Myths and Historiography of the 1948 Palestine War Revisited: The Case of Lydda

By Kadish, Alon; Sela, Avraham | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2005 | Go to article overview

Myths and Historiography of the 1948 Palestine War Revisited: The Case of Lydda


Kadish, Alon, Sela, Avraham, The Middle East Journal


Arab and Israeli revisionist historiography has taken the events in the town of Lydda (Lod, al-Lud) during the 1948 Palestine War (Israeli War of Independence) as an example of Israel's premeditated expulsion of the Palestinian Arabs in 1948, coupled with a massacre of civilian Arabs by the Israeli forces. Using newly released documents, the article explains the origins of these claims. It concludes that the expulsion was not pre-meditated but a consequence of a complex and ill-conducted battle, nor is there any direct evidence that a massacre took place.

The ever-growing body of revisionist historical studies of the 1948 Palestine War (Israeli War of Independence) has focused primarily on the origins of the Palestinian refugee problem, ascribing to Israel different levels of responsibility for its creation. Blame ranges from massacres and deliberate and systematic expulsion, determined by the Zionist ideology, to the prevention of the refugees' return in the aftermath of the war.1 One of the major cases of massacre and expulsion of Palestinian Arabs revolves around the occupation of Lydda (Lod, al-Lud) and Ramie in July 1948. In its scope and time span the expulsion of the population of Lydda and Ramie and their rural environs stands out in the annals of that war, ostensibly proving Israel's sole responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem.

Since the mid-1970s two studies have been published (one of them in this Journal) on the occupation of Lydda and Ramle, the massacre of prisoners of war (POWs) in Lydda and the expulsion of their inhabitants, both by Israeli historians.2 Relying exclusively on the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) records, neither of these studies endeavored to analyze the case under discussion within its broader military and political context, especially the various Arab military forces operating in the area and their interrelations. In the absence of an Arab perspective, the above studies focused exclusively on the Israeli side, its decisions and actions.

This article takes issue with two major claims:

A. The expulsion of the Arab inhabitants in Operation Dani, especially from Lydda, was pre-planned and deliberate, owing to "strategic necessity and [as] a goal in itself."3

B. The IDF conducted a massacre of defenseless prisoners of war in the al-'Umari Mosque on July 12, 1948, after Lydda had surrendered.4

Our main argument is that the decision for expulsion was made within the context of heavy fighting, unexpected military circumstances and calculations determined by the course of the operation.

As to the massacre, it is noteworthy that other than a number of rather doubtful Arab sources, there is no first hand evidence, Arab or Jewish, of a massacre. Accepting the IDF estimate of 250 deaths, Benny Morris attributed them to massacre, a claim subsequently endorsed by Arabs. However, a meticulous reconstruction of the battle on July 11 and events of July 12 offers a better, albeit more complex, explanation of the Arab losses. It also casts severe doubt on, if it does not completely refute, the argument for the massacre in the al-'Umari Mosque.

LYDDA BEFORE THE OCCUPATION5

The United Nations partition plan placed Lydda and Ramie in the Arab-Palestinian State. This was primarily because the two towns and their environs were purely Arab in population. The inclusion of Lydda and Ramie in Operation Dani was motivated by the need to establish a secure and substantive territorial link between the coastal plain and Jewish Jerusalem, which was still under Arab threat. Latrun, just east of Lydda and Ramle, was the key Arab stronghold blocking the road to Jerusalem. Even though during the four-week long truce (June 11-July 9) Israel had built and improved an alternative supply route (commonly known as the "Burma Road"), the collective decision of the Arab governments to overrule the UN call for prolonging the truce and to renew the hostilities provided Israel with the opportunity to turn to the offensive, and to try to improve its control over the Jerusalem road. …

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