Maj-Gen Moshe Carmel

Ruthless Israeli general and politician

Moshe Carmel, army officer: born Minsk, Poland 1911; married (two daughters); died Tel Aviv 14 August 2003.

As Israel's northern front commander in the 1948-49 Middle East war, Moshe Carmel was responsible for the conquest of the Arab cities of Acre and Nazareth and the Arab quarters of Haifa. His troops drove Arab fighters out of Western Galilee, which the 1947 United Nations partition plan had allocated to the Arabs, thus securing the north for the fledgling Jewish state. Four of Carmel's brigades routed Fawzi Kaoukji's Arab Liberation Army in a 60-hour operation in Upper Galilee, which had been allocated to Israel.

Carmel could be a ruthless commander, threatening the besieged residents of Acre that he would "destroy you to the last man" if they did not surrender. They quickly complied. In an offensive against four recalcitrant Western Galilee villages, he ordered his troops "to attack in order to conquer, to kill among the men, to destroy and burn the villages".

The Israeli historian Benny Morris wrote in The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (1987) that Carmel wanted both to punish the villagers for past acts against Jewish settlements and "to make sure the villagers could and would never return". Most of them fled to Lebanon. Morris added that, although there was no formal government decision to expel Arabs en masse, "the commanders saw fit to completely clear the vital roads and border areas of Arab communities".

Moshe Carmel was born in Minsk, then part of Poland and now in Belarus, in 1911. He moved to British-ruled Palestine in 1924 and settled on Kibbutz Na'an in the Thirties. He joined the Hagana, the underground precursor of the Israeli army, and was imprisoned by the British between 1939 and 1941. He resumed his military activities after his release and was appointed officer commanding the Haifa district (1947), brigade commander (1948) and northern front commander (1948-50).

After retiring from the army with the rank of major-general, Carmel was elected to the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in 1955. He served twice as Transport Minister in Labour governments, from 1955 to 1956 and from 1966 to 1969. In late September 1956, two months after the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser had nationalised the Suez Canal, the Israeli prime minister, David Ben- Gurion, sent Carmel to Paris as part of a secret mission to explore a joint Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt. The outcome was the Suez war.

Between stints at the Transport Ministry, Carmel edited Lamerhav, a left-wing daily paper. Following his retirement from politics, he served on the board of El Al, the national airline.

Eric Silver

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