Ethnic Cleansing or Negotiated Deal? The Arab Exodus From Lydda


Israeli soldier after capturing Lydda.

— by Naomi Friedman, The Jerusalem Post

On July 13, 1948, thousands of Arabs left their homes in Lydda (now Lod) and marched in the heat of the summer toward Ramallah, then held by the Arab Legion. Why they did this has been the subject of great historical and political debate.

One account explains the exodus as a product of the civil war that preceded the May 1948 attack on Israel by its Arab neighbors.

Another account, now making the rounds of Jewish book clubs across the U.S., is Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. Ignoring the recent work of prominent Israeli academicians and the growing body of first-hand narratives and other primary sources, Shavit paints the exodus as an act of ethnic cleansing.

Israeli academicians Avraham Sela, Alon Kadish and Arnon Golan’s book, “The Occupation of Lod, July 1948,” meticulously documents the unfolding of events. The book cites primary sources, from Israel Defense Forces (IDF) telegrams and reports, to documents found at the Lydda Military Command, to personal accounts by both Jewish and Arab participants. Here is the account, in brief.

Continued after the jump.
On November 30, 1947, the day after the U.N. voted to partition the British Mandate of Palestine, Arab fighters launched the “War of the Roads.” Stationed in Lydda and other towns along the major trade routes, they attacked trucks, and later convoys carrying supplies to Jewish Jerusalem and other Jewish villages.

In July 1948, the IDF implemented Operation Danny, whose ultimate goal was to gain control of the road to Jerusalem. The first objective of the operation was to capture Lydda.

The attack on Lydda was not organized or carried out as planned, as indicated by IDF reports and telegrams. It was led by the Palmach, the “Strike Force,” then already part of the IDF. On July 11, Moshe Dayan‘s jeep force drove into the city, opened fire, came under heavy attack by the Arab Legion, and withdrew permanently.

Then 300 foot soldiers, led by Palmach commander Mula Cohen, with no heavy arms, and not aware of Dayan’s intention not to support their push, entered the city. They took a tenuous hold of part of the city center.

According to accounts by both Jewish and Arab sources, Arab fighters gathered at their headquarters, surrounding olive groves, and the police station. This is well-established by first-hand accounts of the Palmach leader in charge of negotiating with the Arab population of Lydda, Shmaryahu Gutman, and an Arab civilian guard member, Spiro Munayyer.

On the following day, July 12, two or three Arab Legion tanks entered Lydda and opened fire on the Jewish forces. Arab Legion forces stationed at the police station, and other local fighters, joined the attack.

After heavy fighting, the Palmach maintained its precarious hold on part of the city center. The Palmach exchanged fire with soldiers at the police station throughout the night, and by the morning of July 13. They discovered that all Arab forces but one injured fighter in the police station had abandoned the city.

Meanwhile, Gutman, according to his 1948 testimony, had spent two days negotiating with the Arab leaders of Lydda asking them to lay down their arms. They had sent a town crier to announce that all arms were to be placed in the front of the houses.

Not a single weapon was handed over. Like the Jews, the Arabs anticipated a counterattack by the Arab Legion and hoped to wait it out. The Palmach, however, had gathered approximately 4,000 Arab men of military age, held in a mosque and a church.

Still, the Arabs refused to surrender. Only after the city leaders realized that the Arab Legion forces had abandoned the police station, did they agree to make a deal: If the 4,000 men were released, the Arabs would leave the city. And so it happened that most, but not all, of the Arab residents left Lydda.

Ari Shavit’s Mistakes


The Arab fighters were wellarmed, and vastly outnumbered the Jewish forces. Palmach soldiers near a destroyed Arab armored car.

Shavit’s account rests on two false premises. The first is that the IDF captured Lydda from an unsuspecting civilian population who were easily overtaken.

Primary sources indicate that the Arab fighters were wellarmed, and vastly outnumbered the Jewish forces. Sela and Kadish estimate that at least 1,000 local fighters and 50 soldiers from the Arab Legion held 25 anti-tank launchers, 20 machine guns, armored cars, submachine guns and rifles.

The second false premise is that Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion issued a top-down order to the head of the Palmach, Yigal Allon, to expel the Arab inhabitants. This fallacy is enthusiastically embraced by those who accuse Israel of ethnic cleansing. Primary sources clearly show that the decision was initiated by the commanders on the ground under fire.

These mentioned sources include Palmach commander Mula Cohen’s reports and telegrams from Lydda, other first-hand accounts, and an official IDF directive issued on July 6, 1948.

The directive, found in the IDF archive 2135/50, File 42, on the subject of “Discipline,” orders that:

Outside of active fighting, it is forbidden… to expel Arab residents from their villages, neighborhoods, and cities and to displace residents without special permission or the clear instruction from the Defense Minister in each specific case. Anyone violating this order will be tried.

Mula Cohen, however, was unaware of this directive. In his memoirs “To Give and To Receive,” he wrote:

Let me be clear: I do not deny that it was I, as head of the brigade, who made the decision, and only after did I receive the permission of the commanders of Operation Danny.

Allon accepted Cohen’s view that the only way to hold Lydda was to expel the residents. Allon and Yitzhak Rabin, then his deputy, argued about it and went to Ben-Gurion. They were perhaps aware of the directive and of the fact that they needed to obtain his permission, since at the time he was also serving as defense minister.

Why Lydda?

Missing in Shavit’s books, and in most popular history books that are now being written, is why the IDF targeted Lydda in the first place.

Lydda had been housing both local and foreign fighters who attacked the Jewish convoys during the War of the Roads. Today, this war is gradually being written out of popular history and national memory.

Operation Danny, which precipitated the mass exodus of the Arabs from Lydda and Ramla, was the first in a series of three initiatives. The ultimate goal of those initiatives was to free the road to Jerusalem, to feed the 100,000 Jews living there.

When I tried to explain this to my Jewish book club members, nobody had heard of the War of the Roads, or of the Jewish children who were starving in Jerusalem. I could not forget, because my father was one of those children.

The author is an American-Israeli writer and development editor of textbooks and online education products for McGraw-Hill, Cengage, Pearson, Oxford University Press and other educational companies. She holds an M.A. in Political Science from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and is a former student of Avraham Sela, mentioned below.

Instead of Just Making College Affordable, Make It Free

U.S. Unemployment Rate, 25 years and over:
July 2013 data:

Less than a high school diploma 11.0%
High school graduate, no college 7.6%
Some college or associate degree 6.0%
Bachelor’s degree and higher 3.8%

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

It is becoming increasingly difficult to get a job which pays a decent salary without a college education. Nevertheless, the cost of a college education is increasing exponentially, far outstripping inflation and typical salaries.

About one-third of college students receive subsidized Federal loans. The rate on these loans was fixed in 2007 at 3.4%. Last month, Congress let this rate expire, which caused the rate on new student loans to suddenly double to 6.8%, bringing a college education out of the reach of most students.

A life of privilege should not be the birthright of the privileged few, passed on from generation to generation like the titles of nobility, which we Americans have wisely forsaken (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8).

The outrage expressed by students, their parents, and all those concerned with the future of America’s highly educated workforce was heard in the halls of Congress. Last Friday, President Obama signed a compromise bill to lower interest rates. According to Cecilia Munoz, “Under the new law, nearly 11 million borrowers will see their interest rates decrease on new loans made after July 1, 2013. About 8.8 million undergraduate borrowers will see their rates on new loans drop from 6.80% to 3.86%, and about 1.5 million Graduate Unsubsidized Stafford borrowers will see their rates drop on new loans from 6.80% to 5.41%. Finally, over 1 million Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS borrowers will see their rates on new loans drop from 7.90% to 6.41% — the first reduction in years.” (Since these rates are based on the bond market, The Washington Post notes that “as the economy improves in the coming years, as it is expected to, those interest rates will likely climb and could soon be higher than current rates, unless Congress again acts.”)

Undergraduates may be breathing a sigh of relief as they prepare to go back to school this fall, but still their education will end up more expensive than ever, before putting college out of reach of more and more of America’s youth.

Will this satisfy the many voices that have been clamoring for the government to make education more affordable?

Yet, others are advancing toward a more ambitious objective: making higher education not just affordable, but free.

Three ideas for free tuition follow the jump.
Pay it forward, pay it back

Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) writes about the legislation he and State Representative Brendan F. Boyle (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) are introducing in Harrisburg:

I will be introducing a landmark bill in the Pennsylvania Senate to make college affordable for every Pennsylvanian.

Growing up, my mom and I didn’t have much, and it was only because of programs like Pell Grants that I was able to go to Temple University for college. Since I graduated, tuition has risen astronomically, and state and federal financial assistance hasn’t been able to keep up. If I was finishing high school today, I would not be able to afford to go to Temple without taking on a mountain of debt.

That is why I will be introducing the “Pay It Forward, Pay It Back” program to make state, and state-related universities (like Temple) affordable for every student by letting them attend college with no money down and without paying high interest rates.

The way that it works is simple: we will create a fund from which students can draw funds to pay their tuition. After graduating and joining the workforce, students will “Pay Back” into the fund, interest free, through a small percentage — around 4% — of their income.  

The plan will eventually become self-sustaining, but until it does, we will use seed funding from a competitive, temporary tax on natural gas extraction.

Once this bill is signed into law, Pennsylvania will be one of the the nation’s leaders in affordable college education and every student will have the same opportunities that I did.

Boyle adds:

With Pennsylvania’s college graduates shouldering the second highest level of student loan debt in the country, the need to take a hard look at our existing system of funding higher education is urgent. This legislation would initiate the process of conducting a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of the Pay It Forward model.

There are currently a handful of states that are considering or have passed similar legislation, including Oregon, which last month passed legislation that Boyle credits as the impetus behind their proposal:

I think the number of states that have expressed interest in this model demonstrates that the traditional way of financing public higher education is fundamentally broken and that there is a strong demand for new ideas. The Oregon bill offers an excellent template for how such a game changing proposal should be approached. Given that this plan would likely require an investment of tens of billions of dollars before becoming solvent, carefully examining the merits and cost of Pay It Forward on an objective and nonpartisan basis will provide insight into whether such a program is feasible in Pennsylvania.

A similar idea is being considered in California, where grantees would commit to paying 5% of their salary for the next 20 years.

This idea is not a Utopian, liberal, “pay what you can” dream. According to the journal Inside Higher Ed, the “concept was thought up, independently, by two Nobel winners in economics, Milton Friedman [noted Libertarian thinker] and James Tobin.”

Posse Scholars

Many promising students do not fulfill their potential, because they do not have the necessary support networks to guide them in their education. For that reason, the Posse Foundation steps into the breech and identifies at-risk youth “with extraordinary academic and leadership potential” while they are still in high school, organizing them into teams (or “posses”) of ten students.

The students in any posse are responsible for each other, support each other in their studies, and help each other stay out of trouble. The Posse Foundation’s university partners have committed to giving full scholarships each year to an entire posse, based on the posse’s total scores, grades, etc.

Knowing that they will earn this scholarship, or fail to do so, as a group, each posse is a team with a common goal to shoot for, and the raw talent to succeed. Since 1989, 4,884 public school student have succeeded as posse scholars. The posse continues to function when in the university of their choice and even beyond, as an invaluable, tried-and-tested support network for these talented youth, who may be the first children in their families to benefit from higher education.

President Obama has seen the value of the Posse Foundation’s work, and accordingly donated all of his $1,400,000 in Nobel Peace Prize money to the Posse Foundation, and 10 other charitable causes:  

The news that Posse will receive a generous gift of $125,000 came via a White House announcement.

“These organizations do extraordinary work in the United States and abroad helping students, veterans and countless others in need,” said President Obama. “I’m proud to support their work.”

The other nine organizations who will receive donations ranging from $100,000 to $250,000 are: AfriCare, the American Indian College Fund, the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation, the Central Asia Institute, the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, College Summit, Fisher House, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and the United Negro College Fund.

“On behalf of the entire Posse Foundation, I thank President Obama for this incredible acknowledgment and support”, says Posse President and Founder Deborah Bial. “For 20 years, Posse has been finding outstanding young people and connecting them to the great education they so deserve. The president’s support is more than financial; it is a message to the country that these young people are not only important, but needed as leaders. We are beyond thrilled.”

Loan Forgiveness

Another way students attend school for free is by committing to public service. Instead of giving back a small percentage of their salary for decades, they devote themselves to service for a shorter period of time. For example, the United States Armed Services will pay for students to attend medical school, if they agree to serve as a medic in the military for an equal number of years. Each year of free medical school equals one year of required service:

When you’re pursuing an advanced health care degree, the last thing on your mind should be how you’re going to pay for it. The U.S. Army can help with one of the most comprehensive scholarships available in the health care field — The F. Edward Hébert Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program. Qualifying students receive full tuition for any accredited medical, dental, veterinary, psychology or optometry program, plus a generous monthly stipend of more than $2,000.

In fact, during summer break, the students receive officer’s salary while they get their military training.

Similar programs exist to encourage doctors to work for a few years in under-served rural communities, or for student to train (or engineers to retrain themselves) to teach science, technology, engineering or mathematics in poor urban neighborhoods.

These ideas may put higher education into everyone’s reach, and conversely, put everyone’s talents into the reach of society.

National Liberty Museum Honors Collectors


Honorees Bob and Shelby Ford are joined by Gwen Borowsky and Arlene Silver at the National Liberty Museum awards reception and dinner., where the Fords were honored for their devotion to glass sculpture and their support of the museum and its mission. Photo: Bonnie Squires

— by Bonnie Squires

What do you do when your world-class glass scupture collection outgrows your residence?  If your name is Irv Borowsky, you buy an historic former bank building in Philadelphia and transform it into the National Liberty Museum.  You commission Dale Chihuly to create a four-story glass chandelier which indicates the flame of revolution and the fragility of freedom.  And then you hold an annual Glass Art Weekend & Auction Gala, and you honor supporters of the museum who are themselves connoisseurs of glass sculpture.  This year’s awards reception and dinner honored Shelby and Bob Ford and Inna and Alex Friedman.  Artist Therman Statom, who does unique things with glass, was also honored.

More after the jump.


Irv Borowsky, founder of the National Liberty Museum, and his wife Laurie Wagman greeted guests at the awards reception at the museum. Photo: Bonnie Squires


Patrons of the National Liberty Museum, including Herb and Phyllis Victor, and  Rhea and Dr. Morton Mandell, came to pay tribute to their friends who were the evening’s honorees. Photo: Bonnie Squires

The Museum houses one of the world’s most important collections of contemporary glass art to make the point that freedom is beautiful and strong, like glass, but also extremely fragile.  Through this unique metaphor, students learn that it is their responsibility to protect our nation’s heritage of freedom by making good and productive choices in their everyday lives.

Over 400,000 young people from the Philadelphia region and beyond have visited the Museum since it opened its doors in the year 2000.  Building on that success, the Museum created character education outreach initiatives that bring its message directly to area middle schools.  One such program, the highly successful “Young Heroes Outreach Program,” is funded by the proceeds of the National Liberty Museum‘s Glass Art Weekend & Auction Gala.  The money raised provides staffing, computers, lesson plans and classroom materials.  It also goes to forming a “Young Heroes Club” at each school, which empowers the students to identify and solve real-life problems they face in their school and community.

The National Liberty Museum is grateful to the many collectors and artists who recognize their connection to the Museum’s mission by generously donating and purchasing work at the auction.  The glass art community has been a major supporter of the Museum from the very beginning and will certainly continue to be a factor in the Museum’s success in the years to come.

The National Liberty Museum is located in historic Philadelphia at 321 Chestnut St.  It is open 10am to 5pm Tuesday through Saturday and 12-6 pm on Sunday.  Hours extend to 7 days a week during the summer months.  The facility is fully wheelchair accessible.  

Looking to Bike Ride in Israel?


One of the Longest Biking Trails in Israel  Inaugurated at the Beautiful Ben Shemen Forest

— by Natalie Kahan-Behar

This trail is part of a biking trail project that Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael KKL-JNF has developed and invested more than one million NIS in.

Yesterday, December 26th, 2011 a new single rider biking trail was inaugurated in Ben Shemen Forest, 32 kilometers long, making it one of the longest biking trails in Israel.

More after the jump.
Over the past decade mountain bike riding has become a very popular sport which created a demand for biking trails in open spaces and forests. Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael KKL-JNF responded to the high demand as well as to willingness to preserve the forest. These trails are designed to encourage the public to ride through the trails safely and in an environmentally friendly manner.

The Ben Shemen biking trail is composed of two trails that pass through the western part of the Ben Shemen Forest and continue up to Modi’in Forest: The first trees that were ever planted in the Ben Shemen forest were in honor of Hertzel, hence the name of the trail. It is an intermediate 10 kilometers circular trail that begins and ends at Mitzpe Modi’in.

The trail goes through Ben Shemen’s ancient forest scenery, and passes by the oldest Cyprus Pine forest in Israel. After riding about 7 kilometers, the trail splits south and becomes Anava trail.  Anava is a 25 kilometer circular trail that begins and ends at Hertzel trail. Along the trail are historical and archeological sites such as Tel Gamzo and the Monks Valley. Throughout the trail there are lookout points to Modi’in city, Shefelah towns and the coastal plain. Together, the biking trails form one of the longest biking trails in Israel.

KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler at the bike trail inauguration ceremonyThe inauguration ceremony took place at the event site in Mitzpe Modi’in this morning, and was attended by KKL-JNF World Chairman, Efi Stenzler, Deputy Mayor of Modi’in, Michal Periferi, head of Hevel Modi’in Regional Council, Shimon Shushan, the trail planner, Otto Friedman and many more.

The trails were designed by the architect, Otto Friedman, whom specializes in riding and planning biking trails in parks. While the trail was being paved by KKL-JNF employees, the entire process was supervised by an authorized biking trail constructer, Doron Emetz.

According to KKL-JNF World Chairman, Efi Stenzler, “There is no better time than today, Channukah, Rosh Hodesh, to inaugurate this biking trail that runs through the ancient olive presses that probably produced the oil for the temple. We named the forest “Hertzel” in honor of the first forest KKL-JNF planted. KKL-JNF is 110 years old today and is focusing on the establishment of biking trails throughout Israel. I invite you to ride safely and enjoy the beautiful scenery.”

Ben Shemen Forest:

The Ben Shemen forest is a metropolis park located near the large urban area of Gush Dan. The forest has a wide open space for various recreational activities. Both Ben Shemen forest and Modi’in’s forests together create a 40 Dunam green region. KKL-JNF established dozens of recreational parks, winding roads, observation points and advanced infrastructure for the public’s convenience in the forest.

The optimum riding conditions in Ben Shemen forest allow different riding groups to enjoy the mostly flat forest, the great sequence of the undisturbed forest areas, the varied landscape roads, parking lots, observation spots and heritage sites that make the riding experience unique and enjoyable. Bike riders from all over Israel choose Ben Shemen forest as the most preferable destination for bike riding.

Photo credits: Yossi Zamir