Last week on May 15th was Nakba Day, when Palestinians and their supporters mourn what they call the ‘catastrophe’ of the modern Jewish state’s establishment, mark the displacement of some 750,000 Arabs in 1948, and call for the ‘right’ of return of the Palestinian refugees to their lost homes in present-day Israel.
There are many reasons that hundreds of thousands of Arabs were displaced in 1948—but as we highlighted in a recent post, chief among them was the fear of being harmed by the approaching Zionist forces.
Basically, people fled in terror because they were led to believe, by their own leaders, that the Zionists would slaughter them like they allegedly did in the Arab village of Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948, even though no massacre ever took place there.
These are important facts for anyone interested in Nakba Day and the origins of the Palestinian refugee problem to know, and there’s a new Hebrew-language book by renowned Israeli historian Eliezer Tauber that provides them.
But, as we discussed in our prior post, American scholars and students won’t be able to learn about it. That’s because Tauber can’t manage to land a U.S. academic press contract on account of virulently anti-Israel faculty reviewers of his manuscript who don’t want the truth to come out, lest it upend their own narrative about these historical events, Silencing History: U.S. University Publishers Shun Book ‘Ending the Deir Yassin Myth’.
Tauber’s meticulous research about what really happened at Deir Yassin needs to reach a larger audience, especially because new material keeps coming to light that corroborates his central findings.
Last week, for example, on the day after Nakba Day, the watchdog group Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) published a bulletin that adds important evidence clarifying why Arabs fled their homes in 1948, and provides further support for Tauber’s key claim: the true story of the 1948 Palestinian exodus is one of a massive flight caused not by any Zionist plan to expel the Arabs, but by the propaganda and lies produced by their own leaders.
On March 16th Pal Media Watch released an exclusive video compilation of over a dozen personal stories told by Palestinian refugees who lived through Israel’s War of Independence. It’s a short 7 minute video that’s well worth watching (a full transcript of the testimonies is also available here):
The video aims to explain what caused the Palestinian refugee problem and why hundreds of thousands of Arabs ended up leaving their homes during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.
It includes 13 translated testimonies by Palestinian refugees who lived in different parts of the country at the time. Despite those differences, there’s a “common denominator” to the personal stories recounted: none of the Palestinians interviewed claims to have been pushed out by Israel’s armed forces, and instead the focus is on what Arab leaders told them to do.
Many of those interviewed claimed that they were following the orders of leaders to evacuate their homes temporarily after which point they were told that they could return with the victorious Arab armies.
Others claim—as Prof. Elizer Tauber describes in his book—that they made the decision to flee with their families because of the “fear of the coming battles” and in particular because of the cruel ‘massacre’ that they heard had happened at Deir Yassin:
Why I left Allar – Orders of Arab army – “Leave…then you will return”
Ali Muhammad Karake: “When news reached us that the Jews were nearing our village, the Arab [Salvation] Army – may Allah protect them – came and said: ‘Leave the village so it won’t happen to you, like Deir Yassin. They slaughter, and do things.’ They said: ‘Leave, but don’t go far from the village because they [the Jews] will make a short visit to the village, leave, and then you’ll return to the village.’ The people left with nothing, even without bread and went into the mountains, and pitched [tents].”
[Al-Quds daily YouTube channel, May 17, 2016]
Significant Points from “How we really became refugees: 13 Palestinians tell their personal stories”
There are a few interesting takeaways from PMW’s new video of Palestinian refugee testimonies.
First, the refugees recounting their stories all express bitterness over the “false promises” of the Arab leaders at the time. The refugees each lament being so gullible as to believe what the Arab regimes and army commanders kept repeating to them—that they’d be returning to their homes “after a few hours.” Many describe how, because they so earnestly believed the political elites who assured them that they’d only be gone for a few days, they even “left their money and gold behind” and “flocks of sheep” in the pastures.
Second, the personal stories of these refugees—which describe large-scale population movements, such as the flight from major cities like Safed and Jaffa—depict Arab armies that planned to exact a ruthless price on the Zionists. In one testimony from 2008, for instance, a Palestinian journalist claims that Arab officers told him that they had “come in order to exterminate the Zionists and their state.” Other testimonies confirm that army commanders, leaders, and elites wanted the “battlefields cleared” of Arab civilians. Basically, they were told to “get out of the way” so that they wouldn’t impede the troops and so that the “fighting [against Israel] would succeed.”
Third, while many of the testimonies suggest that the Palestinian Arabs left their homes “out of fear,” at least one says that the Jews offered him and his fellow villagers the chance to stay in Israel. Recorded on official PA TV back in 2013, one Palestinian refugee claims that the “Jews gave us choices,” including the option to “hand over your weapons and stay on your land and live the way you live.”
Lastly, the testimonies that PMW has compiled are all “presented openly” by the refugees themselves, and have been featured for years in official Palestinian Authority media. It’s important to note that some of the testimonies are by people in current leadership positions in the PA. Even PA President Mahmoud Abbas makes a cameo appearance, explaining why his family along with others from Safed made the decision to leave in 1948.
As author of the bulletin, PMW’s Itamar Marcus, notes:
All of this suggests that awareness of Arab responsibility for the refugee problem must be widespread among the Palestinian population—even though Palestinian leaders refuse to accept responsibility in international forum.”
In a recent op-ed, Times of Israel editor David Horovitz insists that the international community needs to tell Gaza’s “Hamas-abused masses” the truth, namely that they don’t have a ‘right’ of return and a ‘return’ will not happen:
After Monday’s terrible violence and loss of Palestinian life on the Gaza border, the world owes the Palestinians some painful but simple truths…What the [Hamas] terror group calls ‘Palestine’—i.e. Israel—is not going to be ‘liberated.’ Majority-Jewish Israel isn’t going anywhere. Most specifically, given the current Hamas tactic for bringing Gazans to the border, the ‘refugees,’ in their ostensible millions, are not going to ‘return.’…The world…owes it to the Palestinians to make clear that Israel will not be required or pressured to commit national suicide as a Jewish state by absorbing millions of descendants of Palestinians who used to live in what is today’s Israel.”
Horovitz suggests that a “straightforward means” for shattering the illusion of a ‘right’ of return is to correct the definition and classification of Palestinian refugees designated by UNRWA (the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine).
That’s a good place to start.
For 70 years UNRWA has fueled an unrealistic hope and has encouraged millions of Palestinians to “dream” of a ‘right’ of return, because unlike every other refugee population on the planet, UNRWA allowed Palestinians to inherit refugee status. In preventing peace and reasonable compromise, it’s a false hope that’s been even more devastating for the Palestinians than the pack of lies and false promises told to them by their own leaders back in 1948.
Bottom line: The tens of thousands of Gazans participating in the violent Hamas-instigated ‘March of Return’ likely really do believe that their grandparents and great-grandparents were unjustly expelled by Israel in 1948 and that they now have every right to return to ‘Palestine’ and undo the Jewish state. But PMW’s new video compilation of refugee testimonies underscores that most Palestinians probably know deep down that Arab elites and armies were largely to blame for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem, and not Israel. So the ‘right of return’ is unfounded and the personal stories of the Palestinian refugees themselves provides the proof.
Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Inaugural Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 65 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @MiriamElman