historic wrong in Palestine
The state of Israel came into existence 60 years
ago on 14 May 1948. In the months before
and after this declaration, around 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their
homes. Over 500 villages were emptied of
their Palestinian population and most of them were destroyed so that those
expelled had no homes to return to.
Anybody who doubts that ethnic
cleansing took place on this scale should read The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe. In it, he describes Plan Dalet (D in Hebrew),
which set out the areas to be cleansed and the methods to be employed by
Zionist forces in carrying out the cleansing.
Here is a sample of the latter:
“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 debris) and
especially of those population centres which are difficult to control
continuously; or by mounting combing 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
The plan was approved by the Zionist
leadership on 10 March 1948, and put into operation immediately.
* * *
The Zionist movement to establish a
homeland for Jews in Palestine began in Europe
in the late 19th century, when Palestine
was part of the Ottoman Empire. It was given impetus by the Balfour
Declaration in 1917, which stated that Britain
viewed with favour “the establishment in Palestine
of a national home for the Jewish people” and undertook to use its “best
endeavours” to bring it about. The
Declaration also made the incompatible commitment that “nothing shall be done
which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish
communities in Palestine”. At that time, the “existing non-Jewish
communities” constituted around 90% of the population.
During World War
I, Britain also promised
to recognise an Arab state in the Middle East,
in exchange for Arab assistance in overthrowing Ottoman rule. However, Britain
made a conflicting agreement with France - the Sykes-Picot Agreement - for
joint control of the Middle East. So, instead of the promised Arab state, Britain and France
balkanised the Middle East into a series of
states under their control. Britain was granted a mandate to administer Palestine by the newly formed League
of Nations. The mandate
incorporated the Balfour Declaration’s commitment to a homeland for the Jews in
Under British rule, the Jewish
colonisation of Palestine
gathered pace and by the mid 1930s Jews made up nearly 30% of the population
compared with around 10% twenty years earlier.
As the unlimited extent of the colonisation became evident, Arab
opposition rose and led to the Arab Revolt from 1936-39, in which around 5,000
Arabs, and 400 Jews, were killed.
In 1937, the Peel Commission set up
by Britain proposed for the
first time the partition of Palestine
and the establishment of a Jewish state.
Arab opposition led to the proposal being dropped and to Britain severely restricting further Jewish
immigration into Palestine
in 1939. This restriction continued
throughout World War II at a time when Jews were desperate to escape Nazi
persecution in Europe.
In 1947, Britain
announced its intention to give up the mandate and to withdraw from Palestine on 15 May 1948. The newly formed UN set up a commission which
recommended another partition scheme.
This was endorsed by the UN General Assembly in resolution 181 passed on
29 November 1947 by 33 votes to 10, despite the opposition of the Palestinians
and all Arab states. It is worth noting
that, unlike UN Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not
binding on UN member states.
The partition plan divided Palestine into three
parts. It was extraordinarily generous
to the Jews, who at the time made up about a third of the population and owned
less than 6% of the total land. Despite
this, the partition plan allocated almost 56% of the land to a Jewish state, in
an area in which there were about 500,000 Jews but also 440,000 Arabs. On 42% of the land, 800,000+ Arabs were to
have a state with a small Jewish minority (10,000) and a small area around Jerusalem was to be under
The Zionist leadership accepted the
partition plan publicly, but with the clear intention of working against it,
understandably so, since it was impossible to establish a Jewish state in an
area where nearly 50% of the population was Arab. “Transfer” of Arabs was necessary in order to
establish a viable Jewish state. That’s
what happened in the months before and after the declaration of the state of Israel in May 1948.
The territory allocated to the Jewish
state was expanded to include more than 78% of mandate Palestine and around
750,000 Palestinians were expelled into the rest of Palestine and the
surrounding Arab states, where they and their descendants live today. That is how a viable Jewish state was
established in Palestine
* * * *
The transfer of the Arab population out
of Palestine was
on the agenda of the Zionist movement from an early stage - since its presence got
in the way of the establishment of a Jewish state. One of the movement’s liberal thinkers, Leo
Motzkin, put it this way in 1917:
“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 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.” (The
Motzkin Book, p 164)
David Ben-Gurion was the leader of
the Zionist movement from the mid 1920s and the first Prime Minister of
Israel. He told a meeting of the Jewish
Agency Executive on 12 June 1938:
“I am for compulsory
transfer. I see nothing immoral in it.”
It should be said that Zionist
leaders were not alone in denying the Palestinians’ right to live in the land of Palestine. Here is an extract from evidence by a famous
Briton to the Peel Commission in 1937:
“I do not agree that the
dog in a manger [the Palestinians] has the final right to the manger even
though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right.
I do not admit that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America
or the black people of Australia.
I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a
stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race, has come in and
taken their place.”
The author was Winston
Churchill. In his eyes, the native
peoples of America and Australia, and Palestine, were lesser breeds, whose “place”
could be taken over by superior breeds.
* * *
The Zionist project did not stop at
the 1949 armistice line, the so-called Green Line. Since the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel has occupied the rest of mandate Palestine – the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem – and continued its colonising mission in
these areas. Today, there are nearly 500,000
Jewish settlers on confiscated Arab land in the Occupied Territories.
Israel has ignored Security
Council resolutions demanding that it cease colonising the Occupied Territories. Colonising occupied territory is contrary to the
Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49, paragraph 6 of which states:
“The Occupying Power
shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the
territory it occupies.”
Shamefully, the Security Council has
not taken any enforcement action – economic sanctions, for example – to compel Israel to implement
these resolutions. This is in stark
contrast to the Security Council’s action in respect of, for example, Iraq and Iran.
(Israel is in violation of over 30
Security Council resolutions that require action by it alone, for example,
resolutions 252, 267, 271 and 298 that require it to reverse its annexation of
East Jerusalem, resolution 487 that calls upon it to place its nuclear
facilities under IAEA supervision, resolution 497 demands that Israel reverse
its annexation of the Golan Heights that belong to Syria, as well as
resolutions 446, 452 and 465 that demand it cease settlement building. The Security Council has taken no enforcement
action in respect of any of these.)
* * *
The Zionist colonisation of Palestine, undertaken with the support of the West, has
brought endless suffering to the Arab people of Palestine and deprived them of the enjoyment
of their land. Had it not been for the
Zionist colonisation, there would be no conflict in Palestine.
Yet, remarkably, the colonisers are constantly portrayed in the Western
media as the victims of Palestinian aggression.
A settlement in Palestine
requires a recognition that an historic wrong has been done to the Arab people
and that appropriate redress has to be made.