In Israel, the Violent Legacy of 1948Roundup
tags: Israel, Palestine, Zionism, Middle East history, Arab-Israeli conflict, 1948
Mr. Morris is professor emeritus of Middle Eastern Studies at Israel’s Ben Gurion University of the Negev. His books include 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War and, most recently, The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894–1924.
The year 1948, when Israel fought its war of independence, is in the air again, along the Gaza-Israel border and in Israel’s mixed Jewish-Arab towns and districts. From Gaza, Hamas and Islamic Jihad rocketeers—most of them descendants of Arab refugees uprooted by Israel in the 1948 war—are pelting Israel’s towns, including greater Tel Aviv, with rockets and drones. Inside Israel, gangs of Arab youths—Israeli citizens who identify with the Palestinian cause—are burning police stations, synagogues, stores and cars. In retaliation, Jewish gangs, many of them descendants of Jews who fled discrimination and oppression in the Arab world, are burning Arab-owned stores and beating up Arab passersby.
The chaos in the towns of Lydda, Ramle, Haifa, Umm al-Fahm and Acre is a dim echo of the civil war between Palestine’s Jewish and Arab communities that engulfed the country during the first months of the 1948 war, before the armies of the neighboring Arab countries invaded and turned the conflict into a war between states. Once again, as during the first and second Intifadas in 1987-91 and 2000-04, the Palestinians are challenging the result of 1948, when Zionist forces crushed Palestinian Arab militias and, subsequently, the Arab states’ armies, established the State of Israel, and uprooted 700,000 Palestinians—two-thirds of the Arabs then inhabiting Palestine—from their homes and lands. Some 10,000 Palestinians and 6,000 Israelis died in the fighting.
For Israel’s Arabs, as for generations of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and around the world, this national dispossession is remembered as the Nakba, or catastrophe. For Hamas, the current round of hostilities is merely the latest effort to chip away at the Jewish state, bit by bit, with the ultimate purpose of destroying and replacing it with a fundamentalist Islamic polity.
It is no accident that among the main flashpoints of the current violence are the towns of Lydda and Ramle in central Israel, whose young Arab inhabitants have been nurtured on bloody local stories from the first Arab-Israeli war. On July 11-13, 1948, the Israeli Yiftah Brigade conquered the center of Lydda, massacred some 200 townspeople while suppressing a spate of sniping, and then expelled some 40,000-50,000 souls from Lydda and nearby Ramle to the West Bank, then held by Jordan. About a thousand Arabs remained, scattered in the fields and train stations around the towns.
For an unknown reason, the army resettled these remnants in Lydda and Ramle, which were soon filled with Jewish settlers. Like all of Israel’s Arabs, they were accorded citizenship, but they were placed under military rule until 1966. Their freedom of movement and their livelihoods were tightly controlled, while their numbers increased apace. In both towns, there developed an uneasy coexistence between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority. But below the surface there were continuous tensions, exacerbated by poverty, unemployment levels and high crime rates in the Arab neighborhoods.