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The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

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Since the Holocaust, it has been almost impossible to hide large-scale crimes against humanity. In our communicative world, few modern catastrophes are concealed from the public eye. And yet, Ilan Pappe unveils, one such crime has been erased from the global public memory: the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in 1948. But why is it denied, and by whom? The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine offers an investigation of this mystery.
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প্রায়শই ব্যবহৃত পরিভাষা

Pappe is a "new historian", an antisemite and a liar. Under historian conditions this'book' is worthless.
30 January 2017 (10:53) 
To the reviewer above ;This book is not worthless

you're just antipalestine and can't see real history
07 May 2021 (11:24) 
Very relevant to the present day, unfortunately. Say no to the genocide. Free Palestine.

From an anti-zionist jew.
17 May 2021 (01:30) 
18 May 2021 (11:25) 

আপনি একটি বুক রিভিউ লিখতে পারেন এবং আপনার অভিজ্ঞতা শেয়ার করতে পারেন. অন্যান্য পাঠকরা আপনার পড়া বইগুলির বিষয়ে আপনার মতামত সম্পর্কে সর্বদা আগ্রহী হবে. বইটি আপনার পছন্দ হোক বা না হোক, আপনি যদি নিজের সৎ ও বিস্তারিত চিন্তাভাবনা ব্যক্ত করেন তাহলে অন্যরা তাদের জন্য উপযুক্ত নতুন বইগুলি খুঁজে পাবে.


'Han Pappe is Israel's bravest, most principled, most incisive historian.'
-John Pilger

'Han Pappe has written an extraordinary book that is of profound relevance
to the past, present, and future ofIsraellPalestine relations. Anyone concerned
with peace and justice for these two peoples needs to read and reflect upon
this brave, honest, and illuminating exposure of the crimes committed
against the Palestinians in the course of establishing the state of
Israel in 1948, and since.'
-Richard Falk, ProfessorofInternational Law and Practise,
Princeton University

'This is an extraordinary book - a dazzling feat of scholarly synthesis and Biblical
moral clarity and humaneness.'
-Walid Khalidi, Former Senior Research Fellow Center for
Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University

'If there is to be real peace in Palestine/Israel, the moral vigour and intellectual clarity
of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine will have been a major contributor to it.'
-AhdafSoueif, author of The Map of Love

'Fresh insights into a world historic tragedy, related by a historian of genius.'
-George Galloway MP

'Han Pappe is out to fight against Zionism, whose power of deletion has
driven a whole nation not only out of its homeland but out of historic memory as
well. A detailed, documented record of the true history of that crime,
The Ethnic Cleansing ofPalestine puts an end to the Palestinian "N akbah" and the
Israeli "War ofIndependence" by so compellingly shifting both paradigms.'
-Anton Shammas, ProfessorofModern Middle Eastern Literature,
University ofMichigan

'An instant classic. Finally we have the authoritative account of an historic event,
which continues to shape our world today, and drives the conflict in the
Middle East. Pappe is the only historian who could have told it, and he has
done so with supreme command of the facts, elegance, and compassion.
The publication of this book is a land; mark event.'
-Karma Nabulsi, researchfellow at Nuffield College, Oxford University

First published by Oneworld Publications Limited 2006
Copyright © Han Pappe 2006
Reprinted 2007 (twice)
All rights reserved
Copyright under Berne Convention
ACIP record for this title is available
from the British Library
ISBN-13: 978-1-85168-467-0
ISBN-I0: 1-85168-467-0
Typeset by Jayvee, Trivandrum, India
Cover design by Jon Gray
Printed and bound by Thomson-Shore Inc., USA
Oneworld Publications Limited
185 Banbury Road
Oxford OX2 7AR
The publishers would like to thank the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for
permission to reproduce the photographs on plates 8, 10-12, 18, 19, copyright © UNRWA.
The publishers would also like to thank the Institute of Palestine Studies, Beirut, for
permission to publish the photographs on plates 14-17, all from the book
All That Remains (ed. Walid Khalidi) and for generously providing maps 3, 4, and 7;
and would like to express their sincere gratitude to Abu al-Sous of
www.palestineremembered.com. whose assistance in locating images has been invaluable.
The photographs on plates 4 & 13 copyright © Bettmann/Corbis; the photograph on
plate 1 copyright © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis; the photograph on
plate 6 copyright © Getty Images; the facsimile article on
plate 7 copyright © New York Times.
Photograph on the front endpapers shows the village ofSaffuriyya prior to its destruction
Photograph on the back endpapers shows the Nahr al-Barid refugee camp in northern Lebanon
(copyright © UNRWA)

Learn more about Oneworld. Join our mailing list to
find out about our latest titles and special offers at:


List ofIllustrations, Maps and Tables

An 'Alleged' Ethnic Cleansing?
Definitions of Ethnic Cleansing
Ethnic Cleansing as a Crime
Reconstructing an Ethnic Cleansing






The Drive for an Exclusively Jewish State
Zionism's Ideological Motivation
Military Preparations
The Village Files
Facing the British: 1945-1947
David Ben-Gurion: The Architect



Partition and Destruction: UN Resolution 181 and
its Impact
Palestine's Population
The UN's Partition Plan
The Arab and Palestinian Positions
The Jewish Reaction
The Consultancy Begins its Work



Finalising A Master Plan
The Methodology of Cleansing
The Changing Mood in the Consultancy: From
Retaliation to Intimidation
December 1947: Early Actions


The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine


January 1948: Farewell to Retaliation
The Long Seminar: 31 December-2 January
February 1948: Shock and Awe
March: Putting the Finishing Touches to the Blueprint



The Blueprint for Ethnic Cleansing: Plan Dalet
Operation Nachshon: The First Plan Dalet Operation
The Urbicide of Palestine
The Cleansing Continues
Succumbing to a Superior Power
Arab Reactions
Towards the' Real War



The Phony War and the Real War over Palestine:
May 1948
Days ofTihur
The Massacre at Tantura
The Brigades' Trail of Blood
Campaigns of Revenge


The Escalation of the Cleansing Operations:
June-September 1948
The First Truce
Operation Palm Tree
In Between Truces
The Truce that Wasn't



Completing the Job: October 1948-January 1949
Operation Hiram
Israel's Anti-Repatriation Policy
A Mini Empire in the Making
Final Cleansing of the South and the East
The Massacre in Dawaymeh



Occupation and its Ugly Faces
Inhuman Imprisonment
Abuses Under Occupation




The Ethnic Cleansingof Palestine


Dividing the Spoils
Desecration of Holy Sites
Entrenching the Occupation



The Memoricide of the Nakba
The Reinvention of Palestine
Virtual Colonialism and the JNF
The JNF Resort Parks in Israel



Nakba Denial and the 'Peace Process'
First Attempts at Peace
The Exclusion of 1948 from the Peace Process
The Right of Return



Fortress Israel
The 'Demographic Problem'


Maps and Tables


List ofIllustrations,
Maps, and Tables

Irgun troops marching through Tel-Aviv, 14 May 1948
Jewish forces occupy a village near Safad
Jewish forces enter Malkiyya
Arab men of military age are marched to holding camps
The Red House in Tel-Aviv, headquarters of the Hagana
Refugee women, children and the elderly are evacuated
The New York Times report on the Deir Yassin massacre
Palestinian refugees flock to the sea to escape
Refugees on the move
Loading belongings into trucks for the journey
Elderly refugees
Palestinian refugees flee on fishing boats
Jewish immigrants arrive at the port in Haifa
The village ofIqrit before its destruction
The village ofIqrit, 1990
A theme park on the site of Tantura
The cemetery of Salama
Nahr al-Barid refugee camp in northern Lebanon
Baqa'a refugee camp, Jordan


Jewish State Proposed by the World Zionist Organisation, 1919
The Peel Commission Partition Plan, 1937
Palestine Partition Commission Plan B, 1938
Palestine Partition Commission Plan C, 1938
United Nations General Assembly Partition Plan, 1947
1949 Armistice Agreement
Palestinian villages depopulated, 1947-1949

Table 1: Jewish and Palestinian land ownership, 1945
Table 2: Jewish and Palestinian population distribution, 1946



Over the years, the theme of this book was discussed with many friends, all
of whom, in one way or another, have contributed to this book with their
encouragement and support; many also provided me with documents, testimonies and evidence. There were so many ofthem that I do not dare compose a list, but wish to thank them collectively. The military material was
collected by Oshri Neta-Av, and I thank him for what was, in hindsight, a
very difficult task, not only because of the voluminous material, but also due
to a murky political atmosphere.
Uri Davis, Nur Masalha and Charles Smith read the manuscript, and I
hope that, at least in part, the end result reflects their industrious work.
Needless to say, the final version is mine and they share no responsibility for
the text. Nonetheless, I owe them a great deal and wish to thank them very
much for their cooperation.
Walid Khalidi and Anton Shamas, who read the manuscript, provided
moral support and empowerment, which made the writing of the book a
valuable and meaningful project, even prior to publication.
My dear old friend Dick Bruggeman, as always, was there editing meticulously and painstakingly. This project could not have been completed
without him.
Novin Doostdar, Drummond Moir, Kate Kirkpatrick, and above all
Juliet Mabey at Oneworld lost sleep and time over this manuscript. I hope
t he end result is a fine reward for their immense efforts.
Revital, Ido and Yonatan, as always, suffered for the fact that their hushand and father did not choose a far-away country in the distant past as a
specialist subject, hobby and obsession. This book is another attempt to tell
t hem, as much as anyone else, why our beloved country is devastated, hopeless and torn by hatred and bloodshed.
And finally, this book is not formally dedicated to anyone, but it is
written first and foremost for the Palestinian victims of the 1948 ethnic


The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

cleansing. Many of them are friends and comrades, many others are nameless to me, and yet ever since I learned about the Nakba I have carried with
me their suffering, their loss and their hopes. Only when they return will I
feel that this chapter ofthe catastrophe has finally reached the closure we all
covet, enabling all of us to live in peace and harmony in Palestine.


We are not mourning the farewell
We do not have the time nor the tears
We do not grasp the moment of farewell
Why, it is the Farewell
And we are left with the tears
Muhammad Ali Taha (1988), a refugee
from the villageof Saffuriyya
'I am for compulsory transfer; I do not see anything immoral in it.'
David Ben-Gurion to the Jewish Agency Executive, June 1938 1
The 'Red House' was a typical early Tel-Avivian building. The pride of the
Jewish builders and craftsmen who toiled over it in the 1920s, it had been
designed to house the head office of the local workers' council. It remained
such until, towards the end of 1947, it became the headquarters of the
Hagana, the main Zionist underground militia in Palestine. Located near
the sea on Yarkon Street in the northern part of Tel-Aviv, the building
formed another fine addition to the first 'Hebrew' city on the
Mediterranean, the 'White City' as its literati and pundits affectionately
called it. For in those days, unlike today, the immaculate whiteness of its
houses still bathed the town as a whole in the opulent brightness so typical
of Mediterranean port cities of the era and the region. It was a sight for sore
eyes, elegantly fusing Bauhaus motifs with native Palestinian architecture in
.t 11 admixture that was called Levantine, in the least derogatory sense of the
term. Such, too, was the 'Red House', its simple rectangular features graced
with frontal arches that framed the entrance and supported the balconies on
its two upper storeys. It was either its association with a workers' movement


The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

that had inspired the adjective 'red', or a pinkish tinge it acquired during
sunset that had given the house its name.' The former was more fitting, as
the building continued to be associated with the Zionist version ofsocialism
when, in the 1970s, it became the main office for Israel's kibbutzim movement. Houses like this, important historical remnants of the Mandatory
period, prompted UNESCO in 2003 to designate Tel-Aviv as a World
Heritage site.
Today the house is no longer there, a victim of development, which has
razed this architectural relic to the ground to make room for a car park next
to the new Sheraton Hotel. Thus, in this street, too, no trace is left of the
'White City', which it has slowly transmogrified into the sprawling, polluted, extravagant metropolis that is modern Tel-Aviv.
In this building, on a cold Wednesday afternoon, 10 March 1948, a
group of eleven men, veteran Zionist leaders together with young military
Jewish officers, put the final touches to a plan for the ethnic cleansing of
Palestine. That same evening, military orders were dispatched to the units on
the ground to prepare for the systematic expulsion of the Palestinians from
vast areas of the country.' The orders came with a detailed description of the
methods to be employed to forcibly evict the people: large-scale intimidation; laying siege to and bombarding villages and population centres; setting
fire to homes, properties and goods; expulsion; demolition; and, finally,
planting mines among the rubble to prevent any of the expelled inhabitants
from returning. Each unit was issued with its own list of villages and neighbourhoods as the targets of this master plan. Codenamed Plan D (Dalet in
Hebrew), this was the fourth and final version ofless substantial plans that
outlined the fate the Zionists had in store for Palestine and consequently for
its native population. The previous three schemes had articulated only
obscurely how the Zionist leadership contemplated dealing with the presence of so many Palestinians living in the land the Jewish national movement
coveted as its own. This fourth and last blueprint spelled it out clearly and
unambiguously: the Palestinians had to gO. 4 In the words of one of the first
historians to note the significance ofthat plan, Simcha Flapan, 'The military
campaign against the Arabs, including the "conquest and destruction of the
rural areas" was set forth in the Hagana's Plan Dalet'. 5 The aim of the plan
was in fact the destruction of both the rural and urban areas of Palestine.
As the first chapters of this book will attempt to show, this plan was both
the inevitable product of the Zionist ideological impulse to have an

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine



exclusively Jewish presence in Palestine, and a response to developments on
the ground once the British cabinet had decided to end the mandate.
Clashes with local Palestinian militias provided the perfect context and pretext for implementing the ideological vision of an ethnically cleansed
Palestine. The Zionist policy was first based on retaliation against
Palestinian attacks in February 1947, and it transformed into an initiative to
ethnically cleanse the country as a whole in March 1948. 6
Once the decision was taken, it took six months to complete the mission.
When it was over, more than half of Palestine's native population, close to
800,000 people, had been uprooted, 531 villages had been destroyed, and
eleven urban neighbourhoods emptied of their inhabitants. The plan
decided upon on 10 March 1948, and above all its systematic implementation in the following months, was a clear-cut case of an ethnic cleansing
operation, regarded under international law today as a crime against
After the Holocaust, it has become almost impossible to conceal largescale crimes against humanity. Our modern communication-driven world,
especially since the upsurge of electronic media, no longer allows humanmade catastrophes to remain hidden from the public eye or to be denied.
And yet, one such crime has been erased almost totally from the global
public memory: the dispossession ofthe Palestinians in 1948 by Israel. This,
the most formative event in the modern history of the land of Palestine, has
ever since been systematically denied, and is still today not recognised as
an historical fact, let alone acknowledged as a crime that needs to be confronted politically as well as morally.
Ethnic cleansing is a crime against humanity, and the people who perpetrate it today are considered criminals to be brought before special triburials. It may be difficult to decide how one ought to refer to or deal with,
in the legal sphere, those who initiated and perpetrated ethnic cleansing in
Palestine in 1948, but it is possible to reconstruct their crimes and to arrive
at both an historiographical account that will prove more accurate than the
ones achieved so far, and a moral position of greater integrity.
We know the names ofthe people who sat in that room on the top floor
of the Red House, beneath Marxist-style posters that carried such slogans as
.Brothers in Arms' and 'The Fist of Steel', and showed 'new' Jews - muscular, healthy and tanned - aiming their rifles from behind protective barriers
ill the 'brave fight' against 'hostile Arab invaders'. We also know the names


The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

of the senior officers who executed the orders on the ground. All are familiar figures in the pantheon ofIsraeli heroism. 7 Not so long ago many ofthem
were still alive, playing major roles in Israeli politics and society; very few are
still with us today.
For Palestinians, and anyone else who refused to buy into the Zionist
narrative, it was clear long before this book was written that these people
were perpetrators of crimes, but that they had successfully evaded justice
and would probably never be brought to trial for what they had done.
Besides their trauma, the deepest form of frustration for Palestinians has
been that the criminal act these men were responsible for has been so thoroughly denied, and that Palestinian suffering has been so totally ignored,
ever since 1948.
Approximately thirty years ago, the victims of the ethnic cleansing
started reassembling the historical picture that the official Israeli narrative
of 1948 had done everything to conceal and distort. The tale Israeli historiography had concocted spoke of a massive 'voluntary transfer' of hundreds
of thousands of Palestinians who had decided temporarily to leave their
homes and villages so as to make way for the invading Arab armies bent on
destroying the fledgling Jewish state. By collecting authentic memories and
documents about what had happened to their people, Palestinian historians
in the 1970s, Walid Khalidi foremost among them, were able to retrieve a
significant part ofthe picture Israel had tried to erase. But they were quickly
overshadowed by publications such as Dan Kurzman's Genesis 1948 which
appeared in 1970 and again in 1992 (now with an introduction byone ofthe
executors of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, Yitzhak Rabin, then Israel's
prime minister). However, there were also some who came out in support
of the Palestinian endeavour, like Michael Palumbo whose The Palestinian
Catastrophe, published in 1987, validated the Palestinian version ofthe 1948
events with the help of UN documents and interviews with Palestinian
refugees and exiles, whose memories of what they had gone through during
the Nakba still proved to be hauntingly vivid. 8
We could have had a political breakthrough in the battle over memory
in Palestine with the appearance on the scene in the 1980s of the so-called
'new history' in Israel. This was an attempt by a small group ofIsraeli historians to revise the Zionist narrative of the 1948 war." I was one of them. But
we, the new historians, never contributed significantly to the struggle
against the Nakba denial as we sidestepped thc question of ethnic cleansing

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine



and, typically of diplomatic historians, focused on details. Nonetheless,
using primarily Israeli military archives, the revisionist Israeli historians did
succeed in showing how false and absurd was the Israeli claim that the
Palestinians had left'of their own accord'. They were able to confirm many
cases of massive expulsions from villages and towns and revealed that the
Jewish forces had committed a considerable number ofatrocities, including
One ofthe best-known figures writing on the subject was the Israeli historian Benny Morris. 10 As he exclusively relied on documents from Israeli
military archives, Morris ended up with a very partial picture of what happened on the ground. Still, this was enough for some ofhis Israeli readers to
realise that the 'voluntary flight' of the Palestinians had been a myth and
that the Israeli self-image of having waged a 'moral' war in 1948 against a
'primitive' and hostile Arab world was considerably flawed and possibly
already bankrupt.
The picture was partial because Morris took the Israeli military reports
he found in the archives at face value or even as absolute truth. Thus, he
ignored such atrocities as the poisoning of the water supply into Acre with
typhoid, numerous cases of rape and the dozens of massacres the Jews perpetrated. He also kept insisting - wrongly - that before 15 May 1948 there
had been no forced evictions. 11 Palestinian sources show clearly how
months before the entry ofArab forces into Palestine, and while the British
were still responsible for law and order in the country - namely before
15 May - the Jewish forces had already succeeded in forcibly expelling
almost a quarter of a million Palestinians." Had Morris and others used
Arab sources or turned to oral history, they might have been able to get a
better grasp of the systematic planning behind the expulsion of the
Palestinians in 1948 and provide a more truthful description of the enormity of the crimes the Israeli soldiers committed.
There was then, and there is still now, a need, both historical and political, to go beyond descriptions such as the one we find in Morris, not only in
order to complete the picture (in fact, provide the second halfofit) , but also
and far more importantly - because there is no other way for us to fully
understand the roots of the contemporary Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But
.ihove all, of course, there is a moral imperative to continue the struggle
..gainst the denial of the crime. The endeavour to go further has already
bCCIl started by others. The most important work, to be expected given his


The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

previous significant contributions to the struggle against denial, was Walid
Khalidi's seminal book All That Remains. This is an almanac of the
destroyed villages, which is still an essential guide for anyone wishing to
comprehend the enormity of the 1948 catastrophe. 13
One might suggest that the history already exposed should have been
enough to raise troubling questions. Yet, the 'new history' narrative and
recent Palestinian historiographical inputs somehow failed to enter the
public realm of moral conscience and action. In this book, I want to explore
both the mechanism ofthe 1948 ethnic cleansing, and the cognitive system
that allowed the world to forget, and enabled the perpetrators to deny, the
crime the Zionist movement committed against the Palestinian people in
In other words, I want to make the case for the paradigm of ethnic
cleansing and use it to replace the paradigm ofwar as the basis for the scholarly research of, and the public debate about, 1948. I have no doubt that the
absence so far of the paradigm of ethnic cleansing is part of the reason why
the denial ofthe catastrophe has been able to go on for so long. When it created its nation-state, the Zionist movement did not wage a war that 'tragically but inevitably' led to the expulsion of 'parts of the indigenous
population, but the other way round: the main goal was the ethnic cleansing
of all of Palestine, which the movement coveted for its new state. A few
weeks after the ethnic cleansing operations began, the neighbouring Arab
states sent a small army - small in comparison to their overall military might
- to try, in vain, to prevent the ethnic cleansing. The war with the regular
Arab armies did not bring the ethnic cleansing operations to a halt until
their successful completion in the autumn of 1948.
To some, this approach - adopting the paradigm of ethnic cleansing as
the a priori basis for the narrative of 1948 - may from the outset look as an
indictment. In many ways it is indeed my own l'Accuse against the politicians who devised, and the generals who perpetrated, the ethnic cleansing.
Still, when I mention their names, I do so not because I want to see them
posthumously brought to trial, but in order to humanise the victimisers as
well as the victims: I want to prevent the crimes Israel committed from
being attributed to such elusive factors as 'the circumstances', 'the army' or,
as Morris has it, 'a la guerre comme ala guerre', and similar vague references
that let sovereign states off the hook and enable individuals to escape justice.
I accuse, but I am also part of the society that stands condemned in this

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine


book. I feel both responsible for and part of the story and, like others in my
own society, I am convinced, as my final pages show, that such a painful
journey into the past is the only way forward if we want to create a better
future for us all, Palestinians and Israelis alike. Because, at heart, that is what
this book is about.
I am not aware that anyone has ever tried this approach before. The two
official historical narratives that compete over the story of what happened
in Palestine in 1948 both ignore the concept of ethnic cleansing. While the
ZionistlIsraeli version claims that the local population left 'voluntarily', the
Palestinians talk about the 'catastrophe', the Nakba, that befell them, which
in some ways is also an elusive term as it refers more to the disaster itself
rather than to who or what caused it. The term Nakba was adopted, for
understandable reasons, as an attempt to counter the moral weight of the
Jewish Holocaust (Shoa), but in leaving out the actor, it may in a sense have
contributed to the continuing denial by the world of the ethnic cleansing of
Palestine in 1948 and after.
The book opens with a definition of ethnic cleansing that I hope is
transparent enough to be acceptable to all, one that has served as the basis
for legal actions against perpetrators of such crimes in the past and in our
own days. Quite surprisingly, the usual complex and (for most normal
human beings) impenetrable legal discourse is here replaced by clear,
jargon-free language. This simplicity does not minimise the hideousness of
the deed nor does it belie the crime's gravity. On the contrary: the result is a
straightforward description of an atrocious policy that the international
community today refuses to condone.
The general definition of what ethnic cleansing consists of applies
almost verbatim to the case of Palestine. As such, the story ofwhat occurred
in 1948 emerges as an uncomplicated, but by no means a consequently simplified, or secondary, chapter in the history of Palestine's dispossession.
I ndeed, adopting the prism of ethnic cleansing easily enables one to penetrate the cloak of complexity that Israeli diplomats trot out almost instinctively and Israeli academics routinely hide behind when fending 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 therefore 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


The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

Israeli governments have been good at telling the world for years, is 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 that
underpins it, we had a 'peace process' that has led, and could 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 story ofthe ethnic cleansing ofPalestine, 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 ofhistoriographical 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

Chapter 1

An (Alleged' Ethnic

It is the present writer's view that ethnic cleansing is a well-defined

policy of a particular group of persons to systematically eliminate
another group from a given territory on the basis of religious, ethnic
or national origin. Such a policy involves violence and is very often
connected with military operations. It is to be achieved by all possible
means, from discrimination to extermination, and entails violations
of human rights and international humanitarian law ... Most ethnic
cleansing methods are grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva
Conventions and 1977 Additional Protocols.
Drazen Petrovic, 'Ethnic Cleansing - An Attempt at
Methodology', European Journal ofInternational Law, 5/3 (1994),


'·:t hnic cleansing is today a well-defined concept. From an abstraction associated almost exclusively with the events in the former Yugoslavia, 'ethnic
.lcansing' has come to be defined as a crime against humanity, punishable
hy international law. The particular way some of the Serbian generals and
politicians were using the term 'ethnic cleansing' reminded scholars they
had heard it before. It was used in the Second World War by the Nazis and
their allies, such as the Croat militias in Yugoslavia. The roots of collective
dispossession are, of course, more ancient: foreign invaders have used the


The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

term (or its equivalents) and practised the concept regularly against indigenous populations, from Biblical times to the height of colonialism.
The Hutchinson encyclopedia defines ethnic cleansing as expulsion by
force in order to homogenise the ethnically mixed population of a particular region or territory. The purpose of expulsion is to cause the evacuation
of as many residences as possible, by all means at the expeller's disposal,
including non-violent ones, as happened with the Muslims in Croatia,
expelled after the Dayton agreement of November 1995.
This definition is also accepted by the US State Department. Its experts
add that part of the essence of ethnic cleansing is the eradication, by all
means available, of a region's history. The most common method is that of
depopulation within 'an atmosphere that legitimises acts of retribution and
revenge'. The end result of such acts is the creation of a refugee problem.
The State Department looked in particular at what happened around May
1999 in the town of Peck in Western Kosovo. Peck was depopulated within
twenty-four hours, a result that could only have been achieved through
advance planning followed by systematic execution. There had also been
sporadic massacres, intended to speed up the operation. What happened in
Peck in 1999 took place in almost the same manner in hundreds of
Palestinian villages in 1948. 1
When we turn to the United Nations, we find it employs similar definitions. The organisation discussed the concept seriously in 1993. The UN's
Council for Human Rights (UNCHR) links a state's or a regime's desire to
impose ethnic rule on a mixed area - such as the making of Greater Serbiawith the use of acts of expulsion and other violent means. The report the
UNCHR published defined acts of ethnic cleansing as including 'separation
of men from women, detention of men, explosion of houses' and subsequently repopulating the remaining houses with another ethnic group. In
certain places in Kosovo, the report noted, Muslim militias had put up
resistance: where this resistance had been stubborn, the expulsion entailed
Israel's 1948 Plan D, mentioned in the preface, contains a repertoire of
cleansing methods that one by one fit the means the UN describes in its definition of ethnic cleansing, and sets the background for the massacres that
accompanied the massive expulsion.
Such references to ethnic cleansing are also the rule within the scholarly
and academic worlds. Drazen Petrovic has published one of the most

An 'Alleged' Ethnic Cleansing?


comprehensive studies on definitions of ethnic cleansing. He associates
ethnic cleansing with nationalism, the making of new nation states, and
national struggle. From this perspective he exposes the close connection
between politicians and the army in the perpetration ofthe crime and comments on the place of massacres within it. That is, the political leadership
delegates the implementation of the ethnic cleansing to the military level
without necessarily furnishing any systematic plans or providing explicit
instructions, but with no doubt as to the overall objective.'
Thus, at one point - and this again mirrors exactly what happened in
Palestine - the political leadership ceases to take an active part as the
machinery of expulsion comes into action and rolls on, like a huge bulldozer propelled by its own inertia, only to come to a halt when it has completed its task. The people it crushes underneath and kills are of no concern
to the politicians who set it in motion. Petrovic and others draw our attention to the distinction between massacres that are part of genocide, where
they are premeditated, and the 'unplanned' massacres that are a direct result
of the hatred and vengeance whipped up against the background of a general directive from higher up to carry out an ethnic cleansing.
Thus, the encyclopedia definition outlined above appears to be consonant with the more scholarly attempt to conceptualise the crime of ethnic
cleansing. In both views, ethnic cleansing is an effort to render an ethnically
mixed country homogenous by expelling a particular group of people and
turning them into refugees while demolishing the homes they were driven
out from. There may well be a master plan, but most of the troops engaged
in ethnic cleansing do not need direct orders: they know beforehand what is
expected of them. Massacres accompany the operations, but where they
occur they are not part of a genocidal plan: they are a key tactic to accelerate
the flight of the population earmarked for expulsion. Later on, the expelled
are then erased from the country's official and popular history and excised
from its collective memory. From planning stage to final execution, what
occurred in Palestine in 1948 forms a clear-cut case, according to these
informed and scholarly definitions, of ethnic cleansing.

Popular Definitions
The electronic encyclopedia Wikipedia is an accessible reservoir of
knowledge and information. Anyone can enter it and add to or change


The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

existing definitions, so that it reflects - by no means empirically but rather
intuitively - a wide public perception of a certain idea or concept. Like
the scholarly and encyclopedic definitions mentioned above, Wikipedia
characterises ethnic cleansing as massive expulsion and also as a crime.
I quote:
At the most general level, ethnic cleansing can be understood as the
forced expulsion of an 'undesirable' population from a given territory
as a result of religious or ethnic discrimination, political, strategic or
ideological considerations, or a combination of these.'
The entry lists several cases of ethnic cleansing in the twentieth century,
beginning with the expulsion of the Bulgarians from Turkey in 1913 all the
way up to the Israeli pullout of Jewish settlers from Gaza in 2005. The list
may strike us as a bit bizarre in the way it incorporates within the same
category Nazi ethnic cleansing and the removal by a sovereign state of its
own people after it declared them illegal settlers. But this classification
becomes possible because ofthe rationale the editors - in this case, everyone
with access to the site - adopted for their policy, which is that they make sure
the adjective 'alleged' precedes each ofthe historical cases on their list.
Wikipedia also includes the Palestinian Nakba of 1948. But one cannot
tell whether the editors regard the Nakba as a case of ethnic cleansing that
leaves no room for ambivalence, as in the examples ofNazi Germany or the
former Yugoslavia, or whether they consider this a more doubtful case, perhaps similar to that of the Jewish settlers whom Israel removed from the
Gaza Strip. One criterion this and other sources generally accept in order to
gauge the seriousness of the allegation is whether anyone has been indicted
before an international tribunal. In other words, where the perpetrators
were brought to justice, i.e., were tried by an international judicial system,
all ambiguity is removed and the crime of ethnic cleansing is no longer
'alleged'. But upon reflection, this criterion must also be extended to cases
that should have been brought before such tribunals but never were. This is
admittedly more open-ended, and some clear-cut crimes against humanity
require a long struggle before the world recognises them as historical facts.
The Armenians learned this in the case of their genocide: in 1915, the
Ottoman government embarked on a systematic decimation of the
Armenian people. An estimated one million perished by 1918, but no individual or group of individuals has been brought to trial.

An 'Alleged' Ethnic Cleansing?




Ethnic cleansing is designated as a crime against humanity in international
treaties, such as that which created the International Criminal Court (ICC),
and whether 'alleged' or fully recognised, it is subject to adjudication under
international law. A special International Criminal Tribunal was set up in
The Hague in the case of the former Yugoslavia to prosecute the perpetrators and criminals and, similarly, in Arusha, Tanzania, in the case of
Rwanda. In other instances, ethnic cleansing was defined as a war crime
even when no legal process was instigated as such (for example, the actions
committed by the Sudanese government in Darfur).
This book is written with the deep conviction that the ethnic cleansing of
Palestine must become rooted in our memory and consciousness as a crime
against humanity and that it should be excluded from the list of alleged crimes.
The perpetrators here are not obscure - they are a very specific group of
people: the heroes of the Jewish war of independence, whose names will be
quite familiar to most readers. The list begins with the indisputable leader of
the Zionist movement, David Ben-Gurion, in whose private home allearly and
later chapters in the ethnic cleansing story were discussed and finalised. He was
aided by a small group ofpeople I refer to in this book as the 'Consultancy', an
ad-hoc cabal assembled solely for the purpose of plotting and designing the
dispossession of the Palestinians." In one of the rare documents that records
the meeting of the Consultancy, it is referred to as the Consultant Committee
- Haveadah Hamyeazet. In another document the eleven names of the
committee members appear, although they are all erased by the censor
(nonetheless, as will transpire, I have managed to reconstruct all the names). 6
This caucus prepared the plans for the ethnic cleansing and supervised
its execution until the job of uprootinghalf of Palestine's native population
had been completed. It included first and foremost the top-ranking officers
of the future Jewish State's army, such as the legendary Yigael Yadin and
Moshe Dayan. They were joined by figures unknown outside Israel but well
grounded in the local ethos, such as Yigal Allon and Yitzhak Sadeh. These
military men co-mingled with what nowadays we would call the
'( rricntalists': experts on the Arab world at large and the Palestinians in
particular, either because they themselves came from Arab countries or
hccausc they were scholars in the field of Middle Eastern studies. We will
encounter some of their names later on as well.


The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

Both the officers and the experts were assisted by regional commanders,
such as Moshe Kalman, who cleansed the Safad area, and Moshe Carmel,
who uprooted most of the Galilee. Yitzhak Rabin operated both in Lyyd and
Ramla as well as in the Greater Jerusalem area. Remember their names, but
begin to think of them not just as Israeli war heroes. They did take part in
founding a state for Jews, and many of their actions are understandably
revered by their own people for helping to save them from outside attacks,
seeing them through crises, and above all offering them a safe haven from
religious persecution in different parts of the world. But history will judge
how these achievements will ultimately weigh in the balance when the
opposite scale holds the crimes they committed against the indigenous
people of Palestine. Other regional commanders included Shimon Avidan,
who cleansed the south and of whom his colleague, Rehavam Zeevi, who
fought with him, said many years later, 'Commanders like Shimon Avidan,
the commander of the Givati Brigade, cleansed his front from tens of villages and towns'.' He was assisted by Yitzhak Pundak, who told Ha'aretz ui
2004, 'There were two hundred villages [in the front] and these are gone.
We had to destroy them, otherwise we would have had Arabs here [namely
in the southern part of Palestine] as we have in Galilee. We would have had
another million Palestinians'. 8
And then there were the intelligence officers on the ground. Far from
being mere collectors of data on the 'enemy', they not only played a major
role in the cleansing but also took part in some of the worst atrocities that
accompanied the systematic dispossession of the Palestinians. They were
given the final authority to decide which villages would be destroyed and
who among the villagers would be executed." In the memories ofPalestinian
survivors they were the ones who, after a village or neighbourhood had been
occupied, decided the fate of its occupants, which could mean the difference
between imprisonment and freedom, or life and death. Their operations in
1948were supervised by Issar Harel, later the first person to head the Mossad
and the Shabak, Israel's secret services. His image is familiar to many Israelis.
A short bulky figure, Harel had the modest rank of colonel in 1948, but was
nonetheless the most senior officer overseeing all the operations of interrogation, blacklisting and the other oppressive features of Palestinian life
under the Israeli occupation.
Finally, it bears repeating that from whatever angle you look at it - the
legal, the scholarly, and up to the most populist - ethnic cleansing

An 'Alleged' Ethnic Cleansing?


is indisputably identified today as a crime against humanity and as involving war crimes, with special international tribunals judging those indicted
ofhaving planned and executed acts of ethnic cleansing. However, I should
now add that, in hindsight, we might think of applying - and, quite frankly,
for peace to have a chance in Palestine we ought to apply - a rule of obsolescence in this case, but on one condition: that the one political solution normally regarded as essential for reconciliation by both the United States and
the United Nations is enforced here too, namely the unconditional return
of the refugees to their homes. The US supported such a UN decision for
Palestine, that of 11 December 1948 (Resolution 194), for a short - all too
short - while. By the spring of 1949 American policy had already been reoriented onto a conspicuously pro- Israeli track, turning Washington's
mediators into the opposite of honest brokers as they largely ignored the
Palestinian point of view in general, and disregarded in particu-lar the
Palestinian refugees' right of return.

By adhering to the definition of ethnic cleansing as given above, we absolve
ourselves from the need to go deeply into the origins of Zionism as the ideological cause of the ethnic cleansing. Not that the subject is not important,
but it has been dealt with successfully by a number of Palestinian and Israeli
scholars such as Walid Khalidi, Nur Masalha, Gershon Shafir and Baruch
Kimmerling, among others. 10 Although I would like to focus on the immediate background preceding the operations, it would be valuable for readers
to recap the major arguments of these scholars.
A good book to begin with is Nur Masalha's Expulsion of the
Palestinians, 11 which shows dearly how deeply rooted the concept of transfer was, and is, in Zionist political thought. From the founder of the Zionist
movement, Theodor Herzl, to the main leaders of the Zionist enterprise in
Palestine, cleansing the land was a valid option. As one of the movement's
most liberal thinkers, Leo Motzkin, put it 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 in areas outside the country. The transfer of so
many Arabs may seem at first unacceptable economically, but is


The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

nonetheless practical. It does not require too much money to resettle a
Palestinian villageon another land. 12
The fact that the expellers were newcomers to the country, and part ofa colonization project, relates the case of Palestine to the colonialist history of
ethnic cleansing in North and South America, Africa and Australia, where
white settlers routinely committed such crimes. This intriguing aspect of
the historical instance Israel offers was the subject of several recent and
excellent studies. Gershon Shafir and Baruch Kimmerling informed us
about the connection between Zionism and Colonialism, a nexus that can
bring us at first to exploitation rather than expulsion, but once the idea ofan
exclusive Jewish economy became a central part of the vision, there was no
room for Arab workers or peasants." Walid Khalidi and Samih Farsoun
connected the centrality of the transfer ideology more closely to the end of
the mandate, and they ask why the UN entrusted the fate of so many
Palestinians to a movement that had clearly included transfer in its
ideology. 14
I will seek less to expose the ideological inclination of those involved
than to highlight the systematic planning with which they turned an ethnically mixed area into a pure ethnic space. This is the purpose of my opening
chapters. I will return to the ideological connection towards the end of the
book when I analyze it as the only adequate explanation we have for the ethnic cleansing by Israel of the Palestinians that started in 1948 but continues,
in a variety of means, to today.
A second, more unpleasant task will be to reconstruct the methods
Israel used for executing its master plan of expulsion and destruction, and
examine how and to what extent these were typically affiliated with acts of
ethnic cleansing. As I argued above, it seems to me that, had we never heard
of the events in the former Yugoslavia but had been aware only of the case of
Palestine, we would be forgiven for thinking that the US and UN definitions
were inspired by the Nakba, down to almost their last minute detail.
Before we delve into the history of the ethnic cleansing in Palestine and
try to contemplate the implications it has had up to the present day, we
should pause for a moment and think about relative numbers. The figure of
three-quarters of a million uprooted Palestinians can seem to be 'modest'
when set in the context of the transfer of millions of people in Europe that
was an outcome of the Second World War, or the dispossessions occurring

An 'Alleged' Ethnic Cleansing?


in Africa in the beginning of the twenty-first century. But sometimes one
needs to relativise numbers and think in percentages to begin to understand
the magnitude of a tragedy that engulfed the population of an entire country. Half ofthe indigenous people living in Palestine were driven out, half of
their villages and towns were destroyed, and only very few among them ever
managed to return.
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, why a crime that was perpetrated in modern times and at 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 of 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 contlict that erupted in that country will totally sideline,
if not ignore, this catastrophic event. I, for one, have searched in vain
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 ofthis kind. There are
other, earlier, cases that have fared similarly, such as the ethnic cleansing of
the non-Hungarians at the end of the nineteenth century, the genocide of
the Armenians, and the holocaust perpetrated by the Nazi occupation
against travelling people (the Roma, also known as Sinti) in the 1940s. I
hope in the future that Palestine will no longer be included in this list.

Chapter 2

The Drive for an

Exclusively Jewish State

The United Nations General Assembly strongly rejects polices and
ideologies aimed at promoting ethnic cleansing in any form
Resolution 47/8016 December 1992

Zionism emerged in the late 1880sin central and eastern Europe as a national
revival movement, prompted by the growing pressure on Jews in those
regions either to assimilate totally or risk continuing persecution (though, as
we know, even complete assimilation was no safeguard against annihilation
in the case of Nazi Germany). By the beginning of the twentieth century,
most of the leaders of the Zionist movement associated this national revival
with the colonization of Palestine. Others, especially the founder of the
movement, Theodor Herzl, were more ambivalent, but after his death, in
1904, the orientation towards Palestine was fixed and consensual.
Eretz Israel, the name for Palestine in the Jewish religion, had been
revered throughout the centuries by generations of lews as a place for holy pilgrimage, never as a future secular state. Jewish tradition and religion clearly
instruct Jewsto await the coming of the promised Messiah at 'the end of times'
before they can return to Eretz Israel as a sovereign people in a Jewish theocracy, that is, as the obedient servants of God (this is why today several streams
of Ultra-Orthodox Jews are either non or anti-Zionist). In other words,

The Drive for an Exclusively Jewish State


Zionism secularised and nationalised Judaism. To bring their project to
fruition, the Zionist thinkers claimed the biblical territory and recreated,
indeed reinvented, it as the cradle oftheir new nationalist movement. As they
saw it, Palestine was occupied by 'strangers' and had to be repossessed.
'Strangers' here meant everyone not Jewish who had been living in Palestine
since the Roman period. I In fact, for many Zionists Palestine was not even an
'occupied' land when they first arrived there in 1882, but rather an 'empty'
one: the native Palestinians who lived there were largely invisible to them or,
if not, were part of nature's hardship and as such were to be conquered and
removed. Nothing, neither rocks nor Palestinians, was to stand in the way of
the national 'redemption' of the land the Zionist movement coveted.'
Until the occupation of Palestine by Britain in 1918, Zionism was a
blend of nationalist ideology and colonialist practice. It was limited in
scope: Zionists made up no more than five per cent of the country's overall
population at that time. Living in colonies, they did not affect, nor were they
particularly noticed by, the local population. The potential for a future
Jewish takeover of the country and the expulsion of the indigenous
Palestinian people, which historians have so clearly recognised in retrospect
in the writings ofthe founding fathers ofZionism, became evident to some
Palestinian leaders even before the First World War; others were less interested in the movement.
Historical evidence shows that at some time between 1905 and 1910,
several Palestinian leaders discussed Zionism as a political movement
aiming to purchase land, assets and power in Palestine, although the
destructive potential was not fully comprehended at that period. Many
members of the local elite saw it as part of the European missionary and
colonialist drive - which in part it was, but of course it had an additional
edge to it that turned into a dangerous enterprise for the native population."
This potential was not often discussed or articulated by the Zionist leaders
themselves, but some Palestinian notables and intellectuals must have sensed
the looming danger, since we find them trying to convince the Ottoman government in Istanbul to limit, if not totally prohibit, Jewish immigration and
settlement into Palestine, which was under Turkish rule until 1918.4
The Palestinian member of the Ottoman Parliament, Said al-Husayni,
claimed on 6 May 1911 that 'the Jews intend to create a state in the area that
will include Palestine, Syria and Iraq'.' However, Al-Husayni belonged to a
(amily, and a group of local notables, who until the 1930s preached against


The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

the Zionist colonization while selling lands to the newcomers. As the
Mandatory years went by, the sense of a looming danger, indeed a catastrophe, settled in among the more intellectual sections of the elite," but it was
never translated into proper preparations for the existential danger awaiting their society.
Others around Palestine, such as the leading Egyptian literati, saw the
movement of Iews into Palestine as an irresponsible attempt on the part of
Europe to transfer its poorest and often stateless people into the country,
not as part of a master plan aimed at the dispossession ofthe local people. To
them, this movement of wretched people seemed but a minor threat compared with the far more conspicuous attempt European colonial powers
and churches were making to take over the 'Holy Land' through their missionaries, diplomats and colonies.' Indeed, prior to the British occupation
of Palestine at the end of 1917, the Zionists were vague where their actual
plans were concerned, not so much for lack of orientation, but more
because of the need to prioritise the concerns of the as yet small Jewish
immigrant community: there was always the threat of being thrown out
again by the government in Istanbul.
However, when a clearer vision for the future needed to be spelled out
for internal consumption, we find no ambiguity whatsoever. What the
Zionists anticipated was the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine in order to
escape a history of persecutions and pogroms in the West, invoking the religious 'redemption' of an 'ancient homeland' as their means. This was the
official narrative, and it no doubt genuinely expressed the motivation of
most of the Zionist leadership's members. But the more critical view today
sees the Zionist drive to settle in Palestine, instead of other possible locations' as closely interwoven with nineteenth-century Christian millenarianism and European colonialism. The various Protestant missionary societies
and the governments in the European Concert competed among themselves over the future of a 'Christian' Palestine that they wanted to pry away
from the Ottoman Empire. The more religious among the aspirants in the
West regarded the return of the Jews to Palestine as a chapter in the divine
scheme, precipitating the second coming of Christ and the creation of a
pietist state there. This religious zeal inspired pious politicians, such as
Lloyd George, the British prime minister during the FirstWorld War, to act
with even greater commitment for the success of the Zionist project. This
did not prevent him from supplying his government at the same time with

The Drive for an Exclusively Jewish State


a host of 'strategic', rather than messianic, considerations for why Palestine
should be colonised by the Zionist movement, which were mostly
infused by his own overriding distrust of, and disdain for, 'Arabs' and
'Mohammedans', as he called the Palestinians."
Recent scholarship also tends to question the more Marxist flavour that
the official Israeli historiography has claimed for the early colonization of
Palestine by portraying Zionism as a positive endeavour to carry the socialist and Marxist revolutions beyond their less successful attempts in Russia."
The more critical view depicts this aspiration as doubtful at best and as
manipulative at worst. Indeed, much like today's more liberal-minded
Israeli Jews who are ready to drop the principles of democracy when faced
with the prospect of a demographic majority ofnon- Jews in the country, so,
it seems, did the socialist Zionists quickly substitute their more universal
dreams with the powerful allure of nationalism. And when the main objective became making Palestine exclusively Jewish rather than socialist, it was
significantly the Labour movement within Zionism that instituted and
implemented the ethnic cleansing of the local population.
The early Zionist settlers directed most of their energy and resources
towards buying up plots ofland in an attempt to enter the local labour market and create social and communal networks that could sustain their as yet
small and economically vulnerable group of newcomers. The more precise
strategies of how best to take over Palestine as a whole and create a nationstate in the country, or in part ofit, were a later development, closely associated with British ideas of how best to solve the conflict Britain itself had
done so much to exacerbate.
The moment British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour gave the Zionist
movement his promise in 1917 to establish a national home for the Jews in
Palestine," he opened the door to the endless conflict that would soon
engulfthe country and its people. In the pledge he made in his government's
name, Balfour promised to protect the aspirations ofthe non-Jewish population - a strange reference to the vast native majority- but the declaration
dashed precipitately with both the aspirations and natural rights of the
Palestinians for nationhood and independence.
By the end of the 1920s, it was clear that this proposal had a potentially
violent core, as it had already claimed the lives of hundreds of Palestinians
.ind Jews. This now prompted the British to make a serious, albeit reluctant,
.Ittempt to solve the smouldering conflict.


The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

Until 1928, the British government had treated Palestine as a state
within the British sphere of influence, not as a colony; a state in which,
under British tutelage, the promise to the Jews and the aspirations of the
Palestinians could both be fulfilled. They tried to put in place a political
structure that would represent both communities on an equal footing in the
state's parliament as well as in government. In practice, when the offer was
made it was less equitable; it advantaged the Zionist colonies and discriminated against the Palestinian majority. The balance within the new proposed legislative council was in favour of the Jewish community who were
to be allied with members appointed by the British administration. 11
As the Palestinians made up the majority of between eighty and ninety
per cent of the total population in the 1920s, they understandably refused at
first to accept the British suggestion of parity, let alone one that disadvantaged them in practice - a position that encouraged the Zionist leaders to
endorse it. A pattern now emerges: when, in 1928, the Palestinian leadership, apprehensive ofthe growing Jewish immigration into the country and
the expansion of their settlements, agreed to accept the formula as a basis for
negotiations, the Zionist leadership quickly rejected it. The Palestinian
uprising in 1929 was the direct result of Britain's refusal to implement at
least their promise of parity after the Palestinians had been willing to set
aside the democratic principal of majoritarian politics, which Britain had
championed as the basis for negotiations in all the other Arab states within
its sphere of influence."
After the 1929 uprising, the Labour government in London appeared
inclined to embrace the Palestinian demands, but the Zionist lobby succeeded in reorienting the British government comfortably back onto the
Balfourian track. This made another uprising inevitable. It duly erupted in
1936 in the form ofa popular rebellion fought with such determination that
it forced the British government to station more troops in Palestine than
there were in the Indian subcontinent. After three years, with brutal and
ruthless attacks on the Palestinian countryside, the British military subdued
the revolt. The Palestinian leadership was exiled, and the paramilitary units that had sustained the guerilla warfare against the Mandatory
forces were disbanded. During this process many of the villagers involved
were arrested, wounded or killed. The absence of most of the Palestinian
leadership and of viable Palestinian fighting units gave the Jewish forces in
1947 an easy ride into the Palestinian countryside.

The Drivefor an ExclusivelyJewish State


In between the two uprisings, the Zionist leadership had wasted no time
in working out their plans for an exclusively Jewish presence in Palestine:
first, in 1937, by accepting a modest portion of the land when they
responded favourably to a recommendation by the British Royal Peel commission to partition Palestine into two states;" and second, in 1942, by
attempting a more maximalist strategy, demanding all of Palestine for itself.
The geographical space it coveted may have changed with time and according to circumstances and opportunities, but the principal objective
remained the same. The Zionist project could only be realised through the
creation in Palestine of a purely Jewish state, both as a safe haven for Jews
from persecution and a cradle for a new Jewish nationalism. And such a
state had to be exclusively Jewish not only in its socio-political structure but
also in its ethnic composition.


From the outset, the British Mandatory authorities had allowed the Zionist
movement to carve out an independent enclave for itself in Palestine as the
infrastructure for a future state, and in the late 1930s the movement's
leaders were able to translate the abstract vision of Jewish exclusivity into
more concrete plans. Zionist preparations for the eventuality of taking the
land by force, should it fail to be granted to them through diplomacy,
included the building of an efficient military organisation - with the help of
sympathetic British officers - and the search for ample financial resources
(for which they could tap the Jewish Diaspora). In many ways the creation
of an embryonic diplomatic corps·was also an integral part of the same
general preparations that were aimed at snatching, by force, a state in
It was one British officer in particular, Orde Charles Wingate, who
made the Zionist leaders realise more fully that the idea of Iewish statehood
had to be closely associated with militarism and an army, first of all to protect the growing number of Jewish enclaves and colonies inside Palestine
but also - more crucially - because acts of armed aggression were an effective deterrent against the possible resistance of the local Palestinians. From
there, the road to contemplating the enforced transfer of the entire indigenous population would prove to be very short indeed."


The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

Orde Wingate was born in India in the early twentieth century to a military family and received a very religious upbringing. He began an
Arabophile career in the Sudan, where he gained prestige with a particularly
effective ambush policy against slave traders. In 1936, he was assigned to
Palestine where he quickly became enchanted by the Zionist dream. He
decided actively to encourage the Jewish settlers and started teaching
their troops more effective combat tactics and retaliation methods against
the local population. It is no wonder that his Zionist associates greatly
admired him.
Wingate transformed the principal paramilitary organisation of the
Jewish community in Palestine, the Hagana. Established in 1920, its name
literally means 'defence' in Hebrew, ostensibly to indicate that its main purpose was protecting the Jewish colonies. Under the influence of Wingate,
and the militant mood he inspired among its commanders, the Hagana
quickly became the military arm of the Jewish Agency, the Zionist governing body in Palestine that in the end developed and then implemented plans
for the Zionist military takeover of Palestine as a whole, and the ethnic
cleansing of its native population."
The Arab revolt gave the Hagana members a chance to practise the military tactics Wingate had taught them in the Palestinian rural areas, mostly
in the form of retaliatory operations against such targets as roadside snipers
or thieves taking goods from a kibbutz. The main objective, however, seems
to have been to intimidate Palestinian communities who happened to live
in proximity to Jewish settlements.
Wingate succeeded in attaching Hagana troops to the British forces
during the Arab revolt so that they could learn even better what a 'punitive
mission' to an Arab village ought to entail. For example, in June 1938 Jewish
troops got their first taste ofwhat it meant to occupy a Palestinian village: a
Hagana unit and a British company jointly attacked a village on the border
between Israel and Lebanon, and held it for a few hours. I?
Amatziya Cohen, who took part in the operation, remembered the
British sergeant who showed them how to use bayonets in attacking
defenseless villagers: 'I think you are all totally ignorant in your Ramat
Yochanan [the training base for the Hagana] since you do not even know
the elementary use ofbayonets when attacking dirty Arabs: how can you put
your left foot in front!' he shouted at Amatziya and his friends after they had
returned to base." Had this sergeant been around in 1948, he would have

The Drivefor an Exclusively Jewish State


been proud to see how quickly Jewish troops were mastering the art of
attacking villages.
The Hagana also gained valuable military experience in the Second
World War, when many of its members volunteered for the British war
effort. Others who remained behind in Palestine continued to monitor and
infiltrate the 1200 or so Palestinian villages that had dotted the countryside
for hundreds of years.


More was needed than just savouring the excitement of attacking a
Palestinian village: systematic planning was called for. The suggestion came
from a young bespectacled historian from the Hebrew University by the name
of Ben-Zion Luria, at the time an employee of the educational department of
the Jewish Agency. Luria pointed out how useful it would be to have a detailed
registry of all Arab villages,and proposed that the Jewish National Fund ONF)
conduct such an inventory. 'This would greatly help the redemption of the
land,' he wrote to the JNF. 19 He could not have chosen a better audience: his
initiative to involve the JNF in the prospective ethnic cleansing was to generate added impetus and zeal to the expulsion plans that followed.
Founded in 1901, the JNF was the principal Zionist tool for the colonization of Palestine. It served as the agency the Zionist movement used to
buy Palestinian land upon which it then settled Jewish immigrants.
I naugurated by the fifth Zionist Congress, it spearheaded the Zionization of
Palestine throughout the Mandatory years. From the onset it was designed
to become the 'custodian', on behalf of the Jewish people, of the land the
Zionists gained possession of in Palestine. The JNF maintained this role
after the creation of the State ofIsrael, with other missions being added to its
primary role over time."
Most of the JNF's activities during the Mandatory period and surrounding the Nakba were closely associated with the name ofYossefWeitz,
the head of its settlement department. Weitz was the quintessential Zionist
.olonialist. His main priority at the time was facilitating the eviction of
Palestinian tenants from land bought from absentee landlords who were
likely to live at some distance from their land or even outside the country,
the Mandate system having created borders where before there were none.


The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

Traditionally, when ownership of a plot of land, or even a whole village,
changed hands, this did not mean that the farmers or villagers themselves
had to move;" Palestine was an agricultural society, and the new landlord
would need the tenants to continue cultivating his lands. But with the
advent of Zionism all this changed. Weitz personally visited the newly purchased plot ofland often accompanied by his closest aides, and encouraged
the new Jewish owners to throw out the local tenants, even if the owner had
no use for the entire piece of land. One of Weitz's closest aides, Yossef
Nachmani, at one point reported to him that 'unfortunately' tenants
refused to leave and some of the new Jewish land owners displayed, as he put
it, 'cowardice by pondering the option of allowing them to stay.':" It was the
job of Nachmani and other aides to make sure that such 'weaknesses' did
not persist: under their supervision these evictions quickly became more
comprehensive and effective.
The impact of such activities at the time remained limited because
Zionist resources after all were scarce, Palestinian resistance fierce, and the
British policies restrictive. By the end of the Mandate in 1948, the Jewish
community owned around 5.8% of the land in Palestine. But the appetite
was for more, if only for the available resources to expand and new opportunities open up; this is why Weitz waxed lyrical when he heard about the
village files, immediately suggesting turning them into a 'national project'. 23
All involved became fervent supporters of the idea. Yitzhak Ben-Zvi,
a prominent member of the Zionist leadership, a historian and later the
second president of Israel, explained in a letter to Moshe Shertock
(Sharett), the head of the political department of the Jewish Agency (and
later one of Israel's prime ministers), that apart from topographically
recording the layout ofthe villages, the project should also include exposing
the 'Hebraic origins' of each village. Furthermore, it was important for the
Hagana to know which of the villages were relatively new, as some of
them had been built 'only' during the Egyptian occupation of Palestine in
the 1830s.24
The main endeavour, however, was mapping the villages,and therefore a
topographer from the Hebrew University working in the Mandatory
cartography department was recruited to the enterprise. He suggested conducting an aerial photographic surveys, and proudly showed Ben-Gurion two
such aerial maps for the villages of Sindiyana and Sabbarin (these maps, now
in the Israeli State Archives, are all that remains of these villagesafter 194R).

The Drivefor an ExclusivelyJewishState


The best professional photographers in the country were now invited to
join the initiative. Yitzhak Shefer, from Tel-Aviv, and Margot Sadeh, the
wife ofYitzhak Sadeh, the chief ofthe Palmach (the commando units ofthe
Hagana), were recruited too. The film laboratory operated in Margot's
house with an irrigation company serving as a front: the lab had to be
hidden from the British authorities who could have regarded it as an illegal
intelligence effort directed against them. The British did have prior knowledge of it, but never succeeded in spotting the secret hideout. In 1947, this
whole cartographic department was moved to the Red House."
The end results ofboth the topographic and Orientalist efforts were the
detailed files the Zionist experts gradually built up for each ofPalestine's villages. By the late 1930s, this 'archive' was almost complete. Precise details
were recorded about the topographic location of each village, its access
roads, quality of land, water springs, main sources of income, its sociopolitical composition, religious affiliations, names of its muhktars, its relationship with other villages, the age of individual men (sixteen to fifty) and
many more. An important category was an index of 'hostility' (towards the
Zionist project, that is), decided by the level of the village's participation in
the revolt of 1936. There was a list of everyone who had been involved in the
revolt and the families ofthose who had lost someone in the fight against the
British. Particular attention was given to people who had allegedly killed
Jews. As we shall see, in 1948 these last bits of information fuelled the worst
atrocities in the villages, leading to mass executions and torture.
Regular members ofthe Hagana who were entrusted with collecting the
data on 'reconnaissance' journeys into the villages realised, from the start,
I hat this was not a mere academic exercise in geography. One of these was
Moshe Pasternak, who joined one of the early excursions and data collect ion operations in 1940. He recalled many years later:
We had to study the basic structure of the Arab village. This means the
structure and how best to attack it. In the military schools, I had been
taught how to attack a modern European city, not a primitive villagein
the Near East.We could not compare it [an Arab village] to a Polish, or
an Austrian one. The Arab village,unlike the European ones, was built
topographically on hills. That meant we had to find out how best to
approach the villagefrom above or enter it from below. We had to train
our 'Arabists' [the Oricntalists who operated a network of collaborators I how best to work with informants."


The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

Indeed the problem noted in many of the villages' files was how to create a
collaborationist system with the people Pasternak and his friends regarded
as primitive and barbaric: 'People who like to drink coffee and eat rice with
their hands, which made it very difficult to use them as informants.' In 1943,
he remembered, there was a growing sense that finally they had a proper
network of informants in place. That same year the village files were
re-arranged to become even more systematic. This was mainly the work of
one man, Ezra Danin, who would playa leading role in the ethnic cleansing
of Palestine. 27
In many ways, it was the recruitment of Ezra Danin, who had been
taken out of his successful citrus grove business, that injected the intelligence work and the organisation of the village files with a new level of efficiency. Files in the post -1943 era included detailed descriptions of the
husbandry, the cultivated land, the number of trees in plantations, the quality of each fruit grove (even of each single tree), the average amount ofland
per family, the number of cars, shop owners, members of workshops and
the names of the artisans in each village and their skills." Later, meticulous
detail was added about each clan and its political affiliation, the social stratification between notables and common peasants, and the names of the civil
servants in the Mandatory government.
And as the data collection created its own momentum, one finds additional details popping up around 1945, such as descriptions of village
mosques and the names of their imams, together with such characterisations
as 'he is an ordinary man', and even precise accounts of the living rooms
inside the homes of these dignitaries. Towards the end of the Mandatory
period the information becomes more explicitly military orientated: the
number of guards (most villageshad none) and the quantity and quality of the
arms at the villagers' disposal (generally antiquated or even non-existent)."
Danin recruited a German Jew named Yaacov Shimoni, later to become
one ofIsrael's leading Orientalists, and put him in charge of special projects
inside the villages, in particular supervising the work of the informants."
One of these Danin and Shimoni nicknamed the 'treasurer' (ha-gizbar).
This man, who proved a fountain of information for the files' collectors,
supervised the network of collaboration for them between 1941-1945. He
was exposed in 1945 and killed by Palestinian militants."
Danin and Shimoni were soon joined by two other people, Yehoshua
Palmon and Tuvia Lishanski. These, too, are names to remember as they

The Drivefor an Exclusively Jewish State


took an active part in preparing for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
Lishanski was already busy in the 1940s with orchestrating campaigns
against the tenants who lived on plots oflands the JNF had bought from present or absentee landlords, and he directed all his energy towards intimidating and then forcibly evicting these people from the lands their families had
been cultivating for centuries.
Not far away from the village ofFuraydis and the (veteran' Jewish settlement Zikhron Yaacov, where today a road connects the coastal highway
with Marj Ibn Amir (Emeq Izrael) through Wadi Milk, lies a youth village (a
kind ofboarding school for Zionist youth) called Shefeya. It was here that in
1944 special units in the service of the village files project received their
training and it was from here that they went out on their reconnaissance
missions. Shefeya looked very much like a spy village in the Cold War: Jews
walking around speaking Arabic and trying to emulate what they believed
were the customary ways oflife and behaviour of rural Palestinians."
In 2002, one of the first recruits to this special training base recalled his
first reconnaissance mission to the nearby village ofUmm al-Zinat in 1944.
Their aim had been to survey the village and bring back information such as
where the mukhtar lived, where the mosque was located, where the rich
people ofthe village resided and who had been active in the 1936 revolt. This
was not a very dangerous mission as the infiltrators knew they could exploit
the traditional Arab hospitality code, and were even guests at the home of
the mukhtar himself. As they failed to collect in one day all the data they
were seeking, they asked to be invited back. For their second visit they had
been instructed to get information about the fertility ofthe land, the quality
of which seemed to have impressed them greatly. In 1948, Umm al-Zinat
was destroyed and all its inhabitants expelled without any provocation on
their part whatsoever."
The final update ofthe village files took place in 1947. It focused on ere.uing lists ofwantcd' persons in each village. In 1948 Jewish troops used
I hcse lists for the search-and-arrest operations they carried out as soon as
t hey had occupied a village. That is, the men in the village would be lined up
.md those appearing on the lists would then be identified, often by the same
person who had informed on them in the first place but who would now be
wearing a cloth sack over his head with two holes cut out for his eyes so as
not to be recognised. The men who were picked out were often shot on the
. . pot. Crit cria for inclusion in these lists were involvement in the Palestinian


The EthnicCleansing of Palestine

national movement, having close ties to the leader of the movement, the
Mufti al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni, and, as mentioned, having participated in
actions against the British and the Zionists." Other reasons for being
included in the lists were a variety of allegations, such as 'known to have
travelled to Lebanon' or 'arrested by the British authorities for being a
member of a national committee in the village'."
The first category, involvement in the Palestinian national movement,
was very liberally defined and could include whole villages. Affiliation with
the Mufti or to the political party he headed was very common. After all, his
party had dominated local Palestinian politics ever since the British
Mandate was officially established in 1923. The party's members went on to
win national and municipal elections and hold the prominent positions in
the Arab Higher Committee that became the embryonic government of the
Palestinians. In the eyes of the Zionist experts this constituted a crime. If we
look at the 1947 files, we find that villages with about 1500 inhabitants usually had between twenty and thirty such suspects (for instance, around the
southern Carmel mountains, south of Haifa, Umm al-Zinat had thirty such
suspects and the nearby village of Damun had twenty-five)."
Yigael Yadin recalled that it was this minute and detailed knowledge of
what was happening in each single Palestinian village that enabled the
Zionist military command in November 1947 to conclude 'that the Palestine
Arabs had nobody to organise them properly.' The only serious problem was
the British: 'If not for the British, we could have quelled the Arab riot [the'
opposition to the UN Partition Resolution in 1947] in one month.':"


Beyond carefully charting rural Palestine in preparation for the future
takeover of the country, the Zionist movement had by now also obtained a
much clearer sense of how best to get the new state off the ground after the
Second World War. A crucial factor in this was that the British had already
destroyed the Palestinian leadership and its defence capabilities when they
suppressed the 1936 Revolt, thus allowing the Zionist leadership ample time
and space to set out their next moves. Once the danger of a Nazi invasion
into Palestine was removed in 1942, the Zionist leaders became more keenly
aware that the sole obstacle that stood in their way of successfully seizing the

The Drivefor an Exclusively Jewish State


land was the British presence, not any Palestinian resistance. This explains
why, for example, in a meeting in the Biltmore Hotel in New York in 1942,
we find Ben-Gurion putting demands on the table for a Jewish commonwealth over the whole of Mandatory Palestine."
As the Second World War drew to a close, the Jewish leadership in
Palestine embarked on a campaign to push the British out of the country.
Simultaneously, they continued to map out their plans for the Palestinian
population, the country's seventy-five per cent majority. Leading Zionist
figures did not air their views in public, but confided their thoughts only to
their close associates or entered them into their diaries. One ofthem, Yossef
Weitz, wrote in 1940: 'it is our right to transfer the Arabs' and 'The Arabs
should gO!'39 Ben-Gurion himself, writing to his son in 1937, appeared convinced that this was the only course of action open to Zionism: 'The Arabs
will have to go', but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen,
such as a war." The opportune moment came in 1948. Ben-Gurion is in
many ways the founder ofthe State ofIsrael and was its first prime minister.
He also masterminded the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.


David Ben-Gurion led the Zionist movement from the mid 1920s until well
into the 1960s. Born David Gruen in 1886 in Plonsk, Poland (then part of
Czarist Russia), he had come to Palestine in 1906, already an ardent Zionist.
Short of stature, with a large shock of white hair swept backwards and
invariably dressed in khaki uniform, his figure is by now familiar to many
around the world. When the ethnic cleansing operations began, he added a
pistol to his military gear and a kufiyya around his neck, imitating the way
his elite units were fitted out. He was by then approximately sixty years old
and, although suffering from serious backaches, he was the Zionist movement's highly energetic and hard-working leader.
His central role in deciding the fate of the Palestinians stemmed from the
complete control he exercised over all issues of security and defence in the
Jewish community in Palestine. He had risen to power as a union leader, but
was soon busy engineering the Jewish State in-the-making. When the British
offered the Jewish community a state in 1937, but over a much smaller portion of Palestine than they had in mind, Ben-Gurion accepted the proposal


The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

as a good start, but he aspired to Jewish sovereignty over as much ofPalestine
as possible. He then swayed the Zionist leadership into accepting both his
supreme authority and the fundamental notion that future statehood meant
absolute Jewish domination. How to achieve such a purely Jewish state was
also discussed under his guidance around 1937. Two magic words now
emerged: Force and Opportunity. The Jewish state could only be won by
force, but one had to wait for the opportune historical moment to come
along in order to be able to deal 'militarily' with the demographic reality on
the ground: the presence of a non-Jewish native majority population.
Ben-Gurion's focus on long-term processes and comprehensive solutions was atypical of most of his colleagues in the Zionist leadership. They
still hoped that by purchasing a piece of land here and a few houses there
they would be able to establish the envisaged new reality. Ben-Gurion
understood early on that this would never be enough - and of course he was
right: by the end of the Mandate, as we have already seen, the Zionist movement had only been able to purchase around six per cent of the land."
But even the more cautious Zionist leaders, such as Ben-Curion's
second-in-command, Moshe Sharett, the 'foreign minister' of the Jewish
community in Mandatory Palestine, associated the settlement of Jews in
Palestine with the dispossession of the indigenous Palestinians. For
example? on 13 December 1938, when giving a lecture to the employees of
the Zionist organisations in Jerusalem, Sharett could report to them on a
particularly satisfying achievement: the purchase of 2500 dunam in the
Baysan Valley in eastern Palestine (one dunam equals 1000 square metres,
or 0.1 hectares). He added a telling detail:
This purchase was accompanied, interestingly, by transfer of population [unsure of his audience's familiarity with the term, he repeated it
in English]. There is a tribe that resides west of the Jordan river and the
purchase will include paying the tribe to move east of the river; by this
[act] we will reduce the number of Arabs [in Palestine] .42
In 1942, as we saw above, Ben-Gurion was already aiming much higher when
he publicly staked out the Zionist claim for the whole of Palestine. As in the
days of the Balfour declaration, Zionist leaders understood the promise to
include the country as a whole. But he was a pragmatic colonialist as well as a
state-builder. He knew that maximalist schemes such as the Biltmore programme, which clamoured for the whole of Mandatory Palestine, would not

The Drivefor an ExclusivelyJewishState


be deemed realistic. It was also, of course, impossible to pressure Britain
while it was holding the fort against Nazi Germany in Europe. Consequently
he lowered his ambitions during the Second World War. But the post-war
British Labour government under Clement Atlee had different plans for
Palestine. Now that Jews in Europe were no longer facing the danger ofannihilation' and most ofthem preferred to leave for the other side ofthe Atlantic
rather than head towards the Middle East, the new British cabinet and its
energetic foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, were looking for a solution that
would be based on the wishes and interests of the people actually living in
Palestine, and not of those the Zionist leaders claimed might want to move
there - in other words, a democratic solution.
Armed, but especially terrorist, attacks by the Jewish underground militias failed to change that policy. Against the bombing of bridges, military
bases and the British headquarters in Jerusalem (the King David Hotel), the
British reacted mildly - especially in comparison with the brutal treatment
they had meted out to Palestinian rebels in the 1930s. Retaliation took the
form of a disarmament campaign of Icwish troops, a large number ofwhom
they themselves had armed and recruited, first in the war against the
Palestinian rebellion in 1937, and then against the Axis powers in 1939.
Disarmament was very partial, but arrests were relatively numerous, enough
for the Zionist leaders to realise they needed to pursue a more adaptive
policy as long as the British were still responsible for law and order in the land.
As we have already seen, in the immediate aftermath of the Second World
War Britain held a disproportionately large number of troops - 100,000 - in
a country ofless than two million people. This definitely served as a deterrent,
even when in the wake of the Jewish terrorist attack on the King David Hotel
this force was somewhat reduced. It was these considerations that prompted
Bcn-Gurion to conclude that a somewhat more 'reduced' state, over eighty
per cent of Palestine, would be sufficient to allow the Zionist movement to
fulfill its dreams and ambitions."
In the final days of August 1946, Ben-Gurion gathered together the
leadership ofthe Zionist movement in a hotel in Paris, the Royal Monsue, to
helph im find an alternative to the Biltmore plan that had aimed to take over
"II of Palestine. An 'old-new' idea of the Zionist movement now resurfaced:
partitioning Palestine. 'Give us independence, even on a small part of the
land,' pleaded Nachum Goldman with the British government in London
while his colleagues in Paris were deliberating their next move. Goldman


The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

was the most 'dovish' member of the Zionist leadership at the time, and his
call for only a 'small' part of Palestine did not reflect Ben-Guriori's ambitions: he accepted the principle but not the dimensions. 'We will demand a
large chunk of Palestine' Ben-Gurion told those he had summoned to the
French capital. Like generations of Israeli leaders after him, up to Ariel
Sharon in 2005, Ben-Gurion found he had to hold back the more extremist
Zionist members, and he told them that eighty to ninety per cent of
Mandatory Palestine was enough to create a viable state, provided they were
able to ensure Jewish predominance. Neither the concept nor the percentage would change over the next sixty years. A few months later the Jewish
Agency translated Ben-Gurion's 'large chunk ofPalestine' into a map which
it distributed to everyone relevant to the future of Palestine. This 1947 map
envisaged a Jewish state that anticipated almost to the last dot pre-1967
Israel, i.e., Palestine without the West Bank and the Gaza Strip."
During all these deliberations, the Zionist leaders never discussed the
possibility of any resistance from the local population: their chief concern
was the British and, maybe, the international response. This is not accidental. The Zionist leadership was aware of the total collapse of the Palestinian
leadership after the Second World War and of the hesitant position the Arab
states as a whole were displaying on the Palestine question. The desperate
situation of the indigenous population of Palestine becomes poignantly
clear the moment we realise that those who had crushed their liberation
movement, the British Mandatory authorities, were now the only ones
standing between them and a coolly determined and highly motivated
Zionist movement that coveted most of their homeland. But worse was to
come as Europe prepared to compensate the Jewish people for the
Holocaust that had raged on its soil with a state in Palestine, ignoring at the
same time that this could only come about at the expense ofthe indigenous
Given the power vacuum on the Palestinian side, it is not surprising to
see the Zionist decision-makers act as though the Palestinians were not a
factor to be considered. But, of course, they still formed the vast majority in
the land, and as such they were a 'problem'. Moreover, the Arab world,
potentially at least, could come to their rescue and send in armies and provide arms. David Ben-Gurion was fully aware of this possible scenario, and
therefore preoccupied himself and his closest associates with the issue of
security, bitachon in Hebrew. This became an obsession Bcn-Gurion


The Drivefor an ExclusivelyJewish State


nourished so carefully and successfully that it came to overshadow all other
social and political issues on the agenda of the Jewish community in
Palestine and later, of course, in Israel."
Bitachon was then and remains until today a meta-term used by Zionist
and, later, Israeli leaders to cover a wide range of issues and justify numerous core policies, from arms purchases abroad, internal struggle with other
political parties, preparations for the future state, and the policy adopted
against the local Palestinian population. The latter was retaliatory in nature
and in discourse, but quite often provocative in action. From 1946 onwards,
a more comprehensive set of strategic objectives emerged, aimed at consolidating the future scenarios and plans. David Ben-Gurion played a crucial
role in shaping Israel's bitachon outlook because of the structural changes
he introduced into the Zionist decision-making mechanism that placed
him at the top ofwhat before had been a rather cumbersome and ineffective
pyramid. When in 1946 the 22nd Zionist Congress entrusted Ben-Gurion
with the defence portfolio, he had total control over all security issues of the
Jewish community in Palestine."
Though as yet without a state, Ben-Gurion already now functioned as
defence minister and as a prime minister of sorts (given his authority to pass
resolutions within a government). In many aspects he shared responsibility,
and most issues on the agenda of the Jewish community were discussed in a
democratic way within institutions that represented the composition of the
major political groups among the Jews in Palestine. But as the time came
nearer when crucial decisions needed to be made with regards to the fate of
the Palestinians, Ben-Gurion began to ignore the official structure and
started relying on more clandestine formations.
The major topic on the Zionist agenda in 1946 and 1947, the struggle
against the British, resolved itself with the British decision, in February
1047, to quit Palestine and to transfer the Palestine question to the UN. In
fact, the British had little choice: after the Holocaust they would never be
.iblc to deal with the looming Jewish rebellion as they had with the Arab one
in the 1930s and, as the Labour party made up its mind to leave India,
Palestine lost much of its attraction. A particularly cold winter in 1947
drove the message home to London that the Empire was on its way to
become a second-rate power, its global influence dwarfed by the two new
-upcr-powcrs and its economy crippled by a capitalist system that caused
Sterling to drop precipitously. Rather than hold on to remote places such as


The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

Palestine, the Labour party saw as its priority the building of a welfare state
at home. In the end, Britain left in a hurry and with no regrets."
Ben-Gurion had already realised by the end of 1946 that the British were
on their way out, and with his aides began working on a general strategy that
could be implemented against the Palestinian population the moment the
British were gone. This strategy became Plan C, or Gimel in Hebrew.
Plan C was a revised version of two earlier plans, A and B. Plan A was
also named the 'Elimelech plan', after Elimelech Avnir, the Hagana commander in Tel-Aviv who in 1937, at Ben-Gurion's request, had already set
out possible guidelines for the takeover of Palestine in the event of a British
withdrawal. Plan Bhad been devised in 1946 and both plans were now fused
into one to form Plan C.
Like Plans A and B, Plan C aimed to prepare the military forces of the
Jewish community in Palestine for the offensive campaigns they would be
engaged in against rural and urban Palestine the moment the British were
gone. The purpose ofsuch actions would be to 'deter' the Palestinian population from attacking Jewish settlements, and to retaliate for assaults on
Jewish houses, roads and traffic. Plan C spelled out clearly what punitive
actions of this kind would entail:
Killing the Palestinian political leadership.
Killing Palestinian inciters and their financial supporters.
Killing Palestinians who acted against Jews.
Killingsenior Palestinian officers and officials [in the Mandatory system].
Damaging Palestinian transportation.
Damaging the sources of Palestinian livelihoods: water wells, mills, etc.
Attacking nearby Palestinian villages likely to assist in future attacks.
Attacking Palestinian clubs, coffee houses, meeting places, etc.
Plan C added that all data required for the performance of these actions
could be found in the village files:lists ofleaders, activists, 'potential human
targets', the precise layout of villages, and so on."
However, within a few months, yet another plan was drawn up: Plan D
(Dalet).49 It was this plan that sealed the fate of the Palestinians within the
territory the Zionist Leaders had set their eyes on for their future Jewish
State. Indifferent as to whether these Palestinians might decide to collaborate with or oppose their Jewish State, Plan Dalet called for their systematic
and total expulsion from their homeland.

Chapter 3

Partition and
Destruction: UN
Resolution 181 and its

The most brutal element of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia was
the'ethnic cleansing', designed to force minority groups out of areas
occupied by a different majority.
Previously, different peoples had lived together in the same village
and there had been no division into ethnic groups and no ethnic
cleansing. Thus, the causes of the situation were clearly political.
Summary record of the UN Committee on the
Elimination of Racial Discrimination, 6 March 1995
with regard to the former Yugoslavia.

When the Zionist movement started its ethnic cleansing operations in
Palestine, in early December 1947, the country had a 'mixed' population of
Palestinians and Jews. The indigenous Palestinians made up the two-third
majority, down from ninety per cent at the start of the Mandate. One third
\\'l'IT Jewish newcomers, i.e., Zionist settlers and refugees from war torn


The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

Europe, most of whom had arrived in Palestine since the 1920s.1 As of the
late nineteenth century, the indigenous Palestinians had been seeking the
right of self-determination, at first within a pan-Arab identity, but then,
soon after the First World War, through the Mandate system that promised
to lead the new nation-states it had created in the Middle East to independence and towards a future based on principles of democracy. But Britain's
Mandate charter for Palestine also incorporated, wholesale, the 1917
Balfour Declaration and, with it, Britain's promise to the Zionist movement
to secure a 'homeland' for the Jews in Palestine.
Despite Britain's pro-Zionist policies and the presence of a growing
Jewish minority, Palestine was still very much an Arab country by the end of
the Mandate. Almost all of the cultivated land in Palestine was held by the
indigenous population - only 5.8% was in Jewish ownership in 1947 which makes the use here of the adjective 'mixed' somewhat misleading, to
say the least. Although the Zionist leaders had tried to persuade Jewish
immigrants, ever since the movement had set foot in Palestine, to settle in
the countryside, they had failed to do so: Jewish newcomers overwhelmingly preferred the cities and towns. As a result, most of the Zionist
settler colonies in the rural areas lay far apart from each other; in some areas,
such as the Galilee in the north and the Naqab (the Negev) in the south,
they were effectively isolated islands amidst the surrounding Palestinian
This isolation meant these colonies were built like military garrisons
rather than villages:what inspired their layout and design were security considerations rather than human habitation. Their introverted seclusion contrasted bizarrely with the open spaces of the traditional Palestinian villages
with their natural stone houses and their accessible, unhindered, approaches
to the nearby fields and the orchards and olive groves around them.
That so few Jews had settled in the Palestinian countryside proved to be
a serious problem for those who wanted to base their solution to the growing conflict between the two communities on the principle of partition. On
the one hand, logic and common sense dictated that the countryside as a
whole - more than three quarters of the territory - should remain
Palestinian. The towns, on the other hand, were almost equally inhabited.
The question was, how to devise two distinct Pales