“You can forgive the man who robs you, but you can’t forgive the man you rob-in his haggard features you read your indictment and this makes his face so repulsive that you must keep it under your heels where you cannot see it.”
–Eugene Debs, American Socialist, 1904.
Massacre, theft, torture, destruction, and ethnic cleansing: the Palestinian native is well aware of his history-not an ancient history recalled through myths and symbols, but a sharp, painful history reinforced decade upon decade, day upon day, hour upon hour. It is not the history of the comforting textbook held in one’s hand, but of the dagger thrust into one’s side. The Palestinian cannot-no, dare not-forget it, not if he wishes to stay alive at any rate. For if he fails to remember that his home may come crashing over his head at the whim of a bulldozer, that his crops may burn at the arrival of a settler, that his life may be ended at the command of a soldier, he is all but finished.
But this dreadful awareness has already become almost automatic, reflexive: over fifty years of perpetual terror have permanently tensed his muscles in preparation for the all-too-familiar sound of the tank treads, the fighter jet, the impending explosion. He is accustomed to the never-ending series of strangling blockades, checkpoints, beatings, and fleeing. The Israeli colonizer has seen to these tasks meticulously. So far, nothing seems remarkable. And then suddenly, the oppressive silence. Silence over the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages. Silence over the forced removal of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Silence over the mass killings, the tortures, the suffocation, growing and intensifying over a period of over a half-century. In a word, silence over Palestinian suffering. But then-cup your ear-one can soon hear faint murmurs, then clear voices, and finally a loud chorus: it is not as expected. “Terrorists! Murderers! Savages! Inhuman beasts!”, cries the inflamed audience, pointing squarely at the long-suffering, dispossessed native. A sole, feeble voice inquires timidly, “What of the greater power, the settler, the colonizer, the occupier?” As his voice quivers and trails off the answer arrives like thunder: “Israel is defending itself! Defending civilization! Defending democracy! Surrounded by barbarians and irrational hatred!” Reality and truth have been stood on their respective heads, and hatred is pleased to have its feet set firmly on terra firma.
The complete castration of history has gone hand in hand with the utter negation of Palestinian existence, not to speak of Palestinian suffering. What has accompanied the robbery of the native is the denial that it ever took place, or better yet, the denial that the native even exists. And when this fails, it is admitted that robbery has indeed taken place-with the Palestinian as the culprit. Here we no longer have robbery but rape: the total dehumanization and degradation of an entire people, their history, experience, and story of suffering slandered and maligned. This is more than confiscation of property, land, or home; it is the confiscation of the dignity and humanity of the chief victims of modern colonialism. Let us see then, in its entirety, the false framework in which the Palestinians have been framed up, and burst it open at the seams.
Origins of Israel Civilization had an odd way of emerging in the Middle East (and by civilization, what else could I mean but Israel?). Prior to 1948, there was no Israel. Since the 7th century, which marked the ascendance of Islam in the Middle East, the land later to be called British-mandated Palestine was inhabited mostly by Muslim Arabs. Israeli “new historian” Benny Morris, in his book Righteous Victims, puts population figures in the region by 1881 as 400,000 Muslim, 42,000 Christian, and 13,000 to 20,000 Jews-“a numerically insignificant minority”. Yet the foundations for the Jewish state were to be forged not from this minority, but from European Jews under the movement of Zionism.
A reaction to European anti-Semitism, Zionism was founded by Theodore Herzl in the late 19th century, who advocated the creation of a Jewish state because as he explains, “I achieved a freer attitude towards anti-Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardonI realized the emptiness and futility of trying to ‘combat’ anti-Semitism”. Herzl had considered settling in a number of undeveloped countries, but the Zionists decided on Palestine, to set up “a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism”. Noting the existence of natives in 1891, early Zionist Ahad Ha’am wrote, “We abroad are used to believing that Eretz Yisrael is now almost totally desolate, a desert that is not sowedBut in truth this is not the case. Throughout the country it is difficult to find fields that are not sowed.” Herzl approached the problem of the native in terms of “spirit[ing] the penniless population across the border” through the “process of expropriation and removal of the poor”. The settlers viewed the native, Morris writes, as “primitive, dishonest, fatalistic, lazy, savage.” They were no doubt furious at the Arab, who must have risen from the sand spontaneously and queued up for the sole purpose of denying the settler-living in Europe for the past two millennia-of his “homeland”. And what of the indigenous Jew, living in Palestine alongside the Arab? He was not only unimpressed with Zionism, but opposed it. Nevertheless, Ha’am saw among the settlers “an inclination to despotism,” lamenting, “They treat the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, deprive them of their rights, offend them without cause, and even boast of these deeds” Civilization had arrived.
Creating a Jewish state where there were only Arabs posed a unique problem. Israeli scholar Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi admits that “the basic problem of Zionism in Palestine was to dispossess the natives and become the majority.” In 1925, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Zionist and avid admirer of Il Duce, announced, “Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population.” In 1937 Joseph Weitz, heading the Jewish National Fund spoke of “the transfer of the Arab population” to both “diminish” it and “release [the land] for the Jewish immigrants.” And by 1938, Ben-Gurion himself made clear in private: “I support compulsory transferI don’t see anything immoral in it.” A splendid assessment.
In 1947 the United Nations proposed a “partition plan” to create a Jewish state within British-mandated Palestine. The Jewish settlers would carve out a home in an inhabited foreign land. Better still, the plan offered the colonial population, which accounted for 37% of Palestine and legally owned only 7% of the land, a full 55% of the nation’s territory. These figures have been affirmed by Israel’s “new historians”. Thus the Palestinian Arabs were to kindly slice themselves in half for the betterment of the settlers. A moral authority no less than Ghandi opposed the creation of the Jewish state: “What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct… I am not defending the Arab excesses But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.”
Naturally, the partition plan caused much despair and anxiety-among the Zionists. Avi Shlaim, another Israeli “new historian”, wrote of Ben-Gurion’s real designs in The Iron Wall: “he worked on the assumption that this state would be not the end but only the beginning.”(emphasis added) Meanwhile Menachem Begin, then commander of Irgun militia, warned, “The partition of Palestine is illegalEretz Israel will be restored [!] to the people of Israel. All of it. And for ever.” We will presently see where this madness led.
The inevitable antagonism between the settler and the native had reached its peak: the existence of the Zionist depended directly on the non-existence of the Palestinian. No one can really doubt this, least of all Ben-Gurion, who declared that “who ever approaches the Zionist problem from a moral aspect is not a Zionist.” The destruction of the native by the colonizer and the confiscation of his land and property, defended always by racist and religious rhetoric, never depends on a “moral” aspect, but a military one.
Shortly after the announcement of the partition plan in 1947, the Jewish militia forces initiated an aggressive campaign against the Palestinians, first on the Israeli and then the Arab side of the partition. Listen carefully: “I maintain that even before the establishment of the State, each battle ended with a massacre. In all Israel’s wars massacres were committed but I have no doubt that the War of Independence was the dirtiest of them all.”1 Who is speaking? Israeli military historian Uri Milstein.
Forcible expulsions occurred in dozens of villages in this period. Israeli scholar Simha Flapan, in addition to Morris and others, have compiled a partial list of villages purged, plundered, and looted, among them Qisariya, al-Rama, Danna, and Najd, all months before Israeli independence. Psychological warfare was a key feature of this process, involving false propaganda and wails sounded off from militia loudspeakers in Palestinian villages. Not to be outdone by the rank and file, key Zionist leaders generously pitched in for the “struggle” against, or rather the strangling of, the Palestinians. Ben-Gurion apparently had a fondness for economic strangulation, boasting, “Deprived of transportation, food, and raw materialsthe [Arab] urban communities underwent a process of disintegration, chaos, and hunger.”-and cited this as a “strategic objective” of Jewish militia. The most effective form of-are we permitted to say it?-Jewish terror, still before independence, was massacre. On April 9, 1948 in the village of Deir Yassin, Jewish militia groups massacred 254 Palestinians, “in cold blood” according to the presiding Red Cross official, Jacques de Reynier. A British official on the scene, Richard Catling, noted that “Many young school girls were raped and later slaughtered. Many infants were also butchered and killed.” Reynier later remarked the scene reminded him of the German SS. Menachem Begin, head of the militia, also had a description ready: “a splendid act of conquest”. Thus the Palestinian exodus was initiated before Israel’s establishment and before Arab military intervention, which was prevented by the British until May 14, 1948.2
Listen once again: “The time has come to face the ocean of lies in which we were brought up. In almost every conquered village in the War of Independence, acts were committed, which are defined as war crimes, such as indiscriminate killings, massacres and rapes”3 That is Israeli military historian Aryeh Yitzakhi, Senior Lecturer at Bar Ilan University and the IDF. He explains the fairy-tale of Palestinians leaving ‘on Arab orders’ as “an absolute fabrication”, and that after the declaration of Israel on May 14, 1948, “a smell of massacre” emanated from the clashes. British-radio interceptions during the war only found Arab leaders advising the Palestinians to stay. But the terror tactics of the colonizers-no longer Jewish terror to be sure, but after May 1948 official Israeli terror-made this impossible. One example is the forced evacuation of 50,000 civilians from Lydda and Ramle in July, during which many of the refugees died from the oppressive heat-but not to worry. Fortunately, the Israelis had already looted them of all their possessions beforehand, as reported in the British Economist on August 21, 1948. This is but one episode in a series of such actions, resulting in the ultimate forced removal of over 800,000 Palestinian civilians. None of them would return. More massacres from this period are being unearthed even now. John Pilger in June 19th edition of The New Statesman reported that top Israeli student Teddy Katz from Haifa University has shed light on a May 1948 massacre in Tantura: “According to the recorded testimony of 40 witnesses, both Arab and Jewish, half the civilians were shot in a ‘rampage’.” In a most democratic manner, he had his degree annulled. Another “new historian”, Ilan Pappe, who came to Katz’s defense and explained that his taping of eyewitness evidence included accounts of “the killing of fathers in front of children, of rape and torture”, is also under administrative threat at Haifa. One can at least congratulate the Israelis for their consistency; today, almost half its citizens support the idea of “transfer”.
One salient feature of the Zionist campaign was the wide-scale plundering and looting conducted by the world’s most ‘moral’ army. Israeli journalist and historian Tom Segev gives this due attention in his book 1949, The First Israelis. He notes that during and after the war “plundering and looting were very common”, citing Ben-Gurion who said “the mass robbery in which all portions of the population participated” had “surprised him bitterly.” Behor Shitrin, of the Ministerial Committee for Abandoned Property, reported “From Lydda alone, the army took out 1,800 truck-loads of property.” Let us recall that the entire community of this village had been forced out by the army. And let us further note that, as Ilan Pappe had explained to Pilger, over four hundred Palestinian villages and hundreds of urban areas were destroyed by Jewish-Israeli terror. Thus the amount of looting and theft, not to speak of land confiscation, of almost one million Palestinians across perhaps a half-thousand residencies can only expose, once again and once and for all, the utter barbarity and savagery not of the natives, not of the victims-but of the rapacious colonizers. Of course, not all the colonizers were heartless: we can take comfort in the touching words of one Israeli Minister Cizling, cited by Segev, speaking when asked about a convoy of spoils: It’s been said that there were cases of rape in Ramallah. I can forgive rape, but I will not forgive other acts which seem to me much worse. When they enter a town and forcibly remove rings from the fingers and jewelry from someone’s neck, that’s a very grave matter.
Has Western civilization ever before witnessed so brave a defender of human rights?
The time for half-apologies, timidity, and a thousand caveats on question of Israel’s creation must come to an end. The historical record, unearthed by Jewish Israeli historians using declassified archives is decisive and damning. Let us sum up the result: the State of Israel has was established through ethnic cleansing, rape, robbery, and massacre-without these atrocities, present-day Israel would not exist. The mass expulsions, mass murders, and mass looting form the foundation upon which the Israeli state rests.
How well do the fantasies and canards conjured up by those who deny the basis of the Palestinian tragedy stand, or rather limp, when exposed to the glare of history? Self-defense does not even enter into the equation: the Zionist descended upon the Palestinian from a foreign continent and expropriated him. What was defended was the settler’s crimes, conquests, and advances, but what does this brand of ‘defense’ most resemble? Only the rationalization of the robber who, in the process of stealing from one’s home, brandishes a gun to ensure the victim cannot resist. Surely, the robber is defending himself, and this is self-defense, with the ever-so-minor qualification that the “self” is the aggressor. If it can be proved that the Palestinians settled another people’s land, drew up designs to confiscate it, set up terrorist militias, and committed massive war crimes-in short, if it can be proven that the Palestinians were Israelis-then the self-defense claim rings true. Then of course there is the question of being “surrounded” by Arabs. The proponent of this position may forgive us for prefacing our response with a chuckle: when the Zionists of 1900, as members of the European community for 2,000 years, decided to settle Palestine, never mind “spirit the penniless population”, they were well aware that it was Arab land. Only a man who swims halfway across the Atlantic, settles upon a tiny island, and then complains he is “surrounded” by water could sympathize with the colonizer on this point.
The claim that Moses granted the land to the Jews is made not on the rational but the religious plane. One strains to understand the 2,000 year delay for this remarkable land deal, and is further flustered upon finding that the Bible has not appointed prophets for the purpose of becoming real-estate salesman. Putting forth the argument that Jews “have always been there” is equally irrational. The small number of Jews who were living alongside the Arabs never invented, and in fact opposed, Zionism, which was created by Europeans and holds all the trappings of European colonialist enterprises. If everyone ‘returned’ to where one’s supposed ancestors lived millennia ago, American whites would ship themselves back to Europe, and American blacks would set sail for Africa. One can imagine the bemused smile forming on the face of the Native American at this prospect.
The simple truth is that rational argument has nothing to do with the defense of Israel’s origins, for it is not the power of logic, but the logic of power which plays the decisive role in colonialist ventures. Thus it is with the utmost confidence that Zionist leaders have attempted to sound the death knell of the Palestinian people. Ben-Gurion said after the war, “we have accomplished our settlement by transfer of the [Palestinian] population” and “[their] old will die and the young will forget”; his special advisor Uri Lubrani gloated in 1960, “We shall reduce the Arab population to a community of woodcutters and waitresses.” A decade later Israeli war hero Moshe Dayan told the Palestinians, “we have no solution, you shall continue to live like dogs.” We can even quote Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizman, who declared that the problem of “several hundred thousand Negroes” in and around Israel “is a matter of no consequence”. Indeed, it would seem that all has been said and discovered, that our examination has come to a sorrowful conclusion, and we are left only to hang our heads.
But it turns out these fine gentlemen were wrong. The “Palestinian population” has swelled to over four million, and far from having “forgotten” anything the young have achieved a level of anger and militancy matched only by their numbers. The (Palestinian) Arab population has not been “reduced” but has instead exploded and forged among its numbers the most resilient and resolute men and women of the modern era; the Israelis indeed “have no solution”, but the Palestinian masses have prepared one for themselves, that is, constant struggle, defiance, and guerrilla warfare. Weizmann’s ‘Palestinian Negroes’ are not only “a matter of consequence” for Israel but carry with them all the permanent scars and lashes he and his fellow henchmen have inflicted upon them, and “consequently” will never rest without attaining the dignity and freedom of which they have long been deprived. While the Zionist has stripped the native of his land and property, he cannot rob him of his memory-and that is a most dangerous truth. The words of Sartre which preface The Wretched of the Earth, written by Marxist revolutionary and fighter of French colonialism Frantz Fanon, are most appropriate in describing the problem presently faced by the Zionist:
this imperious being, crazed by his absolute power and by the fear of losing it, no longer remembers clearly that he was once a man; he takes himself for a horsewhip or a gun; he has come to believe that the domestication of the ‘inferior races’ will come about by the conditioning of their reflexes. But in this he leaves out of account the human memory and the ineffaceable marks left upon it; and then, above all there is something which perhaps he has never owned: we only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made of us. (emphasis added)
In essence, the modern-day Palestinian, having suffered under thirty-five years of military occupation, remembers his past because it sheds light upon the present, and seeks to emancipate himself from the present in order to avenge his past. Thus it is in our interest to examine the reality of Palestinian life of the past few decades-that is, after the 1967 war, under Israeli military rule-to draw the necessary lessons, and dismantle the myths surrounding the current period.
M. Junaid Alam’s Raping the Palesitians is continued in Part Two: the Brutalities of Colonial Occupation.
M. Junaid Alam is an undergraduate in political science at Northeastern University. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org