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The Nakba Goes On

by on May 15, 2020

The Nakba, or Catastrophe happened 72 years ago today. An ongoing process, that officially began in late 1947 and lasted until past the end of 1948, Palestinians were forced to leave their home, either through fear or through gunpoint, and have become a refugee population. The following writing comes from my own thoughts and sources (well-documented in the footnotes) . This is an incomplete writing that reminds us that Never Again means Never Again, and past time for recognize the wrongs of the past.

The creation of Israel and the destruction and denigration of Palestine happened in part because “to be a Jew is to be the ultimate victim in perpetuity and only the nonvictim (but also nonperpetrator) state can shield her from harm.”[1]

The Institute for Middle East Understanding says that “from the earliest days of the movement, Zionist leaders struggled with the dilemma of how to deal with the non-Jewish Palestinians who inhabited the land on which they wanted to create their state. Most, including Herzl, concluded the only solution was what became known as ‘transfer,’ a euphemism for what is known as ‘ethnic cleansing’ today.”  It refers to the Twentieth Zionist Congress in Zurich.  Here, in August 1937, “transfer was discussed.”  The leader of the Zionist community in Palestine (the Yishuv) and Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, referring to the “the systematic dispossession of Palestinian peasant farmers (fellahin) that Zionist colonists had been engaged in for decades,” IMEU quotes him as saying ‘you are no doubt aware of the JNF’s (Jewish National Fund) activity in this respect. Now a transfer of a completely different scope will have to be carried out. In many parts of the country new settlement will not be possible without transferring the Arab fellahin.” He added, the Institute says, ‘Jewish power [in Palestine], which grows steadily, will also increase our possibilities to carry out this transfer on a large scale.’  Further, the IMEU says that in an October 1937 letter to his son, Amos, Ben-Gurion wrote: ‘We must expel Arabs and take their place.’[2]  (My parantheses, their bold emphasis, and their brackets). 

And, “In June 1938, transfer was the major focus of a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive, the de facto government of the Yishuv,” says the Institute.  “Arthur Ruppin, head of the Jewish Agency from 1933 to 1935 and one of the founders of Tel Aviv, declared: ‘I do not believe in the transfer of individuals. I believe in the transfer of entire villages.’  As we have seen, Ben-Gurion also argued in favor of transfer, stating: quotes the IMEU ‘With compulsory transfer we [would] have a vast area [for settlement]… I support compulsory transfer. I don’t see anything immoral in it.’ (Again, their bold emphasis).    In 1940, says the IMEU Joseph Weitz, director of the Jewish National Fund’s Lands Department, wrote that ‘There is no way besides transferring the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries, and to transfer all of them, save perhaps for [the Arabs of] Bethlehem, Nazareth and Old Jerusalem. Not one village must be left, not one [Bedouin] tribe.’  After this happens, ‘the Jewish problem will cease to exist. There is no other solution.’[3]

On March 10, 1948, the IMEU says, Zionist leaders including Ben-Gurion met in Tel Aviv and formally adopted Plan Dalet (also called Plan D).  Plan Dalet, in the words of Palestine Studies, was a “master plan to expel Palestinian Arabs from within and outside the territory allotted to the Jewish state in the United Nation’s 1947 Partition Plan.”  Plan Dalet, the IMEU says, merely accelerated expulsions and made the process of ethnic cleansing systematic and marked a time when Israeli forces went on ‘the offensive’.  Attacks by Zionist forces against Palestinian population centers actually began a few days after the Partition Plan. Within two weeks of the passage of the Partition Plan, more than 200 Arabs and Jews had been killed, says the IMEU. [4]

In January 1948 “a ragtag group of volunteers from neighboring Arab countries formed by the Arab League” and entered Palestine in order “to help the outnumbered and outgunned Palestinian defenders”.  These volunteers were “disorganized, poorly armed and trained, and failed to coordinate with local Palestinian fighters due to hostility between the Arab League and Arab Higher Committee”; the British High Commissioner of Palestine, Alan Cunningham, said the Arab volunteers were ‘poorly equipped and badly led’ and that ‘In almost every engagement the Jews have proved their superiority in organisation, training and tactics.’[5]  In February Ben-Gurion wrote to Moshe Sharett that he was sure that if Zionists received the already-purchased arms ‘and maybe even receive some of that promised to us by the UN,’ the Zionists could not only defend themselves but ‘inflict death blows on the Syrians in their own country – and take over Palestine as a whole.’[6]  (His emphasis)  Ilan Pappe says that by then, the Haganah was  mobilizing for full-scale war and by May – around the time the Mandate ended and Israel declared independence – the Zionists had some 50,000 fighters under arms versus no more than about 10,000 Palestinian irregulars and Arab volunteers.”

Deir Yassin

On April 9, 1948 – before Britain ended its Mandate – Zionists attacked the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, close to where Mount Herzl is today.  Dan Freeman-Maloy points out that Deir Yassin was not the largest village, but the massacre of Palestinians in Deir Yassin happens to be the best-documented depopulated village..  He rightly says it “was no isolated incident” but it became “the most infamous massacre of the war.”

Members of the Irgun and of the Stern Gang, Freeman-Maloy says, “entered the village around dawn.”  They then “proceeded to carry out a massacre which they themselves then helped to publicize,” judging apparently that panic would be “a useful force in clearing Palestine of its population.”[7]  

Elmer Berger adds to this that ‘the savagery and brutality of the attack on the villagers played the important role of turning the original flight of the non-combatant Palestinian Arabs into a stampede from their homes.’  The massacre at Deir Yassin definitely helped the ‘Zionist goal of reducing the Arab population and the realization of ultimate demographic domination by Jews.’[8]  Already –again before the end of the Mandate – Zionists had also attacked other villages such as Baldat al-Sheikh, on December 31, 1947, where almost seventy Palestinians died.[9]

Freeman-Maloy begins his story in media res on July 19, 1948 when “a young Yitzhak Rabin sent orders to Israeli units near the border of what would become the West Bank.”  In what Israeli history books refer to as ‘The Ten Days’ the paramilitary troops “destroyed key communities in central Palestine. The Palestinian towns of Lydda and Ramla were no more.”  He begins his story here, he says, tying it to Deir Yassin, for two reasons: “because it’s past time to pop the bubble of liberal Zionist sensitivities. Yes, the legacy of 1948 is one of open brutality, as at Deir Yassin; but it’s also one of forgotten atrocities–of massacres denied, dismissed, covered up. Our memories of each need to intermingle. Palestinians were forced into Gaza, for example, mainly through the decisions of labor Zionist leaders.”  Secondly, he mentions Rabin’s order “to draw attention to some of the soldiers who received it.”  Among those troops, he says,

was a unit in the Israeli army’s 82nd Tank Battalion known as the ‘English company.’ It was one of many Zionist units deployed in 1948 Palestine with soldiers from the West–with veterans of the armies of the United States and Canada, of South Africa and Britain. These English-speaking members of the Zionist armed forces ranked among a larger number of ‘volunteers from abroad,’ or Mahal (from the Hebrew Mitnadvay Hutz La’aretz). They were the Anglo-Saxim,(italics in original)[10]

Lester Gorn, an American who appears to be Jewish, was an Anglo-Saxim.  He published the historical fiction “The Anglo–Saxons: A Historical Novel of Israel’s War of Independence,” on the tenth anniversary of what Freeman-Maloy calls “the 1948 war.”  Friedman-Maloy says Gorn’s “celebratory account” of the war is not all fiction.  The Zionist forces – what became the IDF – deployed “a significant number of Western recruits in northern Palestine, where they served under Moshe Carmel’s command,” because their knowhow was needed.  Not all of the Anglo-Saxim were Jews.  Tom Bowden, a British Christian says he attracted to the fight because the Zionists ‘were like Wild West settlers and I loved their history’.[11]

A cultural-studies academic, Ella Shohat, notes the stratification of castes that Zionists developed.  The the Ostjuden of Europe – the East European Jews, historically looked down upon by the communities of the West – created in Palestine their own “Ostjuden,” the Mizrahi or Eastern Jews.  Mizrahi have long been considered second-class citizens in Isreal; Shohat herself is a American-Israeli of Mizrahi descent.  Anglo-Saxim could carry a sense of superiority towards them all.[12]

By the autumn of 1948, writes Freeman-Maloy, “about three hundred English-speaking World War II veterans were clustered together in the north in the IDF’s 7th Armored Brigade.” The unit, which “was instrumental in conquering the Upper Galilee,” was called ‘the Anglo–Saxon Brigade’ by the leading historian of the Nakba in the Galilee, Nafez Nazzal.  Some of the soldiers also helped themselves to Palestinian property; Ben Dunkelman, the commander of the Brigade “was and a veteran of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada.” Dunkelman boasted in his memoirs, says Freeman-Maloy “that cattle looted from Palestinian villagers provided hundreds of trays of beef for his wedding.” More worrisome for the general history of the Nakbah, Moshe Carmel sent Dunkelman a message the on October 31, 1948 that ‘The inhabitants should be assisted to leave the conquered areas.’  Palestinians were already fleeing by the thousands into Lebanon, and Carmel and Dunkelman, along with the Anglo-Saxim, helped create this refugee crisis.[13]

The Seventh Brigade, during the sixty-hour Operation Hiram (Oct. 29-31. 1948), subjected the village of Tarshiha to “aerial bombardment and relentless artillery.”   By 1 November, most of the villagers had been forced to flee their homes into neighboring countries, the Dr. Yara Hawari says.  Citing Ilan Pappe’s seminal The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Hawari says the Zionist forces were given orders to ‘clear’ Tarshiha, a village of several hundred people northeast of Acre.[14]  Tarshiha was indeed cleared by October 29 and officially occupied on November 1 by the Israelis.  In 1957 the Israelis built a town nearby for Jewish immigrants – or refugees – called Ma’alot.  In 1963 the towns merged to create Ma’alot-Tarshiha in a gesture of a shared future.[15]  The Palestinians who returned and rebuilt, Dr. Hawari says, “now live as second-class citizens in Israel.”  In 2014, she said “the village has a population of approximately 5,000 including both Muslims and Christians. It is encircled by Jewish Israeli towns which are encroaching on their land and trying to marginalize the Palestinian identity of the village.”[16]   

Also during Operation Hiram, not far from Tarshiha, the Palestinian village of Iqrit was almost completely demolished and occupied on November 1, 1948.  Like Tarshiha, which has Yom Tarshiha day to remember the Nakba, Iqrit “frequently holds cultural events in the ruins of its village.”[17]  For the last several years, Hawari added, young activists have been trying to maintain a continuous presence in the village, and they made an attempt to return permanently in 2013.[18]

In a massacre that has been described as worse than Deir Yassin, during Operation Yoav (October 15-22, 1948) in the Negev, the 89th Commando Battalion killed hundreds of Palestinians in al-Dawayima, including women and children.  Described simply as “west of Hebron” by Phillip Weiss, he says the killings were in a barbarous manner and that Israel swept “the crime is swept under the rug for decades.”[19]

Fawzi al-Qawuqji may have made Che Guevara appear a little slack.  Born in 1926, George Habash, howeer, became the Palestinian Che Guevara.  A Christian Palestinian, he wrote about his childhood that ‘our enemies are not the Jews but rather the British …. The Jews’ relations with the Palestinians were natural and sometimes even good.’[20]  In 1948 he was on leave from the American University in Beirut visiting his parents in Lydda (now called Lod).  Jewish paramilitary forces entered Lydda on July 11, 1948; on July 14 Habash was expelled from his home with the rest of his family, never to return to the city, or forgot the scenes of 1948.  Habash protested – violently at times against both the nascent Israeli state and the Arab states that he felt had abandoned the Palestinians.  In 1964 Habash was one of the founders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), with the view that “the only weapon left to the masses in order to restore history and progress” is violence.  Habash’s belief that hijacking planes – for which he was famous – ‘was to bring the Palestinian question out of anonymity and expose it to Western public opinion, because at that time it was unknown in Europe and in the United States. We wanted to undertake actions that would make an impression on the senses of the entire world …. There was international ignorance regarding our suffering, in part due to the Zionist movement’s monopoly on the mass media in the West.’  He had a love-hate relationship with Yasser Arafat, who compromised with Israelis and recognized the Israeli state.[21]

Edo Konrad, the deputy editor for +972 Magazine, points of that new cities, such as Karmiel, which is not far from Tel Aviv, and Nazareth Illit (which now goes by the name Nof HaGalil), which is somewhat between Haifa and Tiberias, “sprouted up on land expropriated from Palestinian citizens following the Nakba, while dozens of new Jewish communities were built on hilltops as a way to disrupt the contiguity of Arab communities.”  These hilltops communities were “built as ‘mitzpim,’ Hebrew for ‘outlooks,’ which served, much as their name suggests, as nodes of control over the Palestinian population below.”  A photo in an article by Edo Konrad of +972 shows Israeli soldiers in battle with the Arab village of Sassa in the upper Galilee, October 1, 1948. [22]

David Remick, editor of the New Yorker, in a November 2014 article describes his conversation with Husam Zomlot in Ramallah; Zomlot is a senior advisor to the Abbas administration.  Zolmot’s father, the article relates, “was born in a village near Ashkelon and, as a toddler, fled in 1948 to Gaza.”  Like hundreds of thousands of refugees during the Nakba, “the family thought that they would be able to return home,” but were never able to.  Zomlot’s father became a successful textile manufacturer, Remnick tells us, but “during the conflict in 2006 over the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, the I.D.F. bulldozed his factory.”  He left for London, where, Zomlot says, he watched on television ‘his grandchildren going through the same experience that he went through as a refugee.’[23]  In 1948 the “creation of the state of Israel resulted in the creation of the largest refugee population in the world,” notes Hamzah Raza.[24]

Rasmea Odeh lived in the United States from 1995 to 2014.  Born in Lifta, which was a Palestinian village destroyed during the Nakba, she became a Palestinian Jordanian involved in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.  She was convicted by Israel for being involved in a 1969 Jerusalem bombing, and freed in a prisoner exchange in 1980.  When she moved to the United States and became a citizen, her paperwork declared that she had no criminal history and she has long maintained that Israeli tortured a confession out of her.  A spokesman for the Rasmea Defense Council said in Detroit, in 2014, said ‘We have turned this case into Israel being on trial, its military courts, its colonization and torture, its apartheid policies and treatment of Palestinian prisoners.’[25]

It’s time the international community, which continues to send soldiers, military supplies, and money to finance the Israeli army, acknowledges some collective responsibility for the Nakba.  Freeman-Maloy, as I mentioned in the introduction, he also reports that “the first U.S. ambassador to Israel would soon write of his hosts’ luck in securing “such a ‘miraculous’ clearing of the land,” obviously referring to ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.[26] 

In the Nakba, between 1947- 1948 more thatn750,000 Palestinians were displaced and thousands died.  More devastating to the psyche and collective memory of the Palestinians, during the Nakba “Zionist forces committed 33 massacres and destroyed 531 Palestinian towns.”  Since Deir Yassin, “over 90% of the land that was allotted by the U.N. to remain Palestinian has been stolen by Israel.”[27]


[1] Melissa Levin on December 11, 2015 http://mondoweiss.net/2015/12/the-last-colony/

[2] Institute for Middle East Understanding, May 08, 2013 https://imeu.org/article/the-nakba-65-years-of-dispossession-and-apartheid accessed April 26, 2018.  Originally listed as a bullet-point the IMEU article.

[3] Institute for Middle East Understanding, May 08, 2013 https://imeu.org/article/the-nakba-65-years-of-dispossession-and-apartheid accessed April 26, 2018.  Originally listed as a bullet-point the IMEU article.

[4] By IMEU March 8, 2013 https://imeu.org/article/plan-dalet accessed April 28, 2020.  The Palestine Studies article can be found at http://www.palestine-studies.org/node/189729  (author unlisted, and publishation date not listed).  Palestine Studies is now called the Institute for Palestine Studies.  To read an English translation of Plan Dalet, see the Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre at http://www.jmcc.org/Documentsandmaps.aspx?id=755

[5] Institute for Middle East Understanding, May 08, 2013 https://imeu.org/article/the-nakba-65-years-of-dispossession-and-apartheid accessed April 26, 2018

[6] Institute for Middle East Understanding, May 08, 2013 https://imeu.org/article/the-nakba-65-years-of-dispossession-and-apartheid accessed April 26, 2018 citing Pappe’s “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”

[7] Dan Freeman-Maloy on April 9, 2018 http://mondoweiss.net/2018/04/involvement-expulsion-palestinians/.  Se e also Phillip Weiss, who mentions that Menachin Begin was commander of the Irgun at the time. Philip Weiss on April 1, 2018 http://mondoweiss.net/2018/04/unhappy-history-massacres/.  Begin was not present during the massacre.

[8] Quoted in Robert Fantina on January 19, 2017 http://mondoweiss.net/2017/01/international-nations-palestine/.  Fantina also says that “Over one hundred men, women and children died in the bitter, house-to-house fighting in Deir Yassin.  Palestine Studies says that 107 Palestinians died at Deir Yassin, killed by Revisionist Zionist Irgun and Lehi forces.   “The Naka: In the Words of Palestinians” http://www.palestine-studies.org/node/189729 accessed April 12, 2018

[9] by Al-Jazeera Staff 23 May 2017 https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/05/nakba-start-1948-170522073908625.html

[10] Dan Freeman-Maloy on April 9, 2018 http://mondoweiss.net/2018/04/involvement-expulsion-palestinians/.  In “The Naka: In the Words of Palestinians,” Palestine Studies mentions that Rabin said ‘The inhabitants of Lydda must be expelled quickly, without regard to age.’ See http://www.palestine-studies.org/node/189729 accessed April 12, 2018

[11] Dan Freeman-Maloy on April 9, 2018 http://mondoweiss.net/2018/04/involvement-expulsion-palestinians/.  The reference to the Wild West is quoted by Freeman-Maloy and attributed to Bowden.

[12] Dan Freeman-Maloy on April 9, 2018 http://mondoweiss.net/2018/04/involvement-expulsion-palestinians/

[13] The quotes provided by Dan Freeman-Maloy article published on April 9, 2018 http://mondoweiss.net/2018/04/involvement-expulsion-palestinians/

[14] The quotes are from Hawari.  To see more about Tarhisha, see https://www.palestineremembered.com/Acre/Tarshiha/index.html

[15] To see examples of disunity in Tarhisha see the Ma’alot Massacre of 1974 in which members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine took 115 hostages and killed 25 Israelis

[16] All information from Yara Hawari 30 October 2014 https://electronicintifada.net/content/young-palestinians-protect-history-and-heritage-galilee-village/13987 except the merger of Ma’alot-Tarshiha, which can be found through further research.

[17] Although the Zionist founding fathers expected that the old generation of Palestinians would eventually die and that the new generation would forget their history Harawi says “over the last two decades, there has been an increased effort to revive oral history in Palestine in a counter-struggle against the Zionist hegemonic narrative. Commemorative activities such as Yom Tarshiha are part of that revival effort.”  There’s also been a strong academic revival, especially, says Hawari, at the Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University in New York City and the Palestine oral history archive at Birzeit University near the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.  Yara Hawari 30 October 2014 https://electronicintifada.net/content/young-palestinians-protect-history-and-heritage-galilee-village/13987.  To see efforts to suppress the Nakba, and further revelations about the Nakba itself, see “The Erasure of the Nakba in Israel’s Archives” Seth Anzisca Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 49 No. 1, Autumn 2019; (pp. 64-76) https://jps.ucpress.edu/content/49/1/64.full.pdf+html

[18] Yara Hawari 30 October 2014 https://electronicintifada.net/content/young-palestinians-protect-history-and-heritage-galilee-village/13987

[19] Philip Weiss on April 1, 2018 http://mondoweiss.net/2018/04/unhappy-history-massacres/  To see more on Operation Yoav, see https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/operation-ldquo-yoav-rdquo-october-1948

[20] Gideon Levy  Apr 15, 2018 12:45 PM https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/palestinians/.premium-biography-makes-it-clear-this-palestinian-leftist-leader-was-right-1.5994244.  The ellipses in the description of Habash’s childhood are in the article. 

[21] Gideon Levy  Apr 15, 2018 12:45 PM https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/palestinians/.premium-biography-makes-it-clear-this-palestinian-leftist-leader-was-right-1.5994244.  The ellipses of Habash’s quote is in the article by Levy.

[22] Edo Konrad Published March 18, 2018 https://972mag.com/even-inside-israel-colonialism-is-far-from-over/133896/Mitzpim and other words in quotations also come from the words of Konrad.  Konrad appears to be referring to the village of Sa’sa’, which was depopulated in February, 1948 and again in October, 1948.  See also the article by Al-Jazeera Staff 23 May 2017 https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/05/nakba-start-1948-170522073908625.html, which says that in Sa’sa’ in February “16 houses were blown up and 60 people lost their lives”

[23] By David Remnick November 17, 2014 Issue http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/11/17/one-state-reality.  Zomlot watching on tv was a direct quote from Zomlot; the rest is from Remnick.

[24] Hamzah Raza on March 6, 2018 http://mondoweiss.net/2018/03/reasons-progressive-paradise/

[25] Charlotte Silver November 5, 2014 https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/charlotte-silver/dozens-travel-detroit-support-rasmea-odeh-trial-begins

[26] Dan Freeman-Maloy April 9, 2018 http://mondoweiss.net/2018/04/involvement-expulsion-palestinians/ accessed April 9, 2018

[27] Robert Fantina on January 19, 2017 http://mondoweiss.net/2017/01/international-nations-palestine/

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