Palestine's ethnic cleansing

Image: Leon Ferrari


Commentary on the book by Ilan Pappé

There are books that are difficult to read. Sometimes we get stuck in the face of far-fetched concepts or formulations. There are also other types of difficulties. We stopped reading to get some air, to give our thoughts time to connect with the narrative of terrible, devastating historical experiences. We are placed before the precipice of what we call “humanity”.

Crimes against humanity take us out of our comfortable place and make us think about the very meanings that criminals give to “human”. It was the dropper that I read The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by Israeli historian Ilan Pappé. On each page the author introduces us to the horrors committed by the Zionists to expel Palestinians from their lands so that they could found a Jewish state.

On the two trips I made to Palestine I saw fragments. I got to know a considerable part of the 700 kilometers of wall, concrete snakes; military barriers. I heard shots that killed a young man in the Old City of Jerusalem, a ritual of death that takes place almost every day at military checkpoints. I accompanied and cried with the residents of Silwan (a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem) who had their homes demolished. I spoke with children who had been imprisoned by the State of Israel. I visited some refugee camps.

However, it remained to connect the various points of the multiple acts of terror committed by the State of Israel against the Palestinian people. As soon as I returned to Brazil, in January 2017, Ilan Pappé's book was released. This book has given me a more coherent and complete historical picture, which would be impossible to achieve by the experience dimension alone. What I had seen was, in fact, the continuation of the policy initiated in 1947 by the future State of Israel: I saw the continuation of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

One of the main myths that tries to justify the existence of Israel is based on the motto “A land without people for a people without land”. The Zionist narrative goes something like this: “Poverty Jews, persecuted by anti-Semites in Europe, finally return to their ancestral lands. They found unoccupied land and, with their work, made the dry land sprout abundance. Surrounded by enemies on all sides, the heroic Jewish soldiers resisted, fought and founded the glorious State of Israel!” After Ilan Pappé's research, this myth was definitively destroyed.

The thesis of ethnic cleansing is not new. Walid Khalidi, for example, in his writings, already followed this path. In his masterpiece, A History of the Palestinians through Photography 1876-1948, Khalidi presents us with a pulsating Palestine, with an urban life connected with the great cultural and economic centers of the world. The author combines several narrative elements in his book: photographs, maps, census data and analytical texts. The very word synthesis, used by Palestinians to refer to what happened to them, mainly from November 1947, Nakba (catastrophe), reveals to us that the thesis of ethnic cleansing is not new.

What, then, would be the uniqueness of Ilan Pappé's work and why its reading should be mandatory for everyone who is connected with the struggle of the Palestinian people and/or interested in understanding the materialized mechanisms of domination of neocolonialism in the policies of the State of Israel? For the first time, a researcher enters the soul of the Zionist project: he draws on the archives of the Haganá, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), Zionist central archives, the record of the Consultation meetings, the diary and the personal files of Ben-Gurion .

With surgical scientific rigor, the author also presents us with letters, UN documents, repercussions in newspapers of some of the massacres committed against the Palestinian people, Red Cross archives. In addition to the description and historical analysis of the facts, the book also shows photos, chronology of the main facts, maps and a section with hundreds of explanatory notes on the sources consulted. It is these notes that guarantee scientific rigor and commitment to the truth. There are hundreds, just like Note 5 (Chapter 6): “This was in the 'Operating Orders for the Brigades in accordance with Plan Dalet', IDF Archives, 22/79/1.303” (p. 313).

In the first chapter, the historian will present the concept of “ethnic cleansing” accepted by all international organizations as “an effort to make a country of mixed ethnicities homogeneous, expelling and transforming a certain group of people into refugees” (p. 23). . Soon after, he will take us to the historical background of the Zionist project of building a state for the Jews (for example, the Balfour Declaration, of 1917) and introduce us to the “organic intellectuals” of ethnic cleansing, notably the great architect Ben -Gurion.

In a letter to his son, in 1937, Ben-Gurion anticipated what would happen: “The Arabs will have to go, but to make it happen, an opportune moment is needed, like a war” (p. 43). Ten years later, in 1947, Yigael Yadin (another important political-military figure who planned and carried out the cleanup) would state: “the Palestinian Arabs have no one to organize them properly” (p. 42). That is, the supposed war that Ben-Gurion already wanted in 1937 did not happen. War only exists when there is a minimum balance in the correlation of military forces between enemies. Which demonstrates the falsity of the rhetoric deployed without shyness by Ben-Gurion that Jews in Palestine were at risk of being victims of a second Holocaust. In describing Palestinians as Nazis, “the strategy was a deliberate public relations maneuver to ensure that, three years after the Holocaust, the Jewish soldiers’ momentum did not falter when they were ordered to clean up, kill and destroy other human beings” (p. 93).

There were three plans, in all, to carry out ethnic cleansing (Plan A, 1937; Plan B, 1946 and which became part of Plan C, 1948). However, the most detailed and best structured was Plan Dalet (“D” in Hebrew). Thus, “a few days after it was written, Plan D was distributed among the commanders of the 12 brigades now incorporated into Haganá. Next to the list received was a detailed description of the villages within its radius of action and their immanent destiny: occupation, destruction and expulsion. Israeli documents released by the Israel Defense Forces archive in the late 1990s clearly show that, contrary to claims made by historians such as Benny Morris [Israeli historian], Plan Dalet was delivered to brigade commanders not as guidelines. general, but as categorical orders for action” (p. 103).

In Chapter 5, Pappé describes and analyzes the month-by-month execution of Plan D.

The name of the Operations, the villages captured and destroyed, the massacres, the bellicose power of the Haganá (more than 50 thousand soldiers) in opposition to the total helplessness of the Palestinians. It was during the execution of Plan D that the famous massacre of Deir Yassin took place, “a cordial pastoral village that had reached a non-aggression pact with the Haganá of ​​Jerusalem” (p. 110). About 170 inhabitants were brutally murdered; among them, 30 babies.

The orders were clear: “Kill any Arabs you find, set fire to all volatile objects and blow down the doors with explosives” (p. 115). These were the orders of what would become the chief of staff of the Israeli army, Mordechai Maklef.

It took just a few months to destroy 531 villages, 11 urban neighborhoods and send 800 Palestinians into exile. Of the villages destroyed, 31 were massacred, victims of carnage, among them: Nasr al-Din, Khisas, Safsaf, Sa'sa, Hussayniyya, Ayn Al-Zaytun, Tantura. Regarding Tantura, decades later, Eli Shimoni, an officer of the Alexandroni Brigade, would admit: “I have no doubt that a massacre took place in Tantura. I didn't go around announcing it to the four winds. Not exactly something to be proud of” (p. 147). It is not known exactly how many people were executed. Some speak of 85; others, 125.

In Tantura, “when the carnage ended in the village, with the executions over, two Palestinians were ordered to dig a mass grave under the supervision of Mordechai Sokoler, of Zikhron Yaacov, owner of the bulldozers brought in to carry out the gruesome work. In 1999, he said he remembered burying 230 bodies; he had the exact number clear: 'I laid them in the pit, one by one'” (p. 156).

And the massacres follow. In Lydd: “Palestinian sources narrate that in the mosque and surrounding streets, where the Jewish forces carried out yet another wave of killing and looting, 426 men, women and children were killed (176 dead were found in the mosque). The next day, July 14, Jewish soldiers went from house to house, taking people out onto the street and pushing around 50 of them out of the city towards the West Bank (more than half were already refugees from other nearby villages). ” (p. 203).

However, it was in Dawaymeh village that the atrocities surpassed all past ones. On October 28, 1948, 20 Israeli tanks entered the village. In a short time, the slaughter was consummated. An estimated 455 people were murdered, 170 of them women and children. The reports, produced by the soldiers themselves, are appalling: “babies with cracked skulls, women raped or burned alive in their homes and men stabbed to death. These reports were not elaborations a posteriori, but eyewitness testimony sent to the High Command in a matter of a few days after the fact” (p. 232). The methods used were not essentially different from one military operation to the next: looting and theft of material goods, rape, murder, demolitions, assaults, arson, forced labor camps, poisoning of water sources.

In 1950, the situation of the Palestinians was already so tragic that the UN created the United Nations Relief and Employment Agency (UNRWA) dedicated exclusively to Palestinian refugees. . The children of the Palestinian diaspora are spread across the world. In November 1948, the UN approved Resolution 194, which guarantees refugees – currently numbering 5,2 million – the right to return to their homes in Palestine. Like so many other Resolutions, the State of Israel refuses to comply with it.

There are generations and generations of Palestinians scattered in refugee camps. Many of the Palestinians I spoke with, residents of refugee camps, can point to the location of the homes of relatives that were robbed by the State of Israel. Many still keep the keys to their homes. Sometimes they expose them as a symbol of their sufferings and hopes. They want to go home.

At various times, Ilan Pappé opens a gap in the narrative to expose his subjectivity. The scientific findings of the research seem to have produced a kind of loss for the author. It's as if he was telling us: "I was made from the lies I was told". Among other passages in the book, he tells us: “Like so many other points of beautiful landscapes in this region [he refers to the village of Qira, destroyed in February 1948], aimed at recreation and tourism, it also hides the ruins of a village of 1948. To my own shame, it took me years to discover it” (p. 100).

Ilan Pappé's book has been a powerful weapon to fulfill the objective he outlines in the first few pages. “This book was written with the deep conviction that the ethnic cleansing of Palestine needs to be engrained in our memory and conscience as a crime against humanity and that it must be excluded from the list of alleged crimes” (p. 25).

At the end of the book, one certainty: Israel is a huge cemetery. Under “their” soil, there are villages, bodies, Palestinian cemeteries, objects and many stories. All hidden by the sepulchral silence of a colonial project. But history and its ghosts are reborn in multiple ways. Ilan Pappé says that the Jewish National Fund (JNF) tried to cover the ruins of the Palestinian village of Mujaydil with dozens of pine trees. However, “later, visits by relatives of some of the original villagers in the region discovered that some of the pines were literally split in half and that, in the middle of the broken trunks, olive trees sprouted, openly defying the foreign flora planted there 55 years ago. years” (p. 262). The olive tree is the symbol of the Palestinian people.

What is the price for the courage to practice the truth, parrhesia? Ilan Pappé knows. After publishing his book in 2006, persecution and censorship by the State of Israel made his life impossible. Ilan Pappé is also an olive tree. Currently, he lives in exile and is engaged in the worldwide struggle of solidarity with the Palestinian people who call for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) of the State of Israel as a way of releasing it from occupying the Palestinian territories, making it stop its policies of apartheid and, finally, recognize the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

*Berenice Bento is a professor of sociology at UnB. She authored, among other books, Brasil, Year Zero: State, gender, violence (Editora da UFBA).

Originally published in Contemporary – UFSCar Sociology Magazine, v. 7, no. 2, Jul.- Dec. 2017.


Ilan Pappe. Palestine's ethnic cleansing. São Paulo, Editora Sundermann, 2016, 360 pages.

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