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A Matter of Survival: Tracing the Complex History of the State of Israel [Part 3]

What happened in the second half of 1947 and during 1948 is complicated to narrate. David Ben Gurion is accused of having a strategic plan to expel Arabs from villages in Galilee in the north and around the Arab city of Lod in the center. They were to drive out the Arabs from Galilee and overcome the Syrian and Lebanese forces invading Galilee. Conquer Galilee, cleanse Galilee, defend Galilee. Ensure that Galilee becomes Jewish.


The Palmach, the shock forces of the Haganah, and the IDF are accused of perpetrating a massacre in those villages and especially in Lod. After years of "coexistence" between Jews and Arabs with attacks and deaths multiplying the list I shared last month by many, there was a clear vision that coexistence was not possible in the same territory.


A plan existed and was executed to transfer Arab inhabitants from their villages to Jordan, and Gaza and other territories. Pressure was applied with the option of relocation being the logical choice for intimidated inhabitants who did not want to face possible death, but above all, there was a massacre.


Do excuses suffice to justify a massacre? The accounts of some who received evacuation orders and found themselves in the subsequent dilemma of deciding between life and death of dozens of people included some apologies that attempted to mitigate the impact that decision had on their lives and psyches. "We were surrounded." "We were under imminent threat from within and from outside." "There was no time, I had to make an immediate decision." "Terrible things happen in war."


While humanity is accustomed to this type of moral confrontation in every war we live or study, it is not something we are accustomed to as the Jewish People, the State of Israel, or the IDF.


I prefer to cite the account from the book "My Promised Land" by Ari Shavit, which makes a meaningful account of what happened:


“The Arab city of Lod suspected nothing. Lod had no idea what was about to happen. For forty-four years, it had watched Zionism enter the valley.


During the forty-four years that Lod watched Zionism approach, Lod prospered. From 1922 to 1947, the population more than doubled, from eight thousand to nineteen thousand. The leap was not only quantitative but also qualitative. Modernization was everywhere. After the devastation caused by the 1927 earthquake, many of the old mud dwellings were replaced by new solid stone houses. Near the Great Mosque and the cathedral, a commercial center and a new mosque were built. On the west side of the city, a district with symmetrical streets emerged. Lod was a central intersection of the Palestine railway system, and the executives of the railway company lived in the new English-style garden suburb, the city's pride. There was electricity on some streets, running water in some houses. Two state schools and an Anglican school educated Lod's boys and girls separately. Two clinics, five doctors, and two pharmacies ensured decent medical service. The mortality rate dropped to twelve per

thousand, while the fertility rate increased dramatically. A genuine social revolution had occurred in Lod in the first half of the twentieth century.


But in 1947, the issue of Palestine comes to a decisive moment. In February, Her Majesty's government had had enough of the conflict between Arabs and Jews and decided to leave the Holy Land and allow the United Nations to decide its fate. In June, a United Nations inquiry commission composed of eleven members arrives in Palestine and while touring the country visits Ben Shemen, the Jewish population that lived peacefully for decades and helped both cities prosper, and the valley of Lod.


In August, the committee reaches the conclusion that there is no way for Jews and Arabs to coexist in Palestine and therefore suggests dividing the land into two national states. In November, the UN General Assembly endorses the partition plan and calls for the establishment of a Jewish state and an Arab state. Since the Arab League and the Arabs of Palestine reject Resolution 181, violence erupts in the country. It becomes clear that Arab nationalism is about to eradicate Zionism and destroy the Jewish community in Palestine by using brute force. It becomes clear that the Jews must defend themselves alone, because no one else will come to rescue them. From December 1947 to May 1948, a cruel civil war erupts between Arabs and Jews. After the British leave, the State of Israel is founded on May 14, 1948. The next day, the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon invade, and a large-scale war breaks out.


On July 4, 1948, Operation Larlar, designed to conquer Lod, is presented to the Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion. On July 10-11, the eighth brigade of the IDF conquers the northern part of the Lod Valley: the villages of Deir Tarif and Haditha and the international airport. Simultaneously, the elite Yiftach brigade takes the southern part of the valley: the villages of Inaba, Gimzu, Daniyal, and Dahariya.


On July 11, two platoons of the Third Regiment of the IDF advance from the conquered village of Daniyal towards the olive groves that separate Ben Shemen from Lod. Intense machine gun fire from the outskirts of Lod stops them.


In the late afternoon, the column leaves Ben Shemen and rushes to reach the city of Lod, shooting at anything in its path. In forty-seven minutes of intense offensive, more than a hundred Arab civilians - women, children, and the elderly - are killed by bullets. Regiment 89 loses nine members.


By nightfall, the Zionists have taken the city of Lod. The next day, two Jordanian armored vehicles enter the city by mistake, unleashing a new wave of violence. The Jordanian army is several kilometers to the east, and the two vehicles have no military significance, but some of Lod's citizens mistakenly believe they are the harbingers of liberation. Some of the soldiers of the Third Regiment mistakenly believe they are now facing the imminent danger of a Jordanian attack. Near the small mosque, Israeli soldiers are shot at.


The order is given to return fire. Soldiers fire in all directions; some throw grenades into homes. One fires an anti-tank PIAT projectile at the small mosque. In thirty minutes, at high noon, more than two hundred civilians are killed. Zionism perpetrates a massacre in the city of Lod. As if they were not only demolishing a conquered Arab city, but also the values of the socialist Zionist edict to be humble and do good and serve a greater good.”


The biggest excuse is that if it were not done in that way, the war could end in the death of Zionism. And if Zionism dies, what will happen in the land of Israel will be what happened over and over again in Europe. The Jews will be Jews again: they will be helpless.


Lod and the villages around it and those in Galilee, expulsion, mass deaths, are part of our contribution, perhaps inevitable, to the conflict that we continue to experience today. Tens of thousands of unjustifiable deaths from the point of view of the bereaved contribute to the almost impossible task of moving towards peace.


I have an idea for a "Peace Treaty," although it may seem somewhat naive.


I fervently believe in the concept of Teshuva, repentance as a basic concept for coexistence among people. I do not mean the repentant who apologizes to himself or lives repressed by guilt for his misbehavior, but exactly the Teshuva conceptualized by Maimonides, the Rambam, and which I have already shared, especially from the pulpit of Temple Beth El.


In a nutshell, Teshuva must have 4 steps:


  1. Hakarat hachet: We must recognize in principle that we have acted wrongly.

  2. Tikun: Repair the damage.

  3. Vidui: Public acknowledgment of the error.

  4. Azibat Hachet: The definitive change by choosing a different path when facing the same situation again.


I am not truly a Maimonidist. I disagree with him on numerous positions, but I believe that this definition and simplification of Teshuva is brilliant and clear. I perceive the thought of a mere possibility that two peoples sit in conversation, each with the list of grievances of the atrocities inflicted on its own people, and begin from there with the recognition of what has been done, seeking each perpetrator party to find a way to make amends, publicly acknowledging the responsibility of what has been done, and agreeing to move forward without confrontation.


Super naive, I know, but without repentance and without recognition of errors, no approach to any affected party is possible.


Let us pray for the time when we can understand each other despite the sufferings, deaths, and aggressions that each people inflicted on the other. Let us pray for the day when there will be a sincere negotiating table aimed at improving the lives of both the People of Israel and the Arab people.


Let us pray for the return of the hostages who also suffered the unjust massacre of October 7 and remain in captivity. Let us pray for the IDF to resolve the ethical conflict of facing death every day.


In the month when we will celebrate Purim together, may the masks be on our faces only for that day. May our lives be free of masks, recognizing our reality, the reality of our past, to achieve a better future.


May the Lord grant us peace in our hearts and in our lives soon.


Rabbi Gustavo Geier

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