The Palestinians’ Existential Struggle

By Hasan Afif El-Hasan

The US media intentionally missed an opportunity to provide its public with insightful analysis to the essence of the Palestinian refugees peaceful demonstrations to commemorate the Nakbah ‘catastrophe’. The US media reported thousands of Arab protesters marched on Israel’s borders with Syria, Lebanon and Gaza sparking clashes that left at least 15 people dead in “an annual Palestinian ritual mourning the anniversary of Israel’s birth.” Many reporters echoed the Israeli accusations that Damascus and its ally Iran orchestrated the unrest. The US media and majority of US public do not seem to take account the plight of the Palestinians during the Nakbah when the Israeli fighters expelled 750,000 Palestinians from their homes. Israel has been depicted as David when it had become Goliath since its establishment. And the US Christian right believes that the Jews are supposed to have the Holy Land to fulfill God’s promise in the Bible before bringing on the Armageddon, which will cause Jesus to return.

The media failed to inform its public that these protesters are Palestinian refugees and their descendents who had been cleansed by the Jewish military in 1947-48 from their homes in Palestine where they, their fathers and grandfathers lived for centuries. And sadly the Palestinians have not taken control of their own national narrative. The murdered Palestinians on May 14 by Israeli sharpshooters were unarmed disparate refugees seeking justice, and Israel lived up to its brutal belligerence. On the sixty-third anniversary of the Palestinians’ catastrophe, the story of the Palestinians’ ethnic cleansing from their ancestral home-land has to be told again because its victims are still waiting for justice while the world looks the other way. 

The 1947-48 ethnic cleansing of Palestine is a crime that has not been dealt with in the legal sphere but it is rooted in the memory and consciousness of the Palestinians; and the perpetrators are the Jewish leaders of “the War of Independence.” The first Prime Minister of Israel, Ben-Gurion, said in a December 3, 1947 speech to his Mapai party:

“There are 40% non-Jews [Palestinians] in the area allocated to the Jewish state. Such a demographic balance questions our ability to maintain Jewish sovereignty..Only a state with at least 80% Jews is a viable and stable state.” He wrote in his book Rebirth and Destiny that “the Haganah…liberated Tiberia, and Haifa, Jaffa, and Safad..So on the day of destiny [May 14 1948] that part of Palestine where the Haganah could operate was almost clear of Arabs [cleansed].”

The cleansing was discussed, planned and finalized in David Ben-Gurion home. The Israeli historian, Simcha Flapan, wrote that “ad-hoc cabal assembled solely for the purpose of plotting and designing the dispossession of the Palestinians.” This group that included the top-ranking leaders of the future state of Israel, Yigael Yadin, Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon and Yitzhak Sadeh, drew the ethnic cleansing plans and supervised their execution.

According to the historian Meir Pail, military orders were dispatched on March 10, 1948 to the Jewish units on the ground to prepare for the systematic expulsion of the Palestinians from vast areas of the country. The orders came with a detailed description of the methods to be employed to forcibly evict the people. These included large-scale intimidation, laying siege to and bombarding villages and population centers, setting fire to homes, property and goods, expulsion, demolition, and finally planting mines among the rubble to prevent any of the expelled inhabitants from returning.

The military units led by Moshe Kalman cleansed the Safad area, Moshe Carmel, who later on served as Minister of transportation, uprooted most of the Galilee, and the future Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin cleared Lydda, Ramla, and West Jerusalem area from their indigenous Palestinian population. Shimon Avidan, the commander of the Givati Brigade cleansed hundreds of villages and towns in the south. The perpetrators who are called by the Israelis as “the War of Independence heroes” not only cleansed but also committed some of the worst atrocities that accompanied the systematic dispossession of the Palestinians.

From Israel’s first days, its leaders have not been acting according to human ethics seeking compromise and peace. After the triumph of the 1967 war, Prime Minister Golda Meir was asked about the rights of the Palestinians. Her answer was “What are you talking about? There are no Palestinians.”

International treaties have designated ethnic cleansing as a crime against humanity that requires special international tribunals to judge those indicted if they have planned and executed acts of ethnic cleansing. A special International Criminal Tribunal was set up in The Hague against the former Yugoslavia leaders to prosecute the perpetrators and criminals and, similarly, in Arusha, Tanzania and Rwanda.

The majority of the Palestinians today are refugees and there will never be a solution to the Palestinian issue without addressing their right of return, but the position of all the Israeli parties is clear, “no right of return for Palestinian refugees.” 
The ongoing Palestinian struggle with the Israelis is an existential one. The Palestinians wasted decades pinning hopes for achieving peace with justice on Washington without realizing that there is no moral political leadership in the US when dealing with the Palestinian issue. Israel has been getting its way, committing grave violations of international laws and shielded by the US veto against any UN Security Council condemnation. The US has defended Israel while it has been carrying on with slow ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem, colonization of the West Bank, the destruction of Gaza Strip and the starvation of its 1.5 million population.

The US has the power to promote and enforce concrete proposals to change the Palestinians’ situation peacefully. But it is painful that there is no hope there will come along an American president who actually means to use his vast power, not because it will do him any political gains, or get him votes, or new friends among the ultra-rightwing Israeli supporters or the American Christian right, but just because it is the right thing to do.

– Hasan Afif El-Hasan is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to

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