The Uprooting of A Nation: An Immoral Endeavor

Ilan Pappe’s incisive book [1] is not an easy reading for anyone who cares about the plight of the Palestinians or for those who strongly believe that Israel is an inspirational democracy whose army is based on the "purity of weapons" ethos.

In his book – The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine – Pappe meticulously peels off the layers of the myth surrounding Israel’s "war of independence" whereby a small nascent nation courageously repelled an attack by a well -equipped and well -coordinated enemy force from seven hostile Arab counties whose aim was to drive Israel out onto the sea . In dissecting this myth Ilan Pappe sets out the main theme of his book , that is, the pre-meditated expulsion of the Palestinians from the land of Israel. He develops the main paradigm by an ingenious multi-dimensional discourse whose framework skillfully draws on the the legal and official definitions of "ethnic cleansing" and the way they apply to modern time examples such as former Yugoslavia. Into this framework Pappe incorporates his main narrative in the way it had been documented and told by both perpetrators and victims – using recently declassified material from official Israeli sources, eyewitness testimonies and interviews, memoirs and diaries of Zionist leaders as well as UN documents, and British mandatory sources. Fused into the central narrative are Pappe’s own observations whose compassionate and lyrical style helps readers perceive history as if it has being unraveled in front of their very eyes.

I was part of this chronicle of events – witnessing the Palestinians’ Nakba (catastrophe) through the eyes of a child. Reading Ilan Pappe’s book helped me assemble some of the jigsaw pieces, which eluded me throughout my life. The Red House I visited in my youth – where " a group of eleven men, veteran Zionist leaders together with young military Jewish, put the final touch to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine" – has become later the headquarter of the Kibbutzim movement in which both my parents have been working in the 50s. Were they aware of this conceived plan ? I could not tell. They never mentioned it to me. Nor did they ever refer to this plan in their wide-ranging written polemic about the ideology and aims of the Kibbutzim movement and Zionist socialism.

The code-named Plan D , which was hatched in the Red House in the early 1948 dictated methods for a systematic eviction of the Palestinians from vast areas of the country. They included " large scale intimidation; laying siege to and bombarding villages and population centres; setting fire to homes, properties, and goods; expulsions, demolition and finally planting mines in the rubble to prevent any of the expelled inhabitants from returning". Pappe argues cogently that Plan D was an inevitable product of the Zionist ideology of having an exclusive Jewish presence in Palestine. According to Pappe both the Israeli and the Palestinian narratives ignored the concept of ethnic cleansing. While the Zionist version claimed that the local population left "voluntarily" the Palestinian version refers to the magnitude of the Nakba rather than to its causes and perpetrators. Drawing on archive documents Pappe’s maintains that it was Ben Gurion – the designated Prime Minister of Israel – who in 1947 told his associates to "simultaneously accept and ignore the UN Partition Resolution of 29 November 1947. The categorical rejection of the scheme by the Arab Governments and Palestinian leadership made it easier for Ben Gurion to assume that he could both accept the plan and work against it. Already in October 1947 Ben Gurion made it clear that" if the map of the partition plan were not satisfactory the Jewish state would not be obliged to accept it ". In reality, "the Jewish leadership anticipated their future state to stretch over eighty percent of Mandatory Palestine: the fifty-six percent promised to the Jews by the UN with an additional twenty-four percent taken from the Arab state the UN had allocated to the Palestinians”. While ethnic cleansing started as sporadic assaults in December 1947 coercive expulsion became an accepted practice as from February 1948. By the end of April about 250,000 Palestinians were ousted from their homeland.

This period , which preceded the fully-pledged Israeli-Arab war, has been part of my childhood memories . The battle surrounding my own Kibbutz raged on for four days in mid- April 1948 ending in a complete destruction of the two neighbouring Palestinian villages and the forced expulsion of their inhabitants. Pappe’s account of the battle reinforces my own recollections of the fighting which took place between the Jewish troops of the Hagana, and a Druze unit whose soldiers pledged allegiance to the Jewish forces soon after the fighting. The full-scale war between the Israeli troops and Arab Liberation Army (ALA) waged in earnest when the British Mandate ended on 15 May 1948 and the Arab league decided to intervene in order to protect the indigenous Palestinian population under the newly-created State of Israel. Pappe’s graphic account of the war credibly demolishes the David v Goliath ethos – according to which a small number of ill-equipped Jewish troops were facing the threat of a mighty enemy superior in number and weaponry. In reality, the war involved a confrontation between well -equipped and strategically coordinated Israeli troops and an assortment of Arab forces that lack central command, proper military training and equipment, as well as well strategic planning. Although in Jerusalem and its surroundings, the Jordanian’s Arab Legion put up a fierce resistance, on the whole, the strategically coordinated campaign conducted by the Israeli troops readily overpowered the scattered and disintegrated units of the Arab Liberation Army (ALA).

Israel’s military victory was accomplished by implementing the Zionist mission of driving the local Palestinian population out of the land of Israel. The inhuman methods employed by the victorious army included blatant intimidation, indiscriminate killings, summary executions, homes demolitions, and a rampant offensive of looting and destruction – resulting in the expulsion of nearly 800,000 Palestinians, the destruction of 531 villages and the evacuation of Palestinian communities from 11 urban centres.

The horrific tale of the Nakba has been mapped out before by a number of Israel’s "new historians”. Yet, the unique strength of Ilan Pappe is that he treats his subject matter as a living and evolving history rather than a historic event of the past. He manifests lucidly that the ethnic cleansing of Palestine is an ongoing act of denial undertaken by a deliberate "memorized of the Nakba" through total eradication of any existing signs of once thriving Palestinian villages and a flourishing tradition.

This evidence-driven assertion is, however, viewed somewhat differently by one of the Israel "new historians" – Baruch Kimmerling – who claims that "most of Israel non combatants and even soldiers implementing the ethnic cleansing policy were not necessarily aware of the consequences of their deeds" (B. kimmerling – Politicide , verso 2003). Kimmerling, as an example, a story by the Israeli novelist Yizhar Smilansky describing the internal conflict of a young Israeli soldier who was ordered to deport the inhabitants of entire Arab village. Yet, in spite of his internal doubts the young soldier, depicted by Smilansky, happily imagined the beautiful kibbutz, which would be established on the confiscated land.

The Israeli Palestinian/Arab communities who by chance, or sheer defiance, managed to survive are regarded, in the words of the Israeli writer David Grossman, as "those who are here but practically not here" – a group with no public face and independent entity lacking any collective past and present. Many thousands of those Palestinian citizens of the Israeli state are, in practice, internal refugees who are deprived of their rights to reclaim their land, houses and properties and are regarded by the Israeli state as "present absentees"(David Grossman- Present Absentees, Hebrew, 1992). In the same vein, Jonathan Cook – a British journalist who lives in Nazareth – draws parallels between the segregation wall which surrounds the Palestinians in the West Bank and the "glass wall" inside the Israeli society that separates Palestinian citizens from the institutes of power and affluence of the country. Cook argues that the failure of the Israeli society to come to terms with the fact that about 20 percent of the population are Palestinians resulted in endemic racism and avoidance of devising a state constitution ( “Blood and Religion,” [2] Pluto Press, 2006). Unsurprisingly, a recent Israeli polls, found that 68% of the sampled Israeli Jewish population wished for the Israeli Arabs to be transferred (Ha’aretz – 6 May 2006). Similarly, some of the ultra-right members of the Government publicly call for a "voluntary transfer" of the Israeli "Arabs" to the occupied West Bank – where the 1948 Palestinian refugees and their families have been besieged in poverty-stricken refugee camps surrounded by hundreds of checkpoints and an unlawful segregation wall which deprives them of their free movement and basic human rights.

Israel has never been forced to comply with UN resolution 194 (December 1948) which called for an unconditional repatriation of the Palestinian refugees. Successive Israeli governments passed laws and took administrative measures to ensure that the 1948 refugees and their descendants will never have the opportunity to return to their homeland and reclaim their expropriated land leased by the Israeli Land Authority to kibbutzim, villages and new development towns for Jewish immigrants.

Being born in a Kibbutz which prospered on confiscated Palestinian land I carry with me the legacy of the Nakba and the sense of injustice that drives me to campaign for an independent Palestinian state and for a restoration of the Palestinians refugee rights in accordance with UN Resolution 194.

I wish that Ilan Pappe’s book would become part of Israel’s school curriculum helping future generations to comprehend the true heritage of their land and the magnitude of the inhuman "catastrophe" which preceded the establishment of the State of Israel. This alone will not resolve the entrenched conflict but it will open the way for a greater understanding between the two sides and help dispel some of the myths perpetuated by Israel’s historiography and taken as given by the international community.


[1]. "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine"
by Ilan Pappe

[2]. "Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State"
by Jonathan Cook