BSHEVA INTERVIEW

B'Sheva 19-4-07 page 16 - 20

 

This Was The Breaking Point That Caused Tens Of Thousands Of Arabs To Abandon Yafo, Haifa and Tiberias In Fear In The Battles Of The War Of Independence * "The Massacre Of Dir Yassin" Provided Inspiration For The Murderous Struggle Of The Palestinians Against Israel, and Its Justification In The Eyes Of Many In The World * Almost 60 Years Later, The Historian Dr. Uri Milstein Claims In His New Book, That The "Massacre" Was Only A Libelous Story In The Framework Of The Struggle Of Hagana Against The Men Of Etzel And Lehi * A Direct Line Connects The Contentions Of Milstein, A Veteran Critic Of The Defense Establishment, Between What Is Written On The History Of The War Of Independence And The Failures Of The Second Lebanon War

 

The Country Arose On The Left Side

 

Adi Gersial

 

At 4:45 AM on Friday, five weeks before establishment of the state, around 120 Jewish soldiers were on the move toward a small Arab village to the west of Jerusalem. None of them expected that within a few hours the battle would become one of the most famous in the history of the war of Independence and would completely change the face of the campaign.

 

"The incident of Dir Yassin has strategic importance that goes beyond the War of Independence", states the military historian, Dr. Uri Milstein, who has published a new book on the subject: "Black Paper: The Dir Yassin Blood Libel". In the book which is supported by testimonies of around 50 people and research in material that has been published on the subject until now, Milstein proves that the famous "massacre" in Dir Yassin, in which, as it were, 254 inhabitants of the village were "murdered" by the Lehi and Etzel soldiers, just never happened.

 

Milstein, age 67, married and the father of two daughters, has a degree in philosophy and a doctorate in political science from Hebrew University. For some years he has been considered the black sheep of military history in Israel, as one who insists on not toeing the line with the rest of its siblings. "Mr. Defense," Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's wars and the whole defense establishment come out of his punctilious research studies, with losses. As a result he has been banned by most of the academic and military establishment, and it seems that in certain respects he takes pleasure in that.

 

Already at age 13 he killed his first sacred cow, when he researched the affair of the 35 and showed that they proceeded along a longer route than required, left at too late a night hour, and the most important of all: the blood plasma that they needed to bring to the wounded besieged in Gush Etzion was unnecessary, because the British had already evacuated them to Jerusalem.

 

During Milstein's army service as a squad commander and medic in the paratroops, Rafael Eitan (Raful) appointed him as the brigade historian. Later on he studied military history in the IDF college for commanders and headquarters staff.

 

A Zionist Report On The Massacre

 

His occupation with Dir Yassin started almost by accident, because of a particularly cautious attorney. This happened when Milstein began to research the War of Independence, in order to publish a book on the occasion of the country's thirtieth anniversary. "I started to work, and suddenly I discovered that almost all of what was published on the subject was flawed. I found so much that was untrue that the history was really distorted. In consultation with the publishers (Zmora Bitan) we decided to publish a series of books on the subject. My fourth volume was published in 1991, and there I dealt with Dir Yassin. At first I relied upon the official version".

 

Insofar as Milstein was already known as a "trouble maker", the publishers were concerned about libel suits and asked to give the manuscript over for a legal check before publication. The attorney warned Milstein: "you are writing that there was a massacre in Dir Yassin. The men of Etzel and Lehi are liable to sue you. In order to be at peace, check the subject".

 

And indeed, Milstein began a small research project. "I read the article by Meir Payil on the subject, in which he claims that 254 people were killed there (Payil commanded a Hagana group whose job was to conduct psychological warfare against Etzel and Lehi, and later on became a historian identified with the Palmach A.G.) I clarified who dealt with the burial, and it emerged that these were Youth Battalions instructors. I turned to Prof. Yehoshua Arieli, a man on the extreme left and a historian, who commanded the Youth Battalions in the Jerusalem area in the War of Independence. I asked him how many people were buried, and he confirmed that it was a matter of 110 people.

 

"If that's the case, instead of 254 it is a matter of 110, which is also a large number, but Arieli broke the reliability of Payil in my eyes. Until then we were relatively friendly, and he even wrote a dedication to me in one of his books (today there are mutual relations of non-appreciation between the two). What was also strange to me is why Arieli kept quiet during all those years, when throughout the world they quote the famous number 254".

 

Around the same time Bir Zeit University, associated with Hamas, organized a research project on Dir Yassin, and it came to the conclusion that it was a matter of around 100 killed. "What reason in the world does Hamas have to diminish the "murderousness" of the Jews?" Milstein wonders.

 

He did not ease up and turned to the Hagana intelligence officer, Prof. Mordechai Gihon, who entered the village after the battle. "I asked him if he saw a massacre. He replied negatively. If that's the case, how was this story born? I inquired. He replied: "The day after the battle Meir Payil came to me and said the following sentence: write a Zionist report that will describe acts of massacre and abuse".

 

The Arabs Of Haifa And Tiberias Were Frightened

 

Following the testimonies Milstein rewrote the version in that book a little, but a few years ago he decided to dive into the subject and invested two years researching the event. "Black Paper ? The Dir Yassin Blood Libel" is the fruit of that effort.

 

Why waste so much energy on an old story?

 

"This is one of the most important events in all of Israel's wars. The story about the massacre in Dir Yassin broke the spirits of the Palestinian Arabs. In fact, until Dir Yassin the Arabs were on the offensive and we in defense. Operation Nachshon, that was aimed to open the road to Jerusalem, and over which Ben Gurion was so proud, failed. Its only success was the occupation of Dir Yassin. a week afterward Tiberias was liberated, and the Arabs of the city left on busses out of fear from the Jews. Also in Haifa, which was a strategic city, 40,000 people fled screaming "Dir Yassin". That happened also in Yafo: out of 70,000 Arabs, 5,000 remained".

 

Beyond that, Milstein claims that the importance of the event goes beyond the framework of the War of Independence, and relates to the heart of the conflict. "Until then there was no Palestinian nation. They were simply called Arabs. Palestinian consciousness formulated itself following Dir Yassin. This is their basic founding myth. Indeed even the Jews admit a massacre, they say. And since they were born in a massacre, they must give back, measure for measure. This is one of the reasons that Arafat refused Barak's generous offers ? he was not prepared that we "murder and inherit".

 

"Also in the west the claim of a massacre holds sway, because indeed the Jews admit to it. In the wide world they do not overlook dealing with the subject. There are monuments in New York and in England. A movie even came out. If you search "Dir Yassin" on Google in Hebrew and English you'll receive 300,000 results.

 

History As A Tool For Political Goading

 

Also on the internal plane the story of the massacre was aimed to have an important function, Milstein explains: to disrupt the unification between Hagana and Etzel and prevent the entry of Begin into the future government. "Dir Yassin became a main goading tool of the left against the "murderous" right. So they have planted in consciousness that the nationalist right were murderers of women and children ? from Dir Yassin to Yigal Amir".

 

As proof of his contentions Milstein brings the testimony of Shimon Monita, a secret agent of Hagana who operated in the ranks of Lehi. Monita estimated the number of killed in Dir Yassin at 60 at most. after the War of Liberation Monita went to work in the prime minister's office. He met with Ben Gurion, told him about the massacre that didn't happen and explained that it now represents a cause for slander against the country. Ben Gurion answered him, as he says: "First of all I knew that there was no massacre. Secondly, it is not worthwhile to publicize this, or the Arabs in Wadi Ara will make disturbances".

 

Let's assume that only one hundred people were killed. This still does not contradict the claim of a massacre. How did they die?

 

"During the battle. As in Operation Defensive Shield in Jenin. Also then they tried to libel us that there was a massacre. When it was a matter of a battle in built up territory, and this includes throwing grenades and blowing up houses, and that's how people were killed, including women and children that fortified themselves in the houses. All the testimonies of the Arabs even relate to gunfire inside the structures. War is not a pretty thing. People are killed and this is terrible, and many enter shock from it. But that doesn't mean there was a massacre".

 

While writing the history of Dir Yassin Milstein concludes that even with other episodes the people of the left have written history according to their needs. "In the book I showed that they kept quiet about the massacre the Palmach committed in Ein Zaytun. Dozens of the Arabs of this village, near Tzfat, were murdered with their hands bound. That is what the Palmach woman Nativa Ben Yehuda has testified. Those who have come and accused Etzel and Lehi of murdering women and children need to first check that their own hands are clean.

 

"Yigal Alon commanded the operation in the framework of which the battle was fought. But the famous historian Anita Shapira two years ago published a biography of Alon, and it contains no trace of the Ein Zaytun massacre. This shows the level of reliability of the leading historians in academe. She is their "Yeshiva Head".

 

Victory In Lebanon

 

According to Milstein, historical arguments have a practical aspect. "Whoever wonders that the IDF performed in such a disappointing way in the Second Lebanon War, needs to know that is how it functioned in all the wars since the War of Independence; but the facts were not uncovered, and therefore lessons were not derived and flaws were not corrected. To our good fortune, in the earlier wars the Arab soldiers were at a very low level, and ultimately we won".

 

So at least in the test of results we stood out.

 

"The method of building in "Palkal" also held its own in the test of results for many years, until one day such a floor collapses and causes dozens of casualties."

 

Milstein does not reduce his criticism of the people in the Labor Movement, but turns an accusing finger also at the right. "The national camp has an inclination to adopt positive myths. If they come and relate that Rabin was an exceptional commander, the right will not argue. When I published the book "The Rabin File, How A Myth Is Inflated" in which I show that Rabin was hospitalized before the Six Day War and that he fled the battle field when he was a brigade commander, Geula Cohen and Hanan Porat came to me with objections. All this was even before the assassination. After it they threw me out of Bar Ilan University and Ariel College.

 

It would seem that I am the only person in Israel that has profited from the Second Lebanon War", he says with a bitter smile, " because all my theses have been proven. Everyone who has disparaged me over the years speaks in my style, but they generally forget to give me credit. Even Afi Eitam and Ofer Shalach say today what I said twenty years ago. Then, they thought that I am a strange bird, hallucinatory".

 

Perhaps this is because you are "anti" all the time?

 

Didn't Jeremiah the prophet and our father Abraham stand alone facing all the rest? Not that I claim that I have reached their level. In Judaism there is a tradition of proving in the forum. It is also the case with science. If Einstein is correct, then Newton erred. Clearly, not everyone that stands against everyone else is correct, but on the contrary, let them try to cope with my claims. Why don't they comment in the media about my new book on Dir Yassin, except for a short treatment on channel 2? Indeed it is a matter of a subject that stands at the heart of the conflict with the Arabs. If I am mistaken, refute what I am saying. But they prefer to ignore it. And when they already invite me to lecture or the media, they take pains "to balance" me with some left wing figure.

 

An Army Without Thought

 

What are the main points of your criticism of the military thinking in Israel?

 

"The military topic is the only sphere that is not open to scientific criticism. There are two reasons for that: the first is that the material by its nature is classified, and the second is that the figures who deal in scientific issues are not independent ? whoever is outside the army has no access to material, and whoever is inside needs to appease his commanders.

 

"The army like any organization, does not want to expose its defects. This stems from the principle of survival: people and institutions are not prepared to change their existing situation, and it is difficult for them to admit their mistakes. Therefore when a lie has become deeply rooted for a long time it is difficult to concede on it.

 

"The result is that defense thinking is primitive, and is based on common sense and personal experience only. In other fields there are theories, which is to say methodical collection of the wisdom of the ages. Evidence of this is the fact that the most important analyst of the army is Von Clausewitz, who wrote his book on the doctrine of war 180 years ago. There were indeed in military history some geniuses like Napoleon, Alexander of Macedon and Judah Maccabee, but they have been very few and very rare.

 

"Because of technological development, the system becomes more and more intricate. In the past it was possible, let's say, in the days of Judah Maccabee, to control the battle field fairly well. Today it is impossible to understand the facets of the battle without appropriate preparation. Therefore the IDF failed in every war since the Six Day War".

 

Milstein continues on the offensive: "The military profession has not undergone development. In Israel they don't even learn military history, which could give analogies from earlier events. The preparation in the IDF is among the worst of all armies. The chief of staff is essentially a platoon sergeant who has accumulated seniority and rank. There is no difference in terms of understanding of the art of war between the lieutenant general and a sergeant. What does this resemble? A hospital attendant. A veteran hospital attendant has already seen many operations and knows many diseases and physicians, but you would not want him to operate on you".

 

The Party Above All

 

Why is the IDF, of all things, such an anti-intellectual army, as you say?

 

"Because the ones that built the army, people of the Labor Movement in the days of the country's founding, had a Bolshevistic world view, whereby the party is above everything. They took pains to cultivate the myth of the military genius of Ben Gurion and the Palmach commanders, but in fact their interest was that the army staff will not be professional, but party envoys".

 

So what do we do? How do we correct things?

 

"We need to expropriate the military know how from the monopoly of the army. The army needs to be a contractor for operations, a technician. The framework that derives lessons and that prepares the senior officers needs to be civilian and independent in the defense establishment. This body will be comprised of experts, not academics, and will represent a center of information on weapons and fighting methods. In the center they will crystallize the IDF doctrine of fighting, and will give professional advice to politicians".

 

If one asks Milstein, there should also be a body of similar composition that will prepare politicians, because leadership of the country is too intricate for it to be handled by go-getters lacking training. To a certain measure, a model exists in France ? ENA, the school of higher education for public management, in which most of the heads of the administration learn. "This should not surprise religious people: anyone that wants to be a rabbinical leader, and anyone that teaches Jewish law must go through appropriate training".

 

Translation by yonatan silverman zalman8@zahav.net.il

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