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Another Side of History: May 1948, the Palestinian CatastropheEd Mast for Salem-News.com
For Palestinians, this total destruction of a culture was a kind of holocaust.
(SEATTLE) - May 14 is celebrated by some as Israel’s Independence Day, but for Palestinians the day is remembered as al-Nakba, the Catastrophe. We still commonly hear a that in May 1948, Israel declared itself independent, several Arab countries declared war on the new country, and Palestinians were somehow lost in the ensuing chaos. As more and more people here and in Israel are coming to understand, the actual facts are quite different.
The war began not in 1948 but in November 1947, after the new United Nations, under heavy pressure from the United States and Britain, suggested dividing historic Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. Palestine had been under British occupation for almost thirty years, during which time the British had forced Palestinians to accept the immigration of hundreds of thousands of European Jews. Palestinian Arabs did not recognize the right of Britain to impose this immigrant population on them, especially when Britain and the US were closing their own borders to these Jewish refugees. Nor did Palestinian Arabs accept the right of foreign powers, as represented by the United Nations, to give away over half of their homeland to this immigrant population that was still a minority in Palestine.
Zionist Jews in Palestine made a great show of accepting the UN suggestion, since it would increase their holdings in Palestine from about 6% to 55%. But many in the Zionist leadership took it only as a step toward "redeeming" all of historic Palestine for a Jewish state. Menachim Begin, who later became Prime Minister of Israel, said "The Partition of Palestine is illegal. It will never be recognized... Jerusalem was and will forever be our capital. Eretz Israel will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And forever."
Zionist Jews were faced with the fundamental dilemma of their movement. Even the UN partition suggestion would have left a Jewish state with a large population or even a majority of Palestinian Arabs. To establish a state with a Jewish majority, Palestinian Arab population would have to be expelled.
War broke out immediately between Zionist Jews trying to expand their area and Palestinian Arabs resisting. Many of the Zionist Jews had been trained by British military, while the British had systematically disarmed Palestinians. In addition, Haganah, Irgun and other Zionist terrorist groups were able to organize into paramilitary forces that became the foundation of the Israeli army. The battle was drastically unequal in favor of the Zionist forces, and neither side refrained from attacking civilians.
The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians began at once. Months later, by May 1948, several hundred thousand Palestinians had been driven out. Zionist massacres of Palestinians were carried out in Deir Yassin, Tantura and other villages, and Palestinians were systematically driven out of Haifa and other cities. When the British formally ended their occupation and Zionists declared the the State of Israel on May 14, the Arab states of Jordan, Egypt and Syria entered the war, in part because of territorial objectives of their own, but also to stem the tide of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. From early on, Israeli/Zionist forces outnumbered and outgunned the combined Arab forces, which were also poorly coordinated. Israel easily won the war, and by January 1949, 800,000 Palestinians – two thirds of the total Palestinian population - had been driven out of what became Israel. Over 500 Palestinian villages had been destroyed and erased from sight.
Before the war was over, the Israeli government took steps to prevent Palestinians from returning to their homes. In August 1948, a "Transfer Committee" was created to supervise the destruction of the emptied Arab villages or their repopulation with recent Jewish immigrants. In December 1948, Israel passed the "Absentee Law," giving legal cover to the confiscation of Palestinian properties whose owners had been expelled. Palestinians trying to return to work their fields or feed their families were shot at and re-expelled.
For Palestinians, this total destruction of a culture was a kind of holocaust. It will be difficult to achieve any kind of peace as long as this is not acknowledged.
There is controversy about this history, but the debate has no foundation. No one disagrees that the ethnic cleansing took place: in 1947 there were about 1,200,000 Palestinians, and in 1949 there were about 400,000. It is self-evident that there would have been no Jewish majority without this ethnic cleansing, especially on the larger area that the Zionists conquered. Palestinians certainly had no motive to ethnically cleanse themselves, but for a long time the new state of Israel put out hasbara (Hebrew for "propaganda") that Palestinians had done just that: run away for no reason, or because their own leaders told them to. This has been thoroughly discredited and by now even Israeli historians – such as Ilan Pappe in THE ETHNIC CLEANSING OF PALESTINE - are admitting the truth: those hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven out by a campaign of massacre, rape, terror and physical expulsion.
No matter how atrocious, if the ethnic cleansing had ended in 1949, we might fairly put the past behind us; but the ethnic cleansing continues to this day. In 1967, Israel conquered the rest of historic Palestine and several hundred thousand more Palestinians were driven out to become refugees. Israel has kept Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza under military occupation since 1967, and Israel keeps driving out more Palestinians to make room for Israeli Jewish settlers.
These Israeli Jews live under a different set of laws, with different and superior rights and privileges, than their Palestinian neighbors who live without civil or political rights. The Palestinian minority inside Israel is also subject to discrimination and curtailed civil and political rights. South African activists have called Israel an apartheid state, and have said that the situation of Palestinians is in some regards worse than the situation of the black majority in old South Africa.
Palestinians still outnumber Israeli Jews in the region, so Israeli Zionists continue imprisoning, disempowering and expelling Palestinians to maintain an artificial Jewish majority.
When Palestinians resist ethnic cleansing or apartheid, they are demonized and brutalized. Even Palestinian nonviolent resistance is met with disproportionate Israeli force. Israel has violated over 80% of all ceasefires, most recently on November 4 2008, when Israel violated a working ceasefire with Hamas and followed up with an assault on the captive population of Gaza, killing over 1400 people, mostly non-combatants, including 400 children.
As long as Israel continues to deny that ethnic cleansing took place, they will demonize and exploit Palestinian resistance as an excuse for more assaults and expulsions of Palestinian people. All the assaults and expulsions serve the longterm Zionist agenda: to annex Palestinian land without Palestinian people. Denial of ethnic cleansing thus leads to more ethnic cleansing. Until there is acknowledgment of these atrocities of the past, atrocities in the present will continue.
Edward Mast volunteers with Palestine Information Project and Palestine Solidarity Committee – Seattle. palestineinformation.org With Linda Bevis, he has recently released a refilmed second edition of the popular DVD PALESTINE FOR BEGINNERS. He is also the co-author of the booklet NAKBA: THE ONGOING ETHNIC CLEANSING OF PALESTINE. Both the booklet and DVD are available at palestineonlinesstore.com. For information about the international nonviolent campaign to use boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel to abide by human rights standards, visit bdsmovement.net.
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