Why Did the Palestinians Leave, Revisited
The myth that the Palestinian exodus of 1948 was triggered by orders from the Arab leaders-a cornerstone of the official Israeli version of the 1948 war and intended to absolve it of responsibility for the refugee problem-dies hard. Thus, it continues to be deployed by apologists for Israel as a means of blaming the Palestinians for their own fate. Even Benny Morris, one of whose major conclusions in his 1986 The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem was to discredit the Israeli claim, cannot seem to let go of it completely. Thus, the conclusion of the substantially revised update of the book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (2004), states that although the Arab Higher Committee (AHC) and the local National Committees made efforts to block the exodus of army-aged males, "at the same time, they actively promoted the depopulation of villages and towns. Many thousands of Arabs-women, children, and old people . . . left, well before battle was joined, as a result of advice and orders from local Arab commanders and officials. . . . Indeed, already months before the war the Arab states and the AHC had endorsed the removal of dependents from active and potential combat zones. . . . There can be no exaggerating the importance of these early, Arab-initiated evacuations in the demoralization, and eventual exodus, of the remaining rural and urban populations" (pp. 589-90). Given the endurance of this central plank of the Israeli doctrine of 1948, JPS has decided to reprint for the first time a difficult-to-obtain article published in July 1959 by Walid Khalidi in a long-defunct periodical of the American University of Beirut (AUB), Middle East Forum. Entitled "Why Did the Palestinians Leave? An Examination of the Zionist Version of the Exodus of '48," the article was based on a talk Professor Khalidi gave at AUB earlier that year. After tracing the origins and first appearance of the Zionist claim, the article, using AHC and Arab League archival material, Arab and Palestinian press releases and reports, Arab and Haganah radio broadcasts, and other Arab and Israeli sources exhaustively rebuts the claim through showing both what the broadcasts did not say and what they did say. JPS is reprinting the article as is.While the July 1959 article debunks the myth using documents at the national or Arab level, a second article by Professor Khalidi published in December 1959, "The Fall of Haifa," touches on the Arab orders at the local level, an issue equally emphasized by Morris. The article, also published in the Middle East Forum, puts the exodus from the city after the Haganah offensive that led to its capture in April 1948 within the overall military context: Anglo-Zionist collusion, the balance of power, and so on. The article also deals directly with the orders and reproduces the texts of the eleven communiqués issued by the Haifa National Committee between the UN General Assembly partition decision (November 1947) and the fall of Haifa in April, all of which have bearing on the subject. JPS is reproducing these pages as an appendix but intends to publish "The Fall of Haifa" in its entirety at a later date.
Walid Khalidi, a founder of the Institute for Palestine Studies and its general secretary, is a former professor at Oxford University, the American University of Beirut, and Harvard University.