Book Review: The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

By Jim Miles

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.  Ilan Pappe. Oneworld Publications, Oxford, England, 2006.

Ilan Pappe’s work The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine places him in the forefront of the recent burst of excellent information that critically examines and condemns the Jewish-Zionist actions to eliminate not only the people of Palestine but also to eliminate their history culturally and geographically.   Following on his previous well researched and readily accessible work A History of Modern Palestine, his latest work, focuses on the concept generated from the very earliest Zionist thought in the Nineteenth century, making the ‘cleansing’ of Palestinian territories a necessity for the survival of the Jewish state.  

It is a history made personal.  Pappe does not just recount the series of events, and the sequence they occurred in but makes the story become real through the views of Israeli individuals and the views of individual Palestinians.  Israel has hidden its war criminals well, out in the open, blatant, the clear majority of their political leaders having served in the military in one capacity or another to facilitate the ‘cleansing’ of their desired state.  Using archival references from various Israeli sources as well as the personal diaries of those involved, in particular David Ben-Gurion, a personal encounter with the perpetrators of the genocide is created.  That encounter displays a strong-willed double standard that accepted no interference with the ultimate goal of Eretz Israel for Jews only. 

It is a history made personal on the Palestinian side, with stories in photos and anecdotes from the dispossessed population, stories of their life style before their evictions or murder and stories of the cultural geography of the many towns and villages that have been erased from both the physical and cultural geography of the larger area.  

The Jewish account is the false front expressed through the media, the story of a rugged band of individuals bringing greenness and fruition to a barren and desert land.  It denies fully the pastoral and passive lifestyle of the Palestinian people who lived in many towns and villages surrounded with productive croplands and orchards.  It denies the increasing wealth and modernization of the area that followed the conclusion of the Second World War, with many ‘modern’ civic infrastructures being brought forward to the Palestinian people.   It denies the cultural achievements of the area, the particular forms of landholding and agriculture that developed and were sustainable under varying conditions. 

Ethnic cleansing is defined clearly and simply as “the expulsion by force in order to homogenise the ethnically mixed population of a particular region or territory.”  This definition is widely accepted across many incidents outside of Palestine and as such is recognized as well as a crime against humanity.  Pappe writes “with a deep conviction” that this crime should “become rooted in our memory and consciousness” while at the same time being “excluded from the list of alleged crimes.”[italics in original]  What the world has been presented with creates a “deep chasm between reality and representation”, an attempted forced amnesia about the actions taken by Jewish forces against the Palestinian population.

Prior to the ‘war of independence’ many factors had already played into the hands of the Jewish minority.  The main feature was the British tacit and complicit support for the creation of the new Jewish state, not surprisingly as the Balfour Declaration had set the stage many years previously.  Militarily, the British assisted with the training of the Haganah, the ‘defence’ force of the Jewish community both within Palestine and by providing valuable experience during the Second World War.  During the 1936 revolt, “the British had already destroyed the Palestinian leadership and its defence capabilities.”  During the first moments of the war, the British stood aside and allowed the Jewish forces to begin the ethnic cleansing, in some instances assisting actively in the process. 

The UN played into the Jewish plan as well, with its lopsided proposed partitioning of Palestine giving the larger Palestinian population the minor portion of the land.  From the Palestinian perspective they “were at the mercy of an international organization that appeared ready to ignore all the rules of international mediation”, declaring a solution that “was both illegal and immoral.”

A third factor that aided them greatly was the complicity and tactics of the Jordanians who wished to expand their own little empire in the making.  While coveting the area of greater Israel, “the Zionist leadership was committed to their collusion with the Jordanians,” who apparently never had much if any sympathy for the cause of Palestine.  This collusion had the effect of “ensuring the ethnic cleansing operations” as it “neutralised the strongest army in the Arab world.” Other Arab leaders provided much rhetoric but little in the way of military support from their properly enraged populace.

With an estimated 50,000 well-trained and well-equipped military force the cleansing began against what proved to be a passive Palestinian population and a militarily inactive and ineffective Arab defence force.   The Palestinian villagers showed “no wish to fight” and rural Palestine “showed no desire to fight or attack, and was defenceless.”  The Jewish forces resorted to terror of various sorts – biological and chemical weapons, murder, rape, and theft of personal property. 

From these beginnings in quick order, Pappe details the various elements of the ethnic cleansing.  Villages are given life, with brief accounts of their culture and uniqueness; the people are given life with anecdotes about the savageness of events overwhelming them; the Israeli forces are given life, such as it was, in their barbaric actions and satisfaction with the manner in which the cleansing progressed.  After the removal of the Palestinians, the ongoing destruction of their heritage is described, the looting of the empty houses and villages, the continued destruction of the housing and infrastructure, the legalized theft of farmland and the erasure of village sites.  The over-riding purpose was to “pre-empt the threat of international sanctions” that could include the right of return, given that there was nowhere to return to. 

Not only was the Palestinian culture physically destroyed, it was replaced “with a fabricated version of another” culture, supposedly the long history of Jewish settlement in the region.  The propaganda that the Jews were “making the desert bloom” and were acting ecologically to “keep the country green” was used effectively to mask the physical destruction of the villages.  Ironically, that process relied somewhat on the native cultivation that had been ongoing for centuries within the Palestinian agricultural community.

Finally, Pappe recognizes the various peace proposals and initiatives as being means for avoiding any final settlement, allowing the cleansing to continue under the guise of the settlement policy that developed after the 1967 war.  Further along, the events of 9/11 allowed the Jewish state to identify the population not as Palestinians but as Muslims and terrorists.  This created more antagonism towards them, at the same time continuing the support of the local population for the process of ‘removal’, a more recently used euphemism for ethnic cleansing, but also a throwback to the original Zionist plans of a century ago. 

To recognize their moral responsibility for the terror and illegality of the ethnic cleansing perpetrated against the Palestinians would require the Israelis to deny “their own status of victimhood”, forcing them to recognize “they have become the mirror image of their own worst nightmare.”  A final description of Israel as essentially a failed state, with high social violence, a declining standard of living and a reliance on American military and financial support, leads to questions about the future.  Unless Israel can stop its Zionist inspired plan for complete ethnic cleansing and accept a more pluralistic Judaism, then the risk of escalating conflict in the region, from Lebanon through Syria and Iran, is imminent. 

The recognition of the nakba, the disaster of ethnic cleansing, is a necessary first step towards a successful resolution of the conflict.   Succinct, clearly written, sometimes emotionally overwhelming in its personalized presentation, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine should be put forward as a document serving as a prime witness to the war crimes and the crimes against humanity of the destruction of Palestinian society and cultural geography by the Jewish state. 

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