excerpts from the book
The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine
by Ilan Pappe
Oneworld Publications, 2006, paperback
David Ben-Gurion to the Jewish Agency Executive, June 1938
I am for compulsory transfer [of Palestinians];
I do not see anything immoral in it.
On a cold Wednesday afternoon, 10 March 1948, a group of eleven
men, veteran Zionist leaders together with young military Jewish
officers, put the final touches to a plan for the ethnic cleansing
of Palestine. That same evening, military orders were dispatched
to the 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: large-scale 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. Each unit was issued with
its own list of villages and neighbourhoods as the targets of
this master plan. Codenamed Plan D (Do/et in Hebrew), this was
the fourth and final version of less substantial plans that outlined
the fate the Zionists had in store for Palestine and consequently
for its native population. The previous three schemes had articulated
only obscurely how the Zionist leadership contemplated dealing
with the presence of so many Palestinians living in the land the
Jewish national movement coveted as its own. This fourth and last
blueprint spelled it out clearly and unambiguously: the Palestinians
had to go.' In the words of one of the first historians to note
the significance of that plan, Simcha Flapan, 'The military campaign
against the Arabs, including the "conquest and destruction
of the 'rural areas" was set forth in the Hagana's Plan Dalet'.'
The aim of the plan was in fact the destruction of both the rural
and urban areas of Palestine.
... this plan was both the inevitable
product of the Zionist ideological impulse to have an exclusively
Jewish presence in Palestine, and a response to developments on
the ground once the British cabinet had decided to end the mandate.
Clashes with local Palestinian militias provided the perfect context
and pretext for implementing the ideological vision of an ethnically
cleansed Palestine. The Zionist policy was first based on retaliation
against Palestinian attacks in February 1947, and it transformed
into an initiative to ethnically cleanse the country as a whole
in March 1948.
Once the decision was taken, it took six
months to complete the mission. When it was over, more than half
of Palestine's native population, close to 800,000 people, had
been uprooted, 531 villages had been destroyed, and eleven urban
neighbourhoods emptied of their inhabitants. The plan decided
upon on 10 March 1948, and above all its systematic implementation
in the following months, was a clear-cut case of an ethnic cleansing
operation, regarded under international law today as a crime against
After the Holocaust, it has become almost
impossible to conceal large-scale crimes against humanity. Our
modern communication-driven world, especially since the upsurge
of electronic media, no longer allows human-made catastrophes
to remain hidden from the public eye or to be denied. And yet,
one such crime has been erased almost totally from the global
public memory: the dispossession of the Palestinians in 1948 by
Israel. This, the most formative event in the modern history of
the land of Palestine, has ever since been systematically denied,
and is still today not recognised as an historical fact, let alone
acknowledged as a crime that needs to be confronted politically
as well as morally.
Drazen Petrovic, 'Ethnic Cleansing - An Attempt at Methodology',
European Journal of International Law, 5/3 (1994), pp. 342-60
Ethnic cleansing is a well-defined policy
of a particular group of persons to systematically eliminate another
group from a given territory on the basis of religious, ethnic
or national origin. Such a policy involves violence and is very
often connected with military operations. It is to be achieved
by all possible means, from discrimination to extermination, and
entails violations of human rights and international humanitarian
law... Most ethnic cleansing methods are grave breaches of the
1949 Geneva Conventions and 1977 Additional Protocols.
Wikipedia - "ethnic cleansing"
At the most general level, ethnic cleansing
can be understood as the forced expulsion of an 'undesirable'
population from a given territory as a result of religious or
ethnic discrimination, political, strategic or ideological considerations,
or a combination of these.
The ethnic cleansing of Palestine must become rooted in our memory
and consciousness as a crime against humanity and that it should
be excluded from the list of alleged crimes. The perpetrators
here are not obscure - they are a very specific group of people:
the heroes of the Jewish war of independence, whose names will
be quite familiar to most readers. The list begins wit, indisputable
leader o the Zionist movement, David Ben-Gurion, in whose private
home all early and later chapters in the ethnic cleansing story
were discussed and finalised. He was aided by a small group of
people (I refer to in this book as) the 'Consultancy', an ad-hoc
cabal assembled solely for the purpose of plotting and designing
the dispossession of the Palestinians.
Leo Motzkin, one of the Zionist movement's most liberal thinkers,
Our thought is that the colonization of
Palestine has to go in two directions: Jewish settlement in Eretz
Israel and the resettlement of the Arabs of Eretz Israel in areas
outside the country. The transfer of so many Arabs may seem at
first unacceptable economically, but is nonetheless practical.
It does not require too much money to resettle a Palestinian village
on another land.
It is the deep chasm between reality and representation that is
most bewildering in the case of Palestine. It is indeed hard to
understand, and for that matter to explain, why a crime that was
perpetrated in modern times and at a juncture in history that
called for foreign reporters and UN observers to be present, should
have been so totally ignored. And yet, there is no denying that
the ethnic cleansing of 1948 has been eradicated almost totally
from the collective global memory and erased from the world's
conscience. Imagine that not so long ago, in any given country
you are familiar with, half of the entire population had been
forcibly expelled within a year, half of its villages and towns
wiped out, leaving behind only rubble and stones. Imagine now
the possibility that somehow this act will never make it into
the history books and that all diplomatic efforts to solve the
conflict that erupted in that country will totally sideline, if
not ignore, this catastrophic ever, for one, have searched in
vain through the history of the world as we know it in the aftermath
of the Second World War for a case of this nature and a fate of
this kind. There are other, earlier, cases that have fared similarly,
such as the ethnic cleansing of the non-Hungarians at the end
of the nineteenth century, the genocide of the Armenians, and
the holocaust perpetrated by the Nazi occupation against travelling
people (the Roma, also known as Sinti) in the 1940s. I hope in
the future that Palestine will no longer be included in this list.
Zionism emerged in the late 1880s in central and eastern Europe
as a national revival movement, prompted by the growing pressure
on Jews in those regions either to assimilate totally or risk
continuing persecution (though, as we know, even complete assimilation
was no safeguard against annihilation in the case of Nazi Germany).
By the beginning of the twentieth century, most of the leaders
of the Zionist movement associated this national revival with
the colonization of Palestine. Others, especially the founder
of the movement, Theodor Herzl, were more ambivalent, but after
his death, in 1904, the orientation towards Palestine was fixed
Eretz Israel, the name for Palestine in
the Jewish religion, had been revered throughout the centuries
by generations of Jews as a place for holy pilgrimage, never as
a future secular state. Jewish tradition and religion clearly
instruct Jews to await the coming of the promised Messiah at 'the
end of times' before they can return to Eretz Israel as a sovereign
people in a Jewish theocracy, that is, as the obedient servants
of God (this is why today several streams of Ultra-Orthodox Jews
are either non or anti-Zionist). In other words,
Zionism secularised and nationalised Judaism.
To bring their project to fruition, the Zionist thinkers claimed
the biblical territory and recreated, indeed reinvented, it as
the cradle of their new nationalist movement. As they saw it,
Palestine was occupied by 'strangers' and had to be repossessed.
'Strangers' here meant everyone not Jewish who had been living
in Palestine since the Roman period.' In fact, for many Zionists
Palestine was not even an 'occupied' land when they first arrived
there in 1882, but rather an 'empty' one: the native Palestinians
who lived there were largely invisible to them or, if not, were
part of nature's hardship and as such were to be conquered and
removed. Nothing, neither rocks nor Palestinians, was to stand
in the way of the national 'redemption' of the land the Zionist
Until the occupation of Palestine by Britain
in 1918, Zionism was a blend of nationalist ideology and colonialist
practice. It was limited in scope: Zionists made up no more than
five per cent of the country's overall population at that time.
Living in colonies, they did not affect, nor were they particularly
noticed by, the local population. The potential for a future Jewish
takeover of the country and the expulsion of the indigenous Palestinian
people, which historians have so clearly recognised in retrospect
in the writings of the founding fathers of Zionism, became evident
to some Palestinian leaders even before the First World War...
The moment British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour gave the Zionist
movement his promise in 1917 to establish a national home for
the Jews in Palestine, he opened the door to the endless conflict
that would soon engulf the country and its people.
The Zionist leadership had wasted no time in working out their
plans for an exclusively Jewish presence in Palestine: first,
in 1937, by accepting a modest portion of the land when they responded
favourably to a recommendation by the British Royal Peel commission
to partition Palestine into two states; and second, in 1942, by
attempting a more maximalist strategy, demanding all of Palestine
for itself. The geographical space it coveted may have changed
with time and according to circumstances and opportunities, but
the principal objective remained the same. The Zionist project
could only be realised through the creation in Palestine of a
purely Jewish state, both as a safe haven for Jews from persecution
and a cradle for a new Jewish nationalism. And such a state had
to be exclusively Jewish not only in its socio-political structure
but also in its ethnic composition.
Beyond carefully charting rural Palestine in preparation for the
future takeover of the country, the Zionist movement had by now
also obtained a much clearer sense of how best to get the new
state off the ground after the Second World War. A crucial factor
in this was that the British had already destroyed the Palestinian
leadership and its defence capabilities when they suppressed the
1936 Revolt, thus allowing the Zionist leadership ample time and
space to set out their next moves. Once the danger of a Nazi invasion
into Palestine was removed in 1942, the Zionist leaders became
more keenly aware that the sole obstacle that stood in their way
of successfully seizing the land was the British presence, not
any Palestinian resistance. This explains why, for example, in
a meeting in the Biltmore Hotel in New York in 1942, we find Ben-Gurion
putting demands on the table for a Jewish commonwealth over the
whole of Mandatory Palestine."
As the Second World War drew to a close,
the Jewish leadership in Palestine embarked on a campaign to push
the British out of the country. Simultaneously, they continued
to map out their plans for the Palestinian population, the country's
seventy-five per cent majority. Leading Zionist figures did not
air their views in public, but confided their thoughts only to
their close associates or entered them into their diaries. One
of them, Yossef Weitz, wrote in 1940: 'it is our right to transfer
the Arabs' and 'The Arabs should go! ' Ben-Gurion himself, writing
to his son in 1937, appeared convinced that this was the only
course of action open to Zionism: 'The Arabs will have to go,
but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as
a war."' The opportune moment came in 1948. Ben-Gurion is
in many ways the founder of the State of Israel and was its first
prime minister: He also masterminded the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
David Ben-Gurion led the Zionist movement
from the mid 1920s until well into the 1960s...
When the British offered the Jewish community a state in 1937,
but over a much smaller portion of Palestine than they had in
mind, Ben-Gurion accepted the proposal was a good start, but he
aspired to Jewish sovereignty over as much of Palestine as possible.
He then swayed the Zionist leadership into accepting both his
supreme authority and the fundamental notion that future statehood
meant absolute Jewish domination. How to achieve such a purely
Jewish state was also discussed under his guidance around 1937.
Two magic words now emerged: Force and Opportunity. The Jewish
state could only be won by force, but one had to wait for the
opportune historical moment to come along in order to be able
to deal 'militarily' with the demographic reality on ground: the
presence of a non-Jewish native majority population.
Like generations of Israeli leaders after him, up to Ariel Sharon
in 2005, Ben-Gurion found he had to hold back the more extremist
Zionist members, and he told them that eighty to ninety per cent
of Mandatory Palestine was enough to create a viable state, provided
they were able to ensure Jewish predominance. Neither the concept
nor the percentage would change over the next sixty years. A few
months later the Jewish Agency translated Ben-Gurion's 'large
chunk of Palestine' into a map which it distributed to everyone
relevant to the future of Palestine. This 1947 map envisaged a
Jewish state that anticipated almost to the last dot pre-1967
Israel, i.e., Palestine without the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
... The Zionist leadership was aware of
the total collapse of the Palestinian leadership after the Second
World War and of the hesitant position the Arab states as a whole
were displaying on the Palestine question. The desperate situation
of the indigenous population of Palestine becomes poignantly clear
the moment we realise that those who had crushed their liberation
movement, the British Mandatory authorities, were now the only
ones standing between them and a coolly determined and highly
motivated Zionist movement that coveted most of their homeland.
But worse was to come as Europe prepared to compensate the Jewish
people for the Holocaust that had raged on its soil with a state
in Palestine, ignoring at the same time that this could only come
about at the expense of the indigenous Palestinians.
Ben-Gurion had already realised by the end of 1946 that the British
were on their way out, and with his aides began working on a general
strategy that could be implemented against the Palestinian population
the moment the British were gone. This strategy became Plan C,
or Gimel in Hebrew.
... Plan C aimed to prepare the military
forces of the Jewish community in Palestine for the offensive
campaigns they would be engaged in against rural and urban Palestine
the moment the British were gone. The purpose of such actions
would be to 'deter' the Palestinian population from attacking
Jewish settlements, and to retaliate for assaults on Jewish houses,
roads and traffic. Plan C spelled out clearly what punitive actions
of this kind would entail:
Killing the Palestinian political leadership.
Killing Palestinian inciters and their financial supporters.
Killing Palestinians who acted against Jews.
Killing senior Palestinian officers and officials [in the Mandatory
Damaging Palestinian transportation.
Damaging the sources of Palestinian livelihoods: water wells,
Attacking nearby Palestinian villages likely to assist in future
attacks. Attacking Palestinian clubs, coffee houses, meeting places,
When the Zionist movement started its ethnic cleansing operations
in Palestine, in early December 1947, the country had a 'mixed'
population of Palestinians and Jews. The indigenous Palestinians
made up the two-third majority... Almost all of the cultivated
land in Palestine was held by the indigenous population - only
5.8% was in Jewish ownership in 1947.
An inexperienced UN, just two years old in 1947, entrusted the
question of the future of Palestine's fate into the hands of a
Special Committee for Palestine, UNSCOP, none of whose members
turned out to have any prior experience in solving conflicts or
knew much about Palestine's history.
UNSCOP too decided to sponsor partition
as the guiding principle for a future solution. True, its members
deliberated for a while over the possibility of making all of
Palestine one democratic state - whose future would then be decided
by the majority vote of the population - but they eventually abandoned
the idea. Instead, UNSCOP recommended to the UN General Assembly
to partition Palestine into two states, bound together federation-like
by economic unity.
... It is clear that by accepting the
Partition Resolution, the UN totally ignored the ethnic composition
of the country's population. Had the UN decided to make the territory
the Jews had settled on in Palestine correspond with the size
of their future state, they would have entitled them to no more
than ten per cent of the land. But the UN accepted the nationalist
claims the Zionist movement was making for Palestine and, furthermore,
sought to compensate the Jews for the Nazi Holocaust in Europe.
As a result, the Zionist movement was
'given' a state that stretched over more than half of the country.
The Zionist movement so quickly dominated the diplomatic game
in 1947 that the leadership of the Jewish community felt confident
enough to demand UNSCOP allocate them a state comprising over
eighty per cent of the land. The Zionist emissaries to the negotiations
with the UN actually produced a map showing the state they wanted,
which incorporated all the land Israel would occupy a year later,
that is, Mandatory Palestine without the West Bank.
... Partitioning the country - overwhelmingly
Palestinian - into two equal parts has proven so disastrous because
it was carried out against the will of the indigenous majority
population. By broadcasting its intent to create equal Jewish
and Arab political entities in Palestine, the UN violated the
basic rights of the Palestinians, and totally ignored the concern
for Palestine in the wider Arab world at the very height of the
anti-colonialist struggle in the Middle East.
In October and November 1947 the Consultancy became Ben-Gurion's
most important reference group. It was only among them that he
discussed openly what the implications would be of his decision
to disregard the partition map and to use force in order to ensure
Jewish majority and exclusivity in the country.
The first step towards the Zionist goal of obtaining as much of
Palestine as possible with as few Palestinians in it as feasible
was to decide what constituted a viable state in geographical
terms. The UN Partition Plan, formalised in Resolution 181, designated
the Negev, the coast, the eastern valleys (Marj Ibn Amir and the
Baysan Valley) and lower Galilee for the Jews, but this was not
enough. Ben-Gurion had the habit of regularly meeting with, what
he called his 'war cabinet', which was an ad-hoc group of Jewish
officers who had served in the British army (under pressure from
other Hagana members, he later had to disband it). He now set
out to impress on these officers the idea that they should start
preparing for the occupation of the country as a whole. In October
1947, Ben-Gurion wrote to General Ephraim Ben-Artzi, the most
senior officer among them, explaining that he wanted to create
a military force able both to repel a potential attack from neighbouring
Arab states and to occupy as much of the country as possible,
and hopefully all of it.
The Zionist leadership was committed to their collusion with the
Jordanians. This meant that the Jewish leadership anticipated
their future state to stretch over eighty per cent of Mandatory
Palestine: the fifty-six per cent promised to the Jews by the
UN, with an additional twenty-four per cent taken from the Arab
state the UN had allocated to the Palestinians. The remaining
twenty per cent would be picked up by the Jordanians.
This tacit agreement with Jordan in many
ways constituted the second step towards ensuring the ethnic cleansing
operation could go ahead unhindered: crucially it neutralised
the strongest army in the Arab world, and confined it to battle
with the Jewish forces solely in a very small part of Palestine.
Without the Jordanian Army, the Arab Legion, the Arab world lacked
all serious capacity to defend the Palestinians or foil the Zionist
plan to establish a Jewish state in Palestine at the expense of
the indigenous population.
All in all, on the eve of the 1948 war, the Jewish fighting force
stood at around 50,000 troops, out of which 30,000 were fighting
troops and the rest auxiliaries who lived in the various settlements.
In May 1948, these troops could count on the assistance of a small
air force and navy, and on the units of tanks, armoured cars and
heavy artillery that accompanied them. Facing them were irregular
para-military Palestinian outfits that numbered no more than 7000
troops: a fighting force that lacked all structure or hierarchy
and was poorly equipped when compared with the Jewish forces!'
In addition, in February 1948, about 1000 volunteers had entered
from the Arab world, reaching 3000 over the next few months.
Until May 1948, the two sides were poorly
equipped. Then the newly founded Israeli army, with the help of
the country's Communist party, received a large shipment of heavy
arms from Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, while the regular
Arab armies brought some heavy weaponry of their own. A few weeks
into the war, the Israeli recruitment was so efficient that by
the end of the summer their army stood at 80,000 troops. The Arab
regular force never crossed the 50,000 threshold, and in addition
had stopped receiving arms from Britain, which was its main arms
... On the margins of the main Jewish
military power operated two more extreme groups: the Irgun (commonly
referred to as Etzel in Hebrew) and the Stern Gang (Lehi). The
Irgun had split from the Hagana in 1931 and in the 1940s was led
by Menachem Begin. It had developed its own aggressive policies
towards both the British presence and the local population. The
Stern Gang was an offshoot of the Irgun, which it left in 1940.
Together with the Hagana, these three organisations were united
into one military army during the days of the Nakba.
An important part of the Zionists' military
effort was the training of special commando units, the Palmach,
founded in 1941. Originally these were created to assist the British
army in the war against the Nazis in case the latter reached Palestine.
Soon, the Palmach's zeal and activities were directed against
the Palestinian rural areas. From 1944 onwards, it was also the
main pioneering force in building new Jewish settlements. Before
being dismantled in the autumn of 1948, its members were highly
active and carried out some of the main cleansing operations in
the north and the centre of the country.
David Ben-Gurion, 1948, in a letter to Moshe Sharett the Jewish
state's foreign minister designate
If we will receive in time the arms we
have already purchased, and maybe even receive some of that promised
to us by the UN, we will be able not only to defend [ourselves]
but also to inflict death blows on the Syrians in their own country
- and take over Palestine as a whole.
The village[of Lifta] was a fine example of rural architecture,
with its narrow street running parallel to the slopes of the mountains.
The relative prosperity it enjoyed, like many other villages,
especially during and after the Second World War, manifested itself
in the construction of new houses, the improvement of roads and
pavements, as well as in an overall higher standard of living.
Lifta was a large village, home to 2500 people, most of them Muslims
with a small number of Christians. Another sign of the recent
prosperity was the girls' school a number of the villages had
combined forces to build in 1945, investing their joint capital.
Social life in Lifta revolved around a
small shopping centre, which included a club and two coffee houses.
It attracted Jerusalemites as well, as no doubt it would today
were it still there. One of the coffee houses was the target of
the Hagana when it attacked on 28 December 1947. Armed with machine
guns the Jews sprayed the coffee house, while members of the Stern
Gang stopped a bus nearby and began firing into it randomly. This
was the first Stern Gang operation in rural Palestine; prior to
the attack, the gang had issued pamphlets to its activists: 'Destroy
Arab neighbourhoods and punish Arab villages."'
... The Hagana High Command at first condemned
the Stern Gang attack at the end of December, but when they realised
that the assault had caused villagers to flee, they ordered another
operation against the same village on 11 January in order to complete
the expulsion. The Hagana blew up most of the houses in the village
and drove out all the people who were still there.
... in Jerusalem, sporadic retaliatory
actions were systemised into an offensive initiative of occupation
and expulsion. On 31 January, Ben-Gurion gave direct orders to
David Shaltiel, the city's military commander, to assure Jewish
contiguity and expansion through the destruction of Shaykh Jarrah,
the occupation of other neighborhoods, and the immediate settlement
of Jews in the evicted places. His mission was 'to settle Jews
in every house of an evicted semi-Arab neighbourhood, such as
The mission was successfully accomplished.
On 7 February 1948, which happened to fall on a Saturday, the
Jewish Sabbath, Ben-Gurion came up from Tel-Aviv to see the emptied
and destroyed village of Lifta with his own eyes. That same evening
he reported jubilantly to the Mapai Council in Jerusalem what
he had seen:
When I come now to Jerusalem, I feel lam
in a Jewish (Ivrit) city. This is a feeling I only had in Tel-Aviv
or in an agricultural farm. It is true that not all of Jerusalem
is Jewish, but it has in it already a huge Jewish bloc: when you
enter the city through Lifta and Romema, through Mahaneh Yehuda,
King George Street and Mea Shearim - there are no Arabs. One hundred
percent Jews. Ever since Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans
- the city was not as Jewish as it is now. In many Arab neighbourhoods
in the West you do not see even one Arab. I do not suppose it
will change. And what happened in Jerusalem and in Haifa- can
happen in large parts of the country. If we persist it is quite
possible that in the next six or eight months there will be considerable
changes in the country, very considerable, and to our advantage.
There will certainly be considerable changes in the demographic
composition of the country
Ben-Gurion's diary also reveals how eager
he was in January to move ahead with building a more effective
assault force. He was particularly worried that the Irgun and
the Stern Gang continued their terror attacks against the Palestinian
population without any coordination from the Hagana command. David
Shaltiel, the Jerusalem Hagana commander, reported to him that
in his city, and actually all over the country, the Irgun often
acted in areas where the other forces were not yet fully prepared.
For example, troops belonging to the Irgun had murdered Arab drivers
in Tiberias and were torturing captured villagers everywhere.
Israeli General Yigal Allon, 1948
There is a need now for strong and brutal
reaction. We need to be accurate about timing, place and those
we hit. If we accuse a family - we need to harm them without mercy,
women and children included. Otherwise, this is not an effective
reaction. During the operation there is no need to distinguish
between guilty and not guilty.
The flame-thrower project was part of a larger unit engaged in
developing biological warfare under the directorship of a physical
chemist called Ephraim Katzir, later the president of Israel ...
The biological unit he led together with his brother Aharon, started
working seriously in February. Its main objective was to create
a weapon that could blind people. Katzir reported to Ben-Gurion:
'We are experimenting with animals. Our researchers were wearing
gas masks and adequate outfit. Good results. The animals did not
die (they were just blinded). We can produce 20 kilos a day of
this stuff.' In June, Katzir suggested using it on human beings.
The order to attack Sa'sa came from Yigal Allon, the commander
of the Palmach in the north, and was entrusted to Moshe Kalman,
the deputy commander of the third battalion that had committed
the atrocities in Khisas. Allon explained that the village had
to be attacked because of its location. 'We have to prove to ourselves
that we can take the initiative,' he wrote to Kalman. The order
was very clear: 'You have to blow up twenty houses and kill as
many "warriors" [read: "villagers"] as possible'.
Sa'sa was attacked at midnight - all the villages attacked under
the 'Lamed-Heh' order were assaulted around midnight, recalled
Moshe Kalman. The New York Times (16 April 1948) reported that
the large unit of Jewish troops encountered no resistance from
the residents as they entered the village and began attaching
TNT to the houses. 'We ran into an Arab guard,' Kalman recounted
later. 'He was so surprised that he did not ask "min hada?",
"who is it?", but "eish hada?", "what
is it?" One of our troops who knew Arabic responded humorously
[sic] "hada esh!" ("this is [in Arabic] fire [in
Hebrew]") and shot a volley into him.' Kalman's troops took
the main street of the village and systematically blew up one
house after another while families were still sleeping inside.
'In the end the sky prised open,' recalled Kalman poetically,
as a third of the village was blasted into the air. 'We left behind
35 demolished houses and 60-80 dead bodies' (quite a few of them
were children) . He commended the British army for helping the
troops to transfer the two wounded soldiers - hurt by debris flying
through the air to the Safad hospital."
The intelligence unit of the Hagana drafted the blueprint for
the coming months. Codenamed Plan D, it contained direct references
both to the geographical parameters of the future Jewish state
(the seventy-eight per cent coveted by Ben-Gurion) and to the
fate of the one million Palestinians living within that space:
These operations can be carried out in
the following manner: either by ) destroying villages (by setting
fire to them, by blowing them up, and by \ planting mines in their
rubble), and especially those population centres that are difficult
to control permanently; or by mounting combing J and control operations
according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the villages,
conducting a search inside them. In case of resistance, the armed
forces must be wiped out and the population (.,.. expelled outside
the borders of the state.
Villages were to be expelled in their
entirety either because they were located in strategic spots or
because they were expected to put up some sort of resistance.
These orders were issued when it was clear that occupation would
always provoke some resistance and that therefore no village would
be immune, either because of its location or because it would
not allow itself to be occupied. This was the master plan for
the expulsion of all the villages in rural Palestine. Similar
instructions were given, with much the same wording, for actions
directed at Palestine's urban centres.
There was [a] difference between the draft handed to the politicians
and the one the military commanders were given: the official draft
stated that the plan would only be activated after the end of
the Mandate; the officers on the ground were ordered to start
executing it within a few days after its adoption. This dichotomy
is typical of the relationship that exists in Israel between the
army and politicians up to the present day - the army quite often
misinforms the politicians as to its real intentions: Moshe Dayan
did so in 1956, Ariel Sharon in 1982, and Shaul Mofaz in 2000.
... the Acting Chief of Staff, Yigael
Yadin, summoned all the intelligence officers of the Hagana to
a building that housed the headquarters of the Jewish public health
... Ya!din realised he needed to account
for the gap between the public declarations the leadership was
making of an imminent 'second Holocaust' and the reality that
the Jewish forces clearly faced no real challenge in the scheduled
depopulation of the territory they wished to turn into their Jewish
state. Yadin, dramatic as ever, set out to impress upon his listeners
that since they were going to be issued with orders to occupy,
conquer and dispossess a population, they deserved an explanation
of how they could afford to do so when, as they read in their
newspapers and heard from their politicians, they themselves were
facing the 'danger of annihilation'. The officer, whose tall and
lean figure would soon become familiar to all Israelis, then proudly
told his audience: 'Today we have all the arms we need; they are
already aboard ships, and the British are leaving and then we
bring in the weapons, and the whole situation at the fronts will
In other words, when we find Yigael Yadin's
narrative depicting the last weeks of March 1948 as the toughest
period of the war as a whole, we might instead conclude that the
Jewish community in Palestine was not in any danger of annihilation:
it was facing some obstacles on the way to completed its ethnic
... Official Israeli historiography describes
the next month, April 1948, as a turning point. According to this
version, an isolated and threatened Jewish community in Palestine
was moving from defence to offence, after its near defeat. The
reality of the situation could not have been more different: the
overall military, political and economic balance between the two
communities was such that not only were the majority of Jews in
no danger at all, but in addition, between the beginning of December
1947 and the end of March 1948, their army had been able to complete
the first stage of the cleansing of Palestine, even before the
master plan had been put into effect. If there were a turning
point in April, it was the shift from sporadic attacks and counter-attacks
on the Palestinian civilian population towards the systematic
mega-operation of ethnic cleansing that now followed.
The systemic nature of Plan Dalet is manifested in Deir Yassin,
a pastoral sand cordial village that had reached a non-aggression
pact with the Hagana in Jerusalem, but was doomed to be wiped
out because it was within the areas designated in Plan Dalet to
be cleansed. Because of the prior agreement they had signed with
the village, the Hagana decided to send the Irgun and Stern Gang
troops, so as to absolve themselves from any official accountability.
In the subsequent cleansings of 'friendly' villages even this
ploy would no longer be deemed necessary.
On 9 April 1948, Jewish forces occupied
the village of Deir Yassin. It lay on a hill west of Jerusalem,
eight hundred metres above sea level and close to the Jewish neighbourhood
of Givat Shaul. The old village school serves today as a mental
hospital for the western Jewish neighbourhood that expanded over
the destroyed village.
As they burst into the village [of Deir
Yassin] the Jewish soldiers sprayed the houses with machine-gun
fire, killing many of the inhabitants. The remaining villagers
were then gathered in one place and murdered in cold blood, their
bodies abused while a number of the women were raped ad then killed.
Fahim Zaydan, who was twelve years old
at the time, recalled how he saw his family murdered in front
of his eyes:
They took us out one after the other;
shot an old man and when one of his daughters cried, she was shot
too. Then they called my brother Muhammad, and shot him in front
us, and when my mother yelled, bending over him - carrying my
little sister Hudra in her hands, still breastfeeding her - they
shot her too.
Zaydan himself was shot, too, while standing
in a row of children the Jewish soldiers had lined up against
a wall, which they had then sprayed with bullets, 'just for the
fun of it', before they left. He was lucky to survive his wounds.
Recent research has brought down the accepted
number of people massacred at Deir Yassin from 170 to ninety-three.
Of course, apart from the victims of the massacre itself, dozens
of others were killed in the fighting, and hence were not included
in the official list of victims. However, as the Jewish forces
regarded any Palestinian village as an enemy military base, the
distinction between massacring people and killing them 'in battle'
was slight. One only has to be told that thirty babies were among
the slaughtered in Deir Yassin to understand why the whole 'quantitative'
exercise - which the Israelis repeated as recently as April 2002
in the massacre in Jenin - is insignificant. At the time, the
Jewish leadership proudly announced a high number of victims so
as to make Deir Yassin the epicentre of the catastrophe -a warning
to all Palestinians that a similar fate awaited them if they refused
to abandon their homes and take flight.
Mordechai Makief, the operation officer of the Carmeli Brigade
... called the shots [in Deir Yassin]. Makief orchestrated the
cleansing campaign, and the orders he issued to his troops were
plain and simple: 'Kill any Arab you encounter; torch all inflammable
objects and force doors open with explosives.' (He later became
the Israeli army Chief of Staff.)
When these orders were executed promptly
within the 1.5 square kilometres where thousands of Haifa's defenceless
Palestinians were still residing, the shock and terror were such
that, without packing any of their belongings or even knowing
what they were doing, people began leaving en masse. In panic
they headed towards the port where they hoped to find a ship or
a boat to take them away from the city. As soon as they had fled,
Jewish troops broke into and looted their houses.
When Golda Meir, one of the senior Zionist
leaders, visited Haifa a few days later, she at first found it
hard to suppress a feeling of horror when she entered homes where
cooked food still stood on the tables, children had left toys
and books on the floor, and life appeared to have frozen in an
instant. Meir had come to Palestine from the US, where her family
had fled in the wake of pogroms in Russia, and the sights she
witnessed that day reminded her of the worst stories her family
had told her about the Russian brutality against Jews decades
earlier." But this apparently left no lasting mark on her
or her associates' determination to continue with the ethnic cleansing
the Israeli foundational myth about voluntary Palestinian flight
the moment the war started - in response to a call by Arab leaders
to make way for invading armies - holds no water. It is a sheer
fabrication that there were Jewish attempts, as Israeli textbooks
still insist today, to persuade Palestinians to stay. As we have
seen, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had already been expelled
by force before the war began, and tens of thousands more would
be expelled in the first week of the war. For most Palestinians,
the date of 15 May 1948 [the slaughter in the village of Deir
Yassin] was of no special significance at the time: it was just
one more day in the horrific calendar of ethnic cleansing that
had started more than five months earlier.
One brigade, the Alexandroni, was entrusted with the mission of
cleansing the villages to the east and north of Tel-Aviv and Jaffa.
It was then ordered to move north and, together with other units,
start depopulating the Palestine coastline, all the way up to
The orders had come on 12 May .
'You must between the 14th and 15th occupy and destroy: Tira,
Qalansuwa and Qaqun, Irata, Danba, Iqtaba and Shuweika. Furthermore,
you should occupy but not destroy Qalqilya... Within two days
the next order arrived in the Alexandroni headquarters: 'You will
attack and cleanse Tirat Haifa, Ayn Ghazal, Ijzim, Kfar Lam, Jaba,
Ayn Hawd and Mazar.'
Re-tracing the route the brigade followed,
it appears the troops preferred to sweep the area systematically
from south to north and accomplish the destruction of the villages
in the order that seemed right to them, rather than according
to the exact instruction of which village should be hit first.
As completing the list was the overall goal, no clear priorities
were mentioned. So the Alexandroni began with the villages north
and east of Tel-Aviv: Kfar Saba and Qaqun, whose populations were
All in all, there were sixty-four villages
within the area that stretched between Tel-Aviv and Haifa, a rectangle
100 kilometres long and fifteen to twenty kilometres wide. Only
two of these villages were spared in the end: Furaydis and Jisr
... The Alexandroni's pace cleansing the
coastal rectangle was horrific - within the second half of the
month alone they cleansed the following villages: Manshiyya (in
the Tul-Karem area), Butaymat, Khirbat al-Manara, Qannir, Khirbat
Qumbaza and Khirbat al-Shuna. A small number of villages courageously
put up strong resistance, and the Alexandroni Brigade was unable
to take them; nevertheless, they were finally cleansed in July.
That is, the ethnic cleansing operations in the central coastal
plain developed in two phases: the first in May and the second
in July. In the second half of May, the most important 'trophy'
was the village of Tantura, which the Alexandroni captured on
21 May 1948.
David Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary on 5 June 1948
We occupied today Yibneh (there was no
serious resistance) and Qaqun. Here the cleansing [tihur] operation
Like a ferocious storm gathering force, the Israeli troops no
longer spared anyone in their destructive zeal. All means became
legitimate, including burning down houses where dynamite had become
scarce and torching the fields and remains of a Palestinian village
they had attacked.' The escalation of the Israeli army's cleansing
operation was the outcome of a meeting of the new, reduced Consultancy,
whose members had met on 1 June without Ben-Gurion. They later
reported to the Prime Minister that villagers were trying to return
to their homes, so they had decided to instruct the army to prevent
this at all costs. To make sure that the more liberal-minded among
his government members would not object to this policy, Ben-Gurion
demanded prior approval, and was duly given carte blanche to proceed
on 16 June 1948.
Badil Resource Centre: Facts and figures.
In 1948, 85% of the Palestinians living
in the areas that became the state of Israel became refugees.
It is estimated that there were more than
7 million Palestinian refugees and displaced persons at the beginning
Under the watchful eyes of UN observers who were patrolling the
skies of the Galilee, the final stage of the ethnic cleansing
operation, begun in October 1948, continued until the summer of
1949. Whether from the sky or on the ground, no one could fail
to spot the hordes of men, women and children streaming north
every day. Ragged women and children were conspicuously dominant
in these human convoys: the young men were gone executed, arrested
or missing. By this time UN observers from above and Jewish eyewitnesses
on the ground must have become desensitised towards the plight
of the people passing by in front of them: how else to explain
the silent acquiescence in the face of the massive deportation
unfolding before their eyes?
UN observers did draw some conclusions
in October, writing to the Secretary General - who did not publish
their report - that Israeli policy was that of 'uprooting Arabs
from their native villages in Palestine by force or threat'. Arab
member states attempted to bring the report on Palestine to the
attention of the Security Council, but to no avail. For almost
thirty years the UN uncritically adopted the rhetorical obfuscations
of Abba Eban, Israel's ambassador to the UN, who referred to the
refugees as constituting a 'humane problem' for which no one could
be held accountable or responsible. UN observers were also shocked
by the scope of the looting that went on, which by October 1948
had reached every village and town in Palestine. After so overwhelmingly
endorsing a partition resolution, almost a year earlier, the UN
could have passed another resolution condemning the ethnic cleansing,
but it never did.
Official Declaration by the Arab League, 9 January 2006
Since 1967, Israel has detained 670,000
Address by Ronnie Kasrils, Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry,
South Africa, London, 30 November, 2002
Over 700,000 olive and orange trees [in
Palestine] have been destroyed by the Israelis. This is an act
of sheer vandalism from a state that claims to practise conservation
of the environment. How appalling and shameful.
When it set out to create its national parks on the sites of eradicated
Palestinian villages, the decision as to what to plant was totally
in the hands of the JNF [Jewish National Fund]. Almost from the
start the JNF executive opted mainly for conifers instead of the
natural flora indigenous to Palestine. In part this was an attempt
to make the country look European, although this appears nowhere
in any official document as a goal. In addition, however, the
choice of planting pine and cypress trees - and this has been
overtly stated - was meant to support the country's aspiring wood
The three aims of keeping the country
Jewish, European-looking and Green quickly fused into one. This
is why forests throughout Israel today include only eleven per
cent of indigenous species and why a mere ten per cent of all
forests date from before 1948.1 At times, the original flora manages
to return in surprising ways. Pine trees were planted not only
over bulldozed houses, but also over fields and olive groves.
The true mission of the JNF has been to conceal these visible
remnants of Palestine not only by the trees it has planted over
them, but also by the narratives it has created to deny their
existence. Whether on the JNF website or in the parks themselves,
the most sophisticated audiovisual equipment displays the official
Zionist story, contextualising any given location within the national
meta-narrative of the Jewish people and Eretz Israel. This version
continues to spout the familiar myths of the narrative - Palestine
as an 'empty' and 'arid' land before the arrival of Zionism -
that Zionism employs to supplant all history that contradicts
its own invented Jewish past.
Behind these draconian measures on the part of the Israeli government
to prevent any discussion of the Right of Return lies a deep-seated
fear visa-vis any debate over 1948, as Israel's 'treatment' of
the Palestinians in that year is bound to raise troubling questions
about the moral legitimacy of the Zionist project as a whole.
This makes it crucial for Israelis to keep a strong mechanism
of denial in place, not only to help them defeat the counterclaims
Palestinians were making in the peace process, but - far more
importantly - so as to thwart all significant debate on the essence
and moral foundations of Zionism.
For Israelis, to recognise the Palestinians
as the victims of Israeli actions deeply distressing, in at least
two ways. As this form of acknowledgement means facing up to the
historical injustice in which Israel is incriminated through the
ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, it calls into question
the very foundational myths of the State of Israel, and it raises
a host of ethical questions that have inescapable implications
for the future of the state.
Recognizing Palestinian victimhood ties
in with deeply rooted psychological fears because it demands that
Israelis question their self perceptions of what 'went on' in
1948. As most Israelis see it - and as mainstream and popular
Israeli historiography keeps telling them - in 1948 Israel was
able to establish itself as an independent nation-state on part
of Mandate Palestine because early Zionists had succeeded in 'settling
an empty land' and 'making the desert bloom'.
Dov Weissglas, spokesperson for Ariel Sharon, Ha'aretz, 6 October
The significance of the disengagement
plan [from Gaza] is the freezing of the peace process. And when
you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian
state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders
and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian
state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely
from our agenda. All with [US] presidential blessings and the
ratification of both houses of Congress.
Arnon Soffer, professor of geography at Haifa University, Israel,
The Jerusalem Post, 10 May, 2004
So, if we want to remain alive, we have
to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day... If we don't kill,
we will cease to exist.
Not all the Jews in Israel are blind to the scenes of carnage
that their army left behind in 1948, nor are they deaf to the
cries of the expelled, the wounded, the tortured and the raped
as they keep reaching us through those who survived, and through
their children and grandchildren. In fact, growing numbers of
Israelis are aware of the truth of what happened in 1948, and
fully comprehend the moral implications of the ethnic cleansing
that raged in the country. They also recognise the risk of Israel
re-activating the cleansing programme in a desperate attempt to
maintain its absolute Jewish majority.
It is among these people that we find
the political wisdom that all past and present peace-brokers of
the conflict appear to lack so totally: they are fully aware that
the refugee problem stands at the heart of the conflict and that
the fate of the refugees is pivotal for any solution to have a
chance of succeeding.
There are many Palestinians who are not under occupation, but
none of them, and this includes those in the refugee camps, are
free from the potential danger of future ethnic cleansing. It
seems more a matter of Israeli priority rather than a hierarchy
of 'fortunate' and 'less fortunate' Palestinians. Those today
in the Greater Jerusalem area are undergoing ethnic cleansing
as this book goes to print. Those who live in the vicinity of
the apartheid wall Israel is constructing, half completed as this
book is written, are likely to be next. Those who live under the
greatest illusion of safety, the Palestinians of Israel, may also
be targeted in the future. Sixty-eight per cent of the Israeli
Jews expressed their wish, in a recent poll, to see them 'transferred'.'
The Israeli attacks on Gaza and Lebanon in the summer of 2006
indicate that the storm is already raging. Organisations such
as Hizbullah and Hamas, which dare to question Israel's right
to impose its unilateral will on Palestine, have faced Israel's
military might and, so far(at the time of writing) are managing
to withstand the assault. But it is far from over. The regional
patrons of these resistance movements, Iran and Syria, could be
targeted in the future; the risk of even more devastating conflict
and bloodshed has never been so acute.
Ilan Pappe page