Mechanisms of Expulsion
By Salman Abu Sitta, Journal of Palestine Refugee Studies Vol 1/2 Autumn 2011
"This is an example of orientalism that people in the West would not believe what the Palestinians said. It is only believed when it comes from the West or an Israeli source. The people in Tantura were taken to a place where they were supposed to dig trenches. In each trench four young people would be shot and then another group of people would come after them. They were buried in the trenches there are records of at least 200-250 people who were murdered in this manner.
Villagers were collected in two groups, women and children on one the side and men on the other side. The women are stripped of their jewellery and told to go north to Lebanon or east to Jordan. The men, some of them selected in fours were killed and dumped into graves dug by them and the rest were taken into detention...taken to forced labour camps in July 1948."
In the history of Palestine, there has never been such a major reversal of fortunes and massive de-population of the country like that of 1947-48. There has never been such comprehensive looting and robbery of land and property, such persistent and continuous death and destruction of a people. It’s now more than 22 thousand and 620 days since the onset of our Nakba. We count them day by day. The crimes in Palestine are not merely the incidents and war crimes carried out during armed conflict. The terrible war crimes in Europeduring World War Two occurred during the heat of the war and ended with its termination. But in Palestine, we have a consistent system of war crimes. Not only 77 massacres in 1948 but thereafter in the 1950s Qibya and Al-Burayj in the 1960s in Khan Yunis, in 70s in Beirut, in 80s in Sabra and Shatila in the 90s in Rafah, in this century in Jenin and Gaza. These war crimes occur have occurred almost every single month since 1948 Nakba.
What happens in Palestine is not merely occupation; it is much more than that, occupation means military control of a country for a limited period of time, soldiers come and go. Israeli occupation however, is brutal and indefinite in duration and is an instrument of robbery, destruction and confiscation.
What happens in Palestine is not merely like the South African type of apartheid, it is more than that. In South Africa Black people were not removed from the country of their home, black people were not ethnically cleansed on a large scale, but in Palestine this carried out on a mass scale.
What happens in Palestine is more than the infamous ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing traditionally occurs between two groups of indigenous people but in Palestine the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people is carried out by invading settlers.
What happens in Palestine is not merely racism. Racism is found socially in many countries. However in Israel, It is institutional racism, embedded in at least 24 laws. Without these racist laws there would be no Israel as we know it today, there would be no Zionism today. What happens in Palestine is not only a colonial project although this is the closest description. Colonial projects steal the country’s natural resources and use its people as cheap labour. They do not totally dispossess people or expel them. In the mid twentieth century while British colonial soldiers were packing their bags and leaving India and Europe and Asia to Europe, Zionist soldiers were pouring to the opposite direction, to Palestine to conquer it.
Israeli policies are a lethal combination of all of these descriptions, a feat, if such is the word, not achieved by any other in history. Thus Israel constructs itself today as a peculiar combination of a very backward tribal society, propelled by a racist, a colonialistic ideology and armed with lethal Hi-Tec armament. It is an extremely dangerous combination.
Myths were needed to create a virtual world in the absence of legitimate facts. Such myths go from the absurd such as, “God gave them Palestine” to the false, that “Palestine is a land without people”. In support to these myths Israel created a nexus of money, media and military for furthering their superstitious colonial aspirations. We are however told that speaking such truth is wrong because its part of a narrative that delegitimizes Israel. When we go into the details of the struggle, we are told, “You cannot turn the clock back”.
The facts however is that we don’t need to turn back the clock, as this nexus of aggression still grip the Palestinian landscape. One simple fact is that a Nakba is not a traffic accident. It is not a casualty of a limited war, it’s been happening every day since 1948. Zionist objectives did not change since that Basel conference in 1897, when the wealthy European Jews met in Basel to carve out a colony for themselves. Of course the methods have changed, but the principles remain the same.
If we can understand this simple principle, we can answer those who continue to tell us that the situation is very complicated. No! it is not. Of course we have to go to the roots of the original sin, we have to go to 1917, we have to go to 1948 and we have to go to 1993. Going back to the roots is not anachronistic.
We need to be mindful of those who say that you cannot turn the clock back. The essence of justice is to unearth the truth and make restoration for injustices committed without the obstruction of time. Justice as is said is eternal. Zionist practices in Palestine destroyed, not just lives but memory and history. This was the original sin which I will describe in some detail.
When General Allenby came to conquer Palestine in 1917, he found a coastal plain the rich mountain range and the rich Jordan valley, it was not a desert. People lived there in about one thousand towns and villages. These towns and villages were charted in the 19th century by several surveyors, including the Palestine Exploration Fund. Given this simple fact, it is a masterful deception when Zionists submitted to the Versailles conference in Paris in 1919, a map which slashed all of the one thousand towns and villages and called it grazing land for nomads. This master act of deception could have been revealed easily, to colonial powers because they already had surveyed the land. But they accepted it.
The collusion of course did not stop thereafter. After 30 years of British domination, disguised as a mandate to bring independence to Palestine, a proposal was made in the United Nations to partition Palestine between those immigrants who had just landed in the country and the people of the country.
It was proposed to give to the immigrants about 55% but they took 78% by military force and therefore, what we call ethnic cleansing is the act of occupying 78% of Palestine. This is the beginning of the Nakba. The Zionist project could not have been achieved by anything other than violence and a series of massacres. The Israelis have become professionals at this. An aerial photo by the RAF from the Burayr village is an example. The Burayr village was attacked on the 13th May 1948. It occurred two days before the British Mandate ended and two days before Israel declared statehood over the decimation of 220 villages like Burayr. What happened in Burayr is typical of about 77 massacres. The village was surrounded from three sides, South East and West. They went into Burayr with tanks and machine guns and quickly overcame any resistance. They went into every house, threw grenades and very soon Burayr went up in flames. The survivors left through the Northern direction. We have a list of 133 names of mothers, fathers and children killed in their homes this way. This is the pattern all along.
We have the infamous case of the Tantura massacre. The Tantura massacre was known to Palestinians from 1951, Nimr Al-Khatib wrote about it in his book in 1951, from the evidence and testimony of those who survived. In 2002 an Israeli, Teddy Katz, under the supervision of Ilan Pappé published a thesis about Tantura.
The Israelis were up in arms, asking “how could you tell lies about Tantura”. It is of course proven beyond any shadow of doubt except to the West and to Israel. We have known of this massacre since 1950/51.
This is an example of orientalism that people in the West would not believe what the Palestinians said. It is only believed when it comes from the West or an Israeli source. The people in Tantura were taken to a place where they were supposed to dig trenches. In each trench four young people would be shot and then another group of people would come after them. They were buried in the trenches there are records of at least 200-250 people who were murdered in this manner.
Villagers were collected in two groups, women and children on one the side and men on the other side. The women are stripped of their jewellery and told to go north to Lebanon or east to Jordan. The men, some of them selected in fours were killed and dumped into graves dug by them and the rest were taken into detention.
So what happened to the men that were detained? They were taken to forced labour camps. There are photos of people, farmers, civilians, taken to forced labour camps in July 1948. This is not an invention; there are records and testimonies of many people that have been through these forced labour camps.
Moreover, in my visit to Geneva I photocopied 500 copies of the Red Cross files on the forced labour camps in Palestine by Israel in 1948. The Red Cross visited them, they called them Prisoners of War (PoW), but of course civilians cannot be Prisoners of War and if they were soldiers, to be called PoWs, they were not allowed to use anything to aid the enemies military effort. But civilians were treated as soldiers and they were made to work for Israel’s military effort. They dug trenches, they carried ammunition and they cleared the debris of the destroyed Palestinian homes. We have located five forced labour camps, registered by the Red Cross. Not only that, we know the names of the commandants of the forced labour camps. They have the names of Schneiderman, Weissbach, Mosedale, Rappaport and Kossovsky. These are the names mentioned in the Red Cross reports. Most of them were German Jews, belonging to the Irgun terrorist organisation.
When we took testimonies from these people, we found there were another 17 forced labour camps not visited by the Red Cross. They helped the construction of Israel and after more than one year they were released, those who agreed to leave Palestine and go to Syria or Lebanon were released quickly. Those who were determined to stay in their country, in Palestine were left in the forced labour camps.
That is the environment in which the refugee problem was created. We hear a lot about what happened to the refugees themselves but we should also know what happened to the homes of refugees after they were expelled. So we made a study on the first 18 years of Israel’s existence and what happened to the Palestinian homes. We discovered four different phases to the theft of homes and property.
The first is what Slovensky called the ‘frenzy of looting’. They looted the main cities of Palestine, Jaffa, Lydda, Ramla, Jerusalem and Haifa. Hoards of people, men, women, children, all Jews, went to the Palestinian homes. They took everything they could carry, what they couldn’t carry they ripped off the homes, they ripped off doors, windows, tiles and took them off, that was the first group of looters.
The second group of looters were the army officers, who in their ‘courageous’ endeavour, they managed to conquer the un-armed civilian farmers and conquered the villages and the country. They went to the homes with their tanks and lorries and loaded them with the loot from the Arab homes. In Lydda alone, they filled 1800 trucks.
The third group of looters were the high members of the Mapai party who divided Jerusalem’s houses between them. The next group of looters were the Jewish business men in Haifa and Jaffa, who met together and decided who would take which stores and fabric plants.
But the biggest looter of all, which is still in existence today is the Jewish National Fund, it took over all the land of Palestine and claimed to be the environmental improvement agency for the land. Not only that but when it reached the point that they started destroying the Palestinian villages, someone discovered that the history of these villages maybe of some value in constructing a judiazed history. So they halted the destruction and sent archaeologists to the villages before destroying them, in order to see if they could find a stone or a piece artefact to prove that history. So they created an archaeological survey of Israel that would visit the villages before their destruction to examine them and then decide what to do.
We have the maps of this archaeological survey and they gave permission in the end to the Jewish National Fund to destroy the villages. The idea of course was to destroy any history other than that which serves their interest. For example, Roman, Byzantine, Arabic, Islamic, Ottoman, Mamluk were destroyed because they don’t provide any evidence which they required. This may be a loss of heritage to Palestinians but it is also a loss to humanity. Palestine is a very ancient country, we are fortunate in having a book written by the Bishop of Caesarea in year 313 AD when he charted the towns and villages of Palestine, it was written in old Greek, it is now translated in English. We have compared his book with the map of Palestine to discover which villages were destroyed that were in existence two thousand years ago. In the Bishops list there are villages and kherbits, which is a name for old villages that were in existence during his time in 313 AD, all the way until they were destroyed in 1948. So the loss to humanity is unimaginable.
In short, here is the Nakba, Palestinians lived in about 1000 towns and villages, 78% of them were in the land we call Palestine, in the land which was later called Israel. In 1948, life was extinguished in 675 towns and villages and where did the people go? They are the refugees who are fighting for their homes since 1948.
The events described above about the Nakba not only inform us of the past but it also explains the present. This is clearly visible in Gaza. Why is Gaza a problem? Why is it the most densely populated part of the world? Of course one of the reasons is because Gaza was overwhelmed with refugees fleeing historical Palestine, but also because Israel’s land theft continued even after the signing of the armistice agreement between Egypt and Israel. The size of Gaza was cut down by 200 square kilometres in a secret agreement, recorded by the Security Council, called the Modus Vivendi agreement which was supposed to be a temporary agreement. This temporary agreement is now a permanent border which has allowed the annexation of 200 square kilometres from the Gaza Strip that will never be recovered.
That is why the Gaza Strip is now 362 square kilometres in which one and a half million people live today. 247 villages in the South of Palestine have been herded into eight camps in Gaza. That is why it is crowded and that is why people in the village of Najd throw very primitive projectiles into Sderot, they are in effective throwing these projectiles into their land. Because Sderot lives on the land of Najd and the people of Najd live 2 kilometres away, they look in the distance and they see Sderot, people living in it and they throw these projectiles into their own homes, to their lands to tell the people there, “get out”, “That is our house”.
But the major looter, the Jewish National Fund, took much of the land and built kibbutz. Kibbutz is a semi-military structure of about 200-300 people, they call it a village. Then this area is taken over by the Jewish National Fund. The real use of this land is really for the military. All over Israel there are 55 airports, there are two dozen depots of weapons of mass destruction, there are so many factories and training fields and so on which are all military. In other words the purpose of this is not really to accommodate people to live, it is to create the largest military base in anywhere between Paris and Beijing. Of course, if peace prevails, we don’t need this and therefore if these are removed, the answer is simple, people can return to their homes, there is no problem whatsoever. In fact in Gaza’s case, they can simply walk towards their homes with their own feet.
So we come to the important question, how can we reverse the war crime of this perpetual ethnic cleansing? We can do a lot. Take one simple example of the Northern district. We have actually examined 1300 localities in Israel today and found there are five categories of people living there. First are the Palestinians who remained in 1948 Palestine. Two, Ashkenazis who established the State during the mandate.Three, the Arab Jews that came to occupy the void after the Palestinians had been expelled.
Four, the assorted European Jews that came to live there after the 1967 Israeli victory and fifth, the Russians that came in the 1990s. The next question is who are the original inhabitants of this Northern District? They are Palestinians. We know where they are, we know them by name, by family, by mother and father and so on. We know where they come from, we know where they live and in which camp they live in today. We can bring them back, most from the North are in Syria and Lebanon and we can put them back to where they belong and we have the numbers, the numbers are easy, there are only eight hundred thousand people to return. They will find in front of them, one million, but of this one million, there are half a million Palestinians in Galilee. So the dismembered families would return to their kin.
Of course there would be a lot to do after that. There has been a great destruction of the environment in Palestine; Destruction and pollution of the aquifers, the shrinking of the Dead Sea and so on which we would have to deal with. If we carry out these actions, and I am sure that under International Law it will one day be required. The only obstacle to this viable solution is ideology, superstition and racism.
We are all duty bound to uphold and defend justice. The legacy of injustice is handed down to you by your grandparents and you will pass down to your children. We can be the generation that breaks this ongoing injustice. In this century, in Durban in 2001, people representing four thousand NGOs worldwide, stood by Palestinian rights and denounced Israeli racism and apartheid. Now is the time to act, at the age of the internet, satellite TV, newspaper headlines, nobody can claim that I didn’t know and therefore silence is complicity to the crime. In the end justice must prevail, there is nothing more fundamental than the right of a human being to return to his home and to live in freedom, let us make that happen soon.
The original article with illustrations is in the Journal of Palestine Refugee Studies Vol 1/2 Autumn 2011