Friday, May 05, 2023

There is an interesting thread by Yair Wallach, from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, where he minimizes any threats made by Arabs towards Jews in 1948, and says that Jews exaggerate those threats in order to pursue their goal of Jewish supremacism:

So many people are attached to the "they wanted to throw us into the sea" myth based on extremely flimsy evidence - a couple of dubious quotes. If this was indeed a "genocidal war" against Jews, you'd expect such rhetoric to be easy to find. It isn't. 

There is, in contrast, a considerable corpus of public discussions in Arabic on how to integrate Jews (inc. recent migrants) into the Arab Middle East. Those ideas, unsurprisingly, were unpalatable to the Zionist mainstream. But that's very different to "throwing into the sea".

But it's not enough to say: we had radically different political visions, therefore there was war. No, it has to be "they wanted to push us into the sea". Why?

Because it's a founding colonial myth. Israel is "the villa in the jungle." Arabs are genocidal and violent by nature, always a security risk. So equal rights are out of the question, and a 55 year military occupation is justified - because they want to push us into the sea.
It is true that in 1948, Zionist analysts felt that the war would go their way. It is probably true that some sober Arab leaders did not plan genocide against the Jews and "merely" wanted them to remain despised second class citizens as they had been forever under Muslim rule. But there is a huge leap in logic there to claim that there was no fear of another genocide, and an even larger leap to say that Jewish racism is keeping that myth alive in order to subjugate Palestinians. 

First of all, there were threats - real threats - by Arab leaders promising a massacre of Jews that were recorded in major media, and not difficult to find at all. And they included at least one explicit call to throw Jews into the sea. 

Here's one genocidal threat from November 1947:


Another one was from Abdul Azzam Pasha, secretary general of the Arab League. Right before the UN partition vote on November 29, 1947, he publicly threatened not only the Jews of Palestine but all Jews in the Middle East. 

Abdul Azzam Pasha. secretary general of the Arab League, warned today that a United Nations decision to partition Palestine could mean only one thing for Arabs —"war against the Jews." 

In a statement made as the UN general assembly prepared to vote on the explosive issue he declared: "Such a decision would mean the end of the first phase of the Arab struggle to have Palestine become an independent Arab state. The second phase of the struggle will now begin . . . the Arabs will have a long run of victories even it it takes us until 1950 or 1960.

"We have justice, time and numbers on our side—everything but arms— and we shall get them too." 
...
The Arab spokesman said that if Haganah, army of the Jewish agency for Palestine, tries to enforce a partition decision after the British leave and Palestine Arabs seek the help of other Arab states "we shall not hesitate."

He declared: "Every Arab from Morocco to Afghanistan would rise in answer to the call of their Arab brethren." 

He forecast "disturbances" and "persecution" of Jews in neighboring Arab countries "in an atmosphere of hatred and animosity which will prevail in case of trouble." The spokesman added, "Palestine Arabs will not stop to find out who is Zionist and who is not. They will be fighting one enemy--Jews." 
..."If we suffer any defeats in the beginning then the Arabs will rally in huge numbers because it will be a question of racial pride."


Azzam Pasha is saying here that it is a point of pride for Arabs not to accept Jews as equals or victors. He proudly calls Arabs racists against Jews. So even if they wouldn't have literally thrown all the Jews into the sea, all the Arab proposals of what to do with the Jews ensured that Jews would be forever subjugated. 

Now, let's look at what happened in the immediate aftermath of Azzam Pasha's threat. As soon as the UN partition vote ended - -within hours - Arabs in Palestine started attacking every Jew they could find.

Not Haganah members. Jews.

And for months, until the Haganah started going on the offensive, Jews were murdered every day just because they were Jewish.


- 39 Jews massacred at a Haifa oil refinery when 2000 Arab employees ran amok after an apparent Irgun bomb killed six Arabs.

- A funeral procession to the Mount of Olives (for Jews previously murdered by Arabs) was raked by gunfire, killing one of the mourners and a British policeman.

- Two Jews were killed in separate events near Safed.

- One Jew was killed and several injured in sniping from Jaffa to Tel Aviv.

And these are only the stories about fatal attacks. There were many others that were either repulsed or "only" resulted in injuries.

This is what the paper was like every day. Jewish doctors killed in hospitals. Jews killed trying to help Arabs in trouble. Arab neighbors who had been friends with Jews turned around and started ululating in support of Iraqi troops in their villages. It was open season on Jews.

And  Jewish civilians in the Arab world were also targets at that time - in Tehran and Yemen, in Bahrain and Syria, in Morocco and Egypt.

These are not myths. Azzam Pasha's threats were coming true. 

There was also at least one threat to throw Jews into the sea. In August, 1948, Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan Banna told the New York Times, "If the Jewish state be-comes a fact, and this is realized by the Arab peoples, they will drive the Jews who live in their midst into the sea." This is referring to the Jews of Arab countries, and the NYT added that  "the Sheikh granted that this was a figure of speech," but later in the article he explicitly said that if it wasn't for politics, the Arab world would have "destroyed the Jews" in Palestine.

Wallach, whose Twitter feed has a number of statements disparaging those who are arguing with him because they are not real historians like he is, apparently found these explicitly genocidal statements against all Jews in the Middle East by Arab leaders too difficult to find. These are not "dubious" quotes - they are explicit calls to wipe out the Jews.

Coming only three years after the Holocaust, why wouldn't Jews take these threats seriously?  More importantly, how can anyone consider these public statements from Arab leaders, backed up by  Arab actions on the ground, not genocidal? The only thing protecting the Jews in Palestine was the Haganah - without them they would have been defenseless. They weren't defending themselves only from armies but from their neighbors. The Hadassah Hospital convoy massacre was not exactly an invitation by Arabs to work out their differences with the Jews.

Wallach's evidence that some Arabs discussed how to not eradicate the Jews and only subjugate them may very well be true, but there was also counter-evidence - the leader of the Arab Higher Committee being a Nazi collaborator, the organized attacks against Jews the previous decade during the Arab Revolt, the 1929 pogroms against Jews throughout the land - these were all fresh memories. Maybe Arab leaders really were against genocide, and maybe they just felt it was not a practical solution, but the Arab leaders throughout the Middle East were inciting their people to murder Jews, whether in the media or speeches to mobs.

No one says that every Arab wanted to kill every Jew. But given the events that followed the partition vote, and the recent history of Arab attacks on Jews, it would have been stupid indeed for Jews to rely on the goodwill of Arabs to keep them safe. 

It is true that things aren't black and white. One can look at the relative strength of the armies and conclude that the Zionists probably wouldn't be destroyed. But at the time, as political winds swirled around - the US changed its position about partition before Truman recognized Israel, the UN meetings on Palestine brought different news every day, the British stumbled between pretending to defend Jews to abandoning them -- there was no room for the Jews to be confident. Thousands of Jews were killed during the war, and everyone knew friends and family who fell. The Jews had no less fear than the Arabs who fled - but the Jews had nowhere else to go. No matter how much Arab leaders insisted they weren't antisemitic, it isn't like the Jews of Palestine could expect safe passage or asylum in the neighboring states.

Wallach the historian also plays fast and loose in order to make his non-historic, purely political conclusion. What do these supposed "myths" of 1948 have to do with the "occupation" that began in 1967? If the "founding myths" were what animates Israel's actions today, then shouldn't they be treating Israeli Arabs the exact same as Palestinians?  

He knows that Israeli Arabs having equal rights destroy his assertions, so he switches contexts to Palestinians who are not citizens, and jumps from 1948 to 1967.

Similarly, if Israel regards all Arabs as genocidal and violent, as Wallach asserts as a fundamental belief, then why did Israel make peace with Arab countries? 

It is so sad when that reality gets in the way of a juicy, anti-Zionist theory.

 Modern historians have the benefit of hindsight, and too often exhibit the proclivity to cherry pick the historic evidence that support their positions and ignore the inconvenient facts that say otherwise. But as we see here, being a historian does not mean being free of bias - on the contrary, it often gives the historian the hubris to discount or ignore the messy facts that don't fit their theories. 

(h/t Nurit Baytch for Hassan Banna quote)



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