Monday, October 28, 2013

The Unpalatable Truth About Martha Gellhorn 5

Fast forward to July 1967, in the wake of Israel's conquest of the remaining 22% of historic Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza Strip), Syria's Golan Heights, and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in the so-called Six Day War. True to form, Gellhorn was there, whitewashing the suffering of a new wave of Palestinian refugees, many of whom were also refugees from the 1948 era.

The following extract comes from her essay Why the Refugees Ran*, included in a 1988 collection of her essays called The Face of War. We see again the Palestinian straw man of her 1961 propaganda piece (joined on this occasion by a Palestinian straw woman); the hoary Zionist myth of Palestinians as witless pawns of Arab radio broadcasts; the always kind and thoroughly decent Israelis at a complete loss as to what has gotten into these people; and the usual apologetics for Israeli aggression:

"Aquabat [sic] Jaber and the neighboring Jericho camps are now ghost towns though probably most of the residents will filter back. No other mass exodus happened anywhere else in West Jordan and it is fishy. The lightning war was not heard even as a passing bang in this valley. The camp leader, himself a Palestinian refugee, is a choleric fat man, a powerful UNRWA administrator, feared and obeyed by his people... Why didn't he prevent this panic flight? We insisted that there must have been some sort of trouble to drive the people away.

"'No, no. The battle lasted an hour, far off,' the camp leader said. 'There was nothing here. No, no, the Israeli army did not come here at all; everything is all right; everything is correct. There are plenty of supplies. There is no trouble.'

"Since non-war had been followed by instant peace, why did the refugees run? 'People talk,' the camp leader said. 'There were a lot of stories. Political party people spread rumors. They said all the young men would be killed. People heard on the radio that this is not the end, only the beginning, so they think maybe it will be a long war and they want to be in Jordan.'

"A group of sullen young men were sitting in a cafe; they tuned in to Radio Cairo as we passed. Perhaps Radio Cairo and all it stands for, Arab politics and propaganda, are the true reason for the first frantic rush of of camp refugees into a second exile across the Jordan. They were not escaping the danger of war, nor fleeing their shattered homes. There are 20 UNRWA refugee camps in West Jordan, not one of them was touched by the war; not one resident was killed (Statement made by UNRWA's chief representative in West Jordan, during an interview on July 4 at Kalandia, which confirmed my own observations.)... I suggest that blind fear of the Israelis, not the dangers of war, was their driving emotion. Radio Cairo had promised destruction of the Jews. King Hussein's last broadcast before his ceasefire is memorable. 'Kill the Jews wherever you find them. Kill them with your hands, with your nails and teeth.' Now the Jews had won, so the Jews would kill them instead.

"The majority of Palestinian refugees do not live in camps. Any of these, like any other Arabs who were exposed to actual war, may have decided to escape immediately lest the fighting go on or start again and trap them in danger. Perhaps some of the first wave of refugees had valid, political reasons for leaving, unlike the later waves of stoical departing Arabs.

"In the last few weeks, neither fear of war nor fear of reprisals nor family nor financial complications explain the smaller but steady flow of people plodding over the Allenby Bridge, no matter what the waiting hardships of exile. 'They don't feel secure,' said an intelligent Palestinian woman on UNRWA's staff in Hebron. 'They don't know what is going to happen next. They want to be among Arabs.' She surprised me by remarking that the local Israeli military commander had been 'very kind to UNRWA, very gentle and helpful,' amazing words for an Arab to use about a Jew. The commander had provided a car for their work, and truck transport for refugee women, children and old people to the Allenby Bridge. I surprised her by remarking that this truck transport, a gesture of decency in the white heat of summer, had been transmuted through propaganda into forced expulsion. If the Israeli army had tried at any moment to prevent the exodus, that would have been treated as forced detention." (pp 297-98)

And how's this for pious claptrap (Forty-six years on, note Gellhorn's advice not to "harass Israel for an overnight solution."):

"Hopefully, the Jordanian and Israeli governments will be able to co-operate... on the return of all those refugees who chose to come back to West Jordan. UNRWA's 'educated guess,' here, is that 100,000** of its West Jordan refugees are now on the east bank... It would be wise and restful not to harass Israel for an overnight solution of the 19-year-old Palestine refugee problem. With time, work, and money, the Israelis will manage simply by treating their acquired Palestine refugee population as people, not as political pawns." (p 298)

That Gellhorn is little more here than a peddler of Israeli propaganda becomes patently obvious when contrasted with the findings of research carried out by American University of Beirut sociologists Peter Dodd and Halim Barakat in September 1967, and set out in their report, River Without Bridges: A Study of the Exodus of the 1967 Palestinian Arab Refugees (The Institute for Palestine Studies, 1969).

Here is the conclusion from Chapter 5, The Exodus: Its Direct & Indirect Causes:

"It is now time to attempt to answer our original question. Why did the exodus of 1967 take place? The answer is that the exodus was a response to the severe situational pressures existing at the time. The situational pressures were generated by the aerial attacks upon a defenseless country, including the extensive use of napalm, the occupation of the West Bank villages by the Israeli army, and the actions of the occupying forces. Certainly the most drastic of these actions was the eviction of civilians and the deliberate destruction of a number of villages. Other actions, such as threats and the mass detention of male civilians, also created situational pressures.

"For a number of reasons, which we have termed indirect causes, the Arab villages were not well equipped to resist these situational pressures. They were caught by surprise, ill-informed and unfamiliar with the terrifying nature of aerial bombardment. Their family-centred social structure decreased attachment to community and to nation. They fled to protect their families, including, and by no means least, the honor of their womenfolk.

"It is our opinion that the fears felt by the Arab villagers were not unreasonable. They are intelligible and explicable. One does not need to view the exodus of June 1967 as a mass panic of superstitious and ignorant people. It seems more reasonable to see the exodus as the response of the Palestinian Arab villagers to the conditions of enemy attack and occupation. In an earlier section of this report, we have presented our finding that the refugee families had strong ties with their home communities: ties of property, of affection, of kinship and of long residence. It is perhaps a measure of the strength of the 'situational pressures' that the families left their homes in spite of these ties. To explain it as a panic does not do justice to the strength of community ties, nor does it explain the cause of the exodus." (pp 54-55)

Israeli historian Tom Segev's book 1967: Israel, the War & the Year That Transformed the Middle East (2007) presents Gellhorn's beautiful Israelis in a very different light, one more in keeping with the Israelis we have all come to - ahem - know and love today.

Segev reveals that a range of strategies, both passive and active, was used by the Israelis to stimulate flight and depopulate the West Bank: The roads leading to Jordan's Allenby Bridge were kept open. The bridge itself was not immediately destroyed. Buses and trucks were made available to speed up the exodus, not as a humanitarian gesture as Gellhorn has it. Again, despite her assertion to the contrary, refugee camps in the Jericho area were bombed, and columns of fleeing refugees were fired on. Vehicles equipped with loudspeakers disseminating disinformation designed to spook civilians into flight, made the rounds of West Bank towns and villages. Hundreds of homes were destroyed in the town of Kalkilya. The villages of Beit Awa and Beit Mirsim in the Hebron area were destroyed. The inhabitants of  3 villages in the Latrun salient, Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba, were expelled and the villages razed. Large numbers of young men were rounded up in Tul Karem and detained. Harassing night searches of Palestinian homes by Israeli troops were instituted. The aim was simply to drive home the message: get out! (Segev, pp 403-407)

Gellhorn, apparently, heard nothing of this. And anyway, why spoil a beautiful friendship with Israel's hero du jour, Defence Minister Moshe Dayan.*** 

Finally, on the subject of her fanciful speculation about refugees attempting to "filter back," those who tried were simply shot on sight. Only a limited number were later allowed to return as a PR exercise. (Segev, p 540-542)

To be concluded in my next post... 

[*Written for the UK Guardian; *Dodd & Barakat estimate the number of 'old [1948] refugees' at 100,000 and the 'new refugees' at 100,000. Later estimates rise to well over 300,000; *** Moorehead, p 426]

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