January 27, 2023

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1948 Conflict | Israel’s Bacteriological War

For decades, these were rumors and assertions in the memoirs of former officials. Now, thanks to two Israeli historians, it is written in black and white: the Jewish state used bacteriological weapons during the 1948 war.


“The Arabs then condemned the bacterial invasion, and for the past twenty years, many biographies in Israel have mentioned them,” explains Ben-Gurion University historian Benny Morris, who co-published the study in September in the journal. Middle Eastern Studies. “But there were no supporting documents. Everything was secret. We found hundreds of military documents using the operation name Throw Your Bread. Apparently, the censors were confused by this vague name and did not classify these documents as secret. »

The most important attack in April 1948 targeted the city of Acre in northern Israel because it lay on the presumed route of invasion by Lebanese troops. Israeli agents poured solutions of typhoid fever bacteria into the city’s water system.

“The attack caused dozens of illnesses and a few deaths,” Morris said. Remember that the State of Israel was created on May 14, 1948.

Later attacks were planned in Beirut, Gaza and Cairo, but agents sent to investigate were stopped by Arab authorities.

“There was moral opposition at the highest levels of the Israeli government,” Morris said. Chaim Weissmann [premier président d’Israël] Shocked by germ warfare. There was talk of poisoning wells in deserted Arab villages to discourage the return of refugees, but that did not happen. It is also necessary to put things in perspective: both sides, in the 1948 conflict, had the tactic of destroying wells to evacuate the inhabitants of enemy villages. »

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Planned poisoning in German cities

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Mr. Research by Morris and his co-author, Benjamin Gator, uncovered a 1948 plan to poison German cities with bacteria that apparently took no concrete action.

“It’s not clear how the bacteria got there,” says Morris. We’ll have to wait for the declassification of the military archives to find out. »

The phrase “throw away your bread” comes from a passage in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, which deals with the importance of productively using the energies God has given humans.

How were the results of the study obtained? “There was almost no media or political reaction,” Morris said. Awe-inspiring. A former prime minister told me he was struck by how the darkest chapters in Israeli history could not scandalize anyone. »

New Historians

Benny Morris is well-known outside of Israel among the “new historians” who, beginning in the 1980s, explored the darker sides of Israel’s history. In his book The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, Mr. Morris exposes the various dynamics that led to the Palestinian exodus, including the withdrawal of the Israeli army. It is Mr. Doesn’t make Morris a pigeon. “I don’t believe peace is possible for a number of reasons, one of which, in my view, is that the Palestinians do not currently accept Israel’s right to exist,” he said. I am a cosmic optimist. »

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  • 5.9 million
    Number of Palestinian refugees in 2019

    1.5 million
    Number of Palestinian refugees living in UN camps in 2019

    Source: UNRWA

  • 700,000
    Number of Palestinian refugees in 1948

    Source: UNRWA