combatants). 4 Jewish combatants. The villagers resisted the attack. The attackers fought house-to-house, throwing grenades and shooting. Villagers were also shot down as they fled from their homes down to alleys and others apparently murdered or executed. The massacre was condemned by the Haganah and other mainstream Jewish authorities. The massacre also contributed to increase the 1948 Palestinian exodus
13 April 1948 Hadassah medical convoy massacre, Jerusalem Arab forces 79 Jewish doctors, nurses, members of Haganah and scientists and 1 British soldier. Medical convoy
2 May 1948 Ein al-Zeitun massacre, Safed Jewish Palmach 30-70 Arab villagers Ein al-Zeitun completely depopulated after the Palmach captured the village.
13 May 1948 Kfar Etzion massacre, Hebron Arab forces 157 Jewish residents and Haganah soldiers
13–19 May 1948 Abu Shusha, Haifa Jewish Givati Brigade 60-70 Arab villagers In 1995, a mass grave near the site with 52 bodies was unearthed.
11–12 July 1948 Lydda Jewish 3rd Battalion of the IDF 250-1700 civilians By Israeli accounts at least 250 men, women and children were shot on sight by the 3rd Battalion. Arab sources give a higher estimate at 400-1700.
28 October 1948 Al-Dawayima massacre, Hebron Jewish 89th Commando Battalion, with former Irgun, and Lehi members. 80 to 200 Arab men, women and children. News of the massacre was suppressed by both Israeli (to prevent UN scrutiny) and Arab forces (in order to prevent morale from collapsing as it did after the Deir Yassin massacre).
29 October 1948 Safsaf massacre, Safed Jewish 7th Armored Brigade. 52-70 Arab villagers killed. Between 52 and 70 Arab men shot, killed, and burned in a pit. Several women were raped.
30 October 1948 Saliha, Safed Jewish 7th Armoured Brigade 60 – 70 Arab men and women killed after surrendering. Village completely depopulated.
30 October 1948 Eilabun massacre, Tiberias Jewish Golani Brigade’s 12th Battalion 14 Arab villagers killed 13 were executed, 11 from Eilabun (Christians) and 2 refugees (Muslims). Massacre was documented by the UN.
31 October 1948 Hula massacre, Lebanon Jewish Carmeli Brigade 35 and 58 male Arab villagers. Hula was captured without resistance. The commander, first lieutenant Shmuel Lahis, was given seven years in jail for his role in the incident but served only one.
2 November 1948 Arab al-Mawasi massacre, Tiberias Jewish IDF 14 Arab Bedouin men 15 Bedouin men from Khirbat al-Wa’ra al-Sawda’ taken near Eilabun and shot. One survived. Village was completely obliterated.
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The British Did It

About a month before Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948, just over one hundred residents of Deir Yassin were massacred by members of two militant Zionist groups – Lehi and Irgun – as part of an effort to cleanse the area of its Arab population.

The next day, Albert Einstein wrote the following passionate letter to Shepard Rifkin, a New York-based representative of Lehi who had recently written to Einstein in the hope of garnering some high-profile support for the group’s efforts. His belief that Einstein – a man who publicly backed the creation of a Jewish homeland in the British Mandate of Palestine, but by different means – would agree to such a suggestion was clearly misplaced.

April 10, 1948

Mr. Shepard Rifkin
American Friends of the Fighters
for the Freedom of Israel
149 Second Ave.
New York 3,N.Y.

Dear Sir:

When a real and final catastrophe should befall us in Palestine the first responsible for it would be the British and the second responsible for it the Terrorist organizations build up from our own ranks.

I am not willing to see anybody associated with those misled and criminal people.

Sincerely yours,

(Signed, ‘A. Einstein’)

Albert Einstein

“When a real and final catastrophe should befall us in Palestine the first responsible for it would be the British and the second responsible for it the terrorist organisations build [sic] up from our own ranks.” So wrote Albert Einstein, in a letter to Shepard Rifkin in Spring, 1948.

Rifkin had apparently asked Einstein, as a prominent Jew, for his support for his organisation “the American Friends for the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel,” something that the physicist had the good judgment to refuse, despite his formerly enthusiastic, (now somewhat qualified,) support for Labor Zionism.

Einstein was right to do so. The American Friends group were supporters of the Stern gang, a militant organization that committed a number of crimes in Mandate Palestine, among them acts of butchery that killed innocent civilians.  Decades later, as the hopes for an end to the soul-destroying war cycle in the Levant, let alone the prospects of a just peace, appear to drown in front of the eyes of an impotent Israeli and Diaspora Left, Einstein’s disaster does not look far off.

While many will contend this is due in no small part to the fact that the political inheritors of those that practiced early terror now dominate the Israeli political scene, Britain’s crucial role in the laying the ground for today’s tragedy should not be ignored.

By attending to British actions in the thirty-year period of her rule – which runs from the First World War to Britain’s post-colonial scramble from Mandate Palestine – we may be able to see why Einstein was probably right in assigning chief responsibility in 1948 to Britain for planting the seeds of disaster in the Yishuv soil.

If we are able to establish that this is the case – and I think that we will be able to – I would like to follow this with something not common to writing on the subject of the Arab-Israeli conflict: an apology, on behalf of the decisions made by the political elite in the nation of my birth.

While I bear no personal responsibility for the “hell disaster” (to quote Winston Churchill) that the Brits created, the pain and bloodshed that it has produced – much of which, contrary to popular assumptions, could have been prevented – deserves contrition from someone, no matter how tangentially connected to the culprits in Whitehall.

Roots of the Conflict

The sine qua non of the State of Israel was the Balfour Declaration issued by the British government in 1917, a text that famously consented to the establishment of a Jewish homeland in what was to become the British Mandate of Palestine.

The wording of this document guaranteed the rights of the Jewish and Arab residents to live in the area. The substantive part of the declaration read:

“His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”

This move, while welcomed enthusiastically by Zionists and many British progressives (such as The Guardian’s CP Scott), who saw it – not unreasonably – as redress for centuries of injustice meted out to Jews, was made particularly problematic by the fact that Britain was perceived to have made previous, conflicting promises to other parties about the future of the region.

In the white heat of World War I, Britain was desperate to achieve a number of strategic aims in the Middle East. Chief among these was the desire to prevent the ailing Ottoman Empire, who had sided with the Axis powers, from taking control of the Suez Canal in Egypt. In order to prevent this scenario, and to achieve the dissolution of Ottoman domination in West Asia, London sought to bring about an Arab rebellion against foreign rule.

This was realized following a series of promises made on behalf of Britain by High Commissioner to Egypt Sir Henry McMahon to Hussein Ali, the Sharif of Mecca. These are contained in the Hussein-McMahon correspondence.

According to historian Kirsten Schulze, through McMahon Britain promised Hussein that “the Arab territory of the Ottoman Empire [would] be returned to Arab sovereignty, with [certain exceptions]…The excluded territory…did not include Palestine, despite Britain’s later claim that it did.”

Thus, with the issuance of the Balfour Declaration, the Promised Land, to quote Isaiah Friedman, became “twice promised” (although Friedman himself did not believe this, and was ephemerally successful helping to exonerate Britain for its lead role in paving the way for the mess that followed. Subsequent research has contradicted this view.)

Things were further complicated by arrangements that the British made with France in 1916. The Sykes-Picot agreement, made between two high-level diplomats bifurcated the Middle East into two spheres of influence: roughly France, in the North, Britain in the South.

Just as compatibility between the implicit promises contained in the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, the Sykes-Picot agreement and the Balfour Declaration could only exist in theory, justification for this treacherous triad of endowments can only be achieved through tortured casuistry. In practice, these conflicting guarantees meant that tensions between the claimants to Palestine were inevitable – a situation that eventually inspired sustained rancor between Arab and Jewish nationalist movements.

As the descent into de facto civil war deepened, Britain’s Peel commission would summarize with damning clarity Britain’s responsibility for the morass:

“Under the stress of the World War the British Government made promises to Arabs and Jews in order to obtain their support. On the strength of those promises both parties formed certain expectations. . . . An irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country. . . . There is no common ground between them. . . . This conflict was inherent in the situation from the outset.”

Peel went on to conclude that Britain could not “in Palestine as it is now —both concede the Arab claim of self-government and secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home” – the very promises contained in the Balfour Declaration. He proposed partition instead.

This was something that had support from Weizmann left in the Zionist camp, but not from the Revisionist right, led by Ze’ev Jabotinsky.


Motives for the Balfour Declaration

According to Tom Segev, Britain’s final decision to approve the Zionist cause was forged in the cast of ugly imperial attitudes: fear, racism and squalid self-interest.

David Lloyd George, considered by some to be a leading light of early twentieth century British Liberalism was in fact as racist as many of his Conservative counterparts. The former Prime Minister once famously stated that he “reserved the right to bomb the niggers.”

According to Segev, his attitudes toward Jews and Arabs was no more enlightened: Lloyd George’s classically anti-Semitic belief that the Zionists wielded great power over the world’s affairs convinced him that they needed to be appeased in the midst of war and in its wake. He later stated of the strategic importance of frustrating Arab rights in Palestine in favor of Jews:

‘Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad is of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.’

Another motive had drawn Lloyd George to the Zionist cause: strategic necessity. In the midst of the First World War, a leading British Zionist, Dr Chaim Weizmann (the future President of Israel) had fortuitously devised a way to synthesize acetone, a production component of cordite, which was desperately needed for the production of war materials. Germany had plenty of this valuable resource, while Britain needed it. Thus, a close relationship between the British government, and Dr. Weizmann began.

Finally, the British government was desperate to win the war by any means, knowing what defeat would mean to their empire. Crucial to achieving this objective was Britain’s relationship with the US. The hope that the Americans could be drawn into the war was central to Britain’s interests, and as a result they committed themselves to a tactic of wooing Washington One way to do this, wrote US academic James Gelvin, was to get on the good side of “two of Wilson’s closest advisors, Louis Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter,[who]  were avid Zionists.” He added:

“The British adopted similar thinking when it came to the Russians, who were in the midst of their revolution. Several of the most prominent revolutionaries, including Leon Trotsky, were of Jewish descent. Why not see if they could be persuaded to keep Russia in the war by appealing to their latent Jewishness and giving them another reason to continue the fight?” … These include not only those already mentioned but also Britain’s desire to attract Jewish financial resources”

Balfour himself, as Foreign Minister, declared that, by aligning with the Zionist cause, Britain would find a way “to carry on extremely useful propaganda both in Russia and America.


The Great Unraveling

British military presence in Palestine after WWI, endorsed by the League of Nations, meant that it would maintain control over an area of key strategic importance. As Mark Tessler wrote in A History of the Israeli-Palestine Conflict (1994), via the Sykes-Picot agreement, Britain fulfilled its goal of “assuring access to the Suez Canal and the East, preventing French ambitions in Lebanon and Syria from drifting south, and creating a land bridge from the Mediterranean sea to the oil fields of Iraq.”

In the post-war period, Hussein’s hopes were crushed and Zionist ones partially upheld. Hussein would have to make do with being King of Hejaz rather than being a great a pan-Arab leader – a consolation that he would lose within a few years upon usurpation by assault from the House of Sa’ud who subsequently established the Kingdom that bears their name.

Jewish rights to settlement in Palestine were affirmed at the Paris Peace Conference and the San Remo conference of 1920 after British pressure was brought to bear on the reluctant French.

From then on, Jewish settlement in the Holy Land increased, upsetting the Arab population who were already highly resentful about Britain’s perfidy in frustrating Arab nationalist ambitions, increasingly regarding European Jews as imperial collaborators. Nonetheless, both sides at that point were by no means set on a course of inevitable confrontation.

This is shown by the fact that when the first great outbreak of inter-communal violence took place – the Nebi Musa riots in Jerusalem’s Old City area in 1920 – the majority of local clerics came forward to condemn anti-Jewish violence.

As Tom Segev has written about this period, Arab attitudes towards both Jews and Zionist immigration was, in fact, positive. “Arab notables, and hundreds of sheikhs and mukhtars,” writes Segev, “expressed support for Jewish immigration” even while an unrepresentative Arab delegation to London in 1921, egged on by Anti-Zionist British officers, expressed their desire for the Balfour declaration to be reversed.

Around this time, Chaim Weizmann had found an ally in Prince Feisal in the Hejaz, whom the British had betrayed in Paris. Warm words were expressed by Feisal toward his Semitic cousins. All of which goes to show that mutual rancor between Arabs and Jews, contrary to popular belief, was not a product of fate and, if the situation had been handled better, did not have to result in the conflict that followed after.

Things changed when the Hebron Massacre occurred in 1929. Jews, having supposedly left behind such brutal mistreatment in Europe, were appalled at the murders that took place in the city of Abraham’s tomb. The resident population fled, and the Haganah – the underground defense organization that preceded the IDF- was established in response. This incident emboldened the militant voices among Zionists to pursue statehood by violent means if necessary, and helped to persuade many Jews that the Arabs were implacably hostile.

It is easy to forget that even during this horrendous incident, Arab-Jewish hostility was not a natural  state of affairs. This was unmistakably demonstrated by the fact that Arabs in Hebron saved the lives of 400 Jews, and many more were horrified by the actions of those who perpetrated the violence. A fever of Arab hostility was fed by paranoia about an “invasion” of Jewish settlers and, crucially in this case, false rumors of a takeover of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Prior to the Massacre, Hebron was something of a model of peaceful co-existence, as survivors recalled in the 1999 documentary “What I saw in Hebron.”

Britain’s inept response to Hebron only inflamed the inter-communal tension, and set into motion the final collapse of hopes for peace. British Colonial Secretary Lord Passfield issued a white paper, partly intended to appease Arab concerns, which blamed Jewish Agency land purchases for the violence and which increased restrictions on Jewish immigration. This unsurprisingly outraged the Jewish community, which was still recovering from the trauma of Hebron and helped to strengthen support for the Zionist right.

The latter reaction was noted by the British government. This concerned British Prime Minsiter Ramsay McDonald, who, according to Schulze, “issued a letter explaining away the white paper, which, in turn, angered the Arabs.”

Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, 1933 and American restrictions on immigration meant that Palestine became a major destination for Jews on the brink of an approaching catastrophe in Europe. An influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees meant that Arab fears of a takeover increased. This led to, according to Schulze “a new phase in Arab nationalism, which can be seen as the first popular expression of a distinctly Palestinian nationalism.”

An anti-Semitic Arab movement led by the notorious Haj Al Husseini (who would later ally with the Nazis) gained ground, as tensions rose in response to foreign immigration, eventually manifested in the Arab Higher Committee in 1936.


The Second Arab Revolt and WWII

From 1936 until 1939, the Arabs of Palestine began strikes against British rule, a move that caused the imperialists considerable trouble, and meant that Albion’s policing of the restive region became reflexively ever more violent. Eventually, the aforementioned Peel Commission proposed partition of the land, a suggestion that was rejected by Arab opinion, already inflamed by preceding grievances.

In order to assuage Arab fears, Britain issued a white paper in 1939 that restricted Jewish immigration to 15,000 per year until 1944 – a period in time in which Jews were about to be subjected to unimaginable mistreatment. To Zionists, this move was an act of ultimate betrayal and merely helped to consolidate trends toward militancy and ever-growing animosity to Arabs, coupled with bitter resentment toward Britain.

As the Second World War broke out ,and Jews were being brutally murdered en masse by the Nazi killing machine, those fleeing certain destruction in Europe were being turned away at the shores of Palestine, while the anti-Semitic Palestinian leader Haj Al-Husseini sided with Hitler. Inter-communal violence, and a near-enough full-scale uprising against rule from the UK meant that London, upon the war’s conclusion, handed over the situation to the nascent United Nations. In such a manner Britain ran away from a mess it had helped to create, having led Arabs and Jews toward the gates of gehenna, before washing its hands of the situation.


An Apology

There are many other aspects to this grim story that need to be addressed. However,  there is not space enough to give them adequate treatment. Even in this comparatively brief account, it seems obvious enough that Britain has a lot to apologize for.

Needless to say, it never has done so meaningfully. And for this reason, I, as a Brit (moreover, one from a family which includes both Jews and Muslims,) feel the need to apologize on behalf of those of my countrymen who set in motion events that even now are pulling the entire region yet again towards a precipice.

Such apologies might seem trite, under the circumstances. Everyone, of course, knows that Britain bears some responsibility for the Mideast crisis. However, there is also a tendency, particularly amongst progressives, to blame the locals, to the exclusion of foreign powers. The issue, as I see it, is that the outside world remains inextricably linked with Arab-Israeli dysfunction. As such, it remains an essential partner in its resolution.

As long as the violence persists, so will the requirement that we acknowledge shared responsibility for the conflict. As a journalist, I can think of no better a way to do that, than to help recount its origins.

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