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Arab Expulsion Ended by Cartoonist

June 5, 1998 GMT

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Syndicated cartoonist Ranan Lurie, a major in the Israeli army during the 1967 Mideast War, said Friday that he persuaded then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to stop generals from expelling thousands of West Bank Palestinians to Jordan.

Historians lent credence to his claims and said that while there was no government expulsion policy, several commanders tried to force Palestinians out during the chaos of the six-day war.

Lurie, who served as a field commander, said he refused to carry out orders by superiors to load Arab families onto buses and send them across the Jordan River. Instead, he appealed to Eshkol, a friend.

``I told Eshkol, ’We are doing something very bad here and it will affect our children and grandchildren. You can’t uproot people who have lived here for 2,000 years and dump them,‴ Lurie said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from his Manhattan home.

Meir Pa’il, an Israeli military historian and former lawmaker, said Lurie’s story is consistent with events known to have taken place elsewhere in the West Bank. ``It wasn’t government policy to expel anyone but there were generals who want it done,″ he said.

Lurie, whose account was first published Friday in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, said that when he saw Arab families in the West Bank village of Anabta being ordered on to buses bound for Jordan, he told a fellow officer, Shlomo Gonen, that ``I couldn’t go through with this. ...This wasn’t about combat, but about women and children.″

Lurie said Gonen volunteered to oversee the expulsion.

Asked about Lurie’s claims, Gonen refused to comment and accused the cartoonist of trying to paint a better picture of his past in order to boost his syndication.

Lurie said Eshkol blamed his defense minister, Gen. Moshe Dayan, for the expulsions, and that the prime minister later thanked Lurie for raising the issue with him.

Pa’il, the historian, said Palestinians were being rounded up in the city of Qalqilya and deported. But on the fourth day of fighting, Pa’il said an order came in to halt deportations and allow those forced out to return.

``I don’t know why,″ he said.

Lurie believes his conversation with a friend and prime minister was the reason.

Lurie was born in Port Said, Egypt, before his family migrated to Israel. He moved to the United States in 1968. His cartoons appear in 1,100 newspapers worldwide.