Sunday, March 28, 2010
THE NAKBA: THE CRISIS OF ETHNIC CLEANSING
Under the forests of Israel lie what are officially termed “ancient” ruins. In actuality, they are the remains of Palestinian villages, evacuated by forced migration or massacre, destroyed and bulldozed under in 1948 and then seeded over with trees. The mass expulsion of Arabs from Palestine, by Zionist forces, actually began in 1947, well before there was either an Arab-Israeli war, or even a nation of Israel. The area was still supposedly under British protection, but the Zionists who were planning the establishment of their new country felt the need to eliminate as many Palestinians as possible before the fact—and the British watched as the plan was carried out.
Palestinians and Jews had co-existed peacefully in Palestine since the 1880’s, when a massive immigration of Jews began. Therefore, the Arabs didn’t agree with the British (and consequently, the United Nations) plan to partition historical Palestine into two states once Britain was ready to give up control of the area. Little did the Arabs know or expect that the Zionists planned, almost from their first arrival, to expel the indigenous people and take over the land.
Many of the Jews who settled in Palestine fought with and were trained by the British during World War II, so they had an effective fighting force that they soon equipped with modern weapons. The Palestinians, a mostly agricultural people, possessed few weapons besides antiquated rifles. The only modern army among the surrounding Arab nations belonged to Jordan but Israel was careful to make an agreement with Jordan’s king, well before the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli war, that if he would keep the Jordanian army out of the conflict, Israel would divide up the land with him.
David Ben-Gurion, one of the Zionist founders of Israel, wrote in his diary on October 7, 1947 that there “are no territorial boundaries for the future Jewish State.” [from 'The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine' by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, pg. 37] Ben-Gurion and a group called “The Consultancy” planned to cleanse Arabs from the territory coveted by the Zionists. Forced expulsions began with attacks on Palestinian villages in December of 1947, five months before Israel was declared a country and before the beginning of the Arab-Israeli war.
The first attacks were preceded by the distribution of threatening leaflets, warning the Palestinians that war was coming to their village. Jewish military forces (particularly the Hagana and Irgun units) would enter the village at night, fire their weapons into homes, blow up the stone and mud houses with the occupants still in them, and generally create panic. As this type of action went on, the brutality increased. Sometimes, as villagers fled their homes, they were fired upon. Some—women and children included--were killed immediately. Others were rounded up, the men separated from the women, a number of the men were accused of being “infiltrators” and then they were shot. The remaining villagers were forced to flee to other villages—or other countries, like Jordan—with only the clothes on their backs.
Some Arab countries sent small units of volunteers to help the Palestinians when the war between the Jews and Arabs actually began in February, 1948. The Jordanians, of course, stayed out of the conflict (with the exception of defending east Jerusalem) because of their collusion with the Zionists. The Communist Party arranged to purchase modern weapons from Eastern Europe for the aspiring Israeli nation. Eventually, Israel also purchased a modern air force and the last months of the Nakba included intimidation of the Palestinian villages by aerial bombardment.
By the time Israel officially declared their independence, on May 15, 1948, between 175,000 and 250,000 Palestinians had already been forced from their homes. The push to cleanse Palestine of the Arabs only increased with operation after operation carried out by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). These persisted even during times when truces were called.
As just one example, the village of Dawaymeh, whose population was swollen by refugees from other villages, was taken over by Israeli troops on October 28, 1948. Soldiers in armored vehicles surrounded the village on three sides, leaving one side open for the residents to flee. They shot at people indiscriminately, pursuing them as they sought shelter in a mosque and a nearby holy cave. The next day, bodies filled the streets, the mosque, and the entrance to the cave. Ilan Pappe writes that the eyewitness accounts of Jewish soldiers who took part in the massacre reported “babies whose skulls were cracked open, women raped or burned alive in houses, and men stabbed to death.” [Ilan Pappe, pg. 196]
By the end of 1948, over 750,000 Palestinians had been forced to flee or had been massacred, their villages burned, looted, and razed. Official Israel set about creating a fictionalized narrative about what happened during the year of the Nakba, claiming that the Palestinians left their villages voluntarily. They then attempted to obliterate the destroyed villages by bulldozing them under, planting forests over them, and claiming “ancient” ruins as proof of a long Jewish history in Palestine. The effort to cleanse the Arabs from Palestine—which is still going on—became an effort to cleanse the collective memory of the Nakba.