Monday, March 22, 2010


I was born in the same year as Israel, 1948. Like most Americans, I grew up with the Israeli narrative: Israel was created by the United Nations after the Holocaust to provide Jews with a safe homeland; the Arab nations were hostile to Israel and refused to accept its existence; the Palestinians are basically terrorists against whom Israel has a right to protect itself, using any means necessary.

The story that never made it into public consciousness, until very recently, is the Palestinian story. It is coming to light thanks to courageous historians like Israeli Ilan Pappe (author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine), political analysts like Phyllis Bennis (author of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict), and the oral histories of the Palestinians who survived an event called The Nakba. This narrative has a different beginning.

In the late 1800's, thousands of Jewish immigrants, mainly from Eastern Europe, began to settle in Palestine. Some of these Jews were Zionists, meaning they believed in and eventually called for the establishment of a homeland for all Jewish people in Palestine. Between 1904 and 1914, forty thousand Zionist immigrants settled in Palestine.

Palestine was viewed by the European immigrants as empty land, although Jews made up only 6% of the population by 1914. The other 94% was, of course, Arab people who had lived on the land for centuries. As World War I ended, Palestine was ceded to the British by the defeated Ottoman Empire and the British claimed a mandate over Palestine that was recognized by the League of Nations. The Palestinians, however, demanded independence, which never materialized. In 1919, Winston Churchill wrote, "there are Jews, whom we are pledged to introduce into Palestine, and who take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience." [pg. 283 of Ilan Pappe's book]

As Jewish immigration and settlements grew, so did conflict between the Zionists and the native Palestinians. The Zionist agenda included a plan to relocate Arabs outside of the state of Israel that they hoped to create. One Zionist leader, Leo Motzkin, wrote in 1917:

"Our thought is that the colonization of Palestine has to go in two directions: Jewish settlement...and the resettlement of the 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." [Ilan Pappe, pg. 7-8]

Unfortunately, by the time Britain was ready to quit Palestine and turn the Israeli-Palestinian problem over to the United Nations, after World War II, Zionist thinking had taken a turn toward forcible expulsions of the Palestinians. The Palestinians, after all, vastly outnumbered the Jews and therefore threatened the establishment of a Jewish state. As the British stood by in 1947, ready to relinquish all control and then support a new state of Israel, the Zionist leaders began to forcibly evict the Palestinian people from the land through intimidation, laying military siege to villages, setting fire to homes, and demolishing entire villages. [Ilan Pappe, pg. xii]

For the most part, the Palestinians owned few arms, and what they had were outdated. They could offer little resistance and 750,000 of them were evacuated or massacred in what is known as The Nakba. In Israel, a law has been proposed to strip the citizenship of any Israeli who mentions The Nakba. However, no narrative about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complete without it.

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