The ‘Dawaymeh’ letter testimony

Ilan Pappe, as posted on 9 June 2019 on Facebook.


The letter is from an archive that Benny Morris found and gave the writer in Haaretz (Morris also quoted extensively from that letter, but not in full, in his book, the Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem) but the letter has disappeared from the archive; which happened to many of the documents I have found and could not retrieve. 

Typical to Morris, for him this was just evidence about an atrocity and he missed the most important part of the letter in his overall analysis of the Nakba (as readers will remember Morris to this day claims there was no systematic ethnic cleansing in 1948 and the expulsions and massacres that occurred were in the bread and butter of every war). 

However, this was not a war, and nothing happened by accident. It was intentional brutal violence for the purpose so perfectly articulated in the soldier’s letter (see the highlighted passage) and which Patrick Wolfe defined as ‘the logic of the elimination of the native’. I allowed myself to highlight this particular section that should be seen in conjunction with the other documents I have presented today and in recent days. When Eyal Sivan and I interviewed more than 30 Zionist soldiers who participated in the Nakba, they also reaffirmed that the atrocities they took part in were part of a system [https://zochrot.org/en/gallery/54187]

Here is the letter in full:

To the Editor 

‘I read today the leading article of ‘Al-Hamishmar’ where the question of how our occupying army can not restrains its impulses [it is pun in Hebrew of controlling once anger and occupying are the same word]. 

I received a testimony by a soldier who was in Dawaymeh the day after it had been occupied. The soldier is one of ours [namely belonging to the Left wing Kibbutz movement], an intellectual, one hundred percent trustworthy. He shared with me, as he needed to unburden his miserable soul and needed to acknowledge the level of barbarism that our civilized people can reach. And he opened his heart to me because not many hearts these days can listen.

There was no fight and no resistance (and no Egyptian soldiers). The first occupiers killed eighty to one hundred Arabs, women and babies. The babies were killed by smashing their skulls with sticks. There were dead people in every house. The second wave [of killing] were the one in which this soldier participated. 

In the village, the remained men and women that were pushed into houses and locked there without giving them food or drinks. Then came the sappers to blow up the houses. One commander ordered a sapper to push into a house two old women and to blow it up with them. The sapper refused and said that only his [direct] commanders can give him [such an] order. Then the commander ordered his troops to push the old women [into the house] and the terrible deed was done. 

One soldier boasted that he raped an Arab woman and then shot her. The soldiers ordered another Arab woman, carrying her newly born baby, to clean the yard, where the soldiers were eating. She worked for a day or two and then she was shot with her baby. The soldier said that otherwise civilized and well behaved commanders, regarded as among the good guys in society, became despicable murderers. 

AND THIS IS NOT IN THE HEAT OF A WAR OR FIGHTING, BUT AS PART OF A SYSTEM OF EXPULSION AND ELIMINATION [ha-shmada in Hebrew which is also used for genocide]. THE LESS ARABS THERE WILL BE, THE BETTER. THIS IS THE POLITICAL PRINCIPLE BEHIND THE EXPULSIONS AND ON ONE OBJECTS TO THEM, EITHER IN THE HIGH COMMAND OR [BY THE COMMANDERS] ON THE SPOT. I MYSELF WAS IN THE FRONT FOR TWO WEEKS AND HEARD STORIES OF BOASTING FROM SOLDIERS AND COMMANDERS ALIKE, OF HOW THEY EXCELLED IN THE ‘HUNTING OPERATIONS’ AND THE ‘SCREWING’ [NAMELY KILLING] OF ARABS, FOR NO REASON AND IN WHATEVER CIRCUMSTANCES. THIS WAS REGARDED A NOBLE MISSION AND THERE WAS A COMPETITION ABOUT IT [WHO WAS BEST AT IT]

We are in a pickle here. If we cry loud through the press, we are aiding the Arab League, whose complaint [on these actions] we have denied. Not to respond would be immoral. The soldier told me that Dir Yassin was not the peak of this rampage. Is it possible to cry out about Dir Yassin, and be silent on something worse?’

After the letter was published, a Minister from that ideological stream, Mapam, said in the government:


“I received a letter from one person about this issue [the massacre]…..I never agreed when we called the English ‘Nazis’, and I would not like to use the term against them, even if some of their actions were Nazi actions. But Jews have committed Nazi actions [namely atrocities]…I agree we should not expose that we are looking into it, outside but we have to investigate the deeds.

(this quote appeared both in Tom Segev’s book, 1949: the First Israelis and in Morris’ book, but Yair Oron who wrote the Haaretz article went to the archive to discover that also this government memo has disappeared. This is not surprising, as I noted before, most of the documents of this kind are not accessible anymore and who knows may have been destroyed.)

Ilan Pappe is the author of numerous books, professor of history and director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter. Find his work in the IHRC Bookshop & Gallery.