Israel’s Primal Myth: A Barrier to Peace

This post, written by Barry Lando, originally appeared on Truth Dig

Forget about Hamas, the wall, Gaza and the occupied territories. There can be no peace in the Middle East until Israel and the Palestinians deal with one key issue: the Palestinian demand that Israel recognize their right of return. That demand is based on the Arab charge that the Zionist state created the refugee problem in the war of 1948-49 by a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing. It's an accusation that Israel's leaders have consistently rejected. Jewish soldiers could never commit such crimes. It was the Arabs themselves, they say, who created the refugees.

It has become increasingly evident, however, that the Israeli position is, in fact, a self-serving myth created when the Jewish state was born, perpetuated ever since by the country's leaders and still blandly accepted by Washington.

The myth goes like this: In 1948, when the Arabs attacked the newly declared state of Israel, the Arab population fled by the hundreds of thousands. They left not because of attacks by Israeli soldiers but because of the calls of their own Arab leaders, who guaranteed them a speedy return once the Arab armies had triumphed over the upstart Jewish state. Indeed, they fled despite the attempts of many Israelis--as was movingly portrayed in the film "Exodus"--to convince their Palestinian neighbors to remain. Why should such treacherous people have the right to return? Not to mention the fact that their return by the millions would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

This is the story that Israel's leaders and Jews throughout the Diaspora have clung to for more than half a century. But since the early 1990s a new generation of Israeli historians and investigative journalists--drawing on formerly classified documents as well as recollections of Israeli leaders of the War of Independence--has demolished the traditional Israeli position.

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