The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Ilan Pappe. Oneworld Publications, Oxford, England, 2006.
By Stephen Lendman
Ilan Pappe is an Israeli historian and senior lecturer at Haifa University. He’s also Academic Director of the Research Institute for Peace at Givat Haviva and Chair of the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian Studies. Pappe is an expert on Israel and Zionism and the Palestinians’ Right of Return to their homeland, is considered "an honourable academic with integrity and conscience," and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Council for Palestinian Restitution and Repatriation (CPRR), an organization declaring that "every Palestinian has a legitimate, individual right to return to his or her original home and to absolute restitution of his or her property."
Pappe is also one of Israel’s "new historians" whose scholarship and writings are based on access to material now available from British Mandate period and Israeli archives that provide the most accurate and authentic documented history of Israel before and after it became a state and which now serve to debunk the myths about the years leading up to the Jewish State’s founding and those following it to this day.
Pappe has also authored, contributed to or edited nine books. His latest is the one this review covers in detail so readers will know about its powerful and shocking content, unknown to most in the West and in Israel that hopefully will arouse them enough to get the book and learn in full detail what Pappe documented. He proves from official records how the Israeli state came into being with blood on its hands from lands forcibly seized from its Palestinian inhabitants who’d lived on it for hundreds of years previously. Since the 1940s, they were ethnically cleansed and slaughtered without mercy so their homeland would become one for Jews alone.
The shameful result is that Palestinians then and today have almost no rights including being able to live in peace and security on their own land in their own state that no longer exists. Survivors then and their offspring either live in Israel as unwanted Arab citizens with few rights or in the Occupied Palestinians Territories (OPT) where their lives are suspended in limbo in an occupied country in which they’re subjected to daily institutionalized and codified racism and persecution. They have no power over their daily lives and live in a constant state of fear with good reason. They face economic strangulation; collective punishment for any reason; loss of free movement; enclosures by separation walls, electric fences and border closings; regular curfews, roadblocks, checkpoints, loss of their homes by bulldozings and crops and orchards by wanton destruction and seizure; arrest without cause, and routine subjection to torture while in custody.
They’re targeted for extra-judicial assassination and indiscriminate killing; taxed punitively and denied basic services essential to life and well-being including health care, education, employment and even enough food and water at the whim of Israeli authorities in a deliberate effort to destroy their will to resist and eliminate those who won’t by expulsion or extermination. Palestinians have no power to end these appalling abuses and crimes against humanity or receive any redress for them in Israeli, the West or through the International Criminal Court Israel ignores when it rules against its interests.
How can they as Muslims in a racist Jewish state where Israelis oppressive them with impunity, the US goes along with huge financing and supplying of the most modern and destructive weapons of war, and the West and most Arab states are indifferent preferring to ally with Israel and the US for benefits received while writing off Palestinians as a small price worth paying. It created state of appalling human misery and desperation severely aggravated by crushing economic sanctions for the past year imposed for the first time ever on an occupied people. They’re responsible for poverty and unemployment levels of 80% or more and increasing instances of starvation and unreported deaths from all causes because Israel controls everything and everyone allowed in and out of the territories. Those inside them suffer painfully as a result. Others with power to help, don’t care and do nothing.
Pappe documents how it all began in 12 chapters with a short epilogue plus 18 graphic pictures needing no explanation. He calls the book his "J’Accuse against the politicians who devised the plan and the generals who carried out the ethnic cleansing" naming the guilty, the villages and urban areas destroyed, and the cruelest crimes committed against defenseless people only wanting to live in peace on their own land and were willing to do it with Jews as neighbors but not as overlords or oppressors.
This review is lengthy so readers will know in detail what Israeli authorities successfully suppressed for decades. Pappe courageously revealed it in a book begging to be read and discussed by all people of conscience and good faith. They need to take the lead building a groundswell consensus to stand up to this long-festering injustice against defenseless people fighting for their rights and existence against overwhelming odds.
Pappe provides them help with his extensive documentation and other suggested reading on the origins of Zionist ideology leading to the ethnic cleansing in the 1940s and thereafter. He particularly mentions two of Nur Masalha’s important books – Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of Transfer in Zionist Political Thought, 1882 – 1948 and The Politics of Denial: Israel and the Palestinian Refugee Problem. Readers are encouraged to explore this issue further with these and other books exposing ugly truths long suppressed in the West and needing to be freely aired.
The Beginning – Initial Planning for Ethnic Cleansing
In his preface, Pappe writes about the "Red House" in Tel-Aviv that became headquarters for the Hagana, the dominant Zionist underground paramilitary militia during the British Mandate period in Palestine between 1920 and 1948 when the Jewish state came into being. He details how David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, met with leading Zionists and young Jewish military officers on March 10, 1948 to finalize plans to ethnically cleanse Palestine that unfolded in the months that followed including "large-scale (deadly serious)intimidation; laying siege to and bombarding villages and population centres; setting fire to homes, properties and goods; expulsion; demolition; and finally, planting mines among the rubble to prevent any of the expelled inhabitants from returning."
The final master plan was called Plan D (Dalet in Hebrew) following plans A, B, and C preceding it. It was to be a war without mercy complying with what Ben-Gurion said in June, 1938 to the Jewish Agency Executive and never wavering from later: "I am for compulsory transfer; I do not see anything immoral in it." Plan D became the way to do it. It included forcible expulsion of hundreds of thousands of unwanted Palestinian Arabs in urban and rural areas accompanied by an unknown number of others mass slaughtered to get it done. The goal was simple and straightforward – to create an exclusive Jewish state without an Arab presence by any means including mass-murder.
Once begun, the whole ugly business took six months to complete. It expelled about 800,000 people, killed many others, and destroyed 531 villages and 11 urban neighborhoods in cities like Tel-Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem. The action was a clear case of ethnic cleansing that international law today calls a crime against humanity for which convicted Nazis at Nuremberg were hanged. So far Israelis have always remained immune from international law even though names of guilty leaders and those charged with implementing their orders are known as well as the crimes they committed.
They included cold-blooded mass-murder; destruction of homes, villages and crops; rapes; other atrocities; and massacres of defenseless people given no quarter including women and children. The crimes were suppressed and expunged from official accounts as Israeli historiography cooked up the myth that Palestinians left voluntarily fearing harm from invading Arab armies. It was a lie covering up Israeli crimes Palestinians call the Nakba – the catastrophe or disaster that’s still a cold, harsh festering unresolved injustice.
Even with British armed presence still in charge of law and order before its Mandate ended, Jewish forces completed the expulsion of about 250,000 Palestinians the Brits did nothing to stop. It continued unabated because when neighboring Arab states finally intervened, they did so without conviction. They came belatedly and with only small, ill-equipped forces, no match for a superior, well-armed Israeli military easily able to prevail as discussed below.
Ethnic Cleansing Defined
Pappe notes that ethnic cleansing is well-defined in international law that calls it a crime against humanity. He cites several definitions including from the Hutchinson encyclopedia saying it’s expulsion by force to homogenize the population. The US State Department concurs adding its essence is to eradicate a region’s history. The United Nations used a similar definition in 1993 when the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) characterized it as the desire of a state or regime to impose ethnic rule on a mixed area using expulsion and other violence including separating men and women, detentions, murder of males of all ages who might become combatants, destruction of houses, and repopulating areas with another ethnic group.
In 1948, Zionists waged their "War of Independence" using Plan D to "cleanse" Palestine according to the UN definition. It involved cold-blooded massacres and indiscriminate killing, targeted assassinations and widespread destruction as clear instances of crimes of war and against humanity, later expunged from the country’s official history and erased from its collective memory. It was left it to a few courageous historians like Ilan Pappe to resurrect events to preserve the truth too important to let die. His invaluable book provides an historic account of what, in fact, happened. It needs broad exposure but won’t get it in the corporate-controlled Israeli, US or Western media overall. It will on this important web site with the courage to publish it.
Zionism’s Ideological Roots
Pappe traces the roots of Zionism to the late 1880s in Central and Eastern Europe "as a national revival movement, prompted by the growing pressure on Jews in those regions to assimilate totally or risk continuing persecution." Founded by Theodor Herzl, the movement became international in scope supporting a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel, or Eretz Israel, even though early on many in the movement were ambivalent about its location. That changed following Herzl’s death in 1904 when it was decided the goal was to colonize Palestine because of its biblical connection that happened to be land occupied inappropriately by "strangers" meaning anyone not Jewish having "no right" to be there.
So as justification, the myth was created of "a land without people for a people without a land" even though this "empty land" had a flourishing Palestinian Arab population including a small number of Jews. Zionist leaders wanted a complete dispossession of indigenous Arabs to reestablish the ancient land of Eretz Israel as a Jewish state for Jews alone and got help doing it from the British after Palestine became part of its empire post-WW I. With duplicity, the Brits crafted the 1917 Balfour Declaration supporting the notion of a Jewish homeland in Palestine while simultaneously promising indigenous Arabs their rights would be protected and land would be freed from foreign rule.
Palestinian Arabs saw through the scheme wanting no part of it. It was their land, and they weren’t about to give it up without a struggle. They strongly opposed further Jewish immigration but to no avail, as their wishes conflicted with British plans for the territory. It set off decades of conflict leading to the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 with British help under their Mandate and neighboring Arab state indifference doing little to prevent it. Palestinians lost their homeland, their struggle for justice goes on unresolved, and these beleaguered people are virtually isolated from the West and their Arab neighbors preferring alliance with Israel for their own interests that exclude helping Palestinian people get theirs served including a viable independent state free from Israeli occupation.
Pappe traces the early post-Balfour history when Palestinians comprised 80 – 90% of the population. Even then they fared poorly under British Mandate rule giving Zionist settlers preferential treatment. It led to uprisings in 1929 and 1936, the later one lasting three years before being brutally suppressed. In its wake, Britain expelled Palestinian leaders making their people vulnerable to Jewish forces post-WW II that led to their defeat and subjugation. The sympathetic British Mandate made it possible by helping Jewish settlers transform their 1920 paramilitary organization into the Hagana, a name meaning defense. It then became the military arm of the Jewish Agency or Zionist governing body now called the Israel Defense Forces or IDF.
Planning the Expulsion of the Palestinians
David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, led the Zionist movement from the mid-1920s until well into the 1960s. He played a central role and had supreme authority planning the establishment of a Jewish state serving as its "architect" with full control over all security and defense issues in the Jewish community. His goal was Jewish sovereignty over as much of ancient Palestine as possible achieved the only way he thought possible – by forceable removable of Palestinians from their land so Jews could be resettled in it.
To do it, he and other Zionist leaders needed a systematic plan to "cleanse" the land for Jewish habitation only. It began with a detailed registry or inventory of Arab villages the Jewish National Fund (JNF) was assigned to compile. The JNF was founded in 1901 as the main Zionist tool for the colonization of Palestine. Its purpose was to buy land used to settle Jewish immigrants that by the end of the British Mandate in 1948 amounted to 5.8% of Palestine or a small fraction of what Zionists wanted for a Jewish state. Early on, Ben-Gurion and others knew a more aggressive approach was needed for their colonization plan to succeed.
It began with the JNF Arab village inventory that was a blueprint completed by the late 1930s that included the topographic location of each village with detailed information including husbandry, cultivated land, number of trees, quality of fruit, average amount of land per family, number of cars, shop owners, Palestinian clans and their political affiliation, descriptions of village mosques and names of their imams, civil servants and more. The final inventory update was finished in 1947 with lists of "wanted" persons in each village targeted in 1948 for search-and-arrest operations with those seized summarily shot on the spot in cold blood.
The idea was simple – kill the leaders and anyone thought to be a threat the British hadn’t already eliminated quelling the 1936-39 uprising. It created a power vacuum neutralizing any effective opposition to Zionists’ plans. The only remaining obstacle thereafter was the British presence Ben-Gurion knew was on the way out by 1946 before it finally ended in May, 1948.
Partition, Ethnic Cleansing, War, and Establishment of the State of Israel
Ethnic cleansing began in early December, 1947 when Palestinians comprised two-thirds of the population and Jews, mostly from war-torn Europe, the other third. The British tried dealing with two distinct ethnic entities choosing partition as the way to do it. By 1937, this solution became the centerpiece of Zionist policy, but it proved too hard for the Brits to resolve and be able to satisfy both sides. It instead handed the problem to the newly formed UN to deal with before their Mandate ended.
It put the Palestinians’ fate in the hands of a Special Committee for Palestine (UNSCOP) whose members had no prior experience solving conflicts and knew little Palestinian history. It was a recipe for disaster as events unfolded. UNSCOP opted for partition favoring the Jews as compensation for the Nazi holocaust that became General Assembly Resolution 181 on November 29, 1947 giving them a state encompassing 56% the country with one-third of the population while making Jerusalem an international city. Palestinians were justifiably outraged. They were excluded from the decision-making process concluded against their will and at their expense.
From that moment on, the die was cast leading to partition, ethnic cleansing, the first Arab-Israeli war, the others to follow, and decades of disregard for their rights to this day creating their desperate state with no resolution in prospect. Resolution 181 was even worse than an unfair 56 – 44% division of territory as it allotted the most fertile land and almost all urban and rural territory in Palestine to the new Jewish state plus 400 of the over 1000 Palestinian villages their residents lost with no right of appeal.
Pappe explains Ben-Gurion simultaneously accepted and rejected the resolution. He and other Zionist leaders wanted official international recognition of the right of Jews to have their own state in Palestine. He was also determined to make Jerusalem the Jewish capital, intended final borders to remain flexible wanting to include within them as much future territory as possible, and today Israel is the only country in the world without established borders. Ben-Gurion decided borders would "be determined by force and not by partition resolution." He headed the Consultancy or Consultant Committee, an ad-hoc cabal of Zionist leaders created solely to plan the expulsion of Palestinians to cleanse the land for Jewish habitation only.
The process began in early December, 1947 with a series of attacks against Palestinian villages and neighborhoods. They were engaged ineffectively from the start on January 9 by units of the first all-Arab volunteer army. It resulted in forced expulsions beginning in mid-February, 1948. On March 10, final Plan Dalet was adopted with its first targets being Palestinian urban centers that were all occupied by end of April with about 250,000 Palestinians uprooted, displaced or killed including by massacres, the most notorious and remembered being at Deir Yassin even though Tantura may have been the largest.
Deir Yassin was Palestinian land on April 9 when Jewish soldiers burst into the village, machine-gunned houses randomly killing many in them. The remaining villagers were then assembled in one place and murdered in cold blood including children and women first raped and then killed. Recent research puts the number massacred at 93 (including 30 babies), but dozens more were killed in the fighting that ensued making the total number of deaths much higher.
The Arab League finally decided on April 30 to intervene militarily but only after the British Mandate ended on May 15, 1948, the day the Jewish Agency declared the establishment of the state of Israel in Palestine. The US and Soviet Union officially recognized the new state legitimizing it, and on the same day Arab forces entered the territory.
Pappe details the Zionist leadership’s plan and steps it followed to gain as much of Palestine as possible with the fewest number of Palestinians remaining in it, irrespective of Resolution 181 it ignored. They wanted over 80% of Mandatory Palestine or over 40% more land than the UN allotted them taken forcibly from the Palestinians. To get it, they colluded tacitly with the Jordanians, effectively neutralizing the strongest Arab army, buying them off with the remaining 20% of the territory.
On the eve of battle in 1948, Jewish fighting forces were around 50,000 (increasing by summer to 80,000). They included a small air force, navy and units of tanks, armored cars and heavy artillery. The army was comprised of the main Hagana force plus elements of the two extremist terrorist groups – the Irgun led by future prime minister and fanatical Arab-hater Menachem Begin and the Stern Gang whose most notorious member was also a future prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, another extreme racist. It also included special commando Palmach units, founded in 1941 and whose leaders included future Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and noted general and war hero Moshe Dayan. They faced a hopelessly outmanned and outgunned Palestinian irregular force of about 7000.
Outside Arab intervention only began on May 15, 1948, five and a half months after UN Resolution 181 was adopted and during which time the Palestinians were defenseless against the Zionist ethnic cleansing onslaught against them. Arab states waited because they were indifferent, and when they finally acted they sent an inferior force proving no match for the superior Jewish one it faced to be discussed further below.
Finalizing Plans to De-Arabize Palestine
In December, 1947, the Palestinian population numbered 1.3 million of which one million lived in the territory of the future Jewish state. The Jewish minority stood at 600,000. Zionist leaders needed a way to dispose of this large number of people "cleansing" the land for Jewish habitation only. They weren’t planning to do it gently. Instead it became a systematic campaign of state-sponsored terror against a near-defenseless population unable to withstand the horrific onslaught unleashed against it step by step. It included threats and intimidation, villages attacked including while its inhabitants slept, shooting anything that moved, and blowing up homes with their residents inside plus other violent acts sparing no one, especially fighting-age men and boys who might pose a combat or determined resistance threat.
Ben-Gurion exulted in the progress as events unfolded with comments like: "We are told the army had the ability of destroying a whole village and taking out all its inhabitants, let’s do it." Another time he explained: "Every attack has to end with occupation, destruction and expulsion." He meant the entire population of a village had to be removed, everything in it leveled to the ground and its history destroyed. In its place, a new Jewish community would be established as part of the new Jewish state he and others in the Consultancy believed wasn’t possible without a mass ethnic cleansing transfer and/or extermination of Palestinians living there.
Their plan also included cleansing urban neighborhoods that were attacked beginning with Haifa picked as the first target. It was where 75,000 Palestinians lived in peace and solidarity with their Jewish neighbors until it ended with the outbreak of violence. It moved on to other cities including Jerusalem where initial sporadic attacks later became intense. It was part of an overall initiative of occupation, expulsion and slaughter of anyone resisting or just having the misfortune to live on land Zionists wanted for themselves and intended taking by force.
As ethnic cleansing progressed, it got more vicious as the Consultancy decided to ransack whole villages and massacre large numbers in them including women, children and babies. Shamefully, it began and intensified under Mandate authority with a large British military presence on the ground to maintain order that never did. It chose instead to look the other way and let all horrific events on the ground go on unimpeded. By March, 1948, Plan Dalet became operational as the battle plan to remove the entire Palestinian population from the 78% of the country Zionists established as the state of Israel on May 15 when the Mandate ended.
The campaign included disingenuous rhetoric and propaganda about Jews in Palestine being under threat from a hostile population having to go on the offensive in self-defense. The truth turned that notion on its head because of the military, political and economic imbalance between the two communities. It was so lopsided, the outcome was never in doubt as long as the British stayed out of it. They did, and after the Mandate ended in mid-May it was the UN’s problem to deal with. It also failed the test as discussed below.
Plan Dalet began in the rural hills on the western slopes of the Jerusalem mountains half way on the road to Tel-Aviv. It was called Operation Nachshon, and it served as a model for future campaigns. It employed sudden massive expulsions using terror tactics that proved the most effective way to clear an area preparing it for Jewish resettlement to follow. Early on, the plan wasn’t to spare a single village, and orders given to carry it out were clear: "the principle objective of the operation is the destruction of Arab villages (and) the eviction of the villagers so that they would become an economic liability for the general Arab forces."
To motivate attacking Israeli forces, Palestinians were dehumanized as sub-humans worthy of no respect or consideration making them legitimate targets for destruction. It’s the same tactic US forces used against the Japanese in WW II, in Vietnam and today in Iraq and Afghanistan. In each instance, targets were people of color or others not white enough like Arabs.
Pappe details what he calls the "urbicide of Palestine" that included attacking and cleansing the major urban centers in the country. They included Tiberias, Haifa, Tel-Aviv, Safad and what Pappe calls the "Phantom City of Jerusalem" changed from the "Eternal City" once Jewish troops shelled, attacked and occupied its western Arab neighborhoods in April, 1948. The Brits stood aside shamelessly doing nothing to stop it except in one area, Ahaykh Jarrah, where a local British commander intervened.
It was a rare exception proving how much better Palestinians would have fared if their British "protectors" had actually done their job. They didn’t, and the result was anarchy and a state of panic with Israelis having free reign to ravage Northern and Western Jerusalem with heavy shelling, pillaging and destruction while ethnically cleansing the population in eight Palestinian neighborhoods and 39 villages in the greater Jerusalem area transferring them to the Eastern part of the city.
The urbicide continued into May with the occupation of Acre on the coast and Baysan in the East on May 6. On May 13, Jaffa was the last city taken two days before the Mandate ended. The city had 1500 volunteers against 5000 Jewish troops. It survived a three week siege and attack through mid-May, but when it fell its entire population of 50,000 was expelled. With its fall, Jewish occupying forces had emptied and depopulated all the major cities and towns of Palestine, and most of their inhabitants never again got to see their former homes.
Pappe explains this all happened between March 30 and May 15, 1948 "before a single regular Arab soldier had entered Palestine (to help Palestinians which they did ineffectively when they finally came)." His account also undermines the Israeli-concocted myth that Palestinians left voluntarily before or after Arab forces intervened. Nearly half their villages were attacked and destroyed before Arab countries sent in any forces, and another 90 villages were wiped out from May 15 (when the Mandate ended) till June 11 when the first of two short-lived truces took effect.
The UN’s partition plan caused the problem, and yet the world body did nothing to remediate a situation that was out of control. Early on it was clear a potential disaster loomed that, in fact, ended up worse than first imagined. Still, the British through May 15, the UN, and neighboring Arab states of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq procrastinated as long as possible before reluctantly stepping in, and when they did it was too little, too late. Pappe calls Jordan’s (Transjordan then) King Abdullah "the odd man out." He had army units inside Palestine, some were willing to protect villagers’ homes and lands, but they were restrained by their commanders.
It was because earlier the King and Zionists cut a deal allowing Jordan to annex most of the land the partition allocated to the Palestinians that became the West Bank. In return, Jordanian forces agreed not to engage Jewish troops militarily. To their shame and discredit, the Brits agreed to this scheme effectively sealing the Palestinians’ fate. Still, once the British Mandate ended, Jordan had to fight Jewish forces for what it got because Ben-Gurion reneged on his deal. All along, he wanted as much territory as possible for a new Jewish state on more land than the 78% he ended up with. The Jordanian military prevailed, spoiling his plans. It saved 250,000 Palestinians in the West Bank from being ethnically cleansed the way other Palestinians were who weren’t as fortunate.
As already explained, after waffling during March and April, the Arab League finally sent regular armies to intervene in Palestine. Ironically at this time, it was learned the US State Department on March 12, 1948 drafted a new proposal to the UN suggesting the partition plan failed and an alternate approach was needed. The proposal was for an international trusteeship over Palestine to last five years during which time the two sides would work out a mutually agreed solution. It concluded partitioning failed and was causing violence and bloodshed. Pappe notes in the long history of Palestine and its relationship to the West, this was the most sensible proposal ever made.
Shamefully it was stillborn because even then a Zionist lobby was influential in Washington, it dealt with Harry Truman in the White House, and it succeeded in derailing the State Department’s efforts even though Department Arabists convinced Truman to rethink the partition plan and proposed a three month armistice to both sides to consider it. That also failed as a new Jewish People’s Board was created and met on May 12. Ben-Gurion and almost all others present rejected Truman’s offer. Three days later they established the state of Israel which the White House recognized almost immediately.
-Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. Mr. Lendman contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com