Tag Archives: Jaffa

The NYT’s false claims about ethnic cleansing in Jaffa


A recent article in the New York Times (NYT) travel section described Jaffa as “Tel Aviv’s Unexpected Luxury Hotspot” and included several photos that should make everyone want to visit. Unsurprisingly, it also drew the ire of anti-Israel activists, who claimed the piece ignored Palestinians. The NYT responded to the resulting fury by revising the article and appending a contrite “Editors’ Note” that was promptly mocked. As leading anti-Israel activist Yousef Munayyer put it: “Ooops, we forgot Palestinians exist!” 

According to the editor’s note, the revision also included mentioning “the expulsion of many [Jaffa] residents in 1948.” Indeed, the article now includes a sentence that claims: “In 1948, when the State of Israel was founded, most of Jaffa’s Arab residents were forcibly removed from their homes.” 

So I’m afraid another correction is necessary.

I wrote a post on Jaffa’s relevant history a few years ago in response to similarly false claims by veteran Israel-hater Ali Abunimah, who insisted that “Zionist gangs perpetrated the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian coastal city of Jaffa.” 

When I researched the post, I found an Al-Ahram Special from 1998 “commemorating 50 years of Arab dispossession since the creation of the State of Israel.” On pp.91-93 there is an eyewitness account covering the situation in Jaffa between late 1947 to May 1948 under the title “After the matriculation.” The author, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, is a former resident of Jaffa with impeccable anti-Zionist credentials – which is to say he would have described in detail all the horrors if there was any truth to the NYT claim that “most of Jaffa’s Arab residents were forcibly removed from their homes.”

However, recalling his last months in his hometown, Abu-Lughod wrote:

“No sooner had the UN General Assembly passed its partition resolution in November 1947, than Palestine was torn apart by a war waged between its two historically antagonistic communities — Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews. […]  The first shots were exchanged between Jaffa and Tel Aviv on the eve of 30 November 1947 during a three-day general protest strike declared by the Arab Higher Committee. […] On the eve of the UN Partition Resolution, Jaffa’s Arab population numbered over 70,000. By and large they supported the traditional Palestinian leadership headed by Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti.”

Understandably, Abu-Lughod, who was by then a professor of political science, didn’t mention the fact that the man who headed the popular “traditional Palestinian leadership” in the second half of the 1940s had spent the first half of the decade in Berlin, where he lived in considerable comfort as a well-paid guest and committed ally of Nazi Germany. Indeed, a 1948 magazine article described Al-Husseini as “Hitler of the Holy Land.”

Abu-Lughod then goes on to note that most Arabs in Jaffa and elsewhere seemed confident that “as the country belonged to the Arabs, they were the ones who would defend their homeland with zeal and patriotism, which the Jews – being of many scattered countries and tongues, and moreover being divided into Ashkenazi and Sephardic – would inevitably lack. In short, there was a belief that the Jews were generally cowards.”

When this belief proved mistaken, people started to leave Jaffa. According to Abu-Lughod, at first mainly the rich left, but as more and more people began to flee the fighting, the “National Committee…decided to levy a tax on every family who insisted on leaving.” Abu-Lughod volunteered to help with collecting this “tax:”

“I worked in a branch of the committee based in the headquarters of the Muslim Youth Association near the port of Jaffa. Our job consisted mainly of harassing people to dissuade them from leaving, and when they insisted, we would begin bargaining over what they should pay, according to how much luggage they were carrying with them and how many members of the family there were. At first we set the taxes high. Then as the situation deteriorated, we reduced the rates, especially when our friends and relatives began to be among those leaving.

We continued collecting this tax until 23 April, when the combined force of the Haganah and the Irgun succeeded in defeating the Arab forces stationed in the Manshiya quarter adjacent to Southern Tel-Aviv. On that day, as we realised that an attack on the centre of Jaffa was imminent, I and my family decided that they had to be evacuated temporarily. We rented a van, into which we crammed all the women and young children and sent them to Nablus.”

Abu-Lughod himself stayed in Jaffa until May 3, when he left by ship together with two friends to make the short trip to Beirut. By July 1948, he was already back with his family in Nablus, from where he soon made his way to the US to study and to build a successful career at Northwestern University. He left there in 1992 to become vice-president of Bir Zeit University in Ramallah.

As Abu-Lughod’s account illustrates, the majority of Jaffa’s Arab residents fled the fighting over a period of several weeks or even months – by land or by sea – while Jaffa’s self-proclaimed defenders tried to exploit those who wanted to leave by demanding a “tax.”

An additional point that is very relevant in this context is the fact that in the decades before Israel’s establishment, lots of Arab migrant workers were recruited from all over the region to build major infrastructure projects; in addition, there were legal and illegal Arab migrants who came to take advantage of “the relative economic boom, stimulated by the annual Jewish immigration beginning in 1882.”

As the 1937 report by the British Peel Commission put it:

“The increase in the Arab population is most marked in urban areas, affected by Jewish development. A comparison of the census returns in 1922 and 1931 shows that […] the increase percent in Haifa was 86, in Jaffa 62, in Jerusalem 37, while in purely Arab towns such as Nablus and Hebron it was only 7, and at Gaza there was a decrease of 2 percent.”

That means that, due to “the substantial 1880-1947 Arab immigration […] the Arab population of Jaffa, Haifa and Ramla grew 17, 12 and 5 times respectively.”

So Jewish development brought a lot of Arabs to towns like Jaffa; indeed, as Robert F. Kennedy  put it in a dispatch for the Boston Post after visiting Mandate Palestine in March 1948: “The Jews point with pride to the fact that over 500,000 Arabs in the 12 years between 1932 and 1944, came into Palestine to take advantage of living conditions existing in no other Arab state.”

As a result, it’s reasonable to assume that many of the Arabs who fled Jaffa and other major towns during the fighting in 1947/48 simply returned to where they had originally come from. 

Nakba propaganda for Pope Francis

As far as the Palestinians are concerned, the recent visit of Pope Francis to the Holy Land was a visit to “Palestine” that provided just another opportunity to present Israel’s creation as a “catastrophe” or “nakba” for Palestinians in general, and Palestinian Christians in particular.

Pope Palestine Nakba

The document promoted for this purpose by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Negotiations Affairs Department on Twitter has already been shown by blogger Elder of Ziyon to be “filled with lies.” One could add much more to the list of inaccuracies and distortions highlighted by Elder. To give just one example, consider this presentation of the “nakba” in Jaffa:

“Jaffa, after resisting days of siege and bombardment by terrorist organizations such as the Irgun, fell on May 14 th. From its 66,500 Palestinian inhabitants (including 16,000 Christians), less than 5,000 were able to stay, including less than 2,000 Christians.”

First it is noteworthy that Jewish development had attracted large numbers of Arab migrants in search of work to cities like Jaffa; indeed, it is well documented that due to “the substantial 1880-1947 Arab immigration […] the Arab population of Jaffa, Haifa and Ramla grew 17, 12 and 5 times respectively.” Secondly, the claim that “less than 5,000 [of Jaffa’s Arabs] were able to stay” is undermined by the testimony of one of Jaffa’s Arab residents, who described the exodus as motivated by the desire to avoid the fighting when the widespread “belief that the Jews were generally cowards” started to seem questionable. Thirdly, if we assume the PLO’s numbers are correct, it is interesting to note that in terms of the proportions of Jaffa’s Arab population, noticeably fewer Christians than Muslims fled the fighting.* In this context one could also point out that the current enthusiasm of the PLO for Palestinian Christians seems somewhat opportunistic given the fact that the draft constitution of Palestine defines Islam as “the official religion in Palestine” and stipulates that the “principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be the main source of legislation.”

But beyond specific inaccuracies and outright misrepresentations it is no less important to address the fundamental problems with the Palestinian use of the nakba as a major propaganda tool designed to delegitimize Israel. As Ben-Dror Yemini argues in an excellent new column on this subject, the popular notion that supporting the Palestinian “nakba” narrative is somehow conducive to peace and reconciliation is utterly misguided: “Reconciliation is not achieved through propagandist lies that turn the birth of the State of Israel into a crime. Reconciliation is only achieved when the truth wins out.”

Yemini highlights the important point that in the context of its time, the Palestinian “nakba” was a comparatively minor “catastrophe” and that during and after World War II, many millions of people suffered a similar fate:

“Tens of millions in Europe and in Asia experienced [the] same trauma in the same decade, both before and after the war’s end. This is what happened to some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs. And this is what also happened to 850,000 Jews. The Jews had a Nakba, so did the Palestinians, and so did the Germans. There was also a Polish Nakba, and a Hindu Nakba. Nakba was the cruel reality of that time. It was a global Nakba. For every nation, a Nakba.”

Moreover, Yemini rightly argues that the Palestinian “nakba” should be seen in similar terms as the German “nakba:” after Germany lost its war of aggression, “[b]etween 12 and 16 million ethnic Germans were expelled from central European states at the end of the war and in its aftermath. Between 600,000 and two million were killed during those expulsions, which included innumerable pogroms and massacres.” The Palestinians – many of whom viewed the Nazi ally Haj Amin al-Husseini as their leader (as also the previously cited eye witness report from Jaffa in 1947/48 confirms) – were likewise on the losing side of a war of aggression that had been instigated by several Arab states. Moreover, there is no reason to think that “Hitler’s mufti” had given up on his plans for a “final solution” of his “Jewish problem” – plans he had developed in the comfort and luxury provided by the Nazi leadership since he became their guest in late 1941. And it is also relevant in this context that some 30 000 of those Jews whom the followers of al-Husseini despised as “cowards” had volunteered to fight the Nazis by joining the British army.

Astonishingly enough, some of these undeniable historical facts have even been acknowledged in a recent Ha’aretz column. Responding to an editorial in a scathing column, Shlomo Avineri – a regular contributor to the paper – chastised Ha’aretz for “its stunning disregard of quite a few fundamental and indisputable historical facts.” At a time when it is often regarded as taboo to question the factual basis of “narratives,” Avineri asserted with admirable disregard for political correctness that there is such a thing as “indisputable historical truths” and that the “attempt to ignore them is morally flawed.” As he pointed out:

“It is a fact […] that in September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and not the other way around. It is a fact that on December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the United States and not vice versa. It is also true that what is called the Nakba is the result of a political decision by the Palestinian leadership and the Arab states to reject the United Nations partition resolution, to try to prevent its implementation by force and to attack the Jewish community in the Land of Israel before and after the state’s establishment.”

Avineri also criticized the editorial for claiming that it was a “fact that a national and human disaster befell the Palestinians.”

“A disaster? Was the Nakba an earthquake? A tornado? A tsunami? It was the tragic result of an Arab political decision to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state in the portion of the Land of Israel that had been under the British Mandate, just as the expulsion of 12 million ethnic Germans from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary after 1945 was the tragic result of German aggression in 1939 and later in 1941, when it invaded the Soviet Union. In both cases, masses of innocent civilians paid the price of their leaders’ aggression. But if anyone today tried to describe the expulsion of millions of Germans from Eastern Europe as a ‘disaster’ that had nothing to do with the Third Reich’s aggression, he would rightly be called a neo-Nazi.”

Needless to say, so-called “pro-Palestinian” activists are incensed when they are confronted with even the slightest hint that their nakba “narrative” may ignore some inconvenient historical facts.

Nakba Holocaust

As this exchange (h/t Nurit Baytch) between Rania Khalek and Alex Kane illustrates, they regard any questioning of the Palestinian view that the “nakba” was a “catastrophe” inflicted by evil Zionists on completely innocent and peaceful Palestinian civilians as comparable to minimizing the Holocaust with the argument that the Nazis felt the Jews were ruining Germany’s economy.  One more reason to conclude it is justified to cite Khalek as an example for the bigotry that is so pervasive in the BDS movement; and, given the fact that Kane serves as “Assistant Editor” at Mondoweiss, one more reason to conclude that this site is indeed deeply tainted by antisemitism.

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 * Many more relevant details can be found in: Itamar Radai, Jaffa, 1948: The fall of a city [pdf]. Journal of Israeli History: Politics, Society, Culture, Volume 30,  Issue 1, 2011 (pp. 23-43). See e.g.:

“Jaffa experienced far-reaching changes during the British Mandate period, which brought about extensive modernization. Rapid economic development led to internal migration, particularly of Muslim Arabs, from villages to the city and migration on a more limited scale from elsewhere in the region. At the beginning of the 1920s, Jaffa had a population of 32,500, of whom 5,000 were Jews; toward the end of World War II the population stood at 102,000, of whom about 71,000 were Arabs. […] As a result of the intensified urbanization process, high-poverty areas sprang up on Jaffa’s periphery, characterized by densely populated and substandard housing […] At the end of 1946, 70% of Jaffa’s Arab residents lived in these impoverished neighborhoods and in others like them in the city’s center. For the most part internal migrants, they found work in the city as unskilled laborers and in many cases lodged in these shantytowns only temporarily. Notable among the external migrants were those from the Hawran area in southwest Syria […] Many migrants felt threatened by the disparity between the conservative way of life and traditional social structure in their mountainous regions of origin and life on the coastal plain, which was amenable to external influences and bore a more cosmopolitan character. Most concretely, the migrants’ sense of being under threat was due to the Jewish presence, and their situation was further aggravated by their chilly reception by the city’s Arabs, many of whom were Christians – a phenomenon the new arrivals had infrequently encountered in the central hills of Palestine.” […]

“The immediate reaction in Jaffa to the UN partition resolution was indifference tinged with apprehension, tension, confusion, and uncertainty about the future. The British assessment was that the majority of the Palestinian Arabs recognized the leadership of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Hajj Amin al-Husayni, but that many, particularly Christians and members of the ‘moderate circles,’ namely the upper middle class, looked askance at the bellicose policy espoused by the Husaynis.”

Radai also mentions the deployment of some 40 Bosnian Muslims in January 1948 – they were actually the veterans of the units al-Husseini had recruited to fight for the Nazis, as described in more detail in  Seth Frantzman’s JPost Magazine article “Strange bedfellows.”

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This is a slightly modified cross-post from my JPost blog, where this piece was first published shortly before the pope’s visit under the title “Nakba facts.”