Three days ago, the New York Times published an article entitled “Jaffa Is Tel Aviv’s Unexpected Luxury Hotspot.”
Palestinians were outraged because an article about Jaffa in 2019 didn’t include their lies about Jaffa in 1948.
They wrote to the New York Times, and unbelievably it issued a correction – assuming their lies about most of Jaffa’s Arabs being expelled in 1948 is the truth.
Editors’ Note: March 14, 2019
The original version of this article, in focusing exclusively on the new high-end hotels and other additions, failed to touch on important aspects of Jaffa’s makeup and its history — in particular, the history and continuing presence of its Arab population and the expulsion of many residents in 1948. Because of this lapse, the article also did not acknowledge the continuing controversy about new development and its effect on Jaffa. After readers pointed out the problems, editors added some of that background information to this version.
This paragraph was added to the article:
The gentrification hasn’t pleased everyone. Jaffa for centuries has been a stronghold of Arab and Muslim life. In 1948, when the State of Israel was founded, most of Jaffa’s Arab residents were forcibly removed from their homes. Today the district is one of the few areas of the country with a mixed Arab and Jewish population, and as luxury projects have moved in, so have accusations that the city’s Muslim history is being erased.
Most Arabs did not get expelled from Jaffa in 1948. The New York Times was bullied by Arabs into publishing revisionist history.
I have written about Jaffa a number of times. The first residents who were forced from their homes were Jews, in August 1947, from Arab fire – including from the minaret of the Hassan Bek Mosque.
The rich Arabs of Jaffa left quite voluntarily starting when the fighting started in December 1947. They mostly went to Lebanon, where a lot of them had families and where they had similarly fled in 1936 to avoid fighting.
In Jaffa, Palestine’s largest Arab city, the municipality organized the transfer of thousands of residents by land and sea; in Jerusalem, the AHC ordered the transfer of women and children, and local gang leaders pushed out residents of several neighborhoods.
As for the Palestinian Arab leaders themselves, they hastened to get themselves out of Palestine and to stay out at the most critical moment. Taking a cue from these higher-ups, local leaders similarly rushed en masse through the door. High Commissioner Cunningham summarized what was happening with quintessential British understatement:
You should know that the collapsing Arab morale in Palestine is in some measure due to the increasing tendency of those who should be leading them to leave the country. . . . For instance, in Jaffa the mayor went on four-day leave 12 days ago and has not returned, and half the national committee has left. In Haifa the Arab members of the municipality left some time ago; the two leaders of the Arab Liberation Army left actually during the recent battle. Now the chief Arab magistrate has left. In all parts of the country the effendi class has been evacuating in large numbers over a considerable period and the tempo is increasing.
An article in The Nation from 1948 echoed this theme, that Jaffa was evacuated by the Arabs and not the Jews after their leaders fled:
Most of Jaffa was in good shape. The Arab masses, when they fled, took what little they could carry; the wealthy Arabs, who had left during the months before the real fighting began, often salvaged the greater part of their portable possessions.
Not one source from 1948 claimed that Arabs were expelled by Jews.
Petra Marquardt-Bigman uncovered a first hand Arab account as well:
I found an Al-Ahram Special from 1998“commemorating 50 years of Arab dispossession since the creation of the State of Israel.” On pp.91-93 there is an eyewitness account covering the situation in Jaffa between late 1947 to May 1948 under the title “After the matriculation.” The author, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, is a former resident of Jaffa with impeccable anti-Zionist credentials – which is to say he would have described in detail all the horrors if there was any truth to the NYT claim that “most of Jaffa’s Arab residents were forcibly removed from their homes.”However, recalling his last months in his hometown, Abu-Lughod wrote:“No sooner had the UN General Assembly passed its partition resolution in November 1947, than Palestine was torn apart by a war waged between its two historically antagonistic communities — Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews. […] The first shots were exchanged between Jaffa and Tel Aviv on the eve of 30 November 1947 during a three-day general protest strike declared by the Arab Higher Committee. […] On the eve of the UN Partition Resolution, Jaffa’s Arab population numbered over 70,000. By and large they supported the traditional Palestinian leadership headed by Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti.”Understandably, Abu-Lughod, who was by then a professor of political science, didn’t mention the fact that the man who headed the popular “traditional Palestinian leadership” in the second half of the 1940s had spent the first half of the decade in Berlin, where he lived in considerable comfort as a well-paid guest and committed ally of Nazi Germany. Indeed, a 1948 magazine article described Al-Husseini as “Hitler of the Holy Land.”Abu-Lughod then goes on to note that most Arabs in Jaffa and elsewhere seemed confident that “as the country belonged to the Arabs, they were the ones who would defend their homeland with zeal and patriotism, which the Jews – being of many scattered countries and tongues, and moreover being divided into Ashkenazi and Sephardic – would inevitably lack. In short, there was a belief that the Jews were generally cowards.”When this belief proved mistaken, people started to leave Jaffa. According to Abu-Lughod, at first mainly the rich left, but as more and more people began to flee the fighting, the “National Committee…decided to levy a tax on every family who insisted on leaving.” Abu-Lughod volunteered to help with collecting this “tax:”“I worked in a branch of the committee based in the headquarters of the Muslim Youth Association near the port of Jaffa. Our job consisted mainly of harassing people to dissuade them from leaving, and when they insisted, we would begin bargaining over what they should pay, according to how much luggage they were carrying with them and how many members of the family there were. At first we set the taxes high. Then as the situation deteriorated, we reduced the rates, especially when our friends and relatives began to be among those leaving.We continued collecting this tax until 23 April, when the combined force of the Haganah and the Irgun succeeded in defeating the Arab forces stationed in the Manshiya quarter adjacent to Southern Tel-Aviv. On that day, as we realised that an attack on the centre of Jaffa was imminent, I and my family decided that they had to be evacuated temporarily. We rented a van, into which we crammed all the women and young children and sent them to Nablus.”Abu-Lughod himself stayed in Jaffa until May 3, when he left by ship together with two friends to make the short trip to Beirut. By July 1948, he was already back with his family in Nablus, from where he soon made his way to the US to study and to build a successful career at Northwestern University. He left there in 1992 to become vice-president of Bir Zeit University in Ramallah.
As Abu-Lughod’s account illustrates, the majority of Jaffa’s Arab residents fled the fighting over a period of several weeks or even months – by land or by sea – while Jaffa’s self-proclaimed defenders tried to exploit those who wanted to leave by demanding a “tax.”
Petra also shows that most of the Jaffa Arabs in 1948 were recent immigrants from other Arab lands, which explains why they were so eager to flee rather than defend homes that they felt few ancestral ties to.
The New York Times’ own reporting from 1948 doesn’t have a hint of Jews expelling Arabs. The Arabs fled out of fear of war. (And many stayed, including in Jaffa, without any problem.)
The New York Times assumed that the outraged comments were based on the truth. After all, the repeated claims of Jews expelling Arabs from Israel must have some truth to them, right?
But the truth matters. And the New York Times has just proven once again that it prefers a version of history that caters to its biases rather than to facts.
We have lots of ideas, but we need more resources to be even more effective. Please donate today to help get the message out and to help defend Israel.