Friday, March 18, 2011

And The Myth Goes On....

In the middle east according to Walid Khalidi:

"A GENERAL THEME running through the Zionist account of the events between November 1947 and May 1948 is that orders were ''broadcast'' [his emphasis] to the Arabs to leave the country in order to pave the way for entry of the regular Arab armies."  (Khalidi, 1959)

He, along with Childers, has the accent on the wrong "sil-ah'-buhl."

Khalidi, as well as Erskine Childers takes us down the primrose path, defining  the "Zionist" enemy and  creating a myth  around the concept of this  "broadcast of orders," claiming that it is central fiction that "Zionists" created as a cover for what he calls their  "unconscionable" actions  during the war that followed the partition.

The Jewish version of events has little or nothing to do with broadcasting, and much to do with the reasons for the exodus of the Arabs from parts of the Mandate. The Jewish contention was that many Arabs left the the Jewish-allocated sections of what was then "Palestine"  because they were pressured to leave by their own [Arab] leadership, and that this was in fact a strategic move to clear the roads for the advance of the regular Arab armies, and to deny labor and services  to the Jewish state in hopes of starving it economically, so it would be aborted when the British abandoned the Mandate. In the end this turned out to be a bad idea, since in the main Israel has refused to allow their return outside a comprehensive peace agreement, something the Arabs and Palestinian Arabs have chosen not to do.

Khalidi, as Childers, does not try to argue with these assertions but instead soldiers  on to attempt to discredit and ridicule with primary emphasis on "broadcast orders".  

Nafez Nazzal (Nazzal, 1978, pg 1) , Christopher Hitchens (Said and Hitchens, 1988, pgs 73-83) and numerous others have carried forward this  initial error;  if indeed it really is an error, as opposed to a simple deflection from the real issue; since the Israeli contention is hard to dispute '''on the merits'''.  Khalidi demands proof of  these "broadcasts," as does Childers, and Hitchens. The myth has been seeded and goes on and on...

Khalidi at least makes an attempt to provide something that could be used as a source for this accusation by fingering a "certain American Zionist by the name of Dr. Joseph Schechtman " for responsibility for this "elaborate story." He didn't make it easy to check his sources, since he gave not one quote, not one  name of the so-called  "pamphlets" in which he claimed this "story" made its "first elaborate  appearance".  Nor do we get one shred of  evidence to substantiate the claim that this was a "general theme" in the "Zionist account of events."

Schechtman, a Russian Jew who emigrated to the U.S. in 1941 when he was fifty, was an historian, biographer and Zionist intellectual.   But to borrow a phrase, "I was intrigued", and using Khalidi's clues, despite errors * was able to track down Schechtman's two pamphlets and check Khalidi's claim.  [A scanned version of the full pamphlet can be seen here  or a text version of the just the section on the Arab flight can be seen here ]

One of  many references often quoted, and quoted by Schechtman as evidence of  Arab pressure to evacuate is an article in The Economist ** of October 2, 1948.   The precise quote from The Economist, purported to be by an eye-witness  is  'Various factors influenced their [the Arabs'] decision to seek safety in flight. There is but little doubt that by far the most potent of these factors were the announcements made over the air by the Arab Higher Committee urging all Arabs in Haifa to quit. The reason given was that upon the final withdrawal of the British the combined armies of the Arab states would invade Palestine and drive the Jews into the sea.'  (Jewish Agency for Palestine (Schechtman) 1949, page 13)

This is the only mention of radio broadcasts in either of his 30-odd page pamphlets, and it was put forward  as evidence of pressure [by Arabs], not evidence of radio broadcasts. It was a quote from a respectable news magazine of the time and not Schectman's words.  There is nothing! at all in  Schechtman's words that  can even  remotely  be interpreted as creating  an elaborate story of "radio broadcasts."  (Jewish Agency for Palestine (Schechtman) 1949, pgs 8-14)

Here is what Schechtman actually says within the larger context: an interview with a correspondent of the Beirut Arabic newspaper Telegraph on September 6, 1948, Emil Ghory, representative of the Arab Higher Committee at the meetings of the UN General Assembly stated: "The problem of the refugees is the direct result of the policy of resistance to partition  and to the establishment of the Israeli State. This policy was unanimously adopted by the Arab Governments, and it is they who have to bear responsibility for the solution of the refugee problem."

Perhaps the clearest illustration of Arab evacuation by command is the Arab exodus from Haifa. "The London Economist "(October 2, 1948) quotes a British eye-witness to what happened. Despite the fact that the Jewish authorities "urged all Arabs to remain in Haifa and guaranteed them protection and security... the 62,000 Arabs who formerly lived in Haifa not more than 4,000 or 6,000 remained."

"Various factors influenced their decision to seek safety in flight. There is but little doubt that far the most potent of these factors were the announcements made over the air by the Arab Higher Executive, urging all Arabs in Haifa to quit The reason given was that upon the final withdrawal of the British the combined armies of the Arab States would invade Palestine and drive the Jews into the sea.,, and it was clearly intimated that those Arabs who remained in Haifa and accepted Israeli protection would be regarded as renegades. At that time the Palestinian Arabs still had some confidence in the ability of the Arab League to implement the promises of its spokesman."

All evidence seems to point to the fact that the mass exodus of the Arab population was deliberately stimulated to serve the political ends of the Arab leadership. The Arab masses were subjected to a heavy barrage of  "atrocity propaganda" predicting their wholesale extermination by the advancing Jewish forces. They were exhorted to flee for their lives even though they were not immediately threatened. (Jewish Agency for Palestine (Schechtman) 1949, pgs 12-13)

Rather than deal with Schechtman's actual premise, Khalidi pursues the  "broadcasts" issue and  tells us that in 1959 that he went "through the files of the press releases of the Arab League," that he  "privately examined" the archives of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.  He went through a large volume of full texts  published by The Arab League Secretariat of their assemblies and committees.   Mr Khalidi went on to examine  newspapers in the Arab world,  and chose three important newspapers to scour for evidence of these "broadcast orders" that he claims is of central importance to the Zionists' argument.

Childers later picks up where Khalidi left off  in his article The Other Exodus ( article was originally published in the London weekly The Spectator of May 12, 1961).

Like Khalidi he  begins as if he were going to argue the facts:  "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.  It is also argued that there would today be no Arab refugees if the Arab States had not attacked the new Jewish State on May 15, 1948 (though 800,000 had already fled before that date)."

This (with the exception of his numbers) seems to be true at first glance, but Israel does not claim  that the Arabs left because of an order, broadcast or otherwise.  After all, the hundreds of thousands that evacuated were not all soldiers under orders.   In fact, as Schechtman clearly says as early as 1949, "The mass flight of the Palestine Arabs is a phenomenon for which no single explanation suffices."   (Schechtman article can be seen here.   See pgs 8-14)  As for Childers' assertion that  800,000 refugees had already fled  by May 15, this  begs credulity,  and typically he does not provide a source for it.  [The majority of  Palestinian Arabs left between June 11 and July 9, 1948 the  period of a U.N. imposed truce (Anderson, p 20) and (p. 26) the UN Conciliation Committee considers the total number of refugees to be  711,000.  According to Schechtman, 1952, (p 16) the total number of refugees 'could not have exceeded 600,000'.' Very few sources suggest that the total number of refugees exceeded 800,000.  Therefore it is not really credible that 800,000 had already left by May 15. Even the highly partisan Ilan Pappe, (1992, p96)  only gives an estimate of 380,000 by May 15.]
In fact it is often quite unclear where Khalidi and Childers get their information, since they are  stingy with supporting references, if indeed they provide any.  Often  when they do provide detail, they get it wrong.  For example in  Childers' polemic Wordless Wish , ( pg 199, note 122) he says : "In a number of instances, quotations offered from Arab newspapers  are found not   to exist at all, not even for suitable "reworking."  An example is a much-used quote from Falastin for February 19, 1949; that was a Monday.  Falastin was never printed on Mondays, and no such statement could be found in the paper on proximate other dates."  Hmmm  check the date, anyone?  Would you believe, Saturday?  With the help of the Internet these days, we can check such stuff out in moments.  How tacky to be accusing others of making stuff up with made-up stuff as your evidence! [The text that Childer's couldn't bring himself to references was "The Arab states which had encouraged the Palestine Arabs to leave their homes temporarily in order to be out of the way of the Arab invasion armies, have failed to keep their promise to help these refugees." -- The Jordanian daily newspaper Falastin,  Saturday, February 19, 1949]

While Khalidi fingered Schechtman, Childers fingers Leo Kohn, claiming he wrote "one of the first official pamphlets on the Arab refugees," and, in typical Childers' fashion when making an accusation, he does not name either the pamphlet nor the publisher,  so it is virtually impossible to check.  He gives us even fewer clues than Khalidi. Kohn, international lawyer and chaired professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, headed the Israel Delegation to the United Nations Mediator on Palestine in June, 1948.  Kohn  is drawn as an pompous buffoon  by Childers, and  is said to have pointed  to the quote in his own (un-named) pamphlet  to the same Economist article mentioned by Khalidi.  Childers acknowledges the article but poo-poos it, saying it was "clear"  that the quotation was a "second-hand account, inserted as that of an eye-witness" -- in other words, a lie, yet he provides no evidence or even argument to support this claim!    Finding this article is my next challenge. ***

Like Khalidi, Childers begins his investigation of the "broadcast evacuation orders".

 "....I next decided to test the undocumented charge that the Arab evacuation orders were broadcast by Arab radio-which could be done thoroughly because the BBC monitored all Middle Eastern broadcasts throughout 1948. The records, and companion ones by a U.S. monitoring unit, can be seen at the British Museum......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."

 He states flatly, "There was not a single order, or appeal, or suggestion about evacuation from Palestine from any Arab radio station, inside or outside Palestine, in 1948."

In The Spectator Correspondence,  Khalidi  claims that he also examined the same material independently and thus  reports that he can confirm what Childers says, that is, that  there was nothing that could be in any way interpreted as a broadcasted order.  John Kimche in that same  Correspondence is skeptical and asks " Mr Childers checked all the broadcasts, who monitored them and where, and whether there were really no gaps at all in these monitorings of all Middle East broadcasts in 1948?.....were they complete in every sense of the word, and were they checked by him in English or in the original Arabic?" He goes on to say that the material at the British museum was "ludicrously incomplete" and that "They do not cover even 10 percent of the broadcasts."

Zimmerman in his study entitled  Radio propaganda in the Arab-Israeli War, 1948. was also skeptical and questioned the monitoring service:  "Childers' claim that 'the BBC monitored  all Middle Eastern broadcasts throughout 1948 ', has been contradicted by the assistant editor of the monitoring service, who stated in a letter to the author (16.12.70): 'No one could ever claim to have monitored every single broadcast . . . Only a selection from what is actually listened to is transcribed, and only a selection of what is actually transcribed is published.'

Zimmerman then goes on to put up a handful of radio stations and dates that could be considered to contradict Childers' assertion that  "There was not a single order, or appeal, or suggestion about evacuation from Palestine from any Arab radio station, inside or outside Palestine, in 1948."  Zimmerman:

'After the Arab defeat in Tiberias, Sharq al Adna (20.4.48) announced that King Abdullah of Trans-Jordan had ordered `Arab forces to be sent immediately to Tiberias to evacuate Arab refugee families '.

Two days later,following the Jewish victory at Haifa, the same station suggested the existence of a plan when it reported:    `Simultaneously the Arabs have started to evacuate this market area by sending women and children by sea to Acre.'

Radio Damascus (26.4.48), discussing the battle of Jaffa, was even more explicit: `Arab reinforcements arrive continuously in defence of the town, from which women and children are being evacuated.'

Zimmerman continues:

Another of Mr. Childers' assertions, that no Jewish station ` so much as hinted at any Arab evacuation orders ', does not tally with the record. When Arab broadcasts admitted the evacuation of Arab villages, the Haganah took up the subject and blamed the exodus on the invading Arab irregulars. On 21 April it accused `Arab gangs ' (the Haganah term for Arab irregulars) of being responsible for the evacuation of Arab villages. On 23 April it mentioned and criticized the ' evacuation of all Arab inhabitants [from Tiberias ? ] by order of the Arab higher authorities'. On 5 May, it also drew attention to the plight of the villagers of Sarafand who wanted to postpone their evacuation until their crops had been harvested.  The British were also blamed for the Arab exodus. The 'Voice of Israel (9.11.48) asked the Arabs to remember ' that it was the British who advised them to evacuate the Arab  population  from the areas about to be occupied by Israeli forces '.

Zimmerman's is an excellent article and I encourage readers to check it out for themselves. (It can be read in its entirety here.)  Zimmerman also makes the excellent  point that "Mr. Childers contends that Jewish radio stations contributed their share to the Arab exodus by focusing attention on the flight and panic of Arabs.25  Interestingly, none of these broadcasts have been quoted in sufficient detail to allow the reader to appreciate the
point they were trying to make, namely that the Arab panic was caused by Arab irregulars." These vaguenesses of quoting seem to be endemic in the writings of Khalidi and Childers, and has of course been multiplied by those partisans who carry the propaganda forward.

In fact there is evidence of evacuation "instructions" etc in U.S. newspapers of the time, as early as 1946.  In this article, for example, we are told that "In Cairo Abdul Rahman Azzam Pash, secretary-general of the Arab League, said some Arab leaders had proposed to transform the Holy Land into a battleground 'for their existence'. He said the proposals called for evacuation of all Arab women and children from Palestine to neighboring countries.  (May 4, 1946)

Or a bit later in this one

"Jewish Agency Charges Mufti Agents Behind Arab Stampede -- Jerusalem, April 26 (Palcor) - A spokesman for the Jewish Agency reiterated the charge that Mufti agents were willfully spreading panic among the Arabs and have set in motion a stampede from Jerusalem, Haifa, Tiberias and other towns in order to: 1) present the Jews as aggressors: 2) fan Arab youth into wild fighting fanaticism: 3) impress on the Arab states the need for sending their regular armies into Palestine; and 4) absolve such intervention before world public opinion.
(A similar charge was made by Moshe Shertok, Chief of the Political Department of  the Jewish Agency in a statement to the Security Council last Friday.) (April 26, 1948)
{I left in the mention of Shertok, since Khalidi refers to him  (Khalidi, p. 43) as evidence that there had been no mention of  "orders"   "In August–September 1948, Shertok (the Foreign Minister of the Provisional Government of Israel) exchanged letters with Count Bernadotte over the question of the Arab refugees. Shertok disclaimed Israeli responsibility for the refugees, but no Arab evacuation order was mentioned."  Several months earlier, however, in April,  Shertok had spoken of this to the Security Council.  He had apparently said something to the effect that Mufti agents [Arab leaders]  had  purposefully ("willfully")  "set in motion a stampede" ie the Arabs themselves were responsible for the flight, orders or no orders, broadcasted by radio or otherwise.}

Try reading the same article from The Economist with the contentious broadcasts line completely removed.

". . . During the subsequent days the Israeli authorities who were now in complete control of Haifa urged all Arabs to remain . . . and guaranteed them protection and security. So far as I know, most of the British civilian residents whose advice was asked by Arab friends told the latter they would be wise to stay. Various factors influenced their decision to seek safety in flight.  ..... The reason given was that upon the final withdrawal of the British the combined armies of the Arab states would invade Palestine and drive the Jews into the sea.

They did invade Palestine, and but for the grace of God did not drive the Jews into the sea.  No doubt extraordinary emphasis on "orders" and "broadcasts" has more to do with the attempt to draw attention away from the  actions of one particular side during the war that followed the partition, and place it on the other. Propaganda is made to make one side look  bad, so we  don't look too closely at the other.  Diversionary tactics such as this has delayed solving the problem for over 60 years.  The pot of hate, based on lies, half-truths and exaggeration  is stirred and stirred again.  It makes a fair solution to this problem for both peoples virtually an impossibility.


ANDERSON, H. D. (1951). The Arab refugee problem, how it can be solved; proposals submitted to the General Assembly of the United Nations.
CHILDERS, E. (1971). The wordless wish: from citizen to refugees. North Dartmouth, Mass, Association of Arab-American University Graduates.
CHILDERS, E. B. (1963). The Other Exodus. Cairo, Information Dept.
COOKE, H. V., KIMCHE, J., CHILDERS, E. B., KHALIDI, W., ATIYAH, E., & CAIRNS, D. (1988). Appendix E: The Spectator Correspondence. Journal of Palestine Studies. 18, 51-70.
JEWISH AGENCY FOR PALESTINE. (1949). Arab refugees: facts and figures. New York, N.Y., Prepared by the Research Dept., Jewish Agency for Palestine.
KHALIDI, W. (1959). Why did the Palestinians leave?: an examination of the Zionist version of the exodus of 1948. s.l, s.n..
NAZZAL, N. (1978). The Palestinian exodus from Galilee, 1948. Beirut, Institute for Palestine Studies.
PAPPÉ, I. (1992). The making of the the Arab-Israeli conflict 1947-51. London, Tauris.
SAID, E. W., and HITCHENS, C. (1988). Blaming the victims: spurious scholarship and the Palestinian question. London, Verso.
ZIMMERMAN, J. (1974). Radio propaganda in the Arab-Israeli War, 1948. London, Institute of Contemporary History.


* One major error was the publisher.  Khalidi gave the publisher as the Israel Information Center, New York, when in fact they were published by the Jewish Agency for Palestine, New York. As the pamphlets did not list an author,  and since  Khalidi  did not give us the name of these pamphlets, they were not easy to find.

** The Economist was a well respected  news journal of the time,  see: URL: (subscription required)

***Another oddity about the Economist is its authorship policy.  According to the magazine's website:
"The Economist is different from other publications not only because it offers a broad international perspective but also because it has no bylines. It is written anonymously, because it is a paper whose collective voice and personality matter more than the identities of individual journalists. This ensures a continuity of tradition and view which few other publications have matched." This makes this article hard to find as well.

IM Stokvis