I was thinking I’ve come around a full circle in my exploration of Palestinian issues. Recently I’ve once again considered my initial views, concluding that I’ve reached the end of the road with my opinion as it was when I first started blogging. Before ending I wanted to add more from the original books then decided to include my most recent reading of ‘My Promised Land’ by Ari Shavit, published in 2014. This was because as I read it I realised there were similar themes in it to other writings I’ve described. It’s taken me a long time to put this post together because of its length. I realised later I’d need to complete 2 posts because there is increased information. I’ve made it into two different periods in Israel’s history which are from the late 19th century to 1977 and 1977 to the present.
I wanted to add how Iran Pappe in ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’ defined ethnic cleansing which is from the Preface on Pages xvii- xviii, “The general description of what ethnic cleansing applies almost verbatim to the case of Palestine. As such, a theory of what occurred in 1948 emerges as an uncomplicated, but no means a consequently simplified, or secondary, chapter in the history of Palestine’s dispossession. Indeed applying the prism of ethnic cleansing easily allows one to penetrate the cloak of complexity that Israeli diplomats trot out almost instinctively and Israeli academics routinely hide behind when fencing off outside attempts to criticise Zionism or the Jewish state for its policies and behaviour. ‘Foreigners’ they say in my country, ‘do not and cannot understand this perplexing story’ and there is no need even to try to explain it to them. Nor should we allow them to be involved in the attempts to solve the conflict-unless they accept the Israeli point of view. All one can do, as Israeli governments have been good for telling the world for years, it to allow ‘us’, the Israelis, as representatives of the ‘civilised’ and ‘rational’ side in the conflict, to find an equitable solution for ‘ourselves’ and for the other side, the Palestinians, who after all epitomise the ‘uncivilised’ and ‘emotional’ Arab world to which Palestine belongs. The moment the United States proved ready to adopt this warped approach and endorse the arrogance which underpins it we had a ‘peace process’ that has led and can only lead, nowhere, because it so totally ignores the heart of the matter.
But the story of 1948, of course, is not complicated at all, and therefore this book is written as much for newcomers to the field as it is aimed at those who already, for many years and various reasons, have been involved with the question of Palestine and how to bring us closer to a solution. It is the simple but horrific ethnic cleansing of Palestine, a crime against humanity that Israel has wanted to deny and cause the world to forget. Retrieving it from oblivion is incumbent upon us, not just as a greatly overdue act of historiographical reconstruction or professional duty; it is, as I see it, a moral decision, the very first step we must take if we ever want reconciliation to have a chance, and peace to take root, in the torn lands of Palestine and Israel.”
He continues on that theme in Chapter 2 in the last paragraph on Page 9 about , ‘An Alleged Ethnic Cleansing’, “But beyond numbers, it is the deep chasm between reality and representation that is most bewildering in the case of Palestine. It is indeed hard to understand, and for that matter to explain, that a plan that was perpetrated in modern times and a juncture in history that called for foreign reporters and UN observers to be present, should have been so totally ignored. And yet, there is no denying that the ethnic cleansing of 1948 has been eradicated almost totally from the collective global memory and erased from the world’s conscience.
Imagine that not so long ago, in any given country you are familiar with, half of the entire population had been forcibly expelled within a year, half its villages and towns wiped out, leaving behind only rubble and stones. Imagine now the possibility that somehow this act will never make it into the history books and that all diplomatic efforts to solve the conflict that erupted in that country will totally sideline, if not ignore, this catastrophic event. I, for one, have in vain searched through the history of the world as we know it in the aftermath of the Second World War for a case of this nature and a fate of this kind. There are other, earlier, cases that have fared similarly, such as the ethnic cleansing of non-Hungarians at the end of the 19th century, the genocide of Armenians, and the holocaust perpetrated by the Nazi occupation against travelling people (the Roma, also known as Sinti) in the 1940’s. I hope in the future that Palestine will no longer be included in this list.”
I want to include what I wrote on 19/01/2014 about Uri Avneri’s book ‘1948 A Soldier’s Tale-The bloody road to Jerusalem,’ updated in 2009 when he wrote “If someone had told us at the end of 1948 that the Israeli-Palestinian war would still be raging sixty years later, nobody would have believed it. But that is the reality; this war still occupies the headlines, every day people are dying, and the gulf between the parties is not reducing. The conflict has its ups and downs. For 40 years the Palestinians have been suffering under our brutal occupation. Terrible things happen on both sides. And each side is convinced it is the victim of the other side.
The descriptions of the situation by the two sides bear no resemblance to each other. This applies to every event in the last 100 years. For example we Israelis talk of the “War of Liberation” while the Palestinians call it simply Nakba, the catastrophe. Many Israeli’s still believe the Palestinians want to throw us into the sea. And many Palestinians think that the Israeli’s want to throw them into the desert. As long as people think like this, there will be no peace.”
I found ‘My Promised Land’ by Ari Shavit the book hard to read because it approaches the Palestinian Israeli issues from a Zionist perspective, however he includes in it an acknowledgement that the 1948 war was accompanied by a clear policy to expel Palestinians from what became Israel. He provides a clear view on what motivated Zionists wishing to return to Palestine from the late 19th century and an account of events after the Balfour Declaration when the first Jewish settlers arrived in Palestine. He shows how the settler view changed from a wish to live in harmony with the Arab community which already lived there when they arrived to a view that in order for a viable Jewish state to be established a plan to expel the Palestinian community would have to be expelled.
Shavit writes about the 1948 War in a similar way to Avneri, describing events when war crimes were committed by Israeli troops who also took part in looting. On Page 116 he has a letter from one of the young woman soldiers about the Battle for Safed, “There is much commotion. Hens are everywhere, clucking away. The cows break into the yard now and then…but even in all the excitement I see the wrong in all these looted possessions, and at the end of the day it disgusts me, sickens me. I cannot recognise the guys anymore. All of them are drunk with victory and driven by the lust for loot. Each one of them took all that he could and in the joy of triumph they broke loose, expressing feelings of hatred and revenge, turning into real animals. They smashed, destroyed and killed anything in their path. The thirst for revenge found its fountain and the comrades lost all humanity. I can’t believe that that human beings are capable of such things: to kill dozens of people in cold blood. No, I cannot say in cold blood. With passion. Day by day, the human feelings in us become duller and duller”.
Starting on the same page he describes the Battle for Lydda from 11-12 July 1948, “On the first day after an artillery bombardment which broke the defence they (Israeli soldiers) enter Lydda, leading a long procession of male inhabitants with their hands in the air to the Great Mosque, confining there thousands of frightened young and old men. They see the horrified women and children. The next day Jordanian armoured vehicles break into Lydda and one of the commanders is seriously injured by a grenade thrown from the small Mosque. An Israeli soldier then fired an anti-tank shell into the building, he is then wounded and in revenge some 3rd Regiment soldiers shoot indiscriminately at the wounded in the Mosque. Others throw grenades into neighbouring houses, mount machine guns in the streets and shoot anything that moves. In 30 minutes they kill at least 70 people. One of the young soldiers wrote afterwards that the war turned human beings into beasts.”
Shamaryahu Gutman, who became the Lydda military commander, wrote afterwards, “From day to day I see the devastation caused by this war by this generation and to the next. From day to day my fear grows that this generation will not be able to carry on its shoulders the burden of building the state and fulfilling the dream. I am all anxiety and concern. When I think of the thefts, the looting, the robberies and recklessness I realise these are not merely separate incidents. Together they add up to a period of corruption. The question is earnest and deep, really of historic dimension. We will all be held accountable for this era. We shall face judgement. And I am afraid that justice will not be on our side. There is an impression that the quick transition to a state of Hebrew power drove people mad. Otherwise it is impossible to explain the behaviour, the state of mind, the actions of the Hebrew youth, especially the elite youth. The moral code of the nation, forged during thousands of years of weakness, is rapidly degenerating, deteriorating, disintegrating.”
Shavit quotes Moshe Dayan on Page 267 who in 1956 after the death of a young security guard Roy Rothenberg patrolling the Israel-Gaza border described reasons for the enmity between Palestinians and Israelis from the arrival of the first settlers, “Yesterday at dawn Ron was murdered. The quiet spring morning blinded him and he did not see those who sought his life hiding behind the furrow. Let us not cast blame on the murderers. What can we say against their terrible hatred of us? For eight years now, they have sat in the refugee camps of Gaza and have watched how, before their very eyes, we have turned their land and villages, where they and their forefathers previously lived, into our home. It is not among the Arabs of Gaza, but in our own midst that we must seek Roy’s blood. How did we close our eyes and look squarely at our fate and see, in all brutality, the fate of our generation.
Let us today take stock of ourselves. We are a generation of settlement, and without the steel helmet and the gun’s muzzle we will not be able to plant a tree and build a house. Let us not fear to look squarely at the hatred that consumes and fills the lives of hundreds of Arabs who live around us. Let us not drop our gaze, lest our arms weaken. That is the fate of our generation. This is our choice, to be ready, armed, tough and hard-or else the sword shall fall from our hands and our lives will be cut short.”
Shavit describes on Page 151 how on the remains of what had been Palestine Israel expanded quickly, in his view “The Israel of the 1950’s was a just social democracy (with which I disagree), But it was also a nation of practicality that combined modernity, nationalism and development in an aggressive manner. Here was no time, and there was no peace of mind and therefore there was no human sensitivity, as the state became dominant the individual was marginalised. As the state became everything the individual was marginalised. As it marched towards the future, Israel erased the past. Everything was done en masse and imposed from above. There was an artificial quality to everything. Zionism was not an organic process anymore but a futuristic coup.
For its achievements Israel paid a high moral price. There was no notion of human rights, civil rights, due process or laissez faire. There was no equality for the Palestinian minority and no compassion for the Palestinian refugees. There was little respect for the Jewish diaspora and little empathy for holocaust survivors. Ben Gurion’s statism and monolithic rule compelled the nation forward.”
From Page 160 he writes, “But the (Israeli) miracle is based on denial which has erased Palestine from the face of the earth. Bulldozers razed Palestinian villages, warrants confiscated Palestinian land, laws revoked Palestinians citizenship and annulled their homeland. By the Kibbutz Ein Harod lie Qamya’s ruins, by Rehovot Zarmuga and Qubeibeh and alongside Israeli Lydda Palestinian Lydda is all too apparent. And yet there seems to be no connection in people’s minds between these sites and the people who occupied them only a decade earlier. Ten year old Israel has expunged Palestine from its memory and soul. Its family and their friends go about their lives as if the other people have never existed, as if they were never driven out. ( They act) as if these people aren’t languishing now in refugee camps of Jericho, Balata, Deheisha and Jabalia.
Denial has its reasons. In the first decade, this unique endeavour of nation building consumes all of the young states physical and mental resources. There is no time for guilt or compassion. Jewish refugees absorbed exceeded the number of Palestinians expelled. At the same time the vast Arab nation doesn’t assist these Palestinians which in 1957 hadn’t yet defined themselves as such and in Israel chooses to see Arab-Israeli conflict between an Israeli David and the Arab Goliath. While Israel denies the 700000 Palestinian refugees, destroying their villages and giving them new identities. Israel’s enormous refugee rehabilitation project takes place in Palestinian refugee’s houses and on their land.
This isn’t the only Israeli denial, young Israel denies the Holocaust, while Yad Vashem, a memorial to this event is built in Jerusalem; the tragedy of European Jewry is mentioned and used. But within Israel itself the Holocaust isn’t given space. The survivors are expected not to tell their stories. This denial isn’t without reason because as a young nation Israel isn’t strong enough to face past horrors, it isn’t mature enough for self-analysis. There are too many challenges, there’s too much pain. Without self-discipline and repression and some cruelty everything might disintegrate. To survive Israelis cleanse themselves of the past. They flatten themselves, turning into people whose personalities are rigid and deformed whose souls are shallow. They lose the riches of Jewish culture, replacing it with a new synthetic culture that lacks tradition, nuance and irony, creating a society with a loud externalised life eager to display a forced gaiety. They have lost the where they came from without knowing where they’re heading.
These two denials are actually four: denial of the Palestinian past, denial of the Palestinian disaster, denial of the Jewish past and the denial of the Jewish disaster. Four forms of amnesia are present, erased from memory are the land that was, the Diaspora, the injustice done to them and the genocide done to us. As they struggle 1950’s Israelis bury the Palestinian fruit orchards, the yeshivas of the shtetl, the absence of 700000 Palestinian refugees and the nihility of 6 million murdered Jews. Israel’s beauty vanishes in its rapid development, the depths of the Diaspora and the 1940’s great historic cataclysms. This multi-level denial was essential. Without it would have been impossible to function, build and live which was crucial for Zionist success in the first 20th century decades and the lack of awareness was crucial for Israel’s success in its first decade. Any acknowledgement would have threatened its existence, it wouldn’t have survives, it it’d been kind and compassionate it would have collapsed. Denial was an imperative for the young nation in which I was born.”
What I find interesting is agreement by Iran Pappe, Uri Avneri and Ari Shavit that the creation of an Israeli State led to the expulsion of Palestinian refugees. They agree that Israeli soldiers killed Palestinian civilians, looting the towns and villages where they’d live, destroying those which weren’t occupied later by the new refugees from Europe. Avneri writes about different accounts on why the Palestinians left Israel, and Pappe is clear that they were forced to leave, which he defines as ethnic cleansing. While their terminology is different the Pappe and Shavit are agreed that denial by Israeli citizens, some overseas political leaders and world institutions like the United Nations of war crimes committed by Israelis in the 1948 War and the expulsion of Palestinians remain barriers to any long term peace between Palestinians and Israelis. I apologise for the length of this post and that most of the content is quotes from the authors, however I think this enhances what I’ve written myself. I think too that these experts have reached the same conclusions on how Israel was created and reasons for the expulsion of Palestinians. As an amateur regarding these complex issues I feel relieved that my conclusions are the same as theirs because this gives more authenticity to my writing. I invite anyone who’d like to respond to this post to do so. I aim to write the final post in this sequence by the end of the month.