zaterdag 15 mei 2010

The Nakba and Israel: reality vs. myth

by Yassine Channouf
“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'" George Orwell, without knowing it, had cast a prophetic glance at the entity which proclaimed its independence in the same year he wrote his novel “1984”. On the 15th of May, 1948, under the portrait of the founder of the Zionist ideology Theodore Herzl, the first Israeli PM David Ben Gurion proclaimed the independence of the state of Israel on the ruins of Palestine. There was a rush of countries willing to recognize this newly founded state: the Soviet Union, America, Iran, Turkey, Belgium, the Netherlands, and many more hastened to the recognition of Israel. As the political leaders were busying themselves welcoming delegates from different countries and responding to telex-messages, the native Arab population of Palestine set out on a forced emigration that endures until the present.
For decades the historical version of the tragedy of the Palestinians, engraved in their hearts as the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe), was only familiar to the Palestinians and other Arabs, in addition to certain intellectuals of revolutionary Third World countries. Because, in accordance to Orwell's logic, Israel possessed the 'present' since its eruption until the creation of a Palestinian resistance in 1967, and the second invasion of Lebanon in 1982, their version of history was accredited with the epitome 'truthful'. History is indeed written by the winners. Their attempt to destroy all facets of Palestine were considered legal, even praiseworthy. Golda Meir, strengthened in her ardor, could without remorse proclaim that 'there is no such thing as a Palestinian people'.
Alas for the descendants of Golda Meir and David Ben Gurion, their military supremacy did not last for long: it reached its limits. At the hands of a joint Palestinian-Lebanese resistance, Israel was checked in Lebanon and forced to retreat from most of the soil it had previously occupied. This invasion was supported by the United States, until evidence turned up of the massacre at the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Chatilla -or what remained of these camps. Israels unswerving allies of the right-wing Christian Phalangist militia butchered under the watchful eye of the Israeli military more than 2000 Palestinian and Lebanese, after Beirut was cleansed of the Palestinian military presence. This opened the eyes of many around the world: from academics to activist to the general public. The righteous victims that the Israelis claimed to be aided brutal murderers? A drastic remise en question ensued on the topics of Zionism and Israel. But it was not until the rise of certain Israeli historians that even the most skeptic of Zionophiles frowned upon the official Zionist history of the Nakba.
In a country where servitude to the state is a virtue, the Israeli historians all ruminated the propagandistic version that was promoted by the state. A U-turn did occur in the eighties in the wake of the second Lebanon invasion, but the real reason behind this U-turn lies in the interplay between a nations image drastically being questioned and the release of the military archives of the late forties. A quick glance into these files shows unequivocally that millions of people were brainwashed for over 30 years. A new generation of historians, dubbed 'The New Israeli Historians' drastically rewrote the founding history of Israel, coming to terms with reality. They did not engage in such an endeavor because of their sudden found humanism, but rather, because the perversions were so clear that the official Israeli history was hardly worth the epitaph myth. Some of these New Israeli Historians are Avi Shlaim, Tom Segev, Benny Morris and Ilan Pape.
A moral dilemma was the result. Are we holding on to our criminal and blood soaked mythical version of history, or are we at least going to recognize the suffering of the Palestinians at our hands? All New Historians criticized Israel, albeit for different reasons. Avi Shlaim and Ilan Papé reproached Israel for the crimes it had perpetrated against the Palestinians: the massacres, the forced evictions, the rapes, etc. Benny Morris on the other hand criticizes the founding fathers for different reasons. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine was not only equitable, including all the rapes, the murders, the forced evictions, the dynamized graveyards, etc. which he sees as accidents de parcours. Rather, it was not enough! Israels ills are not that it cleansed more than 500 Palestinian cities and villages. Israels mistake is that it did not cleanse ALL Palestinian villages and cities from its original inhabitants. According to Morris, the Jews as a people gave more to the world than the Palestinians ever will. So they are entitled to drive out an entire people because of all they rendered the world. Morris expands this topic and states that the genocide on the American natives by the European colonists was completely legitimate, for the descendants of the European colonists gave the world more than the native Americans ever will in the realms of technology and culture. The Israeli public opted to go for the Benny Morris version of history. And Ilan Papé, the Israeli New Historian who criticized Israel for its massacres, rapes and plundering left Israel forever and stopped being a Zionists altogether.

Some falsifications:
No year has been so decisive for the history of the Palestinians as 1948. Therefore it is of immense importance to construct a just history based on facts in order to understand the Palestinian struggle. It is therefore incumbent upon any narrative of the Palestinian history to deconstruct certain notions and to purify it from all the taints and mythical falsifications.

A first blatant falsification is the claim that the British impeded the Zionist project of nation building, whereas the Palestinian national aspirations received all the British support. It was Great-Britain which enhanced the diplomatic chances for the survival of the Zionist project by issuing the Balfour declaration in 1917 and endorsing it actively. This ensured Britain's support for a Jewish national home, if it did not obstruct the rights of the indigenous population who remain nameless in this declaration which reads: '...His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.' These nameless communities are the indigenous Palestinian Arab inhabitants that formed some 90% of the inhabitants of Palestine in 1917. The putting in practice of this endorsement already occurred in 1920, when the British firmly occupied Palestine militarily. They appointed Sir Herbert Samuel as the civilian High Commissioner. Herbert Samuel was not only Jewish, but an ardent Zionist. The British also provided the Zionists with military training, and turned a blind eye when the Zionists kept most of the equipment which they used in order to form their separate militias; Irgun, Haganah, Stern and Lehi. And last but not least, the Jewish minority composed mainly of newly arrived migrants from Eastern Europe were allocated a disproportionate amount of funds. This was the result of the clear British bias which led the Palestinians to boycott the politics of occupation.

A second fiction often narrated pertains the Palestinian leadership, or more precisely the lack of it. Zionist sources often attribute the failing Palestinian national project to the lack of any Palestinian popular power, or the existence of a Palestinian political elite. In hindsight, this argument is quite feeble, since it was this national Palestinian leadership with whom the first Zionist leaders tried to do 'business' with in the first place.
Great-Britain, a colonial power with two centuries of experience, mastered the old technique of divide and rule. It set up the two most influential Palestinian families against each other; the Husseinis against the Nashashibis, and set the Palestinian rural population up against the city dwellers. The Palestinian High Commissioner, who as mentioned before was a Jewish Zionist, appointed a Nashashibi to the important post of mayor of Jerusalem, and would counter his position by appointing a Husseini to another important post creating disorder in the Palestinian camp. The traditional equation was that the Husseinis, whose base of power was Jerusalem, would be alloted to post of mayor and the Nashashibis were traditionally granted the position of Mufti. The British occupation shifted this precarious balance. This ensured the domination of neither and the continuation of rivalries. It was not until the Palestinian Revolt of 1936, ignited by Izz al-Din al-Qassam, that the Palestinian upper-class was shook on its very foundations. Their inability to quell the Palestinian resistance led the British colonizers to conclude that this segment had become an irrelevant segment of Palestine. Thus, it forced those elements of the upper class who sympathized with the revolt to flee, while the revolting Palestinian peasants declared many areas liberated from both the colonizer and the notable families.
British intermingling and disrupting of Palestinian life even seeped through into the religious realm. It were the British who decided not to ratify an election and appointed Hajj Amin al-Husseini to the position of Mufti in 1921, despite him clearly losing the election among his peers. This ill-famed figure is incessantly mentioned by Zionists as the embodiment of all Palestinian evil. After the Palestinian Revolt of 1936 Hajj Amin fled to Nazi Germany where he sought asylum. He unequivocally supported the Palestinian uprising, and the British, in their corroboration of the Zionist nation-building process exiled, arrested or executed the Palestinian leadership. Naturally, Hajj Amin found refuge among Britain's enemies. It should not be forgotten that even Great-Britain sealed a deal with Nazi-Germany in 1938. This was the Munich Pact in which the British government reiterated their recognition of Nazi Germany and complied with Hitlers wish to annex (Anschluss) Czechoslovakia.
But it is troublesome to consider Hajj Amin a legitimate representative of the aspiration of his people. Let us conceive of an Italy being occupied by Lybia, instead of Libya being occupied by Italy. Imagine Libya appointing a pope to its liking. The new pope who has embraced Catholicism might even be George Bush Junior, and with his miraculous visions of God this pious ex-President agrees to serve the Libyan regime. What would the credibility be in case this scenario enfolds?
The Muslim leader of the Palestinian, if anyone is entitled to carry this title, was prior to the Great Revolt of 1936-39 none less than Izz al-Din al-Qassam. This religious activist fled occupied Syria in 1921 because of his anti-colonial activities which were deemed subversive by the French occupation. This cleric of high learning erected different cells independent of the nepotist urban elite led by the Nashashibi and Husseini clans. Izz al-Din was aware of the fact that peasants represent the true aspirations of the people in any authentic liberation movement. He died relatively early in the uprising he ignited, but his movement succeeded nonetheless in the temporal overthrowing of the Palestinian upper-class, and caused nightmares to the British who were impotent to extinguish the flames of a revolution. In 1939 the British reinforced their military presence in Palestine by sending a new contingent and allowing the Zionist militias to partake in the quelling of this resistance. The Royal Air Forces subjected the liberated Palestinian territories to increased bombardment. By 1948 the Palestinian political elite had been effectively eliminated after more than a decade of intimidation, imprisonment, exile or worse.

A third fiction is that the Palestinian community was a highly violent one which only understood the language of force. Their mistake was according to the Zionist historians that they only applied force in order to reach their goals. Nothing comes closer to the truth than the opposite of this statement. In fact, the longest non-violent collective action organized by any of the colonized peoples comes from the Palestinians. Prior to the great Revolt, in a period in which 3 quarters of the world was colonized, the Palestinians set a Gandhian example to the world worthy of emulation. The Palestinians organized in 1935 under the leadership of Izz al-Din al-Qassam a general strike that lasted for about 6 months. But just as in India this act of civil disobedience was harshly put down by the British and their Zionist allies. Colonialism has its particular methodology and colonized people alter their methods in correspondence with the reality on the ground. As Frantz Fanon points out: 'The existence of an armed struggle shows that the people are decided to trust to violent methods only. He of whom they have never stopped saying that the only language he understands is that of force, decides to give utterance by force. In fact, as always, the settler has shown him the way he should take if he is to become free. The argument the native chooses has been furnished by the settler, and by an ironic turning of the tables it is the native who now affirms that the colonialist understands nothing but force. The colonial regime owes its legitimacy to force and at no time tries to hide this aspect of things.'
A fourth fiction is that the Zionist settlers purchased most of the Arab land which became Israel in 1948. Indeed, they did purchase some land from the Palestinian bourgeoisie. This amounted in 1948 to some 6% of mandate Palestine over the course of 70 years. Continuing at this pace, the settlers would have purchased all of Palestine over a time span of 1100 years. So by the year 2982 the whole of Palestine would have become Jewish owned, or to remain in the field of the reasonable, by the year of 2500, these settlers would have constituted a majority in having purchased half the lands.

A fifth popular fiction is the Zionist claim that the War of Independence was a David vs. Goliath venture. The hungry and poverty stricken Jews who just survived a Holocaust faced several armies, who were better equipped and mustered more men to arms. As renowned scholar William Cleveland puts it: 'The legend of a defenseless, newborn Israel facing the onslaught of hordes of Arab soldiers does not correspond to reality. During the first round of fighting from May 15 to June 11, 1948, the combined Arab armies numbered around 21.500, whereas the Haganah and its affiliated units fielded a force of some 30.000... The Israelis entered the next round of combat (July 9-18) with markedly superior forces. The size of the Haganah was doubled and its firepower substantially increased.' The number of Arabs engaged in the fighting stagnated during the course of the war.
To put in proper perspective the poor performance of the Arabs in 1948 it is noteworthy that most Arab states were either still colonized, or were only granted independence shortly before the Nakba, after some crippling decades of colonialism and deprivation. The French occupiers only left Syria and Lebanon in 1946 after subjecting Damascus to a volley of rockets which killed some 500 civilians on the day they left that city. The Lebanese army was officially at war with Israel in 1948 but they never intended to cross into the territory of mandate Palestine. The Syrians sent some army units into Palestine but these were only limited numbers as the Syrian state and its apparatuses were still being built after several centuries of foreign domination. The largest Arab independent country was Egypt, but the only reason why the latter was granted independence by the British was on the condition that it would follow Great-Britain in its foreign policy. In addition to that, Egypt had to tolerate British military presence in the vicinity of the Suez-Canal, which is a highly strategic channel close to mandate Palestine. King Farouq nonetheless sent several hundreds of soldiers and irregulars into Palestine, but, as Jamal abd al-Nasser who participated in this offensive recollects: 'The Egyptian army at the time was made up of nine battalions. Only three of these were anywhere near the frontier when the order was given to enter Palestine ... There was no concentration of forces, no accumulation, no ammunition and equipment. There was no reconnaissance, no intelligence, no plans ...'. The terrible performance of the Egyptian army in 1948 was the main catalysis for the Free Officers Coup in 1952.
The role of Transjordan during the Nakba is the most interesting one, since the Arab Legion of Transjordan was by far the best equipped army that was engaged in battle with the Zionists militias. One anecdote will suffice to summarize the loyalty of its king Abdallah I to the Palestinian cause. Before sending in any troops Abdallah had been negotiating with Golda Meir in order to draw the future boundaries of the states of Israel and Transjordan. There was no mention of Palestine in the mind of Abdallah. He stated that he did not want to "resist or impede the partition of Palestine and creation of a Jewish state”. So before the start of hostilities, the strongest of Arab armies promised not to attack the area designated by the U.N. Partition Plan for a future Jewish state. The Yishuv had effectively neutralized the strongest Arab force before the fighting even started.
And then there was Saudi Arabia. This Kingdom announced it would also fight Israel. But as the previous head of Saudi Intelligence Ahmad Badieb states: Saudi Arabia told its citizens in 1948 that the Zionists would only occupy 5% of Palestine. There is no mention of any Saudi soldier who joined the Palestinian struggle in 1948.

The last and most poignant of Zionist distortions is the Palestinian refugee problem. Benny Morris, the most right-wing of the New Historians unambiguously claims that Plan Dalet was a campaign that 'provided for the conquest and permanent occupation, or leveling, or Arab villages and towns'. This was nothing nothing new. As David Ben Gurion, the leader of the Zionist Movement already proclaimed in 1938: 'With compulsory transfer we have a vast area [for settlement] .... I support compulsory transfer. I don't see anything immoral in it'. In order to secure as much land as possible for the nascent Jewish State, the Jewish minority had to get rid of the Arab Palestinian majority. To reach this end the Zionist militias did not shy away from as Ilan Pappe puts it '...bombarding villages, setting fire to homes properties and goods, expulsion, demolition and planting mines among the rubble to prevent any of the expelled inhabitants from returning.' This is only in addition to the numerous known cases of rape, the poisoning of water supplies, the dozens of massacres etc.
The massacre of Deyr Yassin in April 1948, so prior to the 'massive Arab invasion' is often seen as the perfect example of the putting in practice of Plan Dalet. The Irgun Militia, led by future Noble Peace Winner Menachem Begin, attacked the village of Deyr Yassin. This village was located in that part of Palestine that was designated for a future Arab state. Deyr Yassin also had a treaty with a nearby Jewish settlement which ensured their peaceful coexistence. But this is exactly why Deyr Yassin was attacked. It sent a clear message to the Palestinian cities and villages. No one is safe. The message was comprehended. This massacre, combined with many others of its kind, led many Palestinians to flee their native villages and cities. Zionists however have always claimed that it were the Arab invading armies that sent radio broadcasts to the Palestinian population urging them to flee. All New Israeli Historians deny this preposterous claim. The Palestinian exodus already took place prior to the so called Arab invasion of May 1948.
So despite the preponderance of evidence which suggests that the Zionists intended to transfer the Palestinian population to the neighboring states, as the contemporary Zionist leaders put so euphemistically, there are still certain 'historians' who claim that the Palestinian left on their own accord. Between 700.000 and 800.000 thousand Palestinians were evicted from Palestine in 1948. The United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 194 on December 11, 1948, which goes:
'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.'
Israel has yet to abide by the will of the international community and continues to act like a pariah state. They were able to conceal this for several decades. But no longer. George Orwell wrote that: 'In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act'. This is no longer necessary. The bulk of the world already knows it.

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