Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 1999, page 42

Behind the Myths

What Israeli Historians Say About 1948 Ethnic Cleansing

By Charley Reese

Benny Morris is an Israeli-born-and-educated historian and one of several who have up-ended Israeli propaganda about the Palestinians. What follows are direct quotations published in Israel and translated by Israel Shahak, a professor of chemistry at Hebrew University and a Holocaust survivor.

Rami Tal interviewed Morris for the newspaper Yediot Ahronot in December 1994.

Tal: “What attracted you to the eviction of Palestinian Arabs during the War of Liberation?”

Morris: “Till then everyone in Israel spoke about Arabs who had just run away in 1948, but there existed no real historical research on it. There were two conflicting propaganda versions, one Arab and another Jewish. As one who received his education in Israel, I thought I knew that the Arabs had ”˜run away.’ But I knew nothing else. The Jewish generations of 1948, however, knew the truth and deliberately misrepresented it. They knew there were plenty of mass deportations, massacres and rapes...The soldiers and the officials knew, but they suppressed what they knew and were deliberately disseminating lies.”

Previously secret, but now published, protocols of Israeli government meetings revealed that David Ben-Gurion, prime minister and one of Israel’s founders, actually used the word “cleanse” when referring to getting rid of Arabs.

In a published protocol, Ben-Gurion was arguing for a wider war. At the time he was speaking, the Galilee area was still in Arab hands. Here is the quotation as published in Israel:

“Regarding the Galilee, Mr. [Moshe] Sharett already told you that about 100,000 Arabs still now live in the pocket of Galilee. Let us assume that a war breaks out. Then we will be able to cleanse the entire area of Central Galilee, including all its refugees, in one stroke. In this context let me mention some mediators who offered to give us the Galilee without war. What they meant was the populated Galilee. They didn’t offer us the empty Galilee, which we could have only by means of a war. Therefore if a war is extended to cover the whole of Palestine, our greatest gain will be the Galilee. It is because without any special military effort which might imperil other fronts, only by using the troops already assigned for the task, we could accomplish our aim of cleansing the Galilee.”

At another meeting, of which a record has been found, Ben-Gurion stated, “We have decided to cleanse Ramla.”

In an article in the Ha’aretz newspaper, Danny Rabinovitz wrote, “What happened to the Palestinians in 1948 is Israel’s original sin...Between the 1950s and 1976, the state systematically confiscated most of the land of its remaining Palestinian citizens.”

Shahak stated in his article, “In this context let me mention the pioneering work of Erskin Childers [Irish journalist]. Childers was first to show that the Zionist claim that Arab propaganda had called on the Palestinians to run away from their homes was a gross lie. He inspected all broadcasts [the BBC recorded them and kept transcripts as did the American government] of the Arab radios of the time to find that no such call had ever been made.”

Finally, this quote from the diary of Yitzhak Tabenkin, a charismatic leader of the kibbutz movement. In his diary, Tabenkin stated, “the ideals of Hitler which I like: ethnic homogeneity, the possibility of exchange of ethnic minorities; the transfers of ethnic groups for the sake of an international order which for me are a particularly valuable feature.”

No wonder some people prefer myth to truth. 


This article first appeared in The Orlando Sentinel on June 13, 1999. Reprinted with permission.

Additional information