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Read and reread The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine a book by Ilan Pappe (2006)

By Jacques Werstein

Reading Ilan Pappe's book written in 2006, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, is particularly topical today in order to understand what is at stake, in a situation where the Palestinian Authority, in the person of Mahmud Abbas, is putting its request to the UN for recognition of the Palestinian State, of which it intends to assume the leadership.

The UN is confronted, since its creation with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It has recognised and recognises among its members the State of Israel open to the immigration of Jews from all the countries where they are dispersed and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation” (PLO) a member with observance status representing all Palestinians who lived on Palestinian Mandate territory up till the partition of Palestine, adopted by the UN the 29th November 1947. They were chased out during the Nakba by Zionist, then Israeli armed forces. The PLO's first and foremost mandate is the demand to be able to return to their homes, the right for all to return, right that the UN recognised the 11th December 1948!

Taking this into account, it can reasonably be questioned whether Mahmud Abbas's demand is compatible with PLO representation and its mandate of continuing to defend in the UN, the right to return for Palestinian refugees. Besides, it is well known that several Zionist currents, with Lieberman, are demanding that the Palestinians who live in Israel (and have Israeli nationality) be expelled and sent to the pseudo Palestinian State. Mahmud Abbas's demand is a direct threat to this population. Should the Palestinians in the refugee camps and the diaspora abandon their right to return home?

Wouldn't that be making the Palestinian people pay a high price for UN recognition of the Palestinian rump state, in charge of keeping order alongside the State of Israel ? Do the Palestinians have to abandon for ever all perspective of a single democratic , secular, Palestinian State, with equal rights for its Jewish and Arab components, in the absence of which no return is conceivable ? Must it submit to barbarism?

The hue and cry of the media can be heard everywhere with their solution to the conflict : a return to the pre 1967 Palestine.

Partition, war and ethnic cleansing

Ilan Pappe's book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, has the great merit of reminding us that before the Zionist military occupation of the West bank and Gaza in 1967, the Palestinian State did not exist. Palestine, after the Ottoman occupation, was the Palestine Mandate, under the occupation of the British Empire. In 1967 it was already dislocated by Partition and the ethnic cleansing that this allowed, with the aim of setting up a Zionist State on the major part of its territory. Partition and ethnic cleansing are the pillars of the construction of the Israeli State and remain so, against the Palestinian people and the peoples of the Middle East.

Ilan Pappe organised his research round these pillars on which the Zionist movement has built its State and first of all on the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian inhabitants of Palestine, that is denied everywhere. His work corrects the Zionist version according to which , the the war of independence of Israel that defeated the invasion of the Arab armies, was to have been the founding act of the Jewish State that the State of Israel celebrates every year. He gives an answer to this (P. xvi): When it created its nation-state, the Zionist movement did not wage a war that ‘tragically but inevitably’ led to the expulsion of ‘parts of’ the indigenous population’… the main goal was the ethnic cleansing of all of Palestine, which the movement coveted for its new state.. And he proves it.

Of course the Zionist movement did not create a Nation State in Palestine. No more than the French colonists did in Algeria. Ilan Pappe then no longer uses this term. He prefers (p. 253) the term of White (western) fortress, in a black (Arab) world that clearly situates the origins of this State in the Zionist movement, sponsored , armed, then transformed into a State by Imperialism.

To write this book, Ilan Pappe got together a considerable number of documents from archives, military reports, accounts from the minutes of official meetings of the Zionist movement and the Israeli Sate, from personal diaries and correspondence, but also from works undertaken by Israeli and Palestinian researchers, from the depositions of those having taken part in ethnic cleansing, officers and soldiers and their Palestinian victims. The repertory of these comprises 20 pages of substantiated notes. He confronts and compares them, analyses and reconstructs the development of the discussions, decisions and their implementation, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine has the makings of an historical investigation and indictment. He writes in his foreword (p. xvi), In many ways it is indeed my own J’Accuse against the politicians who devised, and the generals who perpetrated, the ethnic cleansing… because there is no other way for us to fully understand the roots of the contemporary Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

To-day, the official Zionist version of what the Nakba is, can be consulted on the web site of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The Zionist movement, then Israel never demanded the expulsion of Palestinians and when the Palestinians were chased from their homes, it was never done in a systematic or organised fashion. But the refugee problem has been created mainly and primarily by the leaders of the Arabs of Palestine, and the heads of Arab States encouraging them to go into exile while awaiting their return on the ruins of the Jewish State, crushed at birth ... Ilan Pappe recalls that Israeli school books go even further asserting: there was a Jewish attempt to persuade the Palestinians to remain.

This official Zionist version is adopted by all Western governments, for whom Israel is the only democratic State in the Middle East and everyone knows the considerable efforts these heads of State go to, to export and extend this democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya.

They have never demanded the expulsion of the Palestinians ...

Ilan Pappe refers (p.23) to a letter from David Ben Gurion dated 1937, before the Holocaust then, when the founder of the Israeli State, of which he was to be Prime Minister explains to his son, ‘the Arabs will have to go’ but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war. The minutes of the Jewish Executive Agency give an account of the discussion engaged in June 1938 on the future of the population living in Palestine. Ben Gurion in order to dissipate hesitation came out with (p.xi): I am for compulsory transfer; I do not see anything immoral in it. In a Trade Union Assembly of the Zionist Confederation Histadrut of which he was the leader, Ben Gurion strongly contradicted a speaker who had just said: we are not fighting Palestinian peasants, but effendis (Arab squires). This was his answer: you are wrong, our enemies are Palestinian peasants. As for Yossef Weitz who was the head of the Jewish National Fund in charge of the organisation of receiving and distributing to Jews, land bought off Squires, he was careful to make sure the land was first of all cleared of the Arab peasants that worked it. He never stopped insisting: It is our right to transfer the Arabs. The Arabs must go.

Ilan Pappe assembles piece by piece the elements of a dossier that clearly establishes, in contradiction with the assertions of Zionist propaganda, echoed by all Western governments, that there was never a voluntary exodus of Palestinians, in reply to the call from their leaders and the heads of Arab States, in reaction to the proclaiming of the State of Israel the 14th May 1948.

So, concerning the fact that the young Israeli State with its political and military leaders, the heroes of the war of independence, would never have organised systematic violence and exactions -the rare examples being regrettable but unavoidable acts of violence in any war - Ilan Pappe produces to contradict this, the minutes of Ben Gurion's council committees, when he was defence minister of the Zionist movement. He set up this personal council committee of eleven members, old Zionist leaders and young officers. It notes that as from the beginning of December 1947 , (p. 87) Ben Gurion and his close associates nonetheless understood perfectly (…) the ability of the Jewish forces to seize, even before British had left, many of the areas the UN Partition Resolution had allocated to the Jewish state. ‘Seizing’ meaning only one thing: the massive expulsion of the Palestinians living there from their homes, businesses and land in both the cities and the rural areas.

The 10th December 1947 the council committee took a stand in favour of engaging an intimidation campaign, that the army, the Haganah called violent recognition operations which entailed a demonstration of force against the villages. The village of Balad al-Cheikh was chosen, where lay the body of one of the most venerated and charismatic Palestinian leaders of the thirties, killed by the British in 1935. His assassination had sparked off a general strike and the setting up of strike committees for the independence of Palestine, against British occupation, for a stop to Jewish immigration and a ban on the sale of Palestinian land. The revolt begun in 1936 was crushed with much bloodshed three years later by the English army, side by side with the Zionist brigades, thanks to the betrayal of the effendis (squires),. It marked the whole of the future history of Palestine. Crushing Balad al-Cheikh was supposed to show the villagers that any resistance to Zionist forces was useless. A local commander received the order (p.59) to encircle the village, kill the largest possible number of men, damage property, but refrain from attacking women and children. The attack took place the 31st December 1947. It resulted in more than 60 Palestinian deaths, not all men. During the following council committee meeting, the decision was taken for future operations, to abandon this distinction between men and women, that complicated things unnecessarily.

Urban space also came under attack; Haïfa, the biggest port of Palestine, its refinery where Palestinian and Jewish workers had come out together on several strikes against the British occupier (p.58) this class conscienciousness was curbed in the 1920s and 1930s by both national leader-ships, in particular by the Jewish Trade Union movement, but it continued to motivate joint industrial action against employers of all kinds, and inspire mutual help at times of recession and scarcity. (p.58) From the morning after the UN Partition resolution was adopted, the 75 000 Palestinians in the city (Haïfa) were subjected to a campaign of terror jointly instigated by the Irgun and the Hagana ... The Jewish troops rolled barrels full of explosives and huge steel balls down into the Arab residential areas, and poured oil mixed with fuel down the roads which then they ignited. The moment panic-striken Palestinian residents came running out of their homes to try to extinguish these rivers of fire, they were sprayed by machine-gun fire … The early eruption of violence put a sad end to a relatively long history of workers’ cooperation and solidarity in the mixed city of Haïfa…

Zionist armed forces on the ground were called upon to take advantage everywhere and immediately of eventual angry reactions of Palestinians to the announcement of the UN decision to split Palestine, by turning them out of their homes and driving them forcibly to the border. Cleaning up brigades developed in number coordinating their action. Three months later, reports from the front were already considered so convincing by Ben Gurion, (200 towns and villages had been destroyed, 350 000habitants had been driven out) that his council committee drew up and launched on all fronts the fourth cleansing plan of Palestine (Daleth). This plan did not limit its action to the territories attributed by the UN to the Jewish State and coordinated all its forces in order to systematically accelerate up the ethnic purification of the occupied territories before the departure of the English planned for the 14th May 1948.

The months of the Nakba horror

Ilan Pappe retraces the months of the Nakba horror in these towns and villages. (p.93)The Jews wanted the port city but without the 75,000 Palestinians who lived there, and in April 1948 they achieved their objective. The British soldiers were due to leave a month later by boat from Haifa where their forces were in great number. They were contained in a buffer zone which was the only obstacle preventing Jewish forces from a direct assault on and takeover of, the Palestinian areas, where more than 50,000 people still resided. They were still in charge of maintaining law and order. They were informed about what the Zionists were preparing. They could have intervened and stopped it.

Their general summoned the Jewish municipal officials and informed them that his soldiers were going to evacuate the buffer zone within two days. Two days later, the day planned for the Zionist attack, he received four improvised and exhausted Palestinian leaders, whom he advised to leave the town, where most of the families had lived since the middle of the 18th century. They understood that the British would not protect them, they were doomed to be expelled. They told (him) they wanted to leave in an organised manner. The Carmeli Brigade made sue they would leave in the midst of carnage and havoc. Mordechai Maklef, operations officer in the Carmeli brigade (who later became Chief of Staff of the Israeli army) gave his soldiers clear and simple orders: Kill any Arab you encounter; torch all inflammable objects and force doors open with explosives. The orders were faithfully executed and the shock and terror were such that… people began leaving en masse. In panic they headed towards the port where they hoped to find a ship or a boat to take them away from the city. Straight away Jewish troops broke into and looted their houses.

Loudspeakers howled inviting the crowd (p.95, 96) to gather in the old marketplace next to the port, and seek shelter until an orderly evacuation by sea could be organised.The Carmeli brigade officers … ordered their men to station three-inch mortars… and to bombard the gathering crowd below… When the shelling began this was the natural destination for the panic-stricken Palestinians… ‘Men stepped on their friends and women on their children. The boats in the port were soon filled with living cargo. The overcrowding in them was horrible. Many turned over and sank this all their passengers.

When the ethnic cleansing had reached its objective in the summer 1949, 531 towns and villages had been destroyed in 78% of the territory of ancient Palestine. The Zionist leaders, who had secretly negotiated from 1947 on, then during the strange war with Abdallah of Jordan ( trusty ally of the British Empire) , the attribution of the West Bank to Jordan and Gaza to Egypt , had won and occupied for the Jewish State, 22% more territory, destined for the Arab State.

The partition voted by the UN attributed to the 66% of Arab Palestinians, 44% of the territory of Palestine that should have been peopled almost exclusively by Arabs. To the 30% of Jews of Palestine it had attributed 56% of the Palestine of 1947 where half Jews half Palestinians were to live side by side. At the end of the forced cleansing of 800 000 Palestinians driven out of their homes to the border, there remained only 160 000 Palestinians in 78% of the territory of Palestine where the State of Israel had been proclaimed. Ilan Pappe remarks that, at no moment up till the present day have Western powers, condemned or recognised this crime against humanity at the origin of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while they were very prompt in doing this in Yugoslavia.

The Defence Minister, Ben Gurion had built up the Defence forces of Israel merging the Hagana, the Stern group and the Likud into a single Zionist army of ethnic purification in order to systematically uproot the Palestinian population of Palestine. Thousands of Palestinians have been implacably and savagely killed by Israeli soldiers of all origins, all ranks and all ages. No one of these soldiers has ever been judged for war crimes, in spite of overwhelming proof. Writes Ilan Pappe. Over several months, the offensive accelerated up , became more systematic, strengthened by arms sent in by Stalin. The military Chief of Staff, Yigaël Yadine was exultant: To-day we have all the weapons we need ...

Thewar of independence of the young State of Israel struggling for survival like a reckless David facing up to the powerful armies of the Arab Goliath , is just a fable. The massacre of Palestinians and their expulsion from Palestine, the ethnic cleansing began before any intervention of Arab States and continued after their retreat. Indeed, the only consequential armed force, Abdallah of Jordan’s Arab League, commanded by a British officer, had negotiated secretly with the State of Israel to occupy and to remain only on the territories that were planned to revert to it in the end.

The list of the massacres is frightening: in Beersheba, defended by volunteers, when the fighting was over, the soldiers taken prisoner and all the inhabitants of the town that the Israeli troops suspected of having taken up arms, were assembled and were shot down at random. In Tantura one of the largest of the coastal villages (P.133) the offensive came from all four flanks ... The Jewish troops found themselves with a very large number of villagers on their hands. They were herded at gunpoint down to the beach. The Jewish troops then separated the men from the women and children, and expelled the later to nearby Furaydis… The hundreds of men collected on the beach were ordered to sit down and await the arrival of an Israeli intelligence officer who lived in the nearby settlement of Givat Ada. He went along with a local collaborator, hooded as at Ayn al-Zaytun, and picked out individual men (from 10 – 50 years old) and took them out in small groups to a spot further away where they were executed. The men were selected according to a pre-prepared list drawn from Tantura’s village file, and included everybody who had participated in the 1936 Revolt, in attacks on Jewish traffic, who had contacts with the Mufti. But before these executions the village occupation unit had spread death in the houses and on the streets. And yet when the attack took place the villagers had already signified that they capitulated by waving a white flag. The order given to detachments was to rapidly empty town and villages of their populations. One very simple order among many others can be read: (p.141) Our mission: attack to occupy … kill the men, destroy and set fire to Kabri, Umm al-Faraj and Nahr. A satisfied report; (p.132 bas) There were sixty-four villages within the area that stretched between Tel-Aviv and Haïfa … Only two of these villages were spared in the end. A letter full of enthusiasm from Ben Gurion himself, the 7th February 1948: (p.68) Ever since Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans - the city was not as Jewish as it is now… If we persist it is quite possible that in the next six or eight months … there will be considerable changes in the demographic composition of the country. The bloody traces of the brigades led to a succession of massacres: Dawaimeh, kfar Kassem, Hula, Sahiha, Sa'sa, Lydda, Safsaf, Ein Zeitoun, Mi'ar, Bassa, deir Yassin, Balad al-Cheik, Haim Avinoam ( this list is not complete) for which traces of direct orders for massacres cannot be found, nor total or true condemnation of those that took place. Sometimes local commanders were left the choice of “cleansing and destroying the villages of your district, observes the author on the basis of military reports.

But the State of Israel, the white Western fortress as Ilan Pappe calls it, is not the only one to refuse to recognise the ethnic cleansing of Palestine at the roots of the 800 000 Palestinian refugees and to refuse to give an answer to their demand for reparation, by implementing the right for the refugees to return.

The British Empire that up till the 14th May 1948 was mandated to ensure law and order in Palestine is responsible for having ordered its 75 000 soldiers to stay with grounded arms and not to intervene at any moment while the Zionist forces purified Palestine. What's more it stopped the UN intervening, what the UN will not do either after the departure of the English.

The United States, who organised the Palestine partition vote at the UN, with Stalin's support, and who pushed aside the English to take their place in the region , were the first to recognise the State of Israel and congratulate Ben Gurion. Stalin supplied the arms and ensured military supremacy for the Zionists in order to eliminate the contingents from Arab States and cleanse the territories taken over from their Palestinian inhabitants.

The support of all of these stems from their agreement that at the gates of the Suez Canal and the oil fields a white Western fortress contributes to the maintaining of the order established by the agreements of Yalta and Postdam for the benefit of Imperialism.

Already, the role given the National Jewish Foyer by Balfour's declaration in 1917 installed it within the territory in order to help the British dominate Palestine. This role was revealed to the eyes of the world particularly when side by side English soldiers and Zionist brigades assassinated 5 000 Palestinians and imprisoned 9 000 others between 1936 and 1939 in order to crush the Palestinian revolt raising the independence flag of the Palestinian Nation against the British and Zionist occupation. The United States who took the place of the English then armed the State of Israel to the teeth on the rubble of Palestine.

Wipe out all trace of crime

The State of Israel has done everything to try and wipe out all trace of Palestinian presence before 1948: it has rewritten History and geography to accredit the version according to which the Jewish people had returned to rebuild the ancient kingdom of the Hebrews on its deserted land. It has torn up the olive trees whose fruit and oil are part of the Palestinian tradition and replaced them by pine trees and cypresses. It has meticulously buried under buildings, public parks, forests, the ruins of houses, of former villages and Palestinian districts in the towns. It has wiped out Palestinian names and christened places with Hebrew names. Any contradiction of the Zionist version would be a mark of anti-Semitism.

So it was that the 21st March 2010, the Knesset adopted a Bill banning any celebration of the Nakba. The 15th May 2011, on the Golan plateau, at the Lebanese frontier, in the Gaza strip, on the West Bank, in Jerusalem all the Palestinian rallies commemorating the Nakba and demanding the right for refugees to return were strafed by Zionist forces killing eight demonstrators and wounding thousands of others. All memories of the crimes, of ethnic cleansing must be suppressed!

Ilan Pappe writes (p.253 haut) : unless Israel acknowledges the cardinal role it has played, and continues to play, in the dispossession of the Palestinian nation, and accepts the consequences this recognition of the ethnic cleansing implies, all attempts to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict are bound to fail.

And he adds a little further: But the aim of the Zionist project has always been to construct and then defend a ‘white’ (Western) fortress in a ‘black’ (Arab) world … (p.255) Level of social violence inside the Fortress are high, and the standard of living of the majority is constantly dropping … Rejecting the Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return is a tantamount to making an unconditional pledge to the continuing defence of the ‘white’ enclave, and to upholding the Fortress.

Five years after writing this book , in September 2011, doesn't the demand by the Palestinian Authority of Mahmud Abbas for recognition of the State of Israel, acclaimed by certain and barred by the veto announced by the United States, express their apprehension of an explosion of the Palestinian population, delivered up to the exactions of Jewish settlers , helped by soldiers;; a population that is suffocating in the terrifying dead end of the Bantustans, in which the white Fortress and its US Godfather, but also the Palestinian Authority, imprisons it ?

Could the recognition of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the concrete realisation of the right to return to Palestine for the refugees, be obtained in any other way than by the setting up of a single Palestinian democratic and secular State with its Jewish and Arab components, within the frontiers of the Palestine Mandate? Isn't that what Ilan Pappe implies when he highlights his work (p.ix) this book … it is written first and foremost for the Palestinian victims of the 1948 ethnic cleansing. Many of them are friends and comrades (…) since I learned about the Nakba. I have carried with me their suffering, their loss and their hopes. Only when they return will I feel that this chapter of the catastrophe has finally reached the closure we all covet, enabling all of us to live in peace and harmony in Palestine.

From DIALOGUE REVIEW ( www.dialogue-review.com )