Third panel | Live testimonies: Michael Cohen – 1948 Jewish fighter
Truth Commission for Exposing Israeli Society's Responsibility for the Events of 1948-1960 in the South which started its deliberations in late October 2014, is an initiative of Zochrot. The commission has seven members, Israeli Jews and Palestinians, all active in civil society and academia: Huda Abu-Obaid, Prof. Avner Ben-Amos, Wasim Biroumi, Adv. Shahda Ibn Bari, Dr. Munir Nuseibah, Dr. Nura Resh and Dr. Erella Shadmi.
The Commission seeks to expose the events of the Nakba during those years – events that have profound implications for the ongoing Nakba experienced by the Palestinian Bedouins to this day. The Commission examines testimonies by Palestinian displaced persons and refugees, as well as Jews who lived in the south and Jewish fighters who took part in displacement and expulsion operations in the area. In addition, the Commission peruses relevant archive materials.
The Commission also reviews available studies on redress with the aim of shedding light on gaps in existing recommendations. Its own recommendations will be formulated with particular emphasis on accountability by the Jewish public in Israel for past injustices which are still ongoing – and their redress.
The Truth Commission for Exposing Israeli Society's Responsibility for the Events of 1948-1960 in the South, held, on the International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2014, a public hearing in Hotel Leonardo, Be'er-Sheva/Bi'r a-Saba', attended by more than 200 people.
Transcription of the Testimony
by: Peddle, Nicholas
Third Panel – Live Testimonies – Michael Cohen, Jewish witness – 1948 fighter
I: First of all please tell us your name and who you are, where you were born what date you were born give us a few details where your family comes from where you live today. Then we’re going to get into the nitty-gritty of this truth commission, the truth, the story, the narrative that you can tell us from your point of view
M: My name is Michael Cohen, known as Micky, native of Israel, 84 and a half years old. On my mother’s side I am a sixth generation native Israeli to a family that emigrated from Morocco in 19740. My father was born in Germany and emigrated to Israeli in 1941. I was raised in Tel Aviv, I was born in Tel Aviv and raised there, and after finishing my schooling I served in the Palmach forces and maybe we can talk about that a bit later I don’t know. It is important I think to note one more thing relating to my family my grandfather Yusef Illyouchlouch wrote in 1931/2 a book called the story of my life a kind of autobiography of sorts and in the last chapter of his book where he deals with the relations between Jews and Arabs he writes everything sort of in a nutshell, the entire philosophy and he say those who came to us from near learn the Arab language learn the Arab culture. They bayonets of the British cannot maintain a country and things of that nature. Who is woman who spoke before me?
I: Safar Bourba
M: Just as the woman who spoke before me talked about the generation transition of insights and awareness in regards to place so she has another partner I am as such as well. By the way I would like to tell this woman, Safar, she is equal in every sense of the world, at least to me! I can only talk on behalf of myself, maybe she is even better than me because of this ability to accomplish a PhD on a subject which is so complex certainly means she deserves kudos for that.
I: Well we’re going to ask you now, please, since this truth commission deals specifically with the events of 1948 to 1960 in the Negev region, in the South. We ask you to tell us about your participation, your memories, of what exactly you did, where you were. Can you tell us to the best of your recollection what happened?
M: First of all, let me just sort of set boundaries, because things have been said thus far which are far beyond my scope, okay? I can talk about 1948, I can’t talk about 1960, not in this context. I can talk about the Negev but not about all of the South. I can talk about the Northern part of the Negev, not so much the Southern part because that’s a different story entirely. I can talk about what I can talk about which is where I was, and so forth. Ok, everything that I will say I will say on the basis that I was asked to give a testimony in these issues during the 1948 war, the independence war according to our version, and the Nakba war according to the Arab war. By the way, there is no problem, the joy of one is the distress of another that’s how it works, we can address that, that’s truth common truth. I am part of a generation which is known and the 1948 generation, not somebody who was born in 1948 but rather somebody who experienced, the generation that experienced that period of time, that pre-state era, the fight for national sovereignty in the land of Israel, the pogroms and massacres that were conducted on the Jews, the war that happened in 1948; this is one overall experience, seminal experience, that in brief is called the 1948 generation. One has to understand that the people of the 1948 generation, from the day they were born and onwards, constantly were fed on the notion of the dream, you can call it the Zionist dream, the Jewish dream if you want I don’t know, that there will be a state here, an independent state and that we must prepare ourselves for all of the tests that will be done, that will test us until we manage to get to that dream and by the way let no one misunderstand we didn’t know when this would happen but we were raised and if you want you can say we were according to the story of Isaac in the Bible. We knew that this is our destiny and as known to, maybe many of the people here I don’t know at least some of them we, as the 1948 generation that served in the Haganah movement and also then in the Palmach underground movement and some of them in the Beersheba. It was absolutely something that we accepted and took for granted; nobody had to motivate us. The determination to take upon yourself the responsibility to do whatever is possible to make this dream a reality was true; it wasn’t a sacrifice, it wasn’t some sort of courageous feat. This is what we were educated for and when the test came we did it, we took it for granted that this needed to be done. When the events began in November, the strife and conflict between the two groups, between the Arabs and the Jews, between the Arab settlements and the Jewish settlements. The Jewish settlements towards the 14th, we were about 630,000 people in Israel, and the Arabs, well there are inaccurate numbers about the Arabs, maybe twice as much Arabs? Nobody knows for sure about the number of Arabs. The Jews were, are, a total minority also during the famous civil war, that same war, those same fights that were conducted between the 29th November and the 15th May until the day of the invasion.
M: We were 630, the Arabs were almost twice that perhaps. There was no doubt that the Jewish that the Jewish population was inferior; in terms of numbers, obviously, but in terms of the number of weapons for self defence and in the first part of the war, of the 1948 called by many the civil war; the Arabs of Israel fought amongst themselves. They were getting a bit of support from various gangs, Chakli and some others, but mostly it was a fight for the roads and a specific settlement, with the hope to, apparently I think, to establish and Arab state. Some people at least wanted that. The head of the Badabofti, and the Jerusalem propaganda there, at least one or two countries, Arab countries also, sent mercenary troops to the Negev region. In the Negev, 3/4 months before the outbreak of war, two Muslim Brotherhood brigades were sent here; trained soldiers of the Muslim Brotherhood. Armed with new modern British weapons, with a hierarchical structure with commanders and they were the ones who began the attacks on the Arab settlements: on Dier Rhim, on Yalmodikhia the Jewish settlement, on Faldom. They were the ones who invaded into the lands, into the boundaries of this area
I: When did you get here?
M: Let me just conclude one tiny thought, and ill answer you. On the 15th on May, when six armies of six Arab countries invaded the land of Israel, meaning traversed international boundaries. The Egyptian army was obviously divided into two branches, the Egyptians divided their forces; one which went North to the Tel Aviv area. In Egypt they had already publish a series of stamps where they show the Egyptian army conquering the city of Tel Aviv. And the second military branch went to Hoj al-Kafil all the way to Bethlehem in order to pressure Jerusalem. And there are those that were attempting to steal the wind from the Jordanians.
I: Micky, since we don’t have a lot of time and since we really want to hear your story, your story, what happened to you not history of the independence war okay? Which is something which we’ll have to study obviously. But your personal story, your participation in the battles of the south. So where did you arrive, what battles did you participate in, what happened?
M: Ok. I was enlisted to the Palmach, meaning we were a small group of troops that lives on a kibbutz, a kibbutz where you both work and train, in order to live your life. And in regular days after you did your agricultural work, you protected the settlements. We came with the last wave, during the days of the war. Our school days were shortened for a few months, I was in my 12th grade of school and we began training in the … we were a big unit over all. And very quickly, after a month maybe, the fights in the Negev broke out and there want enough personnel and the established basically a new company in the 7th brigade and we were basically the heart of this unit. By the way during the days of the battle, we are not talking about the brigades and companies of today, 30 percent of what you would consider a platoon, a company, a brigade today. We’re talking about small, small numbers of people. I began a commander’s course then I went back to the Negev and commanded over my friends, basically, and then the events became more and more complicated. As Sufar called the fellahs, meaning the Arab villagers who worked the land but also the concentration of the Bedouin tribes in the south, two, three tribes particularly. They were motivated by the Jerusalem mufti and the Egyptian military forces that had already invaded Israel and they were told and encouraged to sabotage the Jewish settlements. At the time there were 26 Jewish settlements it’s important to understand such a settlement was between 30 Jews to 40/50 Jews with women and children of course as well. And so their aim was to actually harm these villages actually violate their kind of stability. There were two oil pipes that came out of Nir Am, emanating out ,sorry not oil pipes, water pipes, to the local Arabs and every single day there were, they used to actually sabotage the pipes, either by shooting at them or exploding them or even pinching and stealing some of the pipes. So this was an extremely interesting sort of period wherein our command in those days, the Haganah, reached an agreement with the Mukhtars from the various villages in other words the actual leading elders, and wherein there were specific pipelines created which actually lead the water to the villages and in that way they reached an agreement for an entire three weeks when they didn’t actually damage the pipes until the Mukhtars from the Arab villages started infighting between themselves and then the Palmach combatants in the Negev had to start driving alongside the two sides of the pipes, from morning until night, in order to prevent any and sort of thwart any attack against the pipelines and we had welders with us and we used to stop and repair it because that was out water, that was really the essence of life. And of course I participated in all these events including the attacks against Arab villagers that were hostile especially those along the axis of movement, the arteries. Undoubtedly in our heart we believe that was what we had to do, we didn’t do it because we were coerced to do
I: What didn’t you do that you were coerced to do?
M: To attack these Arab villages because we believed we were doing the right thing and to exert and effort to expel the actual population because we had to ensure that the main arteries of transport, either for supplies or if it was for the evacuation of injured people, we had to keep it like that and it wasn’t they kept actually so we had to ensure it somehow and how did we do it? It’s very unpleasant to say, we had to clean that area of any possible threat.
I: Can you describe one of those specific attacks on a village and the cleaning of the field?
M: Believe me I will go back to it, at any rate. I said that our objective on the Arabs of the villages even before the Egyptian army started invading and attacking, ground attacks. The Negev Arabs that was sort of bordered between the Ashkelon-Fallujah axis and Dareech Ber-Esluj and little more south from that. About 50 or 60 villages, they were harassing the Jewish villages and the Palmach. That was part of their objective that was the objective they were told that was the command they were given so one of the headquarters of the Haganah said a number of things, of programme D which followed programme C, of the command, the higher echelons of the Haganah before the Arab armies were about to invade and ..
I: And could you give us the date for this?
M: It was March, I would say the end of March if I’m not mistaken. So this programme D said, no more no less, the territories that are within the framework of the Jewish state, the declared Jewish state wherein Arab are settled, either rural settlements or not, that are attacking or preventing out forces out battalions or our companies defending Israel, there is a permit to expel, not to expel actually, but to evacuate them. And that was completely clear cut, it was black on white, I’m not even going to philosophise about it and if someone doesn’t understand then read the history books. Read it. It’s written. So what did we do, so in the actual Negev brigade they actually started giving commands that were connected to this, programme D, because the soft belly of the Negev was within a space that had, a sort of area, in the order of magnitude of 10,000 or 15,000 Arabs and only a few Jews and the Arabs during that period were extremely active in actually harming and hurting these Jewish settlers
I: Were there those who resisted?
M: Well there was a phenomenon and I heard my friend and he didn’t know how to answer it and I can answer undoubtedly because I have documentation, I have been researching I’m a kind of pseudo-researcher of history and I have published a book with some of my friends called “The Negev brigade during the war of independence”. So one of the commanders of the company during that time as part and parcel of Programme D they actually resisted in their objected and said we don’t want that we don’t want to do that. Ultimately they all did but it wasn’t a kind of clear cut unequivocal kind of yes Mr prime minister, there was a very vehement argument amidst them because they thought it was inhuman but unfortunately in my opinion there wasn’t any other solution but there were really expression in writing to that objection to that resistance. I’m not trying to beautify things and embellished them but I am just telling you al; these as facts. I’d also like to mention something else in hindsight; in order to remove any doubt that the fact that the evacuation of these villages in the Negev was because of the diseases that Israeli society was sick of which is to occupy territories because of some kind of stupid precept and then they just remain there. No, that was not the situation, that was not the example; it wasn’t colonialism in other words, imperialism. But in most of those rural villages that were evacuated during the war of independence there are no settlements there, there weren’t new ones established instead of them and it wasn’t something… we got them out and brought Jews in that wasn’t the idea at all but there was a unique example during the war of independence, and that it was a necessity, a crucial necessity, because at the cross roads of Brair Boughail, they were really harassing and attacking the transport in a perpetuating manner. They kept doing it. So the decided to conquer, to really take over that village so a unit from battalion two, from the Negev battalion, they sort of held it like an outpost and then they turned it into a Kibbutz in 1949 and its received the status of a kibbutz. That is one of the most salient examples but very isolated, isolated examples were in an Arab village was conquered, taken over, evacuated and was then resettled but it was one of the isolated examples. And I participated in some of the very harshest of battles for example Holkhat where there were so many fatalities there and it was also a very big village and they had a sort of control of the whole area because that kind of area was actually sort of a wilderness other than a commemoration for 23 people who died there, as a monument there.
I: Can you tell be a little bit about Beersheba? In your testimony we spoke about Beersheba and there wasn’t something that wasn’t totally clear to the members of the commission who read it. The shooting in order to prevent people running away, why preventing people running away, can you explain to us? Clarify it?
M: I think that the highlight of the war of independence in the Negev was the occupation, the conquering, and if you’re asking yourselves why am I using the words conquering or occupation in Hebrew it’s the same word, then if you suspect why I am using that word in the commission of truth, Beersheba was the only place that we did conquer because it wasn’t on the Jewish states map now you all know that? Well if you didn’t now you know. Beersheba was conquered, all the other places we sort of took over but we didn’t conquer. That was the highlight and why? There were two main reasons for that. During the Yu’av mission from mid-October onwards, the general staff and anyone who needed to, they understood they wouldn’t be able to conquer Gaza and therefore to lose, there should be bloodshed and shooting people and they didn’t want that to happen and thus topple the Egyptian army so they decided that they would conquer Beersheba where the headquarters of the eastern front of the Egyptians was seated and by thus doing they would confuse the enemy and that’s what they did. So on the 20th of October in a very sort of specially planned, strategic step before that there was a siege that they managed to break through the siege near Kholkat and the Negev brigade managed to break through it was by the way the Negev brigade not the 8th brigade it was the Negev one with parts. On the 20th October we attacked and we did conquer Beersheba. Now in Beersheba was the regional HQ of the Egyptian army there was 1500 Egyptian soldiers in a battalion and about 400 civilians. 3 days before that conquest our very heavy aerial bombardiers if you could call them heavy but in those days it was considered, so for 3 days they bombarded Beersheba and then then Negev brigade actually went in with their ground forces and according to our evaluation we believe that half of that population had actually managed to escape during the bombardment and also because of the rumours that had been spread that there was actually going to be a ground attack. So I was actually in a company that was sitting on the shoulder of Beersheba that was looking out to the Western Southern valley of Beersheba going sort of towards the west all the way it becomes Vady As of the Gaza valley later on, towards the sea. And our mission was in order to, there was a reasonable possibility that there would be a counter attack against us so our mission was that with our rifles that we had and those machine guns we have to prevent people moving from the town towards the west. Yes, and there are people who saw a film that my daughter prepared in a documentary and she asked me and I said yes we shot but what do you mean you shot at people and I said and first and foremost we shot because there were no more soldiers, the soldiers had removed their uniforms and run away so we couldn’t identify whether they were civilians or soldiers because they removed their uniforms deliberately but we didn’t actually go into all that at the time, we’re talking about the sort of the core and the pith of the battle, we’re talking about peak battle time and in that storm of battles that’s not a good place for people or pacifists. Unfortunately we did, we shot and we killed, or at least, more than anything, what we were trying to do was actually prevent their flight
I: The truth would like a few clarification questions because we’re slightly delayed but I think that it is worth because such a lesson on the war of independence, this is a historical background which is a first witness, we’re talking about a first generation 1948 fighter. I think for me the whole thing is very clear I have no questions. Mickey, in his testimony, he also added part of his vision and if we haven’t got time we’ll see it in writing and we’ll try and publish it.
Q1 (Shakhdar Ibd-Bari): I would like to know a little bit more, more details, rather than these general descriptions, for example; my first questions is “when did you first go into Beersheba after the aerial bombardment?” there were three days according to you testimony of an aerial bombardment, half the people ran, took flight to the West and if they couldn’t then you shot at them so they could only actually flee east ward
M: Ask, don’t tell me, because the answer is no
Q1: Excuse me I will explain, the battle on Beersheba took from 3am wherein the surrender of the Egyptian front came out with his white flag at 9.15 he came out from the police headquarters. Seven and a half hours, but they had already ran three days beforehand during the bombardment and during the battle, they were fleeing
Q1: Which battle are you talking about? There was first a bombardment yes, and then afterwards you came in with the French?
M: With who?
Q1: With the French commando.
M: Where did you get that from? What do you mean together?
Q1: The French commando was a unit of our Negev brigade. You came on from the West and the North.
Q1: From the Mishmara Negev direction.
M: No, only from the north, through the Muslim cemetery we came in. No literally through it from the north. There was kind of a new neighbourhood north of Beersheba and we went through it into the Muslim cemetery and from there into the town not from the west
Q1: So how did you get to that valley where people want to flee? Where did they want to flee to? In which direction?
M: I don’t think that it’ll interest everyone but I’ll answer you. We should have had a map here with the background, by the way the Zochrot brochure is an aerial photograph of October 1948 it was one that I took, that I supplied to them. We outflanked Beersheba and we went up onto the actual hilltop and from there you could see things beautifully on one of those crooked turns in the Beersheba valley. That’s what I am saying they couldn’t run, they couldn’t flee westwardly but only eastwardly. Look forgive me, do you want to do it with the magnifying glass I mean what is the aim of the questions. Please if you could try and sort of explain. I can’t give you precise figures, they flew, they ran to Hebron and Debron and all the various directions they were fleeing to. There was a kind tendency and a thought that most of the people would run alongside the Valley because it’s like a road, if you know it, it’s like a really, its bit like a highway, its quite a wide road and all the other directions were very difficult if it makes any difference to you.
Q1: Yes, but when you were shooting at people, did you know how many people were killed in the valley?
M: No, no, no. But I can say to you that in the battle on Beersheba there were very few Arabs killed, I can’t give you figures I don’t know the figures. But very few and when I say very few I’m not talking about hundreds, we’re talking about dozens, yes, dozens of people were killed.
Q1: And vis-à-vis the population that was left behind, or stayed behind or didn’t have a chance to go, what did they do with them?
M: They created a kind of encampment and just in the sort of southern part of Beersheba. The first few days they were in the town and then a few days after they created a kind of encampment where they transferred them to because we found out quite a lot of them, there were people in uniform in fact, in other words, who were trying to transfer intel. So they took them out of there, in other words all the men or all the men and women as well. You know what I can’t actually tell you but I think it was women to. And I would like to add to that, that a few dozen of those were brought every day from the encampment to Beersheba in order to vacate the sort of, the what was destroyed there, in other words the remnants and remove all the relics there.
Q1: Now where was this kind of encampment?
M: It was two or three kilometres south of Beersheba, I can’t tell you the specific location.
Q1: Were there other such locations where people were concentrated, like in the mosque?
M: You’re leading me to where you want to lead me. Okay, fair enough, Ill answer you. During, I think we met this gentlemen, he’s also a litigator. Yes, we’re good friend we know how to talk to each other. During those six, seven hours of the battle for Beersheba, I think we took about a hundred a hundred and fifteen prisoners that were in uniform. I can’t tell you if they were soldiers, officers, but they were uniform wearers. And they were taken into an encampment and it was in the courtyard of the big mosque, and you want to hear but you didn’t say what you want to hear but I will tell you. Yes two of the Negev battalion’s soldiers who you were trying to, the French were angry that they had some of their people killed so they, by the way two of them threw grenades into, not two hundred and not ten maybe two to four that’s, I’m not saying that terrible, that those two or four people was not a great loss, but it wasn’t more than four people who were killed in the mosque. So that two people were court martialled and they were completely sent away.
I: No, what he is saying is that those two soldiers who had shot or threw a grenade, they did og into the mosque by the way. There were two encampment on in the courtyard and one south of Beersheba.
M: I’m talking about the civilians the Ashour family in Beersheba, civilians. Do you know anything about their fate? No.
Q2: You used the word “gangs” in your testimony and that’s a word that children learn in schools when it’s something negative. You say this was the Haganah and they were gangs in your written documentation. (M. criticises the use of the word gangs) So first of all I accept your criticism. You are right, you can call it a rescue army and that kind of structuring in the educational ministry is definitely negative, something totally unnecessary. I stand corrected it shouldn’t be something that’s used, “gangs”. You said that you participated in the cleaning of the field, could you give me concrete examples of how this took place? This vacating, this cleaning up of the villages? Was it with shooting, killing people?
M: I will clarify, I cannot give you precise figures. But just so you understand what we are talking about, not only here but already in the preparations, people keep telling me which village, what happened where did they come out of where did they go in to. Dear friends, in the negev space most of the village, they vacated, the actually already left because the village was, it wasn’t a whole collection, it was during the attack?
Q2: Wait a second what do you mean? How?
M: because when you attack a village and you shoot some people, some people are killed and some flee. It was most of the villagers in the Negev, but there were villagers that were evacuated, yes. But in an elegant way and one of them, the that keeps being repeated, Huj, that village Huj where our Arik Sharon’s ranch is and where I resided in the sands of that valley sitting there for over 6 months, there was an example, Huj was a village which was in friendly terms with all the kibbutzim around them and not just any kind of friendship, they used to buy and sell and really did, commercial ties and friendly ties. But from the same reasons I mention beforehand it was necessary to evacuate them because they were literally on our soft belly. But exactly from where I was and where my unit was positioned, every morning the people from Huj, a couple of time a week, there were mines and there was sabotaging. It was from somewhere close, we knew they hadn’t come in from Hebron so every morning at 7am 4 spitfires, the Egyptian spitfires would come over because they had total aerial supremacy, total supremacy, we did haven’t any airplanes. They were down in their sorties and bomb us and some of our clothes could see that they were hanging up on the line, they had holes in them from the bombs and from the cannons of the Egyptian spitfires so the Huj village people came to them beforehand, to the Egyptians, and said listen we’ve got to be evacuated to a safe place. So they were led without one shot into Gaza.
Q2: When you say led them?
M: Yes, I accompanied them into Gaza without one shot fired and it wasn’t that distant by the way, a distant spot.
Q2: Can you also relate to whether you participated in the prevention of people coming back?
M: That’s a very interesting issue, that return to the villages and I didn’t actually mention that or talk about it. There was something that continued throughout the war and after. First of all, there was key important fact that while leaving the villages, not everybody took their possessions. They took what they could take at the time some people would infiltrate back into the villages to take what they had left behind, the other stuff. Then there was another phenomenon…
M: Tell him I’m older than him
I: Sheik-Abd, please be nice to our witness
M: This phenomenon was also very interesting. There were villages that when they were left they were still fruit on the trees, there were crops in the fields so they would come back to reap the crop, no once but also several months later. So there was a return to the villages, it can be attributed maybe to what we heard from my colleague, the doctor, Dr. Safah who… so they came back mostly for food, possessions as well. Generally, I don’t… did is shoot or not, should I... I don’t know who shot I can talk about me. Mostly they would infiltrate back to their villages at night?
Q2: You didn’t witness shooting?
M: That kind of shooting? No, I did not witness. I saw a lot of guns being fired but…
Q2: You didn’t see the infiltrators, as you call them, being shot?
M: Let me just please conclude my thought and finish it. So this is a phenomenon that was very interesting and I think, very human. Had I met these Arabs coming back to the villages I would have helped them get there stuff, I would have helped them. But this was something that, it’s also included in the literature later, and here I’d like to make an observation of my own. The war concluded sometime in 1949 and then there was again a battle for the borders in the Negev, to the east in the Dwem area, Hebron area and then of course in Gaza along the Gaza strip. And we the Israeli public, we constantly read in the media, newspapers; infiltrators coming in, trying to kill, trying to do... but that wasn’t the case, the actual truth was that those infiltrators in the first half of 1949, which was massive, many, many Arabs tried to come in and out and then there was the second kind which were people who crossed the entire Negev region all the way to Gaza and from Gaza to Hebron. But they were coming to survive, they were coming to look for food, to get trade, to bring from their villages stuff that had been left behind. We of course, Israeli pride being what it is, would never admit that that’s the case and we said that these are infiltrators but that wasn’t the truth. These people coming back for food and belongings and so forth that was something that happened after the war that was after the cease fire where there were sensible, so to speak, sort of borders.
Q2: Was there looting and did you participate in looting?
M: In Beersheba there was looting. It was the first time I actually witnessed looting. Some of the people, at least were put to trial. The commander of the brigade, Nachom Sarig, the brigade commander, half a day after the occupation closed all the gateways to Beersheba with military police and any vehicle leaving the city was dismantled into pieces so see if people had been looting and taking stuff out of the city but up until then, yes there was looting in Beersheba and my own stories, bad stories, one friend of mine a good friend of mine that was there says that he was crossing the street in Beersheba with a box full of coins which he had taken from one of the stores that had been open and I hit his hand to get it out so that he dropped that cane and the coins all scattered on the floor. But that was nothing, there were even bigger stories of looting there were private houses of people here in, of rich affluent people here in Beersheba. Houses were broken open where there was still food on the table, like literally people left meals.
I: We really have to conclude. I would ask if you have one last, last question, Munir. And then we can see if we have two more minutes left and that’s it…
Q3 (Munir): I understood from your testimony that you continued to attack Beersheba and other villages after the Egyptian forces had already surrendered, is this true or not true? What the reason to expel people after the military conflict had already been over?
I: (repeating the question)
M: You should learn history, that’s my point to you. Not my history, just general history. After occupation of Beersheba, meaning the 21st/22nd of October in the entire Negev region there are two villages, Fallujah and Irachem Manchir, that were conquered or evacuated or expelled, whatever, two and a half weeks later. There was no military operation of the expulsion of villages at all after that to the best of my recollection. Bedouin tribes, yes, were expelled but after the conquering of Beersheba basically the war in the Negev region was over. Afterwards you know what happened obviously, then there was the Khorov operation where the idea of expelled, got the Egyptians out beyond the canal, pushed them back. But in the Negev region all the military operations were over there wasn’t any more operations here.
I: One question from Irella, then a question of my own and that’s it
Q4 (Irella): You describe your participation in battles, in evacuations, expulsions and so forth, I have one question; did you meet, personally meet, with Bedouins or Arab villages that are running away or infiltrating back do you have any personal?
M: During the war you mean?
Q4: During the entire service here in the Negev did you meet up with Arabs personally, Bedouins personally?
M: I was looking for trouble why should I? At that time they were fighting me!
Q4: Yeah, but I’m asking, people were expelled people ran away did you meet anybody?
M: Look guys I think you should understand, the general situation you’re not getting it. 1948; from the 15ht of may all the way to the end of march 1949, that entire, until Umm Rashash was occupied in Ilat, the entire year; do you remember what Ben Gurion said once, we were all one front the entire country was a front of war for an entire year and a half, everybody was fighting. Arabs to me were the enemy that may kill me, Bedouins as well although not so much. There Bedouins had a different story they have there on role to play and a large number of the Bedouins, no not a large number actually, but in any case at least from the Tarabin, yes from the Tarabin, also Djibrat actually people, two tribes remained in the area. There were those who personally ran away by the way I wanted to ask our friend who spoke here… we should have asked her if she knew that in the early 50s and early 60s the Bedouins of the Negev reached all the way to the centre of Israel, does she know this? Hundreds or thousands of people; just food for though.
I: I’d like to ask you one question because we must conclude, we must, must, must conclude. One questions to Hudar, so Hudar and then, let me ask a question first that also appears in your testimony and that is; why do you think that people of your generation, at time struggled to tell the stories that you tell, find it difficult. Why do they not tell these stories? And then Hudar wants to ask a question
Q5 (Hudar): You said that a very small number of the Bedouins were in fact expelled so how did the hundred thousand people disappear form the land? What was the story if they weren’t expelled how did they, how is it now that they’re sitting in Jordan a million Bedouins are refugees?
I: (repeating the questions for the audience)
M: Let me answer the first question, forgive me for telling you that there was not in Negev region a hundred thousand Bedouins. There were not a hundred thousand. There were not a hundred thousand.
Q5: There were 120,000 and now a hundred (thousand) were gone and then were 20 (thousand left.
M: There wasn’t in the Negev area. I’m not talking about the south
I: Hudar were not here to argue it.
M: And we’ll never be able to agree because I say A and you say B. But you should learn it, learn the history because you yourself began your sentence by saying a hundred or whatever and a million Bedouins are sitting in Jordan or whatever, where did you get this number from?
Q5: Today it’s a million, there were a 100,000 in 1948 and now there are a million. They moved to Jordan and now they are a million people.
I: I think the dispute is, because I know the testimony is talking about the south in it’s entirely of talking about the Negev which is under siege. We shouldn’t get into it right now but let’s talk about the Negev versus the entire south, Mujal and Askelon and so forth
Q5: By the way, I’m talking about the Bedouin tribes
M: Talking to me about is not the right choice, because I can’t talk about other areas.
Q5: I’m talking about the Negev, I’m talking about the Bedouins territories and the area between the east of the Gaza strip and west of the city of Beersheba; this area? Okay? Not Ashkelon, I didn’t get all the way to Ashkelon I’m talking about the Bedouin tribes that were between gaza to Beersheba, that’s my question.
I: We’re gonna leave this because the question is a question for two historians, a factual debate that must be answered by historians, people who address and research it. It not based on his personal… why do you think your generation find it so difficult to testify?
M: Let me tell her for, in the territory that you are talking about 120,000 Bedouins cannot exist, it’s in impossibility what you’re saying, it’s simply not possible in so tiny an area, so large a population. In any case I would like to tell you of memories, fragments of memories of things that happened it’s a difficult thing to do. Believe me when I tell you that I am perhaps better than say the average man on the street because I not only experience it but I also researched these things but I researched them not from memory but from documents.
I: Why does your generation refuse to testify?
M: Well first of all that’s a question of people struggling to remember because memory is something that really plays with us. Often we repress things that are unpleasant to remember and tend to reminisce about the things that are nice to remember so exposing yourself personally, not only on one event but many events that not something that’s simple to do. Apart from that, that I can certainly admit that I’ve quite a bit of criticism of thing that have occurred but this is no the forum to talk about it right now at least
I: (Thanks Michel and guests)