The history and "morals" of ethnic cleansing.
Albert Einstein grasped this fallacy a long time ago. A short time after WWI "Einstein complained that the Zionists were not doing enough to reach agreement with the Palestinian Arabs ... He favored a bi-national solution in Palestine and warned Chaim Weizmann against 'Prussian style' nationalism" (1)
But such warnings passed un-heeded by the Zionist movement. So here we are, nearly a century later, with a Jewish national state dominated by militaristic and militant nationalists, who diligently pursue colonization and "judaization" of the land under Israeli control, on both sides of the Green Line (1967 border). The project has been pursued continuously and relentlessly under the different Israeli governments, recently under the cover of bogus "negotiations" with President Abbas. Most of the Israeli institutions participate in it.
Young Israelis, generation after generation, join the army to provide the military cover. The young folks have been brain-washed to honestly believe that the army pursues Israel's "fight for existence." However it seems evident to the author of this article, as to many others, that the survival of the Jewish community in this country depends on establishing viable mechanisms of coexistence with the Palestinians. Thus, under the slogan of "fight for existence," the State of Israel is pursuing an essentially suicidal project.
This long-standing outlook of the Israeli governing classes was summarized succinctly in a recent book Palestine Inside Out by Saree Makdisi, an American academic. His book "suggests that occupation is merely a feature of an ongoing Israeli policy of slow transfer of the native Palestinian population from their lands. This policy predates the founding of the state, and all of the various practices of the occupier: illegal settlement, land confiscation, home demolition and so on, serve this ultimate purpose." (2)
If you do not believe the above assessment, consider several statements by David Ben Gurion himself, from the time before the establishment of the State of Israel (Ben Gurion was the leader of the Zionist movement before 1948 and the first Israeli Prime Minister after 1948):
The compulsory transfer of the [Palestinian] Arabs from the valleys of the proposed Jewish state could give us something which we never had, even when we stood on our own during the days of the first and second Temples ... We are given an opportunity which we never dared to dream of in our wildest imaginings. This is more than a state, government and sovereignty, this is national consolidation in a free homeland.
With compulsory transfer we [would] have a vast area [for settlement] ... I support compulsory transfer. I don't see anything immoral in it. (3)
During the 1948 war, about two-thirds of the Palestinians who would become refugees were in fact expelled from their homes by the nascent Israeli army, and one-third became refugees while escaping the dangers of war. All these people, 0.75-1 million of them, were prevented from returning to Israel after the armistice agreement, while their homes and property were demolished or appropriated by the State of Israel.
Among the common mantras provided to the Israelis to justify the above is the following: "Israel accepted the UN partition plan, and Arabs did not, so what happened afterwards is their own fault." What is conveniently overlooked is that Palestinian Arabs constituted between one third and one half of the population of that designated Jewish homeland (according to various UN reports). Why should these people, whose ancestors lived there for generations, accept living in somebody else's designated homeland? Imagine, for example, the reaction of French Belgians if their country were designated as a "Flemish homeland" by the UN.
But the main mantra, drummed into the conscience of an Israeli citizen from kindergarten, is that in 1948 "it was either them or us," "Arabs would have thrown us into the sea if we did not establish a Jewish majority state with a strong army," etc. I have my doubts about that line, too, but let us suppose for the moment that in fact, it was so. And then came the year 1967, and the Six Day War. Another chapter in the Israeli "fight for existence" against recalcitrant Arabs who just keep trying to throw us into the sea. On the face of it, that is how it seemed. I together with most of my compatriots believed for years that 1967 was in fact a moment of existential danger for Israel. Until I stumbled upon some telling quotes, uttered by our very own leaders (4):
1. The New York Times quoted Prime Minister Menachem Begin's (1977-83) August, 1982 speech saying: ''In June, 1964, we had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that (President Gamal Abdel) Nasser (1956-70) was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him."
2. Two-time Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (1974-77 and 1992-95) told French newspaper Le Monde in February, 1968: "I do not believe Nasser wanted war. The two divisions which he sent into Sinai on May 14 would not have been enough to unleash an offensive against Israel. He knew it and we knew it."
3. General Mordechai Hod, Commander of the Israeli Air Force during the Six-Day War said in 1978: "Sixteen years of planning had gone into those initial eighty minutes. We lived with the plan, we slept on the plan, we ate the plan. Constantly we perfected it."
4. General Haim Barlev, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Chief told Ma'ariv in April 1972: "We were not threatened with genocide on the eve of the six-day war, and we had never thought of such a possibility.''
So: instead of "thwarting an existential danger," in 1967 the State of Israel carried out an effective military operation to acquire some real estate. There is nothing new about that "existential danger" propaganda. Acquisition of real estate by conquest has been already called pleasing names by various other conquerors and occupiers, throughout the old and new history: such as "manifest destiny," "white man's burden," "spreading true religion / culture / democracy," whatnot.
The 1967 real estate acquisition by the State of Israel was anticipated some 20 years earlier by Ben-Gurion, at the time of the partition plan (which was supposedly accepted by the Zionist leadership). See the following quotes of Ben-Gurion, which can be found in the book by an Israeli historian (5):
Just as I do not see the proposed Jewish state as a final solution to the problems of the Jewish people, so I do not see partition as the final solution of the Palestine question. Those who reject partition are right in their claim that this country cannot be partitioned because it constitutes one unit, not only from a historical point of view but also from that of nature and economy ... After the formation of a large army in the wake of the establishment of the [Jewish] state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of the Palestine.
I wonder if at any point in history there was any association of people who acquired goodies by brute force, and who viewed themselves candidly as such. Times and again, conquerors considered themselves unwilling victims of circumstances, and the barbarians (their own victims!) against whom they have to regretfully protect their rights. Consider the following pronouncements of Benny Morris, a historian who documented the 1948 ethnic cleansing. In a 2004 interview with Morris which was published in Haaretz one reads (6):"
Q: The title of the book you are now publishing in Hebrew is "Victims." In the end, then, your argument is that of the two victims of this conflict, we [Israelis] are the bigger one.
Morris: "Yes. Exactly. We are the greater victims in the course of history and we are also the greater potential victim. Even though we are oppressing the Palestinians, we are the weaker side here. We are a small minority in a large sea of hostile Arabs who want to eliminate us.
The above opinion is representative of the Israeli mainstream. It has been raised to the status of axiom over the years, and no reasonable peace offers (such as the latest Saudi one) are likely to put a dent in it. Israelis are using this slogan to exempt themselves from normal human decency towards Palestinians. Most Israeli Jews have convinced themselves that they have a moral right to expropriate and expel Palestinians because Palestinians are such barbarians, who did not respond to Israel's "generous peace offers" and "only wanted to throw us to the sea." Because we are a nation of Holocaust survivors. My compatriots imagined themselves starring in a modern version of Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings"--starring as beautiful elves, of course, who were forced by sad fate to fight ugly goblins, the Palestinians (goblins = "terrorists"). Human mercy does not apply to "terrorists." You do not make territorial compromises or peace agreements with "terrorists."
The above explains the mass participation of otherwise normal and more-or-less decent Israelis in the ongoing ethnic-cleansing projects. How else can you account for a dying elderly man and his wife being dragged out of their east Jerusalem apartment to make space for Jewish settlers. Building the Jerusalem "Museum of Tolerance" on the site of an ancient Muslim graveyard. Onslaught on West Bank orphanages supported by Islamic charities. State-subsidized Jewish settler-thugs conducting pogroms against Palestinians in Hebron and elsewhere in the Occupied Territories. Widespread sadism practiced by Israeli soldiers against Palestinian detainees. Trashing of Palestinian homes during nightly military incursions in Palestinian towns and villages. Demolitions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem under the brazen pretext of "illegal construction." Extensive land grab for settlers. And much more. (7)
The Gaza Strip is the place where the self-righteous Israeli sadism has reached new heights. The Strip is densely populated, mostly by descendants of Palestinians expelled in 1948. Well before the Second Intifada, choice Gazan real estate along the beach (about l/4 of the Strip land) was confiscated for a few thousand Jewish settlers. Still, a million and a half Gazan Palestinians had a sort of normal life (under the Israeli occupation)--growing fruits and vegetables, making construction materials and other products for Israeli markets, and working as laborers within the Green Line. Before the second Intifada, very little terror was coming from there to Israel.
However, since the beginning of the Intifada (a year and a half before the first Palestinian rocket landing across the border) the Israeli army embarked on the systematic destruction of the Strip. Incursions were carried out every few weeks and included the destruction of factories and workshops, roads, agricultural land, homes, and whatnot. Access to the Israeli economy was closed. Eventually, desperate Palestinians resorted to shooting Qassam rockets which rarely caused casualties or real damage but served as an excellent pretext for Israeli military "action."
And then Sharon carried out his brilliant propaganda move of "disengagement" from Gaza. The whole operation was marketed as a demonstration of Israeli good will. The Israeli settlements in Gaza were in fact removed, but the army was redeployed around the Strip, and the Strip was converted to a large scale prison. The economic strangulation of Gaza was tightened to a draconian extent, especially after the Hamas government suppressed the Israel-cum-USA sponsored Fatah putsch. (I am no fan of Hamas but their government was democratically elected by the Palestinians.) Hamas offered several times to conduct negotiations with Israel, based on 1967 borders, but the offers were under-reported and ignored. It is likely that such negotiations would have stopped the Qassams, but Israeli leaders appeared interested in continuation of the violence. The Qassams created a great opportunity for more "poor little us" propaganda, and a great pretext to wiggle out of legitimate international requests to stop the massive colonization of the West Bank.
Finally, a truce with Hamas was negotiated. Since the beginning of the truce defense minister Barak commenced preparations for a massive attack on Gaza (8). On November 14 the working truce with Hamas was deliberately broken on Barak's orders, by killing several Hamas fighters. A totally predictable Palestinian response ensued--cancellation of the truce and a barrage of rockets. The barrage was used by Barak as a pretext for that large-scale operation, including the slaughter of hundreds of people in Gaza with missiles deployed from airplanes. This muscle-flexing was an obvious part of Barak's and Livni's election campaign, at the price of hundreds of Palestinian casualties, and several Israeli ones (as meanwhile Palestinians have improved their aim). In the ensuing ground operation, some Israeli soldiers also paid with their lives for this form of electioneering.
Do you know what mainstream Israelis make of the above?
We, Israelis, in an act of self-sacrifice, removed poor Jewish settlers from their "homes" in the Gaza Strip and gave Palestinians a chance for free and happy existence. But the Palestinians spurned our peace efforts and preferred instead to pursue their addiction to "throwing Jews to the sea." Gaza could have become a new Singapore, but the Gazans chose instead to shoot rockets at Israelis.
The disengagement was thus an act of brilliance on the part of that evil genius, Sharon. He provided mainstream Israelis with a sweeping moral absolution. Palestinians "disappointed" them. Now the Israeli leaders can do anything they wish to Palestinians. Do not expect a squeak of public protest from the Israeli Jewish public, except for a tiny minority of "self hating Jews" like yours truly.
Believe me, these Jewish-Israeli mainstreamers are not natural-born monsters. They just do not know any better. Alas, I used to be one of them. Then one day I stumbled, more or less by chance, into the West Bank with a group of activists. I acquired some Palestinian friends and finally understood the criminality of the treatment of the Palestinians by my country. And I learned to ignore the daily portion of preposterous propaganda which is provided to my compatriots by the media in lieu of "news." But how to convince my compatriots not to listen to this propaganda? I do not know.
Then again, it does not have to be so. In addition to four million or so stateless Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, there are about a million Palestinians living within the Green Line and carrying Israeli citizenship. Despite the very considerable internal racism, many of these Palestinian citizens are deeply involved in Israeli society. You meet Arab doctors and nurses in Israeli hospitals, Arab students in Israeli universities etc. There is quite an element of coexistence and cooperation between Jews and Arabs there. But a mainstream Jewish-Israeli colleague who might treat his or her Arab co-worker perfectly decently would still be proud of a soldier son who is "serving the country" in the Occupied Territories. He or she would still repeat racist propaganda about the "demographic danger" to the State of Israel from its Arab citizens, and believe the bloodthirsty speeches of generals and ex-generals on the TV. And vote for any of the three major Zionist parties, Likud, Kadima and Labour, whose leaders have been dedicated ethnic cleansers over the years.
For the sake of both nations living in this country, this outrage must be stopped. It must be stopped by pressure from outside, because at present within Israel there are no significant political forces to oppose it. Please do something, my friends, and do it urgently. And kindly ignore the endless "negotiations" between our government and the powerless Palestinian Authority. They are just a cover for more ethnic cleansing. If you do not believe me, come and see the massive settlement construction in East Jerusalem and West Bank. And the walls of the Palestinian ghettos.
Victoria Buch is an Israeli academic and anti-Occupation activist. Her email: email@example.com
(1.) From The Pity of It All, a book by Amos Elon on German Jews.
(2.) From a review of Makdisi's book: Palestine Inside Out, by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha, IMEU 2008.
(3.) From Righteous Victims by Benny Morris
(4.) Collected by Stephen Lendman, see http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/15348)
(5.) From The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities, by Simha Flapan
(6.) The full text of the interview can be found in the Counterpunch website
(7.) Information can be found, e.g., in the Occupation Magazine, the website of Israeli anti-Occupation activists.
(8.) "Disinformation, secrecy and lies: How the Gaza offensive came about" By Barak Ravid, Haaretz http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1050426.html