Another Tack: Self-exiled by guilt

Those little neglected news stories that rarely make front-page headlines and never receive airtime are often the most telling of all. It’s through them that deliberately suppressed fundamental truths occasionally surface. It’s there that big lies are sometimes, albeit inadvertently, exposed.

Scant attention was paid last week to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s revelations on Al-Palestinia TV. Abbas talked about his youth in Safed, from whence he routinely claims his family was forcibly driven out by Israeli troops in 1948. Abbas revels in his supposed refugee status. It’s his stock-in-trade on the Arab scene and the international arena. The pitiable pose of an aggrieved victim confers ostensible moral authority upon his cause.

This pose, moreover, becomes a basic Arab tenet – the crucial claim for justifying terror against Israel and for refusing to relinquish the so-called “right of return” by refugees to what are described as homes robbed from them by violent interloping Jewish conquistadores. Biased world opinion willingly and gladly falls for the Palestinian freedom-fighter fable.

But foolhardy carelessness – or trust that nobody listens to intra-Arab discourse – occasionally pulls off the painstakingly fabricated mask. That’s what happened to Abbas (a.k.a. Abu-Mazen) on July 6. Fatah’s cofounder reminisced at length about his Safed origins and haphazardly let the truth slip out.

“Until the nakba” (calamity in Arabic – the loaded synonym for Israeli independence), he recounted, his family “was well-off in Safed.” When Abbas was 13, “we left on foot at night to the Jordan River… Eventually we settled in Damascus… My father had money, and he spent his money methodically. After a year, when the money ran out, we began to work.

“People were motivated to run away… They feared retribution from Zionist terrorist organizations – particularly from the Safed ones. Those of us from Safed especially feared that the Jews harbored old desires to avenge what happened during the 1929 uprising. This was in the memory of our families and parents… They realized the balance of forces was shifting and therefore the whole town was abandoned on the basis of this rationale – saving our lives and our belongings.”

SO HERE it is from the mouth of the PA’s head honcho himself. He and no other verifies that nobody expelled Safed’s Arabs. Their exile was voluntary, propelled by their extreme consciousness of guilt and expectation that Jews would be ruled by the same blood-feud conventions that prevail in Arab culture. Unrealistically they anticipated that Jews would do to them precisely what the Arabs had done to Safed’s Jews. If that was their premise, they indeed had cause to panic.

The “uprising” Abbas alluded to was one among the serial pogroms instigated by infamous Jerusalem mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who’s still revered throughout the Arab world. He was a Berlin-resident avid Nazi collaborator during World War II and a wanted war criminal postwar.

In August 1929 Husseini rallied Arabs to slaughter Jews on trumped-up allegations of Jewish takeover attempts at the Temple Mount. Sixty-seven members of the ancient Jewish community of Hebron were hideously hacked to death. That was the most notorious massacre, but others were perpetrated throughout the country. In the equally ancient Jewish community of Safed, 21 were butchered no less gruesomely (a cat was stuffed into one old woman’s disemboweled abdomen). A child and young woman, due to be married the next day, were cold-bloodedly shot dead by Arab constables whom British mandatory officers assigned to watch over the majority of Safed’s Jews who sought safety in the police courtyard.

The British proposed that all Safed Jews be evacuated “for their own safety,” as was the case in Hebron. The offer was vehemently refused. Thereafter, principally during the 1936-39 mufti-led rampages, the Hagana and Safed’s own IZL cells protected the town’s 2,000 Jews.

Nevertheless, on the ill-fated evening of August 13, 1936 Arab marauders managed to infiltrate and invade the modest Unger home in the old Jewish Quarter, just as the family ate supper. They murdered the father, Alter, a 36-year-old Torah scribe, his daughters Yaffa and Hava (nine and seven respectively) and the six-year-old son, Avraham.

In his book Safed Annals author Natan Shor includes the following eyewitness account from one of the first neighbors who soon chanced by: “The boys heard groans from one of the houses. We entered and in the middle of a dark room – furnished only by a table, a broken chair and a bookcase crammed with mostly religious volumes – lay a man’s body. His skull was bashed in. Half the head was missing. We saw only a beard, part of a nose and the right eye… The corpse lay in a pool of blood and brain matter… In the next room amid the dishes, lay three little bloodied lifeless children. Two of them were still open-eyed. An old woman, the grandmother, ran around from room to room, crazed with grief. The mother, herself wounded (probably left for dead), went from child to child. She didn’t yell or wail. Staring intently, she repeated quietly over and over in Yiddish: ‘If it were only me instead of you.’ Her hand bled profusely and an amputated finger hung by a strip of skin.”

SUCH WAS the uprising for which Abbas’s kinfolk assumed they deserved just reckoning. Ironically, Jews were alarmed by the Arab exodus, figuring it presaged a formidable onslaught by invading Arab armies (which indeed came). In many areas (Haifa, for instance) Jews begged and pleaded with local Arabs to stay. But Arabs in Safed and elsewhere – heeding their leaders’ exhortations to pull out and hounded by fears arising from their own vengeful traditions (but not Jewish ones) – did what was prudent in light of their surmise that Jews would behave according to Arab codes.

On the eve of the April 16, 1948 British withdrawal from Safed, the mandatory authorities turned over the town’s police facilities and Mount Canaan’s military fort to the Arabs. They offered to escort all Jews out of town “for their own safety.” As in 1929, the Jews refused unequivocally, though memories of the horrific carnage should have inspired more dread among them than among the fleeing Abasses.

Why wasn’t Abu-Mazen’s pivotal testimony accorded due resonance in our press? Why did Israel’s mainstream media largely ignore Abbas’s own recollections? Perhaps most editors aren’t interested in the ideological underpinnings of the war against their own people. Preserving the myth of Israeli fault is de rigueur, a hallmark of enlightenment.

Nothing must be allowed to dent the potent-cum-fraudulent Palestinian refugee narrative, not even the memories of the Palestinian headliner, to say nothing of Jewish memories. The latter are altogether dispensable. Hence Safed residents must these days petition their own municipality not to demolish the old Unger home but to preserve it as a commemorative historic site.

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