Right to return for the Palestinians

FRFI 177 February / March 2004

As Zionists debate their supposed ‘demographic problem’ and Sharon plans to complete the cantonisation of the West Bank, the right of return for Palestinian refugees remains the most important issue in the Palestinian struggle for justice. Israel’s whole existence depends on the continued dispossession of the Palestinian people, and a continued rejection of their right to return.

The first Zionists
There are currently 3.9 million Palestinian refugees registered with the UN and a further 4.5 million scattered around the borders of their homeland. They are refugees because they were expelled from their ancestral homeland by the Zionists in order to set up and expand the state of Israel. Zionists aim to have a racially pure state of Jews in Israel. From the outset they intended to purge Palestine of its indigenous population. As early as 1895 Theodor Herzl wrote ‘we shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border’. In 1919 Chaim Weizmann, the leader of the World Zionist Organisation (WZO), along with other leading Zionists, attended the Paris Peace Conference, to discuss the transfer of the Palestinians to Iraq. Iraq was persistently favoured as the final destination for the Palestinians for two reasons. First, the Zionists wanted to get rid of the Palestinians as far as possible from Israel’s borders, but second, many Zionists claimed, and still do, that Eretz Israel includes parts of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt and they did not wish to do the job of ethnic cleansing twice.

Ethnic cleansing
The project to transfer, cleanse, evacuate, expel the Palestinians out of Palestine was continuously planned and promoted yet obscured. In 1931 Weizmann warned against ‘the world knowing about an attempt to expel the Arabs from Palestine’, but he joined David Ben Gurion (who became Israel’s first Prime Minister) at a round table conference in London to suggest a figure of £10 million to transfer 100,000 Palestinian families (around 600,000 people) to Iraq.

In 1937, 1944 and 1948 transfer committees were set up for the sole purpose of ethnically cleansing the Palestinians. All the leading Zionists participated – Ben Gurion, Weizmann, Yosef Weitz (a dedicated and energetic proponent of ethnic cleansing in the Jewish National Fund). Also represented on these committees were all the leading Zionist organisations – WZO, New Zionist Organisation (NZO, Jabotinsky’s Revisionists, later transformed into Likud), Jewish Agency, Jewish National Fund and so on.

Two important proposals were put forward by individual Zionists: Edward Norman (an American) and Ben Horin. The Norman Plan, formulated between 1935 and 1948, was very detailed about the transfer of 1.2 million Palestinians to Iraq, literally emptying all mandatory Palestine of Palestinians. Norman had the support of all the leading Zionists and Zionist organisations, and the financial backing of Baron de Rothschild, Baron Maurice de Hirsch, Felix Warburg and many more. Norman acknowledged that ‘Jewish colonisation entailed taking over Palestine without the consent of the indigenous population’ reckoning that ‘if the Arabs are forced out as a result of Jewish pressure, they will go with ill will and will cherish enmity towards the Jews that will persist for generations and would render the Jewish homeland precarious’.

Ben Horin was a close associate of Vladimir Jabotinsky, and together they broke away from the WZO and formed the NZO. Horin suggested that ‘the Arabs of Palestine and Transjordania be transferred to Iraq or a united Iraq-Syria state’. He wrote a book called Middle East: Crossroads of History that became the basis for the plan of US President Herbert Hoover, launched in 1945 in the New York Telegram. Its aim: ‘to clear Palestine completely for a large Jewish immigration and colonisation’. US Supreme Court Justice and Presidential Advisor Felix Frankfurter (an avid Zionist and legal advisor at the Paris Peace Conference) ensured that White House backing was forthcoming.

Zionist expansion
Zionists considered numerous partition plans, such as the Peel partition plan of 1937 and the UN partition plan of 1947, to be temporary. Weizmann told the British High Commissioner: ‘We shall expand this whole country in time and this is only an arrangement for the next 20-25 years.’ Relentless pursuit of Zionist goals led Weizmann, in 1937, to tell the pro-Zionist British Colonial Secretary, Ormsby Gore, ‘success in Palestine depends on the British government transferring the Arab population. The transfer could only be done by the British and not the Jews’. Rejection by the British prompted Ben Gurion to write: ‘We must prepare ourselves to carry out this transfer.’

All Zionists agreed on the policy of transfer, but debate ensued over whether it should be voluntary or compulsory. ‘Voluntary’ meant only the agreement of the proposed host country to accept the transferee. In 1938 the Jewish Agency held a vote on the issue: most favoured collective forced removal, which was eventually carried out.

The responsibility of the British
Responsibility for the Palestinian tragedy clearly lies with successive British governments. Without British support the Zionist project would not have succeeded. They ensured that the Zionists got a foothold and established themselves in Palestine, and offered protection. The Palestinians rapidly felt threatened by the influx of Europeans and rebelled, but British forces guaranteed Zionist success, ruthlessly suppressing resistance. This prolonged state of affairs culminated in the General Strike of 1936-1939 in which 5,000 Palestinians were killed and 20,000 seriously injured. The Palestinian people were mercilessly crushed, disarmed and exhausted by the British, enabling the Zionists to expand their aims.

By 1948 the Zionists were ready for war. The British estimated that the Haganah (Israeli army) had 35,000 armed men (14,500 trained by the British), and 40,000 paramilitary settlers. There were also 25,000 Jewish Brigade soldiers, professionals who fought with the allies in the Second World War, and some 10,000 irregulars. They were heavily armed. The Zionists had a fledgling arms industry that sold £33 million worth of arms to the British during the War – guns, anti-tank weapons, mortars, grenades etc.

From 1945 the Jewish Agency embarked on a programme of buying entire weapons manufacturing plants as war scrap from the US, which they smuggled into Palestine and installed into heavily-populated Jewish areas, constructing armoured personnel carriers and light artillery. They bought fighter planes from the British and the Czechs, as well as munitions by the boatload. The number of armed Arabs was just 25,000, 10,000 of whom were Palestinians and only a quarter of these were trained. Money, overwhelming power and Western sophistication pitted against a largely peasant people with virtually nothing but their spirit and a token semblance of arms.

By early May 1948 (Israel declared independence on May 15 1948) the Zionists had already expelled 200,000 Palestinians under the eyes of the British mandate forces. When the British left they handed vital strategic towns and positions to the Zionists, leaving the Palestinians to the mercy of the Zionists. By June 1948 a further 190,000 Palestinians had been driven out, 85% of which was a direct result of Haganah military action.

By 1949 over 700,000 Palestinians had been made refugees. Meir Pail, the Israeli historian of the Haganah estimates that a third were forced out by direct military action, a third fled out of fear, and the remainder were ‘encouraged’ to flee by Zionist psychological warfare. The Deir Yassin massacre on April 9 1949 served as a warning to those Palestinians who wanted to remain; it was well documented by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the British Police in Palestine.

The massacre was committed by the Irgun terrorists of Menachim Begin (Prime Minister of Israel 1977-1984) and the terrorist Stern Gang of Yitzhak Shamir (Prime Minister of Israel 1986-1992). The Haganah supplied weaponry and the Palmach (commandos) gave artillery support. Jacques de Rainier of ICRC walked in soon after the Irgun/Stern Gang ‘clean up’ that ‘had been done with machine guns, then grenades and finished off with knives…’. He found a little girl of ten, mutilated by a hand grenade, but still alive. The ‘horrible sight’ was meticulously recorded by the British authorities and the details observed by Assistant Inspector General Richard Cutling: ‘women had bracelets torn from their arms and rings from their fingers, and part of the women’s ears were severed to remove ear-rings.’

The few survivors relayed their ordeal to the British authorities: ‘families had been lined up and shot down in a barrage of machine gun fire; young girls raped; a pregnant mother was first slaughtered and then had her stomach cut open with a butcher’s knife; a girl who tried to remove the unborn child from the woman’s womb was shot down.’ Others were literally cut to pieces with cutlasses. Today Yad Vashem, the Israeli holocaust memorial, backs onto Deir Yassin. Although the perpetrators of this hideous crime are known to the Israeli authorities, no one has ever been charged. The Stern Gang held a press conference to broadcast their massacre of 254 Palestinians.

Many other massacres took place; among the worst were Ayn Zaytun, Hula, Ilabun, Tantura, Saliha, Sasa, Safsaf, Al Dawayma etc. In Al Dawayma Moshe Dayan’s (later Israeli Defence Minister and Foreign Secretary) battalion overran the village as Israeli soldiers testified: ‘The children they killed by breaking their heads with sticks. There was not a house without its dead…One soldier boasted that he had raped a woman and then shot her.’ Over 80 villagers were massacred.

Israeli historians reveal over 120 lesser massacres took place and that at the end of every battle a massacre was perpetrated against the Palestinians. A common tactic used by the Israelis was to surround a village on three sides, enter the village, round up the villagers and in cold blood shoot one or two of them, whereupon those remaining would run for their lives from the open exit. Other methods employed were harassment, the burning and destruction of crops and finally the total destruction of villages to make sure the villagers had nothing to come back to. Over 418 villages were razed.

Plan Dalet
All these horrors played a decisive accelerating factor in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Many people left, fearing they would become the new Deir Yassin. As Begin put it: ‘Arabs throughout the country, induced to believe wild tales of “Irgun butchery” were seized with limitless panic and started to flee for their lives…[of] Arabs who lived on the present territory of the state of Israel, only some 165,000 are still there…The political and economic significance of this development can hardly be overestimated.’

This then was Plan Dalet, prepared in 1944 and finalised in 1948. At all levels of Zionist decision making it was understood that the objective was a Jewish state with the least possible number of Arabs remaining: ‘expulsion over the borders of the local Arab population in the event of opposition to our attacks…the defence of contiguous Jewish settlements in Arab bases, including the “temporary” capture of Arab bases on the other side of the border.’ In other words annexation of Arab designated territory.

Plan to reorganise Middle East
After 1949 the Israelis continued their obsessive cleansing of Palestine. In 1950 Ben Gurion authorised the expulsion of the remaining 2,700 Arab inhabitants from the town of Al Majdal, now Ashkelon. Pre-1948 Al Majdal was a thriving community of 10,000. Moshe Dayan directed the operation. Between 1949 and 1953 the Bedouin tribespeople of the Negev suffered the same fate, 17,000 of them were expelled. In fact out of an estimated pre-war population of 75,000 Bedouins only 13,000 remained by 1951. In 1953 it was reported in the UN that 7,000 Bedouins had been forcefully removed from Israel.

In 1956, as Britain, France and Israel secretly colluded to smash Egypt and its President Nasser for nationalising the Suez Canal, Ben Gurion proposed to his co-conspirators a ‘fantastic’ comprehensive plan for the reorganisation of the Middle East. It entailed Israel annexing Lebanon up to the Litani river, the Sinai Peninsula, and dividing Jordan with Iraq, providing Iraq agreed to take all the Palestinian refugees and make peace with Israel. The US thwarted the plan. However, Yitzhak Rabin (Israeli Prime Minister 1992-1995) commander of forces in northern Israel was able to boast later: ‘I solved one problem in the north by exploiting the fighting against the Egyptians…and we transferred 2,000 Arabs…across the Jordan River into Syria.’ In July 1948, under direct orders from Ben Gurion to expel the Palestinians en masse from Lydda and Ramla, the Oslo Agreement co-signatory directed the expulsion of over 50,000 Palestinians. During this operation a massacre occurred in Lydda in which 250 Palestinians were murdered and a further 350 died on the march into exile.

‘We have taken their country’
The ethnic cleansing continues to this day. The Palestinian people have had to endure a slow burn massacre for over 55 years, harassed, murdered and uprooted – in some cases up to four times. Israel’s insatiable appetite for cruelty and expansion knows no frontiers.

Nahum Goldman (head of the Jewish World Congress) in his book The Jewish Paradox cites a letter from Ben Gurion: ‘If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: We have taken their country. Sure God promised it to us. We came from Israel 2,000 years ago and what is that to them? Our God is not their God. There has been anti-Semitism, Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz – but that was not their fault. They see one thing – we came here and stole their country.’

The Zionist state, then, was founded on the forcible expulsion of the Palestinian people; many Zionists openly talk today of the need for further ethnic cleansing to safeguard the Jewish character of the Zionist state. There can be no settlement of the Palestinian question unless the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to the homes from which they were so brutally driven is recognised and put into effect.
Joe Reac


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