Organized Terror and Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
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The official Israeli government explanation for the ‘disappearance’ of 750,000 Palestinian Arabs from the land (roughly half the Arab population in Palestine in 1948) was that they left “voluntarily.” The “new history” of Israel emerged within the past couple decades due to declassified documents relating to the 1948 war and its origins, and with a number of Israeli historians recreating the history of Israel and challenging the official story. David Ben-Gurion, who would become Israel’s first Prime Minister, was a leading Zionist at the time. He and other Zionists “accepted” the UN partition plan, wrote Jerome Slater, “only as a necessary tactical step that would later be reversed.” In a 1937 letter to his son, Ben-Gurion wrote:
A partial Jewish state is not the end, but only the beginning. The establishment of such a Jewish state will serve as a means in our historical efforts to redeem the country in its entirety… We shall organize a modern defense force… and then I am certain that we will not be prevented from settling in other parts of the country, either by mutual agreement with our Arab neighbors or by some other means… We will expel the Arabs and take their places… with the forces at our disposal.
In the same year, Ben-Gurion also wrote that, “The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war.” A year later, in 1938, Ben-Gurion told a Zionist meeting that, “I favor partition of the country because when we become a strong power after the establishment of the state, we will abolish partition and spread throughout all of Palestine.” Palestine, as defined by the Zionists, had included the West Bank, Golan Heights in Syria, Jerusalem, southern Lebanon, and a significant degree of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
For any settler colonies, as the Zionists were, there are roughly four conditions which have to met if they are to survive. Graham Usher, an Israeli journalist, wrote that:
They must obtain a measure of political, military, and economic independence from their metropolitan sponsors. They must achieve military hegemony over, or at least normal relations with, their neighboring states. They must acquire international legitimacy. And they must solve their “native problem.”
The Jewish state, as defined by leading Zionists such as David Ben-Gurion, was not to simply be Jewish in its sociopolitical structure, explained Ilan Pappé, “but also in its ethnic composition.” Further, this would be made possible “only by force.” To accomplish this task, an efficient military organization was built over several years, with extensive financial resources. The main Jewish paramilitary organization in Palestine was founded in 1920 in order to protect the Jewish colonies, assisted by “sympathetic” British officers. Orde Wingate, a British officer, was central to convincing Zionist leaders of the need for such a military organization, associating the idea of a Jewish state with militarism and an army. Wingate was assigned to Palestine in 1936, and had established close connections between the Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah and the British forces during the 1936-39 Arab Revolt.
In 1940, Ben-Zion Luria, a historian at Hebrew University who was also employed by the Jewish Agency in Palestine suggested that the Jewish National Fund (JNF) should conduct a registry of all the Arab villages in Palestine, numbering some 1,200 in all, which had spread across the countryside for hundreds of years. Luria stated that, “This would greatly help the redemption of the land” into Jewish hands. The Jewish National Fund (JNF) was founded in 1901 as one of the principal colonization organizations focused on buying Palestinian land to settle Jewish colonies. By the end of the Mandate in 1948, the Zionists had control over 5.8% of the land in Palestine.
When news about the “village files” reached Yossef Weitz, the chief of the JNF settlement department (a major Zionist colonialist), he suggested that it be transformed into a “national project.” Other top Zionists became very enthusiastic about the project, of which the main emphasis was on mapping the villages. In several cases, these maps in the Israeli State Archives are all that remains of the entire villages. The British, aware of these projects, were unable to find the headquarters for the secret intelligence network that was established to construct the maps. By the later 1940s, the “village files” included much more than mere locations of villages, but rather had details about road access, the quality of the land, water resources, common sources of income for the local population, religious and sociopolitical affiliations, and even the age of individual men within the village. One important category, explained Israeli historian Ilan Pappé, was the index of “hostility,” referring to those individuals and communities which were ‘hostile’ to the Zionist project of colonization, which was largely determined according to examining the participation of certain villages and people in the Arab Revolt of 1936-39, which “included lists of everyone involved in the revolt and the families of those who had lost someone in the fight against the British. Particular attention was given to people alleged to have killed Jews.”
The British, who had the Mandate over Palestine from 1923, when it was given to the British by the League of Nations, always saw Palestine as a highly strategic and vital imperial possession, largely due to its proximity to the Suez Canal, and thus, the route to Britain’s colonial “Jewel”, India. Palestine was considered a ‘buffer’ in the Middle East, in a land of potentially hostile peoples infused with the ideas of Arab nationalism. Just prior to World War II, the Arab population in Palestine revolted against the British rule in reaction to the dramatically increased rate of Jewish immigration and colonization of the land. The Arab Revolt (1936-39) presented the British with a civil war situation, which was suppressed by force of arms. Where the Arabs were a major problem for the British in the 1930s, the Zionists became a problem for the British in the 1940s, for they too turned to terrorist tactics to make British rule over Palestine impossible. Following World War II, the British Security Service (MI5), according to declassified documents from the agency, focused on the threat to Britain posed by Zionist terrorism, both within the Mandate and within Britain itself. The two main organizations identified by MI5 as terrorist groups were the Irgun Zvai Leumi and the Stern Gang, who had planned on taking the war against Britain to its home, hoping to send several terrorist “cells” to London to “beat the dog in his own kennel.” As the secret documents reveal, “MI5 was actually more concerned about the threat of Zionist terrorism than about the looming threat of the Soviet Union.”
MI5’s wartime Director-General, Sir David Petrie, stated in 1946 in regards to the threat of Zionist terrorism that, “the red light is definitely showing.” From a network of informers within Zionist organizations, Britain uncovered plots to assassinate British politicians associated with Palestine policy, including the Prime Minister himself. The Stern Gang had, in 1944, assassinated the British Minister of State in the Middle East, Lord Moyne, and had also tried (on several occasions) to assassinate the British High Commissioner for Palestine, Sir Harold MacMichael. On July 22, 1946, the Irgun bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which was home to British government officials and personnel, and resulted in the deaths of 91 individuals, some of them Jews. Both MI5 and MI6 had offices in the Hotel at the time. As Britain responded with force against Zionist terrorist groups and other organizations, the extremist nature of the groups naturally increased. In October of 1946, the Irgun bombed the British Embassy in Rome, and conducted several sabotage operations against British military transportation routes in occupied Germany. In April of 1947, the British Colonial Office in London discovered an Irgun bomb consisting of 24 sticks of explosives, but the timer had broken, so the bomb did not detonate. In June of 1947, the Stern Gang launched a letter bomb campaign in Britain, “targeting every prominent member of the Cabinet,” totaling 21 in all, but none of them ultimately got through to their targets. Another letter bomb assault was undertaken by the Stern Gang in 1948.
In June of 1946, the British Army in Palestine undertook a search for the Jewish Agency, Haganah, and Palmach to retrieve their arms and arrest specific members and leaders. The Zionist organizations, however, had infiltrated the British just as the British had infiltrated the Zionist organizations; thus, the Zionists had advanced warning of the raid and some top officials were able to avoid arrest. The chief of the Haganah, Moshe Sneh, which was the military branch of the Jewish Agency, was in liaison with the terrorist organizations Irgun and Lehi. David Ben-Gurion, the president of the Jewish Agency, was also wanted by the British for his complicity in terrorist attacks. All in all, during the raid, roughly 2,700 people were arrested, including a significant portion of the political leadership within the Palestinian Jewish community, and some arms caches were retrieved. The result, predictably, was to multiply the violence committed against the British in retribution for the raids and arrests. Thus, the British High Commissioner in Palestine, Sir Alan Cunningham, concluded that, “immediate partition is the only solution which gives a chance of stability.”
This was largely the result of the Jewish Resistance Movement (JRM) which had emerged and developed between 1945 and 1946, consisting of the Haganah, Palmach, Irgun and Lehi, “directed and coordinated by the Jewish Agency for Palestine, despite the objections of some of its left-wing members.” The aims of the JRM were to “weaken or destroy British rule in Palestine.” The Haganah was founded as a territorial militia to defend Zionist settlements in Palestine, and in 1938, several Haganah units worked with the British to help crush the Arab Revolt. The British created the Palmach during World War II as an “elite offensive unit” in order “to assist [the British] in the event of a German invasion of Palestine.” In 1945, the Haganah engaged in a secret agreement with the terrorist groups Irgun and Lehi against the British Mandate government. The Irgun was formed in 1931 when several officers separated from the Haganah over socialist sympathies within the defense forces, and became a right-wing paramilitary army, standing in opposition to the original conception of socialist and labour Zionism. The Stern Gang (also known as Lehi) separated from the Irgun during World War II when the Irgun agreed to cooperate with the British. The Stern Gang was a radical far-right group which held many fascist sympathies, and even “pursued agreements with Mussolini and the Nazis in 1940,” though unsurprisingly, Hitler did not respond to the requests.
It was within these various terrorist and paramilitary organizations that Plan D was formed among several Zionist leaders, most notably, David Ben-Gurion, to plan for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Throughout the 1940s, the planning stages of the village files went through many revisions, and encapsulated Plans A through D. In the planning stages during 1940, as one member of the data collection team, Moshe Pasternak, later recalled:
We had to study the structure of the Arab village. This means the structure and how best to attack it. In the military schools, I had been taught how to attack a modern European city, not a primitive village in the Near East. We could not compare it [an Arab village] to a Polish, or an Austrian one. The Arab village, unlike the European ones, was built topographically on hills. That meant we had to find out how best to approach the village from above or enter it from below. We had to train our “Arabists” [the Orientalists who operated a network of collaborators] how best to work with informants.
A large network of informants had been established to gain intelligence on the Palestinian villages throughout the Mandate. The intelligence which was provided allowed for even more details into the village files, especially after 1943, as the expanded information included: “detailed descriptions of the husbandry, cultivation, the number of trees in plantations, the quality of each fruit grove (even of individual trees!), the average land holding per family, the number of cars, the names of shop owners, members of work shops, and the names of the artisans and their skills.” As time passed, and the village files collected more information, political affiliations were added in regards to individuals within the villages, and in 1945, information regarding village mosques, the names of the imams and even accounts of the inside of particular homes. As the end of the Mandate grew close, the village files increasingly provided information of a more militaristic nature: “the number of guards in each village (most had none) and the quantity and quality of arms at the villagers’ disposal (generally antiquated or even nonexistent).” In 1944, a small village was home to the training of informants and spies and from which they would conduct reconnaissance missions. The final report for the village files was in 1947, focusing on forming lists of “wanted” individuals. As Ilan Pappé explained:
In 1948, Jewish troops used these lists for the search-and-arrest operations they carried out as soon as they had occupied a village. That is, the men in the village would be lined up and those whose names appeared on the lists would be identified, often by the same person who had informed on them in the first place, but now wearing a cloth sack over his head with two holes cut out for his eyes so as not to be recognized. The men who were picked out were often shot on the spot… Among the criteria for inclusion in these lists, besides having participated in actions against the British and the Zionists, were involvement in the Palestinian national movement (which could apply to entire villages) and having close ties to the leader of the movement, the Mufti Haj Amin al-Husayni, or being affiliated with his political party. Given the Mufti’s dominance of Palestinian politics since the establishment of the Mandate in 1923, and the prominent positions held by members of his party in the Arab Higher Committee that became the embryo government of the Palestinians, this offense too was very common.
Villages of roughly 1,500 people had about 20-30 individual “suspects” within them. In November of 1947, the Zionist military command concluded that, “the Palestine Arabs had nobody to organize them properly,” and that, “If not for the British, we could have quelled the Arab riot [the opposition to the UN Partition Resolution in 1947] in one month.” The Arabs, while constituting a demographic challenge to the Zionist aspirations for Palestine, were not a military threat. Their military structures and leadership were largely destroyed by the British during the Arab Revolt and the Zionists were also aware that the Arab states were disorganized and hesitant to move forward on the Palestine issue. Thus, it was the British that primarily stood in the way of the Zionist plans for Palestine, and with 100,000 troops stationed in the an area with roughly 2 million people, it was no small force to contend with. Thus, the Zionist leadership, and specifically David Ben-Gurion, began advocating to support the Partition in the hopes of establishing a small Jewish state in order to have a base from which to expand. In 1946, Ben-Gurion told a gathering of the Zionist leadership that they could accept a smaller state, but that, “We will demand a large chunk of Palestine.” Within a few months, the Jewish Agency created a map of a partitioned Palestine. The UN produced a partition map with less land allotted for the Jewish state. After the 1948-49 war, however, the new Jewish state had – through ethnic cleansing – established itself along the lines set out for it in the Jewish Agency map: all of Palestine, save the West Bank and Gaza.
It was in this context that Plan C was evolved from Plans A and B. The British could not repress the eventual Jewish uprising in Palestine after World War II as they had the Arab Revolt prior to the war, and it was clear to the Zionist leadership that the British were on the way out, in no small part due to pressure from Zionist terrorism. In 1946, Plan C was finalized to prepare the Jewish military structures for their offense against the Palestinian population, including striking against political leadership, anti-Zionist Arabs, senior Arab officials, transportation routes, economic infrastructure, etc. Plan C added upon the village files information regarding leaders and activists within the Arab population and other “potential human targets.” Within a few months, the addition of “operational specifics” became the basis for Plan D, which envisioned a Jewish State composed of 78% of the land of Palestine, as set out in the Jewish Agency map. As for the one million Palestinians within those lands, Plan D was very specific:
These operations can be carried out in the following manner: either by destroying villages (by setting fire to them, by blowing them up, and by planting mines in their rubble), and especially those population centers that are difficult to control permanently; or by mounting combing and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the villages, conducting a search inside them. In case of resistance, the armed forces must be wiped out and the population expelled outside the borders of the state.
As Ghazi Falah wrote in the journal, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Plan D’s “underlying objective was the nationwide conquest and control of territories.” Among the tactical objectives of Zionist forces were to occupy “all police fortresses/stations evacuated by British forces, and of Arab villages close to Jewish settlements; creating continuity between Jewish cities and neighbouring Jewish settlements; gaining control of lines of communications; besieging enemy cities; capturing forward bases of the enemy; counter attacks both inside and outside the borders of the State.”
In November of 1947 the UN proposed the partition plan into two states, with Jerusalem and Bethlehem as an international zone. The UN partition plan vastly increased the amount of land for the Zionists, as Jewish land amounted to less than 7% of the total of Palestine in 1947, which was increased to 56% in the UN partition plan, leaving 42% for the Palestinians, who prior to partition had over 90% of the land. The Zionists immediately began the ethnic cleansing in December of 1947 prior to the British leaving, and the first Arab army did not invade until May of 1948, when the British left. Thus, under British rule, wrote Falah, “Jewish forces initiated a war of demographic and territorial expansion which took on the dimension of space purification – expulsion and prevention on the return of the expellees.” All able-bodies Jews within Palestine were mobilized by the Zionist forces to partake in the operation, with civilian Jews settling in the depopulated Palestinian villages in order to prevent any possible return of refugees. Civilians also imposed economic sanctions, disseminating propaganda, and preventing Palestinians from harvesting their crops. Destruction of Arab crops was a general policy, or to have Jewish settlers move in and harvest existing Arab fields in cleansed towns.
Certain towns were then selected for massacres, usually carried out in small villages which had previously good relations with their Jewish neighbours. These towns were selected with the specific purpose of providing “lessons in toughness” for other Palestinians villages to incite them to leave and not return. Between May 1947 and March 1948, there were 92 cases of Zionist terrorism and massacres against Palestinians, organized by the Haganah in cooperation with the Irgun and Stern Gang. The small villages were chosen to be “victims,” to be an example – a terror campaign – to incite fear in the Palestinian population. One such massacre in April of 1948 killed 254 Arab civilians in one village. On top of the massacres, the rape of Arab Palestinian women, whether Christian or Muslim, was also a prominent feature of the more brutal cleansings. When the British left Palestine and the Arab states invaded, they prevented the Zionist forces from occupying the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
All in all, some 400 Palestinian villages were cleansed, forcing roughly 750,000 Palestinians to flee, leaving roughly 100,000 Palestinians within the newly conquered Jewish territories, who remained under a virtual state of martial law and concentrated in small pales within Israel, the state which was declared by the Zionists in May of 1948. Massive Jewish immigration commenced for survivors of the Holocaust as well as Jews from Arab nations and the Soviet Union.
The men who carried out the ethnic cleansing of Palestine became the mythical heroes of the founding of the state of Israel, most notably David Ben-Gurion, and the future leaders of the Israeli army, Yigael Yadin and Moshe Dayan, along with prominent Arabist academics, who, much like the intellectuals of the Nazi state, were among the most systematically malevolent, responsible for the final decisions regarding which villages were to be eradicated and which villagers were to be executed. The operations of the Arabists – Orientalist intellectuals – “were supervised by Issar Harel, who later became the first head of Mossad and the Shin bet, Israel’s secret services.” The ruthless murders, assassinations, and massacres – even of women and children – were not a mere ‘result’ of the war, as many historians have claimed, but were a matter of policy. As Ezra Dannin, the Israeli government adviser on Arab affairs stated that, “If the High Command believes that by destruction, killing, and human suffering its aims will be achieved faster, then I would not stand in its way. If we don’t hurry up, our enemies will do the same things to us.”
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project.
 Jerome Slater, “What Went Wrong? The Collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process,” Political Science Quarterly (Vol. 116, No. 2, 2001), pages 173-174.
 Ilan Pappé, “The 1948 Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,” Journal of Palestine Studies (Vol. 36, No. 1, Autumn 2006), page 9.
 Jerome Slater, “What Went Wrong? The Collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process,” Political Science Quarterly (Vol. 116, No. 2, 2001), page 174.
 Graham Usher, “Unmaking Palestine: On Israel, the Palestinians, and the Wall,” Journal of Palestine Studies (Vol. 35, No. 1, Autumn 2005), page 26.
 Ilan Pappé, “The 1948 Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,” Journal of Palestine Studies (Vol. 36, No. 1, Autumn 2006), pages 9-10.
 Ibid, pages 10-11.
 Ibid, page 11.
 Calder Walton, “British Intelligence and the Mandate of Palestine: Threats to British National Security Immediately After the Second World War,” Intelligence and National Security (Vol. 23, No. 4, 2008), pages 435-436.
 Ibid, pages 439-440.
 Steven Wagner, “British Intelligence and the Jewish Resistance Movement in the Palestine Mandate,” Intelligence and National Security (Vol. 23, No. 5, 2008), pages 629-630.
 Ibid, pages 630-631.
 Ilan Pappé, “The 1948 Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,” Journal of Palestine Studies (Vol. 36, No. 1, Autumn 2006), pages 11-12.
 Ibid, pages 12-13.
 Ibid, pages 13-15.
 Ibid, pages 15-16.
 Ghazi Falah, “The 1948 Israeli-Palestinian War and its Aftermath: The Transformation and Se-Signification of Palestine’s Cultural Landscape,” Annals of the American Association of American Geographers (Vol. 86, No. 2, 1996), page 259.
 Ibid, page 261.
 Ibid, page 262.
 Graham Usher, “Unmaking Palestine: On Israel, the Palestinians, and the Wall,” Journal of Palestine Studies (Vol. 35, No. 1, Autumn 2005), page 27.
 Ilan Pappé, “The 1948 Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,” Journal of Palestine Studies (Vol. 36, No. 1, Autumn 2006), pages 18-19.
 Jerome Slater, “What Went Wrong? The Collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process,” Political Science Quarterly (Vol. 116, No. 2, 2001), page 175.