Mivtza Nikayon — Operation Cleaning
Arab refugees in northern Israel on the road to Lebanon, November 1948. (Associated Press)
DAVID MARGOLICK, The New York Times, May 4, 2008
By Benny Morris
Illustrated. 524 pp. Yale University Press. $32.50.
It was not one of the celebrated moments of what the Israelis call the War of Independence and the Palestinians call Al Nakba, the Catastrophe. But it is one of the more arresting ones.
In late August 1948, during a United Nations-sanctioned truce, Israeli soldiers conducting what they called Mivtza Nikayon — Operation Cleaning — encountered some Palestinian refugees just north of the Egyptian lines. The Palestinians had returned to their village, now in Israeli hands, because their animals were there, and because there were crops to harvest and because they were hungry. But to the Israelis, they were potential fighters, or fifth columnists in the brand new Jewish state. The Israelis killed them, then burned their homes.
As much as in any other scene in this meticulous, disturbing and frustrating book, the ineffable tragedy of Israelis and Palestinians resides in that brutal, heartbreaking image. On the one hand, the Jews were fighting for a safe haven three years after six million of them had been murdered. Undoubtedly some of those soldiers on patrol that day were survivors themselves, who’d lost their entire families in Europe and been handed rifles after washing ashore in Haifa or Tel Aviv.
And then there were the Palestinians, who had watched in horror over the past 75 years as these aliens first trickled, then poured, into their homeland. Were he an Arab leader, David Ben-Gurion once confessed to the Zionist official Nahum Goldmann, he, too, would wage perpetual war with Israel. “Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them?” he asked. “There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: We have come here and stolen their country.”
The history of the 1948 war desperately needs to be told, since it’s so barely understood or remembered and since so many of the issues that plague us today had their roots in that struggle. Much of that history is military: how the dramatically outnumbered Jews managed to defeat first the Arabs of Palestine, then the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Syria, along with a smattering of Sudanese, Yemenites, Moroccans, Saudis, Lebanese and others. But arguably even more important than the soldiers are the civilians, specifically the 700,000 Palestinians who fled as the war raged. To understand the Palestinians who now fire rockets from Gaza or become suicide bombers from Nablus, it helps to know how their fathers and grandfathers wound up in Gaza or Nablus in the first place.
No one is better suited to the task than Benny Morris, the Israeli historian who, in previous works, has cast an original and skeptical eye on his country’s founding myths. Whatever controversy he has stirred in the past, Morris relates the story of his new book soberly and somberly, evenhandedly and exhaustively. Definitely exhaustively, for “1948” can feel like 1948: that is, hard slogging. Some books can be both very important and very hard to read.
On Nov. 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly approved a plan to split Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. The as yet unnamed Jewish state — or, as they say in Arabic, “Zionist entity” — would be tiny and divided: nearly half its citizens would be Arabs. Still, the Jews danced the hora that day on the streets of Tel Aviv. Ben-Gurion, who’d spent 40 years working toward that end, didn’t join. “I could only think that they were all going to war,” he said.
Within hours, he was right. Through the following May, when the British Mandate expired, civil war raged in Palestine. On paper and on the ground, the Palestinians had the edge: there were twice as many of them, they occupied the higher altitudes and they had friendly regimes next door. But isolated and outnumbered as they were, the Jews were far better organized, motivated, financed, equipped and trained than their adversaries, who were so fragmented — by geography and tradition and clan — that the term “Palestinian” was either unwarranted or at least premature. The war became a rout once the Jews took the offensive, and the Palestinian refugee crisis began (if “crisis” can be used to describe anything so chronic). On all this, Morris excels.
Transfer — or expulsion or ethnic cleansing — was never an explicit part of the Zionist program, even among its more extreme elements, Morris observes. The first Arabs who left their homes did so on their own, expecting to return once the Jews lost or the fighting stopped. The Jewish mayor of Haifa begged Arab residents to stay; Golda Meir, then head of the Jewish Agency Political Department, called the exodus “dreadful” and even likened it to what had befallen the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. While Jewish atrocities — notably, the infamous massacre at Deir Yassin — were very real, apocalyptic Arab broadcasts induced further flight and depicted as traitors those who chose to stay behind.
But once the Palestinian exodus began, Jewish leaders, struck by their good fortune, first encouraged it, then coerced it, then sought to make it stick. After all, the country needed room for Hitler’s victims, as well as for those Jews fleeing Arab countries. And it also had to protect itself against insurrectionists in its midst. The Arabs, it was said, had only themselves to blame for the upheaval: they’d started it. And, Morris notes, the Jews were only emulating the Arabs, who’d always envisioned a virtually Judenrein Palestine.
Matters took another turn in May 1948, when the British left, Israel declared statehood and the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq marched in. Again, for all their numerical superiority, the Arabs were ill-equipped, inexperienced, unprepared. Some Arab leaders knew they were in over their heads. But given the anger over the Jewish state on their streets and their own tenuous hold on power, not to invade was even more perilous.
Within five and a half months, they were crushed, militarily and psychologically. But for international intervention, their defeat would have been still worse; the Egyptian army would have been annihilated. Only King Abdullah of Jordan, with the best (British-trained) army and limited objectives (not to destroy the Jewish state, but to annex the West Bank), got what he wanted. Meanwhile, Israel grew beyond the partition lines, gained more defensible borders and — by destroying Arab villages — further reduced the Palestinian population.
The Israelis, Morris says, committed far more atrocities than the Arabs, but this was partly a function of success: they had far more opportunities. But had the Israelis committed systematic ethnic cleansing, he argues, there would not be 1.4 million Arabs in Israel today. Of course, by promptly driving out their own Jews, the vanquished Arab leaders became the greatest Zionist recruiters of all.
Deep inside Morris’s book is an authoritative and fair-minded account of an epochal and volatile event. He has reconstructed that event with scrupulous exactitude. But despite its prodigious research and keen analysis, “1948” can be exasperatingly tedious. The battlefield accounts, dense with obscure place names and weapons inventories, are so unrelenting, and unrelentingly dry, that you are grateful for the full-page maps (which themselves are hard to follow). The narrative cries out for air and anecdote and color.
Your help is urgently needed. In the face of many false attacks, United Methodist volunteers have put up a web site to explain the concept of divestment from companies that sustain the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. This site contains information on Israeli apartheid, and explanations of proposals that will be before the United Methodist General Conference (our policy-making body) later this month.
This web site has been prepared by clergy and lay volunteers from the United Methodist New England Conference, Baltimore Washington Conference, New York Annual Conference, Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference, and Rocky Mountain Conference. It answers questions about divestment proposals before the 2008 General Conference and responds to the many misrepresentations that have been made about these proposals. We hope you will find it helpful. If you have additional questions, please contact us at UMDivestment at aol.com.
Time is short, and we need to get the word out. There have been many false reports about these proposals and about Methodists who support them. It is urgent that we respond. The site is www.unitedmethodistdivestment.com.
If you have a web site of your own, please place a temporary link to our site on yours, and be sure to click on it to visit our site. Linking our site to others is the surest way to move it up in the Google listings. Having many visits to the site will also help. Please also share the information in our site with others.
With many thanks,
Member, Divestment Task Force
New England Conference of the United Methodist Church
O-LIVE! O-LIVE! Silent art auction and other events to benefit Augusta Victoria Hospital, Jerusalem.
Location: St. Stephens Lutheran Church, 5700 Pleasant Hill Rd., Monona, WI. For info call: Church office: 608-222-1241 or
Sunday, April 6, 7 pm: Movie The Iron Wall by Mohammad Alatar.
Refreshments and open discussion to follow. Donations accepted for the hospital benefit. For a review of the movie see: palestineonlinestore.com.
Sunday, April 13
6:30 pm: Live music and gathering
7 pm: Movie Occupation 101
Refreshments and open discussion will follow the movie. Donations toward Augusta Victoria Hospital will be accepted. For a review of the film see: palestineonlinestore.com.
Sunday, April 20
5:30 – 6 pm Monthly Prayer Vigil for Peace in the Middle East
6 – 7:30 pm Soup for schools dinner and lecture.
Dr. Jim Bailey professor emeritus Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa will give a talk entitled: “Barriers to peace in the Middle East.” Soup and salad provided, donations accepted.
Sunday, April 27 6–8 pm: O-Live! O-Live! Closing reception
Live music, great treats, and great coffee!Join us for the final viewing of the silent art auction benefiting Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH). Reception begins at 6 pm and at 8 pm bidding will end and high bidders can pay and leave with their new art
work. If not in attendance, winning bidders will be notified and can pay and pick up their artwork from the church during regular church hours. 100% of proceeds from the auction benefit AVH.
(For information about Augusta Victoria Hospital, see avh.org.)
“The Reality of Arms Control: From the Trenches”
Madison Committee on Foreign Relations
Wednesday, April 16, 5:30-7:30 pm
Edgewater Hotel, Rigadoon Room, 666 Wisconsin Ave, Madison
Registration and a fee required — for more information see wage.wisc.edu.
Sponsors: Madison Committee on Foreign Relations; UW-Madison Center for World Affairs and the Global Economy (WAGE) and Middle East Studies Program.
“Intelligence Failure: Why Did So Many People Think There Were Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq?”
Thursday, April 17, 12-1:30 pm
Grainger Hall Room 4151, 975 University Avenue, UW-Madison
Free and open to the public.
Sponsors: UW-Madison Center for World Affairs and the Global Economy (WAGE), Middle East Studies Program, and Global Studies; Madison Committee on Foreign Relations, and The Madison Institute.
“Overt and Covert Wars: From Iraq to Iran in U.S. Foreign Policy, 1990-2008”
Thursday, April 17, 7:30 pm
Wisconsin State Historical Society auditorium, 816 State Street Mall, UW-Madison
Free and open to the public.
Sponsors: UW-Madison Middle East Studies Program, Center for World Affairs and the Global Economy (WAGE), and Global Studies; the Madison Committee on Foreign Relations and The Madison Institute.
“Waging Peace: Citizenship in a Time of Unjust War”
The Madison Institute Forum
Saturday, April 19, 9 am – 12 pm
Wisconsin State Historical Society auditorium, 816 State Street Mall, UW-Madison
Free and open to the public.
At this forum Mr. Ritter will touch on issues such as supporting the troops without supporting the mission, the role of the media in shaping views and how citizens could counter, the Constitution as a citizens center of gravity, and some practical ideas for how citizens can “Wage Peace”.
Mr. Ritter’s presentation will be followed by a panel discussion with UW-Madison professor Joe Elder and Madison attorney Fred Wade, members of The Madison Institute board.
Co-sponsors: UW-Madison Center for World Affairs and the Global Economy (WAGE), Middle East Studies Program, and Global Studies.
Scott Ritter served as Chief Weapons Inspector for the United Nations Special Commission in Iraq and was a Marine Corps major in military intelligence. He is the author of six books since 1998, including Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Antiwar Movement, Iraq Confidential and Target Iran.
Playgrounds for Palestine – Madison 2008 Project: A Playground for Jenin!
PfP-Madison is excited to announce that our first fundraising project is to raise $12,000 in 2008 to build a playground in the Jenin Refugee Camp.
This camp in the West Bank — home to 12,000 refugees — was destroyed during the last Intifada and hundreds of its citizens were massacred by the Israeli Army in 2002.
Needless to say, many children have been traumatized (42.3% of the camp’s residents are under the age of fifteen). In addition, since the playground equipment will be produced in the West Bank, our projects will also help to stimulate the devastated local economy.
There are so many ways that the playgrounds will benefit the communities. Please help us succeed!
Send a check made out to “PfP – Madison” to:
Playgrounds for Palestine – Madison
PO Box 5091
Madison, WI 53705-0091
“There is already a separate legal system in the territories for Israelis and Palestinians,” said Limor Yehuda, who argued the recent case for the civil rights association on behalf of six Palestinian villages. “With the approval of separate roads, if it becomes a widespread policy, then the word for it will be ‘apartheid.’ ”
ETHAN BRONNER, The New York Times, 28 March 2008
BEIT SIRA, West Bank — Ali Abu Safia, mayor of this Palestinian village, steers his car up one potholed road, then another, finding each exit blocked by huge concrete chunks placed there by the Israeli Army. On a sleek highway 100 yards away, Israeli cars whiz by.
“They took our land to build this road, and now we can’t even use it,” Mr. Abu Safia says bitterly, pointing to the highway with one hand as he drives with the other. “Israel says it is because of security. But it’s politics.”
The object of Mr. Abu Safia’s contempt — Highway 443, a major access road to Jerusalem — has taken on special significance in the grinding Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For the first time, the Supreme Court, albeit in an interim decision, has accepted the idea of separate roads for Palestinians in the occupied areas.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel told the Supreme Court that what was happening on the highway could be the onset of legal apartheid in the West Bank — a charge that makes many Israelis recoil.
Built largely on private Palestinian land, the road was first challenged in the Supreme Court in the early 1980s when the justices, in a landmark ruling, permitted it to be built because the army said its primary function was to serve the local Palestinians, not Israeli commuters. In recent years, in the wake of stone-throwing and several drive-by shootings, Israel has blocked Palestinians’ access to the road.
This month, as some 40,000 Israeli cars — and almost no Palestinians — use it daily, the court handed down its decision, one that has engendered much legal and political hand-wringing.
The one-paragraph decision calls on the army to give a progress report in six months on its efforts to build separate roads and take other steps for the Palestinians to compensate them for being barred from Highway 443. It is the acceptance of the idea of separate road systems that has engendered commentary, although legal experts say there is a slight chance that the court could reconsider its approach when it next examines the issue.
Many Israelis and their supporters reject the term, with its implication of racist animus.
“The basis of separation is not ethnic since Israeli Arabs and Jerusalem residents with Israeli ID cards can use the road,” argues Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a conservative research organization. “The basis of the separation is to keep out of secure areas people living in chaotic areas. If the Palestinian Authority, which has thousands of men under arms, had fought terror, this wouldn’t have been necessary.”
The court’s latest decision is significant because it accepted the idea in principle put forth by the army — that while it had no choice but to ban Palestinian traffic from the road because of anti-Israel attacks on it, some of which it says originated from the surrounding villages, it would build separate roads for the Palestinians.
The court has never ruled on the legality of separate roads, despite a growing network of them around the West Bank. If this interim decision reflects its view that such a system is legally acceptable, that represents a big new step. A court spokeswoman said the justices would not comment.
David Kretzmer, an emeritus professor of international law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, wrote in an op-ed article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz of what he called the “judicial hypocrisy” of Israel’s reign over the territories manifest in this case.
He said that while the changed security circumstances of recent years may have forced a change in the road’s mixed use, “the unavoidable conclusion is that, as unfortunate as this may be, Israelis should not be allowed to travel on the road that was built, let’s not forget, for the benefit of the local population.
“But the military government has, of course, decided otherwise: Israelis will be allowed to travel on the road, while Palestinians — for whom, the court’s ruling says, the road was paved — cannot use it, and access to the road from local Palestinian villages will be blocked.”
For many Israelis, however, the dozens of attacks that have taken place on the road in recent years are reason enough to ban Palestinian traffic there and to limit Palestinians to other routes. In 2001, for example, five Israelis were killed by gunfire on Highway 443 and since then a number of others have been injured from stone-throwing.
Still, the legal case seems more complicated. In The Jerusalem Post, Dan Izenberg wrote that international law and Israeli court decisions were unambiguous on the fact that the road should primarily serve Palestinians rather than Israelis, but that the court was in a delicate position just now because of growing public discontent with it over other issues.
“The High Court in this case cannot stray too far from the interests of the Israeli public, especially at a time when it has more than its share of enemies,” he wrote. “The court knows that Israelis who rely on Highway 443 would not easily accept a ruling that causes them such inconvenience.”
Gershom Gorenberg, an Israeli who wrote a book critical of Israeli settlements, runs a blog called South Jerusalem (www.southjerusalem.com) on which he has posted documents from the 1960s and 70s showing that the governments planned to expand the Jerusalem corridor with settlements and a bigger road after conquering East Jerusalem in the 1967 war. In that sense, he says, the government and army were never honest in what they told the Supreme Court about the purpose of Highway 443.
“Think of the road itself as a settlement,” he said, “part of the conscious effort to change the character of the area, giving it an Israeli stamp. The point was to make it impossible for Israel ever to return certain parts of the land. It is true that Palestinians had free movement on 443 in the 1980s and 1990s before the restrictions were imposed. But to claim that it was built for them does not line up with the paper trail. The cover story of this road has been blown.”
For the 30,000 Palestinians who live in the surrounding villages, lack of access to Highway 443 has been a constant source of difficulty. In one village, A Tira, 14 taxis have permits to travel the road during daylight but locals say that has not eased the burden much.
Each morning, a crowd gathers at the blocked entrance to A Tira, waiting for the Israeli soldiers to open a gate so they can take one of the taxis to Ramallah, the capital of the West Bank.
“Ten days ago, my brother had a heart attack and we had trouble transferring him to a Ramallah hospital,” lamented Said Salameh, 51, a taxi driver who has a permit for the road, as he stood by the entrance one recent morning. “When the gate closes at night, we can’t move outside the village.”
Sabri Mahmoud, a 36-year-old employee of the Palestinian Authority, agreed. “I am always late to work because of this,” he said. “Our life is controlled by the opening hours of the gate. You feel like you live in a cage.”
For many legal commentators in Israel, the most distressing part is that by giving Highway 443 to Israelis and barring Palestinians, Israel is protecting its citizens not from terrorism but from traffic — granting them an alternative to the crowded main Jerusalem road.
Ms. Yehuda, the civil rights lawyer, said that the Supreme Court’s 1982 ruling specifically stated that if the point of the road was primarily to serve Israelis, then it may not be built. Yet now, she added, “The state is essentially aiming to safeguard the convenience of the service road for Israelis who commute from Tel Aviv and the central plains to Jerusalem and vice versa.”
Dear Friends and Supporters,
Since the founding of Interfaith Peace-Builders in 2001, one of our main goals and priorities has been bringing diverse groups of Americans to Israel/Palestine.
As our 26th delegation prepares to leave for the region, this remains one of our foremost concerns. We need to meet the challenge of giving low income Americans and individuals from diverse communities the same possibilities of understanding, empathy and change that IFPB delegations provide to those who can afford the full price.
This goal is even more important now, with the current crisis in Israel/Palestine becoming ever more unstable. Recent journalism has increasingly implicated US policymakers in the humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip and the political stalemate gripping the Palestinian leadership. At the same time, more Americans are asking for the opportunity to join IFPB’s delegations, and many are unable to afford the rising costs.
IFPB has always maintained a scholarship fund to provide low income delegates with travel stipends so that they can more easily meet the costs of the delegation. However, this fund is currently dangerously low. With three more innovative and important delegations scheduled this year, we are in need of further support.
Thursday, April 3rd, 2008
Pyle Center, UW Campus
Amira Hass is a world-renowned Israeli journalist, and the only one who actually lives among the Palestinians that she reports on. She is a courageous and articulate voice on the Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinians.
Hass covers Palestinian affairs for the Israeli daily Haaretz. She is the author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza and Reporting from Ramallah. Known for her honest and often brutal portrayals of the impact of Israeli occupation on the lives of ordinary Palestinians, she received the 1999 International World Press Freedom Award in recognition of her work in the Gaza Strip. She gave this talk as part of the “Reporting the Middle East” lecture series at UW-Madison in October 2003.
Hass will also be a guest on A Public Affair on Friday, April 4th from noon to 1:00 p.m. on WORT 89.9 FM with host Judith Siers-Poisson.
Sponsored by the UW Middle East Studies Program. Co-sponsors include the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project and Playgrounds for Palestine — Madison.
March 22, 2008
2 – 4 p.m.
Escape Java Joint
916 Williamson St.
Paul Beckett, Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, 21 March 08
This is addressed to people interested in the Israel-Palestine situation and its history. I am reading Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006). It is a concise, easy to read history that is of really dazzling quality. I think it is the most important work done on the history of Israel and the Palestinians in many, many years. Pappe is a distinguished Israeli historian and, among other things, this is an amazingly courageous book for him to write. I should think that Israeli historiography can never be the same.
The book is now in paperback and I heartily recommend it.
There will begin a reading-and-discussion series centered around the book. This first meeting will be this Saturday, March 22, from 2 till 4 p.m. at Escape Java Joint (916 Williamson St.). Discussion will cover the first four chapters of the book (co-led by David Williams and Steve Wolvin).
UPCOMING EVENTS from The Madison Institute (TMI), A Policy Study Center in the Progressive Tradition:
The Progressive Roundtable
“Book Review: Two Books by Scott Ritter”
Saturday, March 15, 2008
9:00 a.m. – Noon
Meriter Maingate, 333 W. Main Street, Madison, WI
(See background on Scott Ritter under the forum announcement below.)
TMI Board Members Fred Johnson and Paul Beckett will review two of Ritter’s books: Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Anti-War Movement and Target Iran. This will be followed by a group discussion.
Scott Ritter: “Waging Peace: Citizenship in a Time of Unjust War”
Saturday, April 19, 2008
9:00 a.m. – Noon
Wisconsin State Historical Society Auditorium
Mr. Ritter is a former Marine Intelligence Officer and former lead weapons inspector in Iraq for the United Nations. He is also the author of “Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Anti-War Movement” and his latest work, “Target Iran”. At this forum he will touch on issues such as supporting the troops without supporting the mission, the role of the media in shaping views and how citizens could counter, the Constitution as a citizens center of gravity, and some practical ideas for how citizens can “Wage Peace”.
Mr. Ritter’s presentation will be followed by a panel discussion.
Both above events are free and open to the public
THREE WAYS YOU CAN HELP TMI
* Participate in the Progressive Roundtable.
* Pass along names of authors or speakers you feel have ideas that we should hear and/or think about. Send as much information as you can to Fred Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* We know it is an old story, but it is still true that we need your financial support. Whether paying for this web site, or paying for honoraria and expenses for speakers, we cannot continue doing what we have been doing without your help to keep us out of the red. You may contribute securely to TMI on-line at “How to Contribute”.