When Both Foe and Friend Look Alike: Mizrahi Jews in the 1948 War

By Shay Hazkani
Submitted to Session P4801 (Mizrahi Cultural Trespassers: Boundary Crossing, Patriotism and Betrayal in Israel/Palestine, 2017 Annual Meeting
Israel; Palestine;
Arab-Israeli Conflict;
LCD Projector without Audio;
During the 1948 War in Palestine/Israel, Jews who originated from Arab counties (“Mizrahi Jews”) were a major source of concern for both Zionist and Arab leaders. The leadership of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) became convinced that many Mizrahi Jews were in fact Palestinians masquerading as Jews, and trying to sabotage the Jewish fight for independence from within. The nascent IDF’s field security department was instructed to follow these men, determine if they were “genuine” Arabs, and if so arrest them immediately. The command of the Arab Liberation Army (ALA), a volunteer army that fought alongside Palestinians in the early stages of war, had similar fears about Mizrahi Jews. A memo circulating to all ALA units warned that three Iraqi Jews, Ezra Nissim Eliyahu, Naim Dawud Cohen and Edward Shaul, all in their 20s, may have already infiltrated the ALA, disguised as Arabs. Their unique background, ALA officers were warned, allowed them “to cover their tracks..and roam freely,” and there was risk that they were disclosing secrets about the fight to free Palestine to their Zionist patrons. How far fetched were these concerns? Were there Jews disguising and Arabs, and Arabs disguising as Jews, trying to dupe unsuspecting comrades while sending valuable intelligence to their handlers? This paper argues that the initial concerns of Zionist and Arab leaders may have been warranted, but perhaps not for the reasons they cited. Through the life-story of Abdallah Dawud, an Iraqi Jew from the city of ‘Anah who volunteered in the Iraqi brigade of the ALA and actually fought against fellow Jews, and through several other stories of similar nature, the paper challenges the oft-repeated claim that religious bonds took precedence over other forms of connection in the fighting over Palestine in 1948. It also unearths the anxieties of the ruling elites at the time, concerned about Jews and Arabs not playing the parts accorded to them in the conflict.