Pappe, an Israeli historian and a senior lecturer at Haifa University, has written a superb account of the Israeli expulsion of the Palestinians from their land in 1948. He quotes David Ben Gurion, leader of the Zionist movement from the mid-1920 until the 1960s, who wrote in his diary in 1938, “I am for compulsory transfer; I do not see anything immoral in it.” This contradicts the Zionists’ public claim that they were seizing a land without a people.
Pappe writes of the Israelis’ March 1948 plan for evicting the Palestinians, “The orders came with a detailed description of the methods to be employed to forcibly evict the people: large-scale intimidation; laying siege to and bombarding villages and population centres; setting fire to homes, properties and goods; expulsion; demolition; and, finally, planting mines among the rubble to prevent any of the expelled inhabitants from returning.”
Between 30 March and 15 May 1948, i.e. before any Arab government intervened, Israeli forces seized 200 villages and expelled 250,000 Palestinians. The Israeli leadership stated, “The principal objective of the operation is the destruction of Arab villages … the eviction of the villagers.” On 9 April, Israeli forces massacred 93 people, including 30 babies, at Deir Yassin. In Haifa, the Israeli commander ordered, “Kill any Arab you encounter.”
This all happened under British rule in Palestine, where Britain had 75,000 troops: Britain’s Mandate did not end until 14 May. The Labour government connived at the Israeli onslaught, although the British state was legally obliged as the occupier (and also by UN resolution 181) to uphold law and order. Yet the Labour government announced that it would no longer be responsible for law and order and it withdrew all the British policemen. It also forbade the presence of any UN bodies, again breaching the terms of the UN resolution. The government ordered British forces to disarm the few Palestinians who had weapons, promising to protect them from Israeli attacks, then immediately reneged on this promise.
On 24 May 1948, Ben Gurion wrote, “We will establish a Christian state in Lebanon, the southern border of which will be the Litani River. We will break Transjordan, bomb Amman and destroy its army, and then Syria falls, and if Egypt will still continue to fight – we will bombard Port Said, Alexandria and Cairo. This will be in revenge for what they (the Egyptians, the Aramis and Assyrians) did to our forefathers during Biblical times.” These ravings of an insane warmonger hardly betrayed any genuine fear of a `second holocaust’. The Palestinians were suffering massive expulsion, not trying to destroy the Jewish community.
Pappe summarises, “When it created its nation-state, the Zionist movement did not wage a war that `tragically but inevitably’ led to the expulsion of `parts of’ the indigenous population, but the other way round: the main goal was the ethnic cleansing of all of Palestine, which the movement coveted for its new state. A few weeks after the ethnic cleansing operations began, the neighbouring Arab states sent a small army – small in comparison to their overall military might – to try, in vain, to prevent the ethnic cleansing. The war with the regular Arab armies did not bring the ethnic cleansing operations to a halt until their successful completion in the autumn of 1948.”
Overall, the Zionist forces uprooted more than half of Palestine’s population, 800,000 people, destroyed 531 villages and emptied eleven urban neighbourhoods of their inhabitants. Pappe concludes that this was “a clear-cut case of an ethnic cleansing operation, regarded under international law today as a crime against humanity.”