an autodidact meets a dilettante…

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

Posts Tagged ‘Nakba

palestine 6 – the Nakba

leave a comment »

northern Israel, the long march to Lebanon, November 1948 – an Associated Press pic

On May 14 1948, Israel was unilaterally proclaimed as a nation by David Ben-Gurion, ending the British mandate in the region. US President Truman immediately recognised the new state in spite of the views of his predecessor, Roosevelt, who had argued that Arabs and other natives of the region should be consulted. According to the US ‘Office of the Historian‘: 

The British, who held a colonial mandate for Palestine until May 1948, opposed both the creation of a Jewish state and an Arab state in Palestine as well as unlimited immigration of Jewish refugees to the region. Great Britain wanted to preserve good relations with the Arabs to protect its vital political and economic interests in Palestine.

There’s no doubt some truth in this, but also by this time Britain was falling out of love with colonialism due to bitter and costly experience, and the post-war era experienced a re-emergence of general concern for oppressed people. 1948 was also the year of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so it’s worth noting some of the Articles in light of the Palestinian situation:

Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 13 (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 15 (1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

These are just some of the articles being drawn up at the time which have direct relevance to what was going on in Palestine, and it seems odd that the US, so heavily involved in the Declaration, was not particularly attuned to that relevance. Nevertheless it’s clear that the USA has been for decades the staunchest ally of the Zionists, and its arms and support have been vital to Israel’s imposition of an apartheid state in the region.

Going back to 1947, Palestine was in a world of tension, and the UN plan for partitioning the region, described in the previous post, only made matters worse. Neither the Zionist nationalists nor the Palestinian Arabs were happy with British control, and both sides – but particularly the never-consulted Palestinians – were unhappy with the partition as defined. The wider Arab region was becoming increasingly sensitised to the issues, as a sense of Arab nationalism grew. At the same time, the revelations of the Holocaust created greater sympathy for the Zionist cause, particularly in the US. Within Palestine itself, atrocities were committed on both sides, tit-for-tat killings, finally escalating to the point of civil war as the British were reluctant to intervene. It seems the Arab side was most active in the initial stages, as the Zionists began to organise for the long term, with increasing support for the paramilitary Haganah, and Ben-Gurion’s plan to have all Jewish men and women perform military service. Arms for the Yishuv (the aspirational and Zionist Jews within the Palestinian Mandate) were effectively smuggled from Europe and other regions. Meanwhile, upheaval and economic insecurity in Palestine disproportionately affected the Arab population. The displacement of the Arabs, a feature of Zionist tactics from the beginning, rose sharply in this period, leading to later evacuations.

It’s impossible, in a small blog piece, or a limited series of posts, to do justice to the events of 1948, before and after the declaration of Israeli statehood. Needless to say, these events, variously described as the Nakba (catastrophe), the Palestine War, or the War of Independence/Liberation, all depending on allegiance, left a legacy which has never been dealt with and continues to fester. Things started ‘small’, with car bombings, house bombings, indiscriminate grenade attacks, riots, and the mining of railways causing the deaths of scores of Arab and Jewish civilians as well as British military personnel. In February-March 1948, the charismatic Arab leader Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni organised a successful blockade of Jerusalem, using a force consisting almost entirely of volunteers. Although this was a blow to the Jewish leadership and the Haganah, who lost most of their armoured vehicles in trying to relieve the blockade, the Zionists were always better-funded than the Arabs, and the situation on the ground generally was such that an increasing number of Arabs and non-Jewish Palestinians, especially of the middle class, fled the region, always hoping to return.

Over time both sides became more organised and militarised. The Haganah in particular became more active, effectively relieving the Jerusalem blockade in mid-April 1948. The death of al-Husayni in battle at this time profoundly affected Palestinian-Arab morale.

The surrounding Arab nations provided some troops but were insufficiently organised to make a decisive intervention. The situation became increasingly disastrous for the Arab population. Hundreds of Palestinian villages were sacked, and the major cities of the region became void of Palestinians. Numbers are always in dispute, but the monoculturalist ambitions of many (but not all) Zionists were essentially achieved, as some 80% of the Arab population no longer resided in the new state of Israel by the end of the war. Many of them had understandable hopes of returning after the situation had stabilised. It took some time for the Arab population to realise that ethnic cleansing was always the aim of the Zionist monoculturalists. Not that all Zionists were monoculturalists, but the moderates in Israel were outmanoeuvred by the hardliners, and have been in the seven decades since.

In any case, the chaos on the ground during the early period of the war, with Jewish retaliation becoming increasingly heavy-handed, and the commission of such atrocities as the Deir Yassin massacre, led to panic flights of Arab populations. Arguments still rage, of course, as to whether there was a clear-cut policy (outlined in Plan Dalet) of what we would today call ‘ethnic cleansing’, but it’s clear enough that the Palestinian flights fulfilled most Zionist desires, and they were certainly encouraged by Zionist psychological warfare. The Palestinian flight from the city of Haifa, for example, was ‘facilitated’ by Haganah’s Arabic language broadcasts calling on Palestinian inhabitants to (irony of ironies) ‘kick out the foreign criminals’, and to evacuate the elderly, women and children. But these were more than psychological ploys, as Haganah battalions attacking Haifa had orders to shoot every male Arab on sight and to burn down Palestinian houses wherever they found them.

David Ben-Gurion, the Israeli leader and new Prime minister, was clearly the architect of the Nakba, insofar as there was one. He was more than willing to flout UN directives, and he clearly considered that Israel had to be a homogenous Hebrew state. It’s a repeat, in many ways, of the colonial enterprise here in Australia and in the United States. You either kick out the original inhabitants or you neuter them through overwhelming power and violence. Yet this was happening in the twentieth century, after all we’d learned about colonial injustice, and at the very time that the world was formulating a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Expulsion of Arab populations became more standard, and more brutal, as the war entered its final stages. There were also (e.g. the evacuation of Nazareth) cases of outright deception, reminiscent of the US government’s dealings with its native population in the 19th century. Ilan Pappé, the expatriate Israel historian, writes of this period:

In a matter of seven months, five hundred and thirty one villages were destroyed and eleven urban neighborhoods emptied … The mass expulsion was accompanied by massacres, rape and the imprisonment of men … in labor camps for periods of over a year.

The expelled Palestinians were mostly forced to live in refugee camps in surrounding countries, most notably Lebanon, where they were often subject to extreme restrictions, raids and massacres by forces allied to the Israeli government, as described, for example, in Tears for Tarshiha, by Olfat Mahmoud. Those who tried to return were often shot. The right of return is of course guaranteed by the UN, for what that is worth.

Writing about these events, and reading about them, is one of the most unpleasant and demoralising tasks I’ve ever undertaken. So this will be the last historical piece. Instead I will focus on heroines and heroes in the dark world of Israel/Palestine, many of them largely unsung. Most of them have suffered for their humanist outspokenness. Israel today is very close to the bottom of my list of countries worth visiting, and what is most exasperating is that telling the truth about it is likely to get you into big trouble even in Australia, if you happen to be a politician or a high profile intellectual. Luckily I’m neither, so I can write what I like. I’ll try my best to tell the truth – and the truth does have a habit of coming out eventually, though I strongly expect that the truth about Israel’s anti-democratic democracy will be a long long time in coming. I mean the global acceptance of the truth, which is currently accepted by only a tiny beleaguered minority.

Some reading

Tears for Tarshiha, by Olfat Mahmoud

Goliath, by Max Blumenthal

The case for Palestine, by Paul Heywood-Smith

The Last Earth: a Palestinian story, by Ramzy Baroud

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1948_Palestinian_exodus

Written by stewart henderson

April 17, 2019 at 8:06 pm

palestine 5 – the turbulent thirties and forties, towards the Nakba

leave a comment »

The 1930s saw a growing animosity among the native, mostly Sunni Moslem population towards Zionist claims to and appropriation of Palestinian lands. Sentiments about the future of the region were diverse, animated and increasingly dogmatic. There are no clearly ‘representative’ figures, but the career of Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem from 1921 to 1948, illustrates some of the complexities of Arab-Zionist-European relations in the period that includes WW2.

Husseini was born to a prominent Palestinian family in Jerusalem (his father and his half-brother also served as the city’s mufti). At the outset of WW1 he joined the Ottoman army, but switched his allegiance to the British after their forces captured Jerusalem, seeking their support for Arab independence against the Ottoman Turks. After the war he became a prominent writer and activist, and a supporter of the short-lived Arab Kingdom of Syria. Later, after securing the position of mufti (and exalting the title to Grand Mufti), he sought to limit or stop Jewish-Zionist immigration to Palestine, in direct opposition to the Balfour Declaration and the British position on the region. Interestingly, it was only through British string-pulling that he was able to secure the job of mufti, a lifelong sinecure. For more than a decade Husseini was seen as a British ally in the region, in spite of his increasing interest in Arab-Palestinian nationalism and his antagonism towards Zionism, but the Arab Revolt (1936-39) obliged him to take sides against Britain. Evading an arrest warrant, he fled Palestine and finally took refuge in fascist Italy and Germany, where he sought Nazi support for Arab independence in the Levant. As a propagandist for the Nazis he was implicated in war crimes. He found refuge in Egypt after the war, but was still active in political life, expressing opposition to the 1947 UN partition plan, and helping to organise an All-Palestine government in Egypt-controlled Gaza. Though supported by many Arab states, it was limited in effect and was superseded by the PLO in the sixties. Husseini died, a controversial and complex figure, in Lebanon in 1974. His connection with Nazism and with the anti-semitism that has since been such a feature of Arab nationalism appears to have been his major legacy.

Husseini’s increasing anti-Semitism mirrored to some extent the Arab nationalist movement as a whole, at a time when post-war Europe and the USA were moving in the opposite direction after the revelations of the Holocaust. These shifts have been momentous in terms of international attitudes to the Arab world and the foundation of the nation of Israel.

Against this backdrop, and after a spike in Jewish immigration to the region, a nationalist revolt against the British mandate in Palestine, which began as a general strike organised by Husseini in 1936 and was at first confined to political action, became increasingly bloody and widespread in response to repressive British measures. According to the Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi – whose figures are probably more reliable than those of the British – ‘over ten percent of the adult male Palestinian Arab population between 20 and 60 was killed, wounded, imprisoned or exiled’, while Jewish casualties were relatively small.

The Arab Revolt (1936-39) was an almost inevitable response to increased Jewish immigration and aggressive land acquisition, leading to an increasingly impoverished and desperate Palestinian Arab peasantry. It failed, of course, against the superior military forces of the British and their European allies, but it led to a more organised Arab resistance movement in the region, though this was countered by increased British support for Zionist militias such as the Haganah – the precursor of the notorious Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).

British attempts during its mandate to limit Zionist appropriation of Arab lands were half-hearted and easily circumvented, with the result that the native population suffered the usual consequences of colonisation – marginalisation, impoverishment and disconnection from traditional custom and culture. This also led to an Arab nationalist movement that became increasingly conservative, harking back to a supposed pre-colonial utopia.

Unrest leading up to the revolt caused the British to set up a Royal Commission, which recommended partition of the region into Jewish and Palestinian sectors. The Jewish sector, though smaller, comprised the land already appropriated, which was of course the best agricultural land. The Commission also put forward a more radical proposal, of transfer of Palestinian Arabs from the region to Transjordan – east of the Jordan River. This strongly appealed to Jewish leaders of the period, such as David Ben-Gurion, who favoured Zionist monoculturalism. The commission’s proposals were rejected outright by Arab leaders, and with war in Europe looming, the Brits were anxious to avoid creating enemies in Palestine and the rest of the Arab world. Finally the idea of partition was rejected, or temporarily shelved.

Meanwhile, indiscriminate acts of violence and terror on both sides were stepped up throughout 1937 and 1938. Concentration camps were constructed to accommodate both victims and perpetrators, and collective fines added to the burdens of impoverished Palestinians. The Zionists were uncompromising in their ambitions for the region and this created an us-and-themism in the Palestinians which hadn’t existed before, at least not to such an extent. Elsewhere, as the ill-treatment of Jews in Europe was becoming known, Jews were offered the chance to emigrate to the US, Canada and Australia, but Zionists opposed these offers, as Morris Ernst, international envoy for refugees under Roosevelt, describes:

active Jewish leaders decried, sneered and then attacked me as if I were a traitor. At one dinner party I was openly accused of freer immigration (into the US) in order to undermine political Zionism.

The crushing of the Arab Revolt by the British military was somewhat softened by an attempt to curb Jewish immigration. The Brits declared that it was ‘not part of their policy that Palestine should become a Jewish state, that 75,000 Jewish immigrants should be admitted over the next five years, but no more after that without the approval of the Arabs’. This declaration was followed until the end of WW2, after which the revelations of the Holocaust weakened British resolve and essentially sealed the fate of Arab opposition to the creation of the state of Israel. Some idea of what the Palestinians were up against is given in these lines from Paul Heywood-Smith, a Queen’s Counsel and Chairperson of the Australian Friends of Palestine Association:

The Jews not only intended to introduce an alien culture, they planned to make it the only one in the country: culturally, politically, economically and demographically. They insisted on Hebrew, separate schools and hospitals, self-segregation and the exclusion of Arabs from every institution they established.

Combine these drastic and uncompromising intentions with increasing support from the powerful nations of Europe and later the USA, and it becomes clear that the native non-Jewish inhabitants had far less than a fighting chance of having their voices listened to and their rights upheld.

By the end of WW2, Zionists were openly hostile to British attempts to contain the situation in Palestine. Jews were being smuggled into the region at increasing rates, many of them of course in traumatised condition. Non-Jews still outnumbered Jews by a substantial proportion, but organisations such as the Irgun, a well-organised paramilitary organisation which was as violently anti-British as it was anti-Arab, made this disproportion largely irrelevant. Terrorism sometimes does work.

On November 27 1947, the newly formed UN General Assembly adopted a partition plan for Palestine (Resolution 181 II), terminating the British Mandate for the region. There wasn’t much in the way of consultation with the native Palestinians, who rejected the proposal out of hand, along with every other Arab state. The Zionists were willing to agree to it, no doubt as a stop-gap measure, but in any case nothing came of it, because civil war broke out immediately after the plan’s adoption. The British were by this time primarily interested in removing themselves from the region with a minimum of casualties. Their Mandate expired on May 14 1948, and on the same day David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s future first Prime Minister, declared Israel an independent state. The civil war, however, was still ongoing. This war and its aftermath, known in Arabic as the Nakba, (catastrophe in English) is probably the most important event in this several-part narrative, so I’ll save it for my next post. 

I’ll end this post by looking again at the UN situation. In 1947 the UN voted 33 to 13 for partition of Palestine, with 10 abstentions. The people of Palestine had no vote in the matter. It was convenient for powerful western nations (whose doors were largely closed to Jewish refugees) to support a solution which gave 54% of Palestinian land to the Jewish minority. At the time, many Afro-Asian nations, who would certainly have taken a more dispassionate view of the issue, weren’t part of the General Assembly. Heywood-Smith adds some interesting colour to the vote – revealing much of the bullying shenanigans that have hampered UN votes right up to the present:

… of the 33 who voted in favour many went against their better judgment but were overborne by diplomatic violence and arm-twisting by the Truman White House. A war-devastated France was told it would lose US aid if it voted against partition. Liberia, an impoverished African state, was told that American investment in the country would not proceed unless it voted yes. Latin American delegates were told that the proposed Pan-American highway would be more likely if they voted yes. The Philippines changed its vote after intense pressure and after its delegate initially spoke against the plan.

In any case, partition didn’t occur, and after the civil war, many hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs were forcibly removed from their homes and out of the new nation of Israel, to which they have never been allowed to return.

References

Paul Heywood-Smith, The case for Palestine, 2014

https://www.paljourneys.org/en/story/14310/guerrilla-warfare-and-mass-strike-1936-revolt

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1936–1939_Arab_revolt_in_Palestine

https://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/29/nov-29-1947-united-nations-partitions-palestine-allowing-for-creation-of-israel/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amin_al-Husseini

Written by stewart henderson

March 10, 2019 at 10:33 am