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'Thanks for doing Zionism's filthy work': A response to Ari Shavit

Israeli journalist Ari Shavit expresses gratitude for the perpetrators of the Lydda expulsion and massacre — for doing the ‘filthy work,’ explaining that, even ‘the critics of later years enjoyed the fruits of their deed.’ A response to Shavit’s ‘Lydda, 1948‘, published in The New Yorker.

By Ami Asher

Palestinians being expelled from Lydda in 1948 during Operation Dani. (Palmach archive)

Palestinian historian Nur Massalha wrote that from time to time, starting as early as 1949, Israelis have been periodically washed by waves of revelations and remorse for the injustices that enabled the establishment of a Jewish State. As an Israeli Jew, I know them well: articles are published, impassioned debates keep you awake, (Jewish) friends turn temporarily into foes, but then the wave recedes without leaving a mark on the beach and life returns to normal.

As part of the most recent Nakba wave, Ari Shavit chose to visit Lydda (or Lod, in Hebrew). Following that journey, he shared some very partial revelations in a classic Zionist-apologetic text that leads to a very clear conclusion: it is our duty to find out about what happened, but we must never challenge the premises with which we ventured on this journey. Relax, everything’s OK, we’ll weather this wave as well.

Shavit struggles to make sense of the “black box of Zionism,” as he calls Lydda. He starts by describing the neighboring Jewish youth village of Ben Shemen and also ends there, with a commanding view of the town. A Palmach militia fighter recently interviewed as part of Zochrot’s oral history project had a similar point of view to offer. Look at the town as you drive past it on your way back to Tel Aviv, he said, and imagine it bustling with a million Palestinians – then you will thank me.

Shavit is just as candid. He too feels enormous gratitude for the perpetrators of the Lydda massacre for doing the “filthy work” because even “the critics of later years,” who I can only assume include the likes of me, “enjoyed the fruits of their deed.” This zero-sum hypothesis – us or them – is the very essence of Zionism.

Are Lydda and Ben Shemen necessarily mutually exclusive? Do the fruits justify absolutely anything? Do we enjoy them so much that we must keep our mouths shut, or else keep singing the refrain?

I would like to add to the picture of Lydda painted by Shavit from a safe distance several facts that as an Israeli I find impossible to bear. The first has to do with the circumstances of Shmarya Gutman’s arrival in Lydda (Gutman was subsequently appointed the military governor of Lydda and oversaw its residents’ expulsion). “On July 11, 1948, he was looking for Yigal Allon on an intelligence matter,” writes Shavit without elaborating. Gutman headed the Palmach’s Arab Department, many of whose operations – such as the attempt to poison Gaza’s water supply – are still considered taboo in Israeli historiography. His soldiers still refuse to speak, believing that in doing so they are protecting us – perhaps if we knew what it really took, we would regret the whole thing, maybe let the refugees return – who knows?

In a 1988 testimony, Gutman says he arrived to the Lydda area expecting “another” wave of refugees his agents (Jews from Arab countries) could use as hitchhikers and cross the border. Indeed, his agents operated in many countries, reporting on the refugees’ attitudes and military movements. Allon, however, had a different task for him, and appointed him governor of the occupied town, in charge of the unpleasant task of ethnically cleansing it. Gutman sums his personal tragedy as follows: “First Lod was gone. It started walking off and I was very sorry we weren’t able to send [our] people with those people.”

The other facts have to do with the mosque massacre. Shavit dedicates a mere eight sentences to this atrocity. His facts are correct but incomplete and the reader can easily miss the import of the words “two hundred and fifty Palestinians were killed,” especially as he uses the Zionist passive tense. As published in an interview in Yedioth HaKibbutz in February 2013, it was Yerachmiel Kahanovich who shot his anti-tank weapon into the mosque, and the results were “not pretty. They were all squashed on the walls.”

Read Kahanovich’s first-hand account of the Lydda massacre

This was not part of what Shavit calls “a tragic chain of accidental events” but a deliberate act. Kahanovich received an order and obeyed it. The order was designed to expedite the expulsion of the town’s civilian population. It is difficult to justify such a cold-blooded massacre, and even those who would justify the expulsion would find it difficult to envision Kahanovich standing with his Browning machine gun above the dry riverbed awash with refugees to make sure that “whoever strayed off the path got shot.”

As if that weren’t enough, another fighter, Benjamin (“Rusky”) Eshet, testified in a video made for Zochrot that the mosque had to be cleaned up after the massacre. Local “volunteers” were recruited, and when they finished burying the dead, some of Eshet’s friends volunteered to shoot them – to make sure they too would be buried with their mouths shut, so that later critics would be able to quietly enjoy the fruits of the filth.

When I hear such testimonies, it feels as though time stood still in 1948, that we are still too traumatized to even begin recovering. Shavit also feels that way, as he concludes his articles by saying “columns like the column of Lydda never stop marching.” There is only one way of stopping the column – without using a machine gun, please. We must let the marchers and their descendants turn back home. Only then will Lydda, Ben Shemen, and the entire country be able to start living in the present tense.

The author is a member of Zochrot, a translator and editor.

Related:
Between anger and denial: Israeli collective memory and the Nakba
Despite efforts to erase it, the Nakba’s memory is more present than ever in Israel
For Palestinian citizens, 1956 massacre is not a distant memory

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Zionism’s filty work is going on, every single day. Shavit must be a privileged human being who wakes up and goes to bed every single day with a feeling of gratitude.
      Unlike Benny Morris who wakes up and goes to bed with regret, because Ben-Gurion didn’t finish the job. Morris describes himself as “left”, that’s all you need to know about zionism.

      As for the “premises”: the only one that really mattered was “How does the British empire keep control of the Suez Canal?”

      Reply to Comment
    2. Vadim

      Is is simply wrong to judge actions done more than 60 years ago by today’s standards. The Yishuv was fighting for its life, right after our people were systematically slaughtered. We did not have the privilege nor the capability to be perfect. The Yishuv fought like others would have fought, probably better than most. But war is war, it’s a dirtier than writing shocked righteous articles 60 years afterwards.

      It takes maturity to admit mistakes and evil deeds were made, it takes courage to examine the hard parts of your history. We do that more than many others.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gearoid

        You are a disgusting, immoral coward if you try and justify in ANY way ethnic cleansing and firing anti-tank weaponry into a crowded mosque.

        I have nothing but curses for the likes of you. You are scum. There is no covering that up.

        Reply to Comment
        • Dave

          I’m always fascinated by the spectacle of Gentiles,, when confronted with the reality of Israel, warts and all, immediately commence with the noises of outrage and misplaced sanctimony, and then as a bonus, start in with their; “Look Ma! Clean Hands!” routine. Don’t kid yourselves for a minute. Israel was conceived at Dreyfuss’s trial, and born in a gas chamber at Auschwitz. The massacre at Lyyda, while horrific, was no less horrific than its catalysts.

          Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          Exploding a mosque full of Muslims needs about as much justification as murder of a single Muslim female for dating a non-Muslim – none.

          Reply to Comment
      • Cast Lead, Pillar of Cloud? The continuous arresting and torturing of children? It takes maturity to accept that you have been fooled and are part of a fascist regime. There is continuity from Herzl to Netanyahu, there never was a revolution, military or moral in the Yishuv or Israel. Just step out or get your head shaved.

        Reply to Comment
      • andrew r

        “Is is simply wrong to judge actions done more than 60 years ago by today’s standards.”

        The standards exist only in the minds of the perpetrators (or their latter-day apologists). Many Palestinian intellectuals wrote about the possibility of the Zionist colonial-settlers expelling them, just as Zionists wrote about the wish to do exactly that before WWI. What happened in 1948 was not in the heat of battle; if anything, the Yishuv was inhibited by the gradual withdrawal of the British and certain political considerations (i.e. Nazareth was almost expelled like Lydda before Ben-Gurion rescinded the order).

        On the other side of the table, Jewish survivors of persecution aren’t taking the same advice that Zionists expect Palestinians to heed (i.e. walk away and forget everything). And at least 100,000 Israelis have a German passport they were entitled to because their ancestors were expelled by the Third Reich – enjoying the same right Israel denies to Palestinians.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          >What happened in 1948 was not in the heat of battle;

          Oh, it was, as a matter of fact.

          >if anything, the Yishuv was inhibited by the gradual withdrawal of the British and certain political considerations (i.e. Nazareth was almost expelled like Lydda before Ben-Gurion rescinded the order).

          Oh, I thought that the war declared by neighboring Arab states AND hostile Arab population was to blame.

          >On the other side of the table, Jewish survivors of persecution aren’t taking the same advice that Zionists expect Palestinians to heed (i.e. walk away and forget everything). And at least 100,000 Israelis have a German passport they were entitled to because their ancestors were expelled by the Third Reich – enjoying the same right Israel denies to Palestinians.

          Jews never rejected Germans their basic human rights, nor Jews had ever massacred Germans, neither Jews are pushing for Deutschfrei Germany.

          Reply to Comment
      • It seems to me, Vadim, that if one is going to give a pass to stateless Zionists committing massacres in war, one should give the same pass to stateless Palestinians committing massacres in war.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          >It seems to me, Vadim, that if one is going to give a pass to stateless Zionists committing massacres in war, one should give the same pass to stateless Palestinians committing massacres in war.

          Yeah, with the only one minor difference – Zionists committed massacres to get a state, while Palestinians are committing massacres to deprive Zionists of the said state.

          Reply to Comment
      • tod

        Vadim, this is basic hasbara, no more, no less.

        Reply to Comment
      • Firstly, today’s standards are no higher or harder to meet than yesterday’s, in spite of the proliferation of human rights legislation – people are very good at justifying war crimes in the service of national interests. Secondly, this particular crime is still unfolding – the villagers of Umm al-Khair were expelled once in ’48 and now they’re slated for forcible transfer to Area A, an experience that feels no different from the first. This is precisely what makes Nakba history so hard for many Israelis to grasp; the fact that it isn’t historical. A common complaint among First Nations activists in the USA is the number of people who honestly believe that American Indians have died out, or at least are assimilated enough for their heritage to be irrelevant except as a cultural curio – and it is this misperception that makes it possible for the general public to look at bloodstained Native history. This gets harder when you’re being forced to see such a history in the form of people on your doorstep and in the reality of their daily lives. Do you remember when Yossi Sarid tried to include a poem of Mahmoud Darwish in the curriculum and the result was a vote of no-confidence that the Barak government only just got through? Over a poem. This is not a society that is good at scrutinising difficult history (which is still within living memory).

        Thirdly, the Holocaust is often invoked as a reason why the Nakba should not have occurred, as though cruelty of that magnitude should have inoculated every Jew everywhere against becoming a perpetrator. I agree with the Holocaust survivor Ruth Kluger when she writes that Auschwitz wasn’t a summer education camp in ethics and that this is a completely unreasonable expectation to have. But the criticism is also true in reverse: the Holocaust couldn’t have acted as a moral preventative, but it isn’t carte blanche for the Nakba either.

        Finally, why do you write about the Lydda massacre in second-person plural? You weren’t there. You did not kill those people. I think that identifying with the killers to such a degree makes it more difficult for to see what they did. You talk as though this is ancient history, but there are people still alive who survived what happened in Lydda – would your comment be the same if you knew that some of them would read it, with you suggesting that Israel deserves at least a B+ by the standards of the day? You should also think about people who grew up with stories like these in their families, and what it means to such people to wake up with soldiers in the street next day. (I know one or two elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease who find this a particularly difficult experience.) Rather than trying to minimise the past, I think it is more helpful to think about how you will relate to such people and their families in the present day.

        Reply to Comment
    3. David T.

      “Is is simply wrong to judge actions done more than 60 years ago by today’s standards.

      You’re still keeping them expelled and denationalized because of their faith.

      And you are still trying to drive them out them with blockade, collective punishment, occupation, demolition of their homes and villages, burning down their agriculture, economic warfare, preventing them to use their water resources and multiple other war crimes and crimes againt humanity.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Annie L.

      What is more shocking than the confession of atrocities committed against unarmed, terrified citizens is the banality with which those confessions are made. Justice never came for them. The Banality of Evil as Hannah Arendt described it of the same evil in a different location. May justice be done.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >What is more shocking than the confession of atrocities committed against unarmed, terrified citizens

        What is even more shocking is that a military operation against a fortified town filled with armed Arab legionnaires and Bedouin volunteers is called a massacre.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Joel

      The decision to depopulate Lydda-Ramle was of a military, not political, nature.

      Moshe Dayan’s bloody ‘drive by’ through Lydda may have been a rogue, independent decision, not an order that came down through the chain of command.

      Reply to Comment
    6. As I have held elsewhere on this site, I think significant Return into Israel neither politically nor economically feasible. But one can begin by at least saying “never again”–starting with the Bedouin now.

      All Western developed countries have terrible histories. You cannot totally redress the past, but you can stop repeating that past, at least in your own land.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >But one can begin by at least saying “never again”–starting with the Bedouin now.

        These events are not even remotely comparable… But honesty was never on the list of “left’s” virtues.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Nabka entails dispossession, which is exactly what will happen to the Bedouin soon, including a village promised final status in 1956. You could at least refuse that. But, “it is permissible to lie for Ersatz Israel.”

          The way out of the Nabka impasse is to not deny it in full, nor deny its badges in the present. Unless your Arab citizens are to be ever kept in their place.

          Reply to Comment
    7. Laurent Szyster

      Bla, bla, bla and “We must let the marchers and their descendants turn back home. Only then will Lydda, Ben Shemen, and the entire country be able to start living in the present tense.”

      Yeah, let a few hundreds of thousands of those descendants “return” to Lod so that the entire country can be able to live the 1949 war again …

      (“Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them” – Georges Orwell)

      Reply to Comment
    8. rose

      So let’s justify or forget everything Laurent, so that you can sleep well at night.

      Reply to Comment
      • Laurent Szyster

        I don’t forget nor justify anything.

        I just pointed to an inconvenient truth : the “return” of the refugee descendants to Lod is not a solution.

        The only peaceful solution is to grant citizenship to those descendants in their countries of birth.

        That’s how refugee problems have been solved around the world since 1945 and that’s how UNHCR resolves refugee crisis until now.

        PS: I and the whole family on my mother’s side cannot “return” to Aleppo in Syria. But that’s not a problem because we have not been kept in limbo for the last 65 years by UNRWA or the states we settled in.

        Reply to Comment
    9. XYZ

      The Palestinian people as well as their leader praise and honor Palestinian terrorists who carried out horrific atrocities, including the suicide bombings which were as bad as anything described here, yet I don’t see people here at 972 saying this puts some kind of stain on the Palestinian fight against Israel. I do not accept any sort of thinking that says “we Jews-Israelis are supposed to be better than other people”. If Palestinians are not to be judged for carrying out terrible acts, I don’t see why us Israelis should be either.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Vadim

      Gearoid – I honestly don’t care what you have for me, but please read again what I have written.

      Engelbert – Israel is not fascist, no matter how many time you repeat it. It simply isn’t. Cast Lead and Pillar of Cloud were both military operations performed for specific reasons. Both caused casualties in the other side, probably much less than a similar operation performed by any other country in similar conditions. I have no moral problem with them. It’s very simple – You don’t want tanks to shoot at your home? Don’t fire missiles from your backyard…

      Larry – I’m not giving anyone a pass. Atrocities were committed during the 1948 war, there’s no way around that. But – 1. The standards were a bit different back then and it’s unfair to judge them by today’s standards. If you compare us to other wars waged during that time, we’ll be like Noah (“Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time”) – we were OK by then’s standards and that’s all that matters. 2. Luckily, the other side didn’t have many opportunities to perform similar actions. But boy, did they use every one they had. 3. I learn history to know what happened and it takes maturity to face the fact that we have done wrong. Israel doesn’t have to be perfect, don’t confuse a sense of acceptance with justification.

      Tod – you seem to put too much meaning into the word Hasbara. That’s silly. I can both support Israel and accept the fact that crimes were committed. I understand we’re not perfect. That takes maturity, which the other side completely lacks.

      Reply to Comment
    11. MARIO BEHAR

      What follows is my today’s comment sent to the original publisher “The NEW YORKER”. I am posting it here with the hope that more people (not only within the discussion here, but also everywhere in the world) will WANT & start seeing the main topic (Israel’s “atrocities” – of “the only country capable of committing such”) with the eyes of Vadim, XYZ, Laurent Szyster and others …

      My own text follows:

      Subject: about Avi Shavit’s “Lydda, 1948″ and the predominatly unpleasant negative responses …
      Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2013 15:29:50 -0500
      From: mario behar
      To: Editor of NewYorker magazine

      “To the Editor of “The NEW YORKER”:

      I did not have the chance to read Avi Shavit’s October 21, 2013 “Lydda, 1948″ article but I came across the three comments published in your Nov. 4th, 2013 issue. (The only portion of the article I succeeded to read post-factum is the one in your website available for non-subscribers. In addition, after a web search, I found some full text independent comments related to the article … Every single piece of text is either of “soul searching” by always “feeling guilt” Jews, or an outright BLAME on these “atrocious” and “duplicitous” “cruel” Jews – by non-Jews or gone-to-the-extreme “soul searching” Jews) …

      I am aware that comments on this article are most probably closed, but anyway I hope that at least you, publishers and editors, will consider something very basic when giving space to matters related to Israel’s “conscience” … There is one very essential saying in French, namely “A la guerre, comme a la guerre” … Please pay attention when the events in question have taken place: 11th & 12th of July 1948 – two months after five Arab armies (supported by the British; YES, the Arab League army was a British led army) invaded the UN determined territories for a Jewish state with the clearly declared intent to suffocate the new state and annihilate the Jews by driving them “into the sea”! What was supposed Israel to do in such circumstances? How was it supposed to react? To once again, to the pleasing of all perennially Jew-despising nations, let itself be driven to gas chambers or open seas? {To everybody’s “normal” mind Arabs’ unsuccessful and sinister intent is apparently “benign”; fledgling Israel’s successful acts in crystal clear SELF DEFENSE are “atrocious” and “despicable” (?!?!?!?)} …

      When will all this double standard of judging historical events end?
      - Where is the ink and printer paper devoted scrutinizingly to the atrocities in Arab countries that drove, not 700000 but, 850000 Jews from their homes in Arab countries in the 1940′s & 1950′s?
      - Where is the ink and printer paper devoted scrutinizingly to the non-sensical revengeful destruction of one of the greatest cultural centers of Europe – the city of Dresden, during WWII by the British & American Air Forces?
      - Where is the ink and printer paper devoted scrutinizingly to the revengeful (and maybe cruel; I don’t know because historians shun from such “unpleasant” and “inconvenient” topics) driving out of millions of Germans from Silesia, Königsberg, and Sudetia, or German-speaking people from Moldova and Romania during and after WWII?
      - Where is the ink and printer paper devoted scrutinizingly to what happened to the Turks in Greece and Greeks in Turkey around the 1920′s?
      - Where is the ink and printer paper devoted scrutinizingly to the real atrocities and thousands upon thousands dead in the wars between Sinhala & Tamil in Sri Lanka?

      This list can go forever, but it will always be neglected because, if not, it will deviate the attention from the always juicier topics that maintain the perennially latent anti-Semitic sentiment against the “ever evil” and “ever-to-be-blamed-for-every-human-deficiency” Jews …

      Sincerely,

      Mario Behar”

      Reply to Comment
    12. Khaled Khalid

      If murdering Palestinians is justified under Zionist doctrine and then killing the “Volunteers” who helped bury the squashed corpses….then at the very least Israel and all Zionists should stop that sanctimonious and fake plaintiff tone.

      Just admit you always want the Palestinian Niggers dead and the Land for your own Jews-only towns and have no intention of living in peace and justice with Palestinians. Just be honest and admit most Israelis are no better than ruthless quasi-Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan.

      Reply to Comment
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