Ethnic cleansing? Check out this article by Shay Fogelman from Ha'aretz.
The central event was the Haganah's deliberate shelling of the market, where the Palestinian Arabs were gathered. Here's an excerpt:
Several history books published in Israel in recent years describe the flight of thousands of Haifa Arabs to the port on the day of the city's conquest, and their departure by sea to Acre and Lebanon. The event assumes greater import and significance in the newspapers of the time and in various archives. Segal and Tadmor write: "On April 22, as Haganah forces moved toward the market, a mass flight of thousands was recorded." They do not say what happened in the market, preferring instead to draw on Prof. Karsh's thesis. "The Arab leadership," they write, "urged the members of their nation to evacuate their homes, whether to clear the territory for the Arab forces or for propaganda purposes aimed at negating the legitimacy of the Jewish state."
Another source the authors cite for their chapter conclusions is the book by historian Benny Morris, "1948," (published in English in 2008 and two years later in Hebrew ). They write that Morris used to be a new historian "until he recanted," and add that he is the most respected and serious member of the group. Morris has written about the Haifa conquest and mentioned the flight of the Arab residents to the port in several studies. In "1948," he describes the events of April 22 as follows: "The constant mortar and machine gun fire, as well as the collapse of the militias and local government and the Haganah's conquests, precipitated mass flight toward the British-held port area. By 1:00 P.M. some 6,000 people had reportedly passed through the harbor and boarded boats for Acre and points north."
Morris sums up the reasons for the flight with these words: "The majority had left for a variety of reasons, the main one being the shock of battle (especially the Haganah mortaring of the Lower City ) and Jewish conquest and the prospect of life as a minority under Jewish rule." However, in his first book, "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem" (first English-language edition, 1987 ), which was written well before his "recantation," Morris described the course of events in greater detail and shed a different light on them, quoting from a book by an Israeli historian: "The three-inch mortars 'opened up on the market square [where there was] a great crowd ... a great panic took hold. The multitude burst into the port, pushed aside the policemen, stormed the boats and began fleeing the town.'"
But this, too, is very much a partial description. Morris actually quotes from a book by Zadok Eshel, "Haganah Battles in Haifa," published in 1978 (in Hebrew ) by the Defense Ministry. Eshel was a member of the Haganah and offers first-hand descriptions of many of the unfolding events in Haifa. Here is his account of the events of April 22 (note the words which Morris omitted and replaced by an ellipsis ): "Early in the morning, Maxy Cohen informed the brigade's headquarters that the Arabs were using a loudspeaker and calling on everyone to gather in the market square, 'because the Jews have conquered Stanton Street and are continuing to make their way downtown.' Upon receiving the report, an order was given to the commander of the auxiliary weapons company, Ehud Almog, to make use of the three-inch mortars, which were situated next to Rothschild Hospital, and they opened up on the market square [where there was] a great crowd. When the shelling started and shells fell into it [the crowd], a great panic took hold. The multitude burst into the port, pushed aside the policemen, stormed the boats and began fleeing the town. Throughout the day the mortars continued to shell the city alternately, and the panic that seized the enemy became a rout."
"That is a mistake," retorts Ehud Almog, who was the commander of the auxiliary unit in the Carmeli Brigade's 22nd Battalion. "It was not a three-inch mortar. They were Davidka shells" - referring to homemade shells which were renowned for the loud noise they made. Of the other details he says, "The historical description is correct. Absolutely true. I remember the events vividly. We were ordered to shell the market when there was a large crowd there. There were tremendous noises of explosions which were heard across 200 meters." Almog adds that the shelling, which took place in the early afternoon, was short "but very effective."
Like Eshel, Almog also says the mortars fired by his unit spurred a flight of civilians to the port. Although not an eyewitness to the flight, officers from Shai (the Haganah's intelligence unit ) who were stationed near the port's gates gave him a real-time account of events. Another testimony (quoted by Morris in "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem" ) comes from a British soldier who was stationed in the port: "During the morning they [the Haganah] were continually shooting down on all Arabs who moved both in Wadi Nisnas and in the Old City. This included completely indiscriminate and revolting machine gun fire and sniping on women and children - attempting to get out of Haifa through the gates into the docks. There was considerable congestion outside the East Gate [of the port] of hysterical and terrified Arab women and children and old people on whom the Jews opened up mercilessly with fire." (A truncated version of this quote also appears in "1948" - reduced to "completely indiscriminate and revolting ... fire," the ellipsis replacing the words "machine gun." )
Beyond the moral issues that arise from firing into a crowded market, the testimony of Zadok Eshel, which is backed up by that of Ehud Almog, indicates that the attack was carried out by order of senior Haganah officers. How senior they were is not known. Not all the Israel Defense Forces archival material about this period is accessible to the public. It is therefore impossible to determine whether the shelling was part of a general policy aimed at expelling the Arabs, or one of several similar instances that were documented during the war.