Israel Had No 'Expulsion Policy' Against the Palestinians in 1948

The Palestinian refugee problem resulted from a Zionist master plan and ‘ethnic cleansing,’ historian Adel Manna incorrectly argues in his book ‘Nakba and Survival,’ where ‘slaughter’ and ‘expulsion’ appear on nearly every page

Benny Morris
Benny Morris
A demonstrator holding a key with the inscription: 'Haifa, we shall definitely return,' Gaza, 2012.
A demonstrator holding a key with the inscription: 'Haifa, we shall definitely return,' Gaza, 2012.Credit: Mahmud Hams / AFP
Benny Morris
Benny Morris

I approached the new book by Dr. Adel Manna, “Nakba and Survival: The Story of the Palestinians Who Remained in Haifa and the Galilee, 1948-1956” with a bit of hope. I am familiar with the narrative of the Palestinians – a narrative of disinheritance and discrimination, of historic misfortune and infinite injustice through no fault of their own.

In this narrative there is only one side that is right and a number of villains, among whom the Zionists are the most prominent. The narrative has been propagated for decades now by the Palestinian leadership and Arab commentators, as well as by Arab historians, scholars and their supporters, among them Walid Khalidi and Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said and Ilan Pappe. Their books fill the shelves of libraries and bookstores in the West. In Israel, their writings are largely unavailable as most of them have not been translated into Hebrew.

This vacuum will now be filled with the publication, in Hebrew, by the Van Leer Institute and Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House, of “Nakba and Survival,” (Nakba meaning “catastrophe,” as the 1948 war is known to Palestinians), but this is not the book I was hoping for. Manna, a Muslim from Majdal Krum in the Galilee, studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and for years taught at various universities and colleges. His fields of expertise include the history of Palestine, Palestinians and Jerusalem in Ottoman and contemporary times, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

From a superficial acquaintance with Manna, I believed that he knows the history of Palestine and the State of Israel. I had hoped that he would succeed in skirting around the Palestinian narrative and constructing a history based on documents and facts, displaying intellectual openness and a view of both sides of the coin. I was disappointed. Truth to tell, Manna does not hide his point of departure. In his introduction, there is a promise or warning that the book is written “from the perspective of the survivors .... In my book I have chosen not to adopt the stance of the impartial historian who in his writing sets aside his personal and ideological preferences (perhaps all or much of this was already implied in the use of the word “survivors” – as though the Arabs who remained in Israel after 1948 managed to survive a continuing ideological policy and campaign, all aimed at their extinction).

The cover of 'Nakba and Survival: The Story of the Palestinians Who Remained in Haifa and the Galilee, 1948-1956.'Credit: Van Leer Institute and Hakibbutz Hameuchad

I must warn readers that the 377 densely packed pages of “Nakba and Survival” suffer from innumerable repetitions, both of stories (for example, that of the execution of five young Arabs in Majdal Krum on November 5, 1948, which is recounted at least three times) and of various claims. The overarching description of what happened here in 1948 as “slaughter and expulsion” or “expulsion and slaughter” appears on nearly every page at least once if not several times. Indeed, I would hazard to say that the number of times this phrase appears in the book is greater than the number of Arabs who were killed in the acts of slaughter that took place.

It is worth noting, moreover, that acts of slaughter by Arabs against Jews, and these also occurred, are hardly mentioned at all in the book – and when Manna relates to the slaughter at the oil refineries in Haifa on December 30, 1947, he defines it as an “attack” or a “serious attack,” not as slaughter. That’s how things are in a narrative as compared to real historiography.

The book is divided into two parts. The first deals with what happened in 1948, and the second focuses on what happened between 1949 and 1957 to the Arabs who remained in Israel, who define themselves as “Palestinian inhabitants of the State of Israel” or as “1948 Arabs.” In both parts the emphasis is on the course of events in the north – the Galilee and Haifa – with very little space devoted to what happened in the center and south of the country.

In his work, Manna makes extensive (and welcome) use of the Arab press, the leftist Hebrew press and transcripts of trials, especially deliberations at the High Court of Justice, concerning the Arab minority and Arab political parties from 1948 to 1957.

Much of the book is based on interviews that he or other people conducted with Arabs who experienced 1948 and the first decade of life in the State of Israel. Manna heatedly defends the value of “oral history” as a reliable source for reconstructing the events and emotions of the past. Throughout “Nakba and Survival,” he “shows” that what people remember 40 or 50 years after the fact is congruent with what is related in the documentation that has come down to us from those years (this, contrary to my own admittedly not very vast experience to the effect that usually there is no such congruence, or else the interviewees simply did not remember anything). He gives no details on how the interviews were conducted. Sometimes he does not even say when they took place or who did the interviewing.

It is obvious that Manna did very little archival work (nearly all his footnotes have inaccurate archival entries and/or are not correct; for example, most of the references to the Israel Defense Forces Archive). Nearly all the quotations from primary sources are cited secondhand from research by other people, including books I myself wrote (concerning which Manna has both positive things to say and reservations, some of them justified). He has carefully chosen what gets into his book and what does not.

Palestinian refugees leaving a village near Haifa, June 1948. Credit: Corbis

Zionist master plan

For the most part, historians distort history not by means of gross falsehoods but rather by ignoring important documents and important facts. Concerning the 1947-1949 war, Manna’s story is simple: The Jews uprooted the Arabs from their locales and also did so in the years after the war; a conflict between two national movements, each of them with legitimate claims, did not happen; and, in fact, there was hardly even a war: There was just an uprooting and nothing else.

To Manna’s credit, he notes that the Arabs of Palestine and Arab leaders in the region indeed rejected the Partition Plan (adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 29, 1947, which in Manna’s opinion was immoral), but he neglects to mention that on the following day, Palestinians opened fire and launched hostilities that within weeks snowballed into an all-out civil war – the war’s first stage that raged between November 1947 and May 1948. As Manna sees it, the war simply broke out; nobody started it.

His basic argument, in effect the subject of the book, is that the Palestinian refugee problem came about as a result of a Zionist master plan that was adopted consciously from the outset and as a consequence of systematic implementation of that plan: “Transfer of the Arabs from the areas of the country to the neighboring Arab states had become a declared aim since the Peel Commission report in 1937. The plan of the Jewish offensive (Plan D), which was implemented in April 1948, was an important link in the planning of the uprooting of the Palestinians [but] the policy of ethnic cleansing was far more extensive and complex than any written plan .... In the Galilee a policy of ethnic cleansing was implemented in the early stages of the war, in areas that were allocated to the Jewish state under the Partition Plan.”

Manna points to two early actions by the Haganah right in December 1947 (the actions at Khisas and Balad al-Sheikh) as manifestations of “the desire on the part of the leadership of the Yishuv (the pre-state Jewish population in the country) that no Palestinians would remain in the eastern Galilee and on the coastal plain.” Later he mentions the “expulsion” of the inhabitants of Tiberias, Safed, Beit She’an, Jaffa, Haifa and Acre in April and May 1948 as a product of this policy. Manna goes on to say that during the second half of the war, from May 1948 to January 1949 – during the conventional war that ensued after the armies of neighboring Arab states invaded Palestine – Israel’s policy was and remained the uprooting of the local Arab population. Finally, Manna argues that this policy was still in effect from 1949 to 1956. According to him, the prevention of the return of refugees and the mass expulsion of “infiltrators” in the first years after 1948 were manifestations of this policy, and he notes that his own family was among the people expelled from Majdal Krum to Lebanon in 1949.

Manna argues that Israel used laws against infiltration to expel as many Arabs as possible from the nascent country, including people who were not infiltrators but happened not to possess a voucher from the population census registry or an Israeli identity card. He even defines the slaughter in Kafr Qasem in the so-called Triangle area on October 29, 1956, as an expression of this policy.

Manna’s arguments are not convincing. He is correct in saying that there was a policy of expropriation of lands and discrimination against the Arabs who remained in Israel (although the Military Government and imposition of restrictions on freedom of movement were logical measures in light of efforts to destroy the Yishuv and ongoing hostility, including violence by the Arabs in the surrounding countries, among them refugees from Palestine, against the State of Israel and its Jewish inhabitants). But a “policy of expulsion” in 1949 to 1956? If there was such a policy, why was it not implemented? Why did the number of Arabs in Israel increase steadily, in part due to infiltration of refugees back into Israel who, over the years, received identity cards?

The author also argues that Israel’s intention was to exploit the Sinai Campaign in order to expel the Arab minority from the country, but the plan went awry due to Jordan’s nonparticipation in the war. This too is baseless. There were definitely leading figures in Israel, among them IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan, who hoped in the 1950s that another war would break out and enable Israel to occupy the West Bank or perhaps even expel the Arabs of Israel to Jordan. However, this was not a state “policy.”

No expulsion orders

Back to 1948. Had Manna read the documents in the Haganah Archive, the IDF Archive or the Israel State Archives (or the expanded 2003 version of my book on the refugee problem, “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited”), he would have discovered that there was no policy of expelling “the Palestinians” and that the Haganah did not expel Arabs prior to April 1948 (with the exception of the inhabitants of Arab Caesarea, where the motivation had nothing to do with the struggle with the Arabs). He would also find that the Haganah and the leadership of the Jewish Agency (the government of the Yishuv) adhered to the policy of acceptance of the Partition Plan (though indeed not happily), which included a large Arab minority in the Jewish state in the making. On March 24, 1948, Israel Galili, head of the Haganah National Command (and in effect the deputy of “Defense Minister” David Ben-Gurion) issued a general order to the brigades and branches of the Haganah to adhere to the existing policy to leave in place and to maintain the safety and security of the Arab communities in the area intended for the nascent state (other than in exceptional cases for military reasons).

Palestinian refugees returning to their village after its surrender during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.Credit: Wikimedia commons

Even in the Yishuv’s transition to attack mode in April and May 1948 after four months of being strategically on the defensive, its leaders and members of the Haganah general staff did not adopt a policy of “expelling the Arabs,” and the various units operated in different ways in different areas. Plan D, from March 10, 1948, did not obligate “expelling the Arabs” – though brigade commanders were given permission to expel Arab populations or allow them to remain in place. Much depended on the character of the Arab locales, the inhabitants’ conduct and the personality of the Jewish commanders, in addition to the circumstance in each particular area.

In Haifa it was the Arab leadership that called on its population to evacuate (the Jewish mayor, Shabtai Levy, and the Histadrut labor federation activists asked them to stay); in Tiberias there was no expulsion (though possibly the British Mandatory authorities had encouraged the Arab exodus); in Jaffa, the population left because of the Jewish military pressure and the expectation of a Jewish takeover after the British pulled out; in Safed they fled because of the conquest of the city by the Palmach, not as a result of orders to expel; and in Acre there was no expulsion order and the majority of the inhabitants remained in the city after it was occupied on May 18.

Manna is correct in saying that during Operation Hiram at the end of October 1948, and in the subsequent weeks, IDF soldiers carried out a series of massacres (in Saliha, Hula, Jish, Safsaf, Eilabun, Majdal Krum, Arab al-Mawasi and elsewhere), and here and there expelled villagers (Jish, Eilabun, Birim and elsewhere). And it is also true that the treatment of the Druze (who had in effect forged an alliance with the Yishuv) and the Christians differed from the treatment of the Muslims, who in the preceding months had attacked the Yishuv. However, there was no policy and there was no uniformity in the behavior among the units and the officers.

On November 12, Ya’akov Shimoni, a Foreign Ministry official (who formerly had been a senior member in the Haganah’s intelligence service (Sha”i), toured the Galilee with other ministry officials and spoke with military and other officers and officials in the field. He wrote: “The treatment (in Hiram) of the Arab inhabitants of the Galilee as well as toward the Arab refugees who were living in the villages of the Galilee or near them reflected a random attitude and differed from place to place in accordance with the initiatives of one commander or another or one official or another of the various government departments: In one place they expelled and in another place they left the population in place; in one place they accepted a village’s surrender and in another they did not accept surrender; in one place they discriminated in favor of the Christians and in another they treated Christians and Muslims in the same way and without distinction; in one place they even allowed refugees who had fled at the first moment of conquest to return to their locales, and in another, they refused.”

And Shimoni added on 18 November: “Too many hands are stirring the porridge .... They (the IDF commanders) did not have any clear orders in hand or any clear policy regarding conduct with the Arabs.”

It is true that after Ben-Gurion’s visit to the Northern Front headquarters at the end of Operation Hiram, a (vague) order was issued to the army brigades on behalf of Moshe Carmel, commander of the front, to “help” the inhabitants evacuate, but the directive came too late and was not carried out to the letter. In one place they expelled, in another they didn’t.

Manna’s claim is that the massacres in Operation Hiram were organized “from above” and aimed at making Arabs flee. However, 1) Manna has no documents that show such a connection, and 2) in many of the villages in question, mass flight or expulsion did not occur in the wake of the massacres, neither in Dir al-Assad nor in Majdal Krum (Manna is misleading with respect to his own village here: There was no expulsion from Majdal Krum) nor in Arab al-Mawasi nor in Jish nor in Hule. It is possible that commanders in the field thought that slaughter would lead to mass flight; perhaps an urge for revenge, or just plain wickedness were behind these acts of killing. There is no proof one way or the other, apart from the fact that units from three different brigades (Golani, the Seventh and Carmeli) carried out a series of massacres during those weeks.

This is indeed suspicious – but on the basis of the material that is available for public perusal, it is impossible to reach a decisive conclusion the way Manna does. But he is correct that the perpetrators of those crimes were not punished (thanks, apparently, to intervention by the defense minister).

In addition, it must be noted that from June 1948, the policy of the government of Israel has been to prohibit refugees to return to the country, and this policy was translated throughout the war and afterward into systematic implementation (although tens of thousands of refugees did manage to infiltrate back into the country or were allowed to return in the framework of “family reunification” or in special arrangements. For example, Bishop George Hakim and hundreds of other Christians, like the inhabitants of Eilabun, returned thanks to such arrangements and eventually were given Israeli citizenship, as were Manna’s own parents, who infiltrated into the country after a long period in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon.

‘Partial success’

So it was that at the end of the war, 125,000 Arabs remained in the State of Israel, and 160,000 at the end of 1949, most of them in the north. Manna does not really explain how this happened, apart from mentioning the 20,000 to 30,000 who were co-opted into the population of the country with the state’s annexation of the “Triangle,” stretching from Umm al-Fahm to Kafr Qasem, in May 1949. He argues that these individuals employed various methods to “survive” (collaborating with the authorities, demonstrating obsequious behavior toward the authorities, hiding in caves near their villages, and so on). He does not explain why, if there was indeed an overarching policy of expulsion, it was not implemented, why the army and the police did not simply expel the Arabs who remained, village after village, town after town, and also left large numbers of Arabs in Haifa, Acre and Jaffa, many of them Muslims.

Concerning Nazareth, where most of the Arab population remained, Manna rightly notes Israeli sensitivity to public opinion in the Christian world. But what about Majdal Krum? Who in the outside world would have cared had the inhabitants of Manna’s village or of the neighboring villages – Sakhnin, Dir Hana, Arrabeh, all of them today large villages or towns – been expelled toward the end of October 1948? In the summer of 1948, the IDF recommended to the government that Acre be emptied of its inhabitants. Why, if expulsion was indeed the policy, were they not expelled to Jaffa or elsewhere, outside the country? Was Ben-Gurion afraid of his minister of minorities, Bechor Sheetrit (who opposed the uprooting of the inhabitants of Acre)?

There is no explanation for all of this apart from the nonexistence of any policy of expulsion, even if Ben-Gurion and many others wanted as few Arabs as possible to remain in the Jewish state, and certainly there was no systematic expulsion as Manna claims. It wasn’t the villagers’ “staunchness” that prevented their expulsion – had an order been given to expel, they would have left (as happened in Caesarea, Eilabun, Lod, Ramle and other places where the inhabitants were ordered to leave).

“Despite the many efforts on the part of the army and other elements to expel the Arabs from the area, the success was only partial,” writes Manna. Nonsense. When someone is pointing a rifle at you and your family and telling you to leave, especially after they have already killed some of your neighbors, you leave. Manna’s explanations are simply not serious.

The author has made a significant contribution to the discourse on the Arabs of Israel in stressing the influence of the Nakba on their lives and outlook in the years after 1948. These things have not been internalized by many Jews in Israel. There are a number of moments in the book when Manna is critical of his own people. In describing the Arabs’ actions in the 1936-1939 Revolt, for example, he accuses them of committing “grave acts of terror against soldiers and civilians, setting fields on fire and destroying property .... Terror was also employed within the Arab community itself, mainly against opponents of the Revolt.”

He also writes that the leaders of the Revolt, including Haj Amin al-Husseini, took “extreme and uncompromising positions, which caused serious damage” to the Palestinians. However, these flashes of critical illumination are quite rare. At one point, Manna criticizes the Palestinians (and their historians?) and says that they have not yet conducted a “critical and serious discussion of the history of the Nakba and its ramifications.” It would seem that he is right.

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