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The accusation that the state of Israel was founded on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arabs is thrown about with great abandon, most recently in letters from two of your correspondents, Charles Murphy and Kevin Squires (Jul 10), despite there being little historical evidence to substantiate it.
The displacement of 650,000-700,000 Arabs took place, according to the best historical sources, in four stages. In the first, the UN General Assembly resolution of Nov 1947 to divide Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state was immediately followed by an upsurge of Arab violence against Jews accompanied by Jewish self-defence and retaliation. In this phase, which lasted until late Mar 1948, the Arab upper and middle classes, numbering about 75,000, fled the country to avoid the violence.
In the second phase, lasting from Apr to Jun 1948, the Jewish armed forces began to win the upper hand over the Arab irregulars and, from May 15 onwards, had to face also the invading armies of five Arab neighbours. About 300,000 of the Arab population fled due to fear and at the urging of the Arab regimes’ radio stations. None were expelled by Jewish forces in either of these phases, nor was there any Zionist policy aimed at doing so.
The third phase took place during the fighting of Jul 1948. About 100,000 of the Arab population fled, of whom about 50,000 were expelled by Israeli forces for military reasons from towns along the fiercely contested Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road. Yet no general expulsion directive was given, and the Israeli military was ordered to treat the Arab population with dignity.
The fourth phase involved the flight of another 200,000 Arabs during the fighting of Oct-Nov 1948, of whom a minority were expelled, the rest as before fleeing to avoid the violence. Large numbers of Arabs stayed on.
The real ethnic cleansing was that of the Jewish civilians driven out of east Jerusalem, where there had been a Jewish majority as far back as 1863. That is not even to mention the 900,000 Jews forced to leave the Arab states from 1948.
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