“We must expel the Arabs and take their places … and, if we have to use force — not to dispossess the Arabs of the Negev and Transjordan, but to guarantee our own right to settle in those places — then we have force at our disposal.”
— David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, in a letter to his son, Amos, dated Oct. 5, 1937.
Arthur Ruppin, head of the Colonization Department of the Jewish Agency, once asked Chaim Weizmann, President of the World Zionist Congress, how he had managed to obtain the Balfour Declaration in 1917, and what he thought about the indigenous Palestinian Arab population.
To the latter question, Weizmann replied by saying that “The British told us that there are some hundred thousand Negroes (Kushim) and for those there is no value” (cited in “The Historical Roots of the Palestinian Refugee Question” by Nur Masalha, in Palestinian Refugees: The Right of Return edited by Naseer Aruri [p.37]).
The “some hundred thousand Negroes” Weizmann was referring to constituted the demographic majority in historical Palestine. In 1948, 800,000 Palestinians were violently expelled from their villages, towns, cities, homes and land during Israel’s so-called “war of independence.”
Their crime was that they were not Jewish, not of the “correct” ethno-religious background to warrant treatment as human beings with dignity and basic rights. They stood in the way of the establishment of a pure Jewish state, and thus were treated accordingly.
The attitude that the establishment of a pure Jewish State overrode or “trumped” the basic human rights of the indigenous population was expressed frequently and at many levels in the hierarchy of the Jewish Agency Executive (the leadership of the “Yishuv” or Jewish settlers in historical Palestine).
For example, Yosef Weitz — Director of the Settlement Department of the Jewish National Fund, who would later become the head of the Israeli Government’s official Transfer Committee of 1948 — expressed this belief on numerous occasions.
In a diary entry dated Dec. 20, 1940, he concluded that “After the Arabs are transferred, the country will be wide open for us; with the Arabs staying, the country will remain narrow and restricted … land purchasing will not bring about the state … The only way is to transfer the Arabs from here to neighboring countries … Not a single village or a single tribe must be left … there is no other solution.”
This “solution” to the “demographic problem” (too many indigenous Negroes or “Kushim” within the boundaries of the “promised land”) was once again re-iterated by Weitz in a diary entry dated March 20, 1941: “The complete evacuation of the country from its [Arab] inhabitants and handing it to the Jewish people is the answer” (these diary entries are cited in Masalha’s essay, p.41 op cit. The Weitz diaries are stored in the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem).
In the early 1980s, Israel declassified state documents pertaining to its establishment in 1948, and for the first time, researchers were able to bring ‘acceptable’ evidence to bear on the debate over the creation of the Palestinian refugee ‘problem’ (as if the narrative of nearly a million human beings was not enough).
The work done by these researchers gave substantial if not overwhelming support to the Palestinian narrative concerning the events of 1948. Over a very short time, by force of arms, terror, and massacre, Zionist forces succeeded in driving the indigenous population out of their homes and into neighboring countries.
By the time the ink was dry on the armistice agreements of 1949, the newly-born state of Israel had been established on 78 percent of historical Palestine, and in the course of its birth, 531 Palestinian villages had been depopulated and destroyed, 11 cities — mostly along the coastal plain, all of them with a Palestinian Arab demographic majority — had been depopulated and re-populated by mostly European Jewish refugees, and roughly 800,000 Palestinian Arabs had been forcefully expelled to the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring Arab countries.
The destruction of the indigenous society in Palestine proceeded in much the same way as the destruction of other indigenous societies by settler colonists.
There was the massacre of 250 innocent Palestinian villagers in Deir Yassin by the Irgun (a right wing Zionist militia) while the Haganah (the forerunner of the Israeli “Defence” Force) provided artillery cover.
The massacre at Deir Yassin was by no means an anomaly; in the words of noted Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, “We haven’t talked about the rape. We haven’t talked about the more than 30 or 40 massacres which popular historiography mentions. We haven’t yet decided how to define the systematic killing of several individuals that took place in each and every village in order to create the panic that should produce the exodus” (“The 48 Nakba and the Zionist Quest for its Completion” Between the Lines, October 2002 Issue).
Covering up crimes of this magnitude is no easy task. To adequately cope with unwanted scrutiny and pressure from the international community, the Israeli government and propaganda system adopted the strategy of ‘blaming the victims.’ The idea was to shift moral culpability for these crimes onto the Palestinians themselves (the victims) by constructing a number of myths about the events of 1948.
Thus was borne the myth that Palestine’s Arabs voluntarily left the country in 1948 at the behest of their leadership, in order to clear the way for the destruction of the nascent Jewish state by invading Arab armies.
This myth has been repeatedly repudiated by historians working in the Israeli State archives.
In January 1986, Historian Benny Morris published an article in Middle Eastern Studies shedding light on the issue. Based on a report by the intelligence branch of the Israeli “Defense” Forces entitled “The Emigration of the Arabs of Palestine in the Period 1/12/1947-1/6/1948,” Morris demonstrated that almost half the Palestinian refugees (391,000 people) had left their homes by the beginning of June 1948 (the inter-state war for Palestine started mid-way through May 1948). The document shows that there were three major causes of this flight, the two most important being:
1. Direct, hostile Jewish operations against Arab settlements.
2. The effect of our hostile operations on nearby settlements … especially the fall of large neighboring centers.
The important point to note is that whatever the reasons for leaving their homes, the Palestinians retained the right to return after the cessation of hostilities.
From a moral point of view, the question of whether the Palestinians “ran away” under orders or were forcibly expelled is secondary one. What is of moral significance is that the Palestinians are the indigenous inhabitants, that over centuries, they had built a society and developed a sense of community on their land.
Historical Palestine was their cultural space, and they used it to express themselves by owning land communally, through their particular way of constructing social relations within the village, by expression of their affiliation with Islam, Christianity, and Judaism through festivals with a particular cultural flavor.
That all this was not to the taste of Zionist pioneers who looked upon the local population as “backward” and “uncivilized” is once again of little moral significance.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (to which Israel is a signatory) recognizes the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. Article 13 clause 2 states that “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”
United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 calls for the return of the Palestinian refugees, stating that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practical date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return.”
The state of Israel has denied the refugees this right for 54 years, in fear that the Zionist project of cleansing historical Palestine of non-Jews would be reversed. Commitment to basic human rights and principles of universal justice cannot be reconciled with the Zionist commitment to racist exclusivist ethno-nationalism, and given a choice between the two, the Zionist movement and its ideological apologists have consistently chosen the latter.
The strategy of “blaming the victims” also finds its expression in contemporary myths about the Palestinians, and the absurd claims of apologists for the crimes of Zionism.
This trend is perfectly illustrated in an article by Benjamin Herman (a major in history no less) as well a series of letters by assorted ideologues that appeared in the pages of this newspaper last week.
Ostensively, they were critiquing an article by Alexandra Gekas written as a response to a horrendously racist advertisement published earlier in the week. But the real aim was to sell the American public a series of myths and lies about the Palestinians and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more generally.
Gekas rightly pointed to the fact that the media in the U.S. indulges in gross misinformation of the public regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Herman replied by indulging in more lies, half-truths and misrepresentation.
First of all, Herman blamed the victims of Barak’s Camp David hoax for not accepting an offer that he claimed would have given them 95 percent of 22 percent of the historical homeland that at the time of the foundation of the state of Israel they (the Palestinians) had owned 93.41 percent (the records of the Jewish National Fund show that together with private Jewish land holdings, Zionist land holding in 1947 amounted to 6.59 percent of historical Palestine).
For sane rational people who accept the concept of “evidence” rather than the propaganda tactic of blind repetition, the public record of the Camp David negotiations tells a different story.
The Barak myth began to unravel in the pages of the New York Times, New York Review of Books, and the Israeli paper Haaretz. Akiva Eldar, a senior analyst at Haaretz pointed out that “hardly anyone has any idea what those understandings are. No one has seen the paper summarizing these understandings, because no such paper exists. Veteran diplomats cannot recall political talks whose content was not put down on paper” (Akiva Eldar, ‘On the Basis of the non-Existent Camp David Understandings,’ Haaretz, November 16 2000).
Meanwhile, Robert Malley, special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs to President Bill Clinton from 1998-2001 wrote in the pages of the New York Review of Books that “had any member of the U.S. peace team been asked to describe Barak’s true positions before or even during Camp David — indeed, were any asked that question today — they would be hard-pressed to answer …. The final and largely unnoticed consequence of Barak’s approach is that, strictly-speaking, there never was an Israeli offer …. The Israelis always stopped one, if not several, steps short of a proposal” (Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, “Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors,” The New York Review of Books, August 9 2001).
However, what Barak said in public was that Camp David would be a “final agreement,” accompanied by a Palestinian declaration of the “end of the conflict.”
In the pages of The Jerusalem Post, he declared that “if the Palestinians want to establish a state, they must first declare that the century old Jewish-Arab conflict has come to an end” (The Jerusalem Post, August 18, 2000).
If the Palestinians signed a declaration of the “end of the conflict,” then it would be the new agreement with the Barak government that would be legally binding in the future and not the United Nations Resolutions pertaining to the conflict. Thus U.N. Resolution 242 of Nov. 22, 1967 calling for the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict,” and U.N. Resolution 194 calling for the return of the Palestinian refugees would be null and void, and no longer a basis for negotiations.
The precedents for what Barak actually (verbally) offered at Camp David are to be seen in the Alon Plan, and the creeping settlement of the West Bank and Gaza during the years of the Oslo Accords. The Alon plan is the idea that Israel should annex those areas of the West Bank and Gaza that are not so densely populated by Weizmann’s “Negroes,” and concentrate the “natives” in Bantustans (as per the South African Apartheid model of “justice”) where they can have some form of “autonomy” while being tightly controlled by their colonial occupiers.
It’s not surprising then that during the Oslo years, the number of illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza doubled (at the beginning of Oslo in the early 90s, the settlers numbered 100,000 in the West Bank alone [this number does not include the illegal Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem] whereas they now number over 200,000).
Induced to settle in the occupied territories by tax breaks and housing subsidies, Israeli citizens have become a means to the government’s end of asserting a claim to the annexation of almost half the West Bank, and control over the Palestinian population.
Further precedents for what Barak offered once again crop up in the Israeli media. The March 10, 2000 edition of Haaretz proclaimed “A State for Annexation.” It continued by stating “the prime minister’s (Barak) 10-40-50 plan: 50 percent of the West Bank for the Palestinians, 40 percent under debate, and 10 percent to Israel.” In 50 percent of the West Bank — that is, spatially non-contiguous areas broken up by settlements, bypass roads for Jews only, military checkpoints and encampments — the Palestinians would be allowed to declare a “state.”
The article continued by stating that “The proposal will leave unresolved the status of about 40 percent of the West Bank, as well as Jerusalem and the right of return.”
So, in return for giving up their right to return to their historic homeland, their right to share Jerusalem, and 40 percent of 22 percent of their historic homeland, the Palestinians get a formalization of the 35-year-old occupation of their lands, and a spatially non-contiguous state that cannot have free economic relations with any other country but Israel, since the areas annexed to Israel are along the outer boundaries of the West Bank, that is, the areas bordering other Arab countries like Jordan.
Movement of people and goods from one “Bantustan” or “autonomous area” to the other is controlled by the occupying colonial power, and the population of these areas function as a source of cheap labor for the Israeli labor market.
It’s no wonder then that after the murder of five Palestinians by the Israeli army on Sept. 29, 2000 the Palestinian people once again rose up in rebellion.
Herman continues to blame the victims by claiming that the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza are not illegal.
It is clearly stated in the Fourth Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons that “The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into territories it occupies.” (Article 49, Paragraph 6).
The Hague Regulations of 1907 prohibit the occupying power to undertake permanent changes in the occupied area, unless these are due to military needs in the narrow sense of the term, or unless they are undertaken for the benefit of the local population.
Israel’s settlement policies have been the subject of constant censure by several United Nations Resolutions. One of the more recent resolutions condemning Israel for continuing to build settlements in occupied territories was passed by the General Assembly on July 16, 1997. So, it seems that Herman’s claim is flagrantly false and misleading.
Perhaps most offensive of all is the claim that “many of the Palestinians who have been killed are terrorists or militants.” Once again, the victims of Israeli army brutality are blamed (for being terrorists), despite the fact that the Palestinian Red Crescent Society lists the death toll at 2,113, with 21,884 injuries, 5,201 of these injuries were caused by the use of live ammunition. 40 percent of the dead are children under the age of 18, and yet we are told that many of the dead and injured are “terrorists or militants.”
To get an idea of the kind of policy adopted toward civilians by the Israeli Occupation Forces, one need look no further than the pages of The Boston Globe.
Dan Ephron, Globe correspondent in Jerusalem reports (Nov. 4, 2000) on the findings of the Physicians for Human Rights delegation: “American doctors who examined Israel’s use of force in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have concluded that Israeli soldiers appeared to be deliberately targeting the heads and legs of Palestinian protestors, even in non-life-threatening situations.”
This is confirmed by articles in the Israeli Press. In The Jerusalem Post of Oct. 27, 2000, in an article entitled “Nahshon Battalion Ready for Urban Warfare,” Arieh O’Sullivan interviewed an Occupation Force Soldier: “I shot two people … in their knees. It’s supposed to break their bones and neutralize them but not kill them,” says Sgt. Raz, a sharpshooter from the Nahshon battalion. “How did I feel? … Well actually, I felt pretty satisfied with myself,” the 20-year-old soldier confides. “I felt I could do what I was trained to do, and it gave me a lot of self-confidence to think that if we get into a real war situation I’d be able to defend my comrades and myself.”
The logic behind this is that the killing of civilians must proceed slowly in order to avoid unwanted attention from the international community, but maiming them, and putting them out of commission will do nicely thank you.
In the pages of the same Jerusalem Post Article, it is stated that “the overall IDF strategy is to deprive the Palestinians of the massive number of casualties the army maintains Palestinians want in order to win world support and consolidate their fight for independence.”
Finally, the Israeli Occupation Forces apparently attempted to minimize civilian casualties by fighting “hand-to-hand combat” in the Jenin refugee camp last April (2002). One wonders what the options were. Carpet bombing?
In any case, the Israeli Occupation Forces committed war crimes in the camp, that is, if you believe reports by independent human rights groups that investigated what happened.
Minutes after the IDF lifted the blockade April 17, Amnesty International delegates made their way into the camp. This is what one delegate had to say about the experience: “There is total devastation, no whole standing house, as though someone has bulldozed a whole community. If anyone was in a house they could not have survived … there is nothing but rubble and people walking around looking dazed. There is a smell of death under the rubble.”
Forces bulldozed 169 houses and 374 apartment units, leaving 4000 of the camp’s 15,000 inhabitants homeless. In both Jenin and Nablus, Amnesty makes it clear that inadequate warnings or no warnings were given to residents before their houses were demolished, and the Israeli army failed to take measures to rescue those trapped in the rubble and prevented others from searching for them.
There are other issues that I could address, for example the claim that Palestinian militants used the civilian population as human shields. In fact, it is well documented by human rights groups that it was the Israeli Army that used Palestinian civilians as human shields as they searched house to house in the Jenin refugee camp.
I leave it to the American public to determine who the victims in this conflict are. It is heartening to note that the American public is beginning to be more skeptical of the claims of the Zionist movement; in a recent Council for the National Interest Foundation poll by Zogby International on Feb. 6, 57 percent of the American public oppose the new $12 billion Israeli aid package and less than 30 percent support it. By a margin of 2 to 1, the public strongly opposes granting $12 billion to Israel in addition to the usual $3 billion annual grant aid. It seems that the American people are becoming aware that their tax dollars are being used in the service of racism, apartheid and discrimination.
Mohammed Abed is a Palestinian graduate student in the Department of Philosophy and a member of Al-Awda (Palestine Right to Return Coalition) and the Alternative Palestinian Agenda.