Ben-Gurion's Haifa Letter and Haaretz's anti-Israel Agenda

Today, Haaretz reported on a 1948 letter from Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion to Secretary-General of Haifa’s Workers’ Council, Abba Khoushy. Here is the controversial section of the letter that is getting so much attention:

I hear that Mr. Marriot (Cyril Marriot, the British Consul in Haifa) is working to return the Arabs to Haifa. I don’t know how it is his business, but until the war is over we don’t want a return of the enemy. And all institutions should act accordingly.

Haaretz then goes on to allege that this contradicts the account written by Golda Meir in her book My Life:

Ben-Gurion called me and said: ‘I want you to immediately go to Haifa and see to it that the Arabs who remain in Haifa are treated appropriately. I also want you to try and persuade the Arabs who are already on the beach to return home. You have to get it into their heads that they have nothing to fear,’ he said. And so, I went immediately. I sat on the beach there and begged them to return home… I pleaded with them until I was exhausted but it didn’t work.

Unfortunately for Haaretz, this is not the contradiction they would like it to be.

The letter in question was written a month and a half after tens of thousands of Arabs abandoned Haifa, while Meir received her instructions while Arabs were still in the process of leaving. Meir clearly states she was instructed to go to Haifa “immediately” and describes interacting with Arabs “on the beach” meaning at the port. She was there while the Arabs were still in the city and was tasked with getting them to reconsider and stay. However, when Ben-Gurion sent this letter, all the Arabs had already abandoned the city and allowing them back it would entail allowing a hostile population to cross the border. There is a very big difference between asking someone to stay while they are in the process of leaving and letting someone back in after they have already left, especially in war-time.

What’s more, Ben-Gurion clearly states he was opposed to their return specifically “until the war is over,” at which point the issue could be revisited. Ben-Gurion did revisit this issue at the Lausanne Conference in 1949, after the war was over. Israel offered to allow back 100,000 Palestinians if the Arabs would make peace with Israel. We all know how that went.

Haaretz then tries to make it seem as though Ben-Gurion’s policy towards the Arabs was inconsistent by pointing out that in some areas, like Nazareth, he explicitly ordered forces not to expel the residents, while in other places, like Lod, he is said to have supported expulsion. However, given that Ben-Gurion was motivated by the security necessities of the emerging Jewish State, this makes perfect sense. Lod stood on the strategic Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road, had a history of violent resistance and support from Transjordan. It also had the critically important international airport. While Nazareth offered minimal resistance despite repeated attempts by the Arab Liberation Army and given its holy status to Christianity, Ben-Gurion feared an out-sized reaction from Europe following its conquest. He therefore sought to limit any criticism by specifically ordering the forces carrying out Operation Ya’ar not to expel any residents and to take particular care not to harm any churches or monasteries.

The idea that the same orders should be given for all situations with not consideration to the different circumstances and security concerns is ridiculous and bad military policy.

The worst allegation though, came from Meron Aran, one of the Kedem auction house’s directors, who posits - without any evidence or questions from Haaretz, mind you - that Ben-Gurion gave these instructions so he could use the abandoned houses for new immigrants. While some abandoned homes were later used by Jewish immigrants, the idea that this was the main consideration, especially when historical precedent shows us this was a security-minded order, is outrageous. At the very least, Haaretz’ should have pointed out there was no evidence for such an allegation, but when it comes to unjustifiably dragging Israel’s founder through the mud, Haaretz has no shame.

Unfortunately, Haaretz’s grasp of its own country’s history is as shallow as its understanding of politics or the reality that Israel finds itself in today. Sadly, the Times of Israel, in reporting the same story parrots Haaretz’s false narrative that Golda Meir was a liar and Ben-Gurion was an expulsionist. I guess critical thinking is in short supply these days.