By Stuart Littlewood
The other day someone kindly sent me an old link to an aviation forum where an irate passenger had written: ‘This morning (6 May 2003) on a flight from Rome to Tel Aviv, after landing the pilot announced in the microphone: ‘Welcome to Palestine’. I think this is the most disgusting thing for a pilot to say.’
It led to a long and acrimonious argument with many demanding dire punishment for the Alitalia pilot.
But he had a valid point.
Ben Gurion airport, which serves Tel Aviv, was formerly Lydda airport. Lydda, a major town in its own right during the British mandate, was designated Palestinian in the 1947 UN Partition. In July 1948 Israeli terrorist troops seized Lydda, shot up the town and drove out the population. In this report by Donald Neff we’re told how, as part of the ethnic cleansing, the Israelis massacred 426 men, women, and children. 176 of them were slaughtered in the town’s main mosque. Of all the blood-baths they say this was the biggest. See also here for lurid details. Here’s an extract:
“Out of the 19,000 people who used to call Lydda home, only 1,052 were allowed to stay. Yitzhak Rabin, the Nobel Prize winner, wrote in his diary soon after Lydda’s and Ramla’s occupation: ‘After attacking Lydda, Ben-Gurion would repeat the question: What is to be done with the population?, waving his hand in a gesture which said: Drive them out!…’ (Soldier Of Peace, p. 140-141)”
The remainder were forced to walk into exile in the scalding July heat leaving a trail of bodies – men, women and children – along the way. The cruelty, on top of being robbed of everything, was horrific.
The attack on Lydda was led by Israel’s great ‘hero’ Moshe Dayan, who was later to become defense minister and foreign minister, and witnessed by two American news correspondents. One recorded that "practically everything in their way died. Riddled corpses lay by the roadside." The other wrote that he saw "the corpses of Arab men, women and even children strewn about in the wake of the ruthlessly brilliant charge".
The murder spree was followed by systematic looting. Israeli troops carried away 1,800 truck loads of Palestinian property. Jewish immigrants then flooded in and Lydda was given a Hebrew name, Lod.
Let’s Wipe ’em off the Map
So Israel has no real right to Lydda/Lod/Ben Gurion airport – it was stolen in a terror raid, as was another town we hear so much about – Sderot.
That’s where, say Israel’s propagandists, Hamas rockets have been “raining down”. And that’s the main plank of their efforts to justify the bloodshed Israel has inflicted on the people of Gaza.
They use it ad nauseam to brainwash the media and their own people. Their stooges, returning to these shores after their indoctrination, repeat it here. They have studiously counted and broadcast the number of erratic, home-made Qassam rockets coming into Israel, without ever admitting to the huge number of missiles, bombs and shells that Israel’s high-tech military fires into Gaza with much more murderous effect.
Those sympathetic to Israel should know that Sderot has no business being where it is. It’s built on the lands of a Palestinian village called Najd, which was ethnically cleansed by Jewish terrorists in May 1948, just before Israel was declared a state and before any Arab armies arrived to defend the Palestinians. The 600+ villagers were forced to flee for their lives. It happened at the end of Britain’s watch as the mandated government, when they were packing up to leave. This and many other atrocities were committed while no-one was looking.
Palestinian Arabs owned over 90 percent of the land in Najd. According to UN Resolution 194 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights they have a right to return home. But as we have come to expect, Israel refuses to recognise the rights of others and will not allow them back. Anyway, what is there for them to return to? The 82 homes in Najd were bulldozed as part of Israel’s wipe-‘em-off-the-map policy.
Najd was one of 418 Palestinian villages and towns ethnically cleansed and erased by Zionist Jews. Its inhabitants presumably became refugees in nearby Gaza and their families are probably still living in the miserable camps there. The irony is that some of them could have been manning the rocket launchers.
When Barack Obama visited Sderot, he spouted the well-worn mantra backing Israel’s right to protect its citizens from rocket attacks. "If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do everything to stop that, and would expect Israel to do the same thing." Yes, well said, Obama. But let’s hope you wouldn’t be so stupid or arrogant as to settle your family on land stolen from your neighbour at gun-point.
Insult to Our Patron Saint
Getting back to Ben Gurion’s air travelers, there’s another reason for British Christians as well as Muslims to take a very dim view of the thieving, destruction and ethnic cleansing of Lydda. It’s the birthplace of our patron saint, George.
George was a Palestinian born at Lydda and brought up in the Christian faith, although some sources think he was born in Cappadocea (Turkey) and taken home by his mother to her native Palestine when his father died.
Either way he is inextricably linked to Lydda. He decided on a soldiering career, joined the Roman army at the time of Emperor Diocletian and rose to high rank. He became one of the Emperor’s favourites, as his father had been, but when Diocletian’s fanatical slavishness to the Roman gods got out of control and he began slaughtering innocent Christians George stood up to be counted for his religious beliefs. He denounced the Emperor and tore up his orders. Not surprisingly he was arrested, imprisoned and tortured.
George was told his life would be spared if he made sacrifice to the Roman gods. He was offered riches if only he’d renounce his Christian beliefs. Instead he prayed to his Christian God, who immediately responded, so we’re told, with thunderbolts and fireballs and an earthquake that shook the ground and destroyed the temple buildings. That sealed poor George’s fate. He bore his ordeal – being dragged through the streets, stretched on the rack, poked with red-hot irons, cut to ribbons on a wheel of swords, and dunked in quicklime – with such fortitude that Diocletian’s wife converted to Christianity on the spot. This matrimonial upset caused her to be condemned to death too.
The Romans were expert martyr-makers. George was finally beheaded at Nicomedia on 23 April 303 and buried at Lydda. He was soon a cult figure among soldiers around the world. In 494 George was canonised and became the warrior saint for many worthy enterprises.
The earliest known reference to him in Britain was in an account by St Adamnan, the 7th century Abbot of lona, who probably heard the story from a French bishop returning from Jerusalem. George was adopted by Richard the Lionheart as his personal saint in the Crusades. Later, King Edward III made him the patron saint of England and dedicated the Order of the Garter to him.
St George’s cross is England’s flag and it’s incorporated into the Union flag. Lydda therefore was and always will be of great importance to the English and indeed the British as a whole. The Crusaders built and rebuilt a church there which was dedicated to him. It was destroyed by Saladin during the Third Crusade in 1191 and the church that stands there now dates from 1872.
George – Al Khadir – is also patron saint of Bethlehem and a figure sacred to Muslims and Christians alike. As one elderly Muslim Arab told me, George is special – he’s the only saint who could ride a horse. Stone carvings of George on horseback can to be seen in the Church of the Nativity and above the doors of many Bethlehem houses.
He’s also patron saint of Portugal and of certain cities in Spain, and of Moscow and many other places… a really popular guy. The Israelis ought to have had more respect.
It seems fitting to remember these things as we approach St George’s Day, 23 April.
So I salute that unnamed Alitalia pilot. Welcome, travelers, to Lydda and Palestine!
And may St George protect you.
– Stuart Littlewood’s book Radio Free Palestine can now be read on the internet by visiting www.radiofreepalestine.org.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.