This commentary represents a first. I've never written one based solely on a book that so moved me I had to speak about it. But Ilan Pappe's 2006 history of what transpired in Palestine beginning in the late 19th century and culminating in 1948 -- events which take us directly to the present -- has motivated me to write about The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine as someone who cares about human rights, as a person who tries to believe that evil is the absence of good rather than the inverse, and as a secular Jew who once felt proud of a country that seemed to represent liberation. Now I realize there's a historical reality that most don't know and that many Jews will continue to deny.
That would be a mistake because nearly every paragraph in the respected Israeli historian's important book is well documented from primary sources and from first-person accounts. It would also be a mistake because without understanding, acknowledging and acting upon what happened in Palestine and still happens in present-day Israel there can be no viable peace and no end to the violence that permeates that holy land.
One must read the book in order to know the full extent of the facts Pappe reveals, but it is important to know this: Even before the post-World War II British Mandate and UN plans for partition, Jewish leaders agreed to rid Palestine of its Arab majority in order to build a Jewish state. The main architect for what followed was David Ben Gurion, the "father of Israel" who became its Prime Minister. As early as 1938 he said, "I am for compulsory transfer; I do not see anything immoral in it." He was not alone in his goal or his strategy: every military and political leader whose name is now familiar -- Moshe Dayan, Ariel Sharon, Yitzak Rabin and more -- supported and participated in the ethnic cleansing actions that took place in 1948 -- while the British and the UN looked on.
Further, a successful propaganda campaign existed, and still does, and the world buys into it. It is based mainly on the myths that Palestinians had made nothing of the parched desert and that they always posed a real and present danger of annihilation to Jews. Both of these claims are false. Palestinians farmed the land they made fertile and had done so for thousands of years before they were driven from their destroyed villages, and they almost never rose up against their occupiers until more than sixty years after the ethnic cleansing and pogroms began -- just three years after the Jews had suffered similar atrocities during the Nazi occupations and the Holocaust that followed.
Pappe compares the ethnic cleansing of Palestine to that of the one that took place in the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia, often through comparative quotes. The comparison is chilling.
"These operations can be carried out "by destroying villages, setting fire to them, blowing them up, planting mines"or by mounting combing and control operations [that include] encirclement of villages, searches, and in the case of resistance, "the population expelled outside the border of the state," the Israeli plan for cleansing stated in 1948. A 1999 CNN report noted that a NATO spokesman had revealed what happened in Kosovo -- a "well-organized master plan [with] patterns of violence [in which] Serb tanks surrounded villages, rounded up civilians at gunpoint, separated young men from women and children [who were then] sent forward toward the border. " The homes were looted and systematically torched."
By 1948 ethnic cleansing (often euphemistically called "voluntary transfer") to remove Palestinians from their land and homes was in full swing. The goal of Jewish leadership was to lay claim to 80 percent of land even though they constituted a decided minority. Their terror campaigns, which included massacres, were horrific. In one pleasant village that thought it had reached a non-aggression pact with Jewish leadership, Jewish soldiers arrived one April day and began spraying houses with machine-gun fire. Villagers were gathered together and murdered in cold blood. Women were raped before their execution. Here is just one personal account: "They took us out one after the other, shot an old man and when one of his daughters cried, they shot her too. Then they called my brother and shot him in front of us, and when my mother yelled, bending over him, carrying my little sister in her hands, still breastfeeding, they shot her too." This witness was twelve years old at the time.
There were more atrocities. Numerous records and accounts reveal that cleansing operations escalated throughout 1948. Again, one must read the book to truly realize the scale and inhumanity that occurred that year and the injustices that followed, and that continue in different ways to this day. Anyone who reads the book can never again buy into the mythology and lies that underpin Israeli aggression.