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Why I believe the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine in 1948 was a reality.
During the course of conversations with numerous supporters of the Zionist State of Israel, I have come across the assertion that no ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people ever occurred in 1947-48. Those Palestinians that left their homes in Palestine to become refugees did so voluntarily. This voluntary evacuation occurred as the Palestinian people left their homelands in order to make way for the surrounding Arab armies entering Palestine to destroy the newly formed State of Israel, probably in the hope that they could return once the Zionists had been overcome. I believe this “voluntary flight” narrative to be a colonialist myth, used to justify the continued dispossession of Palestinian Arabs from historic Palestine.
Whenever I hear these “well informed” supporters of Zionism I can’t help but feel that I am looking into a mirror, seeing my own previously held to ideas about the justification of British colonialism in Australia being reflected, in many ways, in the beliefs of these enthusiastic apologists for Israel.
Growing up in Australia in the 60’s and 70’s I learnt nothing in school of the massacres of Aboriginal people by white settlers. I heard nothing of the decimation of entire communities of Aboriginal people by diseases that were brought to this country by Europeans. Land theft and dispossession of Australia’s indigenous peoples was off the menu when it came to the education of non-Aboriginal Australians about the creation and settlement of Australia. The history that I had been educated in had been written by the winners of the battle to transform the ancient continent of Australia into a British colony. Not surprisingly, the winners failed to mention the crimes that were committed against the indigenous peoples and did everything to magnify the heroic deeds of the early settlers. It was only their hardships and sacrifices that were worth telling in the story of the creation of the nation of Australia. I grew up on a diet of the jolly and brave deeds of Captain Cook, Burke and Wills, Matt Flinders, John McDowell Stuart and Charles Sturt when it came to Australian history.
It was not until a safe distance in time had elapsed before a few brave historians could finally tell of the crimes committed against the Aborigines. The stories uncovered by those historians and researchers could have been accessed by ordinary Australians many years before. The eye witness testimony of Aboriginals themselves had given ample testimony to the events of the past but their voice was conveniently marginalised and their opinions not esteemed.
Even when injustices were finally revealed, white Australians would counter with various arguments to justify the concept of European entitlement to the land of Australia. What had Aboriginals done with the land? What had they achieved compared to the development of the country by European settlers? And of course, we came with the Bible and God’s salvation. But European entitlement to the land had always been built on far more racist and pitiless concepts of entitlement than those just mentioned. British colonialism started, in the main part, with the forced transportation of large numbers of those who were unwanted in their land of birth. They had been disowned by their native countries. They were very much a people with no land. These wretched souls were being delivered to a land that would be declared Terra Nullius; a land uninhabited that could be taken by mere occupation. Those first members of this new country were a people with no land for a land with no people. How inconvenient it would have been for the British government to acknowledge the sovereignty of the indigenous Australians before bringing the people they felt unfit for their own society to the shores of the Aboriginal homeland? Perhaps the Aboriginal people may have had a very uncompassionate immigration policy towards these boat people if they knew how many of them were in fact convicted criminals.
Just as I had naively accepted the colonialist’s version of the events surrounding the founding of my country, so these young Zionists had gulped down the version of the story of the creation of Israel as told by the victorious Zionists. That is simply the nature of the legacy that colonialism gives to later generations. They get to tell their version of events and all competing versions are silenced.
In the case of the founding of modern Israel, the need to silence the version of events as told by the Palestinians is many times more important than in the case of the origins of my country. This is because Zionist colonialism has occurred in an age where colonialism is frowned upon by international law and global communications make it extremely difficult for crimes against humanity to go undetected.
When looking at the issue of ethnic cleansing, we need to consider a number of lines of evidence in order to make up our minds as to whose version of the truth is more accurate.
In order to see if the Zionists did in fact commit ethnic cleansing, we need to ask whether or not they had motive, means and opportunity to carry out this crime against humanity. We need to see if there is corroborating documentary evidence of such actions as well as investigate eye witness testimony of those involved in the events.
In so far as motive is concerned, we first note that right from the beginning, as soon as the Zionists decided that Palestine was the place for the intended Jewish State, they had no intention of sharing the land with the indigenous Arabs. In 1897, a pamphlet by Nahman Sykrin, founder of socialist Zionism, said that Palestine “must be evacuated for the Jews.” While some moderate Zionists like Albert Einstein, a passionate believer in equal rights for Arab and Jew, wanted a Jewish homeland, the version of Zionism that dominated was one that sought to create a specifically Zionist Jewish state. In 1905, Israel Zangwill said that Jews must drive out the Arabs or “grapple with the problem of a large alien population…” In 1919, the World Zionist Organisation presented a map to the Paris Peace Conference showing the land they desired for the Zionist homeland. No room was made for any Palestinian state to co-exist with this Zionist state. Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, was to say in 1938 to the Jewish Agency Executive, “I am for compulsory transfer; I do not see anything immoral in it.”
By 1900, Palestine was populated by nearly 500,000 Arabs and some 20,000 to 30,000 Jews. At this time, before the real onslaught of Zionist colonialism, Jews and Arabs lived for the most part in peace and mutual respect in Palestine, as they had done for some 13 centuries in the Arab world. Albert Einstein initially supported the Zionist movement but after seeing the aggressive nature of the Zionists, proceeded to distance himself from the colonialists. Einstein stated, after an outburst of violence against Zionists in Palestine:
“There could be no greater calamity than a permanent discord between us and the Arab people. Despite the great wrong that has been done to us, we must strive for a just and lasting compromise with the Arab people. Let us recall that in former times no people lived in greater friendship with us than the ancestors of these Arabs.”
The Zionists had no intention of asking the permission of the majority population of Arabs to build a specifically Jewish state in the land of Palestine and the European powers had no intention either.
In 1919 Lord Balfour, of the Balfour Declaration, wrote to Lord Curzon, showing British attitudes towards Arabs:
“For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country…the Four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires or prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land… “
In pre-Zionist Palestine, not only did Jews and Arabs live together without the violence of today, but the Jews indigenous to Palestine resisted the Zionists even before the Arabs did. This resistance was true of the vast majority of Jews, particularly the Orthodox religious Jews. The creation of the Israeli State was condemned by many of the religious Jewish authorities.
When the United Nations mandated the Partition Plan of 1947, there were a large number of Arabs within the borders of the proposed Israeli State challenging the Jewish majority. It was no secret to anyone that the Palestinians did not want the land of Palestine partitioned. Every Zionist new this. The Arabs of Palestine had declared their fear of dispossession due to the creation of a Zionist State to the King-Crane Commission of 1919. They no more wanted an exclusively (European) Zionist State created in their homeland any more than the states of Europe would have wanted an Arab state created in theirs.
The Zionist have always craved three concepts for their Jewish homeland; Zionism, democracy and greater Israel. Today’s Zionists loudly proclaim that the State of Israel will never annex the West Bank and Gaza to create a one state (non-Zionist) solution. This is because in doing so they will bring some 4 million more Arabs into the State of Israel proper. Add returning refugees to this situation would ensure a majority population of Arabs in Israel once more. Zionists believe that an Arab government in Israel will bring the end of Zionism and the end of democracy in Israel. They simply won’t allow it. If Israel had given Arabs equal rights with Jews in the State of Israel in 1947 when the partition plan was first drafted, and held democratic elections, they would have run a grave risk of Arabs gaining power and hence the Zionist State would have been annulled. Something had to happen. As David Ben Gurion wrote in his memoirs, “The Arabs will have to go”.
Two years after the State of Israel was declared and some 800,000 Palestinians had been dispossessed, the new Zionist homeland could boast a Jewish majority with immigration laws enacted that ensured that only Jews could come into the new state and Arabs would be barred from returning or migrating to Israel from wherever they lived in the world. Israel could now guarantee that any Arab population in Israel would be a minority and no threat at the ballot box. Zionism would be safe and the State of Israel could claim that it was fully democratic; allowing Arabs to vote and even be members of the Knesset. The goal of greater Israel would have to wait. Zionist historians like Benny Morris claim that the Palestinian refugee problem that grew out of 1948 was born of war not design despite a multitude of evidence to the contrary.
Israel is a Zionist State. Zionism as an ideology is the only option for any person wishing to enter politics or any political party in Israel. They do not vote on the issue of Zionism. It is an absolute.
The wishes of Palestinian Arabs (the majority population in Palestine) regarding the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 were not given consideration and they were completely unrepresented in the decision making process. Not one member of the United Nation Special Council on Palestine was an Arab. Virtually every person that signed the declaration of the creation of the state of Israel was not even born in Palestine.
So far as motive is concerned, we can clearly see that the Zionists had every reason to commit ethnic cleansing in Palestine. The actions of Zionists like Menachim Begin and others show they had no problem executing the violence required to carry out such a task. Without the removal of Arabs from the State of Israel in 1947-48, the Zionist State would have collapsed before it had a chance to become strong.
In 1947, Golda Meir travelled to the U.S. to drum up funding for armaments for the conflict they knew would occur when the British Mandate period ended. She came back to Palestine with $50 million (U.S). Jewish military strategist, Martin Van Creveld, claims that the Zionists were able to finally muster some 90,000 troops by 1948. These troops out numbered the Arab forces that came up against them and were better trained and equipped. The Zionists definitely had the military capability to carry out ethnic cleansing.
In the 20’s and 30’s violent clashes between Arabs, Jews and the British had been frequent. As time went on and the end of the British Mandate period came in to sight, tensions rose even higher. Neither the British nor the U.N. stayed in Palestine to enforce the Partition Plan of 1947. Rather it was left to the Arabs and Zionists to thrash out the issue. Violence by Zionist militias and retaliation by Arabs started well before the mandate period ended. The circumstances certainly created the opportunity for the violence of ethnic cleansing.
Documentary evidence from Military archives has been evaluated by Israeli historians like Ilan Pappe. Detail of this evidence is discussed in detail in his book, “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.” Pappe is in no doubt that the Zionists were guilty of ethnic cleansing in 1948 and that it was no ad hoc affair but a carefully devised plan to rid the State of Israel of this dangerous Arab population.
Finally, the eyewitness testimony of hundreds, even thousands of Palestinian Arabs has clearly corroborated the evidence compiled by Pappe and others. I personally have spoken to a number Palestinians who have related their personal stories of being forcibly removed from their homes at gun point by Israeli military forces. Most Zionists simply disregard the eyewitness accounts of the Arab victims of this crime against humanity, only adding to the frustration and sense of injustice felt by Palestinians. The Zionist rejection of this testimony is reminiscent of the attitude of whites in the slave states of the U.S. who considered all black men to be basically liars.
Denial of the ethnic cleansing of 1948 by Zionists is totally understandable in human terms. How can we expect young Israelis and supporters of Zionism to admit that their country was born of injustice, land theft and murder? Anyone who has ever been in denial knows how painful it is to come out of denial. Coming out of denial is like coming out of a religious cult. A young Zionist once told me that Israel is a lovely country. I am sure it is. Israel can boast wonderful achievements for its people and is a world leader in many areas of modern life. Adelaide, where I live, despite what many Adelaidians think, is a lovely place as well and most people who live in Adelaide are wonderful people. This in no way denies the reality of the massacres and dispossession that occurred in our history.
But denial costs those who have been the victims of the shameful acts that are being held in denial. Israel can never grow as a country until it confronts its ugly past and seeks reconciliation with the Arabs that share the land of Israel-Palestine.
I believe the evidence of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Zionists forces in 1948 is every bit as compelling as the evidence of the Holocaust. The notion that Palestinians fortuitously vacated the newly formed state of Israel, thereby saving the Israelis from having to commit the crime of ethnic cleansing in order to create a Jewish majority in the Zionist State, is clearly ridiculous. Seeing how doggedly the Palestinians cling to their homeland in the face of misery and oppression hardly lends credibility to the idea that they would have ever left their homes initially unless extreme force or at the very least the real threat of extreme force was employed.
The idea that Arab leaders asked the Palestinians to leave their homelands in 1948 to make way for the ensuing attack on the Zionist State lacks any documentary evidence and runs counter to common sense. Arab armies would have much preferred that local Palestinians in Palestine would have stayed put to provide much needed intelligence, supplies and general assistance to the invading Arab forces. This is common practice in war. During the allied landing at Normandy in World War II the allied forces did not ask the French civilians to vacate their homes to make way for the ensuing battle with the Nazis. The assistance that French civilians gave the invading allied troops was greatly needed and appreciated.
Do Zionists really wish us to accept the idea that Palestinians voluntarily gave up their homes to the Zionists and then once they realised they were not going to be allowed back, have invented the idea that they were forced out in the first place? If this scenario is true then how lucky could the Zionists have been to have had such a foolish adversary as they had in the Palestinians? And how unlucky for Israel that such actions would also look indistinguishable from that of ethnic cleansing to all those anti-Semites who are just waiting for an excuse to twist the evidence for the purpose of the de-legitimisation and ultimate destruction of Israel?
I find the whole voluntary flight scenario to be quite unbelievable and contrary to the massive evidence compiled by those brave enough to challenge the myths of Zionism and put up with the inevitable onslaught of accusations of being an ant-Semite or a self hating Jew.
ACTION FOR PALESTINE