A non-partisan journal of the left.

The anniversary of the Catastrophe

Thu 17th May 2012

On 15 May each year the Palestinian people commemorate al-Nakba (the Castastrophe), named after the forced expulsion of 750,000 men, women, and children from their homes and villages and the loss of 78% of their land on the way to the establishment of the State of Israel, which was declared on 14 May 1948 by David Ben-Gurion, the Jewish state's first prime minister and one of its most celebrated figures to this day.

The controversy surrounding this period in history, which to Israel and its supporters is referred to as the War of Independence, remains the subject of sharp debate, its ramifications continuing to underpin over six decades of misery and injustice for succeeding generations of Palestinians and Palestinian refugees.

The right of return of these refugees to the land from which they or their parents and grandparents were expelled has been denied by Israel ever since, while any person of Jewish faith, recent converts included, is granted automatic Israeli citizenship and the right to immigrate to the country even if they can trace no family or physical connection to the country beforehand. Moreover, many of these new immigrants end up living in any of the number of illegal settlements that have and continue to be constructed on Palestinian land, thus adding insult to very severe injury for the Palestinian people.

It is this very contradiction which fuels claims that Israel is a racist state.

Moreover, the history of al-Nakba has been consistently revised and distorted by Israel's apologists in a concerted attempt to maintain a moral high ground over the state's formation, one which grows increasingly shaky in light of the concrete historical evidence.

Analyzing this history we see that the man considered the father of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, anticipated the ethnic cleansing of Palestine over fifty years before Israel came into being. In a diary entry in 1895, he wrote that

"We shall try to spirit the penniless [Arab] population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it employment in our own country...The removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly."

Fast forward to 1969 and you find Israeli Defence Minister and celebrated Israeli war hero, Moshe Dayan, making the following admission during a speech to students at Technicron University in Haifa.

"Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages...Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushu'a in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population."

The name given to the military operation to ethnically cleanse Palestine by the nascent Jewish state was Plan Dalet. According to the official Israeli history, this was a plan for the seizure and defence of all the territory ceded to Israel under the 1947 UN Partition Plan upon the withdrawal of the British Mandate. However, evidence pointing to the fact that Plan Dalet was intended from the outset as an offensive military operation to seize as much land as possible from the Palestinians in addition to the territory allocated to the Jewish State under the Partition Plan is well nigh irrefutable. According to the Palmach's own archives (the Palmach was an elite unit within the Haganah, forerunner to the Israel Defense Forces), released in 1972, Zionist military operations to attack and cleanse Palestinian villages of their inhabitants began almost six weeks before the British Mandate officially ended.

In the process of this military operation by the armed forces and militants attached to the newly declared State of Israel, atrocities were committed. The most infamous of these took place in the village of Deir Yassin.

Deir Yassin was a Palestinian village located close to Jerusalem, outside the territory allotted to the Jewish Agency under the UN Partition Plan. It was known for its peaceful relations with its Jewish neighbours in surrounding settlements. Indeed, the village was one of the very few Arab villages that had not become embroiled in the clashes with its Jewish neighbours as the conflict intensified. In other words there was absolutely no legal or military justification for the horror its people were subjected to beginning in the early hours of April 9 1948, when a combined force of Irgun and Stern Gang Zionist paramilitaries arrived.

In the preceding years both the Irgun and the Stern Gang had been heavily involved in a concerted and determined terrorist campaign against the British Mandate Authority, designed to drive the British out of Palestine. The most infamous incident of the campaign was the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946 by the Irgun. The hotel housed British Military Headquarters in Palestine and the attack killed 91 people, comprising Jews, Arabs and British military personnel. The leader of the Irgun, and the man who planned the attack, was Menachim Begin, who went on to become prime minister of Israel from 1977 to 1982.

By the time the attackers had finished their operation at Deir Yassin over 250 men, women, and children had been massacred. They went from house to house throwing hand grenades in through the windows and doors. Survivors were either shot immediately or dragged out, placed against a wall, and shot execution-style. Many of the victims were finished off with knives and cutlasses, and many of the women were raped prior to being butchered. The atrocities committed were so bad that the official Jewish leadership felt compelled to condemn the operation, though according to veteran Middle East correspondent David Hirst in his groundbreaking history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, The Gun And The Olive Branch, the Jewish leadership knew of and had approved the operation beforehand.

The British Mandate authorities carried out an investigation into the Deir Yassin massacre. At the end of his report, Assistant-Inspector General Richard Catling included the following comment:

"There is, however, no doubt that many sexual atrocities were committed...Many young school girls were raped and later slaughtered. Old women were also molested."

News of the massacre spread through other as yet untouched Palestinian towns and villages, prompting a mass exodus of civilians seeking sanctuary from the terror campaign that had been unleashed. It was this campaign which prompted the attempt by neighbouring Arab countries to intervene by sending troops into Palestine to halt what soon became one of the most concerted and ruthless ethnic cleansing operations in history.

Sixty four years later the wounds of al-Nakba remain deep and open. The justice that has been denied its victims for so long remains a stain on the conscience of the world.

Source Material:

1. David Hirst, The Gun And The Olive Branch, Faber and Faber, 1984 edition

2. Gwynne Dyer, After Iraq: Where Next For The Middle East, Yale 2008

3. Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing Of Palestine, Oneworld 2006

4.Martin Van Creveld, The Sword And The Olive, PublicAffairs 2002
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