On 11 October 1961 Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion declared in the Israeli Knesset:
‘The Arabs’ exit from Palestine…began immediately after the UN resolution, from the areas earmarked for the Jewish state. And we have explicit documents testifying that they left Palestine following instructions by the Arab leaders, with the Mufti at their head, under the assumption that the invasion of the Arab armies at the expiration of the Mandate will destroy the Jewish state and push all the Jews into the sea, dead or alive’.
Thus, Mr Ben Gurion is asserting that it is his perception that 1) there were directions from the neighboring Arab states and the Mufti in Jerusalem for the indigenous Arabs of Palestine to evacuate their homes and lands on the promise that the Arab armies would destroy the nascent Jewish state, and, further, 2) that those armies intended to “push all the Jews into the sea, dead or alive”. The phrase “push all the Jews into the sea, dead or alive” has acquired a life of its own as it is invoked by Zionist supporters on a daily basis in order to justify the aggressive policies of Israel as well as its recalcitrance in continuing the occupation of the Palestinians of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.
It is a highly emotive phrase invoking images of the Holocaust, though adapted to a Mediterranean setting.
Mr Ben Gurion gives no attribution for this phrase, nor does he claim that it is a quote from an Arab source. It is expressed here as if it is his personal surmise as to the Arab army’s intentions.
The phrase has been variously attributed by Zionist supporters to Yasser Arafat, Gamel Abdul Nasser, or any other of Israel’s enemies, but none whom I have challenged, including U S Congressman Henry Waxman who made the claim in a letter to me, attributing the phrase to Nasser, have been able to provide any documentation of support for their claim. This 1961 speech certainly predates Arafat’s 1968 ascension to the head of the PLO. The phrase is very much entrenched in the thinking of Israel supporters and is taken as a factual basis for an Arab intent of Genocide and of their own potential for peril.
The speech by Mr. Ben Gurion appears to be the origin of the phrase. A search of the speeches of Gamel Abdul Nasser fails to reveal it, nor does it reveal any other than a pragmatics approach to his dealing with Israel. This phrase is sufficiently dramatic and threatening so that if it was in fact uttered by a significant Arab leader, it would be prominent and easily found in any competent historical treatment, which it is not. The phrase, thus, has a Jewish origin and not an Arab origin. Mr Ben Gurion is the originator of the phrase, in all likelihood.
Mr. Ben Gurion’s first claim that the Arab exodus from Palestine was provoked by directives from the leaders of the surrounding Arab states has been shown by overwhelming historical research to be false.
Since the early 1980’s a new generation of professional historians, many, though not all, Israeli, and recognized as professionally competent within their own society, as well as to a wider audience, and aided in no small measure by the opening of many historical and military documents archived by the Israel, and British governments, and to a lesser extent, Arab governments, have provided a revised historical perspective as a challenge to the official Israeli history of the origin of the state of Israel. These newly released documents have been systematically mined by Ben Gurion University Professor of History, Benny Morris, as well as others.
One telling document uncovered by Professor Benny Morris is “The Emigration of the Arabs of Palestine in the Period 1/12/1947 1/6/1948” dated 30 June, 1948 and was produced by the Israeli Defense Forces Intelligence Service during the first weeks of the truce (11 June 9 July) of 1948. It analyzes the numbers of refugees, the stages of the exodus, the causes, destination and problems of absorption in the host countries. The appendix contains the village by village breakdown in terms of numbers of initial inhabitants, their destinations and the causes of their flight.
On the eve of the UN Partition Plan Resolution of 29 Nov 1947, according to the report, there were 219 Arab villages and four Arab, or partly Arab, towns in the area designated for the Jewish state, with a total Arab population of 340,000 Arab residents. By June 1, 180 of these towns had been evacuated, with 239,000 Arabs fleeing the areas of the Jewish state. A further 152,000 Arabs, from 70 villages and three towns (Jaffa, Jenin, and Acre), had fled their homes in the areas designated for Palestinian Arab statehood in the Partition Resolution. Thus by June 1, according to the report, the refugee total was 391,000, with an error of 10 to 15%.
The UN gives a figure of 750,000 800,000 Palestinian refugees by the end of 1948, so that the period covered by the Intelligence Service Report is one in which roughly one half the refugee population was generated.
The report then outlines eleven (I will list five) of what the IDF Intelligence Service regarded, in June 1948, as the factors which precipitated the exodus, listing them in order of importance as:
a. Direct hostile Jewish [Haganah/IDF] operations against Arab settlements. (The Haganah was the army of the Yeshuv, or Jewish community in Palestine, and was the precursor of the Israeli Defense Force, or IDF.)
b. The effect of our [Haganah/IDF] hostile operations on nearby Arab settlements (especially the fall of large neighboring centers).
c. Operations of the Jewish dissidents [Menachem Begin’s Irgun and Yitzhak Shamir’s Stern Gang, also known as the Irgun Tzvai Leumi and the Lehi, resp.].
d. Jewish whispering operations [psychological warfare] aimed at frightening away Arab inhabitants.
e. Ultimate expulsion orders [by Haganah/IDF].
The Intelligence Service then gives a detailed breakdown and explanation of these factors, stressing that “without doubt, hostile [Haganah/IDF] operations were the main cause of the movement of the population”. The wave of emigration in each district, explains the report, “followed hard upon the increase and expansion of our [Haganah/IDF] operations in that district. The departure of the British of course, helped the Arab evacuation, but it appears that the British withdrawal freed our hands for action more than it influenced the Arab immigration directly.”
The report cites “surprise, protracted mortar barrages, and the use of loudspeakers broadcasting threatening messages, factors which had a strong influence in precipitation flight”. “An attack on one village or town often affected its neighbors. The evacuation of a certain village because of an attack by us prompted in its wake many neighboring villages to flee”, the report states. “The fall of Tiberias, Safad, Samakh, Jaffa, and Acre engendered in their wake many waves of emigrants.”
The report concludes that “It is possible to say that at least 55% of the total of the exodus was caused by our Haganah/IDF operations and by their influence. the effects of the operations of the dissidents Jewish organizations [the Irgun and the Stern Gang] directly caused some 15% of the emigration.” The Intelligence Service states that the activities of the Irgun and Stern were especially important in the Jaffa-Tel Aviv area, in the coastal plain to the north, and around Jerusalem. The report cites the “special effect” of the Irgun and Stern Gang operations in Deir Yassin.
The action at Deir Yassin, especially greatly affected the thinking of the Arabs; not a little of the immediate flight during our [Haganah/IDF] attacks, especially in the central and southern areas was due to this factor which can be described as a decisive accelerating factor.
Recall that the Deir Yassin massacre, which occurred on April 9 1948, claimed the lives of about 240 men women and children of this peaceful village and included rapes and mutilations. See, The Deir Yassin Massacre. There were other massacres, perhaps two to three thousands, essentially defenseless, Palestinians were massacred, according to Haifa University historian Ilan Pappe, however the Deir Yassin massacre was widely publicized and became, in some ways, the signature of the Irgun and the Stern Gang.
Altogether the report states, Jewish [Haganah/IDF, Irgun, Stern] military accounted for 70% if the Arab exodus from Palestine.
In direct contradiction to Ben Gurion, the report states “the Arab institutions attempted to struggle against the phenomenon of flight and evacuation, and to curb the waves of emigration”. The Arab Higher Committee imposed restrictions, and issued threats, punishments, and propaganda in the radio and press to curb the emigration, and also tried to mobilize the governments in the neighboring Arab states to assist in this effort, as both shared the same interest.
“More than once”, the report states, “[Haganah/IDF units were forced] to expel inhabitants [after they had returned to their homes]”.
Thus in sum, this document, which is only one of many to have surfaced in consequence of the historical research of the last 20 years completely refutes Ben Gurion’s claim and reveals it to have no basis in fact.
Mr Ben Gurion was lying through his teeth, to put it plainly.
It should be observed that the Jewish agency in Palestine declared itself a state on May 14, 1948. It was the next day, May 15 that the first of five Arab armies or contingents of armies entered Palestine. Thus, approximately half of the 1948 refugees fled or were extirpated before the first foreign Arab soldier set foot in Palestine. The time line is important: the Deir Yassin Massacre occurred on April 9, the expulsion of Arabs from the cities of Jaffe, Haifa, Tiberias, and Safid occurred at the end of April and in the first days of May. The flight of the Palestinian refugees, thus, was not set in motion by the entrance of the Arab armies as is often claimed.
Nor should we take from Mr Ben Gurion’s statement that the concept of Palestinian evacuation was confined to the years 1947 – 1948. The concept of transfer of the indigenous Arab population to make way for a Jewish state was intrinsic to the thinking of the Zionist leaders from its initial inception.
Thus Theodor Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organization, said in 1892:
[We shall] spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.
And in 1937, Ben Gurion stated:
The compulsory transfer of Arabs from the valleys of the proposed Jewish state could give us something which we never had, even when we stood on our own feet during the days of the First and Second Temple.
And in a letter to his son, also in 1937, he stated:
We must expel the Arabs and take their places and if we have to use force, to guarantee our own right to settle in those places then we have force at our disposal.
And in early 1948 Ben Gurion wrote in his War Diary,
“During the assault we must be ready to strike the decisive blow; that is, either to destroy the towns or expel its inhabitants so our people can replace them.”
And in February 1948, Ben Gurion told Yoseph Weitz, director of the settlement of the Jewish National Fund and head of the official Transfer Committee of 1948:
The war will give us land. The concept of ‘ours’ and ‘not ours’ are peace concepts, only, in war they lose their whole meaning.
In fact, the concept of transfer, a euphemism for expulsion, was embraced by the entire Jewish leadership from the earliest stages of Zionism until the 1948 extirpation of the indigenous population. Transfer committees were actually set up from 1937 on until 1948 in order to study ways of riding Palestine of as many Arabs as possible.
By the end of the 1948 War, hundreds of Arab villages had been completely depopulated. Their house and buildings were bulldozed of blown up primarily for the purpose of preventing the return of their owners. Benny Morris lists 369 Palestinian villages and towns destroyed, while Professor Walid Khalidi, leading a team of field researchers, in an exhaustive study, describes the destruction of each of 418 villages or hamlets which are listed on an index of Palestinian cities of 1945.
Quoting from Ilan Pappe’s book, A History of Modern Palestine:
[W]hen winter was over and the spring of 1949 warmed a particularly frozen
Palestine, the land which we have described reconstructing a period stretching over 250 years had changed beyond recognition. The countryside, the rural heart of Palestine, with its colourful and picturesque villages was ruined. Half the villages had been destroyed, flattened by Israeli bulldozers which had been at work since August 1948 when the government had decided to either turn them into cultivated land or to build new Jewish settlements on their remains. A naming committee granted the new settlements Hebraized versions of the original Arab names . David Ben Gurion explained that this was done as part of an attempt to prevent future claim to the villages. It was also supported by the Israeli archeologists, who had authorized the names as returning the map to something resembling ‘ancient Israel’.
Of equal importance, in engendering what Arafat called an Israeli “Masada complex” is the common pro-Zionist interpretation of the 1968 PLO Charter as calling for the destruction of the state of Israel in which the term “destruction” is interpreted as “pushing all the Jews into the sea, dead or alive.”
Though the document calls for armed struggle, there is nothing in it incompatible with the establishment of a secular democratic state which recognizes and respects the three major religions.
Indeed, article 16 of the document states:
The liberation of Palestine, from a spiritual viewpoint, will prepare an atmosphere of tranquility and peace for the Holy Land in the shade of which all the Holy Places will be safeguarded, and freedom of worship and visitation to all will be guaranteed, without distinction or discrimination of race, colour, language or religion.
And article 19 states:
The partitioning of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of Israel is fundamentally null and void, because it is contrary to the wish of the people of Palestine and its natural right to a homeland, and contradicts the principles embodied in the Charter of the UN, the first of which is the right of self-determination.
Under American pressure, Arafat and the PLO eventually amended the PLO Charter so as to accept the reality of a Jewish state on 80% of historical Palestine leaving room for a Palestinian state on the remainder. However, one democratic state based on non-discrimination with equal rights for Jews, Christians and Moslems is closer to American values than a state created specifically for one ethnicity whose laws uphold the superior rights of one race or ethnicity, namely the Jewish one, over that of another, namely the minority Palestinian citizens of Israel. In amending the PLO Charter so as to accept the two state solution, we have actually moved away from basic American values of non-discrimination based on race. Those liberals who worked for the dissolution of the white supremacists governments of Rhodesia and South Africa need to explain their slavish devotion to the state of Israel which is based on Jewish supremacy.
The Zionists did not drive the Palestinians into the sea, but they did drive them from their homes and villages and ancestral lands and from Palestine and into squalid refugee camps, and in the process massacred two to three thousand. The irony of Ben Gurion’s statement should not escape us. Ben Gurion and the Zionists demand deference for a fictitious intention on the part of the Palestinian and Arabs while ignoring or denying the very real expulsion of the Palestinians.
Much of the perception of Israel and much of its popular support rest on the myth of the purity of Israel and much of that can be traced directly to David Ben Gurion’s distortions of truth. The unambiguous historical evidence is that the state of Israel was founded upon terrorism and the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Arab population. There is nothing pure or righteous about that.
William James Martin teaches in the Mathematics Department at the University of Florida. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org