Ilan Pappe - How Israel Was Founded
On Ethnic Cleansing
The present dismal reality unfolding in
the Middle East has clear historical roots and a journey into
the past may help to illuminate what lies behind the destructive
policies of Israel in both Palestine and Lebanon.
Zionism arrived in Palestine in the late
19th as a colonialist movement motivated by national impulses.
The colonisation of Palestine fitted well
the interests and policies of the British Empire on the eve of
the First World War.
With the backing of Britain, the colonisation
project expanded, and became a solid presence on the land after
the war and with the establishment of the British mandate in Palestine
(which lasted between 1918 and 1948).
While this consolidation took place, the
indigenous society underwent, like other societies in the rest
of the Arab world, a steady process of establishing a national
But with one difference. While the rest
of the Arab world was shaping its political identity through the
struggle against European colonialism, in Palestine nationalism
meant asserting your collective identity against both an exploitative
British colonialism and expansionist Zionism.
Thus, the conflict with Zionism was an
additional burden. The pro-Zionist policy of the British mandate
there naturally strained the relationship between Britain and
the local Palestinian society.
This climaxed in a revolt in 1936 against
both London and the expanding Zionist colonisation project.
The revolt, which lasted for three years,
failed to sway the British mandate from a policy it had already
decided upon in 1917. The British foreign secretary, Lord Balfour,
had promised the Zionist leaders that Britain would help the movement
to build a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine.
The number of Jews coming into the country
increased by the day - although even at that point, during the
1930s, the Jews were just a quarter of the population, possessing
4 percent of the land.
As resistance to colonialism strengthened,
the Zionist leadership became convinced that only through a total
expulsion of the Palestinians would they be able to create a state
of their own.
From its early inception and up to the
1930s, Zionist thinkers propagated the need to ethnically cleanse
the indigenous population of Palestine if the dream of a Jewish
state were to come true.
The preparation for implementing these
two goals of statehood and ethnic supremacy accelerated after
the Second World War.
For the British the country lost its strategic
importance once they were evicted from India.
It was a tense place that required the
presence of British forces in equal numbers to those kept by the
empire in the Indian sub continent - without obvious imperial
While the Zionist leadership finalised
a plan for taking over the land and expelling the people between
1946 and 1948, the Palestinian leadership hoped the British empire
would transfer to them their country in which they were still
the vast majority and the indigenous population.
But Britain decided to transfer the issue
of Palestine to the United Nations (UN) in February 1947. Palestine
was the first conflict in which it was asked to mediate in a significant
It offered a pro-Zionist solution, and
a very unjust and impractical one at that.
The first obstacle was that since the
Palestinians demanded to be treated as any other Arab national
movement, they expected the international community to recognise,
without any conditions, their natural right to the country.
They did not expect this right to be negotiated
with a colonialist movement. They therefore boycotted the process.
The UN ignored this and the special committee
it appointed for the question, Unscop (United Nations Special
Committee for Palestine) conversed only with the Zionist leadership.
It devised a solution that catered for the needs and aspirations
of that side alone.
In any case, the Palestinians had a difficult
time presenting the moral side of their demands due to the Holocaust.
The Western international community was
only too happy to evade any discussions about the implications
of the genocide in Europe and to drop the problem on Palestine's
The inevitable result of this approach
was accepting almost unconditionally the Zionist demands for a
state in Palestine.
At the end of November 1947, the UN offered
to divide Palestine into two states almost equal in their territorial
space. The Jews were only one third of the population by 1947
and most of them had arrived in Palestine only a few years earlier.
The categorical Palestinian refusal to
go along with this deal, backed by the Arab League, allowed the
Zionist leadership to plan carefully the next step. Between February
1947 and March 1948, a final plan for ethnic cleansing was prepared.
The Zionist leadership defined 80 percent
of Palestine (Israel today without the West Bank) as the space
for the future state.
This was an area in which one million
Palestinians lived next to 600,000 Jews.
The idea was to uproot as many Palestinians
as possible. From March 1948 until the end of that year the plan
was implemented despite the attempt by some Arab states to oppose
it, which failed. Some 750,000 Palestinians were expelled, 531
villages were destroyed and 11 urban neighbourhoods demolished.
Half of Palestine's population was uprooted
and half of its villages destroyed. The state of Israel was established
in over 80 percent of Palestine, turning Palestinian villages
into Jewish settlements and recreation parks, but allowing a small
number of Palestinian to remain citizens in it.
The June 1967 war allowed Israel to take
the remaining 20 percent of Palestine.
This seizure defeated in a way the ethnic
ideology of the Zionist movement. Israel encompassed 100 percent
of Palestine, but the state incorporated a large number of Palestinians,
the people who Zionists made such an effort to expel in 1948.
The fact that Israel was let off easily
in 1948, and not condemned for the ethnic cleansing it committed,
encouraged it to ethnically cleanse a further 300,000 Palestinians
from the West Bank and the Gaza strip.
But the June 1967 war was too short -
six days - and the international community more aware. Palestinian
society was more experienced. Hence Israel was left with a large
number of Palestinians under its control and could not complete
The Palestinian national movement rose
again in the form of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO)
and even if it did not liberate one square inch of Palestine,
it did relocate the Palestinian issue and the 1948 Nakbah (catastrophe)
in the centre of world public attention.
The ethnic cleansing operation was also
defeated by the persistence and resilience of those Palestinians
that were allowed to stay in Israel.
They became one quarter of the population.
Demography thus became the major issue
in Israel's national security agenda. It overshadows any other
concern, be it for social equality, democracy or human rights.
The educational system, the media and
the politicians all stress the "danger" Palestinians
constitute for the state's existence and the Jewish citizens'
In this situation the Israeli "left"
urges downsizing the territory, the right calls for downsizing
But the moral and ideological distance
between the two poles of the political system is very short indeed.
After two uprisings in the occupied territories
and a failed international diplomatic effort that totally ignored
the root of the conflict as represented above, we are now back
to the very basics of the conflict.
For the last six years, with the full
backing of its Jewish electorate, successive Israeli governments
have tried to impose by force what for them is the ideal solution.
It consists of imprisoning large numbers
of Palestinians in enclaves in the West Bank and the Gaza strip,
controlling thorough an apartheid system the Palestinian minority
in Israel, and rejecting categorically any repatriation of the
This plan is fully backed by the US.
Bush's neo-conservative presidency pursues
its own unilateralism, trying to impose by military means and
intimidation its economic and strategic values on the rest of
Only two movements in the area resist
Israel and the US.
Sadly for people of the left, like myself,
they are not from "our school", but we should respect
their steadfastness and will to resist occupation and colonisation.
These are Hamas and Hizbollah.
Israel feels it has now a window of opportunity
to eliminate these forces in Gaza and in Lebanon - and beyond
in Syria and Iran.
The regional war that is developing may
in the short run undermine these two forces, but in the long run
it may mean Israeli confrontation not only with the Arab world
but with the Muslim world as a whole.
At that point, the US might abandon it,
and the Jewish state would end like the crusaders' kingdom of
A disaster thus is looming for us all
- Jews and Arabs - and it is only Europe that could avert it,
if it would stop slaving its interests and ours, to the interests
of the US and Zionism.
Ilan Pappe page