Around again on Lydda with Benny Morris

Benny Morris decided he wanted to go another round with me over Israel’s alleged “massacre” of Palestinians Arabs in Lydda on July 12, 1948. So I obliged: here it is. I’ve now written 15,000 words on the subject in three tranches, and more could be said. Perhaps I’ll say it if Ari Shavit gets around to responding to my original essay. In my final response, I offer an additional reason to doubt the single shred of evidence on which Morris’s and Shavit’s claim rests. It has to do with Moshe Dayan. Follow the link.

From Lydda to Gaza

“Disproportion speaks massacre, not ‘battle.'” Who wrote that just last week about Israel’s conduct vis-à-vis the Palestinians?

I won’t keep you in suspense. It was Israeli historian Benny Morris, replying to my critique (at Mosaic Magazine) of Ari Shavit’s treatment of the Lydda “massacre” of July 12, 1948, in Shavit’s book My Promised Land. Shavit declined to respond to me, but Morris took up the gauntlet last week. He wishes a pox on Shavit’s house and mine, for different reasons. He accuses Shavit of turning Lydda into more than it was, and he accuses me of “effectively denying” that there was “a massacre, albeit a provoked one.” Perhaps I do, although (unlike Shavit and Morris) I don’t claim to know exactly what happened.

I hadn’t set out to contest both Shavit and Morris, but since Shavit relies on Morris, their narratives are intertwined, and it’s just as well. Mosaic Magazine today runs my reply to Morris’s response. Not only do I question the credibility of his historical account, I also make this more general observation:

On Morris’s principle, every occasion on which Israel exacts a numerically “disproportionate” cost in the lives of others—as it often must do, if it is to deter and defeat its enemies—constitutes evidence of massacre; to sustain its very existence, Israel must massacre again and again, decade after decade…. Israel thus can never be legitimate; it is a perpetual war crime, on an ever-larger scale. So saith the “disproportion.”

Unfortunately, it’s a question that’s timely, on the morrow of a day when Israel lost thirteen soldiers in battle, and Palestinians are again claiming that Israel has committed a “massacre.” Read my response to Morris here.

Departure from Lydda

The first response to my essay on Ari Shavit’s Lydda “massacre” claim has appeared over at Mosaic Magazine. It’s by Efraim Karsh, who not only seconds my doubts about the “massacre,” but questions Shavit’s claim that the expulsion of Lydda’s population was planned in advance. Karsh:

No exodus was foreseen in Israeli military plans for the city’s capture or was reflected in the initial phase of its occupation. Quite the contrary: the Israeli commander assured local dignitaries that the city’s inhabitants would be allowed to stay if they so wished. In line with that promise, the occupying Israeli force also requested a competent administrator and other personnel to run the affairs of the civilian population.

Only when some of the townspeople refused to surrender and opened fire on Israeli forces did the calculation change, leading Israel to “encourage” the departure of the population.

I found oblique confirmation of this in the 1988 film interview with the military governor, Shmarya Gutman, now in the archives of the Palmah Museum. According to him, the original plan was to remove the fighting-age Arab men and take them prisoner. Had this been accomplished, the remaining population could not have organized itself for departure. Gutman:

There was actually a decision to take the young men held in the [Great] Mosque and convey them onward as prisoners. But I knew that if that happened, the whole departure operation wouldn’t be implemented. The place would remain a pressure cooker. We would be stuck with thousands of old people, just so that a few young men could be taken prisoner. I sent them off before the buses arrived [to transport them to detention]. When the buses came, they asked: “Where are they?” I said: “They all left.” “How’s that? We wanted to take them.” I said: “I didn’t receive an order.”

The interviewer asked Gutman whether he took that decision on his own accord. His answer: “I did everything on my own accord. I didn’t get an order to detain them.”

Read Karsh’s full response here. There are more responses to come.