The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949
This book is the first full-length study of the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem. Based on recently declassified Israeli, British and American state and party political papers and on hitherto untapped private papers, it traces the stages of the 1947-9 exodus against the backdrop of the first Arab-Israeli war and analyses the varied causes of the flight. The Jewish and Arab decision-making involved, on national and local levels, military and political, is described and explained, as is the crystallisation of Israel's decision to bar a refugee repatriation. The subsequent fate of the abandoned Arab villages, lands and urban neighbourhoods is examined. The study looks at the international context of the war and the exodus, and describes the political battle over the refugees' fate, which effectively ended with the deadlock at Lausanne in summer 1949. Throughout the book attempts to describe what happened rather than what successive generations of Israeli and Arab propagandists have said happened, and to explain the motives of the protagonists.
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40 years after the Israeli War of Independence, the Israeli Defense Forces opened most of their archives to historians. Benny Morris was the first of the historians to publish his results. Morris refuted many of the myths about the founding of Israel by documenting the brutality used by Israel to implement the expulsion of between 600,000 to 760,000 Palestinians civilians, whose status as refugees continues to the present day.
Morris cites Israeli military records from 1948 which tell how civilians, including women and children, were massacred; there were also cases of mutilation and rape, such as at Deir Yassin. The massacre at Deir Yassin was so successful, that merely informing civilians that their community would be the next Deir Yassin would usually be enough to cause the entire civilian population to flee. If that community did not leave voluntarily, the Israelis would sometimes proceed with executions of POW's and civilians. Morris gives the names of 369 cities, towns and villages which were depopulated either by Israeli assault and direct expulsion or by the use of propaganda which caused the residents to flee. Either way, they became refugees.
Morris documents that there were many massacres. The civilians of Lydda suffered the largest death toll, including a massacre of 250, followed by the expulsion of almost all civilians, who were forced to march the 10-15 miles to the Arab front lines on foot during a summer heat wave, resulting in possibly 335 additional deaths from exhaustion, dehydration and disease. Morris writes that the order expelling the population of Lydda, "without regard to age," was signed by Yitzhak Rabin, (a future Prime Minister of Israel.)
The reaction of the Israeli public to Morris' book was outrage because his book helped destroy the image of Israel's "purity of arms;" the idea that Israel won its victory without massacres, rapes, and mutilations. Morris paid a heavy personal price; he is still vilified by the Israeli public, his coworkers, his friends and his family.