The Refugees, The Bigining

The UN Partition vote of November 29, 1947 gave to the Israel so much Arab land and Arab people. The Declaration of Israel’s statehood on May 14, 1948, did not specify its borders. The Yishuv had already expelled many Arabs from their homes while British still theoretically controlled Palestine.

Arab civilians were driven out of or were fleeing cities and towns in the area allotted by the UN to Israel. This exodus started well before May 15, 1948; most refugees originated from this earlier period rather than from post-May 14, 1948 fighting.

The Yishuv, and later Israel, refused to let most refugees return home. This refusal was not in accord with the Hague Conventions. Although Israel was not a signatory of the Hague Conventions, they reflect some basic human moral rights in the conduct of warfare and are looked to as international law. Israel tried to justify its refusal to let the refugees return, by arguing that they had left voluntarily. Israel maintained that because they left their homes they forfeited any moral or legal right to them. At the same lime, Israel argued that Jews, whose ancestors had left their homes centuries earlier, had a right to come in and take the property.

Israel maintains that the Arabs left because they had been instructed by Arab leaders, on Arab radio stations, to leave the area allotted to Israel so that they would be out of harm's way when Arab armies invaded the area.

Arabs deny that such broadcasts ever took place.
They make four points to support this:

1. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) monitored the Mideast stations; its records indicate no such broadcasts,

2. According to Sayigh Rosemary (Palestinians:From Peasants to Revolutionaries, p. 75), the first known source of the "Arab orders" charge was a pamphlet distributed by Israel's Information Office in New York City many months after the war's end. The allegation was later put into a statement "presented by 19 promi-nent Americans to the U.N.

 British writer Erskine Childers also investigated the charge that Arab leaders had broadcast instructions to Arabs to leave: "The charge, Israel claimed, was 'documented' but where were the documents?, no dates, names of stations, or texts of messages were ever cited." (Erskine B. Childers, “The Other Exodus”, The Spectator, London, 5-12-61, p.672) Childers added that Israel's Foreign Office assured him in 1958 that the proofs existed and repeatedly agreed to provide them to him but as of April 1961 had not.

3. Sayigh maintains that there is evidence that the Arab Higher Committee  Damascus broadcast pleas to Arabs to remain in their homes and not to flee. (sam reference of Sayigh p.92) According to Childers, in 1961 the British government still possessed "repeated monitored record of Arab (radio) appeals, even flat orders, to the civilians of Palestine to stay put”  He then gave two examples from April 4 and 24, 1948. (Same reference of Childers, p.672) However, the impact of these leaders' directives was weakened because the leaders themselves were safely out of the war zone. (Sayigh, P.66)

4. Only when Arab soldiers were about to retreat from an area did they warn Arab villagers that they were about to leave, in case the villagers wanted to flee while they still had military protection. "Only in the case of one or two cities, for instance, Haifa, could local Arab authorities be said to have 'ordered' flight by organiz-ing evacuation. But in most of the country there was not even this slight degree of organization.” (Sayigh, P.64)

Many Arabs, aware of massacres at Deir Yassin and elsewhere, were extremely afraid of the Israeli military. The IDF produced a booklet (quoted in Israel Shahak, ed., Begin and Co. As They Really Are, reqoted in Hnadawi, pp.89f) in which Lt. Col. Rabbi Abraham Avidan (Zemel), Chief Rabbi of the Central Command, wrote an article, "An Army Rabbi Calls for the Killing of Civilians." In that article he stated that when Israeli forces encounter Arab civilians during the war the soldiers "may, and by Halachic (religious) standards even must [kill them if] it cannot be ascertained that they are incapable of hitting us back"

Rabbi Avidan added that an Arab should never be trusted "even if he gives the impression of being civilized." The rabbi justified this policy by citing a highly authoritative interpretation of the Babylonian Talmud, which is second only to the Bible as a source of Jewish moral law. He said that in the opinion of the Tosafot, when Israeli troops attack the enemy during war "they may, and by Halachic (religious) standards even must, kill conforming civilians," that is, "civilians whose conduct is proper." Rabbi Avidan cited the religious opinion that in such a case it is proper to 'Kill the best of the Gentiles.' He contend-ed that "no trust should be accorded a Gentile who will not bring harm to our troops" because in some phase of the fighting the Gentile may cause harm either by supplying resources or information to the enemy.

Israeli historian Arieh Yitzhaqi, (The Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 1, n.4, summer !972, p.144, citing Yediot Aharanot, 4-4-1972) for many years a researcher in the history section of the IDF, lists several Arab villages where the Israeli military seemingly followed this policy, at least to some extent. He claimed that the Palmach itself engaged in operations similar to those used by the Irgun and the Stern Gang at Deir Yassin: He cites the night attack by the Carmel Brigade on the village of Balad el-Sheikh, in which more than sixty Arabs, mostly nun-combatants, were killed in their homes. On the night of February 14-15, 1948, a force of the Third Palmach Battalion raided the village of Sa'sa' and blew up twenty houses while people were in them, killing some sixty Arabs, mostly women and children. (Same reference 144f.)

 On May 21, 1948, Israeli troops attacked al-Ghabisiya. They shelled the villagers as they fled, killing and injuring many of them.(See Nafz Nazzal, “The Zionist Occupation of Western Galilee, 1948”, pp.71f., based on an interview on 2.23.1973 with Hussein Shehada, a resident of the village at the time of the attack, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 3, n. 3, spring 1974, P. 58) On July 12, 1948, in Lydda, where the IDF said the Arabs revolted, any Arab seen in the streets was fired on; Israeli troops entered homes and fired at every moving target; 250 Arabs were killed. One Palmach commander admitted firing into rooms containing women and children (Journal of Palestine Studies, vol, 1, n.4, p. 145, citing Yediot Aharonot, 4.4.1972). In October 1948 some fifty to seventy men were herded into the mosque in the Lebanese border town of Hula and machine-gunned. The mosque was then blown up to entomb them. (See Bitter Harvest: A Modern History of Palestine, 4th ed., 1991 p. 89). In Ed-Dawayimeh, near Hebron, some two hundred Arabs, mostly elderly who could not flee, took refuge in the village mosque, where the Israelis massacred all of them. (Same sources) Rosemary Sayigh notes that mass killing, were also carried out by ordinary units of the Haganab in 'Ain a1-Zeitouneh and al-Bina. (Sayigh p. 75)