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In Israel’s Rising Violence, Ripples From 1948

On the afternoon of July 11, 1948, regiments of the newly formed state of Israel advanced toward the village of Lydda. They would conduct an operation there that, by many accounts, became formative to their new state and to the conflict that has continued ever since, and that echoes in the violence raging this week in that very same town, now known as Lod.

The year before, United Nations investigators had visited what was then British-controlled Palestine and declared that Jews and native Palestinians could not peacefully coexist. Sectarian conflict had been worsening since the 1920s. The U.N. passed a plan to partition the territory between an independent Palestine and a newly formed Israel. Civil war broke out. Six months later, in May 1948, neighboring Arab states rejected the U.N. plan as colonial theft and invaded to prevent its execution.

Two months later, Israeli forces arrived at Lydda with the town posing a dilemma for their newly formed state. Its residents were Palestinian. But, geographically, it was to be Israeli, located midway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Could towns like this be integrated into a democratic, multicultural Israel? Or were they a barrier to a definitively Jewish state? Even a threat within?

Historians still debate the degree to which what happened next was planned, spontaneous, or a mix of both. But they agree that the events in Lydda have echoed ever since.

Israeli forces, breaching the town, exchanged fire with local militiamen. The assault left nine Israeli soldiers dead and killed more than 100 residents, some of them children and old people, according to one estimate.

The next day, two Jordanian armored vehicles, separated from their unit, wandered into Lydda. Residents and Israeli troops, mistaking it for the start of a wider assault, resumed fighting. The soldiers threw hand grenades into homes and fired an anti-tank shell at a mosque crowded with civilians. Official Israeli accounts say that they killed over 200 civilians, though some historians put the number higher.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s prime minister, ordered his forces to expel the remaining residents. Though about a thousand stayed behind, tens of thousands were marched to the Jordanian lines 11 miles away. Lydda was, in subsequent years, repopulated mostly by Jewish immigrants.

Today, it is known by its Biblical name, Lod. It is also one of several Israeli cities referred to as “mixed” for its one-third-or-so Arab minority. This week, Lod and other mixed cities erupted in a kind of conflict that has been rare since 1948: communal violence between Jews and Arabs.

Read entire article at New York Times`