By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
Facts that cannot be denied regarding the Palestinian-Israeli issue: the conflict did not start in 1967; Arab Palestinians constituted seventy-five percent of the total population and owned around 94.2 % of the land in Palestine by the end of the Mandate in 1948; and majority of the Palestinians today are refugees scattered throughout the world.
Israel insists that nothing that occurred prior to 1967 will ever be negotiable, and the present negotiations view the conflict as having started in 1967. The Israelis must be held accountable, legally, financially and morally for the crimes they committed against the Palestinians in 1947-48. There cannot be a closure to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict without addressing the crimes perpetrated by the Israelis, the massacres, the ethnic cleansing and the confiscating of the Palestinians’ lands and properties.
The vision of a purely Jewish state was at the heart of Zionism since the nineteenth century. The labor movement, the “socialist wing within the Zionist movement” sought to make Palestine exclusively Jewish rather than a socialist state. Under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion, Israel instituted and implemented the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians from their ancestral homeland, and the big powers collaborated to make the cleansing irreversible even with the passage of the General Assembly Resolution 194 that gives the Palestinian refugees the right of return to their home and live at peace with their neighbors.
When the UN stepped in to deal with the Palestinian refugees issue in 1949, Israel’s Western supporters in refused to involve the existing “International Refugee Organization” (IRO) that had been assisting Second World War European refugees, including Jews, to be repatriated as the first option to which refugees were entitled. Under pressure from the US, the UN created the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA), an organization that deals exclusively with the Palestinian refugees.
According to the historian Ilan Pappe, Israel and the Zionist Jewish organizations in the US and Europe were behind the decision to keep IRO out of the picture. Unlike the IRO, the UNRWA had no power to recommend the return of the Palestinians to their country. Its only function was to provide permanent camps, schools, medical services, employment and subsidies to the Palestinian refugees. The creation of UNRWA by the Zionist movement supporters was an insidious scheme to make the cleansing of the Palestinians permanent and nullify the General Assembly Resolution 194.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has been calling on the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” which rules out repatriation for Palestinian refugees and disenfranchises the Arabs in Israel.
The German Jews were compensated for the Nazi crimes against them in Europe and the refugees were given the option to resettle anywhere in Germany. When Israel implemented its 2005 disengagement plan in Gaza and the West Bank, the 8000 settlers in Gaza and the 660 in the four small outposts in the West Bank are referred to by Israel’s right-wing supporters as “ethnically cleansed population” in Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. They were paid money and given the option to settle in other stolen West Bank lands.
Israel must be held accountable for the Nakba massacres, and the victims of the ethnic cleansing must have the option to return to their towns and receive monetary finance to rebuild their homes and businesses. Treaties that created the International Criminal Court designate ethnic cleansing as a crime against humanity subject to adjudication under international law. Former Yugoslavia officials, the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing, were prosecuted by a special International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague.
The ethnic cleansing of Palestine that has been rooted in the memory and conscience of every Palestinian is a crime against humanity and should be at the top of any negotiating agenda. The perpetrators of the Palestinians cleansing are not obscure individuals. They were the “revered heroes of the War of Independence” and some of Israel’s future prime ministers. They include the indisputable leaders of the Zionist movement, the first Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, the commanders of the Haganah militia and the Palmach Special Forces, and leaders of the Irgun Leumi and Sterm terrorist gangs, Moshe Shertock, Yigael Yadin, Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon, Yitzhak Sadeh, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Yitzhak Rabin and Yossef Weitz.
Based on documented evidence, Ilan Pappe concluded that “Ben-Gurion masterminded the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.” When Ben-Gurion was in control over the security and defense of the Jewish community in Palestine, he wrote to his son that the only course of action open to Zionism was “the Arabs have to go”, and that the Zionists needed an opportune moment for making it happen such as a war. Ben-Gurion told the Executive of the Jewish Agency in 1947 that the Palestinians inside the Jewish state could become a fifth column, and therefore, “they can either be mass arrested or expelled; it is better to expel them.” Yossef Weitz, the director of the Land Department in the Jewish National Fund (JNF) wrote in his diary in 1940, “It is our right to transfer the Arabs, and the Arabs should go!”
The Haganah, the Palmach, Irgun and Stern systematically bombarded Palestinian communities, transferred their populations by buses and trucks, demolished the houses and committed unspoken atrocities in the process. Menachem Begin led the Irgun terrorist organization which carried out many massacres including Deir Yasin massacre in 1948. Early in 1948, the villagers of Deir Yasin had reached a non-aggression pact with the Haganah, but despite the agreement, armed members of Irgun, Stern and Haganah organizations surrounded the village, gathered its inhabitants in one place, raped women and killed everyone in cold blood including children.
After the establishment of Israel, the cleansed Palestinian villages were flattened and the Knesset passed the “Law for Absentee Property” which designated the JNF agency as the owner of the land on behalf of the Jewish people. The JNF is responsible for safeguarding the land “Jewishness” by prohibiting any sale or lease of the land to non-Jews, meaning the Palestinians. Yossef Weitz wrote that he had “remained unmoved by the sight of tractors destroying whole [Palestinian] villages.” New Jewish settlements with new names were built, the land has been cultivated by the settlers and some land was available for forestation. Another law, the “Law of Agriculture Settlement” was passed in 1967 to make sure no Palestinian can have access to the land for agriculture or construction; it prohibited even the sub-letting of the JNF land to non-Jews. Israel never allowed the 1.5 million so called “Arab-Israelis” to build even one new town or village while the Jewish communities whose natural growth is lower have been allowed to build hundreds of settlements on confiscated Palestinian lands.
Current Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman even wants to rid Israel of the Palestinians, who had not been cleansed in 1947-48 through their steadfastness, by transferring them to the projected Palestinian state.
Palestinian leaders must confront the Israelis by demanding that Israel should own up to the crimes committed against the Palestinians in 1947-48. They should demand accountability and justice, and the victims of cleansing must be treated no less than the victims of the Holocaust.
Palestinian armed struggle that began in the 1950s was started by the victims of the 1947-48 ethnic cleansing; the Palestinians of Gaza refugee camps initiated the First and Second Intifadas; and the number of refugees from Gaza and the West Bank interned in Israel prisons is twice those of the non-refugees Palestinian population. Most Palestinian refugees whose lives have been shattered when Israel was created cling to the notion of one day returning to their homes. They will not sit silent if they are asked to forego their rights and accept a return only to a future Palestinian state. If the pleas for justice for the victims of the ethnic cleansing are ignored, the signatures of the so called “Palestinian leaders” on any peace agreement will do little to end the century old conflict.
– Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. His latest book, Is the Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on Amazon.com. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.