Ari Shavit’s “My Promised Land” is arguably the most important book to come out of Israel in the last twenty-five years (see my review from January 14, 2014 –

A number of Israeli scholars, however, have questioned Shavit’s characterization of what happened at Lydda during the 1948 War of Independence. Based on interviews Shavit conducted with the brigade commander and other eye-witnesses, the author concludes that the killing of 250 Palestinian men, women and children by Zionist troops was a necessary tragedy in the young state of Israel’s history:

“Lydda is our black box. In it lies the dark secret of Zionism. The truth is that Zionism could not bear Lydda. From the very beginning there was a substantial contact between Zionism and Lydda. If Zionism was to be, Lydda could not be. If Lydda was to be, Zionism could not be.” (p. 108)

Many of Shavit’s critics disagree. After reading the articles below (I am grateful to my friend Rabbi Uri Regev in Jerusalem for forwarding them to me), I am left with significant questions: Was Lydda really a “massacre” or a tragedy of war?” Were there 250 dead, or was the number closer to 100, or even less? What actually happened at Lydda and why?

The historian Benny Morris says that many Arabs were compelled by Israeli troops to flee their homes and villages, and many others fled from fear of what their own leaders claimed would happen to them should Jews take over their villages. He says that the evidence does not show the intentional creation of a massive refugee problem designed ahead of time by Israeli leadership, but rather a spontaneous response to military conditions by low-level commanders in the field.

The massive flight of Arabs from Jerusalem, Haifa, Jaffa, the Jewish Coastal Plain, and the Upper Jordan Valley began even before a formal outbreak of war, soon after the 1947 UN Partition plan (1948, by Benny Morris, p. 94). He writes that Ben Gurion considered Ramle and Lydda in particular as dangerous “thorns” in Israel’s side  threatening Tel Aviv. He called for them to be “destroyed” (Ibid. p. 286).

The Israeli poet Natan Alterman published his poem “Al Zot” (Davar, November 1948) describing the Lydda battle soon after the event occurred thus providing context and a sense of immediacy after the fact.

The discussion among Israeli critics raises a number of questions that have special resonance today: What should be the status of Israel’s Arab citizens? Are Arab citizens of Israel treated equally to Israeli Jews as Israel’s Declaration of Independence promised? What is the future of Arab-Jewish co-existence in Israel in light of our seminal sacred moral texts:

“The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens. You shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am Adonai your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)

The following link will take you to the articles listed below. It is a lengthy read (40-50 pages) but for those seriously interested in the meaning of Lydda in the history of the War of Independence, it is a necessary read –

What Happened at Lydda. By Martin Kramer. Mosaic, July 2014. In his celebrated new book, Ari Shavit claims that “Zionism” committed a massacre in July 1948. Can the claim withstand scrutiny?

The Meaning of “Massacre.” By Benny Morris and Martin Kramer. Mosaic, July 2014. The debate between Benny Morris and Martin Kramer over Israel’s wartime conduct enters its second round.

Distortion and Defamation. By Martin Kramer. Mosaic, July 2014. The treatment of Lydda by Ari Shavit and my respondent Benny Morris has consequences even they didn’t intend.

Zionism’s Black Boxes. By Benny Morris. Mosaic, July 2014. Martin Kramer shows how Ari Shavit manipulates and distorts Israeli history; but Kramer has an agenda of his own. 

The Uses of Lydda. By Efraim Karsh. Mosaic, July 2014. How a confusing urban battle between two sides was transformed into a one-sided massacre of helpless victims.

Lydda, 1948: A City, a Massacre, and the Middle East Today. By Ari Shavit. The New Yorker, October 21, 2013.

What Primary Sources Tell Us About Lydda 1948. By Naomi Friedman. NJBR, February 19, 2014.

Myths and Historiography of the 1948 Palestine War Revisited: The Case of Lydda. By Alon Kadish and Avraham Sela. The Middle East Journal, Vol. 59, No. 4 (Autumn 2005).

Operation Dani and the Palestinian Exodus from Lydda and Ramle in 1948. By Benny Morris. The Middle East Journal, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Winter 1986).

Ari Shavit with David Remnick: The Tragedy and Triumph of Israel. Video. 92nd Street Y, November 26, 2013. YouTube.