We Put the Arabs on Buses

In May 1948, the 13th battalion conquered Beit She'an (Bisan), one of the 17 largest Arab towns in Palestine. In fact, it was not a conquest, but rather occupation in the wake of surrender. In his book, Zamir writes that the battalion commander, Avraham Yoffe, convinced the mayor of the town to surrender, after promising that nothing bad would happen to him or his 7,000 residents.

"But when Avraham Yoffe sat down to eat in the dining hall at Beit Alfa, with his officers, including Emanuel Brashi, a member of Kibbutz Tel Amal," Zamir recently revealed, "they implored him to expel the Arabs." It wasn't easy for Yoffe to break the promise, but in the end he gave in to the pressure put on him by the other officers. "We brought 10 buses to Beit She'an, and told the residents that they could go to Nazareth or to Jenin, or cross the Jordan River and go to the Hashemite kingdom, and that we would not interfere or intervene," relates Zamir. "Most of them crossed the Jordan and we stayed in Beit She'an for another three months, with our main mission being to make sure they didn't come back. We were given express orders to shoot any Arab trying to return to Beit She'an."

In "Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem 1947-1949," historian Benny Morris writes that the expulsion of the Arabs of Beit She'an was in line with the Haganah's D Plan. Out of military considerations, the plan determined that Arab villages and cities should be conquered and either held permanently or bulldozed. Agriculture minister Aharon Zisling from Kibbutz Ein Harod complained to David Ben-Gurion against what he saw as a systematic policy of expulsion; Zisling's son Uzi confirms this.

How did Zamir, a member of a Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz, who was raised on slogans of brotherhood of nations and peace, come to terms with the conquest? "In our battalion, we had a lot of arguments about the ethics of warfare," he says. "We had a hard time dealing with the reality in which Shmutznikim (members of Hashomer Hatzair) like us found themselves between a rock and a hard place. We believed in the brotherhood of nations, and our Shmutznik sensibilities gave us no rest. But whenever these questions were raised, the answer we got would be: `these are the orders from above.' I'm not trying to justify it, but we didn't argue with that answer. We were young soldiers. Nor can you forget that most of the Arabs in the Land of Israel were not expelled, but fled - as they were told to by the Supreme Arab Council."