In 1950, Avnery offered first Israeli corroboration of ‘the Palestinian narrative’

A couple of weeks ago, I read an English translation of The Other Side of the Coin by the well–known Israeli journalist and political activist Uri Avnery.  This memoir describes the experiences of the author during the Israeli War of Independence, which is known to Palestinians as the Nakba or Catastrophe.  The book first appeared in Hebrew in 1950.  An English translation was published in 2008 in a volume titled, 1948: A Soldier’s Tale,  The Bloody Road to Jerusalem.  Also included in this volume are dispatches from the front, which were initially published in the newspaper Ha’aretz, and then were subsequently collected and published in 1949 as a book titled In the Fields of the Philistines.  This latter volume became a much- lauded overnight bestseller, and as a result, Avnery came to symbolize the Israeli warrior hero for much of the Israeli public.

In the preface to the English volume, Avnery states that he wrote The Other Side of the Coin because he was disappointed that most understood his first book to be a glorification of the 1948 War.  He stated that he wanted to also show the “dark side of the war.”  Avnery felt that “since the war was over [he] could [now] write the whole truth.”

Despite the enormous success of In the Fields of the Philistines and his new-found celebrity, Avnery had great difficulty finding a publisher for his second memoir.  The book eventually had two small printings in the 50s. It was attacked by critics as deceitful and “full of lies.”

The Other Side of the Coin contains a surprisingly stark and shocking view of what happened when the Samson’s Foxes (the author’s unit) invaded a series of Arab villages in what is currently southern Israel.  In this book, Avnery portrays the Jewish army’s looting, raping, and killing of prisoners and civilians as commonplace and widely accepted occurrences among the Jewish fighters. 

The following segment is Avnery’s depiction of the execution of an 80-year-old woman who had remained in the village of Daba after everyone else had fled.  This memoir may be the first published Israeli corroboration of what many euphemistically call the Palestinian narrative.

Suddenly we saw someone.  We were astonished to see a living creature here. It was an old woman.  At least eighty years old.  Wrapped in rags she sat in front of her house.  When they run away the Fellaheen often leave the old and the blind behind.

We in the first jeep stopped immediately.  Looked at each other.

“Not worth it,” Sancho answered the unspoken question.  We drove on.

At the next crossroads we noticed that the second jeep, with Nachshe, Tarzan and Jamus, was no longer following us.  With difficulty we turned back.  The second jeep was standing by the old woman’s house.  Nachshe stood in front of her waving his pistol.

“Hat Masari!  Hat Masari!  Fi, Fi!” [trans. Hand over the money!] he shouted.  Like all of us, he believed that every Arab must have a treasure buried somewhere.

“Ma feesh, y khawaja!” [I have nothing, sir.] moaned the old woman in a whiny voice.

“Fi! Fi!” Nachshe shouted angrily and fired four bullets into the old woman.  The shots threw her body upwards, as if she was jumping, then she fell dead into the same position we had first seen her in—leaning against the door frame.

Now Nachshe felt ashamed and didn’t want to be reminded of what he had done.  It’s always like that with him.  He can’t simply kill for pleasure and then feel like a hero the way Kebab can.  Whenever he has killed a Fellah or a prisoner, he tries to forget about it and gets annoyed if you remind him.

Kebab won’t leave him alone.  Nachshe is a member of the “intelligentsia” and has a big office.  Kebab finds this murder reassuring.  Because if a person like Nachshe is allowed to kill Fellaheen, then he himself, who is just an unskilled worker, can also be counted as a respectable person.

Actually you can’t hold it against Nachshe.  It is not his fault.  Homicidal urges come on him like an illness. He can’t do anything about it.  Besides that he is a nice fellow.  He would never abandon a wounded comrade in the field.  At Position 125, did he not get out of his jeep at the worst moment and right between the Egyptian positions, in order to recover Nino’s body?  I am not so sure about Kebab.  I wouldn’t be very keen to find myself on patrol behind enemy lines with him.

“What’s the matter?” Kebab asks.  “Are you ashamed that you finished off this stinking Arab woman?”

“That’s enough! Don’t you spend your whole day dreaming of Arab women?”  Tarzan says in support of Nachshe.

“What has it got to do with you?”  Kebab turns on him.  “You are not brave enough to finish off just one Arab!”  The truth, of course, is that Tarzan cannot kill an Arab, except in battle.  Despite his enormous physical power he has a gentle soul, which he finds very embarrassing.

Avnery, Uri, The Other Side of the Coin, in 1948:  A Soldier’s Tale, The Bloody Road To Jerusalem, One World, Oxford, 2008, p. 322-323. 

About Ira Glunts

Ira Glunts is a retired college librarian who lives in Madison, NY.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 15 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. pabelmont says:

    This was was always a crime. It was begun when Jewish Palestinians (or many of them) had decided that they wanted their own country, preferably without non-Jews (aka Arabs) and that this goal was so “present” in their minds (and so justified in their minds) that they regarded attempts by anyone to prevent this from happening as illicit, an attack, an attempt to take from them what was theirs, etc. In their minds “Israel” already existed except for the detail of fighting a war to bring it about.

    Bank robbers do the same thing, roughly, but are perhaps not so convinced that they are not criminals as they go about their business.

    • annie says:

      It was begun when Jewish Palestinians (or many of them) had decided that they wanted their own country, preferably without non-Jews (aka Arabs) and that this goal was so “present” in their minds

      really? i did not know that. where did you read that pabelmont?

    • CigarGod says:

      Perhaps “some”.
      But many Palestinian Jews were assassinated for their opposition to the creation of Israel. A few brutal acts like that had an effect of the rest of the out-numbered Palestinian Jews and opposition began to wither.

  2. Avnery was not alone.

    I would also recommend, in this genre, the novella ‘Khirbet Khizeh’ by S. Yizhar, published in Israeli in 1949, which offers a very similar account based on the author’s experience of expelling a Palestinian village. It used to be taught as part of the Israeli Jewish high school curriculum. It, like Avnery’s book, was only translated into English recently:
    link to ibiseditions.com

    There is also a recent collection of poetry, edited by Hanan Hever and published by Zochrot, called ‘Al Tagidu B’Gat’ which is a collection of Hebrew-language poetry about the Palestinian Nakba by diverse authors all published originally between 1948-58.

    Which just confirms, of course, what is very logical– the first generation of Israelis did not deny what had happened, because they could not. They did it. It wasn’t a secret. It was public.

    It was only later that those memories could be surpressed. And of course, here in the States, it’s the American Jews who remained ignorant for the longest time.

    • Charon says:

      They obviously didn’t deny it. But they must have not discussed it with the immigrants or flat out lied about it. Made up stories about the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, visiting Hitler and Mussolini and Auschwitz. Telling the Auschwitz Nazis their extermination methods weren’t harsh enough or whatever. This is obviously nonsense used to blame Palestinians for the holocaust. I’m beginning to wonder if the guy was even real or if he was a troll installed to promote nationalism and antisemitism.

      Anyways, maybe eventually they started believing the lies

  3. Kathleen says:

    Thanks..

    .”The Other Side of the Coin” Had never heard about this book

  4. annie says:

    chilling. i did not know Avnery came to symbolize the Israeli warrior hero for much of the Israeli public.

    someday the truth will be known by all.

    this is an amazing post ira. thanks for writing it.

    • Walid says:

      For those not familiar with Avnery’s writing, one of his essays appeared in Counterpunch in 2003 relating his first-hand experience with the Israeli ethnic cleansing of a West Bank area known as the Latrun in 1967. In this area were 3 Palestinian villages that were razed to the ground on orders from Rabin and the population of about 12,000 Palestinians chased from them. The villages were Yalu, Beit Nuba and Immwas (known to Christians as Emaus). Israel has since built Canada Park over the ruins of these 3 villages. There is still a controversy brewing over the same area with the fast rail line being built across it. Here’s part of the essay:

      “…It happened in 1967, after the Israeli army had conquered the West Bank. Immediately afterwards the writer Amos Kenan, who was a soldier serving in the Latrun area, came to me. He put on my desk a report about what he had seen with his own eyes. (I was at the time a Member of the Knesset and the editor of Haolam Hazeh newsmagazine.)

      In the shocking report Kenan described how the inhabitants of four villages in the Latrun area had been evicted from their homes. Men and women, children and old people, had been forced to walk, in the stifling heat of over 30 degrees Centigrade, towards Ramallah, a distance of 30 km. Immediately afterwards, the army had begun to destroy the houses.

      I hastened there. The four villages–Imwas, Yalu, Bet-Nuba and Dir-Ayub–were already almost obliterated. I saw the bulldozers flattening the last houses. When I tried to take photos, the soldiers drove me away.

      From there I went to the Knesset and begged senior officials to intervene. After they contacted whoever they contacted, they told me that it was too late. The demolition was finished.

      Why these villages? Why in such a hurry? This area of the West Bank forms a bulge that dominates the old road from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, which had been cut off in 1948. The government was convinced that the world would force Israel to give back all the territories it had occupied, as happened in the previous war, 1957. They thought that if the four villages were erased without leaving a trace, Israel would be able to keep this area, at least.

      No pressure on Israel materialized, of course, and Israel was left in possession of all the occupied territories until now. The refugees still linger in the camps of Ramallah. On their land the “Canada Park” was created, to the greater glory of that humanist and liberal country, which accepted the honor gratefully.

      While the tractors worked in the Latrun area, something similar happened in Kalkilya. After the town was conquered, the army started to systematically dynamite a central neighborhood. The inhabitants were expelled and forced to walk to Nablus, some 25 km away. There they were lying around in public parks.

      I received the information at an early stage. I drove there in order to make sure that it was true, and proceeded to the Knesset. I buttonholed several ministers, including Menahem Begin, who had just been appointed minister without portfolio, and Israel Barzilai, the Mapam minister of health. I found some officials who could transmit the information directly to the Prime Minister, Levy Eshkol.”

      For full essay:
      link to counterpunch.org

      • annie says:

        thanks walid. wow, i didn’t know this about 67:

        According to various estimates, between 100 and 260 thousand Palestinians were expelled in this “little Nakba”. In Oslo it was agreed that a joint Israel-Palestinian-Egyptian-Jordanian committee would find ways to bring them back. It was never convened.

        • Walid says:

          Annie, there’s more to what’s been happening to the Palestinians since 1920 than meets the eye; there was more than one party interested in a piece of the pie and more than one party not thrilled with the prospect of an independent Palestine.

        • annie says:

          i’m aware there’s a ton of history i don’t know about walid. here’s a book i found once about the signed agreements, documents and maps wrt palestine. i found it while i was searching for something once. it cost 1600 dollars. it’s from cambridge i think. and it makes mention of the woman who put it all together and something about her untimely death before it was published. very odd. there’s so much i don’t know.

  5. The tip of the iceberg! I myself heard from survivors of the Nakba in Lebanon, stories in comparison to which Avnery’s account is akin to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Jewish soldiers using bayonets to eviscerate pregnant women. I had always thought there must have been a bit of exaggeration until I read confirmation of it in Pappe’s “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”.

  6. Ira Glunts says:

    Annie and Kathleen, you’re most welcome. I try to contribute from time to time here if I find something which I think is of interest. I hope I can at least partially repay you for all that you both have both written at mondoweiss. I agree that this excerpt is extraordinary and I hope that more people will read the book.

    Ethan, welcome to this site. Thanks for mentioning Khirbet Khizeh. I did not know that it was part of the Jewish high school curriculum. Interesting.

    I question your claim that the 1948 generation did not deny what it did. A fairly recent example of denial is the lawsuit of the Alexandroni Brigade members against Teddy Katz over his research on the massacre at Tantura.

    Thankgodimanathiest, “tip of the iceberg?” Please reread the excerpt. If you do, I believe you may change your opinion.

  7. jon s says:

    I remember reading Avnery’s “Other side of the Coin” as a kid, and the profound effect it had on me, in understanding that there was , indeed, another side to the conflict. That book set me on a path to the Israeli peace movement.