Falling from Heaven: Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

By Kim Bullimore

Abu Zureyk, Al Abbasiyya, Abu Shusha, Ayan az Zaytun, Awlam, Azz Zema, AHaiqia, Balad ash Sheikh, Bayt Daras, Beer Sheba, Bi’ne, Burayr, al Dawayima, Dayr el Asad, Deir Yassin, Eilbourn, Haifa, Hawwassa, Husayniyya, Ilut, Ijzim, Isdud, Jish, al Kabri, al Khisas, Khibbyza, Lydda, Majd al Kurum, Mansura al Khayt, Nasir ad Din Khribet, Qazaza, Qisarya, Sa’sa, Safsaf, Saliha, Sha’b,  Al Samiyya, al Tantoura, al Tira,  Tel, Geze, Umm al, Shauf, al Wa’ra al-Sawda, Wadi ‘Ara.

Like the names of the dead, the names of these villages bring heartbreak to all Palestinians. Sixty years ago, last month, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine began.

Sixty years ago, up to six weeks before the British mandate of Palestine was terminated and the state of Israeli was even declared, Zionist terror gangs began their forcible expulsion of more than 122 Palestinian villages and began carrying out military assaults on more than 270 other villages [1].

Sixty years ago on April 9, 1948, 254 unarmed Palestinian men, women and children were murdered in the village of Dier Yassin by Zionist terror gangs – the Irgun (aka as Etzel) lead by Menachin Begin (who was to become a later Prime Minister of Israel) and the Stern Gang (aka as the Lehi). More than 40 other Palestinian villages and towns were to suffer the same fate as Dier Yassin.

The massacre that took place at Dier Yassin was just one of many carried out, as part of a co-ordinated effort between the Zionist terror gangs, the Irgun and the Stern Gang and the Haganah (which was the main Jewish underground organisation which later became the present day Israeli Defence Force) to ethnically cleanse indigenous Palestinians from historic Palestine prior to the UN partition in May 1948. “Plan Dalet” as the operation was known, was carried out under the authority and leadership of David Ben Gurion, the future first Prime Minister of Israel. Its aim was to strike fear and terror into the indigenous Palestinian population in order to ethnically cleanse them from the new state of Israel and to gain even more land for the Zionist state than had been designated under the UN partition plan.

According to the operational orders listed under Plan Dalet, Zionist forces were to carry out the “destruction of [Palestinian] villages (setting fire to, blowing up, and planting mines in the debris), especially those populations centres which are difficult to control continuously”. The operational orders went on to state that the Zionist terror forces should mount “search and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the village and conducting a search inside it. In the event of resistance, the armed forces must be destroyed and the population expelled outside the borders of the state. The villages which are emptied in the manner described above must be included in the fixed defensive system and must be fortified as necessary” [2]

The plan stated “in the absence of resistance, garrison troops will enter the village and take up positions in it or in locations which enable complete tactical control. The officer in command of the unit will confiscate all weapons, wireless devices, and motor vehicles in the village. In addition, he will detain all politically suspect individuals. After consultation with the [Jewish] political authorities, bodies will be appointed consisting of people from the village to administer the internal affairs of the village. In every region, a Jewish] person will be appointed to be responsible for arranging the political and administrative affairs of all [Palestinian Arab] villages and population centers which are occupied within that region”.

The absence of resistance, however, did not save Dier Yassin, just as it did not save dozens of other Palestinian villages and towns. According to Israeli Zionist historian, Benny Morris, the Zionist terror forces carried out at least 24 massacres against Palestinians between April and May 1948 before the declaration of the state of Israel. Palestinians, however, put the number of massacres as being as high as 40.

Morris notes in a 2004 interview with Ha’aretz reporter, Ari Shavit, that “In the months of April-May 1948, units of the Haganah given operational orders that stated explicitly that they were to uproot the villagers, expel them and destroy the villages themselves”. Morris goes onto note, that the action took place as a direct result of orders given by David Ben Gurion. According to Morris, “various officers who took part in the operation understood that the expulsion order they received permitted them to do these deeds in order to encourage the population to take to the roads. The fact is that no one was punished for these acts of murder. Ben-Gurion silenced the matter. He covered up for the officers who did the massacres” [3]

Upon hearing of the massacre, which took place at Dier Yassin and other villages, thousands of Palestinians in more than 85 other villages and towns fled their homes in fear of their lives [4]. The Zionist terror forces then wiped Dier Yassin off the map, as it did with hundreds of other Palestinian villages and built new Zionists towns and cities in their place. On the ground where Dier Yassin, once stood, now stands the Israel town of Givat Shul and the settlement of Har Nof.

The Zionist reign of terror against the indigenous Palestinian population in 1948, however, did not end with Dier Yassin. On April 18, Zionist gangs stormed the Palestinian city of Tiberias in the Galilee, ethnically expelling more than 5,500 Palestinians from their homes. Four days later, 70,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes in the port city of Haifa [5]. In the months prior to the assault, the Zionist terror gangs had carried out a series of bombings against Haifa’s Palestinian residents [6]. On December 30, the previous year, a Zionist bomb planted in a Palestinian residential neighbourhood killed 6 and injured 41 others. The Zionist bombing sparked riots amongst Palestinian workers at a nearby oil refinery and resulted in the killing of 41 Jewish workers. The Haganah and the Irgun (Etzel) planted a second bomb the following evening resulting what became known as the New Years Massacre at Balad al Shayk, killing more than 60 people. Two months later in February 1948, the Irgun (Etzel) rolled barrels packed with gasoline and explosives down Haifa’s hills into the Palestinian al’ Abasayah Arab neighbourhood. The barrels exploded in an inferno of flames, destroying most of the residential area, causing its residents to flee in terror. One month later on March 22, ten weeks before the state of Israel was declared, the Zionist terror gangs disguised as British officers planted a car bomb, killing 36 Palestinians, the majority of whom were women and children. The bomb blast was so intense it destroyed several public buildings.

Not satisfied with only ethnically cleansing indigenous Palestinians from the land designated as part of a new Jewish state under the UN Partition plan, the Zionist forces moved to begin ethnically cleansing Palestinians from towns and cities which UN had deemed part of a Palestinian state under partition.  On April 25, the Irgun (Etzel) began a three week bombing campaign of the “Bride of Palestine”, the port city of Jaffa, which was supposed to be part of a UN sanctioned Palestinian state. Jaffa, which was often referred to as the “centre of heaven” by its residents because of its beauty and location half way between Haifa and Gaza, was the most populous centre in British Mandate Palestine: home to 90,000 Palestinians. With the advent of the Zionist terror campaign, however, the city was to fall from heaven. The assault was so fierce that in the Manshiyyeh quarter, every single building except one was obliterated (the one building left partly standing has since been turned into a museum to glorify the military prowess of the Irgun/Etzel). As the bombing continued, more than 55,000 people fled in terror.

Over the next weeks, more and more villages and towns were to “fall from heaven”. In addition to Dier Yassin, Tiberas, Haifa and Jaffa, more than 400 other Palestinian villages and townships were ethnically cleansed during Plan Dalet and the subsequent war which took place. More than 700,000 Palestinians fled their homes, never allowed to return. 

Today, as Israel celebrates “60 years of independence”, the Al Nakba of the Palestinian people continues. On May 5, the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz published a report which noted that since the creation of the Israeli state 60 years ago, there have been 1,634 Israeli civilians killed and 14,000 injured by “acts of terror” [7]. What the article did not mention, however, was that in the much shorter period of 7.5 years (from September 2000 to March 2008 since the beginning of the Al Aqsa intifada) that more than 3615 Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli state “acts of terror” and 25,650 Palestinian civilians had been wounded [8]

The Haaretz article, also failed to mention that since its creation 60 years ago, the Israeli state has continued the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people via a war of attrition and in the name of “security”. The illegal Israeli occupation which is now in its 40th year, along with all its manifestations – the checkpoints, the wall, the illegal settlements, the illegal confiscation of land, the restriction of freedom of movement, arbitary arrest and administrative detention, target assassinations, aerial bombing, the siege of Gaza – while all aimed at controlling the Palestinian population is also aimed at systematically driving the Palestinian people off their land. 

Since the beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada, Israel has destroyed more than 13% of Gaza’s agricultural land alone. During the same period the Israeli state, via its occupation forces, has demolished completely more than 2932 Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip alone, while a further 2848 were partially demolished [9]. These acts of terror against a Palestinian civilian population were carried out as illegal and punitive collective punishment or in order to make way for the illegal expansion of illegal Israeli settlements and the infrastructure needed to serve these colonies. According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights, house demolitions have resulted in more than 13,000 Palestinians being left homeless [10]. In addition, through out the Occupied West Bank, dozens of dozens of Palestinian villages remained “unrecognised” and deemed illegal by the Israeli occupier, although they have existed for decades and even hundreds of years prior to the establishment of the Israeli state. The Israeli state’s refusal to recognise these villages is designed to legitimise the ongoing, systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the traditional homes and lands by its occupation forces and its “civil administration” in the OPT.

Israel continues its policy of ethnic cleansing by also regularly restricts the freedom of movement of Palestinians. Israel’s policy while carried out in the name of “security” is designed to ethnically cleanse the Palestinian population through “quite transfer” by making life so difficult for Palestinians that they will “voluntarily” leave. According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the OPT, “the restrictions of movement that Israel has imposed on the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories over the past five years are unprecedented in the history of the Israeli occupation in their scope, durations and in the severity of damage that they have caused to the three and half million Palestinians who reside there” [11]. 

Today, Israel will ‘celebrate’ its creation and as we hear the fire works the illegal settlements around us, the Palestinian people will remember their dead, their imprisoned and their loved ones in refugee camps through out the Middle East and their family and friends who make up the 7 million strong Palestinian Diaspora around the world. Today, as Israel baths itself in vulgar nationalism and the glorification of its military prowess, the Palestinian people will recall the Nakba and the ethnic cleansing of their home land. And today, as the Israel celebrates the ethnic cleansing of another people in order to create “a homeland for the Jews”, the Palestinian people will remain in a state of sumoud (steadfastness) in their determination to remain on what is left of their traditional land and to be a free people once again.

-Kim Bullimore is currently living the Occupied West Bank, where she is a human rights volunteer with the International Women’s Peace Service (www.iwps.info). She has a blog www.livefromoccupiedpalestine.blogspot.com and is a regular writer on Palestine-Israel issues. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.


[1] Palestine 1948: Map of towns and villages depopulated by Zionist Invasion
Prepared by Salman Abu-Sitta, 1998. Produced by Palestine Land Society.
[2] Sefer Toldot Hahaganah [History of the Haganah], vol. 3, ed, by Yehuda Slutsky (TelAviv: Zionist Library, 1972), Appendix 48, pp 1955-60. 
[3] Survival of the Fittest? An Interview with Benny Morris  by Ari Shavit, 16 January 2004
[4] Palestine 1948: Map of towns and villages depopulated by Zionist Invasion
Prepared by Salman Abu-Sitta, 1998. Produced by Palestine Land Society.
[5] Neff, D., (1994) Arab Jaffa Seized Before Israel’s Creation in 1948 in Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
[6] Haifa Refinery Riots, Middle East Web
 [7] Haaretz, 5 May, 2008, 16 Israeli civilians killed this year in terror acts, 1,634 since May, ’48
[8] and [9] Palestinian Centre for Human Rights www.pchrgaza.org/PCHR/statistics.html
[10] and [11] B’Tselem: Israeli information centre for human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories www.btselem.org/English/

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