Friday, November 16, 2007

" 'Israel' was actually created on land nicked from Palestine 60 years ago..."

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"1948 and all that"


November 16, 2007

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WHY is Al-Ein refugee camp, the subject of my post-before-last, also called the rather Orwellian “Camp Number One”? Simply, because it was the first refugee camp set up in Nablus to shelter Palestinians driven from their homes in the Nakba.

Never heard of the Nakba? Unfortunately, neither have most British people. “Nakba” means “catastrophe” or “disaster” in Arabic. And for something like three-quarters of a million Palestinians and their descendants, it means the tragedy visited upon them when the State of Israel was formed.

Wilshire’s responsed to my post-before-last was: “Everyone knows the Palestinians are suffering, but that in itself doesn't mean much. It sheds no light on the nature of the conflict, how it began, and who started it.

“Palestine has never accepted the existence of Israel, has hated them and been responsible for terrorist violence for over 50 years. They've had more than long enough to understand that Israel has a right to exist, will exist, and they need to stop their hatred OR THEY WILL CONTINUE TO SUFFER.”

Now, if you stopped a dozen people in the street in Britain and asked them who (or what) the Palestinians are, they probably wouldn’t have a clue, and if they did, they’d probably say they are the terrorists who want to steal land from Israel.

What only a shockingly small number of people in Britain realise is that “Israel” was actually created on land nicked from Palestine 60 years ago (left, there's a pic of a coin issued by the Brits in 1942), and that at the time at least 80 per cent of the people who lived there were Muslim Arabs.

Sure, Jews did live there once, but virtually all of them had left by the end of the Roman Empire (of course it was part of the Roman Empire – remember all the stories about Jesus!) – ie almost 2,000 years ago…

In fact, until the mass influx of Jews started in the mid-20th century, almost everyone who lived on that little piece of the planet between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean was Arab, and Islam was far and away the majority religion there, and had been since something like the 8th Century AD. (Who did the [Christian] Crusaders fight for control of Jerusalem and other holy places? Muslims, of course!)

In the 16th century or so, “Palestine” – and the area round it – became part of the (Turkish) Ottoman Empire, and remained so until the end of World War I, when the Ottomans, who had allied with Germany, were defeated.

During the last 50 or so years of Ottoman control, a few Jews, inspired by the “Zionism” movement, which was about reclaiming the Promised Land for the Jews, started to arrive in Palestine.

In 1900 (according to the most reliable figures available), Palestine was home to around 600,000 people, of whom 87 per cent (522,000) were Muslim; 10 per cent (60,000) Christian and 3 per cent (18,000) Jewish.

Now you could argue that with such a small general population there was plenty of room for new (Jewish) arrivals, but, well, the whole aim of Zionism was to create a Jewish homeland, for Jewish people. Look at the resentment native British people are expressing right now towards recent immigrants/migrant workers from Eastern Europe because “they’re taking over our country/it’s no longer what it used to be etc etc etc”. And these immigrants are from nations predominantly “like us” – ie white and nominally Christian. And who could blame the Palestinians/Arabs for getting a little edgy, given the rate at which Jews were arriving in “Palestine”: by 1917, for example, the proportion of the population that was Jewish had risen to 10 per cent.

Britain didn’t behave exactly creditably: during World War I, the Government promised the Arabs/Palestinians that if they supported the allies against the Turks (and Germany) and the allies won, they would receive their independence. And guess what the Brits promised the Jews of Palestine for their support in the war effort? Yep, a homeland of their own; a pledge committed to paper in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, although it’s likely that Britain never intended that the whole of Palestine be given to the Zionists.

At the end of the war Palestine was put under British control – the “British Mandate”. Jewish immigration, of course, continued, and by the 1921 census Jews had overtaken Christians as the biggest minority. The population had increased to 750,000, of whom 78 per cent (or 585,000 people) were Muslims; 11 per cent (82,500) Jews and 9.6 per cent (72,000) Christians.

It’s possible that some of the Jews arriving in Palestine weren’t immigrating for religious reasons – reclaiming their promised land and all that – but because they were fleeing hassle in Europe (the Russian pogroms, for example). However, that didn’t make things any easier for the Palestinians to handle, especially after they’d heard David Ben Gurion, who 30 years later became the first Prime Minister of Israel, tell a meeting of the governing body of the Jewish Yishuv in 1919: “We as a nation, want this country to be ours...." At least Ben Gurion was open about what the Jews wanted and didn’t try to hide behind talk of integration and tolerance or whatever…

And relations could only get worse in the 1930s, when there was an influx of European Jews who were fleeing from the Nazis.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in 1936, the Arabs revolted, attacking British and Jewish targets. But Jewish groups too attacked and bombed Palestinian/Arab civilians, and Jewish groups such as the Stern, Irgun and Haganah, angry at British restrictions on Jewish imigration, attacked British targets too. This plaque (pictured right) is typical of ones placed throughout Jerusalem by the Israeli authorities. What’s that saying about “One man’s terrorist…”?

Although a 1937 plan to partition Palestine into an Arab/Palestinian zone and a Jewish one had been rejected by both sides, in 1947, the UN recommended partition. Under the plan, a considerable amount of land was allocated to the Jews/Zionists, even though they owned just eight per cent of the land there. Sure, the Palestinians/Arabs would get important bits, such as Nazareth and Hebron (Jerusalem and Bethlehem would be in an internationally-administered ‘corpus separatum’) but the Zionists would still get a massive amount of land, including the port city of Haifa and the Negev desert, where the Bedouin Arabs lived.

The Brits said they would leave Palestine in May 1948, and in the months between the partition plan announcement and the British departure, fighting between the two sides escalated. Arab/Palestinian groups attacked Jewish communitities, and Jewish groups attacked Palestinian/Arab communities.

As the Brits left the Zionists declared the State of Israel, pretty much provoking the surrounding Arab nations to invade. Don’t ask me what their motives were: supporting their Arab brothers and sisters in Palestine? Fear that the Zionists might push for more than just Palestine?

If they were motivated by a desire to drive the Jews/Zionists out of Palestine, I guess you could say they took a gamble and it failed, and the Palestinians have been paying the price for that gamble to this day. As you can see from the map (left) the Jews/Zionists won a considerable amount of the land allocated to Palestine in the 1947 plan, and they behaved ruthlesslessly towards the Palestinians, not just in those areas, but throughout the lands allocated to “Israel”.

Take the Israeli town of Lod, near Tel Aviv. Before the Nakba, it was a Palestinian Arab town known as Lydda. It’s important to Christians, particulalrly English Christians, as it’s where St George is supposed to be buried.

Here’s Israeli historian Ilan Pappe’s account (from his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine) of what happened in Lydda in July 1948:

“On 10 July 1948 David Ben-Gurion appointed Yigal Allon as the comander of the attack and Yitzhak Rabin as his second in command. Allon ordered al-Lydda to be bombarded from the air, the first city to be in this way. This was followed by a direct attack on the city's centre, caused all the remaining ALA volunteers to leave: some had fled their positions earlier on learning that the Jordanian Legion units, stationed near city, had been instructed by their British chief, Glubb Pasha, to withdraw. As both Lydd and Ramla were clearly within the designated Arab state, the residents and the defendants had assumed that the Legion would resist the Israeli occupation by force.

“Deserted by both the volunteers and the Legionaries, the men of Lydda, armed with some old rifles, took shelter in the Dahamish Mosque in the city centre [pictured below right]. After a few hours of fighting they surrendered, only to be massacred inside the mosque by the Israeli forces. Palestinian sources recount that in the mosque and in the streets nearby, where the Jewish troops went on yet another rampage of murder and pillage, 426 men, women and children were killed (176 bodies were found in the mosque). The following day, 14 July, the Jewish soldiers went from house to house taking the people outside and marching about 50,000 of them out of the city towards the West Bank (more than half of them were already refugees from nearby villages) .”

(Dr Pappe worked at the University of Haifa, until he decided he could no longer work in Israel and moved to the University of Exeter.)

The people who hadn’t already fled from Lydda were forced out by the Israeli soldiers, acting on the orders of Lieutenant Colonel Yitzhak Rabin: “The residents of Lydda must be expelled quickly without attention to age," he said. Rabin, of course, later became Prime Minister, and became almost an international hero after being assassinated in 1995 (by an Israeli Jew).

Audeh Rantisi was 11 years old when he was driven from Lydda. In his book Blessed are the Peacemakers: The Story of a Palestinian Christian, he recalled:

“Outside the gate the soldiers stopped us and ordered everyone to throw all valuables onto a blanket. One young man and his wife of six weeks, friends of our family, stood near me. He refused to give up his money. Almost casually, the soldier pulled up his rifle and shot the man. He fell, bleeding and dying while his bride screamed and cried...

“After more than four decades I still bear the emotional scars of the Zionist invasion. Yet, as an adult, I see what I did not fully understand then: that the Jews are also human beings, themselves driven by fear, victims of history's worst outrages, rabidly, sometimes almost mindlessly searching for security. Lamentably, they have victimized my people.”

And in an interesting example of how times change, here is the British Commander of Jordan’s Arab Legion, General John Glubb’s account of the sacking of Lydda in his book A Soldier with the Arabs:

“No sooner were the enemy in the towns [Lydda and Ramle] than they set about an intensive house-to-house search, all men of military age being arrested and removed to concentration camps. Then Israeli vans fitted with loudspeakers drove through the streets, ordering all the remaining inhabitants to leave within half an hour...Suffice it to say that houses were broken into and women sufficiently roughly handled to give point to the warning to be clear of the town in that time.

“Perhaps thirty thousand people or more, almost entirely women and children, snatched up what they could and fled from their homes across the open fields. The Israeli forces not only arrested men of military age, they also commandeered all means of transport. It was a blazing day in July in the coastal plains — the temperature about a hundred degrees in the shade. It was ten miles across open hilly country, much of it ploughed, part of it stony fallow covered with thorn bushes, to the nearest Arab village at Beit Sira. Nobody will ever know how many children died…

“It is true of course that the persecuted Jews of Europe suffered far worse tortures, but these were not inflicted upon them by the Arabs of Palestine. One would have hoped that people who had suffered as much anguish as have the Jews would have sworn never to inflict on others the tortures which they themselves had endured. The Arab Legion endeavoured to fight the Israeli army but not to injure civilians. Perhaps nowadays such standards are obsolete.”

Now for an Israeli historian other than Ilan Pappe’s take on events – extracts from In '48 Israel Did What It Had to Do, by Benny Morris published in the Los Angeles Times (26 January 2004):

“On July 12, 1948, Israeli soldiers battling the Arab Legion and local irregulars in the towns of Lydda and Ramle, just south of Tel Aviv, were ordered to empty the two towns of their Arab residents. Over two days, between 50,000 and 60,000 inhabitants were driven from their homes. Many were forced to walk eastward to the Arab Legion lines; others were carried in trucks or buses. Clogging the roads, tens of thousands of refugees marched, shedding their possessions along the way.

“The expulsions, conducted under orders from then-Lt. Col. Yitzhak Rabin, were an element of the partial ethnic cleansing that rid Israel of the majority of its Arab inhabitants at the very moment of its birth. Earlier, in the 1930s and 1940s, a near consensus had emerged among Zionist leaders on the necessity of "transfer." They believed that it was critical to buy out or drive out the Arab inhabitants from the areas destined for Jewish statehood, both to make way for Jewish immigrants and to remove the Arabs who opposed, often violently, the establishment of such a state.

“... one way or another, transfer was accomplished; 700,000 Palestinians left the country, and the refugee problem that has haunted Israel ever since was born.

“...Had the belligerent Arab population inhabiting the areas destined for Jewish statehood not been uprooted, no Jewish state would have arisen, or it would have emerged so demographically and politically hobbled that it could not have survived. It was an ugly business. Such is history.

“Israel's decision was not unprecedented, nor was it necessarily immoral... Had most Palestinians not left the country, there would be no Israel today.”

The UN estimated that around 700,000 people were made refugees by the Nakba. Some fled abroad, to surrounding countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, or further afield, or became internally displaced, ending up in refugee camps in the bits of Palestine not in Israeli hands, such as Al-Ein/Camp Number One.

Bearing in mind how the camps – such as Al Ein – came into being, is it any wonder they are where resistance to the occupation (which started in 1967) is strongest?

In December 1948, the United Nations passed General Resolution 194, which:

Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.

Although some of the older refugees still have the keys to their former homes, in the hope that one day they will be able to return to them, as one Nabulsi – whose family fled Jaffa – told me, most Palestinians have given up hope of returning to their ancestral lands. Now, they just want the Israelis to recognise that the creation of their state cost so many Palestinians their homes, and to pay them compensation for that. Yeah, you can say it all happened so long ago that they Palestinians should have got over it by now, but if Germany is still paying reparations to Israel for the Jewish Holocaust ( ) why shouldn’t the Palestinians expect compensation from Israel?

As for whether or not Mohammed Ahmed Missemy voted for Hamas (as Wilshire asked), well, I don’t know. What I do know is that people voted for Hamas in 2006 for many different reasons: the social welfare programmes, for example (they donate food to students and it was the Hamas government that instituted the two-day weekend – previously people had just one day – Friday – off); because they were fed up of the corruption in Fatah; because they felt Fatah wasn’t doing enough – politically – to end the occupation; disappointment over the progress (or complete lack of it) made towards the establishment of a Palestinian state following the 1993 Oslo accords.

Oh, and just for the record, here’s what Ilan Pappe had to say about Hamas earlier this year:

"I support Hamas in its resistance against the Israeli occupation, though I disagree with their political ideology. I am for separating state from religion. Any state that perpetrates occupation cannot be called a democratic state." (Interview with Qatar newspaper The Peninsular, quoted in Controversial historian to quit Israel for UK by Jonny Paul, Jerusalem Post, Apr 2, 2007.)

One thing that really pisses me – and many other people who have seen what is happening in the oPt – off is the way the Israelis – (before “The Situation”) banged on about not being able to negotiate with Hamas because they refused to renouce terrorism and recognise Israel’s right to exist.

But Hamas has committed itself to adhering to all previously-made agreements, and seeing as those agreements have been made with the state of Israel, Hamas has, in effect, tacitly accepted the existence of Israel.

And why does no one challenge Israel about what it’s doing to undermine the chances for peace, such as allowing the expansion of the settlements. (It’s also worth bearing in mind that according to some Jewish Israeli observers, the Israeli authorities don’t want peace because the longer the conflict continues, the more time they have to do stuff like consolidate the network of settlements.)

In Britain my friend’s dad, a scientist used to researching and assessing the value of information, and not known for his espousal of “wishy-washy, liberal” causes, once described what happened to the Palestinians as: “One of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century”. The really sad thing is that so little of the international community is prepared to recognise that today, and/or to try to do anything to rectify it.

Thanks to for most of the published quotes used here.