In letter, Ben-Gurion opposed return of Haifa’s Arabs during war

Contents of document, which is to be sold at auction next week, appear to contradict Golda Meir’s testimony

David Ben-Gurion at home. (GPO)
David Ben-Gurion at home. (GPO)

A typed letter signed by former prime minister David Ben-Gurion that is to be sold at an auction next week appears to contradict Golda Meir’s account of the flight of Haifa’s Arab residents during the War of Independence, Haaretz reported on Wednesday.

The opening bid for the letter is $1,800. The auction will be held at the Kedem auction house in Jerusalem.

Dated June 2, 1948 — six weeks after the capture of Haifa and only several weeks after Israel’s independence was declared — Ben-Gurion’s letter is addressed to Abba Hushi, then the secretary-general of the Haifa Workers’ Council and later Haifa’s mayor from 1951 to 1969.

In the document, Ben-Gurion asked Abba Hushi to look into whether a vocational school building that the British Mandate authorities had constructed for the Arab residents of the area would be suitable for the nascent Israeli Air Force, which had expressed interest in acquiring the structure.

Ben-Gurion also voiced displeasure with the British consul at the time, who was working for the return of Haifa’s Arab residents, and wrote that he was unwilling to have “the enemy” return until the war ended.

The contents of the letter were first published in a 2002 book, “Abba Hushi – Man of Haifa.”

25 Iyar 5708

To Comrade Abba Hushi:

Near the airport in Haifa is a vocational school established for the Arabs by the previous government. The Air Force wishes to receive the school for itself. Please find out the condition of the school and tell me whether any grounds exist for not handing over the school to the Air Force.

I hear that Mister Marriott [Ben-Gurion refers here to Cyril Marriott, the British consul-general in Haifa at the time] is working to bring the Arabs back to Haifa. I do not know what business it is of Mister Marriott’s — but we do not want the enemy to return until the war is over. And all institutions must act according to this policy.

As for the matter of the Haifa Port, I will deal with it.

With comradely greetings,
D. Ben-Gurion

According to Haaretz, the letter appears to contradict a later account by Golda Meir, who wrote in her biography, “My Life,” that Ben-Gurion asked her to go to Haifa to persuade the Arab residents not to flee.

“Ben-Gurion called me and said: ‘I want you to immediately go to Haifa and see to it that the Arabs who remain in Haifa are treated appropriately. I also want you to try and persuade the Arabs who are already on the beach to return home. You have to get it into their heads that they have nothing to fear,’ he said. And so, I went immediately. I sat on the beach there and begged them to return home… I pleaded with them until I was exhausted but it didn’t work,” Meir wrote.

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