The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 became the genesis of a conflict between Jews and Arabs, which still exists today. Peace has remained elusive because negotiations to find a solution have experienced only varying degrees of compliance. Both sides have missed opportunities which if pursued might have been fruitful. A general mistrust between the parties and a desire to maintain a state of aggressiveness stymied any overture that might lead to an end of the conflict. Complicated by the religious dogma of three of the world’s great religions, the Middle East remains a contentious, controversial and sometimes a very dangerous place. The historiography reflects the same contentious and controversial debate among historians that has classically existed among the politicians.

When comparing the history of the conflict over the last five decades it is common to find entirely different interpretations developing from basically the same data, revealing a history that is not dissimilar but that emphasizes different historical implications. Depending on the time period in discussion and the historian, there exists distinctive, almost polarizing versions of the history.  There are some very obvious reasons for this. Certain changes have taken place in the historical, political and social realm associated with the clash between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. Even with all these powerful influences I would argue that the primary reason for the change in the historical interpretation occurred because of the following reasons; the passage of time, the late introduction of Arab viewpoints, and the conscious and decided influence of late twentieth century left wing politics.

For the purposes of this study, I will use the war of 1948 between the Arab States and Israel as a model to argue my thesis. Because it is the earliest moment of the formal beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict, more time has lapsed allowing for interpretations of the history to change and morph throughout the decades. Using the earliest event possible presents a clearer picture of how these changes took place.

The time, in which the history was written, plays a huge role in the interpretation. There is an enormous volume of material to consider in a historiography on this subject matter. I use several  sources from the five decades of the conflict. However, in the interest of being fare and concise, a comparison of the historiographical change over  time, I considered two representative histories, one from immediately following the end of the 1948 war and one from the 1980s after the release of declassified Israeli military documents. Kenneth Bilby, a news reporter who covered the war, wrote and published before the end of 1950, New Star in the Near East. Bilby’s account covers Israeli military and political actions during and right after the war.[1] Tom Segev represents the revised historical interpretation that began to gain acceptance in the early 80s. Segev’s work in discussion here is 1949: The First Israelis, a comprehensive look into the subsequent weeks and months of official Israeli policy after the War of 1948. [2]

The Israeli and Jewish contribution is the most interesting in this case since Arab historiography on the war is extremely limited during the 1950s and 1960s. The lack of Arab participation in scholarship consequently minimizes the chance for an early interpretation and later progress in historiographical adjustments. As well be noted the absence of direct Arab participation in the history during the 1950s has a significant impact on the historiography itself. There are almost no books published by Arabic writers in English during this time. The few that take the Arab side of the story come almost exclusively from the British. Thirty years of Mandate in Palestine, notwithstanding news headlines in their newspapers of Jewish resistance to British policy, developed an anti-Zionist perspective among those historians who decided to write about what happened.

While British historians might have some notice in Britain, their perspective was minimized in the English speaking world because of the anti-Zionist feelings associated with the British.  British historians failed to receive sympathy for their position for two reasons. One, there was no Arab historical involvement to buttress their anti-Zionist arguments. And two, Britain at the time was still a world power and was perceived as the political bully during the mandate ruling over Jews who already subjected to world wide anti-Semitism, further reinforced by the recent exposure of the full extent of Nazi crimes, were desperately fighting for a homeland of their own. The momentum was entirely with the Jews.

Sympathetic historians recorded Israel’s victories, free of criticism with a decidedly one-sided interpretation. Several themes of justifications for Israel’s victory and subsequent existence are common throughout these works. The numerical difference between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, “…the Arab states participating in this venture had 40,000,000 people to draw from, as against 650,000 Jews.” [3] That Israel wanted peace with its neighbors more than anything else. “As to the truce, the Prime Minister argued with passion that this must soon be replaced by peace.” [4] These claims, while not necessarily false, were not backed up with primary evidence, which leaves an air of suspicion on the part of the serious reader. Most of the pro-Israeli histories were so confident in their presentations, they often lack documentation of their points.

Because of Arab bellicose statements of “massacre” and “glorious victory,” common in these histories was the mantra that Israel, against all odds, defeated a larger more well equipped foe. The nascent State of Israel accomplished the impossible, or as the historians of the time implied constantly, performed a “miracle.” The statements above are not false by any means. Israel, as a beginning nation with relatively few resources to defend itself did succeed in turning back the invasion of five nations from destroying it. But it happened with more than just the implied “miracle.” It was not until evidence began to surface that even though the Arabs outnumbered the Jews, had superior equipment and the ability to take out Zionist forces in a short period of time, they failed to achieve a victory. Their failure, although considered by historians as a “miracle” for Jewish people, it was actually due to inadequate training, having  inaccurate assessments of Zionist military capabilities and the lack of a unified command between armies. Historians in the 1950s rarely if ever mentioned these facts. Therefore, the mythology of the victorious fighting Jew was allowed to proliferate.


There was a young generation of Jews in Palestine that went into battle with the same grin with which boys go to a ball game in the United States.[5] It was at the moment of utmost peril that Israel proclaimed its national independence. [6] He (Ben Gurion) created an impression of rugged strength that made me feel for the first time that the Jews, outnumbered though they were might have a fighting chance of survival. [7]


These historians made the most out of Arab political, military and diplomatic mistakes. For example, much has been said about the fact that on May 15, 1948, the armies of five Arab nations invaded the nascent state of Israel, with the intention of destroying it before it ever began. Statements from Arab notables that they would “push the Jews into the sea”[8] were not well received in the democratic capitals of the world and made Israel’s victory all the more admirable.


In the four-week period that followed the proclamation of the Jewish State, they proved that they were strong enough to hold their country against the combined forces of the League of Arab States although the League commanded armies totaling some 250,000 men, amply supplied with British planes, tanks, and armored cars. The Egyptian air force bombed Jewish settlements daily. By June 1, the toll of their Spitfires was more than 1,400 Jewish lives. Since Abdullah’s army held Latrun, the bottleneck of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Highway, the Jews built a Burma Road over the hills surrounding Latrun and continued to ship supplies into Jerusalem. The Egyptian army moving northward to Tel Aviv never succeeded in gaining possession of even the full length of the coastal strip, which the United Nations had allotted to the Arabs in Palestine. The Iraqi forces were stopped at Tulkarm and Ras el-Ein. The Lebanese and Syrians never came closer than border territory.[9]

The Arabs did little in the west to counter these views. For the most part Arab policy was to deny that the Jewish state even existed. There are many examples of this in the diplomatic exchanges between Israel and its neighbors. Arab negotiators refused to meet in the same room with Israeli diplomats during armistice negotiations at the end of the war relegating UN mediators to run comically back and forth between hotel rooms to deliver messages ranging from ultimatums to total rejection from the Arab side. In the newspapers of the time they refused to call the country Israel referring to the Jewish state as the “Zionist entity.” This tactic remained until after the June war of 1967. They refused to admit refugees from the war into their countries and were consequently accused by Israel and the West of preferring to keep them as reason d’tre to hate Israel. This policy was followed no less by Arab historians who refused to write about the war in fear that it might somehow legitimize Israel and become the basis of negotiation for a comprehensive peace. Furthermore, this position served only to strengthen the resolve of Israel’s supporters in the west and actually gained more sympathy for the Jewish state.

Some have argued why interpretations were so strongly supportive of the Israeli side during the 1950s was the specter of the Holocaust. One cannot disregard the potentially enormous effect the annihilation of European Jewry had on sympathy for the Zionist cause.  The observers of the War of 1948, many of whom participated in the liberation of Nazi death camps, were greatly gratified to see Jews, with some actual survivors of the camps lift their heads in victory over a second enemy sworn to destroy them. The immense brutality of the genocide occurring three years before the rebirth of the State of Israel had biblical overtones, which could not be denied. Religious  Christians in both Europe and the United States viewed the creation of the State of Israel as fulfilling an important step in the second coming of Christ. Both secular and religious non-Jews of all political persuasions were deeply affected by the Holocaust and the subsequent creation of the Jewish State. Out of anger, guilt, and despair, a strange vindication ensued watching a Jewish victory for those who lost a love one fighting Hitler’s army.  With Nazi crimes still fresh in many peoples’ minds there was a romantic notion of the Jewish people representing the “Phoenix rising up from the ashes” to reclaim its national dignity, and proclaim to the world that they had a right to live. These were powerful images to promote in the countries that had just defeated Nazism and Fascism a few years before.

Over the last five decades the historiography of the War of 1948 has been influenced through two significant periods in scholarship. So distinct are these periods  that with some discretion one can point to the Six Day War in June, 1967 as a cut off point when the original interpretation of one sided Zionist support began to decline and the newer more political interpretation began its rise. It could be argued that the point of change might be a little later than that, but it certainly cannot be earlier.

The Arab defeat in 1967 was so devastating, so complete, that it intellectually stunned the Arab community into reassessing their whole outlook concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict. A prime example of this re-awakening comes from Edward Said, the philosophical godfather of the Palestinian national movement. Said never gave much thought to Palestinian rights until after the Six Day War. Reflecting on his feelings some years later he wrote:


I was emotionally reclaimed by the Arab world generally and by Palestine in particular. This was a direct result of the war (1967)—which I experienced in New York—and of the severely damaged political, cultural, and, of course, military and geographical situation that it created. [10]


Said’s reaction to the war was typical of Arab feeling both in the west and the Arab world. The defeat acted like a clarion call to historians, political scientists, philosophers, and all kinds of analysts that the time had come to speak up and be heard. Not writing about the war previously had severe implications for Arab public relations in the west. Said, a prolific writer in a number of fields has published several books and numerous articles since 1967 defending the Palestinian cause. For Said to do that before 1967 by his own admission would have been unheard of.

Before 1967 historians viewed the issue of Israel and its enemies with a politically secular outlook, showing no signs leaning in any political direction other than support for the Jews and their struggle to create a homeland. In the United States as well as in Europe it was one of the few issues that both conservatives and liberals could agree on, unconditional support for the Jewish State.[11] Unlike several decades later politics was a non-issue to historians in the 1950s concerning the Arab-Israeli dispute. This rendered the historical interpretation of the 1948 war with an understanding of the facts without any regard to a political slant. Consequently, the Israelis categorically benefited from such a political climate in the United States and Europe.

The rise of the political left began to affect western perception of Israel’s position vis a vie the conflict during the 1970s. Buttressed by the anti-Viet Nam and civil rights movement in the United States the international left wing of all relevant democracies re-assessed its former support for Zionism.  The ideology dormant from the 30s, grew exponentially during this time causing a shift in the allegiances of the belligerents. Western writers like Franz Fanon, Jean Paul Sartre and others combined their popular revolutions with Marxist ideology. This does not mean that all influential historians of the Arab viewpoint were Marxist ideologues. Whether they were or not is not relevant. What is relevant is that a newly invigorated Left provided an audience, a support structure and a credence for these views. Thus, the interpretation of the history was immensely affected from its earlier viewpoints.

Nowhere was this decided shift in political influence more pronounced than in the Jewish State itself. Since pre-state Palestine, there has been a vocal left wing voice mostly coming from academia, which was as strong as from any democratic country in the West. This movement, founded and nurtured into the fabric of Jewish Palestinian life, and later into Israeli culture by the renowned philosopher Martin Buber, had a modicum of initial success and then was drowned out by the nationalists after Israel became a fact in 1948. Buber had suggested a binational entity, in which Jews and Arabs would rule the land together. This was fairly close to Arab desires. However, the historic reality of another Jewish minority living at the whims of the gentile, exacerbated Jewish fears that they would end up once again subjected to Dhimmi rule not unlike the persecution they historically suffered for the previous one thousand years in Europe. Most observers of this belief today regard Buber’s movement, which had extreme (strong) Marxist influence, as the forerunner of the left wing historical opposition in Israel that grew in earnest in the late 1970s.[12]

During the time of the 1950s and 60s Buber’s movement was not popular except among the few Israelis who believed in his teachings. The movement could not get a foothold preaching reconciliation through the abolishment of the Zionist State. For most Israelis, and world Jewry for that matter, they regarded such notions as folly because of the Israeli perception of being surrounded by enemies bent on their destruction and the Soviet Union moving closer to the Arab camp as time went on. Arab newspaper editorials were calling for Israel’s destruction and the death of all Jews. Buber’s movement lives on in the Israeli electorate today, every bit as strong and influential as any leftist movement existing in Europe or the United States. Two of the modern historians covered in this paper, Benny Morris and Tom Segev are disciples of that movement.

One question intensely debated during the last thirty years has been why the Arabs left. It strikes at the heart of the refugee issue. If the Arabs had been forcibly expelled by Israel this would give them a more legitimate argument for being allowed to repatriate back into the country even after so much time has lapsed. If the Arabs left, as Israel claims, on their own volition, because of fear, their leaders told them to, or for any other reason other than forced expulsion by Israel then their case loses some of its power with the international community. This is the reason why so much time has been given to the possibilities of both sides’ claims. The truth, as we are beginning to find out, is somewhere in the middle. However, this contentious issue has continued to be a major topic not only for the historians who are writing about it but also for the politicians who must decide on a solution.

Plan Dalet as Benny Morris has reported was the Israeli military order “to clear main lines of communication and border areas. It was standard Hagana and IDF (Israel Defense Force) practice to round up and expel remaining villagers already evacuated by most of their inhabitants, because the occupying force wanted to avoid having to leave behind a garrison.” [13] Plan Dalet is believed by some to be the main cause for the Arab exodus. For this reason the debate on the importance and validity of such a policy has raged since its release with other pertinent Israeli military documents in the early 1980s. Recent historians have studied Plan Dalet and its method in depth. The interpretation from these historians may differ but they all agree on its oppressive and unfair nature. This is one of the beliefs that separates the “New Historians” from the traditional.

Many claim Plan Dalet demonstrated Israel’s vindictive and unnecessarily brutal order to execute the war on its behalf. The official Israeli defense of this measure was that the policy was a legitimate military maneuver to remove from behind their own controlled lines any chance of infiltration of irregular military activity, snipers, saboteurs and spies. “It allowed the expulsion of hostile or potentially hostile Arab villages. Many villages were bases for bands of irregulars; most villages had armed militias and could serve as bases for hostile bands.”[14] The evidence shows some validity to this claim. However, Israel’s critics have surmised that this points to the official illegal policy of expulsion, something the Arabs and their proxies have claimed was done consciously and deliberately to remove the Arab presence from the boundaries of the new state of Israel.


The objective of Plan Dalet was the establishment by force of arms of the Jewish state in the Jewish and Palestinian lands assigned to it by the UNGA partition recommendation and the conquest of as much additional territory (particularly Jerusalem) as possible.[15]


As Khalidi’s interpretation reflects, the Plan Dalet strategy had two objectives. It was the willful and intentional policy of aggressive usurpation of Arab property and possessions. And, within this strategy the conquest by Israel of as much Arab territory as possible not assigned to it by UN Resolution 181. This reflects the most extreme view of the meaning of Israeli policies during the war. The fact that Arab civilians fled sometimes as a result of Plan Dalet, even Benny Morris concedes that it was only designed to force enemy combatants to leave. [16]

The 1950s historians never mention Plan Dalet by name, obviously, because of the classified nature of Israel’s military at the time. However, the tactical maneuvering of the policy is described in detail. Jerusalem is probably the most written about use of Plan Dalet because of a couple of reasons. Called Operation Nachshon, it amounted to the single largest military battle initiated by Israel during the war. The Jews succeeded in reaching besieged Jerusalem’s 100,000 Jews with badly needed supplies, including water. The Israelis were victorious in removing the towns along the route harboring irregulars who routinely attacked and prevented Jewish convoys from reaching the city. The building of the “Burma Road” to bypass Arab held Latrun has been hailed as a one of the greatest Israeli victories of the war.

The most difficult maneuver in Operation Nachshon was the taking of Kastel. Its strategic high ground, the town’s possession of the water pumping station and its position at the gateway into Jewish Jerusalem was an essential target for the Haganna command. However, after a bloody fight with both sides taking many casualties, the town settled into Arab hands. In order to clear the rest of the way to insure a safe road to Jerusalem, Jewish engineers built a bypass road from an existing “donkey track” and a secondary road widened to allow the lories of the time to bypass  two miles south of the Latrun and enabling Israeli forces to convoy the needed supplies into Jerusalem. They dubbed this project “The Burma Road” after the World War II site a few years earlier. The 1950s historians revere this accomplishment as “a magnificent demonstration of their (the Israelis) ability to improvise.”[17] Modern historians however, do not mention the Burma Road. At least, it is never discussed in any kind of substantive discourse. Their discussion of the Plan Dalet objectives emphasizes the taking of many Arab towns along the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. Jewish forces took almost two hundred towns during the war, a large percentage of those during Operation Nachshon.[18] One that has reached more notoriety than the others was Deir Yassin. Used as the “poster” town of Plan Dalet, Deir Yassin was taken on April 8-9, 1948. Like most of the issues of the overall conflict it has been built into a “cottage industry” of sorts by the “New Historian” crowd.  Far too complexed to enter into a discussion here, Deir Yassin deserves its own historiography. So, I will leave it for a different time.

Sometimes the evacuation of Lydda and Ramle, which accounted for more than 50,000 refugees is used as the prooftext for those who hold Khalidi’s view on the purposes of Plan Dalet. Khalidi and his counterparts held the policy concerning these two towns was especially oppressive and punitive against the innocent.

The real treasure of Tom Segev’s research into 1949 lies in the footnotes and aftermatter of his work. It is there that the real history of the time can be found. Segev provides us with probably the richest assortment of translated Israeli documents into English released in the 1980s. From his work we see for the first time, reactions to Lydda and Ramle. The case for Lydda is a difficult one. Strategically it contained the only modern airport in Palestine and was therefore a militarily legitimate objective of the Israeli army for capture. Segev interprets the taking of Lydda and the evacuation (expulsion) of Arab refugees as one of the most egregious crimes of Israel during the war. Maybe the most interesting note during this passage is Segev’s narrative on the memoir of Yitzhak Rabin who was a company commander during the conquest of Lydda and Ramle.


He (Rabin)  asked Ben Gurion what was to be done with the inhabitants of Lydda and  Ramle.  According to (Rabin) Ben Gurion responded with a gesture which Rabin interpreted as indicating expulsion.[19]

Given that the historians of the early fifties were without the benefit of concise, direct military documents used by Segev and others to draw together a story of unnecessary conquest, Kenneth Bilby used the information that he was privy to at the time. Through conversations and personal witnessing by Mr. Bilby, his treatment of Lydda reads more like a military campaign while Segev’s reads more like a brutal occupation and forced expulsion. It is not my intent here to conclude who is right and who is wrong but it is impossible not to be moved by the difference in the interpretation between the two authors.

Bilby, praises the Israeli army for fighting like “a modern army, with infantry and armor working in close cohesion and with the Air Force bombing and strafing ahead of the ground forces.” [20] It is interesting to note that Bilby clearly states at the end of the battle: “4000 to 5500 Arab men of fighting age fell into Israeli hands, as well as another 40,000 civilians, who were given the right to leave their homes and move into Arab territory.”[21] Segev admits that the Arabs of Ramle and Lydda were given the choice to stay or go, but, because he is privy to the recent Israeli released documents, he chooses to look at the offer as more or less an order of expulsion through the words of the minister of Agriculture at the time who regretted the evacuation of the residents of these cities.


I have to say that this phrase (regarding the treatment of Ramlah’s inhabitants is a subtle order to expel the Arabs from Ramlah. If I’d received such an order this is how I would have interpreted it. An order given during the conquest which states that the door is open and that all the Arabs may leave, regardless of age and sex, or they may stay, however, the army will not be responsible for providing food. When such things are said during the actual conquest, at the moment of conquest, and after all that has already happened in Jaffa and other places… I would interpret it as a warning, “Save yourselves while you can and get out!” [22]


Unlike Morris, Segev and Khalidi, Bilby and his contemporaries were never privy to military documents that defined Israel’s victory in the war. However, he was in Israel from about the middle of May, 1948 and throughout the year of 1949. He knew many people, were embedded on many Israeli military drives and had first hand access to both Arab and Israeli leaders.[23] This gave him a point of view of living the history while it was unfolding before his eyes.

From his unique perspective he does talk about Plan Dalet as Israel’s drive to remove the Arab military presence from Jewish Palestine. “The Arabs had lost nearly two hundred villages and such important towns as Haifa, Jaffa, Tiberias and Safed.” Bilby, being pro-Zionist, touts this accomplishment as a great victory for Israel. He goes on to say, “The Jews held all of the territory allocated them by the partition plan, except for unimportant slivers in eastern Galilee, the Plain of Sharon, and the south. They had made deep intrusions into Arab Palestine. [24] The “New Historians” view the same Israeli victory with much skepticism. Morris pointed to the “problematic political contexts—the international context of future Israeli-Arab relations, Israeli-United Nations relations and Israeli-United States relations and the local political context of a coalition government.”[25] Their Arab counterparts regard this part of the war as a series of disastrous events. Khalidi refers to the fight for Jaffa, as “death by strangulation rather than by frontal assault.” [26] For the fall of Haifa, Khalidi is not quite so morose but refers to the Arab population of Haifa in terms of being overwhelmed by a bigger, stronger, more well equipped Jewish force.[27]

The differences in the interpretation of the same policy spelled out by two sets of historians are not only distinctive but represent a complete diametrically opposed set of interpretations. Simply, historians in the 50s regarded this policy as legitimate and necessary, and marveled at the results. Where as later historians, mostly taking the Arab side regarded Plan Dalet as a catastrophe.

The issue of terminology, not usually a concern in history unless much greater spans of time are involved, has significant implications in this conflict. The use of words can change the way an entire generation views itself and others. The terms used to describe the War of 1948 between then and now have an interesting historiography to them. The difference in interpretations are so opposed to one another that a concerted effort on the part of the “New Historians” and others have launched a campaign to amend the use of certain terms. Calculatingly useful, these terms serve to help in the agenda of this revised view of the history.

In the histories that are pro-Israel during the 1950s, the Israelis are almost always referred to as “the Jews.” [28] Very seldom are they referred to as Israelis and almost never as the Zionists. Zionism is mentioned as the political ideology, which gives the Jews their sovereign political base. It is never used to describe the Israelis during social, political, strategic, operational, or tactical situations before the war.

On April 8 the troops of the Transjordan Arab Legion had opened fire on the Jew in lower Galilee [29] These Jewish soldiers were tough and Zealous.[30]

However, in the opposing histories of the last thirty years, the word “Jews” has been supplanted with “Zionists.” The word “Jews” or “Jewish” is never referred to in these more modern accounts unless specifically referring to the religion of Judaism.

It was a meeting of high tension, opening as something of an historical confrontation between the triumphant Zionist and the defeated Palestinians[31] Only the regular Arab armies could counter the Zionist onslaught. [32]

One would have to inquire to each individual author to determine the meaning behind such a change in labels. I can only speculate that it has something to do with the sensitivity regarding accusations of anti-Semitism. These later historians, many of them Jewish themselves, fear a backlash, along with others of losing credibility of being branded with such a label. The Holocaust is almost two generations behind us, but it is a tribute to the immensity of its impact on Western Civilization from the changing of this wording as part of a different historical interpretation to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

On the Arab side, “ Palestinian Arab” was the common terminology used before 1967. The term distinguished them from Palestinian Jews. However, after twenty years and the dismal defeat at the hands of the Israelis in 1967, Palestinian Arabs began to take more of the initiative in determining their own destiny. Forming themselves into a bonified national movement after the war, today it is more popular to describe the clash as a Israeli-Palestinian conflict even though the Arab States with the exception of Egypt and quite recently Jordan have continued a state of belligerency with Israel.

Because of the overbearing influence of the Zionist perspective, the War of 1948 was known almost exclusively as Israel’s War of Independence. The historians of the time used it without reservation. Once again the silence of the Arab side established an issue of the war that was destined for contention in the future. Again, no opposition during the years immediately following its conclusion gave historians a free hand. However, since Arab writers began to publish more and more their view after 1967, the term “Nakba” has come to mean for the Arab world what Israel’s “War of Independence” has meant to the Jewish world. “Nakba” loosely translated means “calamity” or “disaster.”

The historiography covered in this paper reflects a complexity indicating that such a solution might not be so easy. Accusations fly back and forth between the traditional and the “New Historians” of being selective in citing the history, altering documentation, and deliberately trying to damage the State of Israel whether for ideological or personal financial reasons. The interpretation of this history reflects the politics that drives the conflict. As the historians argue with more ferocity, so does the animosity between the belligerents.

Both sets of historians tell, more or less, the same story only in different time periods. Their references were obviously different, they wrote at different times in history, and were greatly affected by the politics of the day. The earlier historians had the benefit of living through the horrors of World War II, watched the end of colonialism, and the shift in world power from Europe to the United States. The later historians were the benefactors of the beginning of the information age, had written documentation to back up their assertions and a profited by a changed world once the Soviet Union fell in 1991. Put simply, the earlier historians were classic 1950s liberals and the later historians were greatly influenced by Marx and his writings. In other words each set of historians wrote the history influenced by the time in which they wrote, and further influenced by the popular politics of the day.



[1] Kenneth Bilby, New Star in the Near East, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1950.

[2] Segev, Tom, 1949: The First Israelis, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998.

[3]  Bilby, New Star, p. 38.

 [4] McDonald, My Mission, p. 49. The word “truce” here signifies the armistice signed between Israel and the Arab states involved in the fighting. Each Arab state negotiated its own “truce” with Israel during the first half of 1949. Egypt was the first and Syria was the last which did not happen until July 20th. Iraq never signed the armistice, probably because with no common border with Israel it was of more advantage to keep the state of war in full bloom.

[5] Joseph Dunner, The Republic of Israel: Its History and Its Promise, New York: Whittlesey house, 1950, p. 98

[6] Dunner, “ Republic, “p. 98

[7] Bilby, “New Star,” p. 9

[8]Habib Issa, in the daily US-published Lebanese newspaper Al Hoda, June 8 1951 (New York) “The Secretary General of the Arab League, Azzam Pasha, assured the Arab peoples that the occupation of Palestine and of Tel Aviv would be as simple as a military promenade…  He pointed out that they were already on the frontiers and that all the millions the Jews had spent on land and economic development would be easy booty, for it would be a simple matter to throw Jews into the Mediterranean…  Brotherly advice was given to the Arabs of Palestine to leave their land, homes, and property and to stay temporarily in neighboring fraternal states, lest the guns of the invading Arab armies mow them down.”

[9] Dunner, Republic of Israel, P. 100.

[10] Edward Said, The Politics of Dispossession: The Struggle for Palestinian Self-Determination,  1969-1994, New York: Vintage Books, 1995. p. xiii.

[11] The classic agreement between right and left might possibly be that both the Soviet Union and the United States were the first two countries to recognize the Jewish State in the hours after Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948. Both continued to support the Jewish state during those first few years of its existence. Of course by 1955 the Soviets had branded Israel an aggressor and supported Nasser during the Suez Crisis. However, the Soviets stood clearly behind Israel throughout the duration of the 1948 War. “December 2, 1948…Ever since its birth this State declared that it wished to live in peace and entertain peaceful relations with all its neighbors. And with all the nations of the world, “ Soviet statement at UN, David Ben Gurion, Israel: A personal History, Tel Aviv: American Israel Publishing, 1971,  p.466.

[12] Yoram Hazony, The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel’s Soul, p.181-193 passim. Hazony, who holds to the traditional view that Zionism is not “evil’ and the war of 1948 was just, covers Buber’s life points concerning his objection to Zionism and its aims. He describes on p.193 what Buber calls for ultimately instead of an independent Jewish state run by Jews, “a binational State in which the Jews are a part of a binational Palestinian state or a broader Arab-Jewish coalition, into which the Jews living in Palestine would be absorbed as a minority.”

[13] Benny Morris, “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem,” The Reference Shelf: The Palestinian Problem, Andrew C. Kimmens, editor, Volume 61, No. 1, New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1989.  p.67. An interesting caveat exists through this particular passage of Morris’s narrative. Part of the passage reads “…round up and expel the remaining villagers, (usually old people, widows, cripples)…” Sitting inside parentheses it is hard to tell if this is something added by the author or by the editor of the reader in which it was printed. At anyrate it is an excellent example of the shift in political thinking that is pervasive throughout anti-Zionist thought. How does one know exactly who was expelled? Without citation of such a charge it remains an inexcusable assumption.

[14] Morris, “Palestinian Problems,” p. 68

[15] Walid Khalidi, editor,  “Selected Documents of the 1948 Palestine War, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 27, No. 3, (Spring, 1998). p. 60.

[16] Morris, “Palestinian Problem,” p. 68. “It was not a strategy designed to precipitate civilian flight.”

[17] Bilby, “A New Star, p.36.

[18] Bilby, “A New Star, p.37. These are Bilby’s figures. From the Arab side the number goes up much higher than that. Obviously, there is another bone of contention in this area of the interpretation.

[19] Tom Segev, 1949: The First Israelis, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998, p. 26-27. As with all translated documents the translation is always suspect on words that can go either way but it is generally the prerogative of translator. It should be noted here that Segev’s translation would have to be checked for accuracy. The word in Hebrew for evacuation or expulsion can be the same

[20] Bilby, A New Star, p. 43

[21] Bilby, A New Star, p.44

[22] Segev, 1949, p. 27. This is the exact quote as Segev wrote it into the book. Of course this is contextual comment, placed by Segev to promote his interpretation of events. It would be interesting to see what precipitated Cizling’s comment and the discussion that ensued after he said it. Segev, does not provide it. I would interpret Segev’s meaning that  it was his opinion that those comments were not relevant to this discussion..

[23] Bilby, A New Star, p. 1-6 passim. Hard dates of arrival and departure are not given. But in the first chapter it is clear that he observed the critical time in question. Bilby says on page 2, “I visited Sassa (an Israeli settlement in late 1949)…for two years, through the final days of the British Mandate, the months of abortive Arab invasion, and the tedious weeks of armistice negotiations, I had lived in Israel or on its Arab periphery.” Having military documents of a war to refer to provides a great advantage in writing a history. But, even missing those documents, to be there and witness with your own eyes and write while your observations are still fresh in your mind also has meaning for the historian. Therefore, I don’t think Bilby or his contemporaries can be ignored because they were “too close to the history, or because they never had the advantage of the hindsight and analysis of the pertinent documentation.”

[24] Bilby, A New Star, p. 37.

[25] Morris, “Palestinian Problems,” p.71.

[26] Khalidi, “Selected Documents,” p.99

[27] Khalidi, “Selected Documents,” p. 89-90. In his introductory notes for this section Khalidi describes the Arab forces as never really having a chance against the vastly superior Jewish forces, backed up by the colluding Mandatory authority in the city.  “ There was no ALA (Arab Liberation Army) in Haifa, only citizen volunteers. The garrison was about 450 strong, armed with British and French rifles, World War I vintage…In contrast, Haifa was the home of a recruiting base of the 2000 strong Carmeli or Second Brigade…With a green light from Stockwell, (Haifa Mandatory Governor) the Carmeli Brigade went into action…outcome, permanent occupation of the Arab quarters and the evacuation of their inhabitants. The Carmeli Brigade’s full force was unleashed on a civilian population of some 75,000 crowded into an area no more than 1.5 square kilometers.”

[28] We have no studies coming from the Arab side but we do have a number of documents that show that the word “Jews” was the common terminology to describe Jewish Palestine from the Arab side as well. Khalidi,  Selected Documents, p.66. From the letter written by General Safwat to the General command of the Arab League’s Palestine Committee on the strengths and weaknesses of both sides he says,  “We have not yet been able to assess the Jewish forces’ level of training and fighting capability…”

[29] Dunner, Republic, p.96. It is interesting that on p. 99 Dunner refers to “The Arab States proudly asserted that their armies were in Palestine at the invitation of the Palestine Arabs to the ‘Zionist terrorist gangs.’”

[30] Bilby, New Star, p.10

[31] Segev, 1949, p.53. The use of Palestinians here is also significant as they were always referred to as Arabs in earlier works.

[32] Khalidi, Selected Documents, p. 62.

Jewish community examiner

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