What happened at Lod and Ramle in July 1948?
Israelis March from Lod to Ramle, 1948
In 1947-1948 the area near the small cities of Lod (the Hebrew name, also called Lydda, its Greek name) and Ramle (also spelled Ramla) was a stronghold of Arabs, hostile to the creation of Israel. On November 30, 1947 a Jewish bus was ambushed near Lod. The airport at Lod (later expanded to become today’s Ben Gurion International) was so exposed, that in December 1947 the few planes belonging to Jewish forces were moved during Operation Tzipora from Lod to Sde Dov, north of Tel Aviv. On December 14, 1947, the Arab fighters in Ramla attacked a nearby police facility and stole 400 rifles, 8 Sten sub-machine guns and 60,000 rounds of ammunition. In early 1948, a group of Arabs infiltrated Lod Airport and destroyed a small plane and caused other damage.
In 1948, July 9 through 18 was the period between the first and second truce of Israel’s War of Independence. One of the main efforts of Israel’s newly formed IDF was against the Arab Legion in the area between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The aim of this operation, called Operation Danny (Mivtza Dani in Hebrew), was to relieve the continuing siege of Jerusalem and remove the threat to Tel Aviv. The first phase plan was to occupy the areas of Lod and Ramle, held by the Arab Legion, along the Tel Aviv to Jerusalem corridor. The second phase objective was the capture of Latrun and Ramallah which would open the western approaches to Jerusalem. From the IDF history of Operation Danny:
- The operation was to be carried out under Palmach command, utilizing a task force comprised of the Yiftach Brigade, the new 8th Armored Brigade ( made up of a tank battalion, a commando battalion of jeeps and half-tracks), and two battalions from the Kiryati and Alexandroni Brigades, as well as additional artillery and engineering units. Two forces struck in a pincer movement, one advancing towards Lod and Ramle from the northwest, the other from the southwest. During this advance, a small force detached itself to capture al-Safiriyya and then pushed on to capture the Lod airport… On July 12, Kiryati units took Ramle, which surrendered after a brief engagement.
Lod and Ramle were selected for attack by the IDF because they were on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road. Convoys attempting to resupply and reinforce Jerusalem had to travel through the streets of the two towns, routinely under fire. Jerusalem could not be secured as long as these towns (and certain other villages further along the route) remained in Arab hands. Even after the towns surrendered, and many Arab inhabitants fled eastward, those who remained represented a hostile Arab force that could not be left in position to take up arms again or provide refuge for Arab elements and underground fighters. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion gave the order to remove the inhabitants of the two towns to locations a few miles farther east, toward the lines of territory held by the Arab Legion, where they would not present a danger. In his book Pinkas Sherut, the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was a Hagana commander in the War of Independence, wrote that he agreed with Ben-Gurion’s order to expel the Arabs of Ramle and Lod. The Arabs in Lod were “armed and hostile,” Rabin wrote, presenting a danger to the Hagana, and they had to be driven away. Some were given transport in trucks or busses and some had to walk. In the hot July sun there was much hardship, but the population removal was necessitated by the Arab-instigated war. By the end of the day on July 13th, the two towns had been almost completely evacuated, although “several hundred Arabs were to infiltrate back in the following months, and both today have substantial Arab minorities.” [Rightous Victims, Benny Morris, P.240] There were rumors of a massacre at Lod, rumors that persist to this day among anti-Israel groups. A typical accusation:
- On July 12, 1948 the Palmach went house to house and killed, raped and tortured 250 Arab men, women, children and babies in Lydda …
While there was fierce fighting at Lod, there is no evidence for a massacre. The claim of 250 dead may be substantiated by Palmach field reports of total Arab dead, but that report related to military units, and for the total time period. Some civilians probably were killed in the course of the battles.