Tuesday, May 20

After Israel’s first 60 years, where do we go from there?

Israel’s history since 1948 has been a turbulent one. It resulted in the re-birth of the remnants of the Jewish People who were almost decimated by Hitler and the Nazis during the Holocaust. The Jewish people had been a persecuted minority for centuries in the Diaspora. Before Israel was established in 1948, many Jews, who survived the Holocaust, were displaced after the war. Those who were liberated from the Nazi concentration camps finally had a home where they could go. Israel’s establishment arose from the ashes of the many concentration camp victims who did not live to witness the event.

Israel has hardly known a day of peace since its establishment. The reason for this is that the indigenous people - the Palestinians - paid a very heavy price! Many of them were displaced and were forced out of their homes to make way for Jewish immigration from Europe and the Arab countries. The Jewish people’s joy was counterbalanced by Palestinian sorrow and suffering! No matter how one looks at this, the fact remains that Israel’s establishment had created a very severe Palestinian refugee problem that remains unsolved to this day.

Israel was faced by many problems. It had absorbed so many Jewish immigrants from all over the world. The education gaps and cultural differences between the different Jewish communities created many absorption problems. No country in the world faced such social problems because of absorbing so many different immigrants of differing cultures as Israel in such a short space of time. In addition to this, Israel was surrounded by hostile Arab states that refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist and seized every opportunity to declare war on Israel in order to destroy the fledgling state.

Despite all these problems, Israel had made incredible progress in many scientific fields, including medicine, technology, computer science and agriculture. It could have achieved more had Israel not had such high security expenditure.

If one were to examine the history of Israel’s establishment and the effect that it had on the Palestinian population, it is obvious that both Palestinians and Israelis are right. This is what makes the conflict so difficult to solve. Israel had not gone far enough in trying to encourage coexistence between the two peoples. Allow me to illustrate this point by a simple anecdote even though it may be viewed as an over simplification of a very difficult problem. A person A takes over another person B’s home and says, “This home is big enough for both you and me to live. B, you are invited to stay here with your family, but this is now also my home! If you do not accept this, I shall throw you out!” It is quite natural that B would not be prepared to share his home with A. Why should B accept the presence of A, who has come to displace him because of the suffering of A and his people under Nazi occupation? B feels that he has to pay the price for Jewish suffering under Nazi Germany and in much of the Diaspora. If one were to see the problem in this perspective, it is understandable why the Arab nations did not agree to the UN partition plan of 29th November 1947. They felt that the Jews had stolen their land. It somehow does not seem right that their stolen land should be divided into two states – a Jewish State and a Palestinian state.

Israel had fought many wars of survival. The Zionists maintained that there was no Palestinian nation in 1948 when Israel was established. If this is true, then how does one explain the existence of many Arab villages prior to 1948? There is documentation of this. Perhaps the terminology used is controversial. The Palestinians view this as “ethnic cleansing” of Palestine in order to make way for Jewish immigration. The Zionists view Israel as the legitimate homeland of the Jewish People and those Palestinians who fled did so because they were encouraged or forced by their leaders to flee. There is much controversy as to what really happened to the Palestinian refugees of 1948. This is a very emotional issue for the Palestinians and is the core of the Palestinian – Israeli conflict that defies solution. Benny Morris has researched this and contrary to the Zionist version of events he wrote the following:

Why 700,000 people became refugees was disputed between Israel and its supporters and the Arabs and theirs. Israeli spokesmen--including "official" historians and writers of textbooks-- maintained that Arabs had fled "voluntarily," or because the Arab states' leaders had urged or ordered them to leave [click here to read our response to this claim], to clear the ground for the invasion of May 15, and enable their spokesman to claim that they had expelled the refugees systematically and with premeditation. Documentation that surfaced in massive quantities during the 1980s in Israeli and Western archives has demonstrated that neither "official" version is accurate or sufficient.
The creation of the [refugees] problem was almost inevitable, given:

  • the geographical intermixing of the population
  • the history of the Arab-Jewish hostility since 1917
  • rejection of both sides of a binominal solution
  • The depth of Arab animosity that existed toward the Jews and fears of coming under Jewish rule.

The structural weaknesses that characterized Palestinian society on the eve of the war made it especially susceptible to collapse and flight. It was

  • poorly organized, with little social or political cohesion,
  • there were deep divisions between rural and urban population, and
  • between Muslims and Christians, and
  • Between various elite clans.
  • The absence of representative leaders, and
  • National institutions [such as labor unions, health care, defense, tax collections, etc.]
  • Because of economic and social processes that had begun in the mid-nineteenth century, large parts of the rural population had been rendered landless by the 1940s. In consequence there was a constant, growing shift of population from the countryside to urban shantytowns and slums; to some degree this led to both physical and psychological divorce from the land. Moreover, 70 or 80 percent of the people were illiterate [reader should note that the public educational system available to Palestinians before 1948 was limited to 25%-30% of total eligible Palestinian student population]. In some measure, this resulted in and was mirrored by a low level of political consciousness and activism. The "nationalism" of the urban elite was shared little; if at all, by the urban poor and peasantry.
  • And finally, the Arab economy in Palestine had failed to make shift from primitive, agriculture economy to a reindustrialize one--as the Yishuv had done. Equally relevant, in towns very few Arab workers were unionized; none, except the small number in British government service, enjoyed the benefit of unemployment insurance. Effectively ejected from Jewish enterprises and farms when Arab factories and offices closed down, they lost their means of livelihood. For some, exile may have become an attractive option, at least until Palestine calmed down.

It was also during this period that there was talk of transferring the Palestinian population from Israel to the neighbouring Arab states by force if necessary. Leaders of the yishuv (Jewish settlements) saw this as legitimate:

Another crucial precondition was the penchant among Yishuv leaders to regard transfer as a legitimate solution to the "Arab problem." Recently declassified Zionist documents demonstrated the virtual consensus emerged among the Zionist leadership, the wake of the publication in July 1937 of the Peel Commission recommendations, in favor of the transfer of at least several hundred thousand Palestinian Arabs--if not all of them-- out of the areas of the Jewish state-to-be. The tone was set by Ben-Gurion himself in June 1938:

"I support compulsory [Palestinian Arab population] transfer. I do not see in it anything immoral."

Ben-Gurion's views did not change--though he was aware of the need, for tactical reasons, to be discreet. In 1944, at a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive discussing how the Zionist movement should deal with the British Labor Party decision to recommend the transfer of Palestinian Arabs, he said:

"When I heard these things. . . I had to ponder the matter long and hard ....[but] I reached the conclusion that this matter [had best] remain [in the Labor Party Program] . . . Were I asked what should be our program, it would not occur to me to tell them transfer . . . because speaking about the matter might harm [us] . . . in world opinion, because it might give the impression that there is no room in the Land of Israel without ousting the Arabs [and] . . . it would alert and antagonize the Arabs . . ."

Ben-Gurion added,

"The transfer of Arabs is easier than the transfer of any other [people]. There are Arabs states around . . . And it is clear that if the [Palestinian] Arabs are transferred this would improve their situation and not the opposite."

None of the members of the Executive opposed or questioned these views; most spoke in favor. Moshe Sharett, director of the Jewish Agency's Political Department, declared:

"Transfer could be the crowning achievements, the final stage in the development of [our] policy, but certainly not the point of departure. By [speaking publicly and prematurely] we could mobilizing vast forces against the matter and cause it to fail, in advance."

And he added:

"[W]hen the Jewish state is established--it is very possible that the result will be transfer of Arabs."

On February 7, 1948, three months into the war, Ben-Gurion told Mapai's Central Committee that in Jerusalem's Western neighborhoods, from which the Arabs had fled or been expelled, he had seen:

"no strangers [Palestinian Arabs]. Not since Jerusalem's destruction in the days of the Romans has it been so Jewish. . . . I do not assume this will change. . . . And what happened in Jerusalem . . . could well happen in great parts of the country. . If we hold one, it is very possible that in coming six to eight or ten months of the war there will take place great changes. . . . Certainly there will be great changes in the composition of the population of the country."

[Click here for more "transfer" (Ethnic Cleansing) Zionist quotes]

Refugees Flight: In Four Stages

These "great changes" took place in four stages. The first was between December 1947 and March 1948, when Yishuv was on the defensive and upper-and middle-class [Palestinian] Arabs--- perhaps as many as seventy-five thousand--- fled, mainly from mixed cities, or sent their dependents to the West Bank, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, or Transjordan. In this context there can be no exaggeration the detrimental effect on the Arab morale of the IZL and LHI bombing campaigns in big towns.
These families had the wherewithal to settle comfortably in Cairo, Nablus, Amman, or Beirut, and in any case most viewed their exile as temporary. As in the exodus of 1936-1939, they expected to return once the hostilities had ended. Many notable families also resented or feared the domination of the Husseinis, and indeed may have feared a Husseini-ruled Palestine as much as they did life under Jewish rule. It was at this time that many of the political leaders and/or their families left the country--- including most members of the AHC [Arab Higher Committee] and of the Haifa National Committee. Jewish-Arab hostilities were only one aspect of a more general breakdown of law and order in Palestine after UN [General Assembly] Partition Resolution. There was also a gradual collapse of public services and a withdrawal of British authority, and an influx of both urban and rural districts of Arab irregulars, who extorted money from prosperous families and occasionally abused people in the streets.

Arabs also abandoned a number of villages in areas earmarked for Jewish statehood and with Jewish majority, such as the coastal plain. In villages on the edge of Jewish urban centers, a combination of fear of the Jews and actual intimidation, principally by the IZL and LHI, prompted flight. In at least one case there was also outright expulsion by the Haganah---on February 20 at Caesarea, midway between Tel Aviv and Haifa.

The flight of the upper and middle classes entailed the closure of schools, clinics and hospitals, businesses, and offices, and in turn engendered unemployment and impoverishment. This was the background of the second stage, the mass flight from urban neighborhood and rural areas overrun by the Jewish forces during spring 1948. The earlier flight of the elite sapped popular morale and gave the masses an example to emulate.

The principle cause of the mass flight of April-June was Jewish military attack, or fear of such attack. Almost every instance---exodus from Haifa on April 21- May 1; from Jaffa during April-early May; from Tiberias on April 17-18; from Safad on May10- was the direct and immediate result of an attack on and conquest of Arab neighborhoods and towns. In no case did a population abandon its homes before an attack; in almost all cases it did so on the very day of the attack and in days immediately following. And flight proved to be contagious. The fall of, and flight from, the big cities---principally Haifa and Jaffa---radiated pessimism and despair to surrounding villages. In the countryside flight by one clan led to that neighborhood clans and flight from one village to flight from neighboring villages.

Haganah documents described "a psychosis of flight" griping the Palestinian population during this period. The echo of the slaughter on April 9 of the village of Deir Yassin, augmented by Arab atrocity propaganda regarding what happened there, both reinforced and symbolized this. Fear that the same fate might befall them propelled villagers to flight, and this "atrocity factor" was reinforced periodically during the months of fighting by other Jewish massacres, especially in October [such as Safsaf, Sa'sa', 'Ayn al-Zaytun, Etc.]. Residents of a small number of villagers---more than a dozen---were expelled before the start of the first truce (June 11) by Jewish troops; and some were intimidated by propaganda disseminated by Haganah agents. In most areas there was no need for direct expulsion. Villagers and townspeople usually abandoned hearth and home at the first whiff of grapeshot.

In some areas Arab commanders ordered the villagers to evacuate to clear the ground for military purpose or to prevent the surrender [or collaboration, examples are too many to list]. More than half a dozen villages---just north of Jerusalem and tin the lower Galilee--- were abandoned during those months as a result of such order. Elsewhere, in East Jerusalem and in many villages around the country, the commander ordered women, old people, and children to be sent away to be out of harm's way.

Indeed, psychological preparations for the removal of dependents from the battlefield had begun in 1946-47, when the AHC and the Arab League had periodically endorsed such a move when contemplating the future war in Palestine. Altogether about two to three hundred thousand [Palestinian] Arabs fled their homes during the second stage of the exodus.

During the first stage, there was not Zionist policy to expel the [Palestinian] Arabs or intimidate them into flight, though many Jews, including Ben-Gurion, were happy to see the backs of as many [Palestinian] Arabs as possible. And without a doubt, Jewish-both Haganah and IZL- retaliatory policies and the IZL/LHI terror bombings were precipitants. There was no Arab policy, aside from sporadic AHC efforts, to stem the tide of the upper-and middle-class departures.

During the second stage, while there was no blanket policy of expulsion, the Haganah's Plan D [Dalet] clearly resulted in mass flight. Commanders were authorized to clear the populace out of the villages and certain urban districts, and to raze the villages if they felt a military need. Many commanders identified with the aim of ending up with a Jewish state with a small [Palestinian] Arab minority as possible. Some generals, such as [Yigal] Allon, clearly acted as if driven by such a goal [especially in the Galilee panhandle and central region].

On the Arab side there was general confusion at this time about everything concerning the exodus. The governments appear simply not to have understood what was happening and, initially, did not try to stop it. Indeed, Arab Higher Committee [AHC] agents instructed the population of Haifa, after the flight from the town had begun, to continue to leave. But the exodus, as far as the evidence goes, not initiated---as Jewish spokesmen later claimed---by an order from the AHC. It is quite possible that both Arab states and Palestinian leaders were happy to see it happen in order to have a good cause to intervene once the British departed. By early May, some Arab states and the AHC began to take action [to stem the flight]. Transjordan, the AHC, and the ALA [Arab Liberation Army] repeatedly cautioned the inhabitants to stay put and tried to pressure those who had already fled the country to return, to no avail. Meanwhile the Haganah, certainly from mid-May on, adopted a policy of preventing refugees from returning to their homes, using live fire when necessary.

The pan-Arab invasion of May 15 clearly hardened Israel's resolve regarding the Palestinian civilian population, for good military and political reasons. On June 16, the cabinet, without formal vote, resolved to bar the return of refugees. The IDF general staff ordered its units to stop would-be returnees with LIVE FIRE. At some time the army, the settlements, and the JNF [Jewish National Fund] Lands Department took a number of initiatives designed to obviate a return. Abandoned villages were razed or mined or, later, filled with new Jewish immigrants, as were abandoned urban neighborhoods; fields were set alight, and landowners still in place were urged to sell out and leave; and new settlements were established on Arab sites and began to cultivate the abandoned fields.

In the third and fourth stages of the exodus, in July and October-November 1948, about three hundred thousand more [Palestinian] Arabs became refugees, including the sixty thousand inhabitants of Lydda and Ramla who were expelled by IDF troops [based on the orders of Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin]. However, many of Nazareth's [Palestinian] Arabs were allowed to stay, apparently to avert the prospect of negative reactions by Western Christian states [For the same reason Nazareth was the ONLY place where Ben-Gurion gave clear orders to shoot to kill any Jewish looter].

Palestinian Resistance to Expulsion Policy

Israel's readiness to expel the [Palestinian] Arabs was to some degree counterbalanced by a newfound [Palestinian] Arab desire to stay put. By October, villagers in the Galilee had understood that their return was far from imminent. So, during the second half of the war, there was far less "spontaneous" flight. Most of this time was due to clear, direct cause, including brutal expulsion and deliberate harassment.

Ben-Gurion clearly wanted as few [Palestinian] Arabs as possible to remain in the Jewish state. But there was still no systematic policy; it was never as far as we know, discussed or decided upon at the Cabinet or IDF general staff meetings. Yet Israeli troops, both in the "Ten Days" in July and during Operation Yoav and Hiram in October-November 1948, were far more inclined to expel Palestinians than they had been during the first half of the war. In Operation Yoav, [Yigal] Allon took care to leave almost no Arab communities along the lines of advance. In Operation Hiram, in the north, where Moshe Carmel commanded the Israeli forces, there was confusion and ambivalence. Despite Carmel's October 31 guideline "to assist the Arabs to depart," some units expelled villagers, others left them in place. And while in general the attitude towards Muslim villages was more severe, there were expulsion and massacres of Christians and many Muslim villagers, such as Majd al-Kurum, were allowed to stay. During November, when the IDF cleared the strip from five to fifteen kilo metered deep along the border with Lebanon, for security reasons, both Christians and Muslims were transferred [such as Tabrikha, Kafr Bir'im and al-Mansura]. (From Critical Analysis of the Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem by Benny Morris)

As we can see, the activities of the Zionists in those days certainly did much to lay the foundations of hate between Palestinians and Israelis. The Palestinians viewed Jewish immigration into Palestine as a threat to their welfare and existence. Zionist historians made many attempts to hide the truth. They refused to acknowledge the existence of Arab towns prior to 1948. All this was swept under the carpet and statements of a malarial swamp where there were no inhabitants were accepted as truth.

In order to find a solution to this conflict, it is important to be aware of the roots of the conflict and both sides must learn to come to terms with the history of the conflict. The two versions of what happened in 1948, the Israeli version and the Palestinian version, are flawed and both sides see the truth in a different way. Those leaders of good will on both sides of the conflict have a large responsibility to their respective peoples in trying to find a solution to this conflict that has remained a festering sore for more than 60 years. The tendency is to harp on this history ad nauseam which has resulted in total lack of progress to reach a just settlement by which both sides can live side by side in peace.

Many attempts have been made by various scholars in Israel to research the Palestinian refugee problem and they began to ask painful questions about the treatment meted out to the Palestinians by the Hagana, Irgun Zvei Leumi (I.Z.L) and the Sterne Gang. The original Zionist version of events which was considered the truth was under threat of being nullified by the “New Historians”. They questioned the official Zionist historical view of the establishment of Israel and came to conclusions that were unacceptable by the Israeli mainstream.

The Six Day War of June 1967 further complicated the Palestinian refugee problem as more Palestinians escaped from the Israeli occupation in the territories. Israel had become a colonizing power because of this war. Israel’s lightening victory over her opponents was overwhelming. Israel had gained territory. These territories were referred to as “liberated territories” by P.M. Menachem Begin when the Labour Party lost the elections in 1977. A huge settlement programme was initiated and Israelis were encouraged to settle in the occupied territories. They were given financial help by the government. Nobody thought then that this was a grave mistake which only complicated the issue and lead to a situation whereby the Palestinians were further deprived of their agricultural lands.

The settlers in the occupied territories built themselves palatial homes and encroached further onto Palestinian lands. Palestinian agricultural lands were destroyed to make way for aggressive housing projects for illegal settlements. This resulted in Palestinian farmers losing their livelihood and of course with that, increased frustration and hate for Israel. A new generation of Palestinian was born that never knew any other life apart from misery, poverty and squalor. Israel had evaded its responsibility towards the Palestinian people that it had conquered and ruled. Zionists were never prepared to accept that their settlement policies had created a ticking time bomb that would eventually explode into violence and this would spill within the green line.

Despite all the progress that Israel had made in many scientific fields, the Palestinian people had never benefited from it. Their situation was hopeless economically and this became a breeding ground for the creation of radical Palestinian groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and various splinter groups too numerous to mention. Their attitudes towards Israel were uncompromising and their hate for Israel increased with every army retaliatory action.

The Palestinian plight became a breeding ground for other regimes to take advantage. The main player here is Iran under Mohammed Ahmadinajad. He is exploiting the Palestinian suffering for his own gains. This Iranian dictator is not interested in the Palestinians at all. He is making use of them in order to increase his influence and power in the Middle East. If Iran does become a nuclear power, it will be a threat to all the nations of the Middle East. Nuclear weapons destroy everybody and make no distinction between Palestinians and Israelis. The fall out would go beyond these two peoples and effect the Arab world no less.

The Palestinian dream of the right of return of refugees has always been at the helm of any discussion concerning peace between the two peoples. Israel refused to discuss this issue honestly even though it is really the core of the conflict. Israel would never accept the right of return of the refugees as they viewed them as a threat to Israel’s existence and its Jewish character.

As Israel enters the next sixty years, peace is still as evasive as ever. There are now more players involved. There is Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border and Hamas in Gaza and it will only be a matter of time before Hamas takes over the West Bank as well. The two-state solution which is gaining acceptance even by the Israeli mainstream will be unattainable while there is expansion of existing settlements and creation of new settlements in the West Bank. In a previous article I mentioned that in order to create an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel there would have to be massive disengagement and a withdrawal of the settlers to Israel within the green line. This is highly unlikely. The West Bank is not the Gaza strip. The settlements there are more established and the settler population is much higher and logistically it will be a greater problem to solve. The present Palestinian leadership under Mahmoud Abbas is weak and ineffectual and this will strengthen Hamas in the end.

The future of peace between Israel and the Palestinians is very bleak and there does not seem to be any change of attitudes towards finding a peaceful solution to this conflict.

The binational state solution will return for discussion as that is the only alternative to a two-state solution that has been destroyed before it even started due to the settlement policies of previous Israeli governments.

Israel will be involved in higher military expenditure to prevent terrorism as well as the launching of Qassam missiles into its territory. These missiles will be further developed by Iran and their range will increase with time. This will threaten Israel’s main population centres. The situation between Israel and the Palestinians will deteriorate even further while the refugee problem of 1948 and 1967 will always remain a focal point to justify Palestinian militarism and terror against Israel.

Another very disturbing phenomenon in Israel is the snowballing corruption in high places. PM Ehud Olmert is being investigated by the police for corruption and bribery. His ex-Finance Minister Hirschson is also under investigation for similar acts. Added to this, we have a very special phenomenon known as Gaydamakism. A Russian multimillionaire, Arkadi Gaydamak, became involved in “helping distressed communities” by donating large sums of money. He is now buying out the Pensioners Party in order to get a foothold in the Knesset (he calls it “Knesset shmesset”) where he can have the most influence. Gaydamak is a dangerous man and he is a threat to democracy in Israel. He is also under suspicion of money laundering and has been cross examined by the police. If this buying of influence in the Knesset is not stopped, Israel’s democracy will be threatened. Power and money is a very unhealthy combination which is gaining popularity in Israel.

President Bush was in Israel for its 60th Anniversary. He gave a speech in the Knesset which was very sympathetic to Israel. He had attended the Economic Summit in Sharm-el-Sheikh, where he upset many Arab nations with his paternal pontifications. Bush’s record at solving the problems in Iraq speaks for itself. The US destroyed Saddam Hussein and created a tragic chaotic situation there with violence and strife between Shiites and Sunnis gaining the upper hand. The US has botched up Iraq totally. It is a case of a president living in a glass house and throwing stones. His vision of peace between Israel and the Palestinians before the end of 2008 when his term ends is the height of naivety if not downright stupidity.

Hamas is an essential component which has to be taken into account in a future peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. If Israel continues its military policies of trying to weaken Hamas in Gaza, they are bound to fail in the end. The next 60 years are critical for Israel and the Palestinians. Failure to reach a peace agreement will result in further 60 years of violence, an increased military expenditure to prevent the violence as well as the introduction of further players such as Iran into the region including nuclear weaponry which will threaten all the nations in the Middle East including the Palestinians.

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