Howard Epstein

HOWARD EPSTEIN: ISRAEL. WHOSE TRUTH IS THE TRUTH?

HOWARD EPSTEIN: ISRAEL. WHOSE TRUTH IS THE TRUTH?

Statistics and History

What do statistics and history have in common? Disraeli explained the former with his lies, damned lies and statistics. But that, unspokenly, raised a greater problem.

Numbers, scientifically arrived at, do not dependably inform the experts who rely on them. Repeated fiscal crises demonstrate to us that they do not. Further, as we know, no two economists can agree on an outcome, despite being fully primed with copious amounts of data (the less discredited term for statistics) generated by supercomputers, and with the experience, some bitter, of almost a century of modern economic models based on the 1929 Wall Street Crash and subsequent experiences on which to draw – and interpret. So, what hope for any other fields of endeavor? Like history, for example. On what basis can history – facts about the past, widely-available and known to many, but subject to even more interpretation – be trusted.

Where the past is concerned, everything is up for grabs. Take, for example, the birth of the State of Israel.

The Greatest Canard against Israel

As the centenary of the Balfour Declaration on November 2, draws inexorably closer, so the more shrill become the voices raised against it. As a cloak of respectability for anti-Semites, it is a gift. Trot out the misconception (there is a euphemism for you) that Israel was created by ethnic cleansing, full stop, and the rest is easy. As the canard goes: the Jews were so powerful in 1948 that they were able to drive out the majority of the Arabs from their homes in Palestine to create Lebensraum[1] for themselves. (Had it been so, why were several hundred thousand Arabs permitted to remain in what became Israel?)

In 1948, for the Yishuv, outnumbered by local Arabs by a factor of three – before augmentation by the invasion of five regular, fully-equipped Arab armies – it was not so much a matter of touch and go, as touch the Sefer Torah and pray. The prayers, and the grit and determination, and the heroism, and plain good luck, proved just sufficient to lead to a cessation of the fighting and the establishment of the state.

In the process of the fighting, most sources agree that some 700,000 Arabs left for Palestinian refugee camps, mostly in Lebanon and Jordan, where they were hard-heartedly not absorbed into local society. Not to this day. As a source of anti-Zionist propaganda nothing could be more stark – and (so far as their leaders and their “hosts” were and are concerned) to hell with the lives of the wretched refugees. Not that they noticed. Fed on propaganda by UNWRA and the Arabs who cruelly withheld hospitality and citizenship from them, they accepted that “Die Juden sind unser Unglück![2]

Revisionist History and Plan Dalet

The Big Lie behind all this is that it was the policy of the emergent State of Israeli to indulge in ethnic cleansing to drive out 700,000 Arabs. To consider the lack of veracity in this allegation, it is necessary to consider some painful truths, then to consider the practicalities and finally to put them into perspective.

Revisionist historians, not least some of Jewish/Israeli extraction (such as Professor Daniel Blatman[3]) are not shy in directing our attention to “Plan Dalet”. His take on it is that on March 10, 1948, Haganah headquarters approved the expulsion of as many Arabs as possible from the territory of the future Jewish state[4].

For an historian, and a professor, Blatman is somewhat economical with the truth. Plan Dalet was nothing other than the stated strategy “to gain control of the areas of the Hebrew state and defend its borders”. It also aimed at: “gaining control of the areas of Jewish settlement and concentration which are located outside the borders [of the Hebrew state] against regular, semi-regular, and small forces operating from bases outside or inside the state”.

In other words, Dalet[5] was the plan to ensure the very survival of the Yishuv after the declaration of the State of Israel. It had three elements the first dating from September 1945. What happened on March 10, 1948 was that the third part of Dalet (“YeHoshuah”) was approved; but, contrary to Blatman’s thesis, it dealt with “the possibility of invasion by regular armies from the neighbouring countries” and this too was driven by the imperative for survival.

There is a section in YeHoshuah (which Blatman no doubt has in mind) in the Dalet war plan for survival, borne out of desperation, in a defensive war waged by the Arabs for the total extermination of the Jews, which covers:-

Mounting operations against enemy population centers located inside or near our defensive system in order to prevent them from being used as bases by an active armed force. These operations can be divided into the following categories:

Destruction of villages (setting fire to, blowing up, and planting mines in the debris), especially those population centers which are difficult to control continuously.

Mounting search and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the village and conducting a search inside it. In the event of resistance, the. armed force must be destroyed and the population must be expelled outside the borders of the state.

The villages which are emptied in the manner described above must be included in the fixed defensive system and must be fortified as necessary.

There is no army that, with its back to the wall, would not seek to control hostile villages within its borders and expel those that put up resistance to it to the neighbouring nations whose armies were being resisted. These are known as Rules of Engagement. The Arabs’  Rules of Engagement were rather different: kill all the Jews, wherever you find them and otherwise drive them into the sea.

Deir Yassin

Now let us confront the painful problem of Deir Yassin. Was there a massacre there on April 9, 1948 (a month after the approval of Yehoshuah) by the Palmach or the Haganah (that were about to become the IDF)? No there was not. Yet some 117 villagers in what is now at the extreme western city limit of Jerusalem were indeed killed, some non-combatant, some brutally. This sole example of an outrage committed by the Jews was perpetrated by the Lehi and the Irgun, in defiance of the orders of Menachem Begin, the Irgun leader and a man of strict discipline and integrity. In any event, there was not, behind the bloody actions of the perpetrators an official Jewish State policy to terrorise the Arabs into leaving the Jewish State that was to be declared in Tel Aviv one more month on. Not only was there no such official Yishuv policy, but also (frustratingly for those who seek their own truth) Deir Yassin does not provide evidence that there had been.

Plan Dalet demonstrates that whilst resistant villages would be susceptible to expulsion, there was no overarching policy to drive out all the Arabs for the better founding of the state and Deir Yassin was not carried out pursuant to it.

Without in any way forgiving the crimes of the Irgun murderers of Deir Yassin (Ben Gurion had little hesitation in killing some of them through the agency of Yitzchak Rabin in the Altalena affair in June 1948, in order finally to bring the Lehi and the Irgun to heel), it is necessary to ask if one unforgiveable massacre (of 117 people) amounts to ethnic cleansing? Plainly, that alone could not have driven 700,000 Arabs from their homes (whilst hundreds of thousands of others did not leave, and live on in Israel 70 years later, personally or through their off-spring, enjoying the Middle East’s only democracy, with all that that implies).

It is also necessary to challenge the suggestion that the puny, ill-equipped, make-do-and-mend (Israeli) army, fighting for the survival of the Yishuv and the remnants of the Holocaust, had the luxury of the diversion of pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing. Emphatically, repelling the Arab forces bent on the total annihilation of the Yishuv was the Jews’ full-time pre-occupation.

What Does Ethnic Cleansing Look Like

So if Plan Dalet, Yehoshuah and Deir Yassin are not evidence of (Israeli-perpetrated) ethnic cleansing upon which to found a state, what does true ethnic cleansing look like? You merely need to have read the newspapers of the past three months about the expulsion of the Rohingya Muslim people by the regular Burmese army from their ancient homes into Bangladesh – 300,000 and counting[6] – to see it in action. Is the Burmese army fighting a war of survival? It is not.

There are other modern examples. Between April and July 1994, we saw in Rwanda the genocidal mass slaughter of probably one million Tutsi by members of the Hutu majority government forces and their irregular supporters. Nothing remotely like that occurred in the Palestine/Israel of 1947 to 1949.

The Rwanda story, however, has nothing to do with ethnic cleansing as a way of forming a state. For that we are driven to consider the case of America.

According to the estimates of historians, when Christopher Columbus reached the Americas in 1492, there were 10 million indigenous peoples living what is now US territory. By 1900, their numbers had been reduced to less than 300,000.

Diseases, against which the indigenous people (never previously exposed to them) had little if any resistance, took a massive toll; but that process was accelerated by the European colonisers from time to time. In 1763, Sir Jeffrey Amherst, commander-in-chief of British forces in North America, wrote to Colonel Henry Bouquet resisting American-Indian attacks at Fort Pitt instructing him to:-

“expose the “Indians” [with smallpox] by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method, that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.”

By the time of the American Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776 – which recognized the inalienable right of human beings to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness (provided, it seems, they had not arrived in America untold generations earlier) – many Native American lives had already been lost to disease and displacement. Did the high ideals of the new republic bring the genocide to a virtuous end? Almost a century later, in 1851, California Governor Peter H. Burnett (of whom the Third Reich could have been proud), proclaimed:

“A war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct.”

More recently, we see an attempt to establish, or enlarge, a state by means of ethnic cleansing on the doorstep of Europe. After the disintegration of Yugoslavia in autumn 1991, the more powerful Bosnian Serbs (backed by Serbian power) used a variety of terror strategies including murder, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, extra-judicial executions, rape and sexual assaults, confinement of civilian population in ghetto areas, forcible removal, displacement and deportation of civilian population, deliberate military attacks or threats of attacks on civilians and civilian areas, and wanton destruction of property to remove some two and a half million Muslims from the poorer neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina.

All this was of a totally different order of magnitude as compared with the Jewish fight for survival – against the British as well as the Arabs – in the dying days of Mandatory Palestine in the spring of 1948.

Population Exchange

Nor was the flight of those Arabs who left their homes a unilateral movement. Whilst some 700,000 Arabs may have left Israel by the end of the War of Independence, within three years a larger number of Jews had left Arab countries. Most, around 600,000, settled in Israel, with some 300,000 settling in France. How many were kept in refugee camps? None. An exchange of population then, but with differing policies in the countries of resettlement.

Only a year earlier, something similar happened on the Indian sub-continent.

The End of the Raj

It was not only the Jews that had sought their independence from Britain after the Second World War, that had left her bankrupt. The peoples of Raj India – what would become India, Pakistan and East Pakistan (today’s Bangladesh) – sought the same release. The two Pakistans were thoroughly Muslim in character, whilst the bulk of the British Raj was Hindu. The Muslims could not contemplate life in a predominantly Hindu state and vice versa. There followed an exchange of populations, triggered at midnight on 14–15 August 1947. The Partition of the Raj displaced over 12 million people along religious lines, creating overwhelming refugee crises in the newly constituted dominions. There was wide-spread violence with estimates of loss of life accompanying the Partition varying between several hundred thousand and two million.

Following the Partition of India, in 1951, both Pakistan and India held national censuses, to identify the numbers of displaced persons. In Pakistan it was put at 7.2 million, presumably all Muslims who had entered Pakistan from India. India enumerated 7.3 displaced persons, apparently all Hindus and Sikhs who had moved to India from Pakistan. The two aggregate 14.5 million.

Only The Abandoned Arabs

No compensation was offered or sought by Indians or Pakistanis. All were absorbed over time into their destination societies. Only the desolate Arabs, abandoned in their refugee camps, have been forced to live on as perpetual refugees – against the day, as their leaders who urged them to leave told them, when the poor and weak Jewish State (in this context not regarded as so strong as to be able to repel five invading Arab armies and concurrently able to indulge in ethnic cleansing) should at last crumble and the Jews be driven into the sea. (In the ensuing 70 years, Israel has become a regional superpower with world-class industries and a currency stubbornly strong to the dismay of its export businesses.)

The canard – that Israel had either the desire (much less a policy) or the strength to drive out Arabs by ethnic cleansing for the better establishment of the State of Israel – is a baseless anti-Semitic lie that should be resisted, called out and nailed as such whenever it is levelled against us.

Time to Nail the Lie

Even this warts-and-all examination of Plan Dalet and Deir Yassin does not support the case of founding the state of Israel on basis of ethnic cleansing raised against us. We should demolish the narrative, with pride at our having absorbed not only the survivors of the camps of Europe but also the Jews of Algeria, Morocco (where uniquely they were not under threat), Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. They have received no compensation for their loss nor does any entity (much less UNWRA) seek any for them; they have been fully absorbed into Israeli life; and that story of humanity and success stands as the greatest indictment of Israel’s detractors, who trot out clips of history for those with short attention spans, in lieu of a studied consideration of the facts.

There are lies, damned lies and the tales of anti-Semites.

© Howard Epstein – October 2017

[1] Hitler’s promise to the German people in 1941 was that by invading Poland and Russia, they would create living space for more deserving Germans. The local population were to be relocated via slave labour and other camps

[2]The Jews are our misfortune”, first coined by German historian Heinrich von Treitschke around 1879, it was a popular motif in the Nazi hate sheet, “Der Stürmer”.

[3] Holocaust researcher and head of the Institute for Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

[4] Haaretz, Oct 14, 2016, See https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.747508

[5] See http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/plan-dalet-for-war-of-independence-march-1948

[6]. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/sep/06/who-are-the-rohingya-and-what-is-happening-in-myanmar

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