The Israel-Palestine conundrum already is so saturated with historical misrepresentations, outright falsehoods, and irrational accusations that any further distortion of history would only deepen the public’s ignorance. Two recent Miami Herald “Other Views” columns — Julian Schvindlerman’s The Right To Destroy Israel (January 4, 2001) and Uri Dromi’s Palestinians Miss Another Opportunity (January 5, 2001) — reiterate as fact what Israeli scholarship had exposed as myth several years ago. Both Schvindlerman and Dromi rehash the now all-too-familiar myth of the voluntary Palestinian exodus of 1948 from what is today Israel-proper. “They [the Arab nations] exhorted their Arab brethren in Palestine é to abandon their houses to allow the holy warriors to attack,” writes Schvindlerman. Dromi states that during the 1948 war, “some 750,000 Palestinians left their homes and became refugees in the Arab countries.” Note how in one account, the Palestinians were encouraged to flee é this is the old “radio broadcasts” myth. In the other, the passive voice is employed: the Palestinians simply “left their homes.” The historical record can substantiate neither glib account.
Over the past twenty years, Israeli scholars like the late Simha Flapan, Tom Segev, Ilan Pappe, and Benny Morris, have used declassified official Israeli documents to reveal a history quite at odds with earlier accounts. The standard version of history had more to do with the public relations efforts of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s hasbara (Hebrew for “explanation”) campaign than with historical truth. This is not to accuse Israel, or for that matter, Schvindlerman and Dromi, of manufacturing lies, but rather to argue that it does a disservice to historical truth when well-known myths are employed to strengthen legitimate arguments that can stand on their own merit. A majority of contemporary Israeli scholars, media pundits, and even citizens know that the Palestinians did not “voluntarily” leave their homes in 1948. Consider two examples of evidence largely based on recently declassified Israeli governmental and military sources:
Israeli historian Benny Morris, in a January 1986 article for Middle Eastern Studies, cited a 1948 report from the intelligence service of the Israeli Defense Forces entitled The Emigration of the Arabs of Palestine in the Period 1/12/1947 é 1/6/1948. In this report é declassified in 1985 é the IDF listed three primary causes for the departure of 391,000 Palestinians: 1) “Direct, hostile Jewish operations against Arab settlements”; 2) “The effect of our hostile operations on nearby settlements é especially the fall of large neighboring centers”; 3) “Operations of the dissidents.” The “dissidents” were the violent Zionist organizations, the LEHI, Stern Gang, and Urgun. Their “operations” consisted of a number of atrocities against Palestinian villagers, with the massacre at Deir Yassin being the most notorious. These findings became the basis for Morris’s seminal work, The Birth of The Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 (Cambridge, 1987). Morris made it clear that a combination of worsening circumstances, military defeats, and physical threats generated the bulk of the Palestinian flight. Nowhere does he cite evidence for the mythological “broadcasts” because such evidence simply does not exist.
Another devastating criticism of the Arab radio broadcasts that allegedly goaded Palestinian flight is found in Christopher Hitchens’ essay, “Broadcasts,” in Edward Said and Christopher Hitchens, Blaming The Victims (Verso, 1988). Hitchens cited official IDF reports, declassified in 1985, that indeed documented Arab broadcasts, but with an interesting twist: the radio broadcasts exhorted Palestinians to remain in their homes and villages, in part because the invading Arab armies would otherwise be impeded by refugee-clogged roads. The BBC, along with an American listening post, monitored all Middle East broadcasts throughout 1948, Hitchens reported. Not one of these broadcasts ever told Palestinians to flee. Even Israeli broadcasts in Hebrew, and several Jewish newspapers at the time, reported the Arab broadcasts that ordered Palestinians to remain where they were.
Historians believe that it takes a generation before popular historical myths give way to new discoveries and arguments in scholarship. In the case of the “radio broadcasts” myth, the Israeli public has accepted the truth far more readily than the American. Schvindlerman and Dromi know full well that the discredited explanation for the Palestinian flight of 1948 can only fly in America, where history amnesia and a time and spatial distance from Middle Eastern realities assure the continued success of such distortions of history.
Mr. Michael Lopez-Calderon taught High School Social Studies in Miami, Florida for seven years until March 2, 2001, when he was asked to leave the Jewish Day school where he had taught for the past five years. Michael was asked to leave for having posted pro-Palestinian comments on Palestine Media Watch’s subscriber-only e-mail. He remains an activist in the Miami area.