Causes of the 1948 Palestinian exodus

1948 Palestinian exodus

Main articles
1948 Palestinian exodus

1947–48 civil war
1948 Arab–Israeli War
1948 Palestine war
Causes of the exodus
Nakba Day
Palestinian refugee
Palestine refugee camps
Palestinian right of return
Palestinian return to Israel
Present absentee
Transfer Committee
Resolution 194

Mandatory Palestine
Israeli Declaration of Independence
Israeli–Palestinian conflict history
New Historians
Palestine · Plan Dalet
1947 partition plan · UNRWA

Key incidents
Battle of Haifa
Deir Yassin massacre
Exodus from Lydda and Ramle

Notable writers
Aref al-Aref · Yoav Gelber
Efraim Karsh · Walid Khalidi
Nur-eldeen Masalha · Benny Morris
Ilan Pappé · Tom Segev
Avraham Sela · Avi Shlaim

Related categories/lists
List of depopulated villages

Related templates

The causes and explanations of the exodus of Palestinian Arabs that arose during the 1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine and the 1948 Arab–Israeli War are a matter of great controversy between historians, journalists and commentators of the Arab–Israeli conflict.

Outline of the historical debate

Initial positions and criticisms

In the first decades after the exodus two diametrically opposed schools of analysis could be distinguished. In the words of Erskine Childers:[1] "Israel claims that the Arabs left because they were ordered to, and deliberately incited into panic, by their own leaders who wanted the field cleared for the 1948 war," while "The Arabs charge that their people were evicted at bayonet-point and by panic deliberately incited by the Zionists."

Palestinian and Arab position

According to Glazer[2] "[t]he Arab view of history has maintained that the Palestinians did not leave their homes voluntarily [but] were expelled by Zionist aggression.... Sources sympathetic to the Arab viewpoint have seen in the events of 1948 the fulfilment of a long dreamed-of Zionist plan to rid Palestine of its Arab population, thus forcibly transforming Palestine into a Jewish state." Nur Masalha and Walid Khalidi points at the influence of thinking about "transfer" of the Arab population to other Arab countries, among Zionists in the years prior to the exodus. In 1961 Khalidi also said that the Zionists had military superiority and that Plan Dalet, the Zionists' military plan executed in April and May 1948, aimed at expelling the Palestinians.[3]

Israeli position

Writing in 1980 Glazer summarized the position of Zionist historians up to that point, notably Schechtman, Kohn, Jon Kymche and Syrkin, as saying:

... the Arabs in Palestine were asked to stay and live as citizens in the Jewish state. Instead, they chose to leave, either because they were unwilling to live with the Jews, or because they expected an Arab military victory which would annihilate the Zionists. They thought they could leave temporarily and return at their leisure. Later, an additional claim was put forth, namely that the Palestinians were ordered to leave, with radio broadcasts instructing them to quit their homes.[2]

At that time (1980) Zionist historians had generally attributed the Arab leaders' alleged calls for a mass evacuation to the period before the proclamation of Israeli statehood.[2] They generally believed that, after that period, expulsion became standard policy and was carried out systematically.[2] As described below, the narratives presented have been influenced by the release of previously unseen documents in the 1980s.

Criticism of traditional positions

Alternative explanations have also been offered. For instance Peretz[4] and Gabbay[4] emphasize the psychological component: panic or hysteria swept the Palestinians and caused the exodus. They attributed this to diverse causes like breakdown of Palestinian leadership, atrocity stories and Jewish military victories. Glazer also says, "Israeli public opinion has maintained that as the Arabs planned to massacre the Jews, when the Jews began winning the war the Arabs fled, fearing the same treatment would be suffered on them."

Globally, in his paper of 1981, Glazer wrote, "Both Palestinians and Israeli spokesmen and adherents have sought to link the events of 1948 with their claims to the land today." He claims that one "fundamental [problem of the subject is to deal] with historians who are overtly biased" and try to identify the factors that influence this.[2]

Opening of archives

In the 1980s Israel and United Kingdom opened up part of their archives for investigation by historians. This favored a more critical and factual analysis of the 1948 events. As a result more detailed and comprehensive description of the Palestinian exodus was published, notably Morris' The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem.[5] Morris distinguishes four waves of refugees, the second, third and fourth of them coinciding with Israeli military offensives, when Arab Palestinians fled the fighting, were frightened away, or were expelled.

A document produced by the Israeli Defence Forces Intelligence Service entitled "The Emigration of the Arabs of Palestine in the Period 1/12/1947 – 1/6/1948" was dated 30 June 1948 and became widely known around 1985.

The document details 11 factors which caused the exodus, and lists them "in order of importance":

  1. Direct, hostile Jewish [ Haganah/IDF ] operations against Arab settlements.
  2. The effect of our [Haganah/IDF] hostile operations against nearby [Arab] settlements... (... especially the fall of large neighbouring centers).
  3. Operation of [Jewish] dissidents [ Irgun Tzvai Leumi and Lohamei Herut Yisrael]
  4. Orders and decrees by Arab institutions and gangs [irregulars].
  5. Jewish whispering operations [psychological warfare], aimed at frightening away Arab inhabitants.
  6. Ultimate expulsion orders [by Jewish forces]
  7. Fear of Jewish [retaliatory] response [following] major Arab attack on Jews.
  8. The appearance of gangs [irregular Arab forces] and non-local fighters in the vicinity of a village.
  9. Fear of Arab invasion and its consequences [mainly near the borders].
  10. Isolated Arab villages in purely [predominantly] Jewish areas.
  11. Various local factors and general fear of the future.[6]

"In the past two decades, following the powerful reverberations (concerning the cause of the Nakba) triggered by the publication of books written by those dubbed the “New Historians,” the Israeli archives revoked access to much of the explosive material. Archived Israeli documents that reported the expulsion of Palestinians, massacres or rapes perpetrated by Israeli soldiers, along with other events considered embarrassing by the establishment, were reclassified as “top secret.”[7]

Political and sociological influences on the historical debate

Several Israeli sociologists have studied the influence on the historical debate of the political and sociological situations in Israel. Referring to modern sociological schools and commenting historians methodology in the context of the 1948 war and the Palestinian exodus, Uri Ram considers that "contemporary historical revision and debates should be interpreted ... against the backdrop of specific crises in national identities and as an indication of crisis in national identity in the global era."[8]

According to him, "the three leading schools writing Israeli history reflect and articulate [the] political-cultural divisions [in the Israeli society]. Traditional mainstream history is national, mostly the labor movement version. On its fringe, a critical school of history emerged in the 1980s associated with post-Zionism (even if some of its protagonists identify as Zionists) [and] finally, in the 1990s efforts have been made to create a counterschool of neo-Zionist history...."[8]

"Concept of transfer in Zionism"

Discussion of the "idea of transfer" in political Zionism became popular beginning in the 1980s when Israel declassified documents pertaining to the 1948 Arab–Israeli War period and the so-called New Historians began publishing articles and books based on these documents. The Zionist "concept of transfer" was cited by authors like Nur Masalha and Walid Khalidi to support their argument that the Zionist Yishuv followed an expulsion policy. Others such as Morris reject the idea that "transfer" thinking led to a political expulsion policy as such, but invoke the theory to explain that the idea of transfer was endorsed in practice by mainstream Zionist leaders, particularly David Ben-Gurion. Critics of the "transfer principle" theory cite public addresses by the Zionist leadership that preached co-existence with the Arabs.

The idea that "transfer ideology" contributed to the exodus was first brought up by several Palestinian authors, and supported by Erskine Childers in his 1971 article, "The wordless wish". In 1961 Walid Khalidi referred to the transfer idea to support his idea that the Yishuv followed an expulsion policy in April and May 1948.[9] In the 1980s, historian Benny Morris became the most well-known advocate of the existence of the "transfer idea".[10] According to Morris, while not discounting other reasons for the exodus, the "transfer principle" theory suggests that this prevalent "attitude of transfer" is what made it easy for the Jewish population to accept it and for local Haganah and IDF commanders to resort to various means of expelling the Arab population.

He also notes that the attempt to achieve a demographic shift through aliyah (Jewish immigration to the land of Israel) had not been successful. As a result, some Zionist leaders adopted the transfer of a large Arab population as the only viable solution.[11] Morris also points out that "[if] Zionist support for 'Transfer' really is 'unambiguous'; the connection between that support and what actually happened during the war is far more tenuous than Arabs propagandists will allow." (Morris, p. 6)

To this he adds that "From April 1948, Ben-Gurion is projecting a message of transfer. There is no explicit order of his in writing, there is no orderly comprehensive policy, but there is an atmosphere of [population] transfer. The transfer idea is in the air. The entire leadership understands that this is the idea. The officer corps understands what is required of them. Under Ben-Gurion, a consensus of transfer is created."[12]

Origins of the "Transfer Idea"

Morris concludes that Zionism's aim was "to transform a land which was 'Arab' into a 'Jewish' state and a Jewish state could not have arisen without a major displacement of Arab population". According to Morris only after Arab resistance emerged did this become a rationale for transfer.[13] Other authors, including Palestinian writers and Israeli New Historians, have also described this attitude as a prevalent notion in Zionist thinking and as a major factor in the exodus.[14]

Peel Commission's plan and Yishuv's reaction

The idea of population transfer was briefly placed on the Mandate's political agenda in 1937 by the Peel Commission. The commission recommended that Britain should withdraw from Palestine and that the land be partitioned between Jews and Arabs. It called for a "transfer of land and an exchange of population", including the removal of 250,000 Palestinian Arabs from what would become the Jewish state,[15] along the lines of the mutual population exchange between the Turkish and Greek populations after the Greco-Turkish War of 1922. According to the plan "in the last resort" the transfer of Arabs from the Jewish part would be compulsory.[16] The transfer would be voluntary in as far as Arab leaders were required to agree with it, but after that it would be almost inevitable that it would have to be forced upon the population.[17]

According to Nur Masalha, heavy Zionist lobbying had been necessary for the Peel commission to propose this "in the last resort" compulsory transfer. Shertok, Weizmann and Ben-Gurion had travelled to London to talk it over, not only with members of the commission, but also with numerous politicians and officials whom the commission would be likely to consult.[18] This solution was embraced by Zionist leaders.[19] Masalha also says that Ben-Gurion saw partition only as an intermediate stage in the establishment of Israel, before the Jewish state could expand to all of Palestine using force.[20]

According to Morris, Arab leaders, such as Emir Abdullah of Transjordan and Nuri as-Said of Iraq, supported the idea of a population transfer.[21] However, while Ben-Gurion was in favor of the Peel plan, he and other Zionist leaders considered it important that it be publicized as a British plan and not a Zionist plan. To this end, Morris quotes Moshe Sharett, director of the Jewish Agency's Political Department, who said (during a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive on 7 May 1944) to consider the British Labour Party Executive's resolution supporting transfer: "Transfer could be the crowning achievements, the final stage in the development of [our] policy, but certainly not the point of departure. By [speaking publicly and prematurely] we could mobilizing vast forces against the matter and cause it to fail, in advance.... What will happen once the Jewish state is established—it is very possible that the result will be the transfer of Arabs."[22]

All of the other members of the JAE present, including Yitzhak Gruenbaum (later Israel's first interior minister), Eliyahu Dobkin (director of the immigration department), Eliezer Kaplan (Israel's first finance minister), Dov Yosef (later Israel's justice minister) and Werner David Senator (a Hebrew University executive) spoke favorably of the transfer principle.[23] Morris summarises the attitude of the Jewish Agency Executive on 12 June 1938 as: "all preferred a 'voluntary' transfer; but most were also agreeable to a compulsory transfer."[24]

At the twentieth Zionist Congress, held in Zurich in August 1937, the Peel Commission's plan was discussed and rejected on the ground that a larger part of Palestine should be assigned to them. According to Masalha, compulsory transfer was accepted as morally just by a majority although many doubted its feasibility.[25] Partition, however, was not acceptable for Ussishkin, head of the Jewish National Fund, who said, "The Arab people have immense areas of land at their disposal; our people have nothing except a grave's plot. We demand that our inheritance, Palestine, be returned to us, and if there is no room for Arabs, they have the opportunity of going to Iraq."[26]

The immediately succeeding Woodhead Commission, called to "examine the Peel Commission plan in detail and to recommend an actual partition plan" effectively removed the idea of transfer from the options under consideration by the British, and the 1939 White Paper proposed a complete end to immigration.

According to Masalha "the defeat of the partition plan in no way diminished the determination of the Ben-Gurion camp ... to continue working for the removal of the native population."[27] In November 1937 a Population Transfer Committee was appointed to investigate the practicalities of transfer. It discussed details of the costs, specific places for relocation of the Palestinians, and the order in which they should be transferred. In view of the need for land it concluded that the rural population should be transferred before the townspeople, and that a village by village manner would be best.[28] In June 1938 Ben-Gurion summed up the mood in the JAE: "I support compulsory transfer. I do not see anything immoral in it." Regarding the unwillingness of the British to implement it, land expropriation was seen as a major mechanism to precipitate a Palestinian exodus. Also the remaining Palestinians should not be left with substantial landholdings.[29]

"Transfer Idea" during 1947–1949

Further information: Transfer Committee

In early November 1947, some weeks before the UN partition resolution, the Jewish Agency Executive decided that it would be best to deny Israeli citizenship to as many Arabs as possible. As Ben-Gurion explained, in the event of hostilities, if the Arabs also held citizenship of the Arab state it would be possible to expel them as resident aliens, which was better than imprisoning them.[30]

In Flapan's[31] view, with the proclamation of the birth of Israel and the Arab governments' invasion into the new state, those Arabs who had remained in Israel after 15 May were viewed as "a security problem", a potential fifth column, even though they had not participated in the war and had stayed in Israel hoping to live in peace and equality, as promised in the Declaration of Independence. In the opinion of the author, that document had not altered Ben-Gurion's overall conception: once the Arab areas he considered vital to the constitution of the new state had been brought under Israeli control, there still remained the problem of their inhabitants.

According to Flapan[32] "Ben-Gurion appointed what became known as the transfer committee, composed of Weitz, Danin, and Zalman Lipshitz, a cartographer. At the basis of its recommendations, presented to Ben-Gurion in October 1948, was the idea that the number of Arabs should not amount to more than 15 percent of Israel's total population, which at that time meant about 100,000."[33]

In the view of Flapan[34] records are available from archives and diaries which while not revealing a specific plan or precise orders for expulsion, they provide overwhelming circumstantial evidence to show that a design was being implemented by the Haganah, and later by the IDF, to reduce the number of Arabs in the Jewish state to a minimum and to make use of most of their lands, properties, and habitats to absorb the masses of Jewish immigrants.[35] According to Michael Bar-Zohar, appeals to "the Arabs to stay" were political gestures for external audiences whereas "[i]n internal discussions", Ben-Gurion communicated that "it was better that the smallest possible number of Arabs remain within the area of the state."[36]

Flapan quotes Ben-Gurion several times in order to prove this basic stand:

Nur Masalha also gives several quotes of Ben-Gurion supporting it:

Flapan[42] considers that "hand in hand with measures to ensure the continued exodus of Arabs from Israel was a determination not to permit any of the refugees to return. He claims that all of the Zionist leaders (Ben-Gurion, Sharett, and Weizmann) agreed on this point."

Rabbi Chaim Simons (Ph.D) made an exhaustive survey of references to the Transfer of Arabs by Zionists and others over half a century.[43] In the introduction he writes: "I soon discovered that it was not just "a few stray statements" but that the transfer of Arabs from Palestine was definite policy not only of the Zionist leaders, but also of many leading individual non-Jews". He concludes (page 298):

"Most leaders of the Zionist movement publicly opposed such transfers. However, a study of their confidential correspondence, private diaries and minutes of closed meetings, made available to the public under the "thirty year rule", reveals the true feelings of the Zionist leaders on the transfer question. We see from this classified material that Herzl, Ben-Gurion, Weizmann, Sharett and Ben-Zvi, to mention just a few, were really in favour of transferring the Arabs from Palestine. Attempts to hide transfer proposals made by past Zionist leaders has led to a "rewriting of history" and the censoring and amending of official documents!"

In his Epilogue, Simons makes it clear that he has sympathy for the transfer concept:[44]

In conclusion, we can say that in general, the various proposals for the transfer of the Arabs from Palestine were intended to remove the friction, either present or future, resulting from an Arab minority in a Jewish State and to enable each nation to live amongst its own people. It was considered, that after the initial trauma of transfer, both Arabs and Jews would live unmolested by each other in their own States

Criticisms of the "Transfer Idea"

The "transfer principle" theory was attacked by Efraim Karsh. Karsh argued that transferist thinking was a fringe philosophy within Zionism, and had no significant effect on expulsions. He gives two specific points of criticism:

"Master Plan" explanation

Based on the aforementioned alleged prevalent idea of transfer, and on actual expulsions that took place in the 1948 Arab–Israeli war, Walid Khalidi, a Palestinian historian, introduced a thesis in 1961 according to which the Palestinian exodus was planned in advance by the Zionist leadership.[9]

Khalidi based his thesis on Plan Dalet, a plan devised by the Haganah high command in March 1948, which stipulated, among other things that if Palestinians in villages controlled by the Jewish troops resist, they should be expelled (Khalidi, 1961). Plan Dalet was aimed to establish Jewish sovereignty over the land allocated to the Jews by the United Nations (Resolution 181), and to prepare the ground toward the expected invasion of Palestine by Arab states after the imminent establishment of the state of Israel. In addition, it was introduced while Jewish–Palestinian fighting was already underway and while thousands of Palestinians had already fled. Nevertheless, Khalidi argued that the plan was a master-plan for the expulsion of the Palestinians from the territories controlled by the Jews. He argued that there was an omnipresent understanding during the war that as many Palestinian Arabs as possible had to be transferred out of the Jewish state, and that this understanding stood behind many of the expulsions that the commanders in the field carried out.

In the opinion of Glazer (1980, p. 113), there is evidence that Zionist leaders were already thinking about removal of the Palestinian population before the actual occurrence. On 7 February 1948, Ben-Gurion told the Central Committee of Mapai (the largest Zionist political party in Palestine) "it is most probable that in the 6, 8 or 10 coming months of the struggle many great changes will take place, very great in this country and not all of them to our disadvantage, and surely a great change in the composition of the population in the country."[50] Glazer (1980, p. 113) states that the 1947 Partition Resolution awarded an area to the Jewish state whose population was 46 percent Arab and where much of this land was owned by Arabs. He considers that "it has been argued by the Zionists that they were prepared to make special accommodations for this large population; yet it is difficult to see how such accommodations could have coalesced with their plans for large-scale Jewish immigration; moreover, by 1 August 1948, the Israeli government had already stated that it was 'economically unfeasible' to allow the return of the Arabs, at the very time when Jewish refugees were already entering the country and being settled on abandoned Arab property."

According to Ilan Pappé, the Palestinian exodus can be described as ethnic cleansing. In his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine Pappé analyses the causes of the exodus. He describes the aims the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine) had, the way it prepared in the years before the war to be able to achieve these aims and the way in which a pragmatic ethnic cleansing policy was devised and implemented in 1947–1949.

Planning by Ben-Gurion and the Consultancy

According to Flapan "the Jewish army ... under the leadership of Ben-Gurion, planned and executed the expulsion in the wake of the UN Partition Resolution."[51]

Pappé gives more details of this planning process. According to Pappé[52] Ben-Gurion was the architect of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. "His central role in deciding the fate of the Palestinians stemmed from the complete control he exercised over all issues of security and defence in the Jewish community in Palestine." In 1947 Ben-Gurion created what Pappé calls the "Consultancy". This was a group of eleven people, a combination of military and security figures and specialists on Arab affairs. From October 1947 this group met weekly to discuss issues of security and strategy towards the Arab world and the Palestinians.[53]

At a meeting on 10 March the consultancy put the final touches on Plan Dalet,[54] according to Pappé the blueprint for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. According to Plan Dalet a Palestinian village was to be expelled if it was located on a strategic spot or if it put up some sort of resistance when it was occupied by Yishuv forces. According to Pappé "it was clear that occupation would always provoke some resistance and that therefore no village would be immune, either because of its location or because it would not allow itself to be occupied."[55] After 15 May the Consultancy started meeting less frequently because according to Pappé "ever since Plan Dalet had been put into motion it had been working well, and needed no further coordination and direction."[56]

However, according to Gelber, Plan Dalet instructions were: In case of resistance, the population of conquered villages was to be expelled outside the borders of the Jewish state. If no resistance was met, the residents could stay put, under military rule.[57]

During a September 1948 meeting of the Israeli cabinet, Ben-Gurion proposed ending the current ceasefire.[58] His reasons remained classified when the cabinet minutes were released, but revealed by Tom Segev in 2013:

If war broke out, we would then be able to clear the entire central Galilee with one fell swoop. But we cannot empty the central Galilee - that is, including the [Arab] refugees - without a war going on. The Galilee is full of [Arab] residents; it is not an empty region. If war breaks out throughout the entire country, this would be advantageous for us as far as the Galilee is concerned because, without having to make any major effort - we could use just enough of the force required for the purpose without weakening our military efforts in other parts of the country - we could empty the Galilee completely.[58]

However, the proposal was not passed by the cabinet.[58]

Role of the Yishuv's official decision-making bodies

Flapan says that "it must be understood that official Jewish decision-making bodies (the provisional government, the National Council, and the Jewish Agency Executive) neither discussed nor approved a design for expulsion, and any proposal of the sort would have been opposed and probably rejected. These bodies were heavily influenced by liberal, progressive labor, and socialist Zionist parties. The Zionist movement as a whole, both the left and the right, had consistently stressed that the Jewish people, who had always suffered persecution and discrimination as a national and religious minority, would provide a model of fair treatment of minorities in their own state."[59] The author later maintains that "once the flight began, however, Jewish leaders encouraged it. Sharett, for example, immediately declared that no mass return of Palestinians to Israel would be permitted."[60] According to Flapan "[Aharon] Cohen (head of Mapam's Arab department) insisted in October 1948 that 'the Arab exodus was not part of a preconceived plan.' But, he acknowledged, 'a part of the flight was due to official policy.... Once it started, the flight received encouragement from the most important Jewish sources, for both military and political reasons.'"[61]

Criticisms of "Master Plan" explanation

Historians skeptical of the "Master Plan" emphasize that no central directive has surfaced from the archives and argue that, had such an understanding been widespread, it would have left a mark in the vast documentation produced by the Zionist leadership at the time. Furthermore, Yosef Weitz, who was strongly in favor of expulsion, had explicitly asked Ben-Gurion for such a directive and was turned down. Finally, settlement policy guidelines drawn up between December 1947 and February 1948, designed to handle the absorption of the anticipated first million immigrants, planned for some 150 new settlements, of which about half were located in the Negev, while the remainder were sited along the lines of the UN partition map (29 November 1947) in the north and centre of the country.

The Continuum Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East states that "recent studies, based on official Israeli archives, have shown that there was no official policy or instructions to bring about the expulsion."[62] According to Efraim Karsh:

Israeli forces did on occsasion expel Palestinians. But this accounted for only a small fraction of the total exodus, occurred not within the framework of a premeditated plan but in the heat of battle, and was dictated predominantly by military ad hoc considerations (notably the need to deny strategic sites to the enemy if there were no available Jewish forces to hold them).... Indeed, even the largest expulsions, during the battle for Lydda in July 1948, emanated from a string of unexpected developments on the ground and in no way foreseen in military plans for the capture of the town.[63]

New historian Avi Shlaim considers that the Plan Dalet is not a policy of expulsion but is a military plan dedicated to secure areas allocated to Jewish state.[64]

Benny Morris considers that there was no master plan nor ethnic cleansing.[65] Morris wrote, "[T]he fact ... that during 1948 Ben-Gurion and most of the Yishuv's leaders wished to see as few Arabs remaining as possible, does not mean that the Yishuv adopted and implemented a policy of expulsion."[66] He later expounded:

There was no Zionist "plan" or blanket policy of evicting the Arab population, or of "ethnic cleansing". Plan Dalet (Plan D), of 10 March 1948, (it is open and available for all to read in the IDF Archive and in various publications), was the master plan of the Haganah—the Jewish military force that became the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)—to counter the expected pan-Arab assault on the emergent Jewish state.[67]

In his 2004 book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, Morris wrote, "My feeling is that the transfer thinking and near-consensus that emerged in the 1930s and early 1940s was not tantamount to pre-planning and did not issue in the production of a policy or master-plan of expulsion; the Yishuv and its military forces did not enter the 1948 War, which was initiated by the Arab side, with a policy or plan for expulsion."[13] Morris also states that he could not find anything in the Israeli archives that would prove the existence of a Zionist plan to expel Palestinians in 1948. Elsewhere Morris has said that the expulsion of the Palestinians did amount to ethnic cleansing, and that the action was justifiable considering the circumstances.[12]

Yoav Gelber notes that documentation exists[68] showing that David Ben-Gurion "regarded the escape as a calculated withdrawal of non-combatant population upon the orders of Arab commanders and out of military considerations", which is contradictory to the hypothesis of a master plan he may have drawn up.[69]

Concerning the Plan Dalet, Gelber argues that Khalidi and Pappe's interpretation relies only on a single paragraph in a document of 75 pages, that has been taken out of its context.[70] Describing the plan in reference to the announced intervention of the Arab armies, he argues that "it was a practical response to an emerging threat."[71] Gelber also argues that the occupation and destruction of Arab villages described in the paragraph quoted in Khalidi's paper had the military purpose of preventing Arabs from cutting roads facilitating incursions by Arab armies, while eliminating villages that might have served as bases for attacking Jewish settlements.[72] He also remarks that if Master Plan had been one dedicated to resolving the Arab question, it would have been written by Ben-Gurion's advisors on Arab affairs and by military officers under the supervision of the chief-of-staff Yigael Yadin.[73]

Henry Laurens raises several objections to the views of those he calls the "intentionalists". Like Morris and Gelber he says that Plan Dalet obeyed a military logic, arguing that if it had not been followed, the strategic situation, particularly around Tel Aviv would have been as critical as that which existed around Jerusalem during the war.[74]

Laurens cites some examples of events that indicate a contradiction in the "intentionalist" analysis. Like Gelber, he points out that Zionist authors at the beginning of the exodus considered it to be part and parcel of a "diabolic British plan" devised to impede the creation of the Jewish state.[75] He also emphasizes that even those who had always advocated the Arab expulsion, like e.g. Yosef Weitz, had done nothing to prepare for it in advance, and thus found it necessary to improvise the "other transfer", the one dealing with transfer of Arab properties to Jewish institutions.[76]

Globally Laurens also considers that the "intentionalism" thesis is untenable in the global context of the events and lacks historical methodology. He insists that, were the events the "intentionalists" put forward true, they are so only in terms of a priori reading of those events. To comply with such an analysis, the protagonists should have had a global consciousness of all the consequences of the project they promoted. Laurens considers that a "complot theory", on such a long time period, could not have been planned, even by a Ben-Gurion. In an "intentionalist" approach, he claims, events must be read without a priori and each action must be considered without assuming it will lead to where we know a posteriori it led but it must be considered in its context and in taking into account where the actors thought it would lead.

Laurens considers that with an appropriate approach the documentation gathered by Morris shows that the exodus was caused by mutual fears of the other side's intentions, Arabs fearing to be expelled by Zionists and in reaction Zionists fearing Arabs would prevent them by force to build their own state, and the fact that Palestine was not able to absorb both populations (he describes the situation as a zero-sum conflict).[77]

Morris's Four Waves analysis

In The Irish Times of February 2008, Benny Morris summarized his analysis as follows: "Most of Palestine's 700,000 "refugees" fled their homes because of the flail of war (and in the expectation that they would shortly return to their homes on the backs of victorious Arab invaders). But it is also true that there were several dozen sites, including Lydda and Ramla, from which Arab communities were expelled by Jewish troops."[78] In The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, Morris divided the Palestinian exodus in four waves and an aftermath:[79] Morris analyses the direct causes, as opposed to his proposed indirect cause of the "transfer idea", for each wave separately.

Causes of the first wave, December 1947 – March 1948

Morris gives no numbers regarding the first wave, but says "the spiral of violence precipitated flight by the middle and upper classes of the big towns, especially Haifa, Jaffa and Jerusalem, and their satellite rural communities. It also prompted the piecemeal, but almost complete, evacuation of the Arab rural population from what was to be the heartland of the Jewish State—the Coastal Plain between Tel Aviv and Hadera—and a small-scale partial evacuation of other rural areas hit by hostilities and containing large Jewish concentrations, namely the Jezreel and Jordan valleys."[80] More specific to the causes Morris states: "The Arab evacuees from the towns and villages left largely because of Jewish ... attacks or fear of impending attack, and from a sense of vulnerability."[80] According to Morris expulsions were "almost insignificant" and "many more left as a result of orders or advice from Arab military commanders and officials" to safer areas within the country. The Palestinian leadership struggled against the exodus.[81]

Decisive causes of abandonment of Palestinian villages and towns according to Benny Morris
Decisive causes of abandonment Occurrences[82]
military assault on settlement 215
influence of nearby town's fall 59
expulsion by Jewish forces 53
fear (of being caught up in fighting) 48
whispering campaigns 15
abandonment on Arab orders 6
unknown 44

Causes of the second wave, April–June 1948

According to Morris the "Haganah and IZL offensives in Haifa, Jaffa and eastern and western Galilee precipitated a mass exodus."[83] "Undoubtedly ... the most important single factor in the exodus of April–June was Jewish attack. This is demonstrated clearly by the fact that each exodus occurred during or in the immediate wake of military assault. No town was abandoned by the bulk of its population before the main Haganah/IZL assault."[84] Also many villages were abandoned during attacks, but others were evacuated because the inhabitants feared they would be next.[84] A major factor in the exodus was the undermining of Palestinian morale due to the earlier fall and exodus from other towns and villages.[83] Morris says that the "Palestinian leaders and commanders struggled against [the exodus]" but in many cases encouraged evacuation of women children and old people out of harms way and in some cases ordered villages to evacuate.[83]

Regarding expulsions (Morris defines expulsions as "when a Haganah/IDF/IZL/LHI unit entered or conquered a town or village and then ordered its inhabitants to leave")[85] Morris says that the Yishuv leaders "were reluctant to openly order or endorse expulsions" in towns but "Haganah commanders exercised greater independence and forcefulness in the countryside": "In general Haganah operational orders for attacks on towns did not call for the expulsion or eviction of the civilian population. But from early April, operational orders for attacks on villages and clusters of villages more often than not called for the destruction of villages and, implicitly or explicitly, expulsion." Issuing expulsion orders was hardly necessary though, because "most villages were completely or almost completely empty by the time they were conquered",[84] "the inhabitants usually fled with the approach of the advancing Jewish column or when the first mortar bombs began to hit their homes."[86] The Givati Brigade engaged in expulsions near Rehovot.

Causes of the third and fourth waves, July–October 1948 and October–November 1948

In July "altogether, the Israeli offensives of the Ten Days and the subsequent clearing operations probably send something over 100,000 Arabs into exile."[87] About half of these were expelled from Lydda and Ramle on 12 through 14 July. Morris says that expulsion orders were given for both towns, the one for Ramle calling for "sorting out of the inhabitants, and send the army-age males to a prisoner-of-war camp".[88] "The commanders involved understood that what was happening was an expulsion rather than a spontaneous exodus."[89]

In October and November Operations Yoav in the Negev and Hiram in central Galilee were aimed at destroying enemy formations of respectively the Egyptian army and the Arab Liberation Army, and precipitated the flight of 200,000–230,000 Arabs.[90] The UN mediator on Palestine Folke Bernadotte reported in September 1948 that Palestinian flight, "resulted from panic created by fighting in their communities, by rumours concerning real or alleged acts of terrorism, or expulsion".[91] United Nations observers, who had been dispatched to monitor how the partition plan, reported in October that Israeli policy was that of "uprooting Arabs from their native villages in Palestine by force or threat".[92] In the Negev the clearing was more complete because "the OC, Allon, was known to want "Arab-clean" areas along his line of advance" and "his subordinates usually acted in accordance"[93] and the inhabitants were almost uniformly Muslim. In the Galilee pocket, for various reasons, about 30–50 per cent of the inhabitants stayed.[94] More specifically regarding the causes of the exodus Morris says: "Both commanders were clearly bent on driving out the population in the area they were conquering," and "Many, perhaps most, [Arabs] expected to be driven out, or worse. Hence, when the offensives were unleashed, there was a 'coalescence' of Jewish and Arab expectations, which led, especially in the south, to spontaneous flight by most of the inhabitants. And, on both fronts, IDF units 'nudged' Arabs into flight and expelled communities."[93]

Main causes of the Palestinian exodus according to Israeli historian Benny Morris
Wave Period Refugees Main causes
First wave December 1947 – March 1948 about 100,000 sense of vulnerability, attacks and fear of impending attack[80]
Second wave April–June 1948 250,000–300,000[95] attacks and fear of impending attack[96]
Third wave July–October 1948 about 100,000[87] attacks and expulsions[87]
Fourth wave October–November 1948 200,000–230,000[97] attacks and expulsions[93]
Border clearings November 1948 – 1950 30,000-40,000[98]

Two-stage analysis

The "Two-stage explanation" brought forth by Yoav Gelber synthetises the events of 1948 in distinguishing two phases in the exodus. Before the first truce (11 June – 8 July 1948), it explains the exodus as a result of the crumbling Arab social structure that was not ready to withstand a civil war, and justified Jewish military conduct. After the truce the IDF launched counter offensives against the invading forces. Gelber explains the exodus in this stage as a result of expulsions and massacres performed by the Israeli army during Operation Dani and the campaign in the Galilee and Negev.

First Stage: The crumbling of Arab Palestinian social structure

Gelber describes the exodus before July 1948 as being initially mainly due to the inability of the Palestinian social structure to withstand a state of war :

Mass flight accompanied the fighting from the beginning of the civil war. In the absence of proper military objectives, the antagonists carried out their attacks on non-combatant targets, subjecting civilians of both sides to deprivation, intimidation and harassment. Consequently, the weaker and backward Palestinian society collapsed under a not-overly-heavy strain. Unlike the Jews, who had nowhere to go and fought with their back to the wall, the Palestinians had nearby shelters. From the beginning of hostilities, an increasing flow of refugees drifted into the heart of Arab-populated areas and into adjacent countries.... The Palestinians' precarious social structure tumbled because of economic hardships and administrative disorganization. Contrary to the Jews who built their "State in the Making" during the mandate period, the Palestinians had not created in time substitutes for the government services that vanished with the British withdrawal. The collapse of services, the lack of authority and a general feeling of fear and insecurity generated anarchy in the Arab sector.
Early in April, the Haganah launched several large-scale operations across the country.
In the last six weeks of the British mandate, the Jews occupied most of the area that the UN partition plan allotted to their State. They took over five towns and 200 villages; between 250,000 and 300,000 Palestinians and other Arabs ran away (so far, they were not driven out) to Palestine's Arab sectors and to neighboring countries.
Unlike the pre-invasion period, certain Israeli Defense Force (IDF) actions on the eve of and after the invasion aimed at driving out the Arab population from villages close to Jewish settlements or adjacent to main roads. These measures appeared necessary in face of the looming military threat by the invading Arab armies. The Israelis held the Palestinians responsible for the distress that the invasion caused and believed they deserved severe punishment. The local deportations of May–June 1948 appeared both militarily vital and morally justified. Confident that their conduct was indispensable, the troops did not attempt to conceal harsh treatment of civilians in their after-action reports.[99]

According to Efraim Karsh in April 1948 "some 100,000 Palestinians, mostly from the main urban centres of Jaffa, Haifa, and Jerusalem and from villages in the coastal plane, had gone. Within a month those numbers had nearly doubled; and by early June, ... some 390,000 Palestinians had left."[63] 30,000 Arabs, mostly intellectuals and members of the social elite, had fled Palestine in the months following the approval of the partition plan, undermining the social infrastructure of Palestine.[100] A 10 May 1948 Time magazine article states: "Said one British official in Jerusalem last week: 'The whole effendi class has gone. It is remarkable how many of the younger ones are suddenly deciding that this might be a good time to resume their studies at Oxford....'"[101]

Other historians such as Efraim Karsh, Avraham Sela, Moshe Efrat, Ian J. Bickerton, Carla L. Klausner, and Howard Sachar share this analysis. In his interpretation of the second wave (Gelber's first stage), as he names Israeli attacks (Operations Nachshon, Yiftah, Ben 'Ami, ...) Sachar considers Israeli attacks only as a secondary reason for flight, with the meltdown of the Palestinian society as the primary:

The most obvious reason for the mass exodus was the collapse of Palestine Arab political institutions that ensued upon the flight of the Arab leadership.... [O]nce this elite was gone, the Arab peasant was terrified by the likelihood of remaining in an institutional and cultural void. Jewish victories obviously intensified the fear and accelerated departure. In many cases, too ... Jews captured Arab villages, expelled the inhabitants, and blew up houses to prevent them from being used as strongholds against them. In other instances, Qawukji's men used Arab villages for their bases, provoking immediate Jewish retaliation.[102]

Moshe Efrat of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wrote:

[R]ecent studies, based on official Israeli archives, have shown that there was no official policy or instructions intended to bring about the expulsion and that most of the Palestinians who became refugees had left their homes on their own initiative, before they came face to face with Israeli forces, especially in the period between late 1947 and June 1948. Later on, Israel's civil and military leadership became more decisive about preventing refugees from returning to their homes and more willing to resort to coercion in expelling the Palestine Arabs from their homes. This was not uniformly implemented in every sector and had much to do with decisions of local military commanders and circumstances, which might explain why some 156,000 Palestinians remained in Israel at the end of the war.[62]

In their book, A Concise History of the Arab–Israeli Conflict, Ian J. Bicketon of the University of New South Wales and Carla L. Klausner of the University of Missouri–Kansas City go even further back in history by citing the British military response to the 1936–1939 Arab revolt as the decisive moment when the Palestinian leadership and infrastructure began to crumble, and, in the most extreme cases, were expelled by the British from what was then the British Mandate for Palestine. Bickerton and Klausner conclude:

Palestinian leadership was absent just at the time when it was most needed. Further collapse occurred during 1947–1949, as many of the local mayors, judges, communal and religious officials fled. Palestinian society ... was semifeudal in character, and once the landlords and other leaders had made good their own escape—as they did from Haifa, Jaffa, Safed, and elsewhere—the Arab townspeople, villagers, and peasants were left helpless.[103]

Second Stage: Israeli army victories and expulsions

After the start of the Israeli counteroffensive, Gelber considers the exodus to have been a result of Israeli army's victory and the expulsion of Palestinians. He writes, "The Arab expeditions failed to protect them, and they remained a constant reminder of the fiasco. These later refugees were sometimes literally deported across the lines. In certain cases, IDF units terrorized them to hasten their flight, and isolated massacres particularly during the liberation of Galilee and the Negev in October 1948 expedited the flight."

Morris also reports expulsions during these events. For example, concerning whether in Operation Hiram there was a comprehensive and explicit expulsion order he replied:

Yes. One of the revelations in the book is that on 31 October 1948, the commander of the Northern Front, Moshe Carmel, issued an order in writing to his units to expedite the removal of the Arab population. Carmel took this action immediately after a visit by Ben-Gurion to the Northern Command in Nazareth. There is no doubt in my mind that this order originated with Ben-Gurion. Just as the expulsion order for the city of Lod, which was signed by Yitzhak Rabin, was issued immediately after Ben-Gurion visited the headquarters of Operation Dani [July 1948].[104]

Gelber also underlines that Palestinian Arabs had certainly in mind the opportunity they would have to return their home after the conflict and that this hope must have eased their flight: "When they ran away, the refugees were confident of their eventual repatriation at the end of hostilities. This term could mean a cease-fire, a truce, an armistice and, certainly, a peace agreement. The return of escapees had been customary in the Middle East's wars throughout the ages".

Historian Christopher Sykes saw the causes of the Arab flight similar to Gelber:

It can be said with a high degree of certainty that most of the time in the first half of 1948 the mass-exodus was the natural, thoughtless, pitiful movement of ignorant people who had been badly led and who in the day of trial found themselves forsaken by their leaders. Terror was the impulse, by hearsay most often, and sometimes through experience as in the Arab port of Jaffa which surrendered on the 12th of May and where the Irgunists, to quote Mr. John Marlowe, "embellished their Deir Yassin battle honours by an orgy of looting". But if the exodus was by and large an accident of war in the first stage, in the later stages it was consciously and mercilessly helped on by Jewish threats and aggression towards Arab populations.[105]

Karsh views the second stage as being "dictated predominantly by ad hoc military considerations (notably the need to deny strategic sites to the enemy if there were no available Jewish forces to hold them)".[63]

Palestinian Arab fears

In a 1958 publication, Don Peretz rejected both the Israeli and Palestinian explanations of the exodus. Peretz suggested that the exodus could be attributed to "deeper social causes of upheaval within the Palestine Arab community" such as the breakdown of all governing structures. According to him, "The community became easy prey to rumor and exaggerated atrocity stories. The psychological preparation for mass flight was complete. The hysteria fed upon the growing number of Jewish military victories. With most Arab leaders then outside the country, British officials no longer in evidence, and the disappearance of the Arab press, there remained no authoritative voice to inspire confidence among the Arab masses and to check their flight. As might be expected in such circumstances, the flight gathered momentum until it carried away nearly the whole of the Palestine Arab community"[4]

In 1959, Rony Gabbay wrote:

The departure of the Arabs of Palestine from towns and villages during April - 15 May 1948 cannot be attributed to any specific reason. Rather, the exodus was the result of many diverse elements—psychological, military and political—which combined together to produce this phenomena. It was a result of the contradictory actions and reactions which destroyed all hopes in the hearts of the Arab population and urged them to flee aimlessly hither and thither. The way in which groups and even members of the same families fled, individually and in different directions can give us an idea of the degree of panic and horror which was felt amongst them."[4]

In their volume on the 1947–1948 period in Jerusalem and surrounding areas, O Jerusalem!, Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre give a variety of explanations for the cause of the 1948 Palestinian exodus, but conclude, "Above all, fear and uncertainty fueled the Arabs' flight."[106] Middle East historian Karen Armstrong described a similar mechanism.[107] Schechtman, argues in his book The Arab Refugee Problem that a large part of the exodus was caused by Arab fear of attack, reprisal, and the other stresses of war. Schechtman himself attributes this purely to the perspective of the refugees. He expounds this theory as follows:

Arab warfare against the Jews in Palestine ... had always been marked by indiscriminate killing, mutilating, raping, looting and pillaging. This 1947–48 attack on the Jewish community was more savage than ever. Until the Arab armies invaded Israel on the very day of its birth, May 15, 1948, no quarter whatsoever had ever been given to a Jew who fell into Arab hands. Wounded and dead alike were mutilated. Every member of the Jewish community was regarded as an enemy to be mercilessly destroyed....
[T]he Arab population of Palestine anticipated nothing less than massacres in retaliation if the Jews were victorious. Measuring the Jewish reaction by their own standards, they simply could not imagine that the Jews would not reply in kind what they had suffered at Arab hands. And this fear played a significant role in the Arab flight.[108]

Schechtman also cites evidence that the Arab leaders spread rumors of atrocities that did not actually occur, which only added to the Palestinian Arabs' fears.[109]

According to Avraham Sela, the Palestinian exodus began with news of the Zionists' military victories in April–May 1948:

[T]he offensive had a strong psychological effect on Palestinian-Arab villagers, whose tendency to leave under Jewish military pressure became a mass exodus.... [T]he exodus was a spontaneous movement, caused by an awareness of the Arab weakness and fear of annihilation typical in civil wars. Moreover, an early visible departure of nearly all the leadership was clearly understood as a signal, if not as an outright command.[110]

In his conclusions concerning the second wave of the flight, Morris also cites the atrocity factor as one of the causes. What happened or allegedly happened and in a more general way the massacre of Deir Yassin and its exaggerated description broadcast on Arab radio stations undermined Arabs' morale.[111] Yoav Gelber also considers that the "Haganah, IZL and LHI's retaliations terrified the Arabs and hastened the flight".[112]

Childers, while dismissing the fact that Arab leaders instigated the flight on radio broadcasts, points out that Zionist radio broadcasts were designed to demoralize the Arab audience.[113] The author cites the fact that rumours were spread by the Israeli forces that they possessed the atomic bomb.[114] Similarly, Khalidi points to what he describes as the Zionist "psychological offensive" which was highlighted by, though not limited to, radio messages warning the Arabs of diseases, the ineffectiveness of armed resistance and the incompetence of their leaders.[115]

Psychological warfare

The Yishuv used psychological warfare that initiated, accelerated and increased the Palestinian exodus. In many instances the declared aim was to demoralise the Palestinians or to accelerate their surrender. In many instances however the result was the flight of Palestinians. According to various historians the Yishuv engaged in various types of psychological warfare:


According to Pappé intimidation by various means was used. For instance in Haifa since December 1947 Jewish troops engaged in sniping, shelling, rolling barrels full of explosives and huge steel balls down into Palestinian neighborhoods and pouring oil mixed with fuel down the roads, which they then ignited.[116] Yoav Gelber considers that the "Haganah, IZL and LHI's retaliations terrified the Arabs and hastened the flight".[112]

According to Pappé the Haganah engaged in what it called "violent reconnaissance": "Special units of the Haganah would enter villages looking for 'infiltrators' (read 'Arab volunteers') and distribute leaflets warning the people against cooperating with the Arab Liberation Army. Any resistance to such an incursion usually ended with the Jewish troops firing at random and killing several villagers."[117] Khalidi mentions "repeated and merciless raids against sleeping villages carried out in conformity with plan C", i.e. in the period before April 1948.[118]

In some cases threatening leaflets were distributed, containing wordings like: "if the war will be taken to your place, it will cause massive expulsion of the villagers, with their wives and children."[119]

Various authors give examples of instigation of whisper campaigns. Childers cites the fact that rumours were spread by the Israeli forces that they possessed the atomic bomb.[114] Morris cites Yigal Allon, the Palmach commander, describing such a campaign: "I gathered the Jewish mukhtars, who had ties with the different Arab villages, and I asked them to whisper in the ears of several Arabs that giant Jewish reinforcements had reached the Galilee and were about to clean out the villages of the Hula, [and] to advise them, as friends, to flee while they could. And the rumour spread throughout the Hula that the time had come to flee. The flight encompassed tens of thousands. The stratagem fully achieved its objective."[120]

Broadcasts on radio and by loudspeaker vans

Childers points out that Zionist radio broadcasts were designed to demoralize the Arab audience.On March 17, four days before the Jewish offensive, the Irgun made an Arabic-language broadcast, warning urban Arabs that "typhus, cholera and similar diseases would break out heavily among them in April and May".[113][121] Similarly, Khalidi points to what he describes as the Zionist "psychological offensive" which was highlighted by, though not limited to, radio messages warning the Arabs of diseases, the ineffectiveness of armed resistance and the incompetence of their leaders.[115] According to Morris[122] during the exodus of Haifa "The Haganah broadcasts called on the populace to 'evacuate the women, the children and the old immediately, and send them to a safe haven'."

During the exodus from Haifa according to Morris[122] the Haganah made effective use of "Arab language broadcasts and loudspeaker vans" and according to Pappé[116] "Jewish loudspeakers [urged] the Palestinian women and children to leave before it was too late."

According to Morris during April the Haganah "had prepared and recorded six speeches, which were broadcast time and again by the Haganah's radio station and loudspeaker vans". They didn't call for Arab flight, but they "were designed to cause demoralisation—and the HGS\Operations proposed to 'exploit' this demoralisation (it didn't say how)".[123]

Shelling of civilians and fighters

Khalidi illustrates the psychological warfare of the Haganah by the use of the Davidka mortar. He writes that it was a "favorite weapon of the Zionists", which they used against civilians: "the Davidka tossed a shell containing 60 lbs. of TNT usually into crowded built-up civilian quarters where the noise and blast maddened women and children into a frenzy of fear and panic."[118]

Various authors mention specific cases in which the Yishuv engaged in shelling of civilians:


In his memoirs the Palestinian Arab physician Elias Srouji claims massacres were intended to scare inhabitants. He wrote:

Tactics became even more brutal when the Zionists were ready to complete their occupation of the Galilee in October. By that time the Arab villagers, having seen what had happened elsewhere, had become adamant about staying put in their homes and on their lands. To frighten them away, the occupying forces started a strategy of planned massacres, which were carried out in Eilabun, Faradiyya, Safsaf, Sa'sa', and other villages. In places where this was not to their advantage for one reason or another, the army would resort to forceful expulsion. I was to wittnes some of these tactics in Rameh a month or so later.[130]

Nathan Krystall writes:

News of the attack on and massacre in Deir Yassin spread quickly throughout Palestine. De Reynier argued that the "general terror" was "astutely fostered by the Jews, with Haganah radio incessantly repeating 'Remember Deir Yassin' and loudspeaker vans broadcasting messages in Arabic such as: 'Unless you leave your homes, the fate of Deir Yassin will be your fate.'"[127]

According to Flapan, "from another perspective, [the Deir Yassin massacre] made perfect sense. More panic was sown among the Arab population by this operation than by anything that had happened up to then.... While Ben-Gurion condemned the massacre in no uncertain terms, he did nothing to curb the independent actions of the Jewish underground armies."[51]

"Arab leaders' endorsement of flight" explanation

Explanations that the flight was instigated or caused by Arab leaders

Israeli official sources, officials at the time, sympathetic accounts in the foreign press, and some historians have claimed that the refugee flight was instigated by Arab leaders, though almost invariably no primary sources were cited.[131] Yosef Weitz wrote in October 1948: "The migration of the Arabs from the Land of Israel was not caused by persecution, violence, expulsion ... [it was] a tactic of war on the part of the Arabs...."[132] Israeli historian Efraim Karsh wrote, "The logic behind this policy was apparently that 'the absence of women and children from Palestine would free the men for fighting', as the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Abd al-Rahman Azzam put it." In his book, The Arab–Israeli Conflict: The Palestine War 1948, Karsh cited the substantial, active role the Arab Higher Committee played in the exoduses from Haifa, Tiberias, and Jaffa as an important part of understanding what he called the "birth of the Palestinian refugee problem".[63]

A 3 May 1948 Time magazine article attributed the exodus from the city of Haifa to fear, Arab orders to leave and a Jewish assault.[133] The Economist attributed the exodus from Haifa to orders to leave from the Higher Arab Executive as well as expulsion by Jewish troops.[134] According to Childers, the journalist responsible for the article was not present in Haifa, and he reported as an eyewitness account what was second-hand. The article is only cited for this passage, though the same correspondent states therein that the second wave of destitute refugees, were given an hour by Jewish troops to quit the areas.[131] In what has become known as "The Spectator Correspondence", Hedley V. Cooke quote from Time Magazine (18 May 1961) "Mr, Ben-Gurion, the Israel (sic) Prime Minister. . . denied in the Knesset yesterday that a single Arab resident had been expelled by the Government since the establishment of the State of Israel and he said the pre-State Jewish underground had announced that any Arab would remain where he was. He said the fugitives had fled under the orders of Arab Leaders".[135] In the same "Spectator Correspondence" (page 54), Jon Kimche wrote "But there is now a mountain of independent evidence to show that the initiative for the Arab exodus came from the Arab side and not from the Jews".[135] In the same "Correspondence" the views of Ben-Gurion and Kimche are critiqued by Childers and Khalidi (see - Criticisms of the "Arab leaders' endorsement of flight" explanation - below)

In the case of the village of Ein Karem, William O. Douglas was told by the villagers that the cause of their flight was twofold: first, it was caused by fear that came out of the Deir Yassin massacre, and second because "the villagers were told by the Arab leaders to leave. It apparently was a strategy of mass evacuation, whether or not necessary as a military or public safety measure."[136]

Statements by Arab leaders and organizations

Khalid al-`Azm who was prime minister of Syria from 17 December 1948 to 30 March 1949, listed in his memoirs a number of reasons for the Arab defeat in an attack on the Arab leaders including his own predecessor Jamil Mardam Bey:

Fifth: the Arab governments' invitation to the people of Palestine to flee from it and seek refuge in adjacent Arab countries, after terror had spread among their ranks in the wake of the Deir Yassin event. This mass flight has benefited the Jews and the situation stabilized in their favor without effort.... Since 1948 we have been demanding the return of the refugees to their homeland, while it is we who constrained them to leave it. Between the invitation extended to the refugees and the request to the United Nations to decide upon their return, there elapsed only a few months.[137]

After the war, a few Arab leaders tried to present the Palestinian exodus as a victory by claiming to have planned it. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri as-Said was later quoted as saying: "We will smash the country with our guns and obliterate every place the Jews shelter in. The Arabs should conduct their wives and children to safe areas until the fighting has died down."[138]

Jamal Husseini, Palestinian representative to the United Nations, wrote to the Syrian UN representative, at the end of August 1948,

"The withdrawals were carried out pursuant to an order emanating from Amman. The withdrawal from Nazareth was ordered by Amman; the withdrawal from Safad was ordered by Amman; the withdrawal orders from Lydda and Rale are well known to you. During none of these withdrawals did fighting take place. The regular armies did not enable the inhabitants of the country to defend themselves, but merely facilitated their escape from Palestine.

All the orders emanated from one place...[139][140]

According to Yitschak Ben Gad, Mahmoud Abbas, then member of PLO Executive Committee, wrote an article "Madha `Alamna wa-Madha Yajib An Na`mal" [What We Have Learned and What We Should Do] and published it in "Falastineth-Thawra" [Revolutionary Palestine], the official journal of the PLO, Beirut, in March 26, 1976:

"The Arab armies entered Palestine to protect the Palestinians from the Zionist tyranny but, instead, they abandoned them, forced them to emigrate and to leave their homeland, and threw them into prisons similar to the ghettos in which the Jews used to live in Eastern Europe, as if we were condemned to change places with them: they moved out of their ghettos and we occupied similar ones. The Arab States succeeded in scattering the Palestinian people and in destroying their unity."[141][142]

Criticisms of the "Arab leaders' endorsement of flight" explanation

Numerous recent historians, particularly since the 1980s, now dismiss the claim as devoid of evidence,[143] Morris, with others of the New Historians school, concur that Arab instigation was not the major cause of the refugees' flight.[144] As regards the overall exodus, they state that the major cause of Palestinian flight was instead military actions by the Israeli Defence Force and fear of them. In their view, Arab instigation can only explain a small part of the exodus and not a large part of it.[145][146][147][148][149][150] Moreover, Morris and Flapan have been among the authors whose research has disputed the official Israeli version claiming that the refugee flight was in large part instigated by Arab leaders.[151][152][153]

Frequently repeated virtually identical lists of reasons are quoted on the internet in support of the exodus of the Palestinian Arabs in 1948/1949 being due to orders from Arab leaders.[154][155][156][157][158] In 1961 Erskine Childers investigated many of these offered references:

"Examining every official Israeli statement about the Arab exodus, I was struck by the fact that no primary evidence of evacuation orders was ever produced. The charge, Israel claimed, was "documented"; but where were the documents? ... In Israel in 1958, as a guest of the Foreign Office and therefore doubly hopeful of serious assistance, I asked to be shown the proofs, I was assured they existed, and was promised them. None had been offered when I left, but I was again assured. I asked to have the material sent on to me. I am still waiting."[159]

1) Various quotes have been attributed to Monsignor George Hakim, Greek Catholic Bishop of Galilee, such as “The Arabs were urged to flee by their own leaders" and "The refugees were confident their absence would not last long, and that they would return within a week or two”. Childers investigated this claim:[159]

"Another stock quotation down the years has been that, supposedly, of the Greek-Catholic Archbishop of Galilee. For example, Israel's Abba Eban told the U.N. Special Political Committee in 1957 that the Archbishop had "fully confirmed" that the Arabs were urged to flee by their own leaders. I wrote to His Grace, asking for his evidence of such orders. I hold signed letters from him, with permission to publish, in which he has categorically denied ever alleging Arab evacuation orders; he states that no such orders were ever given. He says that his name has been abused for years; and that the Arabs fled through panic and forcible eviction by Jewish troops."

2) Another common quote: "The Economist, a frequent critic of the Zionists, reported on October 2, 1948: 'Of the 62,000 Arabs who formerly lived in Haifa not more than 5,000 or 6,000 remained. Various factors influenced their decision to seek safety in flight'. There is but little doubt that the most potent of the factors were the announcements made over the air by the Higher Arab Executive, urging the Arabs to quit".[156] Childers also examined this evidence:

"I decided to turn up the relevant (October 2) 1948 issue of the 'Economist.' The passage that has literally, gone around the world was certainly there, but I had already noticed one curious word in it. This was a description of the massacre at Deir Yassin as an "incident." No impartial observer of Palestine in 1948 calls what happened at this avowedly nonbelligerent, unarmed Arab village in April, 1948, an "incident" ... "Over 250 old men, women and children were deliberately butchered, stripped and mutilated or thrown into a well, by men of the Zionist Irgun Zvai Leumi. Seen in its place in the full `Economist' article, it was at once clear that Dr. Kohn's quotation was a second-hand account, inserted as that of an eye-witness at Haifa, by the journal's own correspondent who had not been in that city at the time. And in the rest of the same article, written by the Economist correspondent himself, but never quoted by Israel, the second great wave of refugees were described as "all destitute, as the Jewish troops gave them an hour, in which to quit, but simultaneously requisitioned all transport."[159]

3) Other popular illustrations are examples of Arab leaders' calls for evacuation, such as:[154][158] “The wholesale exodus was due partly to the belief of the Arabs, encouraged by the boasting of an unrealistic press and the irresponsible utterances of some of the Arab leaders that it could be only a matter of some weeks before the Jews were defeated by the armies of the Arab states, and the Palestinian Arabs enabled to re-enter and re-take possession of their country. -- Edward Atiyah (Secretary of the Arab League, London, The Arabs, 1955, p. 183)”. The quote by Atiya's offered in the lists is however incomplete, because it continues:[135]

"But it (the wholesale Arab exodus) was also ... largely due to a policy of deliberate terrorism and eviction followed by the Jewish commanders in the areas they occupied, and reaching its peak of brutality in the massacre of Deir Yassin.
There were two good reasons why the Jews should follow such a policy. First, the problem of harbouring within the Jewish State a large and disaffected Arab population had always troubled them. They wanted an exclusively Jewish state, and the presence of such a population that could never be assimilated, that would always resent its inferior position under Jewish rule and stretch a hand across so many frontiers to its Arab cousins in the surrounding countries, would not only detract from the Jewishness of Israel, but also constitute a danger to its existence. Secondly, the Israelis wanted to open the doors of Palestine to unrestricted Jewish immigration. Obviously, the fewer Arabs there were in the country the more room there would be for Jewish immigrants. If the Arabs could be driven out of the land in the course of the fighting, the Jews would have their homes, their lands, whole villages and towns, without even having to purchase them.[160]

4) Perhaps the most frequent claim in the popular list is the exhortation by the Arab leadership by radio urging their followers to flee:[154][156][158][161] "On April 3, 1949, the Near East Broadcasting Station (Cyprus) said: “It must not be forgotten that the Arab Higher Committee encouraged the refugees' flight from their homes in Jaffa, Haifa and Jerusalem.” This was also cited by Cooke and Kimche in the "Spectator Correspondence",[135] for example (Cooke): "In the United States, long before ever going to Israel, I had heard it emphasized over and over - by Israeli diplomats and visiting officials, in public speeches and in interviews — that the flight of Palestine Arabs was caused by (radio) broadcast (Arab leadership) orders. No other form of order was even mentioned.[159] Erkine Childers and Walid Khalidi therefore checked archived transcripts of all Arab radio services monitored by the BBC and CIA in 1948, and discovered,

[Childers, from his research into the BBC archives of radio traffic monitoring from Cyprus in 1948]: "[T]here was not a single order, or appeal, or suggestion about evacuation from Palestine from any Arab radio station, inside or outside Palestine, in 1948," and that to the contrary (Arab) broadcasts gave flat orders to civilians to stay put.[135][162]

In the same "Spectator Correspondence", Walid Khalidi supported Childers when he wrote:[135]

"[Page 57]"There are, in fact, two monitoring collections for 1948: one compiled by the BBC, the other by the CIA, both from Cyprus. There is considerable overlapping between these collections but in the interests of “checking” and “rejection” they should be studied separately. Both collections give detailed daily coverage of broadcasts from Arab capitals and of such Zionist radios as Haganab Radio (in Hebrew, English, and Arabic); the Free Hebrew Station (Stern) and the Voice of Fighting Zion (Irgun). I was pleased to see that the researchers of Mr. Childers in the British Museum confirm my own findings. I can report now that the complete CIA collection here in Princeton also overwhelming[y confirms and elaborates the results that Mr. Childers and I have arrived at independently of one another. Briefly, these are the following: (1) There are countless broadcasts by Zionist radios which indicate deliberate psychological warfare against the Arabs. (2) There is not one single instance of an Arab evacuation order or a hint of such an order. (3) There is an impressive stream of explicit Arab orders to the Palestinian Arab civilians to hold their ground and remain in their towns and villages.

More evidence is presented by Walid Khalidi.[163] In his article the author argues that steps were taken by Arab governments to prevent Palestinians from leaving, ensuring that they remain to fight, including the denial by Lebanon and Syria of residency permits to Palestinian males of military age on April 30 and May 6 respectively. He also notes that a number of Arab radio broadcasts urged the inhabitants of Palestine to remain and discussed plans for an Arab administration there.[164]

His point is taken by Glazer (1980, p. 101), who writes that not only did Arab radio stations appeal to the inhabitants not to leave, but also that Zionist radio stations urged the population to flee, by exaggerating the course of battle, and, in some cases, fabricating complete lies.[165]

According to Glazer (1980, p. 105), among those who blame Arab news reports for the resulting panic flight are Polk et al.[166] and Gabbay.[167] They maintain that the Arabs overstated the case of Zionist atrocities, made the situation seem worse than it was and thus caused the population to flee. According to Glazer, Gabbay, in particular, has assembled an impressive listing of sources which describe Zionist cruelty and savagery.[168] In this sense, Glazer (1980, p. 105) cites the work done by Childers who maintains that it was the Zionists who disseminated these stories, at the time when the Arab sources were urging calm. He cites carefully composed "horror recordings" in which a voice calls out in Arabic for the population to escape because "the Jews are using poison gas and atomic weapons".[169] In the opinion of Glazer (1980, p. 108) one of the greatest weaknesses of the traditional Zionist argument, which attempts to explain the exodus as a careful, calculated and organized plan by various Arab authorities, is that it cannot account for the totally disorganized way in which the exodus occurred.[170] As regards the evidence provided supporting the idea that Arab leaders incited the flight of Palestinian population, Glazer (1980, p. 106) states, "I am inclined to prefer Childers[' research] because the sources he cites would have reached the masses.... Gabbay's evidence, newspapers and UN documents, were designed for outside consumption, by diplomats and politicians abroad and by the educated and influential Arab decision makers. This is not the kind of material which would necessarily have been in the hands of the common Palestinian."

Flapan[171] further maintains that to support their claim that Arab leaders had incited the flight, Israeli and Zionist sources were constantly "quoting" statements by the Arab Higher Committee to the effect that "in a very short time the armies of our Arab sister countries will overrun Palestine, attacking from the land, the sea, and the air, and they will settle accounts with the Jews."[172] Though he accepts that some such statements were issued, he believes that they were intended to stop the panic that was causing the masses to abandon their villages and that they were issued as a warning to the increasing number of Arabs who were willing to accept partition as irreversible and cease struggling against it. From his point of view, in practice the AHC statements boomeranged and further increased Arab panic and flight. According to Aharon Cohen, head of Mapam's Arab department, the Arab leadership was very critical of the "fifth columnists and rumormongers" behind the flight. When, after April 1948, the flight acquired massive dimensions, Azzam Pasha, secretary of the Arab League, and King 'Abdailah both issued public calls to the Arabs not to leave their homes. Fawzi al-Qawuqji, commander of the Arab Liberation Army, was given instructions to stop the flight by force and to requisition transport for this purpose.[173] Muhammad Adib al-'Umri, deputy director of the Ramallah broadcasting station, appealed to the Arabs to stop the flight from Janin, Tulkarm, and other towns in the Triangle that were bombed by the Israelis.[174] On 10 May Radio Jerusalem broadcast orders on its Arab program from Arab commanders and the AHC to stop the mass flight from Jerusalem and its vicinity. Flapan considers that Palestinian sources offer further evidence that even earlier, in March and April, the Arab Higher Committee broadcasting from Damascus demanded that the population stay put and announced that Palestinians of military age were to return from the Arab countries. All Arab officials in Palestine were also asked to remain at their posts[175] The author claims that such pleas had so little impact because they were outweighed by the cumulative effect of Zionist pressure tactics that ranged from economic and psychological warfare to the systematic ousting of the Arab population by the army.

According to Flapan[176] the idea that Arab leaders ordered the Arab masses to leave their homes in order to open the way for the invading armies, after which they would return to share in the victory, makes no sense at all. In his opinion, the Arab armies, coming long distances and operating in or from the Arab areas of Palestine, needed the help of the local population for food, fuel, water, transport, manpower, and information. The author cites a report of the Jewish Agency's Arab section from 3 January 1948, at the beginning of the flight, which in his view suggests that the Arabs were already concerned with the possibility of flight, "The Arab exodus from Palestine continues, mainly to the countries of the West. Of late, the Arab Higher Executive has succeeded in imposing close scrutiny on those leaving for Arab countries in the Middle East.[177] Flapan maintains that prior to the declaration of statehood, the Arab League's political committee, meeting in Sofar, Lebanon, recommended that the Arab states "open the doors to ... women and children and old people if events in Palestine make it necessary,[178] but that the AHC vigorously opposed the departure of Palestinians and even the granting of visas to women and children.[179]

Christopher Hitchens also expressed doubt as to the validity of claims of orders to leave from the Higher Arab Executive.[180]

Relative importance of Arab evacuation orders

Morris estimates that Arab orders accounts for at most 5% of the total exodus:

Arab officers ordered the complete evacuation of specific villages in certain areas, lest their inhabitants "treacherously" acquiesce in Israeli rule or hamper Arab military deployments.... There can be no exaggerating the importance of these early Arab-initiated evacuations in the demoralization, and eventual exodus, of the remaining rural and urban populations.[181]

Based on his studies of seventy-three Israeli and foreign archives or other sources, Morris made a judgement as to the main causes for the Arab exodus from each of the 392 settlements that were depopulated during the 1948-1950 conflict (pages xiv to xviii). His tabulation lists "Arab orders" as being a significant "exodus factor" in only 6 of these settlements.

Furthermore, in his comprehensive book on the Arab–Israeli conflict, Righteous Victims, Morris wrote:

In some areas Arab commanders ordered the villagers to evacuate to clear the ground for military purposes or to prevent surrender. More than half a dozen villages ... were abandoned during these months as a result of such orders. Elsewhere, in East Jerusalem and in many villages around the country, the [Arab] commanders ordered women, old people, and children to be sent away to be out of harm's way.... [T]he AHC and the Arab League had periodically endorsed such a move when contemplating the future war in Palestine.[182]

In a 2003 interview with Haaretz, Morris summed up the conclusions of his revised edition of The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem: "In the months of April–May 1948, units of the Haganah were given operational orders that stated explicitly that they were to uproot the villagers, expel them and destroy the villages themselves. At the same time, it turns out that there was a series of orders issued by the Arab Higher Committee and by the Palestinian intermediate levels to remove children, women and the elderly from the villages."[183]

The Arab National Committee in Jerusalem, following the 8 March 1948 instructions of the Arab Higher Committee, ordered women, children and the elderly in various parts of Jerusalem to leave their homes and move to areas "far away from the dangers. Any opposition to this order ... is an obstacle to the holy war ... and will hamper the operations of the fighters in these districts."[184]

In a 1959 paper, Walid Khalidi attributed the "Arab evacuation story" to Joseph Schechtman, who wrote two 1949 pamphlets in which "the evacuation order first makes an elaborate appearance."[185] Morris, too, did not find any blanket orders of evacuation.[186]


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  172. See Mutzeiri, Haaretz, 10 May 1948.
  173. Menahem Kapeliuk, Dauar, 6 November 1948.
  174. Khalidi, "Why Did The Palestinians Leave?"
  175. Flapan, Simha (1987): "The Palestinian Exodus of 1948". Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. 16, no. 4. (Summer, 1987), p. 5.
  176. Political and Diplomatic Document of the Central Zionist Archives (CZA) and Israel State Archives (ISA), December 1947 – May 1948 (Jerusalem, 1979), doc. 239, 402.
  177. . See CZA, 52519007, quoted by Yoram Nimrod in Al Hamishmar, 10 April 1985; see also ISA, 179118, 1 March 1948.
  178. See Khalidi, "Why Did the Palestinians Leave?"
  179. Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question, "Broadcasts" by Christopher Hitchens 1988 (ISBN 0-86091-887-4).
  180. Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 590.
  181. Benny Morris, Righteous Victims (New York: Vintage Books, 2001), 256, quoted in Alan Dershowitz, The Case for Israel (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003), 80.
  182. Benny Morris, from Haaretz interview prior to the publication of Morris' latest findings in The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, 2003.
  183. Benny Morris (1986), The causes and character of the Arab exodus from Palestine: the Israel Defense Forces intelligence branch analysis of June 1948, Middle Eastern Studies, vol 22, 5–19.
  184. Why Did the Palestinians Leave, Revisited Walid Khalidi, Journal of Palestine Studies Winter 2005, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 42–54.
  185. Morris, 2003, pp. 269–270.

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