Holocaust, Revival, and the Nakba
Author: Yair Oron
Place of publication: Tel Aviv
Date of publication: 2013
Israel’s historical narrative of the Arab-Israeli struggle and the 1948 war does not acknowledge Israel’s crime of expelling Palestinians from their homeland, claiming that Palestinians left out of their own volition. In their pursuit of propagating this narrative, Israeli authorities took legal and administrative measures, particularly in the first decades of Israel’s inception, to secretly archive records on the expulsion and massacre of Palestinians. On May 18, 2013, Haaretz published an important investigation revealing that Israel’s primary founder and prime minister David Ben-Gurion wanted to go beyond the propaganda that claimed Palestinians voluntarily left their homeland in 1948 and 1961, after American president John Kennedy pressured Israel to accept the return of some Palestinian refugees, and asked the Shiloah Institute to fabricate “academic studies” proving that:
- Arabs, alongside Arab and Palestinian authorities, encouraged Palestinian Arabs to flee from Palestine in the 1948 war;
- Arab armies and volunteers helped the Palestinians in the evacuation of Arab villages;
- The British Army helped the Palestinian Arabs flee; and
- Jewish institutions and organizations expended effort to prevent the escape.
Founded by the Israeli Ministry of Defense and Foreign Affairs in cooperation with the Hebrew University, the Shiloah Institute was a convenient choice for Ben Gurion to rely on. The institute mainly employed Israeli orientalists who at the time served, or had served, in the Israeli security establishment. It was first headed by the pioneer in Israeli military intelligentsia, Yitzhak Oron, and remained attached to Jerusalem’s Hebrew University until it was transferred to Tel Aviv University in 1965.
Several decades later, the Nakba studies began to emerge contesting the official Israeli narrative of the 1948 war, uncovering details about the war that contradict the historical Israeli narrative. Holocaust, Revival, and the Nakba contributes to this effort, and calls for Israel to recognize the Palestinian Nakba. Authored by Yair Oron, a professor of history at the Open University of Israel, and writer of 20 books to date, some of which specialize in genocide, this book was published in Hebrew in 2013.
Comprised of eleven chapters, the book addresses Israeli historical research on the 1948 war, the parties to the conflict in the war, the meeting between the survivors of the Holocaust with the Jewish Yishuv, the Zionist position regarding the Arabs since the advent of Zionism until 1948, the role of the Holocaust in the Nakba, the Holocaust’s impact on the stance of the Jewish fighters toward the Arabs in the 1948 war, the massacres in the 1948 war, the discussion surrounding the return of Palestinian refugees during the 1948 war, and, lastly, the book offers a comparative study of S. Yizhar’s war stories, the Arabs and the Germans and the Holocaust, and the ethics of war.
Throughout the book, Oron attempts to provide a new reading of what he calls the triad of the Holocaust, the Revival, and the Nakba, presenting them as being linked to one another. Relying on Israeli historical work and literature addressing the 1948 war, Oron is not interested in the Holocaust per se, but its impact on the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, specifically the 1948 war.
In the introduction, he shows how Israel created a historical narrative and founded legends about the 1948 that were based on the Holocaust and the revival, a resurgence symbolized in the establishment of Israel. Israeli narratives tend to highlight the Jewish Yishuv’s “heroism” in Palestine, praising the way in which the minority achieved victory over the majority, ignoring the gaps that Israel’s historical narrative refuses to acknowledge. The author maintains that the search for truth necessitates seeing these gaps because avoiding self-deception, and confronting the truth, no matter how difficult, constitutes a necessary condition for the health of the individual and collective psyche. Despite the passing of six decades since the Nakba, Israel persists in its denial of historical truths, continues to enact laws designed to erase the memory of the Nakba, prevents dialogue between its historical narrative and the Palestinian historical narrative, and relentlessly works to impose its own narrative. In fact, Israel still denies that the Nakba led to the expulsion of Palestinians from over 532 cities and villages, the destruction of these villages, the establishment of Jewish kibbutzim, towns, and cities on their ruins, and the settlement of Jewish immigrants in Palestinian homes that were not destroyed.
In chapter five, Oron discusses the impact of the Holocaust on the Jewish Yishuv and on the fighter’s stance toward the Palestinians in the 1948 war. According to Oron, Ben-Gurion, realized the extent of this influence on Jewish Yishuv and the ensuing strive for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. The holocaust had devastating consequences, with the extermination of millions of Jews, greatly reducing the numbers of Jews migrating to Palestine. Ben Gurion, however, also realized that the world, shaken by the magnitude of the Holocaust’s atrocities, would stand on the side of the Jewish Yishuv in realizing their goals. The Holocaust, argues Oron, was politically crucial to Ben-Gurion. It not only contributed to the support of Zionist goals and migration to Palestine, but also strengthened the Yishuv’s incentive to fight a war against the Palestinians and Arabs in the desire to avoid, at all cost, the possibility of a Holocaust reoccurring. Ben-Gurion was repeatedly quoted, saying: “We must not say that what happened in Europe to six million Jews cannot happen to 650,000 Jews in Palestine … what happened in Europe may happen in Palestine … if we do not prepare seriously and without delay” (p. 108). Ben-Gurion’s use of the Holocaust had a vital impact on the Jewish Yishuv’s leadership, individual members, and armed forces, and, among other factors, contributed to the Yishuv belief in waging a struggle of existence; they would either be victorious over the Palestinians and Arabs, or they die. What awaited them if defeated would be comparable to the Holocaust.
Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organization, put Plan “Dalet” (or Plan D) into effect when tension between the Yishuv and the Palestinians escalated in March 1948. This plan included the expulsion of Palestinians from the regions where the Jewish nation was to be founded. The author here harshly criticizes the Zionist left, especially the Mapam party and its followers in the Hashomer Hatsair kibbutzim, who were largely behind the expulsion of Palestinians from their villages and cities. The Mapam party initially called for coexistence between the Jews and Arabs, but in 1948 demanded that Palestinians expelled from their homes. In April 1948, for instance, Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmak not only demanded that Ben-Gurion expel the Arabs from the region, it also called for its burning (p. 113).
On July 14, 1948, Ben Gurion was quoted saying that the leadership of the Mapam party—a party standing for Jewish-Arab brotherhood—realized the futility of this slogan, and “saw that there is only one way, and that is expelling the populations of Arab villages and burning them” (p. 114). The party’s Kibbutzim in Western Galilee, an area marked as a Palestinian Arab state in accordance with the partition resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on November 29 1947, imposed great pressure on the Israeli authority to occupy Arab villages and towns in Western Galilee and expel its Arab population.
Israeli Crimes Comparable to Nazi Crimes
In Oron’s view, the Jewish Holocaust had a significant impact on Israelis, including Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, who migrated to Israel and joined the Israeli Army and became harsher and more ruthless (p. 117). The author here gives a number of examples of the atrocities and criminal operations committed by the Israeli Army and military organizations against the Palestinian Arabs, which include cold-blooded murder, the execution of helpless prisoners, and the rape of women. Quoting one example from the occupation of the village of Sufsaf in the Galilee, the author describes how one Israeli soldier witnessing the occupation of Sufsaf noted that “white flags were raised when the Israeli Army occupied it, while the army collected the men on one side and the women on one side, army members tied the hands of fifty-sixty farmers and then shot them, buried them in a single grave, and then raped a number of the women.” He added that he saw “a number of killed women near the forest and among them was a killed woman holding her dead baby in her lap” (p. 118). When the Israeli Army occupied the village of Eilabun in the Galilee, it ordered its residents to leave. When some of the village’s people protested, saying that their expulsion from the village contradicts the leaflets provided by the army, the soldiers opened fired and killed 30 civilians in cold blood. Oron uses Yosef Nahmani’s narration of his memoirs to describe the level of criminality during the 1948 war: “The Israeli army actually butchered Arabs with knives. They massacred 60-70 men and women. Where did they find such Nazi-like cruelty? They learned from them. One of the officers told me that that the most prominent criminal acts were from those soldiers that came from the [Nazi] camps” (p. 118).
The Massacres of the 1948 War
Oron writes that the magnitude of the massacres committed by the Israeli Army and military organizations far superseded his expectations before he embarked on his research. In the 1948 war, the army routinely killed civilians, prisoners, raped, and stole Palestinian property. His hypothesis is based on books and studies written by Israeli researchers and historians, primarily Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe, and Yoav Gelber. In line with Israeli policy and military censorship that seeks to hide war crimes and massacres committed by the Israeli military forces in the 1948 war, Israeli research, by-and-large, avoids these truths. To illustrate, the author notes how many of the minutes from Israeli government meetings in the interval extending from May 1948 to March 1949 are still concealed, especially those dealing with the expulsion of Arabs, the destruction of Arab villages, massacres, rapes, and the stealing of Arab property. All of this, argues Oron, leads to the assumption that atrocities committed by the Haganah and the Israeli Army are potentially greater than what is known (p. 176), and that the proof lies in the recent emergence of new facts on what took place during the Nakba.
Of all the massacres, the most prominent committed against the Palestinians, continues the writer, are the massacres of Tantura, Lod, Deir Yasin, and Ein al-Zeitoun. In a detailed description of these massacres, the author explores the number of Palestinian victims killed; describes the manner in which they were killed; and notes how the list of victims included civilian children, women, and men. Relying on testimonies from Israelis who witnessed these massacres, the author expounded on the prominent role of the Palmach forces (Strike Forces) in massacres in Lod, Ein al-Zeitoun, and others, the vast majority of whose leadership, officers, and soldiers belonged to the Israeli left. In early May 1948, the Palmach forces occupied Ein al-Zeitoun, which lies near Safed, destroyed it, imprisoned around 100 Palestinians, tied their hands and legs, and kept them hostage in a valley near the village. After two days had passed, the Palmach killed all of the prisoners while their hands and legs were bound (p. 170).
The majority of the massacres and crimes committed by the Israeli Army in 1948, argues Oron, have yet to be revealed. Israeli researcher Dan Yahav expressed that up until the year 2002, 20 massacres against the Palestinians were known, and since then, eight new massacres have emerged. Former director of Israeli Army Archives Aryeh Yitzhaki, claims Oron, confirmed that the Israeli military forces committed ten large massacres, each of them with a victim count exceeding 50 Palestinians, and 100 massacres with less than 50 Palestinian victims in each (p. 313).
The Rape of Palestinian Women
Part of Oron’s book addresses the rape of Palestinian women and girls committed by Israeli soldiers in the 1948 war. Proof of rape by Israeli soldiers and officers is evident in at least 12 Palestinian cities and villages, according to Israeli historians such as Benny Morris. The perpetrators, it seems, came from various backgrounds; some were survivors of Nazi concentration camps, while others were from the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine. According to these accounts, in some cases, Israeli soldiers raped Palestinian women or girls upon occupying a village or city, and would then murder them. Oron believes that to date the entirety of the rape crimes committed against Palestinian women in the 1948 war have not been revealed and relevant files remain concealed.
Details are given of one particular crime, unveiled in 2005, when dozens of Israeli officers and soldiers raped a Palestinian girl from the Negev. The author describes how after its occupation of the Negev in southern Palestine, the Israeli armed forces proceeded with the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arabs, according to verbal commands initially, followed by written orders from the army (p. 134). The author states that on August 12, 1949, an Israeli Army unit came across an Arab and shot him. Shortly thereafter, the unit came across two Arab men accompanied by a young girl. Forcing the two men to flee, they arrested the young girl, and once the unit arrived to its base in Nirim in the Negev, the Israeli soldiers stripped the Arab girl naked, burnt her clothes, then washed her and cut her hair, all of which took place in front of dozens of officers and soldiers present in the military base. The girl, at the order of the unit commander, became their “sex slave,” and was subsequently raped by dozens of officers and soldiers. After they quenched their brutal desires, the base commander ordered the transfer of the Arab girl by car 500 meters away to be killed and buried (pp. 134-135).
Oron concludes his book by claiming that Israeli soldiers and officers committed massacres in atrocities in the 1948 war and were never brought to trial, that the Israeli armed forces carried out operations of ethnic cleansing in places that were to become part of the Jewish State, and, finally, that the expulsion of Palestinians and ethnic cleansing operations were in accordance with Israeli policy and strategy.
 Hazkani, Shay. “Catastrophic Thinking: Did Ben-Gurion Try to Rewrite History?,” Haaretz, May 16, 2013, http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/magazine/catastrophic-thinking-did-ben-gurion-try-to-rewrite-history.premium-1.524308.
 Yishuv is the Jewish presence in Palestine; it is a Hebrew word that means resettlement or housing, and refers to the Jewish groups that are endemic to Palestine for religious reasons. There was an Old Yishuv, which was constituted by the Jewish groups that were living on alms sent by other Jewish organizations. The members of this Old Yishuv did not have any political ambitions because the purpose of their presence was purely religious, and they had good relations with the Arabs. The New Yishuv, however—which is the most widely referred to and most popular—refers to the Zionist Jewish settlers before the inception of the state of Israel, between the years of 1882 and 1948. The members of this Yishuv were a group of nationalist colonialist Zionists with a specific political agenda aiming at the establishment of “the Jewish homeland”. They focused their efforts on establishing an economic, political, and civilizational infrastructure according to isolationist principles that separated them from the Arabs. The word “Yishuv” is used in a way that indicates that there is a continuation of the Jewish presence in Palestine, and it was independent and separate from the Arab region. With the realization of the goals of the Yishuv in establishing the state of Israel in 1948, Zionist settlement activity before this date became known as the period of Yishuv. (Editorial)