Moshe Ma’oz

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Moshe Ma'oz was an adviser on Arab Affairs to the Israeli Defence Minister Ezer Weizman and to the Coordinator for Activities in the Territories, General Danni Matt, during 197980. He is now a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies and senior research fellow at the Harry S.Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has published several books and many articles on Syrian and Palestinian history and politics.

Shay Hazkani reports:[1]

Ben-Gurion, though, was not pleased with Gabbay's report. Immediately after its completion he ordered his Arab affairs adviser, Uri Lubrani, to write a new study. Lubrani assigned the project to Moshe Ma'oz, now a professor of history specializing in Syria, then a student at the Hebrew University and an employee of the adviser's unit. "I went into Middle East studies with the mind-set of 'Know the enemy.' It wasn't until I did a Ph.D. at Oxford that things changed for me and I started to discover the Arab side, too," Ma'oz says by telephone.

Ma'oz was assigned a number of researchers to assist him with the study, and received a budget. He started to collect dozens of documents, in Israel and from around the world. He interviewed Israeli and British officers as well as Palestinians who remained in Israel. The 150 documents and interview transcripts were cataloged meticulously and prepared as a file of evidence. Ma'oz notes that his findings were very similar to those of Benny Morris and pointed clearly to cases of expulsion, particularly in Lod and Ramle. "I don't think I was biased or influenced by the boss," he says, "but it is possible that I over-emphasized the issue of the flight. The dosage was different, because I was still under the influence of the nationalist conception in which we were educated at school and in the army."

In fact, the documents in the file of the State Archives demonstrate the exact opposite. According to Ma'oz's own telling of the documents, they ostensibly prove, without exception, that the Arabs fled of their own volition at their leaders' orders. In December 1961, before embarking on the project, Ma'oz wrote to David Kimche, a senior Mossad official (and years later director general of the Foreign Ministry), to ask for help in compiling the documents. "Our intention is to prove that the flight was caused at the encouragement of the local Arab leaders and the Arab governments and was abetted by the British and by the pressure of the Arab armies (the Iraqi army and the Arab Liberation Army) on the local Arab population."

In a letter of summation dated September 1962, which Ma'oz wrote to Lubrani after he had completed the task of collecting the documents, he noted that he had fulfilled the assignment, and proved what he had been asked to prove: "You assigned me to gather material on the flight of Palestine's Arabs in 1948 which attests to and proves that:

  1. Arab leaders and institutions in Palestine and elsewhere encouraged Palestine's Arabs to flee, and the local notables, by being the first to flee, prompted the people to flee.
  2. "The foreign Arab armies and the 'volunteers' abetted the flight both by evacuating villages and by their harsh attitude toward the local population.
  3. In a number of places, the British Army assisted the Arabs to flee.
  4. Jewish institutions and organizations made an effort to prevent the flight."

Immediately after submitting the summary report, Ma'oz left the office of the Arab affairs adviser and went to Oxford to begin his Ph.D. studies. He was replaced by another M.A. student, Ori Stendel, who continued to write the study of the Palestinian exodus. Shortly after taking over from Ma'oz, Stendel met with Ben-Gurion, who described the project as a "White Paper," referring to the reports by British commissions of inquiry in Palestine and elsewhere in the empire. "I remember Ben-Gurion saying something like, 'We need this White Paper, because people are saying that the Arabs were expelled and did not flee," Stendel recalls. "As far as I remember, Ben-Gurion said, 'They did flee, but the truth has to be told. Write the truth.' That's what he said."

Stendel continued to collect material for a short time. He is convinced that the study he and Ma'oz wrote is a scientific work that proves Arab leaders called on the Palestinians to leave, though it does not avoid uncovering the cases in which expulsion occurred. After all the material had been collected, Stendel was again summoned to a meeting with Ben-Gurion, who wanted a summary of the findings. "I told him that it is impossible to speak in terms of uniformity. There was no [organized] expulsion activity, on the one hand, but on the other hand it is impossible to say that we tried to prevent the Arabs from fleeing in all parts of the country. I told him that I had no doubt, for example, that there was an expulsion in Lod and Ramle, pure and simple. He asked me, and I remember being surprised by this, "Are you sure?" I replied, "I wasn't there, I can't tell you, but according to everything we read and collected, an expulsion took place there."


After rereading the file in the State Archives, containing summaries he himself wrote in the 1960s, Moshe Ma'oz sent me the following email: "At that juncture I basically shared the views of most Israeli Jews, and that of the establishment, that most Arabs fled because their leaders escaped first and that other Arab leaders instructed them to do so. On the other hand, I did mention that Jewish organizations requested Arabs to stay and not to leave, but I did not mention that many Arabs fled for [reasons of] panic, war, massacres, etc. and that in certain places they were deported by the army. Perhaps these facts did not appear in the materials or were not known or appreciated."
Ma'oz, then, underwent a conceptual shift at Oxford. After returning to Israel he worked for the military government in the occupied territories, but says he identified more closely with the Palestinians than with the Israeli government. Finally, he was booted out of the military government by the chief of staff, Rafael Eitan, after stating in a television interview in the early 1980s that Israel should hold talks with West Bank leaders affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

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