חבר קיבוץ עין חרוד ששירת בצה”ל במלחמת 1948 כתב לעיתון הקיבוץ עדות מצמררת על שיירות הפליטים הפלסטינים שראה והישווה אותם לפליטי השואה
This is a letter a young Israeli soldier sent home to his family on Kibbutz Ein Harod in 1948, a month after the War began. It was published in the kibbutz newspaper. Unfortunately, there is no name attached to it:
July 30 1948
Dear Parents and sisters:
I want to write you about something I encountered for the first time in this war. Since there was resistance here after the end of hostilities, the Arab inhabitants fled from their homes. They moved on the dirt road from both sides of the village we’d just conquered. Refugees. Refugees in the full meaning of the word [the Hebrew word for “refugee” derives from the word for “flight”]. Thousands and thousands streamed out. Every one of them loaded down with bedding, sacks of flour and sugar, baby strollers with basic food necessities, and valuables: different brands of watches, ornamented tea kettles, etc.
Further on the way, underneath the sun of our country, heat beat down and they began to throw away their possessions, leaving behind pots and pans. I saw their looks as they parted with them: a funereal look, feeling like the grave. I saw children losing track of their parents. In a garden, I found a little girl, about 3 years old, and brought her back to the road. The girl had walked down one path and her mother another. It was a miracle I found the mother. I saw their reunion and got the thankful praise of the mother. I will never forget this experience.
Image 2: At the side of the road was a well. A tremendous mass of people gathered around it. It was impossible to find a place to sit, even 50 meters from the well – people stood crowded everywhere. The thirst made people lose their minds. Ten men were standing around the well pumping out water, even though there wasn’t room for more than two. I sat next to the well and ensured no Arab infiltrators could cross to our base.
A young Arab came to me and told me his brother, a boy of 4, fell into the well, and the men pumping water refused to stop pumping for even a few moments, just enough to save the kid from drowning. I was shocked. After I realized that my self-confidence alone was enough to control the mass of refugees, I fired a few shots in the air. The group was stunned. People got down on the ground and began to flee. I was able to make my way to the well and drew the boy out.
This image too: such a terrible thirst for water that they cared nothing for the death of a boy. Their fear in the face of just one single soldier, my heart will never forget. I began to understand what a caravan of refugees meant.
Image 3: We returned by way of another village. The field was strewn with abandoned belongings. Here and there, in particular next to the wells, there were corpses of Arabs stabbed by their brethren. Among them, other refugees bedded down to sleep. Every 100 meters or less, there was a body, mostly women and elderly, lying on their backs, totally spent. Some were still dying. Everwhere along the road belongings were strewn. In one place I saw a big pile of mattresses. Next to it was a big puddle with a broken jug and three bodies. Two were young boys and one a young girl. The girl and one of the boys were stabbed. The third boy, his mouth full of mud, was slowly dying from thirst.
This image made abundantly clear to me the meaning of “refugee.” The heavy bombardments, the 60 dead Jordanian Legion soldiers, our own fallen ones, the tanks and armored vehicles we captured, the assaults, a shell falling meters away from me, the imminent danger of death, a plane dropping bombs – all of these never left the impression that this refugee caravan did.
It’s hard for me even to describe these moments as they were, but they were fateful for me. Now my own [battle experience] seems pitiful [in comparison]. I will tell you the truth: I have more to write, and I have a pen and a paper, but I feel that what I write is a paltry account of the reality and I have no more energy to write. When I get home, I will tell you. In person, it will be easier. That will free me a bit from this terrible burden of the refugee caravan. I tell myself that only now can I understand the mental anguish of the Jewish immigrants from Cyprus [Holocaust survivors who came to Israel from refugee detention camps on Cyprus]. I look now with admiration on every immigrant who came from there. Thinking that he suffered the same horrors of the refugee caravan. But nevertheless arrived here and fought with us.
Fare well and goodbye for now.
It’s important to note that even in 1948, a month or so after the War began, that Israeli Jews understood the historical connection between Palestinian suffering and the suffering of Holocaust survivors. Not to mention that this soldier and his family found the letter important enough to publish, thereby establishing a historical record.
The parallel he draws, today causes apoplexy among pro-Israel apologists and even arouses charges of anti-Semitism. But the key point is that Jewish suffering (and Israeli Jewish suffering) are neither exceptional nor unique. Regardless of that suffering, they can, did, and do inflict the same suffering on another people. Despite genocides being different in different eras and locales, they are all a form of genocide. And this is a schandeh and chilul hashem. My God does not command me to destroy another people. To steal from it, arrest and kill its children. That’s not my Judaism.
On this general subject, I recommend the film, Farha. It is a moving account of the Nakba and the eradicaton of a single Palestinian village and the forced exile of its inhabitants. Watch it on Netflix.
Similarly, I also recommend the documentaries, Born in Deir Yassin. (see video embed below).
There are two documentaries about the Tantura massacre. The Israeli one was screened at Sundance. Watch a trailer below.
Watch the trailer for the Palestinian documentary here. There is a longer excerpt here of the unfinished film:
Thanks to Barak Mayer, who maintains an important Twitter account and blog, Places Time Forgot, dedicated to publishing archival historical documents and images of Zionist history, including the Nakba. He revised my own translation of this letter and vastly improved it.