Degel Shakhor (Black Flag)

The phrase “degel shakhor,” lierally “black flag,” refers to a principle in the Israeli military which is supposed to encourage soldiers not to carry out immoral orders. “Just

Ben Dunkelman in 1948

following orders” was not supposed to be an excuse.

Reality never measures up to ideals, and it is just as hard for Israeli soldiers to defy orders as it is for any other. This was true in 1948 and, as we have seen in the many reports from B’Tselem and the extensive testimonies of Israeli veterans that Shovrim Shtika(Breaking the Silence) has published, it is at least as true today.

But Bernard Avishai, in his latest blog piece, reminded me of the story of Ben Dunkelman, who refused to carry out an order to violate an agreement the IDF had made with the Arab citizens of Nazareth and expel those citizens from the territory the fledgling state held at the time. In the end, Dunkelman’s refusal spared Nazareth’s population from expulsion.

Avishai recounts the story with some important context, and you should check out his rendering. For this space, here is the Wikipedia summary, which gives you the basics of what happened.

In his autobiography, called Dual Allegiance,[3] Dunkelman tells the story of how, between July 8 and 18, 1948 during Operation Dekel, he led the 7th Brigade and its supporting units as it moved to capture the town of Nazareth. Nazareth surrendered after little more than token resistance. The surrender was formalized in a written agreement, where the town leaders accepted to cease hostilities in return for solemn promises from the Israeli officers, including Dunkelman, that no harm would come to the civilians of the town.

Shortly following the capture, Dunkelman received orders from General Chaim Laskov to expel the civilian population in the town, but he refused to implement these orders. The Israeli journalist and translator Peretz Kidron, with whom Dunkelman collaborated in writing Dual Allegiance, reproduced his record of Dunkelman’s account of the capture of Nazareth in a book chapter entitled “Truth Whereby Nations Live”: Continue reading