In Jerusalem on July 29th, I met with Colonel Mordecai Baron now 84, to discover the roots of the Arab refugee issue. Mr Baron was a platoon and company commander in the Givatti Brigade during the war of independence in 1948. I was told to speak with him regarding this topic, as he directly saw and was involved in the Arab families leaving their homes in 1948.
Interviewer: Can you please tell me what you witnessed as a company commander in 1948 regarding the Arab families leaving their villages. Was there a directive given for the Arabs leaving their homes?
Colonel Baron: My Platoon was mainly active between Tel Aviv down to Ashkelon. Even before the invasion of the Egyptian forces, I was involved with the Arab Villages. For example my company had to deal with and fight an Arab contingent from various villages.
After the war finally broke out, a number of Arab families started to flee their homes. Rather than the Israeli army forcefully removing citizens, the vast group of individuals had already fled to areas such as Ramleh, which was not yet conquered.. After I lead a mortar attack on a village, my company stormed the city and I personally saw there was no-one there to be found. For example, before my brigade went into the areas of Mashdal and Isdud (today known as Ashkelon and Ashdod,) families had already fled out of fear.
During the war, there were villages that were based on a number of strategically important areas in between Tel Aviv to the South. In some of these cases the order was given from above that we needed to vacate the villagers from these areas to create a strategic stronghold. These villagers were a part of a small number that were actively told to leave their homes.
I remember during the ceasefire in the months of August and September 1948, a number of Arab families hoped to come back to their homes. It was thought at the time that these Arabs could be covering for Egyptians forces, so the order was given that on no terms would those who left the villages be allowed back their homes. On the few occasions where Arabs villagers wanted to come back to their homes, my platoon stopped this from happening.
A few years after the war, a number of refugees slowly started to come back to their previous homes. In a village called Zachariah, South of Bet Shemesh around 150 came back to their previous homes. The decision was made that my platoon needed to round up these Arab families and drive them back to where they had come from.
After speaking with Colonel Baron for thirty minutes, it was fascinating to hear an individual who saw firsthand the Arab refugee issue starting. I had previously done a vast amount of research on this important topic through working at the Centre for near east policy research. However after speaking with Mr Baron, my knowledge on the subject was immediately widened and gave me a more balanced perspective on the matter.