Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lydda, Israel What Really Happened There? Journalists Give Their Views

Nadene Goldfoot                                                      Ben Gurion Airport                   

Israel was re-created and voted in as a state in the UN on May 14, 1948. 
                                              Ari Shavit, Haaretz journalist in Israel

 Lydda today is called Lod.  It was one of the Arab towns.  The town was captured by the Israelis in 1948.   Ari Shavit, who just recently wrote  "My Promised Land," writes that a massacre was carried out there in the summer of 1948 during the War of Independence.  He writes that this happened because Zionists realized a Jewish State was endangered by this Arab city so they killed 200 people and tens of thousands of Palestinians were forced to leave.

Ari has a very interesting background.  He's a journalist for Haaretz, a liberal newspaper and had once been a member of the left-wing peace movement.  Yet he is an ardent Zionist, himself.  His great grandfather was Herbert Bentwich, a British Jew and well-to-do lawyer who "realized that his tranquil Anglo-Jewish life was endangered, not by anti-Semites but by the dominant culture they were living in.  So he gave up his creature comforts of London and moved to Palestine in 1897 for a 12 day visit.  Then he made aliyah 3 years before his death in 1932, so he moved there in 1929.  He's a good example of the angst that Jews living in Israel go through.  They have a strong conscience and also a good sense of reality.

Lydda has an even  more interesting history than Ari does.  This city was mentioned in Egyptian documents as Rethen.  Then it's listed in the bible I Chronicles 8:12 and ascribes its building to the tribe of Benjamin.  Benjamin was Jacob's 2nd son with Rachel, his true love,  the first son  being Joseph.  Therefore Biblical history traces it to one of the 12 Tribes of Jacob.  During the time of the 2nd Temple period, Jonathan the Hasmonean added it to Judea in 145 BCE.  When the Romans entered, they slaughtered many Jews  from 66 to 70 CE by putting most on the cross.  Later, Lydda was the seat of an academy where Rabbi  Akiva and other famous people taught.  It also was an industrial center where people produced textiles, ceramics, etc.
From the 3rd century it was named Diospolis.  In 352 CE, Jews were nearly exterminated by Constantius Gallus and Christians became the majority of the population.  St. George was said to come from here so it was renamed Georgiopolis and a Byzantine church was built in his name.  The Arabs took it after 632 when Mohammad died and it became the capital of Palestine until 700 CE when the capital was transferred to the new town of Ramleh nearby.  Today it is a communications center because of the airport. From 1948 to 1973 the main airport was called Lod Airport.  Then it was renamed as the Ben Gurian International Airport or TLV.  It's 10 minutes away from Tel Aviv.  Actually, the airport is located in a suburb of Lod.   Most Arabs left when the town was captured.  The population in 1990 was 41,300 including 8,400 non-Jews.

Was there really a massacre?  If so, who did it?  
                                               Benny Morris, New Israeli Historian

It was Moshe Dayan (1915-1981) who led a raid on Lydda. In 1941 he lost an eye while serving in the British army on Lebanese territory.  During the war of Independence his unit repelled the Syrian army from the  Jordan Valley and in August 1948, he was appointed commander of the Jerusalem region after the Lydda  episode.   It's said that he blasted at everything that moved on the afternoon of July 11, 1948.  The raid evidently was his idea and he didn't coordinate it with his commander.  He used a column of jeeps led by a Marmon Harrington armored vehicle with a cannon which he took from the Arab Legion the day before.  He launched the attack in daylight and drove through the town from east to west machine-gunning, according to Benny Morris, THE  young up and coming Israeli NEW historian who was too young to be there, being he was born December 8, 1948.  Benny is an  Israeli professor of History in the Middle East Studies department of Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, Israel..

Moshe drove along the Lydda-Ramle road firing at militia posts until they reached the train station in Ramle.  The troops faced heavy fire from the Arab Legion in the police stations in Lydda and on the road and Dayan described the town's southern entrance being awash with Arab combatants.  Hand grenades were thrown from all directions and there was a lot of confusion.  The firing met with heavy resistance.  Dayan's men were wounded and treated at the train station and then returned to Bet Shemen under continued enemy fire from the police stations.  6 of his men were killed and 21 were wounded. Another writer included that Arabs were killed and on the streets from this charge which lasted 47 minutes, leaving 100 to 150 Palestinians dead, according to Dayan's 89th Battalion.  6 died and 21 were wounded on the Israeli side.  The IDF were wearing keffiyehs and were led by an armored car taken from the Arab Legion.  People may have thought that the Arab Legion had arrived and then were caught by Dayan's forces shooting.

People came waving white flags.  On July 11, 300 to 400 Israeli soldiers entered the town.  Then the Arab Legion forces on the road left, though a small group remained at the police station.  More Israeli troops came at dawn on the 12th.  Muslim and Christians were dealt with separately.  Building soon filled up and women and children were released, leaving several thousand men inside including 4,000 in one of the mosque compounds.  Israel created a committee to handle the refugees and their abandoned property.  They gave the order that no one was to destroy, burn or demolish Arab towns and villages or to expel the people of Arab villages, neighborhoods and towns or to uproot the Arab population from their place of residence without having been given an order from the Minister of Defense.  They had to seal off Arab areas to prevent looting and acts of revenge and captured men were treated as POWs with the Red Cross notified.  Those Palestinians who wanted to stay were allowed to do so and their property could not be confiscated.  The town's dignitaries decided to surrender.  People were told to leave their weapons on the doorsteps to be collected by soldiers, but this wasn't carried out.  A curfew was given for the evening over loudspeakers.  The mayor and his group went to the police station to ask the Legionnaires to surrender but they refused and fired on the group and killed the mayor and wounded the others.  Israelis accepted the surrender and this caused the Legionnaires to panic, sending messages to Ramallah.  They were about to surrender but were told to wait to be rescued.

July 12, 11:30, 2 or 3 Arab Legion armored cars entered the city from the Jordanian 1st Brigade.  They opened fire on the Israeli soldiers, which looked like a counterattack.  The people thought the Legion had arrived in force and those still with their guns started shooting at the Israelis.  An Israeli patrol was attacked by a rioting mob in the market place.  Israelis took many casualties and thought this was a surrender agreement violation so quickly stopped it and many civilians then died.  Moshe Kelman wrote that Israelis came under heavy fire from thousands of weapons from every house, roof and winder while Benny Morris writes that this was nonsense and thought that only a few dozen people took part in what he called a brief firefight.  What really happened.  Neither writer was there.  The Arabs and the Jews each gave different viewpoints of what happened to the writers.
          Dan Kurzman b: March 27, 1922-died December 12, 2010, American Jewish journalist and writer of military history.  Though he never lived in Israel, in the early 1950s, he worked in Europe and in Israel for American newspapers and news agencies and was then correspondent of the NBC News in Jerusalem.  He was a former Washington Post correspondent and has reported from countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.  He interviewed about 1,000 people in Israel, the Arab States, Europe and the USA.  

A third account of what happened is found in "Genesis 1948 The First Arab-Israeli War" by Dan Kurzman. Dan writes that Dayan and his men were exhausted after fighting a battle for Deir Tarif, north of Beit Nabala and they were behind schedule so planned on racing through Ben Shemen and on into Lydda.  The battalion had suffered heavy casualties in the past 24 hours already but was feeling pretty good.  It included a platoon of Sternists and a jailful of prisoner volunteers as well as the prison warden.  They captured an armored car and called it The Terrible Tiger and it lead about 30 jeeps and several half-tracks each with 2 machine guns.  Dayan should have consulted with Yitzhak Sadeh first but didn't because he was in charge of his brigade and if he consulted with him, that would take up valuable time, so didn't.     Sadeh was the founder of the Palmach in 1941.  Dayan had belonged to it once but had resigned because he no longer believed in Kibbutz ideology.  Now he was fighting an enemy with superior force so to do that he believed they had to take them by surprise, ruthlessly.  He learned this from Wingate and Sadeh.  It's remembered that Moshe Dayan's father, Shmuel, helped to found the first kibbutz, Degania but soon didn't like the collective life and so then helped to found the first moshav.  Moshe felt the same way and was a man that did not have the kibbutz mentality of the Palmach group. This all happened when Israel was only 2 months old.

Simon Garfeh, the Greek Orthodox Archimandrite of Lydda, spoke to the commander, Moshe Kelman.  Simon said he hoped the Jews have come in peace.  "If it is the desire of the people of this town to live with us in peace,, we shall be very happy.  They may open their shops and resume normal life.  Can you arrange for the surrender?  The prelate said he would try.   He was going to ask the leaders of the Moslem and Christian communities to meet with  us  immediately in his apartment upstairs.  The story continues as above.  Within the next hour, some 200 Arabs were killed which the Arabs claimed were much higher.  The Israeli counteraction was severe.  The Dahmash Mosque had been converted into an armed stronghold.  70 armed men were firing from the windows and the tower and held out there.  They were fearful of retribution for killing the Israeli guards.  Kelman said they had to pierce the walls. They had a Piat and fired.  A Platoon rushed the mosque and smashed through the front door with blazing guns.  The Piat had been worse than they had figured as the dead lay on the floor.  The dead were buried.

Since they had revolted they were told they had to go to Transjordan.  If the old and the sick wanted to stay, they could.  Christian Arabs, who were known to be less anti-Israel, were treated better.

The Arabs thought that the Jews would take revenge because of what they had done.  They thought everyone in the town would be killed.    They weren't even taken prisoner.  They thought that the Legion would come back and chase the Jews out and then they would return.  It didn't happen that way.
Both Ari Shavit and Benny Morris have been those very critical Israelis, but lately Benny has changed.  Ari remains torn being he is also a Zionist.  They still live in Israel.   Dan Kurzman's definitive work, Genesis 1948 tells in a narrative form about the 48 War.  He covers my 3rd cousin, Stanley Goldfoot, who was the Chief of Intelligence for the Stern Group.  What I didn't learn from my personal connections from Stanley directly, I had a glimpse of in this book.

The Jerusalem Report, March 24, 2014, Israeli magazine, The Israeli Paradox, page 40 by Yaelle Azagury
The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia on Lydda
added 7/30/14:

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