An Historical Outline

by Bill Weinberg

“Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers.

—George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” 1946

“Admitting honestly to the moral and political responsibility for the crime which the Zionist scheme has perpetrated against us is what will pave the way for a historical reconciliation between the two peoples—the Palestinian and the Israeli people.”

—Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian national poet, 1941-2008, spoken in Radio Palestine address on the 50th anniversary of the Nakba, May 15, 1998

Zionism was conceived as the Jewish national liberation movement, and attained control over Palestine just as the national liberation struggles of the colonial world were gaining ground in the aftermath of World War II. But to the Palestinians, Zionism was a new form of colonialism which ironically came to power in the era of decolonization. The more the state of Israel came to behave like a colonial power over the Palestinians, the more it came to serve as a proxy and regional extension of the neo-colonial powers of the West, serving to beat back and humble the rising tide of revolutionary Arab nationalism and, later, Islamist militancy.

Many indigenous peoples around the world have been dispossessed of their homelands by colonialist projects. But both the centrality of Palestine to the three great Abrahamic religions, as well as its proximity to the world’s most strategic oil reserves, gives the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a unique criticality to the question of world peace. If the international community, either at the level of nation-states or citizen initiatives, truly wants to promote peace, an understanding of the dispossession of the Palestinians must inform any action we take.

The Historical Background

While Zionism is a movement of modernity, both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appeal to claims arising from past centuries and even millennia of contest over the territory, and any understanding of the contemporary crisis must begin with an overview of this history.

Palestine is the southern stretch of the western arm of the Fertile Crescent, whose eastern arm is the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, known in ancient times as Mesopotamia and today the heartland of Iraq. Between the two arms is the northernmost stretch of the Arabian deserts. Palestine is divided between a low and fertile coastal plain along the Mediterranean Sea, and rugged uplands to the east—principally, the area now called the West Bank in reference to the Jordan River that forms its eastern border. The Jordan River flows south, through a comparatively fertile valley, into the inland Dead Sea; beyond the Jordan Valley is more hill country, and then the desert of the interior. South of the Dead Sea, the fertile lands end; a stretch of desert today known as the Negev reaches down to the Gulf of Aqaba, entrance to the Red Sea. (Nathan, p. 117-23)

From earliest times, the land that is now Palestine was inhabited by Semitic peoples who arrived out of these deserts to the south and east. The most significant and settled of these early inhabitants were the Canaanites (forebears of the Phoenicians, who would later maintain a powerful maritime trading empire just up the Mediterranean coast in what is now Lebanon). It is they who gave the land its earliest known name—Canaan. The Hebrews—led to the land by Abraham, according to biblical accounts—were one of several nomadic Semitic peoples who arrived sometime after the Canaanites. By biblical accounts the Hebrews originated in Ur in Mesopotamia, but they clearly had much in common with the Arabian nomadic peoples and almost certainly shared a common origin with them. Indeed, the words Hebrew and Arab are believed to both derive from the Semitic root-word abhar, meaning nomadic. Both peoples are traditionally held to be descendants of the biblical Shem, son of Noah (hence “Semite”). Both are also held to descend from Shem’s descendant Abraham—the Hebrews through the line of his son Isaac and grandson Jacob, the Arabs through the line of his son Ishmael. (Dimont, p. 30; Hitti, p. 24; Lewis, 1950, p. 10; Ludwig, p. 10-3; Roth, p. 3)

By the time the Hebrews arrived, other presumably Semitic peoples had established small kingdoms on the less fertile lands east of the Jordan River—Gilead, Ammon, Moab and others. Settled life slowly spread from Canaan’s seat in the hill country west of the river. But the region was far behind the two great centers of civilization—Mesopotamia across the desert to the east and Egypt’s Nile Valley across the Sinai Peninsula to the west. The Hittites, in Anatolia at the northern peak of the Fertile Crescent, were also building an empire that would make its influence felt. (Cohn-Sherbok, p. 2)

At approximately 1600 BCE, the Hebrews were among various Semitic nomads apparently driven by drought and famine in the Fertile Crescent into the rich Nile Valley. The rulers of Egypt at that time were a “foreign” dynasty, the Hyksos, themselves likely Semites who had arrived from the Crescent some years earlier. The Hyksos welcomed the Hebrews, who evidently held a privileged position in Egypt under their rule. (Dimont, p. 36-40; Roth, 5-8)

This began to change with the overthrow of the Hyksos and the restoration of a “native” dynasty to Egypt, cerca 1550 BCE, opening the most powerful period of its rule. The Hyksos and Hebrews alike were seemingly reduced to slavery by the Pharaoh Ramses II, “the Great” (1279-1213 BCE, Ozymandias to the Greeks). The name “Israelites” first comes into use with the biblical account of the Exodus from Egypt back towards Canaan, led by Moses and thought to have happened cerca 1225 BCE. After centuries in Egypt, presumably inter-marrying with Egyptians, it is uncertain that the Israelites who emerged were precisely the same people as the Hebrews who had entered. Israelite monotheism may have been influenced by the reign of Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV, 1353-1337 BCE), the Egyptian pharaoh who proclaimed the sun god Aten to be the sole deity. (Dimont, p. 36-40; Ludwig, p. 13; Roth, 5-8)

While the Hebrews/Israelites dwelt in Egypt, Canaan was contested by the pharaohs and the Hittite empire of Anatolia to the north. Pharaoh Thutmose III finally took Canaan cerca 1470 BCE, but Egyptian rule there was in decline by the time of the Exodus, having merely nominal loyalty of the Canaanite kingdom. (Ben-Sasson, p. 13-4, 27; Roth, p. 6-7)

The Old Testament tells of the Israelite leader Joshua’s conquest of Canaan upon arriving in the land inhabited by the Hebrews centuries earlier. By popular histories, the Israelites simply displaced the Canaanites, but in reality there was probably an amalgamation of the two populations, with the Israelites becoming dominant, especially in the south. After a period of rule by “judges” in a sort of legislative body known as the Sanhedrin (during which time Egyptian rule in the land collapsed completely), a monarchy was established by Saul cerca 1000 BCE. Saul’s successor David greatly expanded the kingdom’s borders—most significantly, taking the city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites. This he made his capital, and established a temple on the slopes of a hill called Mount Zion within the city. At its height, the kingdom stretched from the Euphrates in the east to the Mediterranean in the west; from Phoenicia (modern Lebanon) in the north to the Gulf of Aqaba in the south. The heartland, however, remained the hill country around Jerusalem. The Philistines, a probably Greek-related people who inhabited the southern part of the coastal plain (and give Palestine its name), were subdued although not conquered. David was succeeded by his son Solomon cerca 965 CE, who greatly expanded the Temple, completing its construction cerca 953. (Dimont, p. 52; Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 9; Ludwig, p. 20-2; Roth, p. 23-7)

But around 930 BCE, shortly after Solomon’s death, the kingdom split into the two entities of which it had really been a federation: Israel in the north, with its capital at Shechem (contemporary Nablus) and a temple at Bethel; and Judah in the south, with both capital and temple at Jerusalem. The outlying territories were mostly lost. It was at this time that composition of what would become the first five books of the Bible (the Torah) began in both kingdoms. Biblical scholars have for generations been parsing the text to determine which chapters were written in which kingdom—the scribes of Judah generally referring to God as Yahweh (“Jehova,” rendered as Lord in English translation) and those of Israel using the plural term Elohim (rendered in English as God). Scholarship is increasingly of the opinion that the inhabitants of the two kingdoms were separate peoples. The northern kingdom is generally considered to have been closer to the Baal-worshiping Canaanites, long ago pushed north by the Israelites. Starting in approximately 790, there was war between the two kingdoms. (Cohn-Sherbok, p. 13-4; Dimont, p. 54-7; Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 15; Ludwig, p. 52-3; Roth, p. 32)

As the Hebrew kingdoms declined, new powers were arising in Mesopotamia, and making incursions into the western arm of the Crescent. Israel fell to Assyria in 722 BCE, and (by the biblical version) the population was deported to Mesopotamia. Judah, in an alliance with Egypt, maintained a precarious independence. Then Babylon superseded Assyria as the dominant Mesopotamian power and began a new thrust of expansion. Judah’s King Josiah at first supported Babylon as an ally against Assyria. When Egypt switched sides and sent an army to back Assyria against Babylon, Josiah attempted to block its passage through Judah—and was defeated at the Battle of Meggido (Armageddon), 609 BCE. Babylon nonetheless prevailed over Assyria, and then perceived that Judah had been precariously weakened. The Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar II took Judah in 597 BCE, sacking Jerusalem, destroying the temple, and again (by the biblical version) deporting the population. (In reality, it was likely only the political and priestly leadership class that was deported.) (Dimont, p. 58-61; Roth, p. 35, 43)

By the time of the Assyrian conquest, Israel had moved its capital to Samaria, and those Israelites from this region who were not deported became known as the Samaritans. There is still a small community of Samaritans living today in the vicinity of Nablus on the West Bank, keeping alive elements of the ancient Hebrew religion. (Jewish Encyclopedia; Roth, p. 35)

The deportations mark the beginning of the Jewish diaspora, as well as the point at which the name “Jews” (Yehudim, in Hebrew) first emerged—the exiled people of Judah, traditionally identified as the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. (By the biblical version, the exiles from the north kingdom of Israel—the ten “lost tribes”—were dispersed and disappeared from history.) The seeds of contemporary Judaism were also established in the Babylonian exile; with no temple, “houses of assembly” (beth ha-knesset, later rendered by the Greeks “synagogue”) were established as places of worship, with teachers (later to go by the title rabbi, or master) instead of priests. (Dimont, p. 68; Ludwig, p. 72; Roth, p. 62, 83)

In 539 BCE, Babylon fell to Cyrus the Great of Persia, who allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (although some remained in Babylon). Under the protection of Persia, Judah (called Yahud by the Persians) again prospered, although no longer as a wholly independent state. A council of elders known as the Gerousia ruled over local affairs. Synagogue and temple, rabbi and priest, now existed side by side—the common people more linked to synagogue and rabbis; the elite to the priests and temple. (Ben-Sasson, p. 191; Dimont, p. 68-73; Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 19-20)

The fall of Persia to Alexander the Great in 332 BCE meant great change for the whole region, with a Greek ruling class imposed. Alexander’s empire stretched from Egypt to what is now Afghanistan, but fractured following his death in 323 BCE, divided among his leading generals. The land of Judah was for over a century contested between the Ptolemies, ruling from Egypt, and the Seleucids, ruling from Syria. In 198 BCE the Seleucids gained the final victory, taking Jerusalem from the Ptolemies. (Dimont, p. 87; Ludwig, p. 94)

The Greeks called the land Ioudaia (Judea). At first, the Gerousia system continued under Greek rule. But around 175 BCE, the Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes began a campaign of “Hellenization”—imposing Greek culture and taking measures against Jewish self-government. This led to the rebellion of the Maccabees, a Jewish revivalist movement, which in 141 BCE succeeded in establishing an independent kingdom under the Hasmonean dynasty. The Hasmonean kings succeeded in winning back much of the territories ruled centuries earlier by David and Solomon. However, the kingdom was still precariously situated between the hostile Greek-dominated empires, and at times under official Seleucid sovereignty. Hasmonean king John Hyrcanus waged war against the Seleucids from 134-2 to maintain the kingdom’s independence. The Hasmonean dynasty was a theocracy, with no distinction between kings and priests. It was in this period that codification of the Old Testament was completed. (Ben-Sasson, p. 202-4, 218; Dimont, p. 87-90, 120; Ludwig, p. 107-8; Roth, p. 71)

A civil war in the Hasmonean kingdom between the Pharisees (populists who rejected Hellenization, and favored the rabbis and synagogues) and Sadducees (party of the elite who favored greater integration with the Hellenized world, and stood for the temple and priesthood) was finally exploited by the ascendant power in the region—Rome. (Dimont, p. 92-5)

Rival claimants to the throne appealed to outside powers. When the pro-Pharisee Hyrcanus II sought aid from the neighboring Nabateans, his brother, the pro-Sadducee Aristobulus II, sought aid from the Romans, who had recently completed their conquest of Syria. This was to spell the end of an independent kingdom. The Roman general Pompey skillfully played the brothers off against each other, finally switching sides. It was Hyrcanus who turned Jerusalem over to Pompey in 63 CE, and the followers of Aristobulus were massacred. (Dimont, p. 92-5; Ludwig, 114-5; Roth, p. 86-7)

Hyrcanus was installed as priest-king, but he ruled as a Roman vassal. Judah was officially renamed Judea by the Roman occupation. A Hasmonean restorationist revolt in 40 BCE was aided by the Parthian dynasty of Persia, and put down three years later by the Romans with the aid of the Idumeans (Edomites), a neighboring people who had been brought under Judean rule. Herod, a Judean leader of Idumean lineage, led the forces that retook Jerusalem when the revolt was put down, and was subsequently named “king” by Rome. But Romanization of Judea by this Rome-appointed Herod “the Great” (37-4 BCE) lead to continued unrest. After Herod’s death, Roman procurators (governors) ruled from the new capital the Romans established at Caesarea on the coast; Judea was made a Roman province in 6 CE and formally incorporated into the empire. A reduced Jewish kingdom was allowed to rule under Roman occupation in Galilee—the fertile area around the small inland “sea” of the same name in the north, from which flows the Jordan River. (Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great and ruler of Galilee, is the one encountered by the adult Jesus in the New Testament.) (Dimont, p. 100-5; Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 29-34; Roth, p. 94-5; SchĂĽrer, p. 118-9)

The vestiges of local autonomy rapidly eroded, and Judea was even for a while annexed to the neighboring and much larger Roman province of Syria. In 66 CE, a Jewish revolt spread throughout Judea and Galilee. The revolution was crushed in 70 CE, with Roman forces under the general (later emperor) Titus sacking Jerusalem and destroying the temple. A band of Jewish partisans known as the Zealots held out at Masada on the Dead Sea for another three years before they too were crushed. (Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 36-7; Roth, p. 103-10)

In a subsequent rebellion under the leader Bar Kochba from 132-5, Jews succeeded in retaking ruined Jerusalem and the temple site. When the Roman Emperor Hadrian put down the rebellion, he changed the name of the province from Judea to Palestine (to de-emphasize the legacy of Judah), and deported the Jews en masse north to Galilee. There, they retained a degree of autonomy—no longer under a king, but a body of scholars known as the Patriarchate based in the town of Tiberias. Reconstitution of the culture there, and in the wider diaspora, lead to the basis of contemporary Judaism. (Dimont, p. 112; Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 38; Roth, p. 111-9)

Contrary to the popular impression of a mass expulsion of the Jews from Palestine at this time, many remained in Galilee. There were now far more Jews outside Palestine than within, but this had been the case for at least a century before the deportation, due to Jews following trade routes. The most significant centers of Jewish culture were by then Alexandria in Roman-ruled Egypt and Babylon, where the descendants of Jews from the exile period remained under the protection of the Persian Sassanid dynasty. (Dimont, p. 125; Nathan, p. 35; Roth, p. 120-1)

Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem after the deportation and renamed it Aelia Capitolina. Jews were barred from living in the city, and were for many years forbidden to even enter it. After Emperor Constantine made Christianity the empire’s state religion in 324, the name Jerusalem was restored, and the city became an important Christian center—although secondary to Alexandria. When the Roman empire split into two following Constantine’s rule, Palestine came within the eastern sphere—the Greek-ruled Byzantine Empire, with its capital at Constantinople (formerly Byzantium and today Istanbul). (Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 40-4; Nathan, p. 37)

Over the following centuries, Greek culture and Christianity became increasingly dominant under Byzantine rule. Those who clung to Jewish identity, chiefly around Galilee, dwindled. The Patriarchate was abolished in the fifth century. Jews were allowed again to reside in Jerusalem, but the city’s leading families were now Greek and Roman. A Samaritan revolt was put down in 529. (Ben-Sasson, p. 355; Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 44-5)

The 614 invasion of the Sassanid Persians was for obvious reasons supported by the Jews. Under Sassanid rule, Jerusalem was restored to the Jews, who were armed to defend it. It wasn’t until 629 that the Byzantines succeeded in driving the Sassanids back and retaking Palestine. Jews were again barred from Jerusalem. (Ben-Sasson, p. 362; Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 47)

But the Byzantine restoration was brief. The Arabs, a chiefly nomadic people of the deserts far to the south of Palestine, were on the cusp of an unprecedented expansion, inspired by Islam, the new religion brought by the Prophet Mohammad. There were already Arab peoples in the Fertile Crescent—the ancient kingdoms of Nabatea (in contemporary Jordan) and Palmyra (in contemporary Syria) were Arab. But from the distant desert towns of Mecca (the religious center) and Medina (the political capital), Arabs were now forging a centralized empire, uniting tribes for campaigns of conquest. (Lewis, 1950, p. 26-7)

The Byzantines virtually invited an Arab invasion of Palestine. They had long subsidized nomadic Arab tribes beyond the Dead Sea as a buffer military force. But after the routing of the Sassanids, they overconfidently ceased these payments. The tribes appealed to their kindred further south, who were just then forging a formidable fighting capacity. (Nathan, p. 42)

The Arabs invaded Palestine in 634 and took Jerusalem four years later. Although there had been a lengthy siege, the surrender of the city to the Arab armies was in the end peaceful and negotiated. Caliph Omar, the second successor to Mohammad, personally toured the city, now holy to three monotheistic faiths. The Arabs called Jerusalem al-Quds, the holy. Islam became the state religion, but Christians and the remaining Jews were tolerated as long as they paid a special tax, the jizya. As “people of the book,” they were considered dhimmis—followers of tolerated religions recognized as having a kinship with Islam. Jews were allowed once again to reside in Jerusalem. Jews, and other subject peoples who had been persecuted by the Byzantines, generally welcomed Arab rule. (Asali, p. 116; Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 48-9; Lewis, 1950, p. 58)

Arabs became the new dominant class, soldiers becoming settlers with generous land grants. However, the Arabs took over only lands which had officially belonged to the Byzantine state, or to those who resisted them. Landowners who recognized the new government were allowed to keep their properties. There was again probably a general continuity with the pre-existing population in Palestine, with many Christians and perhaps some Jews converting to Islam, inter-marrying with Arabs, and adopting Arab culture. Arabic superseded Aramaic (the vernacular counterpart to the liturgical Hebrew) as the language of the land’s common people, and Greek as the language of administration. (Hebrew would survive as the liturgical language of the Jews; Aramaic still survives today as the common tongue of scattered Jewish communities in the Arab lands.) (Lewis, 1950, p. 57; Nathan, p. 43; Polk, et al., p. 241; Lewis, 1984, p. 76; Roth, p. 121)

The Fertile Crescent naturally became the new center of Arab power, although Mecca and Medina were still revered as holy cities. In 661, Palestine came under the Umayyad Caliphate, which ruled the Arab empire from Damascus, in Syria. It was in the early years of Umayyad rule that al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat as-Sakhrah) were built on the Temple Mount, the site of the old Jewish temple—which had been turned into a garbage dump by the Byzantines. The Dome of the Rock protects the purported site of the biblical Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac. Al-Aqsa Mosque commemorates the Prophet Mohammad’s mystical “Night Journey,” in which he is believed to have visited Jerusalem. The complex on the Temple Mount—known as the Noble Sanctuary or Haram al-Sharif—became the third holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. Immediately below is the Western Wall, the last standing fragment of the Second Temple, and the holiest site for Jews. This remains the geography of the Temple Mount to this day. (Armstrong, p. 46; Hitti, p. 33; Encyclopaedia Judaica, 51-2)

In 750, the Umayyad dynasty was superseded by the Abbasid Caliphate, based in Baghdad, in contemporary Iraq. The following century was the height of the Arab empire’s glory. The empire’s local seat of administration was Ramleh, and Jerusalem’s significance was as a religious center. There was something of a recovery of Jewish culture in the city under the Abbasids, and the Talmudic Academy—Palestine’s most important center of Jewish learning—was moved there from Tiberias in the Galilee. (Encyclopaedia Judaica, 54-5; Lewis, 1950, p. 96)

Egypt gained increasing preeminence in Islamic world as the Abbasids began to decline, and in 878 Jerusalem was taken by the Egyptian ruler Ahmad ibn Tulun. From 941, another Egyptian dynasty, the Ikhshidids, ruled Palestine—again, with merely official loyalty to the Caliphate of Baghdad. In this period of decay, religious conflict emerged in Jerusalem. Episodes of Muslim violence against Christians (including the sacking of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, purported site of the resurrection of Jesus) occurred repeatedly in the 10th century. (Encyclopaedia Judaica, 54-5; Lewis, 1950, p. 96; Najeebabadi, vol. 2, p. 618)

In 969, the Fatimid Caliphate was established in Cairo by followers of the Ismaili Shi’ite “heresy,” and Palestine finally fell outside the orbit of the Abbisid Caliphate altogether. This brought a century of relief to the Christian and Jewish minorities. But the Fatimids lost Palestine to the Seljuk Turks in 1071. The Seljuks had begun their career as a mercenary force for the declining Abbisids, but were by now the real power in Baghdad—while still recognizing the caliph in name. A Palestinian revolt against the Seljuks was put down with great brutality. (Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 58-9; Najeebabadi, vol. 2, p. 622-3)

The Seljuks’ barring of Christian pilgrims from Jerusalem prompted the Pope of Rome, Urban II, to call the First Crusade, with knights recruited from across Catholic Europe to take the Holy Land. In 1098, with Crusader armies advancing, the Fatimids retook Jerusalem. But they lost it again in 1099, when Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders after a five-week siege. (Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 59; Riley-Smith, p. 2-10, 34)

This change of power was different: there was a general slaughter of the city’s populace, with Muslims and Jews massacred and burned alive in mosques and synagogues. In the aftermath, the city was closed to Muslim and Jewish worshipers. The Knights Templar, the most fanatical of the Crusader military orders, established their headquarters in al-Aqsa Mosque. (Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 60-1)

This period also saw the first major outbreaks of violence against Jews in Europe, who had by then long since arrived via the Mediterranean in France and England. Both these countries saw widespread attacks on Jews in the same paroxysm of zeal that mobilized the Crusades. The Crusaders gratuitously destroyed Jewish villages en route to Jerusalem as well. (Riley-Smith, p. 16-7)

In 1144, a Second Crusade was called to defend Christian Jerusalem as the fractured Islamic world began to gather forces for the counter-attack. The first serious threat to the Crusader state came from Zengi, ruler of Syria to the north. (Riley-Smith, p. 93)

But the real turn-around came in 1171, when the Kurdish warrior Salah al-Din (Saladin) ousted the Fatimids from Egypt, establishing the Ayyubid dynasty and restoring Sunni Islam (the majority tendency, that of the Abbasid Caliphate). The Ayyubids were officially loyal to the Abbasid Caliphate, but Cairo had now supplanted Baghdad as the center of Islamic power. Following the 1187 Battle of Hattin, Saladin drove the Crusaders from Jerusalem. Revenge killings were barred, and the city’s Christian inhabitants (by then overwhelmingly Frankish settlers) were granted safe passage to the rump Crusader state on the coast. A Third Crusade was promptly launched to re-take the city. (Hourani, p. 84; Riley-Smith, p. 84-5)

In 1191, Saladin made a peace deal with the rump Crusader state of England’s Richard the Lion-Hearted, allowing Christians and Muslims alike access to Jerusalem. This peace was broken following Saladin’s death in 1193, when new crusades were launched. (Riley-Smith, p. 118)

In 1229, a Sixth Crusade was organized at the Vatican’s urging by Frederick II, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, the great confederation of German and northern Italian states. But this time the crusade was cut short by a peace deal between Frederick and Saladin’s successor, the Ayyubid Sultan al-Kamil. This pact established joint Christian-Muslim control of Jerusalem under Frederick’s official if distant rule—for which the Holy Roman Emperor was promptly excommunicated by the Pope. (Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 67; Hitti, p. 225-6; Riley-Smith, p. 149-51)

This peace persisted until the 1244 invasion of the Khwarazmian Turks, fleeing the Mongol irruption from Central Asia. The Khwarazmians overran Jerusalem, causing much destruction, but were turned back by the Ayyubids before they reached Egypt. However, the struggle against the Khwarazmians lead to the ascendance of the (mostly Turkish) Mamluk military slave caste within Egypt’s political elite. Palestine was meanwhile left in ruin and chaos, although Nablus and other hill towns provided some shelter for refugees from devastated Jerusalem. (Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 67)

In 1249, when a Seventh Crusade under Louis IX of France (St. Louis) invaded Egypt, the Mamluk “slave dynasty” finally took power, successfully repelling the Crusaders. Palestine was for some years contested by Mamluk Egypt and a rump Ayyubid state in Syria. But in 1258, the Mongols themselves arrived in the Fertile Crescent. The Mongol armies under Hulagu Khan destroyed Baghdad, overran Syria, and penetrated Palestine from the north. It was the Mamluks who turned them back at the battle of Ayn Jalut (En-Harod in Hebrew) before they could reach Jerusalem. Afterwards, Palestine finally came under firm Mamluk rule. (Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 69; Riley-Smith, p. 160)

The Mamluk Sultan Babyars next seized Syria, expelling both the Mongols and last of the Crusaders in a confused three-way war. The Abbasid Caliphate was formally transfered from destroyed Baghdad to Cairo. Peace was restored, but centralized rule weakened, and feudalism spread. Agriculture in Palestine had virtually collapsed, and settled peoples returned to nomadism. (Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 69; Najeebabadi, vol. 2, p. 589; Nathan, p. 46-7; Riley-Smith, p. 203-4)

Palestine slowly began to recover under the Mamluks, and Jerusalem was rebuilt. Heavy taxes were imposed on Jews and there were periodic episodes of persecution—the closing of synagogues and so forth. Still, a yeshiva (Jewish seminary) was maintained in Jerusalem, and Jews fleeing persecution in Europe even found refuge in Palestine, arriving on Italian merchant ships. Safed, in the Galilee, was also a significant seat of Jewish culture and learning. (Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 69-76)

In the closing years of the Crusades, European Jews again became a target—and this time in a far more systematic campaign. In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council, overseen by Pope Innocent III, mandated that Jews wear identifying yellow badges. The situation worsened as the “Black Death” (bubonic plague) devastated Europe, and Jews were superstitiously blamed. In 1290 England became the first country to expel its Jews by decree. France and various German states would follow—generally amid much violence. While a small number came to Mamluk Palestine, far greater numbers moved east within Europe—to those German states that would have them, and then to Poland and Lithuania. Many would later come under Russian rule as borders shifted. By 1500, the center of Jewish culture had shifted from Western to Eastern Europe. Even where they were tolerated, Jews faced restrictions on where they could live—confined to walled ghettos in Poland and Lithuania. Their villages in Russia would later be confined to a limited “Pale of Settlement.” In the ghettos, they were allowed a degree of self-government. Effectively segregated from the Christian population, they would maintain their own language, Yiddish, a distinct tongue that evolved from German. Hebrew was of course maintained as the liturgical and scholarly tongue. (Ben-Sasson, p. 486-7; Dimont, p. 230-1, 248; Roth, p. 198, 334)

In 1400, a new Mongol irruption from Central Asia, this time under Timur Leng (Tamerlane), ravaged Syria. The Mamluks again successfully fended off the invader, so Palestine and Egypt were spared. But the Mamluk dynasty was greatly weakened by the struggle. (Lewis, 1950, p. 157)

In 1451, the Ottoman Turks took Constantinople, putting a final end to the greatly diminished Byzantine Empire. In 1517, the Ottomans under Sultan Selim I (“the Grim”) established Mamluk Egypt as a vassal state, and officially transfered the caliphate to Constantinople. Palestine, and most of the Arab world, now came under Ottoman rule. Mamluk sway over Palestine waned as the dynasty declined, and the Ottoman Turks became ascendant. (Kinross, 107-10, 170)

Ottoman rule brought another period of relative tolerance and reflorescence of Jewish culture. Sultan Bayezid II (“the Just”) welcomed Jewish exiles from Spain after the expulsion of 1492 to settle in Palestine or elsewhere in his empire. Safed reached its peak as a world center of Jewish learning. (Ben-Sasson, p. 632, 661)

The rebuilding of Jerusalem picked up pace, and Sultan Suleiman “the Magnificent” (1520-66) built a new wall around the city—largely to check the periodic raids of the nomadic Bedouin Arabs. A waqf (trust or endowment) was established to oversee the Haram al-Sharif and other Islamic holy sites, with land grants in the countryside to make it economically self-sufficient. The Temple Mount complex was renovated and the Dome of the Rock restored. After the centuries of turmoil, there was now a long period of peace. The Ottomans would be embroiled in many wars in Europe—chiefly with Austria and Russia—but these did not affect Palestine. (Asali, p. 200-1; Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 77, 92-100)

Trade with Europe grew, and by the 18th century Palestine’s coastal plain was a major producer of cotton and citrus for export. But real Ottoman control did not extend far beyond the urban centers. There was little permanently settled Turkish class. The land remained largely in Arab hands, and Arabic remained the dominant language. (Asali, p. 214; Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 91; Hourani, 252, 286)

As Palestine’s economic importance grew, the Ottomans began to take tentative measures to increase their control. But in 1703, after a Turkish governor had been installed in Jerusalem who imposed heavy taxes on the peasants and townspeople alike, an insurrection broke out, led by the prominent Husseini family. It was put down, but thenceforth the governors of Jerusalem were drawn from the local Arab elite, and the heavy taxes rescinded. The nearest center of direct Turkish administration, Damascus, interfered little in Palestine’s affairs. (Asali, p. 215-6)

In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte established an occupation of Egypt, precipitating a confused four-way war over the country among the French, British, Turks and Mamluks. Eager to extend his control to Syria, Napoleon invaded Palestine, sacking the Mediterranean port of Jaffa and besieging Acre, another port up the coast. In a precursor of later European imperial strategies in the territory, Napoleon appealed for Jewish support against the Arabs and Turks. On April 20, 1799, amid the siege of Acre, he had an order penned, declaring that when he conquered the territory, Jews—who he called the “rightful heirs of Palestine”—would inherit the land. The Jewish notables of Acre spurned the offer, and Napoleon was forced to retreat from Palestine. In 1801, his precarious hold on Egypt collapsed, and Ottoman-Mamluk rule was restored. Palestine remained under more direct Ottoman rule, although with broad autonomy for Arabs (Muslim and Christian alike) and Jews. (Fisher, p. 263; Jerusalem Post, May 20, 2011)

Zionist Colonization Under Ottoman Rule

By the mid-19th century, Palestine, like most of the Middle East, had been a part of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 500 years. People who lived there called the country Filastin, or by the Arabic phrase al-Ard al-Muqadassa—the Holy Land. (Gerner, p. 9)

For centuries, a high degree of local autonomy had been allowed. There was both cultural autonomy for the various religious and ethnic groups, and territorial autonomy for villages and districts. Under the millet system, Muslims, Christians and Jews each had their own leadership responsible for internal affairs within their own community and subject to their own laws. (Lewis, 1984, p. 125)

Village mukhtars (traditional elders) were treated as local administrators, given authority over local affairs in exchange for providing taxes and conscripts for the Turkish army. Informal village militias were also often maintained to protect against Bedouin raids, and tolerated by Turkish authorities. (Sayigh, p. 15)

Villages were generally self-sufficient, with families working subsistence plots of perhaps 100 dunums (25 acres) under a system of land tenure in which some fields were formally the domain of lords or mukhtars in a survival of feudalism, and others were explicitly for the use of common villagers. Wheat, barely, millet, sesame, lentils, olives, figs, citrus and melons were common crops, and most families had goats and other livestock. (Nathan, p. 184, 196)

1834 saw a new Arab uprising in Palestine, after the territory was seized by Egyptian ruler Mohammed Ali—a commander of Albanian origin who had been dispatched by Constantinople to finally oust the Mamluks, and then made his own bid for independence from the Ottoman Empire. Mohammed Ali’s excessive demands for conscripts and other encroachments on village autonomy were resented by the Palestinian Arabs. After he was forced to cede Palestine (and accept Ottoman sovereignty over Egypt), the traditional rights of the villages were restored. (Ayyad, p. 15)

This began to change in the 1840s, however, when the Ottoman Empire’s tanzimat reforms brought centralized administration and taxation, extending the control of the Ottoman capital, Constantinople. This saw the formal abolition of serfdom, with peasants freed from the authoritarian control of local mukhtars. Peasants were no longer bound to the land, or forced to work it as fiefs. But, as old patterns of land use were disrupted, this also resulted in an impoverishment of the villages, and the beginning of a slow movement of the population to the coastal towns. (Morris, 2001, p. 7; Nathan, p. 50)

An 1858 Land Law to regularize property deeds had the actual effect of centralizing control of communal agricultural lands—which had traditionally been worked by peasants without formal title—in the hands of a few wealthy, often absentee, private owners. Lands designated miri—arable lands controlled by the state after being removed from feudal authority—had been de facto communal village lands, and their titling as mulk (private) lands often meant the exclusion of peasant families that had worked them for generations. Musha lands were more formally for the common use of villagers, subject to repartition among families. These were also increasingly transfered to the mulk sector, as families were given the option of privatizing the parcels they had been working. Outlying uncultivated lands—known as mewat—were also claimed by the state and then privatized, even though they had been used informally for pasturing. Many of the new owners were Turks rather than Arabs, and often they were European—with the Ottoman state then under pressure from European powers to allow land ownership by foreigners. Arab peasants were increasingly reduced to the status of tenant farmers—an ironic outcome of their “liberation” from serfdom. (Dowty, p. 59-60; Nathan, p. 50, 184)

Nonetheless, a thriving citrus industry on the coastal plain remained in the hands of local Arabs—usually the effendis, or Arab gentry. And even under greater economic burden, the villages of the fellahin, or peasantry, remained largely self-sufficient. The system of communal apportionment of lands and water, known as masha’, actually survived the new land law—in part because many Arab peasants evaded land registration. While this helped preserve communal traditions, it would also make the villages more vulnerable, as many now lacked legal title to their lands under the new system. (Hadawi, 1963, p. 119; Polk, et al, p. 241; Sayigh, p. 27, 32)

At this time the population of Palestine was 462,500, of which 404,000 were Muslim, 44,000 Christian and 15,000 Jews—or 20,000 by some estimates, as some Jews were not considered Ottoman citizens and may have not been counted. The population was overwhelmingly rural, although the Jews were disproportionately urban, concentrated in Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias. (Dowty, p. 13)

Events far from Palestine meanwhile gave birth to a movement which would change the land’s fate. European Jews had largely achieved “emancipation”—full citizenship rights, and an end to the ghettos—by the mid-19th century. Jewish emancipation was formally embraced by Europe’s Great Powers at the 1878 Berlin Conference. But this sparked a backlash, and the modern ideology of anti-Semitism emerged—viewing the Jews as an alien, un-assimilable and ultimately corrupting Semitic presence in Europe. As revolutionary upsurges threatened the continent’s old monarchies, Jews served as scapegoats, and an assimilationist solution to Europe’s “Jewish Question” seemed less tenable. In 1881, Russian pogroms (from word for “havoc” or “outrage”) began following the March 13 assassination of Czar Alexander II, with hundreds of Jewish villages attacked by right-wing mobs and paramilitaries. Following Alexander II’s reforms, which had allowed Jews access to higher education and posts in the bureaucracy, there was a period of backlash in which some 4 million Jews fled Russia. The reforms were overturned, and the pogroms actively encouraged by the authorities. (Ben-Sasson, p. 823-4; Gross, p. 651-7; Morris, 2001, p. 15-8; Dowty, p. 31, 33)

In the mass emigration of Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe that began at this time, most went to the United States. Some went to Britain, Canada and South Africa. But an organized movement to direct the exodus with the aim of establishing a Jewish national state emerged in response to surgence of anti-Semitism: Zionism. (Nathan, p. 52-3)

The Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) was founded in Poland, with a vision of establishing Palestine as a Jewish homeland. It organized chapters throughout Russia, Poland and Romania to raise funds for emigration. The allied Bilu—an acronym for “House of Jacob, Let Us Go”—was established in Palestine to organize settlements. The First Aliyah, or mass migration of Jewish settlers to Palestine, began in 1882—a year which also saw the publication in German of the first Zionist manifesto, Leon Pinsker’s Self-Emancipation. Aided by wealthy Jewish philanthropists in western Europe, the movement purchased some 100,000 dunams of land for the olim (settlers, “those who ascend”) by 1890, and 200,000 by 1900. Most of the olim lived in the coastal cities, particularly the new city of Tel Aviv that was established near Jaffa. But the program called for the establishment of agricultural settlements as quickly as possible. The Bilu evolved into the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association. (Ben-Sasson, p. 896; Cohn-Sherbok, p. 106-7; Morris, 2001, p. 15-8; Dowty, p. 31, 33)

In 1888, the Ottoman administrators took note of the Jewish immigration and Zionist designs, changing the region’s administrative districts to enhance Constantinople’s control. The entire region had until then been part of a province or vilayet ruled from Damascus, and was generally considered part of Syria. With the reorganization, Palestine was separated from Syria and divided into three districts, centered around Jerusalem, Nablus and Acre. The northern two districts were sanjaqs (internal districts) attached to the Vilayet of Beirut, while Jerusalem, encompassing the southern half of historic Palestine, became a mutasarriflik (independent district) administrated directly from Constantinople. The sparsely inhabited Negev Desert remained under Syrian administration. Officially, Zionist aims at this time were limited to establishing “a state within a larger state”—an autonomous Jewish territory within the Ottoman empire. (Dowty, p. 18, 33)

In 1896, following the Dreyfus Affair in France—in which a Jewish army officer was notoriously framed on treason charges—Theodore Herzl published Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) in Germany. The book, the first explicit aspiration of Jewish statehood in Palestine, actually made no reference to the Arab inhabitants of the territory. Elsewhere, Herzl wrote that he saw Zionism as bringing economic development to the Arabs of Palestine, and in 1903 publicly called for restraints on the purchase of Palestinian lands from absentee landlords in Beirut, arguing that “poor Arab [tenant] farmers should not be driven off their land.” (Morris, 2001, p. 20-1, 678)

But in 1895 he wrote in his diary: “We must expropriate gently… We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it in any employment in our country… Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.” (Morris, 2001, p. 21-2)

“A land without people for a people without land” became the Zionist slogan (actually originating in the memoirs of British politician Lord Shaftesbury). But Russian Jewish writer Asher Ginsberg (pen name Ahad Ha-Am) warned in a Hebrew newspaper in Russia after an 1891 visit to Palestine: “We abroad are used to believing that Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel] is now almost totally desolate, a desert that is not sowed… But in truth this is not the case. Throughout the country it is difficult to find fields that are not sowed. Only sand dunes and stony mountains…are not cultivated… If a time comes when our people in Palestine develop so that, in small or great measure, they push out the native inhabitants, these will not give up their place easily.” (Morris, 2001, p. 42, 49; Davis, p. 7)

Ginsberg/Ha-Am favored a “Cultural Zionism” that emphasized the Hebrew language and Jewish cultural renewal in Palestine, and was skeptical of a rush to statehood. But the “Political Zionism” of Herzl, heedless of his warnings, became the mainstream position. (Davis, p. 7; Roth, p. 373)

Zionism was still a minority current within Jewish thought at this time, and Palestine but one option under consideration within Zionism. Jewish agricultural colonies were established in Manitoba, Argentina, Australia and South Africa. There was even a scheme to establish a Jewish state on Grand Island in the Niagara River, off Buffalo, New York. (AFSC, p. 15; Gross, p. 620)

This began to change as the movement was formalized. The World Zionist Organization was founded at the Basel Congress, held in Switzerland in September 1897. “At Basel, I founded the Jewish State,” Herzl boasted. When Ottoman authorities completely rejected establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the movement opened talks with Britain, which offered territory in East Africa. The Russian wing of the movement especially, led by the young Chiam Weizmann, was most vocal in rejecting the “Uganda Offer,” calling themselves “Zionists of Zion.” Those who were open to a homeland elsewhere than Palestine broke from the WZO to form the “Territorialist” tendency under the leadership of Israel Zangwill. The “Zionists of Zion” held sway over Herzl and the WZO. (Ben-Sasson, p. 901-2; Morris, 2001, p. 23; Dowty, p. 37)

Yusuf Diya Pasha al-Khalidi, patriarch of one of Jerusalem’s leading families, wrote to the chief rabbi of France, appealing to him to pressure for a halt to Jewish colonization, predicting it would lead to violent conflict. He wrote that there were “still uninhabited countries where one could settle millions of poor Jews… But in the name of God, let Palestine be left in peace.” (Dowty, p. 63)

Arabs had reason to fear European encroachment. European colonialism was at this time a growing force in the Arab world. In 1882, a British occupation of Egypt was established, with the Ottomans maintaining only nominal sovereignty there. Although the British had ostensibly intervened to put down an Arab revolt against the Ottoman administrators, they became the real power in Egypt. The Suez Canal—linking the Mediterranean and Red Sea through Egypt, completed in 1869 by a French-dominated company (using Egyptian forced labor)—made the region critically strategic. (Fisher, p. 286-91)

Jews were again scapegoated as revolutionary currents swelled in Russia, and a new wave of pogroms was unleashed in 1903. In the notorious Passover Pogrom, 50 were killed and scores injured and raped at Kishinev. The violence, paradoxically, succeeded in radicalizing Russian Jews, many of whom did embrace anarchism and other revolutionary ideologies. But many fled Russia, and embraced Zionism. The violence prompted the Second Aliyah movement—this one much larger and better organized. The new exodus from Russia brought some 34,000 Jewish settlers to Ottoman Palestine. (Avrich, p. 17; Morris, 2001, p. 25; Dowty, p. 36-7; Yivo Institute for Jewish Research)

The most anti-Semitic elements of the Russian government were pleased by the notion of a Jewish exodus from their country. In 1903, just before he died, Herzl actually received a letter from Interior Minister Viacheslav Plehve, notorious as the mastermind of the pogroms, in which he pledged the Czarist state’s “moral and material assistance with respect to the measures taken by the Zionist movement which would lead to the diminution of the Jewish population in Russia.” (Bober, p. 172-3)

The first kibbutzim (collective settlements) were established in Palestine, building on the moshavot of the First Aliyah, which had been based on private property and exploitation of cheap Arab labor. The kibbutzim were owned in common and sought to be self-sufficient. Menachem Ussishkin in 1904 delineated three methods by which land could be procured: “By force—that is, by conquest in war, or in other words, by robbing land from its owner… by expropriation via government authority; or by purchase.” (Morris, 2001, p. 38-9)

Although Constantinople curtailed Jewish land purchases, baksheesh (bribery) allowed de facto purchases to continue. The new Jewish owners offended local traditions of land use in various ways. Arab shepherds were denied the right of access to what had long been common pasturelands regardless of official ownership. Jews purchased land from effendis—members of the Arab land-owning elite—and then pushed out the poor tenant farmers who had been on the lands for generations. (Morris, 2001, p. 41, 46, 57)

The very first violent conflict between Arab Palestinians and Zionist settlers took place in this era—largely because of this refusal on the part of the settlers to recognize the peasants’ customary rights in the land. For instance, when settlers barred the peasants from grazing their herds on newly bought lands, this naturally provoked incursions, which then escalated to attacks. (Sayigh, p. 44)

The Second Aliyah olim were often socialists, anarchists, atheists and free-thinkers, but even the socialist Poalei Zion organization, led by Polish-born David Ben-Gurion, advocated exclusion of Arabs from the emerging Jewish economy, and a ban on hiring Arab labor. This policy was known as kibush ha’avoda or “conquest of labor.” (Morris, 2001, p. 46, 50-1)

Arab raids on settlements predictably became a constant problem, with houses vandalized and livestock seized. In 1908, the HaShomer (“guard,” or “watchman”) militia was founded to defend the settlements. (Morris, 2001, p. 53-4; Gee, p. 40)

In 1891, a group of Jerusalem Arab notables petitioned Constantinople to halt Jewish immigration: “The Jews are taking all the lands out of the hands of the Muslims, taking all the commerce into their hands and bringing arms into the country.” (Morris, 2001, p. 56)

Arab national aspirations were also emerging at this time. In 1905, Najib Azuri, a Lebanese Christian who had served in the Ottoman bureaucracy in Jerusalem, published in French The Awakening of the Arab Nation, calling for an independent Arab state stretching from Mesopotamia to the Suez. (Dowty, p. 65)

In 1907, the World Zionist Organization founded a Palestine Office in Jaffa to oversee land acquisition and distribution, headed by Arthur Ruppin, who wrote: “Land is the most necessary thing for establishing roots in Palestine. Since there are hardly any more arable unsettled lands…we are bound in each case…to remove the peasants who cultivated the land.” He advocated a “limited population transfer” of Palestinian peasants to Syria. (Morris, 2001, p. 59, 61, 140)

Yet the most ambitious Zionist statement actually foresaw the annexation of Syria itself. Max Nordau wrote that Zionism sought “to expand Europe’s moral borders to the Euphrates.” (Morris, 2001, p. 63)

In 1911, the Turkish governor of Jerusalem, Azmi Bey, in a bid to appease Arab protests, wrote: “We are not xenophobes; we welcome all strangers. We are not anti-Semites… But no nation, no government could open its arms to groups…aiming to take Palestine from us.” (Morris, 2001, p. 62)

A Palestinian-born Jew, Yitzhak Epstein, delivered a lecture on the “Arab question” in Basel in 1905: “We have forgotten one small matter: There is in our beloved land an entire nation, which has occupied it for hundreds of years and has never thought to leave it… We are making a great psychological error with regard to a great, assertive and jealous people. While we feel a deep love for the land of our forefathers, we forget that the nation who lives in it today has a sensitive heart and a loving soul. The Arab, like every man, is tied to his native land with strong bonds.” (Morris, 2001, p. 57; Palestine Remembered)

In direct response, Mose Smilansky wrote: “Either the land of Israel belongs in a national sense to those Arabs who settled there in recent times, and then we have no place there and we must say explicitly: The land of our fathers is lost to us. [Or] if the Land of Israel belongs to us, to the Jewish people, then our national interests come before all else… It is not possible for one country to serve as the homeland of two peoples.” (Morris, 2001, p. 58)

Smilansky was clear in advocating separation from the Arabs: “Let us not be too familiar with the Arab fellahin lest our children adopt their ways and learn from their ugly deeds. Let all those who are loyal to the Torah avoid ugliness and that which resembles it and keep their distance from the fellahin and their base attributes.” (Masalha, p. 7)

Ber Borochov, a prominent Marxist Zionist and founder of Poalei Zion, called for a “Semitic nationalism,” for the olim to learn Arabic, and recognize Arabs as “close to us in blood and spirit.” But such sentiments remained marginal. (Hertzberg, 352; Morris, 2001, p. 58)

As Zionism gained ground, so did Arab calls for independence—initially among the Lebanese Christian elite of Beirut, who launched the watan or “fatherland” movement. In 1877, a new Ottoman constitution had instated a parliament in Constantinople, with representatives from throughout the empire. When the new constitution was suspended following a conservative coup the following year, the hand of Arab independence advocates was strengthened. Many rallied to Abd al-Qadir al-Jazairi, who had been exiled to Syria following a revolt against the French in Algeria. The movement was crushed, and the constitution revived when the reformist Young Turk tendency took power in Constantinople in 1908. But Arabs remained a minority in the parliament even though they believed they constituted a majority in the empire’s populace. The 1908 Ottoman parliament included 147 Turks, 60 Arabs and four Jews (as well as token numbers of Armenians, Greeks, Albanians and Slavs). (Lewis, p. 179; Morris, 2001, p. 26-9)

In Palestine, demographics were changing. By 1914, there were some 60,000 Jews in Palestine, compared to 657,000 Muslims (including Druze, a minority sect), and 81,000 Christians. Some 45 Jewish agricultural settlements had been established. (Morris, 2001, p. 83; Nathan, p. 52)

World War I and the Balfour Declaration

The outbreak of World War I—with Constantinople on the side of the Central Powers—brought disruption of the Ottoman Empire’s trade routes, and harsh privation to Palestine. Henry Morgenthau, the Jewish but non-Zionist US ambassador to the Ottomans, organized a dispatch of aid raised by American Jews to the Yishuv, or community of the olim. The aid was delivered by the US battleship North Carolina in October 1914. Morgenthau also applied diplomatic pressure when the Ottoman authorities began having Jewish settlers deported as enemy nationals later that year; the deportations were halted after several hundred had been shipped to British-held territory in Egypt. (Morris, 2001, p. 85)

Many Jews in Palestine believed that an Allied victory would improve their prospects for a state, and some actively collaborated with the British. In 1915, Jewish settlers established the NILI spy ring which reported to Britain on Ottoman forces in Palestine; two of its leaders would be hanged by Ottoman authorities. (Morris, 2001, p. 87)

One 1915 British parliamentary report read:

The Zionist leaders gave us [Britain] a definite promise that, if the Allies committed themselves to giving facilities for the establishment of a national home for the Jews in Palestine, they would do their best to rally Jewish sentiment and support throughout the world to the Allied cause. [Thomas, p. 9]

The British Gen. Edmund Allenby invaded from Egypt in the spring of 1917—with the participation of a Jewish Legion made up of Zionist volunteers from Palestine, Britain and the US. The Turks, clearly no longer trusting the loyalty of the Jews, had Tel Aviv forcibly evacuated—under the guise of protecting the populace. The city’s mostly Jewish inhabitants took refuge in the Galilee and other inland rural areas. But Allenby took Jerusalem and expelled the Turks from the territory in December; the Jewish refugees returned to Tel Aviv. (Morris, 2001, p. 77; Segev, p. 19-20)

In April 1918, Allenby established the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration (OETA)—which, in a bid to win peace with the Arabs, made no overt moves towards implementing the Zionist policy, and actually curbed Jewish immigration. (Morris, 2001, p. 88-9)

As Allenby’s invasion was prepared, Britain’s rulers began debating the post-war fate of Palestine. Foreign Secretary Lord George Curzon stated that the Turks could not be allowed to resume “control of a country which is the military gate to Egypt and the Suez Canal…the nerve-centre of the British Empire.” Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, favored turning Palestine into a British-backed Jewish state: “The establishment of a strong, free Jewish state astride the bridge between Europe and Africa, flanking the land roads to the East, would not only be an immense advantage to the British Empire but a notable step toward a harmonious disposition of the world among its peoples.” But simultaneously, Sir Henry McMahon, the British high commissioner for Egypt, promised the emir of Mecca and Hashemite family patriarch, Hussein ibn Ali, recognition of “the independence of the Arabs” after the war. (Morris, 2001, p. 68-70)

This was partly duplicity, and partly reflected a split within the British elites between pro-Zionists and anti-Semites. In the prior category was Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour, who wrote: “The vast majority of Jews in Russia and America, as indeed all over the world, now appear to be favorable to Zionism. If we could make a declaration favorable to such an ideal, we should be able to carry on extremely useful propaganda both in Russia and America.” Falling into the latter were figures such as Sir Gerard Lowther, ambassador to Constantinople, who wrote that the Ottoman Empire was secretly controlled by powerful Jews “adept at manipulating occult forces.” (Morris, 2001, p. 73, 74)

(It should be noted that some British officials managed to be simultaneously pro-Zionist and anti-Semitic. Gen. Allenby’s political secretary Richard Meinertzhagen wrote in his diary: “My inclination towards Jews in general is governed by an anti-Semitic instinct… My views on Zionism are those of an ardent Zionist.”) (Bober, p. 173)

The pro-Zionist position was famously enunciated as official policy in the Balfour Declaration of Nov. 2, 1917, in which the Foreign Secretary wrote Zionist financier Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild:

His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. [Morris, 2001, p. 75]

Even the indirect reference to the Palestinian Arabs only as “existing non-Jewish communities” was clearly intended only for public consumption. In a 1919 internal memo, Balfour was more straightforward:

[I]n Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country… The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,00 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land. [Chomsky, p. 90]

As Balfour wrote in a letter to the Prime Minister that year:

[I]n the case of Palestine, we deliberately and rightly decline to accept the principle of self-determination. If the present inhabitants were consulted they would unquestionably give and anti-Jewish verdict. Our justification for our policy is that we regard Palestine as being absolutely exceptional, that we consider the question of the Jews outside Palestine as one of world importance. [Gee, p. 30]

The Allied powers rushed to declare their support for the Balfour Declaration. France did so in February 1918, shortly followed by Italy. In March 1919, US President Woodrow Wilson stated: “…the Allied Nations, with the fullest concurrence of our own government and people, are agreed that in Palestine shall be laid the foundations of a Jewish Commonwealth.” (Nathan, p. 59)

Encouraged, in 1918 Zionist leaders David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi published (in Yiddish in the US) the book The Land of Israel, Past and Present, in which they described “our country” as stretching from the Litani River in southern Lebanon in the north to Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba in the south, and from al-Arish in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in the west to Amman across the Jordan River in the east. (Morris, 2001, p. 75)

But ultimately, it was British encouragement of an Arab rebellion that proved critical to the victory over the Ottomans in the Middle East. The Balfour Declaration’s reference to “existing non-Jewish communities,” as well as its use of the slightly ambiguous term “national home” (as opposed to “national state”), were intended to assuage the fears of Arabs who were fighting against the Ottomans with British support. Some Zionist rhetoric was adjusted to meet this political need as well. Wrote Nahum Sokolov, Weizmann’s closest collaborator, in 1918: “It has been obstinately repeated by anti-Zionists that Zionism aims at the creation of an independent ‘Jewish State.’ But this is wholly fallacious. The ‘Jewish State’ was never part of the Zionist programme.” (Thomas, p. 12-3)

British agents and advisors (most prominently TE Lawrence “of Arabia”) forged an alliance with the Hashemite family of Mecca. In September and early October of 1918, a Hashemite-led Arab rebel army swept north from the Arabian peninsula to Damascus. The Hashemite King Faisal was established in Damascus, although he would be installed in power in Iraq as Syria was turned over to the French in 1920 under terms of the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement. With British and French control of the Middle East officially recognized by the League of Nations in 1923, Syria (including Lebanon) came under the French Mandate. Iraq under King Faisal and Transjordan (the lands of east of the Jordan River) under his brother King Abdullah came under the British Mandate. Britain first made clear at this time that Transjordan would not be in the area slated for a Jewish homeland. Palestine also fell under the British Mandate—but without a Hashemite king, and with controversy surrounding its fate, had less autonomy than Transjordan or Iraq. (Dowty, p. 72; Morris, 2001, p. 30-33; Nathan, p. 67)

With the Ottoman Empire dismantled, a modern secular state was established in Turkey, and the caliphate formally abolished. Following India and most of Africa, the Fertile Crescent had come under European colonialism, although with a “mandate” to eventually establish independent states. (Fisher, p. 390-424)

The failure of the British to establish a local Arab regime in Palestine was a point of contention with the Arabs, of course. The Hashemite patriarch Hussein (father of Faisal and Abdullah, and now king of Hijaz, the newly independent state ruled from Mecca) pointed to the commitments made to him in the 1916 Hussein-McMahon correspondence. But Commissioner McMahon now claimed “that it was not intended by me in giving this pledge to King Hussein to include Palestine in the area in which Arab independence was promised.” (Gerner, p. 28-9; Nathan, p. 61)

The British Mandate and “Redemption”

Following through on the promise of the Balfour Declaration, Britain established the Zionist Commission, headed by Chaim Weizmann, who was dispatched to the Middle East to lay the groundwork for a Jewish state in 1918. Weizmann met with King Fasial, but barely met any local Palestinian Arab notables, finding them a “dishonest, uneducated, greedy, and unpatriotic” people. He approvingly said of Faisal, “He is contemptuous of the Palestinian Arabs whom he doesn’t even regard as Arabs.” (Morris, 2001, p. 79)

In January 1919, Weizmann and Faisal signed a formal agreement invoking the “racial kinship and ancient bonds” of Arabs and Jews, and stating:

[A]ll necessary measures shall be taken to encourage and stimulate immigration of Jews into Palestine on a large scale, and as quickly as possible to settle Jewish immigrants upon the land… In taking such measures, the Arab peasant and tenant farmers shall be protected in their rights , and shall be assisted in forwarding their economic development. [Morris, 2001, p. 80]

Faisal later warned that if Jews claimed “sovereign rights in the country, I foresee and fear very serious dangers and conflicts between them and other races.” When American jurist Felix Frankfuter was dispatched to meet with the monarch over these concerns, Faisal wrote Frankfurter in a public letter: “We Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement… [W]e will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home.” (Morris, 2001, p. 83)

Meanwhile, al-Nadi al-Arabi (the Arab Club), dominated by the prominent land-owning Palestinian family of Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini, petitioned for self-rule and against Zionist colonization. (Morris, 2001, p. 35)

In June 1920, when the last British military governor for Palestine, Louis Bols, officially turned the territory over to the first High Commissioner, Herbert Samuels, he famously handed Samuels a facetious receipt which he asked him to sign, reading: “Received from Major General Sir Louis Bols, KCB—One Palestine, complete.” Although meant as a joke, the “receipt” has entered Zionist folklore. It was not lost on either the Zionists or the Arabs that Samuels was a British Jew. (Segev, p. 155)

Zionists petitioned British administrators to call the mandatory territory Eretz Israel (Land of Israel), while Arabs insisted the name Palestine be retained. The British finally opted for the compromise of “Palestine E.I.,” which appeared on all official documents and the local currency. (Segev, p. 299)

Ze’ev Jabotinsky, founder of Revisionist Zionism—the hardline tendency most intransigently opposed to any recognition of Arab rights in Palestine—was ironically the most capable of looking at the problem honestly. In 1923, he wrote: “Palestine will remain for the Palestinians not a borderland, but their birthplace, the center and basis of their own national existence.” (Morris, 2001, p. 36)

Jabotinsky baited mainstream Zionists as hypocrites. In his famous “Iron Wall” polemic of 1923, he said:

Zionist colonization must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population. Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population—behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach… [T]here is no meaningful difference between our ‘militarists’ and our ‘vegetarians.’ One prefers an iron wall of Jewish bayonets, the other proposes an iron wall of British bayonets…but we all applaud, day and night, the iron wall. [Masalha, p. 28; MidEastWeb]

Jabotinsky explicitly took aim at left Zionists: “A voluntary reconciliation with the Arabs is out of the question either now or in the future.” And at cultural Zionists:

Zionism is a colonizing adventure and therefore it stands or falls by the question of armed force. It is important…to speak Hebrew, but, unfortunately, it is even more important to be able to shoot—or else I am through with playing at colonization. [Brenner, p. 111]

Mainstream Zionism was indeed more equivocal on the question. Israel Zangwill, foremost popularizer of the “land without people for people without land” formulation, wrote in 1920:

If Lord Shaftesbury was literally inexact in describing Palestine as a country without a people, he was essentially correct, for there is no Arab people living in intimate fusion with the country, utilizing its resources and stamping it with a characteristic impress; there is at best an Arab encampment, the break-up of which would throw upon the Jews the actual manual labor of regeneration and prevent them from exploiting the fellahin, whose numbers and lower wages are moreover a considerable obstacle to the proposed immigration from Poland and other suffering centers. [Zangwill, 1921, p. 109]

Yet Zangwill (who, it will be recalled, had led the “Territorialist” tendency not wedded to a homeland in Palestine) had told a Zionist group in Manchester in 1897: “Palestine proper already has its inhabitants. The pashalik of Jerusalem is already twice as thickly populated as the United States, having 52 souls to the square mile, and not 24% of them Jews.” (Masalha, p. 6)

Zionist land purchases—referred to as “redemption” or “conquest”—continued apace. This sparked growing animosity with Palestinians, and frequent violence. When the King-Crane Commission, established by the Paris peace conference that formally ended World War I, visited in June 1919, its two American leaders Henry King and Charles Crane were told by Jerusalem notable Aref Pasha Dajani, “If the League of Nations will not listen to the appeal of the Arabs, this country will become a river of blood.” (Morris, 2001, p. 91)

The King-Crane Commission report represented a tilt back to the Arabs:

We recommend…serious modification of the extreme Zionist Program for Palestine… The Commission recognized also that definite encouragement had been given to the Zionists by the Allies in Mr. Balfour’s often quoted statement… If, however, the strict terms of the Balfour Statement are adhered to…it can hardly be doubted that the extreme Zionist Program must be greatly modified. For “a national home for the Jewish people” is not equivalent to making Palestine into a Jewish State; nor can the erection of such a Jewish State be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the “civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” The fact came out repeatedly in the Commission’s conference with Jewish representatives, that the Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine… In view of all these considerations, and with a deep sympathy for the Jewish cause, the Commissioners feel bound to recommend that only a greatly reduced Zionist program be attempted by the Peace Conference… This would have to mean that Jewish immigration should be definitely limited, and that the project for making Palestine a distinctly Jewish commonwealth should begiven up. [Gerner. p. 33-4]

The map of the prospective Jewish state presented by the World Zionist Organization at the Paris peace conference in 1919 included all of what would become Mandate Palestine—including the West Bank of the Jordan River—but also the east bank of the Jordan River, the Golan Heights in Syria, and southern Lebanon up to the Litani River. (Morris, 2001, p. 494, Flapan, p. 16)

The Third Aliyah, triggered by the Russian Revolution, brought 40,000 more Jews to Palestine from 1919 to 1923. (Virtual Jewish Library) Similar numbers were brought by the Fourth Aliyah, sparked by new anti-Semitic policies in Poland and the instatement of harsh immigration restrictions in the United States, between 1924 and 1929. (Virtual Jewish Library)

The inter-war years saw a leap in Jewish land acquisition. The Yishuv acquired some 533,000 dunams in the 1920s, and another 300,000 in the ’30s—mostly from absentee effendis. The demand prompted a boom in land prices. (Morris, 2001, p. 123) The land that would be purchased by Jews by the end of the inter-war years amounted to only 7.6% of Palestine’s territory—but it was among the most fertile, and seen by Jews and Arabs alike as the nucleus of a future Jewish state. (Thomas, p. 22)

The Jewish population of Palestine had fallen during the war due to deportations and hardships, but by the 1922 British census it was back up to 83,790, or 11.1% of the total. (Dowty, p. 73)

In the Galilee panhandle, a no-man’s-land between the British and French occupation zones, Arabs—with some support from Faisal—attacked Jewish settlements in March 1920, driving out the inhabitants. The attacks ended and settlers returned after the French took Damascus in October (under the Sykes-Picot agreement). In December, Britain and France agreed at the San Remo conference that the Galilee would come under British rule, as lands slated for an eventual Jewish state. The conference also endorsed the Balfour Declaration. (Morris, 2001, p. 93, 97)

In 1920, Jerusalem saw repeated and increasingly angry protests against Jewish settlement—especially in April, when the Islamic Nabi Musa celebration coincided with Jewish Passover. A new and expanded Jewish militia was meanwhile formed—the Haganah (“Defense”)— built on the Hashomer network, but now with a centralized command. The Haganah mobilized to Jerusalem in the wake of the Arab protests. Fearing clashes, the British declared martial law. (Morris, 2001, p. 95-6; Gee, p. 40)

In 1921, the Zionist Commission, headed by Weizmann—which had merged with the Palestine Office of the World Zionist Organization—helped establish the Palestine Zionist Executive (PZE), recognized by Britain as the “Jewish Agency” provided for by Article 4 of the Mandate. (Morris, 2001, p. 89)

The PZE/Jewish Agency worked closely with Mandate authorities as companies were established for the electrification and development of Palestine. The development of irrigation works was a special area of collaboration. (Nathan, p. 166)

A Palestine Arab Executive (PAE) was also established after the Third Palestinian Conference, led by Musa Kazim al-Husseini, met in the coastal city of Haifa in December 1920. But when Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill was dispatched to Jerusalem to meet with Arab leaders, he told them: “You ask me to repudiate the Balfour Declaration and to stop immigration. This is not in my power, and it is not my wish.” (Morris, 2001, p. 98)

In May 1921, in a conciliatory gesture to the Arabs, the British engineered the election of nationalist leader Hajj Amin al-Husseini as the Mufti of Jerusalem, the Islamic religious authority over the city’s holy sites—despite the fact that he had been sentenced in absentia to ten years imprisonment for inciting the 1920 riots. When new anti-Jewish violence broke out that month in Jerusalem—leaving several Jews dead—Ben-Gurion accused the British authorities of encouraging and even collaborating with the rioters. Martial law was again imposed. (Morris, 2001, p. 100-1)

When Arab raiders attacked the Jewish settlements of Petach Tivka and Hadera, Royal Air Force planes bombed the advancing raiders, and armored cars were dispatched. (Morris, 2001, p. 102)

Afterwards, the British stepped up efforts to promote parallel Jewish and Arab political frameworks. A Supreme Muslim Council was established to oversee sharia courts and awqaf (trusts) over Islamic sites in January 1922. A revived waqf (singular of awqaf) under the Mufti administrated the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque at the Noble Sanctuary. (Morris, 2001, p. 103; Dowty, p. 187)

At British insistence, Weizmann met in London with an Arab delegation led by Kazim al-Husseini in November 1921, but the two could reach no agreement. (Morris, 2001, p. 105)

A June 1922 British “White Paper” on Palestine’s future stated that London had not

at any time contemplated, as appears to be feared, the disappearance or the subordination of the Arab population, language or culture in Palestine… The [Balfour] Declaration…does not contemplate that Palestine as a whole should be converted into a Jewish National Home, but that such a Home should be founded in Palestine. [Morris, 2001, p. 103]

This White Paper—also known as the Churchill Memorandum—said that immigration should be in accord with “the economic capacity of the country at the time to absorb new arrivals.” It denied plans to make Palestine “as Jewish as England is English.” (Ben-Sasson, p. 999)

The 1922 White Paper also quoted part of a resolution passed by the Zionist Congress the previous year, claiming that the Zionists intended the “Jewish people to live with the Arab people on terms of unity and mutual respect, and together with them to make the common home into a flourishing community, the upbuilding of which may assure to each of its peoples an undisturbed national development.” (Khouri, p. 22)

In an interim report on plans for the territory, High Commissioner Herbert Samuels similarly tried to assuage Arab fears: “The degree to which Jewish national aspirations can be fulfilled in Palestine is conditioned by the rights of the present inhabitants.” (Ben-Sasson, p. 999)

And similar sentiments were expressed by Weizmann at the 14th Zionist Congress in Vienna in 1924, where he said:

Palestine must be built up without violating the legitimate interests of the Arabs—not a hair of their heads shall be touched… [The Zionist Congress] has to learn the truth that Palestine is not Rhodesia and that 600,000 Arabs live there who…have exactly the same right to their homes as we have to our National Home. [Khouri, p. 41]

The left-Zionist party Brit Shalom called for “a binational state in which Jew and Arab should enjoy equal civil, political and social rights, without distinction between majority and minority.” Arthur Ruppin, a sympathizer of this tendency, asked: “Is there no way to earmark in Palestine an area to an increasing number of Jews, without dispossessing the Arabs?” At the other extreme was the Revisionist Movement of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, which sloganized, “In fire and blood, Judea will be reborn.” (Elmessiri, p. 135; Morris, 2001, p. 108)

Elections for a Palestine legislature were boycotted by the PAE, which rejected provisions for Jewish and Arab parity in the body (despite the Arab demographic majority), as well as British veto power over its acts. The Yishuv also established its own parallel legislature and executive council, as well as a Jewish National Fund to oversee land “reclamation.” (Morris, 2001, p. 109)

In September 1928, on the eve of the holy day Yom Kippur, Jewish worshipers erected a screen to separate men from women at the Western Wall during prayers. Fearing this would be viewed by Arabs as a provocation, British military troops removed the screen, setting off a scuffle with the worshipers. The move failed to avoid protests by Arabs, who held a one-hour general strike in Jerusalem a few days later and themselves clashed with Jewish worshipers at the wall. (Segev, p. 295, 305)

In August 1929, new Arab-Jewish riots break out at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, spreading throughout Palestine. The Haganah fired on Arabs, and Arabs attacked Jewish homes, especially at Hebron, killing several. Hundreds faced trial and several were sentenced to death after the violence—25 Arabs and two Jews. Due to further protests, only three were executed, all Arabs. The PAE hailed them as “forerunners of freedom and independence.” (Morris, 2001, p. 113-6; Segev, p. 321-3)

The Shaw Commission, formed to investigate the violence, found that the “fundamental cause” was “the Arab feeling of animosity and hostility towards the Jews consequent upon the disappointment of their political and national aspirations and fear for their economic future.” (Morris, 2001, p. 116)

The Shaw Commission warned of “creation of a large discontented and landless class” of Arabs, and called for limits on Jewish immigration and land purchases. It found that there was “no further land available which can be occupied by new immigrants without displacing the present population.” (Quigley, p. 19)

A follow-up British report on the roots of the violence—officially the Hope-Simpson Report on Immigration, Land Settlement, and Development—again found expropriation of land to be a key cause of Arab rage:

The result of the purchase of land in Palestine by the Jewish National Fund has been that land has been extra-territorialized. It ceases to be land from which the Arab can gain any advantage either now or at any time in the future. Not only can he never hope to lease or to cultivate it, but by the stringent provisions of the lease of the JNF he is deprived for ever from employment on that land. [McDowell, p. 23]

The report found both that the size of Arab land-holdings was decreasing and that Arab landlessness was increasing—now standing at nearly a third of rural Arab families. (Sayigh, p. 36)

The report’s findings were protested both by High Commissioner Herbert Samuel, and by Chaim Weizmann, who resigned from the Jewish Agency to register his dissent. (Ben-Sasson, p. 1008)

In the aftermath of the riots, Ben-Gurion offered these sobering thoughts: “The Arab must not and cannot become a Zionist. He could never wish the Jews to become a majority. This is the true antagonism between us and the Arabs. We both want to be the majority.” (Masalha, p. 18)

Yet his proposed solution to the dilemma denied Arab rootedness in the land: “There is a fundamental and decisive difference between the situaiton of the Arabs as a nation and that of the Jews as a nation. Palestine is not needed by the Arabs from the national point of view. They are bound to other centers. There, in Syria, in Iraq, in the Arabian peninsula, lies the homeland of the Arab people.” (Masalha, p. 20)

Jewish immigration was escalating. The passage of restrictive immigration laws in the United States in the 1920s was followed by the rise of fascism in Europe—making establishment of a Jewish homeland more of an imperative. The Jewish population of Palestine was up to 174,600 (16.9%) by 1931. (Dowty, p. 73-4)

The 1930 White Paper produced by Colonial Secretary Lord Sidney Webb Passfield seemingly reduced British commitment to the Balfour Declaration, emphasizing obligations to the Arabs. This, predictably, hardened the Zionist position. Yosef Sprinzak, a leader of the Histadrut (Zionist labor movement), declared: “We shall not be able to go through our history with an English escort.” Efforts began to develop Haganah into a real army. Dissident Revisionist elements formed the armed faction officially known as the Irgun Tzevai Leumi (National Military Organization, Etzel or IZL by its Hebrew acronym), but popularly called the Irgun (“Organization”). (Davis; p. 21; Morris, 2001, p. 117-20; Segev, p. 335, 384)

The Revisionists also founded their own militia network as an alternative to (or radical wing of) the Hashomer or Watchmen. With a refreshing lack of euphemism, it was called the Brith Biryonim of Union of Terrorists. It shared Irgun’s slogan: “In blood and fire Judah fell; in blood and fire Judah will rise again.” (Brenner, p. 116; LartĂ©guy, p. 50)

It seemed each move by the British to calm the fears of one side only inflamed those of the other. Following Jewish outrage over the Passfield White Paper, Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald wrote an open letter to Weismann “clarifying” the British position: “The obligation to facilitate Jewish immigration and encourage close settlement by Jews on the land remains a positive obligation of the Mandate.” (Ben-Sasson, p. 1008)

The Arab leadership was similarly hardening, and losing patience with British equivocation. In February 1931, the PAE issued a “Declaration to the Noble Arab Nation” stating: “We must give up the idea of relying on the British Government to safeguard our national and economic existence, because this Government is weak in the face of the forces of World Jewry.” (Morris, 2001, p. 122)

Ben-Gurion warned: “There is a fundamental conflict. We and they want the same thing. We both want Palestine… Were I an Arab…I would rise up against immigration liable sometime in the future to hand the country…over to Jewish rule. What Arab cannot do the math and understand that immigration at the rate of 60,000 a year means a Jewish state in all Palestine?” (Morris, 2001, p. 122)

Menachem Ussishkin proclaimed: “We must continually raise the demand that our land be returned to our possession… If there are other inhabitants there, they must be transfered to some other place. We must take over the land. We have a greater and nobler ideal than preserving several hundred thousands of Arab fellahin.” (Masalha, p. 37)

Ussishkin’s proposals for “transfer” sparked debate in the Zionist movement. He wrote in 1936: “I would very much like the Arabs to go to Iraq. And I hope they will go there sometime… Now the Arabs do not want us because we want to be the rulers. I will fight for this. I will make sure that we will be the landlords of this land…because this country belongs to us and not to them.” (Masalha, p. 51)

Arthur Ruppin replied skeptically: “I also entertained dreams like yours. I once said, Iraq will absorb the Arabs of the land of Israel and all the peoples of the world will recognize our justified demands… But…how could you conceive that Arabs would abandon the land of Israel and go to Baghdad? What is in it for them? …In Baghdad, the fellahin receives 3 or 4 piastre as a daily wage. Here the fellah receives 12-15 piastres. There he is living in abject poverty, but not here. Why should he go to Iraq? Is this only because it is an Arab country? In his eyes Palestine nowadays is still an Arab country, and he will fight for its Arabness…” (Masalha, p. 52)

To Ussishkin’s contention that “agricultural conditions in Iraq are better than in the Land of Israel,” Ruppin sarcastically replied that “the condition of the agriculture in Iraq could not be described as the Garden of Eden.” (Masalha, p. 51-2)

But Ruppin’s own solution merely called for an aggressive transfer to Transjordan rather than Iraq:

I do not believe in the transfer of the individual. I believe in the transfer of entire villages. And I think that the Development Company should first build there [in Transjordan] several model settlements so that the Arabs here can see what they can get there… I believe that we would possibly be able, even if not instantaneously, to transfer in these 10-15 years 100,000 Arabs or 25,000 peasant families. [Masalha, p. 113]

The Hussenis in 1935 founded the Palestinian Arab Party to oppose establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. Istiqlal, the Independence party, which sought union with Syria, also opposed the Balfour Declaration. Arab marches for independence and against Jewish colonization led to repeated clashes with the British police—some deadly. British-instigated meetings between Ben-Gurion and the PAE’s Musa al-Alami again failed to defuse tensions. (Morris, 2001, p. 124, 5)

More militant Arabs gravitated to the leadership of Izz al-Din al-Qassam (also rendered Izzadine el-Qassam), who sought to build an armed resistance movement. He was hunted down and killed with his followers after an attack on a British patrol south of Haifa in November 1935. But elements of his movement survived. (Gee, p. 44-5)

The April 1936 thawra or Great Arab Revolt began in conflicts between Arab and Irgun militants, which led to several dead and homes and shops looted on both sides. As violence escalated, PAE leaders met in Jerusalem to found the Arab Higher Committee (AHC), with Amin al-Husseini as chairman. A general strike was declared. Attacks on Jewish vehicles and settlements became widespread, and Jews began traveling in armed convoys. Ben-Gurion acknowledged that the Arabs were “fighting against dispossession.” Britain brought in more troops, carried out air-strikes against Arab villages, and summarily destroyed several hundred Arab homes in Jaffa on 24 hours notice to the residents—a punitive measure thinly veiled as an urban renewal project. Such measures were permitted by new “Emergency Regulations” for Palestine passed by the British parliament. The British also began arming Jewish settlements. (Bober, p. 135; Morris, 2001, p. 128-32; Thomas, p. 25; Segev, p. 399)

The Great Revolt also saw further steps toward the emergence of an armed Arab resistance movement. Abd al-Qadir Husseini (nom de guerre Abu Musa) organized a Mufti-aligned Jaysh al-Jihad al-Muqaddas (Army of Holy War), which would maintain sporadic guerilla resistance on British forces until Abu Musa was wounded in action and exiled to Iraq in 1938. (Collins & LaPierre, p. 92; Gee, p. 47)

The Peel Commission, formed to study the 1936 violence, was avidly petitioned by the Jewish leadership, with Weizmann, Ben-Gurion and Jabotinsky all testifying. The Mufti also testified—but in late and hastily prepared remarks, as the AHC’s initial policy was to boycotted by the Commission. (Segev, p. 401; Gee, p. 47)

The Peel Commission found that the Mandate was unworkable and called for dividing the territory. It warned:

To foster Jewish immigration in the hope that it might ultimately lead to the creation of a Jewish majority and the establishment of a Jewish state with the consent or at least the acquiescence of the Arabs was one thing. It was quite another to contemplate, however remotely, the forcible conversion of Palestine into a Jewish State against the will of the Arabs. For that would clearly violate the spirit and intention of the Mandate System. It would mean that national self-determination had been withheld when the Arabs were the majority in Palestine and only conceded when the Jews were the majority… [T]he international recognition of the right of the Jews to return to their old homeland did not involve the recognition of the right of the Jews to govern the Arabs in it against their will. [Gerner, p. 37]

Under the Peel plan, the Jews were to receive less than one-fifth of Palestine—although consisting of some of the best lands: most of the Galilee, the nearby Jezreel Valley (site of the biblical Meggido), and most of the coastal plain. A small enclave around Jerusalem was to remain in British hands. The rest would go to an Arab state. The commission called for an “exchange of population” between the two states—the transfer of some 225,000 Arabs and 1,250 Jews. Those relocated would be compensated, and Britain “in the last resort” would resort to force to effect the transfer. (Morris, 2001, p. 139)

Ben-Gurion publicly accepted these terms, but wrote to his son that a “Jewish state in part [of Palestine] is not an end but a beginning… Establishing a state…will serve as a very potent lever in our historical efforts to redeem the whole country.” (Morris, 2001, p. 138, 9)

He also wrote to his son—in slightly equivocal terms—of the need to use arms to displace the country’s inhabitants: “We must expel Arabs and take their places…and, if we have to use force—not to dispossess the Arabs of the Negev and Transjordan, but to guarantee our own right to settle in those places—then we have force at our disposal.” (Masalha, p. 66, emphasis added)

In his personal journal, he exulted that the Peel report recommended giving the choicest lands to the Jews—and embraced at least a limited “transfer” of the Arab population from these lands:

With the evacuation of the Arab community from the valleys we achieve, for the first time in our history, a real Jewish state… And we must first of all cast off the weakness of thought and will and prejudice—that [says that] this transfer is impracticable. [Rogan & Shlaim, p. 42]

In a statement to the Jewish Agency, Ben-Gurion openly called for “transfer” of Arabs to Tranjordan:

Why can’t we acquire land there for Arabs, who wish to settle in Transjordan? If it is permissible to move an Arab from the Galilee to Judea, why is it impossible to move an Arab from Hebron are to Transjordan, which is much closer? There are vast expanses of land there and we are overcrowded… Even the High Commissioner agrees to a transfer to Transjordan if we equip the peasants with land and money. If the Peel Commission and the London Government accept, we’ll remove the land problem from the agenda. [Masalha, p. 53]

At the 20th Zionist Congress in Zurich, partition and transfer were widely debated. Ben-Gurion said:

Transfer…is what will make possible a comprehensive settlement program. Thankfully, the Arab people have vast, empty areas. Jewish power, which grows steadily, will also increase our possibilities to carry out the transfer on a large scale. You must remember, that this system embodies an important and human Zionist idea, to transfer parts of a people to their country and to settle empty lands. We believe that this action will also bring us closer to an agreement with the Arabs. [Morris, 2001, p. 143]

As chairman of the Jewish Agency, Ben-Gurion proposed in 1938: “The Jewish State will discuss with the neighboring Arab states the matter of voluntarily transferring Arab tenant-farmers, laborers, and fellahin from the Jewish state to the neighboring states.” (Morris, 2001, p. 143, 253)

Menachem Ussishkin said, “We cannot start the Jewish state with…half the population being Arab… Such a state cannot survive even half an hour.” A Transfer Committee was established, led by Jacob Thon, head of the Zionist Land Development Company with much experience in evicting Arab tenant farmers. (Morris, 2001, p. 144)

The November 1937 minutes of a Transfer Committee meeting stated:

[T]he transfer of the Arab population from the area of the Jewish state does not serve only one aim—to diminish the Arab population. It also serves a second, less important aim, which is to evacuate land presently held and cultivated by the Arabs and thus to release it for the Jewish inhabitants. [Masalha, p. 94-5]

Alfred BonnĂ© of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University produced a study for the Transfer Committee of Arab land tenure patterns and suggested strategies for what he termed “dealing with” large landowners and small tenant farmers. (Masalha, p. 103)

Prominent Zionist activist Eliezer Kaplan’s statement on the matter betrayed uneasiness with the parallel to fascism’s treatment of the European Jews:

I shall not enter now into the details of the question of the ‘transfer’ of the Arabs. But it is not fair to compare this proposal to the expulsion of the Jews from Germany or any other country. The question here is not one of expulsion, but of organized trasnfer of a number of Arabs from a territory which will be in the Hebrew state, to another place in the Arab state, that is, to the environment of their own people… [Masalha, p. 69-70]

No such qualms were betrayed by Selig Eugen Soskin, former head of the JNF Land Settlement Department: “I…insist upon the compulsory transferring of the whole rural Arab population, from the Jewish state to the Arab state.” (Masalha, p. 94)

Shmuel Zuchovitzky (later Zakif) was similarly unapologetic: “I am convinced that it would be impossible to carry out transfer without compulsion. I do not see in this any immoral measure. I want to help the Jews to come to the Jewish state and to help the Arabs cross to the Arab state.” (Masalha, p. 110)

Ben-Gurion, in a secret protocol to a Jewish Agency meeting in 1938 (declassified by Israel decades later), also defended the expulsion of the Arabs as moral, yet insisted the task should fall to the British: “With compulsory transfer we [would] have vast areas… I support compulsory transfer. I do not see anything immoral in it. But compulsory transfer could only be carried out by England.” (Masalha, p. 117; Morris, 2001, p. 143, 253)

He added: “There are two central issues—sovereignty, and a reduction of the number of Arabs in the Jewish state, and we must insist on both of them.” (McDowall, p. 197)

In yet another statement, Ben-Gurion made clear his territorial ambitions:

Just as I do not see the proposed Jewish state as a final solution to the problems of the Jewish people, so I do not see partition as the final solution of the Palestine question. Those who reject partition are right in their claim that this country cannot be partitioned because it constitutes one unit, not only from a historical point of view but also from that of nature and economy. [Flapan, p. 22]

He elaborated:

The acceptance of partition does not commit us to renounce Transjordan: one does not demand from anybody to give up his vision. We shall accept a state in the boundaries fixed today, but the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factor will be able to limit them. [Chomsky, p. 161]

Addressing the Zionist Executive, Ben-Gurion pledged that “after the formation of a large army in the wake of the establishment of the state, we will abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine.” (Flapan, p. 22)

In the interim, Arabs would be cleaned from the borders of the Jewish state, Ben-Gurion argued:

[A]s the British propose to give the Arabs a part of the country they promised to us, it is only fair that the Arabs in our state shold be transferred to the Arab part. [McDowall, p. 197]

Zionists were divided on whether to reject the Peel Commission’s proposed boundaries or accept them as a first step. As Ben-Gurion would write: “The debate has not been for or against the indivisibility of Eretz Israel. No Zionist can forgo the smallest portion of Eretz Israel. The debate was over which of two routes would lead quicker to the common goal.” (Thomas, p. 25)

The AHC officially rejected the Peel report and partition, and began establishing regional National Committees as the groundwork for an independent Arab government. When Lewis Andrews, the British regional commissioner for the Galilee, was assassinated in Nazareth by an Arab gunman in September 1937, Mandate authorities outlawed the AHC and its regional committees. Nearly 200 Arab leaders were rounded up and deported to the Seychelles. This sparked a new Arab revolt—this time led by the peasantry—with widespread armed attacks on British forces and Jewish settlements, leaving some 100 dead. In October 1938, the fellahin rebels succeeded in briefly taking Jerusalem’s Old City. (Morris, p. 145; Gee, p. 48)

British authorities retaliated with collective punishment of villages thought to support the rebels; homes were destroyed and groves uprooted. New British military patrol roads were built through the West Bank hill country, with fellahin forced labor. A barbed-wire fence dubbed “Tegart’s wall”—for Sir Charles Tegart, the counter-terrorism expert the British now dispatched to Palestine—was built along the borders with Syria and Lebanon to prevent the infiltration of arms to the Arab rebels. The Arab population was forced to carry ID cards and subjected to strict travel restrictions. (Morris, 2001, p. 150; Segev, p. 416)

Irgun retaliated to the Arab attacks with a wave of bombings of Arab targets—the first instance of terrorism in the Palestine conflict, by contemporary definitions. Scores were killed in terror attacks on crowded Arab marketplaces and buses. Nov. 14, 1937 was celebrated by Irgun as the “Day of the Breaking of the Havlaga [restraint],” with a string of simultaneous attacks across Palestine. (Morris, 2001, p. 147)

Haganah was also arming and training, with the aid of a British apocalyptic Christian, Capt. Charles Orde Wingate—under cover of a special British-sanctioned Jewish police force, the Notrim, established to guard the settlements we well as the oil pipeline that ran from Iraq to Haifa. The Haganah’s intelligence service, the Shai, kept tabs on the Arabs and British as well as Jewish dissidents on the left (Communists) and right (Irgun). Haganah even established its own clandestine arms factories, producing bombs and mortars. (Morris, 2001, p. 148-9, 160; Sayigh, p. 71)

After the new violence, yet another study group, the Woodhead Commission, issued a paper redrawing the partition plan—this time keeping the Galilee and much of the West Bank and Negev as well as Jerusalem under British control, leaving a small Jewish state on the coast and a slightly larger Arab one on the West Bank. (Morris, 2001, p. 156)

But a simultaneous British “White Paper”—this one dubbed the MacDonald White Paper for Colonial Secretary Malcolm MacDonald—rejected partition altogether and called for limits on Jewish immigration. Under these terms, only 75,000 would be allowed to immigrate in the next five years, starting in 1939—as a “contribution towards the solution of the Jewish refugee problem.” Unlimited immigration was judged “against the strongly expressed will of the Arab people” and tantamount to “rule by force.” Land sales would also be limited, with an eye to mitigating the problem of the “considerable landless Arab population.” The new White Paper committed Britain to the establishment of an independent Palestine within 10 years. (Thomas, p. 29-30; Gee, p. 51)

Under the recommendations of the MacDonald White Paper, Land Transfer Regulations were drawn up, and Palestine was divided into three zones. The Haifa Industrial Zone, covering most of the coastal plain, was free to Jewish land purchases. Zone A, around the mostly Arab hill country and covering some 60% of Palestine, was closed to to Jewish land purchases. In Zone B, stretching between the other two zones from the Galilee to the Negev, Jews could only purchase land from owners other than Palestinian Arabs, except by official permission of Mandate authorities. (Nathan, p. 187)

Britain convened the St. James Conference at the palace of that name in London in February 1939, in a bid to broker a Jewish-Arab deal. The Palestinian Arabs were represented by the region’s Arab governments and leaders from their own ranks, some of whom were brought in from exile in the Seychelles. The talks failed. Ben-Gurion, representing the Jews, refused to accept limits on Jewish immigration, and opposed independence as long as Jews remained a minority. Britain agreed to limits on immigration, but this was not sufficient for the Arab delegates. (Ben-Sasson, p. 1015; Morris, 2001, p. 157; Segev, p. 437)

Faisal, the Hashemite king of Iraq, told a Jewish newspaper in 1939 that he supported “regulated immigration into the country [Palestine], for conditions in which the Jews will have equal rights with the Arabs… The Jews are cousins and we would willingly make them brothers.” But he rejected the notion of making Palestine “as Jewish as English is English,” saying that “if historical rights as claimed by the Jews had value, the Arabs would claim Spain.” (Elmessiri, p. 175)

Other anti-colonial movements then gaining ground elsewhere in the British empire sympathized with the Arabs of Palestine. India’s Congress Party in 1937 passed a resolution opposing the partition of Palestine, and in 1938 resolved to call upon Britain “to revoke its present policy and leave the Jews and Arabs to settle amicably the issue between them and appeal to the Jews not to take shelter behind British imperialism.” In 1938, Mohandas Gandhi admonished the Zionists for entering Palestine “under the shadow of the British gun.” He urged that they would find peace with the Arabs “if they will only discard the help of the British bayonet. As it is, they are the co-sharers with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them.” Condemning partition as a “crime against humanity,” he declared: “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English, or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct.” (Elmessiri, p. 179; Fischer, p. 330; Jewish Virtual Library)

Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler’s escalating persecution of Germany’s Jews greatly increased the pressure for a Jewish haven in Palestine. In November 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were passed in Germany, officially denying Jews civil rights. On Nov. 9, 1938, the coordinated campaign of pogroms known as Kristallnacht (Crystal Night, or Night of Broken Glass) was unleashed; synagogues and Jewish shops were destroyed across Germany and Nazi-annexed Austria—seen by historians as the first step towards the Final Solution. In July of that same year, an international conference had been held at Evian, France, to try to find a haven for Jews attempting to flee Germany. Of the 33 nations in attendance, only the Dominican Republic offered to take in more Jewish refugees. (Snyder, p. 201, 252; Dowty, p. 81; Palestine Facts; Jewish Virtual Library)

World War II and the Biltmore Program

On Sept. 3, 1939, the day Britain declared war on Germany, the Jewish Agency Executive announced: “At this fateful moment, the Jewish community has a threefold concern: the protection of the Jewish homeland, the welfare of the Jewish people, [and] the victory of the British Empire.” Ben-Gurion declared: “The First World War…had given us the Balfour Declaration. This time we must bring about a Jewish State.” (Morris, 2001, p. 161-4)

The 21st Zionist Congress convened in Geneva on the eve of the war. Ben-Gurion called for supporting the British war effort against Germany, but insisted that the White Paper “must be opposed vigorously.” (Ben-Sasson, p. 1016)

The Irgun joined Haganah in closing ranks with the British, although a dissident Revisionist current which remained intransigently anti-British broke to form Lohamei Herut Israel (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel, Lehi by its Hebrew acronym; or the Stern Gang). It pledged continued armed resistance against the British occupation in Palestine, regardless of the war in Europe. Its leaders were interned by the British in detainment camps, and its founder founder Avraham Stern was killed by British police. (Morris, 2001, p. 161-4; Segev, p. 456)

Haganah-commanded ships bringing Jewish refugees from Europe began arriving in Palestine in growing numbers—although Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, opposed the operation, fearing it would alienate the British at a critical moment. Britain initially deported the refugees they intercepted back to their countries of origin, then established “island camps” for them in Cyprus and even such remote places as Mauritius. Haganah, Irgun and Lehi all resisted the deportations with bomb attacks on British ships and immigration offices—but Haganah’s attack on the ship Patria docked at Haifa in November 1940 killed 252 intercepted refugees. (Morris, 2001, p. 163)

In February 1942, an explosion on a ramshackle Irgun-commissioned ship full of refugees hoping to reach Palestine, the Struma, would kill 760 Romanian Jews, including over 100 children. The ship was foundering in the Black Sea, denied landing rights by either British authorities in Palestine or by neutral Turkey, when it blew up. Explanations have included that it drifted into a mine or was hit by a Soviet torpedo—or was blown up by Zionist agents as a provocation. In any case, the affair raised the pressure on the British. (Hadawi, 1989, p. 55; Morris, 2001, 163-4; Polk, et al, p. 181; Jewish Virtual Library)

By September 1941, 35,000 Jews had arrived in Palestine since the 1939 MacDonald White Paper had stipulated a limit of 75,000 over the next five years. By 1944, the number was still 20,000 short of the limit. Ben-Gurion reportedly said: “We shall fight the White Paper as if there is no war, and we shall fight the war as if there is no White Paper.” (Morris, 2001, p. 168)

Despite initial British reluctance to accept them, some 25,000 Palestine Jews enlisted in the British army. A Jewish battalion under British command was formed in Palestine. Some Jewish volunteers served as scouts for the British advance into Lebanon and Syria, which were then under control of the Nazi-collaborationist French Vichy regime. The young Moshe Dayan, later to become a leading Israeli military figure, lost an eye in one such mission. A Jewish Brigade with its own blue-and-white flag would fight under British command in Italy in the closing months of the war. (Morris, 2001, p. 166-7)

Britain’s rulers clearly understood the Zionist strategy. Colonial Secretary Lord George Lloyd said in 1940: “The conversion of Palestine into a Jewish State as a reward for Jewish military assistance is the objective.” The more pro-Zionist Prime Minister Churchill said in 1941: “I may say at once that if Britain and the United States emerge victorious from the war, the creation of a great Jewish state in Palestine inhabitated by millions of Jews will be one of the leading features of the Peace Conference discussions.” (Morris, 2001, p. 167-8)

Ben-Gurion anticipated that the war could occasion an opportunity to expel the Arabs from Palestine—and turned to a grisly historical precedent to justify the proposal:

The possibility of a large-scale transfer of a population by force was demonstrated when the Greeks and the Turks were transferred [after World War I]. In the present war the idea of transfering a population is gaining more sympathy as a means of solving the dangerous and painful problem of national minorities. [Masalha, p. 128]

A 1941 Ben-Gurion memorandum entitled “Outlines of Zionist Policy” explicitly addressed the “transfer” of the Palestinian population: “Complete transfer without compulsion—and ruthless compulsion at that—is hardly imaginable… [T]he majority of the Arabs could hardly be expected to leave voluntarily within the short period of time which can materially affect our problem.” Presumably for public relations purposes, he argued that Jews should not “discourage other people, British or American, who favor transfer from advocating the course, but we should in no way make it part of our programme.” Arabs remaining in the Jewish state should be treated as equals, even though “our country may…suffer from the presence of a considerable illiterate and backward population…” (Masalha, p. 169)

These sentiments were echoed by Yosef Weitz, who, on a 1941 tour of central Palestine, wrote of seeing “large [Arab] villages crowded in population and surrounded by cultivated land growing olives, grapes, figs, sesame, and maize fields… Would we be able to maintain scattered settlements among these existing [Arab] villages that will always be larger than ours? …[O]nce again I hear that voice inside me called: evacuate this country.” (Masalha, p. 133, emphasis in original)

Weitz added:

The Land of Israel is not small at all, if only the Arabs will be removed, and if its frontiers would be enlarged a little: to the north all the way to the Litani [river in Lebanon], and to the east by including the Golan Heights… While the Arabs should be transfered to northern Syria and Iraq. [Masalha, p. 134]


It must be made clear that there is no room for both peoples in this country… If the Arabs leave the country, it will be broad and wide-open for us. And if the Arabs stay, the country will remain narrow and miserable… [T]here is no way besides transferring the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries, and to transfer them all; except maybe for Bethlehem, Nazareth and Old Jerusalem, we must not leave a single village, not a single tribe… There is no other way out. [Said, p. 99-100]

In May 1942, an Extraordinary Zionist Conference was held at New York’s Biltmore Hotel. Despite the dissent of Weizmann, who preferred not to risk alienating the British by pressing for immediate statehood, the resulting “Biltmore Program” called for post-war “Palestine to be established as a Jewish Commonwealth integrated into the structure of the new democratic world…” It urged that “the gates of Palestine be opened; that the Jewish Agency be vested with control of immigration into Palestine and with the necessary authority for upbuilding the country, including the development of its unoccupied and uncultivated lands…” (Morris, 2001, p. 168-9; McDowall, p. 26)

A minority current of dissident Zionists who favored co-existence with the Arabs also opposed the Biltmore program. The American Jewish leader (and founder of the Hadassah Women’s Organization) Henrietta Szold broke away to found her own party, Ichud (Unification). But the Biltmore program won the overwhelming approval of the Zionist movement. (Oren, p. 444; Buber, p. 148)

Ichud’s co-founder Judah Magnes charged:

Arab-Jewish cooperation has never been made the chief objective of major policy, either by the mandatory government, by the Jewish Agency, or by those representing the Arabs. We regard this as the great sin of omission that has been committed throughout all the years… This is the kernel of the problem. [Khouri, p. 45]

The mainstream Zionist leadership was not listening. Ben-Gurion again told the Jewish Agency Executive in June 1944: “I do not reject [the idea of] transfer morally or…politically.” (Morris, 2001, p. 683)

And, in fact, the ideas both of transfer and expanding the borders of the future Jewish state started gaining currency with the British political establishment. The UK Labor Party stated in a 1944 resolution:

Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out as the Jews move in. Let them be compensated handsomely for their land and let their settlement elsewhere be carefully organized and generously financed… Indeed we should re-examine also the possibility of extending the present Palestinian boundaries, by agreement with Egypt, Syria or Tranjordan. [Masalha, p. 158]

This had its obvious political costs. A British-commanded Arab battalion of some 6,000 was also formed to police Palestine in the war, but much of the traditional Palestinian Arab leadership defected to the Axis. Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, fled to Iraq in 1940, where he took part in the abortive pro-German coup there the following year. After its collapse, he fled to Berlin, where he met with Hitler and pledged to work for an Arab revolt against the British throughout their Mandate areas. Other leaders of the Husseini clan were subsequently interned by the British in Rhodesia. (Morris, 2001, p. 165-7, 172; Herzog, p. 21)

Charges of accommodation or outright collaboration with fascism in this period have been a feature of the Zionist-Arab conflict ever since. There are elements of truth on both sides. As early as 1936, the Arab Higher Committee reportedly received funds from Mussolini’s Italy. In June of that year, following the Arab revolt, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden wrote that the “disturbances…have been fomented to some extent by Italian money and intrigue.” (Morris, 2001, p. 133) The Husseinis in 1935 had founded a Palestinian Arab Party, with a youth group dubbed the “Nazi Scouts.” (Morris, 2001, p. 124) In a facile play to Arab sympathy, Hitler declared in 1939 that Palestine “is having its liberty restricted by the most brutal resort to force, is being robbed of its independence, and is suffering the cruelest maltreatment for the benefit of Jewish interlopers.” (Morris, 2001, p. 157)

Given this attempted Nazi-Arab alliance, as well as Hitler’s ultimately exterminationist ends, it is logical that many Zionists fought fascism. The Haganah’s Givati Brigade (later to be accused of atrocities in its 1948 Negev campaign), was led by Col. Shimon Avidan, a veteran of the International Brigades that helped resist Francisco Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War. (Herzog, p. 69) (The Zionist newspaper in Palestine, Ha’aretz, however, ran an editorial in 1937 denouncing Jews who went to Spain to fight in the International Brigades instead of coming to Palestine to work for the Jewish state.) (Brenner, p. 174)

Zionists and anti-Zionists alike participated in the Jewish resistance in Nazi-occupied Europe. The famous Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB) that led the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was—like the lesser-known resistance struggles in Poland’s other Nazi-imposed new Jewish ghettos—an alliance of left-wing Zionists and followers of the General Jewish Labor Union, or the Bund, a major socialist Jewish movement of the day which was anti-Zionist. (Snyder, p. 374; Suhl, p. 70) There were also a handful of Zionists and, more rarely, Bundists who joined the Judenrat, the Jewish Councils set up by the Nazis which ultimately became an instrument of the Final Solution. It should be noted that neither the Zionists or Bundists who served on the Judenrat did so as representatives of these political movements. (Brenner, p. 204)

Some Zionists flirted with collaboration for their own purposes. The Zionist Federation of Germany in 1933 had written a letter to the Nazi Party leadership seeking German support for settlement of the country’s Jews in Palestine as a solution to Germany’s “Jewish problem”—in exchange for opposing the boycott of Germany that was being advocated by American Jewish leaders. Such overtures eventually resulted in the “Ha’avara [Transfer] Agreement,” which allowed for German Jews to move their assets to Palestine via the Jewish Agency’s Anglo-Palestine Bank—with the German state getting a considerable cut. The Agreement was a point of heated conflict and debate within the World Zionist Organization. Sam Cohen, the wealthy German Jew who brokered the pact, would be assassinated in Tel Aviv in June 1933, presumably for his dealings with the Nazis. The Ha’avara Agreement remained formally in effect until after Kristallnacht (when all Jewish emigration from Germany was strictly banned), although it saw little activity after 1933. In the years between 1933 and 1938, some 60,000 German Jews did manage to migrate to Palestine, although it is uncertain how much of this was due to the Ha’avara Agreement. (Brenner, p. 45-50, 57-62; Jewish Virtual Library)

Before the move to the Final Solution in 1942, some Nazis did see Zionism as a solution to the “Jewish problem.” SS chief Reinhard Heydrich wrote in 1935: “The time cannot be far distant when Palestine will again be able to accept its sons who have been lost to it for over a thousand years. Our good wishes together with our official good will go with them.” (Brenner, p. 85)

A Nazi directive issued in Munich that year by the Bavarian political police stated that the Zionists’ “sincere activity directed toward emigration meets halfway the intentions of the Reich Government to remove the Jews from Germany.” (Elmessiri, p. 123)

Adolf Eichmann, the SS officer who masterminded the Final Solution, even traveled to Palestine as late as 1937 to secretly meet with Haganah leaders and discuss the transfer of European Jews there. Hungarian Zionist leader Rudolf (Reszo) Kastner also secretly negotiated with Eichmann in an effort to effect the transfer of several hundred wealthy Jews from Hungary to Palestine via neutral Switzerland in exchange for payments—as many thousands more were deported from Hungary to the Auschwitz death camp. These unsavory facts would be revealed at Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem in 1961, and in Kastner’s own 1954 libel suit in Israel against those who charged him with Nazi collaboration. Kastner lost the suit; he would be vindicated by Israel’s High Court of Justice (which found that he had acted in the interest of saving Jews) only after he was assassinated in 1957. (Brenner, p. 252-64; Bober, p. 173)

Jabotinsky and the Revisionists bitterly opposed the Ha’avara Agreement, rejecting any compromise with the Nazis at their founding conference in Vienna in 1935, where they called for creation of a New Zionist Movement. (Ben-Sasson, p. 1009) Yet Jabotinsky actively sought the patronage of Benito Mussolini, on the logic that he would support any force opposing Britain, before the Italian dictator formally allied with Hitler in 1939. The plan came to little, despite the best efforts of Jabotinsky’s agents and followers in Italy. (Brenner, p. 116-9)

After Jabotinsky’s death in 1940, some Revisionists made their own overtures to the Nazis. Lehi, not surprisingly, went furthest in seeking a formal deal with the Axis. In 1941, Lehi agents contacted Nazi officials in Lebanon suggesting: “The establishment of the historical Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis, and bound by a Treaty with the German Reich, would be in the interest of a maintained and strengthened future German position of power in the Near East.” (Davis, p. 18)

Lehi may not have known that the SS had created a special “Einsatzgruppe”—the elite corps that oversaw the Final Solution—to carry out the extermination of Palestine’s Jews. The Einsatzgruppe waited in Greece in 1942 for Gen. Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Corps to break through British-controlled Egypt and reach Palestine. (Rommel was turned back at the Battle of El Alamein in October.) (Reuters, April 7, 2006)

Even Weizmann, implacable rival of the Revisionists, met quietly with Mussolini in 1933 in a fruitless effort to get him to intercede with his friend Hitler on behalf of Germany’s Jews. (Brenner, p. 152-3)

Ben-Gurion wrote in December 1938 (a month after the Kristallnacht pogrom, although three years before the start of the Final Solution):

If I knew it was possible to save all the [Jewish] children of Germany by their transfer to England and only half of them by transferring them to Eretz-Yisrael, I would chose the latter—because we are faced not only with the accounting of these children but also with the historical accounting of the Jewish People. [Morris, 2001, p. 162]

In that same missive, he warned:

Zionism is endangered… If Jews will have to choose between the refugees, saving Jews from concentration camps, and assisting a national museum in Palestine, mercy will have the upper hand and the whole energy of the people will be channelled into saving Jews form various countries. Zionism will be struck off the agenda… If we allow a separation between the refugee problem and the Palestine problem, we are risking the existence of Zionism. [Bober, p. 171]

As late as 1943, Yitzchak Greenbaum, leader of a committee set up to investigate the condition of Europe’s Jews, expressed similar sentiments to an audience in Tel Aviv:

When they come to us with two plans—the rescue of the masses of Jews in Europe or the redemption of the land—I vote, without a second thought, for the redemption of the land. The more said about the slaughter of our people, the greater the minimization of our efforts to strengthen and promote the Hebraization of the land. If there would be a possibility today of buying packages of food with the money of the Karen Hayesod [United Jewish Appeal] to send it through Lisbon [to Axis Europe], would we do such a thing? No. And once again no! [Weizfeld, p. 31]

Nathan Schwalb, the Jewish Agency’s representative in neutral Switzerland, was approached by a rescue committee for Czech Jews for aid in bribing Nazi officials to halt the deporation to the death camps. He wrote back that his petitioners

must always remember…the main issue that must always be before our eyes. After all, the allies will be victorious. After the victory, they will once again divide up the world between the nations as they did at the end of the first war. Then they opened the way for us for the first step and now, as the war ends, we must do everything so that Eretz Yisroel should become a Jewish state. Important steps have already been taken in this matter. As to the cry that comes from your country, we must be aware that all the nations of the Allies are spilling much blood and if we do not bring sacrifices, with what will we achieve the right to sit at the table when they make the distribution of nations and territories after the war? [Reb Moshe Schonfeld, “Holocaust Victims Accuse,” New York, 1977, cited in Weizfeld, p. 31]

Ben-Gurion also openly stated on the eve of the war: “We want Hitler to be destroyed, but as long as he exists, we are interested in exploiting that for the good of Palestine.” (Segev, p. 393)

The Nakba

The end of World War II left a vast predicament of hundreds of thousands of Jewish “displaced persons” (DPs), whose homes had been destroyed and property confiscated by the Nazis, and who the Western European nations and United States refused to take in. (Morris, 2001, p. 170-1) For obvious reasons, the DP camps in Europe were ripe for Zionist agitation, and UN administrators claimed that Zionist paramilitary training was underway in the camps. (Chomsky, p. 223)

Prime Minister Churchill resurrected the pro-partition policy of the Peel Commission—although a memo from his Chiefs of Staff warned that “the solution to the Palestine question…should [not] be determined solely on the basis of world sympathy with the sufferings of the Jews, as contrasted with the alleged failure of the Arabs to assist the war effort.” The hands of the skeptics were strengthened when Lord Moyne, Churchill’s minister to the Middle East, was assassinated by Lehi terrorists in Cairo in November 1944. (Morris, 2001, p. 170-1)

The US position was even more equivocal. In May 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt promised King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia that both Arabs and Jews would be consulted before a decision was made on the post-war status of Palestine. He reiterated this pledge the following year, telling the king he would support “no action…that would prove hostile to the Arab people.” At the same time, he told Jewish leaders that “full justice will be done to those who seek a Jewish national home, for which our Government and the American People have always had the deepest sympathy and today more than ever in view of the tragic plight of hundreds of thousands of homeless Jewish refugees.” (Morris, 2001, p. 171-2)

A Zionist Organization program presented in 1943 to Roosevelt’s personal Middle East envoy Patrick J. Hurley referred to an “eventual transfer of the Arab population to Iraq.” (Elmessiri, p. 32)

At the Yalta conference in February 1945, Roosevelt described himself to Josef Stalin as “a Zionist”—and the Soviet dictator said that he was too, although he added that Jews were “middle-men, profiteers and parasites.” (Morris, 2001, p. 171-2)

In March 1945, the founding pact of the Arab League was signed in Cairo. Palestinian leader Musa al-Alami was present as a notable, making the stateless Palestinians a theoretically equal member of the League. The pact’s “Alexandria Protocol” stated:

The rights of the Arabs [of Palestine] cannot be touched without prejudice to the peace and stability of the Arab world.” The pact stated that the Arab states were “second to none in regretting the woes which have been inflicted upon the Jews of Europe… But the question of these Jews should not be confused with Zionism, for there can be no greater injustice and aggression than solving the problem of the Jews of Europe by…inflicting injustice on the Palestinian Arabs. [Morris, 2001, p. 172]

In early 1945, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon (these last two just then in the final stages of achieving independence from the French Mandate) declared war on the Axis, thereby gaining membership in the nascent United Nations and a voice in the peace settlement. Under Arab League auspices, a new Arab Higher Committee led by the Husseinis was established for the Palestinians. (Morris, 2001, p. 173)

Despite Churchill’s tilt back to Zionism, the British blockade of refugee ships bound for Palestine remained in place. In September 1945, the Zionist leadership declared the blockade was “tantamount to a death sentence upon…those liberated Jews…still languishing in the internment camps of Germany.” (Morris, 2001, p. 173)

The Haganah, with some 35,000 men under its command and a special British-trained strike force known as the Palmach, prepared to turn its arms on the British. The Palestinian Arabs had no organized armed force to match this. (Morris, 2001, p. 174)

In February 1944, Menachem Begin had taken over command of the Irgun and announced a resumption of armed struggle against the British. In conjunction with Lehi, it launched a series of bomb attacks on British administrative offices—and the Iraq-Haifa pipeline. This was done over the protests of the Jewish Agency Executive and Haganah, which collaborated with the British authorities in operations against Irgun and Lehi. The Revisionists responded with attacks on the Zionist left, including an armed heist of the Histradrut’s coffers. Irgun and Lehi at this time each commanded some 1,000 men. (Morris, 2001, p. 174-5)

In July 1945, the pro-Zionist Churchill was voted out of office and Clement Attlee’s Labor government took over in London. The new Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin refused Zionist demands that Palestine be immediately opened to 100,000 Jewish refugees, conceding to no more than 1,500 per month. (Morris, 2001, p. 175)

Meanwhile in the US, President Harry Truman tilted towards the Zionists. Jurist Earl G. Harrison, dispatched by Truman to Europe to investigate the Jewish refugee crisis, was appalled by conditions in the DP camps, writing “We appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them, except that we do not exterminate them.” He reported an overwhelming desire on the part of the refugees to go to Palestine, driven by “devotion to the Zionist ideal.” His report endorsed the 100,000 demand. (Oren, p. 485)

Truman forwarded the report of the Allies’ Intergovernment Committee on Refugees to Attlee with his personal recommendation that “as many as possible of the non-repatriatable Jews who wish it” be settled in Palestine. (Morris, 2001, p. 175)

What the Zionists saw as British intransigence put an end to the wartime alliance with Haganah. In October 1945, Haganah negotiated an operational pact with Irgun and Lehi, launching the Hebrew Resistance Movement. In its first action, it raided a British detention camp at Atlit and freed 208 interned Jewish immigrants. Bomb attacks on British patrol ships, rail lines and bridges over the Jordan River followed. (Morris, 2001, p. 176)

On Nov. 2, Balfour Declaration Day, anti-Zionist protests were held in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere in the Arab world. Jewish shops, homes and synagogues were attacked in Alexandria, and some 100 Jews were killed in British-occupied Libya. (Morris, 2001, p. 176)

Following lobbying by both the Jewish Agency and the Arab Higher Committee, Bevin declared his policy that Palestine, following a period of international “trusteeship,” would become an independent “Palestinian, not a Jewish state.” A commission of 12—dubbed the “Twelve Apostles”—was dispatched to Palestine to make policy recommendations, which called for partition under UN trusteeship. But the Attlee government ruled out mass immigration until the Jewish underground was disarmed. (Morris, 2001, p. 177-8)

The Mandate government began using the Emergency Regulations this time against the Jews—especially to restrict Zionist acquisition of land. This sparked (somewhat ironically) Jewish protests against the regulations. Attorney Yaakov Shimshon Shapira proclaimed, somewhat hyperbolically: “The regime built in Palestine on the Defense Regulations has no parallel in any civilized nation. Even in Nazi Germany there were no such laws.” (Bober, p. 135)

In June 1946, after Palmach’s attacks on the bridges, Britain launched Operation Agatha (dubbed “Black Sabbath” by the Jewish militants), aimed at decapitating the Zionist underground. Some 3,000 were arrested, but Haganah intelligence received advance warning, and most commanders escaped the sweep. Nonethless, Irgun took a unilateral revenge action, without consulting Haganah—blowing up Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, which served as British staff headquarters. The blast demolished an entire wing of the hotel, and killed 91—including Britons, Arabs and Jews. (Morris, 2001, p. 179; Segev, p. 476; Etzel [Irgun] website)

Haganah disbanded the Hebrew Resistance Movement after the attack, and called a halt to military actions against the British. Irgun and Lehi continued their attacks, killing and abducting British officers and sabotaging the Haifa oil refinery. The British imposed a boycott of Jewish businesses on their troops and executed three Revisionist militants. There were instances of retaliatory violence by British troops, in which Jewish shops in Tel Aviv were ransacked and Jewish civilians killed. (Morris, 2001, p. 179)

A new joint Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry toured Palestine and the Middle East in January 1946, meeting with both Arab and Jewish leaders. Judah Magnes, representing the dissident Ichud movement, made the case for binationalism, while Ben-Gurion and Golda Meyerson (later Meir) argued avidly for a Jewish state. In July, the commission released the Morrison-Grady Plan, or Provincial Autonomy Plan, which called for dividing Palestine into three provinces with limited autonomy—a British district, including Jerusalem, and two smaller ones for the Arabs and Jews, both under British or “international” trusteeship. It was rejected by both Jewish and Arab leadership. (Morris, 2001, p. 179; Oren, p. 486-7)

A January 1947 London Conference on the Palestine question was boycotted by the Jews, and failed to reach an accord with the Arabs. In February, the British decided to wash their hands of Palestine and leave the problem to the United Nations. “We are unable to accept the scheme put forward by either the Arabs or by the Jews, or to impose ourselves a solution of our own,” Bevin told the House of Commons. The UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) took up the case. (Morris, 2001, p. 197-82)

The British secret service, MI6, started sabotaging Haganah refugee ships, and immigration authorities started sending intercepted refugees back to Europe. The death of three Jews when British forces took over the Exodus 1947 off Gaza, Palestine’s southernmost strip of coastline, became an international embarrassment for London. (Morris, 2001, p. 183)

International support for the Zionist position was growing. In May, Soviet UN representative Andrei Gromyko told the body in an address that Moscow endorsed “the aspiratiosn of the Jews to establish their own state.” (Flapan, p. 159)

UNSCOP’s September 1947 report called for partition, with international trusteeship for Jerusalem and Bethlehem. A minority report prepared by the representatives form Yugoslavia, Iran and India called for a unitary “federal state.” (Morris, 2001, p. 183)

The Arab leadership protested that 80% of the land designated for a Jewish state was owned by Arabs, including seven-eights of all Arab citrus groves. The territory remaining for an Arab state would be impoverished and dependent. The UN did attempt to address this by calling for a two-year transition period during which neither side would declare statehood, and a cooperative economic union would be built. Ben-Gurion rejected this provision, and drew up his own proposal, which US Secretary of State George Marshall considered to be “designed to establish economic separation.” (Thomas, p. 48)

In Resolution 181 of Nov. 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly voted for partition, on the lines suggested by the UNSCOP majority report with some minor alterations (the Negev town of Beersheba to the Arab state in exchange for more of the Galilee to the Jews). The prospective Jewish state was to have 55% of Palestine, with a population of some 500,000 Jews and 400,000 Arabs. Another 100,000 Jews and a slightly greater number of Arabs lived in Jerusalem, slated for international administration (corpus separatum). In all Palestine, there were some 1.3 million Arabs, so the resolution actually gave slightly more territory to the Jewish state despite the Jews’ fewer numbers. Thirty-three states voted for the resolution, 13 against (including the Arab states), and 10 abstained (including the United Kingdom). Despite Truman’s injunction not “to use threats or improper pressure of any kind on other Delegations to vote for the majority report,” the US delegation did indeed use threats of aid cut-offs and economic embargoes. (Palumbo, p. 96; Avalon Project, Yale Law School; Davis, p. 63-4; Morris, 2001, p. 184, 186, 192)

The resolution included guarantees for the rights of the Arabs living in the area slated for a Jewish state, and stipulated that the Jewish and Arab states should come into being simultaneously, two months after the scheduled British withdrawal of May 15, 1948. (Hadawi, 1989, p. 78)

In the text of Resolution 181, the General Assembly “Requests that the Security Council take the necessary measures as provided for in the plan for its implementation…” However, the Security Council—whose approval is generally needed for UN measures to be considered binding—passed no corresponding resolution. This would have mandated that the Great Powers intervene to enforce partition, and there seems to have been no willingness for this. (Avalon Project, Yale Law School; Khouri, p. 60)

Additionally, the General Assembly vote required a two-thirds majority, not counting abstentions. This was achieved only when the US pressured Haiti, Liberia and the Philippines to change their votes—and even then, the two-thirds majority was won by only one vote. (Morris, p. 184, Fisher, p. 646)

Jews danced in the streets of Palestine after the vote, but Ben-Gurion would later recall: “I could not dance, I could not sing that night. I looked at them so happy dancing, and I could only think that they were all going to war.” The violence started immediately after the vote, as Arab protesters attacked Jews in Jerusalem, and Haganah fired into the crowds as British troops stood by. (Morris, 2001, p. 190-1)

Speaking before the Histadrut Executive on Dec. 3, four days after the UN vote, Ben-Gurion declared that “the borders are bad from a military and political point of view.” He elaborated that:

in the area allotted to the Jewish state there are not more than 520,000 Jews and about 350,000 non-Jews, mostly Arabs (apart from the Jews of Jerusalem, who will also be citizens of the state). Together with the Jews of Jerusalem, the total population of the Jewish state, at the time of its establishment, will be about a million people, almost 40% non-Jews. Such a composition does not provide a stable basis for a Jewish state. The fact must be seen in all its clairty and acuteness. Such a composition does not even give us absolute assurance that control will remain in the hands of a Jewish majority. [Flapan, p. 31-2]

War would certainly be an opportunity to correct this situation—but not all Zionist leaders were as convinced as Ben-Gurion of its inevitability. On Jan. 4, 1948, Arab affairs expert Ezra Danin reported that “the majority of the Palestinian masses accept the partition as a fait accompli and do not believe is possible to overcome or reject it.” (Flapan, p. 73)

Ben-Gurion himself, in an internal report to his envoy abroad Moshe Sharett on March 14, wrote:

It is now clear without the slightest doubt, that were we to face the Palestinians alone, everything would be all right. They, the decisive majority of them, do not want to fight us, and all of them together are unable to stand up to us, even at the present state of our organization and equipment. [Flapan, p. 73]

In fact, hundreds of local “non-aggression pacts” were signed between Arab villages and neighboring Jewish kibbutzim and moshavim; between Arab and Jewish workers in places of common employment such as ports, railways and the postal service; and between Jewish and Arab merchants and businessmen in the towns. (Flapan, p. 73-4)

But these efforts were short-lived, as elsewhere anger exploded on both sides. On Dec. 2, 1947, Arab workers across Palestine went on strike for five days. Arab youth attacked Jewish buses near Lydda and rioted in the Jewish market in Jerusalem. Irgun and the Stern Gang wasted no time in organizing retaliatory attacks, repeatedly throwing bombs into Arab crowds in the Old City. In his journal, Ben-Gurion acknowledged that Haganah carried out discrete assassinations of Arabs thought to be organizing resistance. “Then a vicious cycle evolves—a reprisal and a counter-reprisal,” he wrote. (Pappe, 1992, p. 76-77)

Sir Alan Cunningham—the last High Commissioner for Palestine—wrote that the “riots in Jerusalem were not the onset of an orchestrated offensive against the Jews, but rather spontaneous demonstrations against the partition resolution.” However, violence spread from Jerusalem to the surrounding villages, and Arabs besieged isolated Jewish communities in the Negev. (Pappe, 1992, p. 77-8)

The Arab League established an Arab Liberation Army made up of Palestinians and volunteers from the Arab states, to be trained by the Iraqi Gen. Ismail Safwat. Fawzi al-Qawuqji—who spent the war years in Germany, but was a bitter rival of the Husseinis—was named commander. It was crippled by factionalism from the start, and never won widespread support from Palestine’s indigenous Arab population. Arab headmen loyal to the Husseinis formed their own armed bands. Village militias were formed, which mobilized in response to a local fazza (summons) for attacks on Jewish settlements, then dispersed back into the civilian population. These had nominal loyalty to two paramilitary movements, the Najada and Futuwa. The Husseinis’ 1,000-strong Army of Salvation, with a degree of German military training, also operated, as did a force loyal to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. But there was no effective national command. (Morris, 2001, p. 187, 194; Herzog, p. 21-2, Flapan, p. 76)

Contrary to the conventional understanding of the balance of forces, the Zionists were far better armed and coordinated. Haganah’s clandestine factories were now producing small arms. Aircraft were being procured under civilian camouflage—and fitted with arms. Armored cars and tanks were bought or stolen from the British. Golda Meyerson (Meir) raised millions of dollars for the Haganah from American Jews. The Jewish Settlement Police (Notrim), ostensibly under British supervision but in fact loyal to Haganah, was also armed. Additionally, Druze villages in the Galilee threw in their lot with the Jews, and established their own Haganah unit. Haganah’s Plan B, devised as a defense of the Yishuv against an Arab uprising, was now superseded by Plan C—for a war against both the Arabs and British. (Morris, 2001, p. 188, 193, 195, 217)

The mixed cities of Jerusalem, Haifa and Jaffa descended into urban warfare—with Irgun/Lehi terror attacks on Arab civilian targets in many cases provoking Arab retaliatory raids on Jewish shop and homes, and Haganah fighting back. Some Arabs, chiefly the Husseini faction, also adopted the Revisionist tactics of terrorism. Despite this, Arab and Jewish leaders in Tel Aviv and Haifa negotiated a brief truce to allow both sides to export their citrus crop. In January 1948, the first Arab Liberation Army units crossed into Palestine from Transjordan and Syria, attacking Jewish settlements and convoys. The British, who had sometimes provided protection for Haganah convoys, began to pull out of Palestine in March. (Morris, 2001, p. 195-9; Pappe, 1992, p. 82, 3)

In early January, Arabs began fleeing the prosperous West Jerusalem district of Qatamon after the Haganah blew up the Semiramis Hotel, apparently in the belief that it was being used by Arab irregulars. Several Arab families, and the Spanish consul, were killed in the blast. (Morris, 1987, p. 50)

In subsequent days, Arabs fled the villages of Lifta and Romema amid clashes between Jewish and Arab militiamen. In neighboring Sheikh Badr, the Haganah blew up the house of the village head (mukhtar) and sacked several other houses, again causing the population to flee. The village was subsequently looted by a Jewish mob. (Morris, 1987, p. 50)

Ben-Gurion related what had happened in West Jerusalem and its environs in a Feb. 7 report to leaders of Mapai (the forerunner of Israel’s Labor Party):

From your entry into Jerusalem through Lifta-Romema, through Mahane Yeuda, King George Street and Mea Shearim—there are no strangers [i.e. Arabs]. One hundred percent Jews. Since Jerusalem’s destruction in the days of the Romans—it hasn’t been so Jewish as it is now. In many Arab districts in the west—one sees not one Arab. I do not assume this will change.

Ben-Gurion added that

what had happened in Jerusalem…could well happen in great parts of the country—if we [the Yishuv] hold on… And if we hold on, it is very possible that in the coming six or eight or ten months of the war there will take place great changes…in the composition of the population of the country. [Morris, 1987, p. 52]

He concluded bluntly: “The war will give us the land. The concepts of ‘ours’ and ‘not ours’ are peace concepts, only, and in war they lose their whole meaning.” (Masalha, p. 180)

Despite some internal dissent, Mapai was swayed. Party stalwart Eliahu Dobkin, director of the Jewish Agency’s immigration department, said: “There will be in the country a large [Arab] minority and it must be ejected. There is no room for our internal inhibitions [in this matter]…” (Rogan & Shlaim, p. 47)

By March, a general exodus of Arabs from rural areas of Palestine was underway—most completely from the future heartland of the Jewish state, the coastal plain around Tel Aviv. Yosef Weitz of the Jewish National Fund’s Lands Department in a March 31 letter to JNF chairman Avraham Granovsky noted the organized departure in British army trucks of the inhabitants of Qumiya in the Jezreel Valley. Weitz openly saw this as an opportunity for the “Judaization” of the abandoned territories. His letter noted that he had been approached by Jewish farmers to discuss “the problem of our lands…and their liberation from the hands of tenant farmers.” (Morris, 1987, p. 55)

Palmach raids on Arab villages in which houses were blown up—on the rationale that the families were collaborating with irregulars—clearly encouraged the exodus. A field report on Palmach’s raid on the village of al-Huseiniya in the Galilee stated that “more than 30 Arab adults (excluding women and children) were killed… The village was abandoned by all its inhabitants,” who “fled across the border.” (Morris, 1987, p. 157)

In April, as a large arms shipment reached Haganah from Czechoslovakia, Haganah drew up Plan Dalet (Plan D), to take over strategic posts evacuated by the British and secure all areas of Jewish settlement—including those outside the territories awarded to the Jewish state by the UN. Operation Nachshon was also launched to cut a corridor of Zionist-controlled territory from the coast to Jerusalem and relieve the besieged Jewish community in the Old City. Yitzhak Rabin, commander of the Palmach’s Harel Brigade, played a leading role in the battle for the Jerusalem corridor. (Morris, 2001, p. 206; Herzog, p. 33, 38)

Rabin would later write of the operation that by “not leaving stone on stone and driving all the people aaway, there was not going to be a village for anybody to come back to [and] without those villages the Arab bands were not going to be able to operate effectively any more.” (Collins & LaPierre, p. 271)

The orders explicitly called for the conquest or destruction of Arab villages. Plan D, developed by Gen. Yigael Yadin called for

operations against enemy settlements located in or near our defense lines [i.e. Jewish settlements], with the aim of preventing their use as bases for an active armed force.These actions should be executed as following: destruction of villages by fire, explosives and mining—especially of those villages that we are unable to permanently control. The gaining of control will be accomplished in accordance with the following methods: encircling the village and searching it, and in the event of resistance by the destroying the resisting forces and expelling the population over the borders of the State. [Kimmerling, p. 24; Morris, 1987, p. 63; McDowall, p. 193]

Field orders for Operation Nachshon stated that “all the Arab villages along the [Khulda-Jerusalem] axis were to be treated as enemy assembly or jump-off bases.” There were no explicit expulsion orders, but the populace of the villages along this axis fled ahead of the Haganah attacks—and the Zionist forces partially or completely demolished the abandoned villages. Khulda was leveled by Haganah bulldozers. (Morris, 1987, p. 111-2)

Abd al-Qadir Husseini (AKA Abu Musa), now back from Iraqi exile and fighting in Mufti-aligned forces, was killed in this campaign, while defending the village of Qastal (Kastel). After the village was taken, the local Palmach commander, Mordechai Gazit, ordered it destroyed—ostensibly to keep Arab irregulars from retaking it and using it as a base. Thousands of Arabs poured into the streets of Jerusalem for Abu Musa’s funeral. (Collins & LaPierre, p. 280; Segev, p. 505)

The most notorious incident in Operation Nahshon was the April 9 joint Irgun-Lehi attack on the Arab village of Deir Yassin, west of Jerusalem. Ironically, the village had maintained good relations with nearby Jewish neighborhoods on Jerusalem’s outskirts, and had denied harbor to the Arab Liberation Army and irregular Arab forces. Some Israeli historians assert a group of irregulars did establish a camp in the village before the attack, but this is widely contested. Irgun and Lehi leaders agreed in advance that the village’s populace would be expelled and that those who resisted would be killed, to send a message to Palestine’s Arabs. (Morris, 2001, p. 207)

Although some 130 Irgun and Lehi fighters actually carried out the attack, Haganah collaborated. Haganah machine-gunners stationed near the village provided covering fire, while two Palmach squads in armored cars evacuated wounded Irgun-Lehi militants. Meeting greater resistance than anticipated, Irgun-Lehi suffered five dead. But, as planned, virtually the entire village was forced to flee or killed. Homes were blown up with grenades, entire families gunned down en masse or buried under the rubble. A report from the Jerusalem commander of the Haganah intelligence service, Shai, also noted reports that Arab girls were raped and then murdered by Irgun men. The report found: “[T]he conquest of the village was carried out with great cruelty. Whole families—women, old people, children—were killed, and there were piles of the dead… Some of the prisoners…were murdered viciously by their captors.” More of the prisoners—again including women, children and elders—were trucked through West Jerusalem’s streets in a kind of “victory parade” and then dumped in the Arab district of East Jerusalem. (Morris, p. 208-9)

In an evident retaliatory attack, on April 12 a group of Arab militants ambushed a Red Cross convoy traveling to Hadassah Hospital near Jerusalem, killing 77 Jewish doctors, nurses and medical students. (AFSC, p. 25)

The Jewish Agency and Haganah immediately condemned the Deir Yassin massacre, and the Haganah made great efforts to hide its collaboration in the atrocity. Ben-Gurion’s apology to King Abdullah blamed “unofficial” terrorist groups. A reliable death toll has never been arrived at, with estimates ranging from 100 to 250. The massacre became emblematic of Zionist aggression, and “Deir Yassin!” became a war cry for Arab combatants. After the war, an Israeli military intelligence report would note that the Deir Yassin massacre was “a decisive accelerating factor” in the general Arab exodus. (Morris, 2001, p. 209; Sayigh, p. 75)

It also set a pattern, even if subsequent Jewish attacks failed to equal the brutality of Deir Yassin. Haganah’s Carmeli Brigade launched operations Yiftah and Ben-Ami to take Safed and the Galilee. Palmach units demolished villages outside Safed and swept the residents from small Bedouin communities, who fled across the border to Syria. This sub-campaign, tellingly named Operation Broom, had “a tremendous psychological impact” on the Arab inhabitants of the region, wrote Palmach commander Yigal Allon. Haganah’s Golani Brigade similarly cleared Arab villages in the Jordan Valley. (Morris, 2001, p. 212-3)

One May 4 Yiftah field report read: “The operation is going according to plan and at 9:00 o’clock the units reached their objectives as, on the way, they blow up all the houses and burn all the bedouin tents.” (Morris, 1987, p. 159)

In the Haganah attack on Khirbet Nasir ad-Din in the Galilee in mid-April, atrocities were apparently committed and the populace fled to Tiberias. Days later, as the Haganah besieged Tiberias, the city’s Arab notables, after vainly appealing to the British for protection, organized a general evacuation of their community. In this, the British cooperated, providing trucks and buses to transfer the Arab inhabitants to Nazareth and Transjordan. Jewish forces looted their abandoned homes. (Morris, 2001, p. 210; Morris, 1987, p. 71)

In subsequent days, the British similarly assisted in evacuation of the Arab inhabitants of other villages in the Galilee, including Safad and Rosh Pinna. In a field report, Allon openly recommended “the harassment of Beit Shean in order to increase the flight from it [and] the harassment of Arab Safad in order to speed up its evacuation.” (Morris, 1987, p. 101)

When Beit Shean (Beisan) fell to the Haganah in mid May, the Arab inhabitants did indeed flee, and the Golani Brigade’s David Yizhar wrote: “For the first time…the Beit Shean Valley had become a purely Jewish valley.” (Morris, 1987, p. 107)

Haifa, previously an exemplar of Jewish-Arab co-existence, fell to the Haganah next, in late April. An Arab militia was hurriedly raised to defend the city, but the British cooperated in a blockade that kept out reinforcements. Then, Arab efforts to obtain a truce were rejected by Haganah. In the final week of April, thousands of Arabs—the big majority of the town’s Arab populace—fled. A unilateral Irgun mortar attack on Arab neighborhoods in Jaffa just to the south, led to a similar exodus. (Morris, 2001, p. 211)

Golda Meyerson (Meir) visited Haifa’s evacuated Arab district days after the city’s conquest, and wrote: “It is a dreadful thing to see the dead city. I found next to the port [Arab] children, women, the old, waiitng for a way to leave… [T]here were houses where coffee and pitot [pita bread] were left on the table, and I could not avoid [thinking] that this, indeed, had been the picture in many Jewish towns”—meaning, in Europe during World War II. (Morris, 1987, p. 132)

Acre, swollen with refugees from Haifa and Jaffa, was besieged by the Haganah at the end of April, with electricity cut off and mortar shells falling on the town. After two weeks of siege, the Carmeli Brigade sent a warning to the town’s Arab leaders that “we will destroy you to the last man” if resistance continued. The brigade’s commander, Gen. Moshe Carmel, wrote that as Haganah boats machine-gunned Acre from the sea, “Panic took hold in the town and terrible shrieks were heard coming from it.” The town shortly surrendered. The ALA was positioned just to the town’s east, and Haganah reprisals against the populace were kept to a minimum. Consequently, there was no general flight of the populace this time; following the depopulation of Haifa and Jaffa, Acre would become the biggest Arab town in the Jewish state. Jaffa would actually be dissolved as a municipality and absorbed into Jewish-dominated Tel Aviv. (Morris, 1987, p. 109; Jewish Virtual Library)

Further south, in the Negev, the Givati Brigade’s Operation Lightening (Mivtza Barak) sparked a further flight of the Arab populace, mostly towards Gaza. Abuses of those who had not fled—the killings of a women and her child in a house search was reported from Zarnuqa—fueled the exodus as word spread. (Morris, 1987, p. 127)

Plan D sparked a wave of rural Arab exodus, even from villages not yet besieged—evidently motivated by a fear of general massacre. In April and May, more than 20 Arab villages were evacuated, either with the residents acting independently, or on orders of local Arab military commanders or the Arab Higher Committee. Too late, the AHC and Arab Liberation Army attempted to reverse the exodus, realizing that they had little hope of holding a land cleansed of Arabs. An ALA radio broadcast in mid May (noted by Haganah intelligence) ordered all Arabs who had left their homes to “return within three days.” An order issued personally by Qawuqji was broadcast, warning: “Every Arab must defend his home and property… Those who leave their places will be punished.” (Morris, 1987, p. 67)

Yosef Weitz wrote: “Out of a psychosis of fear… Village after village was abandoned in a panic that cannot be explained… The villages of the coastal plain are steadily emptying. Between Tel Aviv and Hadera, you won’t find a single Arab… [T]he very presence of many refugees among the Arabs weakens their position and brings nearer our victory.” (Morris, 1987, p. 111)

When Mishmar Ha’emek kibbutz, run by the left-Zionist group Mapam, was attacked by Arab irregulars, the local Haganah militiamen joined with Palmach reinforcements and overran the surrounding Arab villages, putting them to the torch. Ben-Gurion would later boast the Mapam militiamen had been forced to abandon their ideals of Jewish-Arab brotherhood. They saw that there was only “one way and that was to expel the Arab villagers and burn the villages. And they did this.” In another report, he wrote: “Our army is steadily conquering Arab villages and their inhabitants…flee like mice.” (Morris, 1987, p. 116-7)

There were revenge massacres by Arabs as well—most notably at the Etzion Bloc of settlements north of Hebron, which was besieged in early May by Arab irregulars backed up by troops from Tranjordan’s Arab Legion who had crossed the border (under the command of a Briton, Gen. John Bagot Glubb “Pasha”). When the Jewish settlers finally surrendered, many were gunned down with their hands in the air. Egyptian irregulars from the Muslim Brotherhood attacked Jewish outposts in the Negev. (Morris, 2001, p. 213-4)

But the end of the spring found Haganah in control of continuous strip of territory from the coastal plain to the Jordan Valley—extending into the territory slated for the Arab state under the UN partition plan. (Morris, 2001, p. 214)

On May 14, Yishuv leaders gathered at the Tel Aviv Museum to hear Ben-Gurion, in his capacity as leader of the People’s Directorate (the provisional Zionist government), read a Declaration of Independence, announcing the establishment of the State of Israel. In his diary he noted: “In the country there is celebration and profound joy—and once again I am a mourner among the celebrants, as on 29 November.” (Morris, 2001, p. 215, Herzog, p. 46)

Meir Vilner, a Community Party delegate to the People’s Council where the declaration of independence was drafted, proposed adding a line acknowledging “the right of both peoples [Jewish and Arab] to self-determination and to independent states of their own.” This was rejected. So too, surprisingly, was his proposal for the words “sovereign, independent” to be added before the reference to the “Jewish state.” The backdrop to this debate was the notion that Israel would be a state not only of its inhabitants but of all the world’s Jews, and with specific responsibilities to the World Zionist Organization. (Davis, p. 62)

Haganah’s manpower had swelled to some 65,000 and was growing fast as Jewish volunteers (many with World War II combat experience) arrived from around the world—outnumbering the divided and poorly organized Arab forces in Palestine. The Haganah, as noted, was also better armed. On May 29, the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo on all combatants in the Middle East—which had the effect of freezing Zionist superiority. Following the declaration of independence, Haganah was renamed the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). (Morris, 2001, p. 217-8; Herzog, p. 75)

The Arab League finally took the decision to directly intervene. In Cairo, the League’s general secretary Abd al-Rahman Azzam Pasha pledged: “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre, which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.” In a meeting with a British representative in Amman, he said, “It doesn’t matter how many [Jews] there are. We will sweep them into the sea.” Ahmed Shukeiry, an aide to Hajj Amin al-Husseini, said the war aim was “the elimination of the Jewish state.” (Morris, 2001, p. 219)

But such rhetoric masked continued internal divisions. After a period of jockeying and intrigues, the Iraqi Gen. Nur al-Din Manhmud emerged as commander of the invasion force. Glubb Pasha viewed Azzam and the invasion plan as “naive and impractical.” Transjordan’s King Abdullah was in secret negotiations with the Zionists, and had met with Golda Meir in November 1947, winning her approval for his take-over of the Arab-apportioned parts of Palestine. When he held a second secret meeting with her in Amman in May 1948, he offered Jewish autonomy within a Hashemite-ruled Palestinian state—saying that Deir Yassin had closed the door to an independent Jewish state. Meir wrote of the king: “He is going to this business [of war] not out of joy or confidence, but as a person who is in a trap and can’t get out.” (Morris, 2001, p. 219. 221)

Fearing a Hashemite power-grab, Egypt established an “All-Palestine Government” with a “Palestine National Congress,” led by followers of Hajj Amin al-Husseini, in Gaza. King Abdullah responded by launching a rival “First Palestine Congress” in Amman, his capital. Both were essentially powerless. The Arab state mandated by the partition plan was never created. (Morris, 2001, p. 222; Dowty, p. 89, 91)

While the Arab national armies posed a greater threat to the Zionists than the Palestinian Arab militias, they still failed to equal the Haganah. The Arab Legion—soon to be renamed the Royal Jordanian Army—had no air force and no tanks, although it had a fleet of armored cars. It had only 14,000 troops. Ben-Gurion famously stated that “700,000 Jews are pitted against 27 million Arabs—one against forty.” But the total Arab Legion invasion force, together with Qawuqji’s Arab Liberation Army and Arab village militias, totaled perhaps 24,000. This was easily surpassed by the IDF’s troop strength—which was backed up by its own settlement-based militia of some 90,000. (Flapan, p. 196; Morris, 2001, p. 223; Thomas, p. 80-1)

The Arab Legion invaded in force on May 15—the day after Israel’s independence declaration, and the same day that the British Mandate formally ended. Jerusalem was quickly divided, with Zionist militants seizing the west (including the administrative buildings abandoned by the British) and Arab bands securing the east (including the Old City and Temple Mount), where they awaited the arrival of the Arab Legion. As the Arab Legion besieged and bombarded the Jewish-held part of the city, the IDF stepped up its effort to establish a “Jerusalem corridor” linking the city with the coast, relieving the siege. (Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 165)

A cruel battle of Arab and Zionist terrorist bands was meanwhile underway on the streets of Jerusalem, both sides seeking to cleanse the civil population of the rival group. Fawzi al-Qutub, a Palestinian Arab under ostensible Jordanian command who had received commando training by the Nazi SS, led a wave of terror attacks on Jewish civilian targets in the city, which included the destruction of the historic Hurva Synagogues. (Collins & LaPierre, p. 182, 268)

Battles with the Arab Legion over the Jerusalem corridor (dubbed the “Burma Road”) were the first major engagements between the IDF and the army of an Arab state. But simultaneously, Egypt’s Sixth Battalion, commanded by Maj. Gamal Abdel Nasser, advanced up the coast from Gaza. The IDF responded with Operation Philistia to resist the Egyptian advance. Egyptian air-strikes were largely ineffective, as the nascent Israeli Air Force intercepted the bombers. Nasser’s forces would fail to reach Tel Aviv before the UN-brokered “First Truce” took effect on June 11. (Morris, 2001, p. 228-30, 234-5)

In the first days of June, an Iraqi force was repulsed at Jenin, while a Palmach company led by Lt. Col. Moshe Dayan halted a Syrian advance into the Galilee. The Palmach’s Yiftah Brigade was less successful in resisting the Lebanese invasion from the north, losing ground by the time the First Truce took effect. (Morris, 2001, p. 231-4)

The June 11 First Truce was mediated by Count Folke Bernadotte, a Swede who had rescued Jews during World War II. Bernadotte proposed a redrawing of the partition line (this time giving the Jews the Galilee but not the Negev), and that Palestine—with semi-autonomous Jewish and Arab zones—be united with Transjordan as a federal state. Both the Arabs and Jews rejected the plan. (Morris, 2001, p. 237)

This juncture also saw a final reckoning between the IDF and the Revisionists. On June 1, Menachem Begin signed an agreement disbanding the Irgun and transferring its fighters to IDF commmand. But two weeks later, when an Irgun ship, the Altalena, arrived from France laden with both arms and recruits, Irgun demanded that the arms be distributed to “its” battalions in the IDF. Ben-Gurion refused, and a battle ensued for control of the ship. It was sunk by IDF fire, and the Irgun’s Tel Aviv headquarters raided by Palmach troops. The Irgun battalions were subsequently disbanded, and the troops dispersed among several IDF units—marking an end to the organization. (Morris, 2001, p. 237)

Begin, however, immediately formed a political party, the Herut, that pushed the Revionist agenda of a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River—even if it had to be won by “blood and fire.” (Flapan, p. 32) The emergence of Herut was viewed as an ominous development by progressive Zionists abroad. In a joint letter to the New York Times, Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, Sidney Hook and others warned that Herut appeared “closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties… They have preached an admixture of ultra-nationalism, religious mysticism and racial superiority… [I]t is imperative that the truth about Mr. Begin and his party be made known in this country.” (Brenner, p. 123)

The truce ran out on July 8, and the Arabs resumed their offensives, with the Egyptians bringing in Saudi and Sudanese troops under their command. The counter-offensive led by Gen. Yigal Allon was effective, and culminated in the bombing of Cairo by a lone Israeli Air Force B-17. (Morris, 2001, p. 237-43)

The IDF command—at the direction of Ben-Gurion, who was pressured by his own cabinet—issued an order to all units just before the truce ran out stating: “Outside the actual time of fighting, it is forbidden to destroy, burn of demolish Arab cities and villages, to expel Arab inhabitants, and to uproot inhabitants from their places without special permission of explicit order from the Defense Minister in each specific case. Anyone violating this order will be put on trial.” But it was ignored with complete impunity by many commanders—and in fact, the renewed fighting sparked the third wave of Arab displacement. (Morris, 1987, p. 198-9)

In the days following the issuance of this order, Ramleh, Lydda and Tall as-Safi were emptied of their Arab inhabitants by the Yiftah Brigade in Operation Dani, overseen by Lt. Col. Yitzhak Rabin. In Operation Dekel, in the northern Galilee, the Carmeli Brigade took special revenge on the village of Kuweikat, whose inhabitants were thought responsible for the ambush of the Haganah’s Yehiam convoy, in which some 100 Jewish troops had been killed in March. The village was surrounded and shelled without warning in the middle of the night on July 9. The inhabitants fled in a panic, many still in their nightclothes. (Morris, 1987, p. 198-9, 203-7)

Ben-Gurion noted ugly reprisals against the Arab population in these operations, writing in his journal: “There is a moral defect in our ranks that I never suspected existed: I refer to mass looting… This is not only a moral defect but a grave military defect.” He also noted: “There was a search for Arabs; they were seized, beaten and also tortured.” (Flapan, p. 101)

Yitzhak Rabin noted in a personal account how some Jewish fighters were anguished by their own participation in these actions:

Great suffering was inflicted upon the men taking part in the eviction action. [They] included youth-movement graduates who had been inculcated with values such as international brotherhood and humaneness. The eviction action went beyond the concepts they were used to. There were some fellows who refused to take part… Prolonged propaganda activities were required after the action…to explain why we were obliged to undertake such a harsh and cruel action. [Flapan, p. 101]

Refugees were forced from village to village. Arab villagers uprooted from Shafa Amr in the north took refuge in Saffuriya—until it was bombed by IDF aircraft on the night of July 15. They fled again—this time across the border to Lebanon. (Morris, 1987, p. 200)

Conditions in the camps where the expelled found precarious refuge were miserable—and initially deadly. Of the 60,000 residents expelled from Lydda-Ramleh who marched across the hills to establish the refugee camp at Ramallah, at least 1,000 died of malnutrition, dehydration and disease before the war was over—more than twice as many as had been killed in the actual fighting. (Palumbo, p. 134-7)

This fighting known as the “Ten Days” ended with a Second Truce on July 19. This time it was the Israeli cabinet that voted to break the truce on Oct. 6, citing Egyptian violation of its terms by refusing to allow resupply of the Israeli-held pocket in the Negev. (Morris, 2001, p. 237-43)

But there were truce violations on the Israeli side too. In late July, the Carmeli and Golani brigades attacked the “Little Triangle” area around the villages of Jaba, Ijzim and Ein Ghazal southeast of Haifa. The pretext was the killing of two Jewish car passengers in Jaba. The inhabitants fled as the villages were shelled and then occupied. They later testified from exile (at refugee camps in Jenin) that there had been a massacre, with 28 residents buried alive by Israeli forces. Israel denied the claim, which a UN investigation failed to corroborate. (Morris, 1987, p. 214)

By the time of the Second Truce, Count Bernadotte had been assassinated—gunned down by Lehi terrorists in Jerusalem. Lehi was subsequently crushed as an organization by the IDF, although its fighters were integrated into the IDF’s battalions, as Irgun’s had been. (Morris, 2001, p. 237, 243)

In his final report to the UN, Bernadotte had written on the question of Arab refugees:

It would be an offense against the principle of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right of return to their homes while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine, and, indeed, at least offer the threat of permanent replacement of the Arab refugees who jhave been rooted in the land for centuries. [Hadawi, 1963, p. 40]

Little note was paid to massive displacement of the Bedouin Arabs in the Negev desert in the summer of 1948. There were 90,000 Bedouin in 1948, divided between 96 tribes, then just beginning to abandon nomadism and establish a land-ownership system, and shared grazing rights. Zionist forces immediately expelled 11 tribes, while they forced another 19 into reservations that were declared closed military areas. The Bedouin were only allowed to leave with a special permit. These largely barren lands came to be known as the siyag—”fenced area”—accounting for 1.5 million dunums south and east of the town of Beir al-Sabe (today Beersheba). (PappĂ©, 2007, p. 173; Electronic Intifada, June 16, 2011)

Fighting resumed on Oct. 15, as the IDF launched Operation Yoav against the Egyptian lines in the Negev and Operation Horev in Gaza. This predictably sparked the fourth wave of Arab exodus. Arabs who had fled to Egyptian-held territory in the south again fled the Israeli advance, retreating with the Egyptians. Fighting was also renewed to take the remaining Qawujqji-held pocket in the Galilee. Again, many Arabs already displaced fled a second time, across the border to Lebanon. Despite his earlier order against expulsion, Ben-Gurion declared to Ezra Danin of Military Intelligence: “The Arabs of the Land of Israel have only one function left to them—to run away.” (Morris, 2001, p. 236-48; Morris, 1987, p. 218, 224)

Northern Front commander Moshe Carlmel described the exodus:

They abandon the villages of their birth and that of their ancestors and go into exile… Women, children, babies, donkeys—everything moves, in silence and grief, northwards, without looking to right or left. Wife does not find her husband and child does not find his father… no one knows the goal of his trek. Many possessions are scattered by the paths; the more the refugees walk, the more tired they grow—and they throw away what they had tried to save on their way into exile. Suddenly, every object seems to them petty, superfluous, unimportant as against the chasing fear and the urge to save life and limb. [Morris, 1987, p. 231]

On Dec. 28, an Israeli force crossed into the Sinai, violating an international border. James McDonald, US special representative (soon to be ambassador) to Israel, conveyed the message that if Israeli forces remained in the Sinai, Britain would be obliged by its defense agreement with Egypt to come to the aid of its Arab ally. Before vacating the Sinai, Israeli Spitfires shot down five British planes over the territory where they were patrolling above the Suez Canal. Britain responded by landing a small force in Aqaba, Transjordan, as warning to Israel. (Morris, 2001, p. 236-48)

Israel, in turn, responded to the British move with an operation code-named Uvda (“fact,” i.e. fait accompli), to reach the Red Sea and seize seize the Arab fishing village of Um Rashrash, opposite Aqaba. In March 1949, the operation would succeed, and the village became the Israeli coastal outpost of Eilat. (Pappe, 1992, p. 187)

Israeli-Egyptian talks opened on the Greek island of Rhodes on Jan. 13, 1949, mediated by Bernadotte’s successor, Ralph Bunche of the US. Subsequent talks with Transjordan convened on Rhodes in March, and with Lebanon and Syria at Ras al-Naqurah, on the southern Lebanese border. Neither Israel nor the Arabs would concede the armistice lines as actual legal boundaries, but they were to become de facto borders. Transjordan controlled the central hill country that became known as the West Bank. Egypt maintained the narrow coastal area known as the Gaza Strip. Syria withdrew from its remaining toehold in the Galilee in return for an Israeli pledge to demilitarize the area. Jerusalem was divided, with the Old City in Transjordanian hands. The Galilee and Negev, which were to have been divided under the UN resolution, were entirely in Israeli hands. Israel was in control of 78% of Palestine—rather than the 56% allotted to it by the UN plan. (Morris, 2001, p. 249-51; Dowty, p. 87, 186)

The Temple Mount came under Transjordanian control, and Jews were barred from it. However, Mount Scopus, in the northeast part of Jerusalem, remained a Jewish enclave, although separated from the rest of Israeli-controlled territory. By agreement with Transjordanian authorities, Israel was allowed to maintain a garrison there, under UN protection. The provisioning of this garrison would be a source of frequent tension, nearly coming to violence more than once. (The Jerusalem Report, June 4, 2012; JTA, Dec. 6, 1957)

Transjordan ceded an area that it held between Qalqilya to north of Jenin (including the “Little Triangle”) to Israel in exchange for a much smaller area around Dhahiriya southeast of Hebron. This added some 20,000 Arabs to Israel’s minority population. Qalqilya remained within Jordanian territory, but lost its agricultural lands, which fell across the armistice line. The Jewish kibbutz of Nir Eliahu was established on its former lands. (Ellis, p. 205; Morris, 2001, p. 249-51) Jews were not allowed to return to the Etzion Bloc near Hebron, from which they had been forced to flee, and which now came under Jordanian rule. (Jewish Virtual Library)

Syria agreed to withdrawal to the old international border, with demilitarized zones on both sides. With military forces barred from the DMZs, in practice the Jewish-inhabited areas came under Israeli administration and the Arab-inhabited ones under Syrian. Since most Arabs had been pushed out of the zone, most of the DMZ became de facto Israeli territory. No negotiations with Iraq ever took place. (Morris, 2001, p. 249-51)

Transjordan officially annexed that West Bank and East Jerusalem, changing the country’s name at this point to simply Jordan. Arab residents of the West Bank were treated as Jordanian citizens. However, the UK was nearly alone in recognizing the annexation. (Dowty, p. 186; Thomas, p. 96)

Within days of signing the armistice with Egypt on Feb. 24, Israel violated its terms by intimidating into flight some 3,000 inhabitants of the last remaining Arab villages on the northern approaches to the Negev—principally Faluja and Iraq al-Manshiya. UN mediator Ralph Bunche, citing reports from UN observers, said residents had been “beaten and robbed by Israeli soldiers and…there have been some cases of attempted rape.” The IDF troops were “firing promiscuously,” prompting the Arab residents to appeal to the observers for protection, and then to flee. Representatives from the American Friends Service Committee called the incident “Jewish psychological warfare.” (Morris, 1987, p. 243-4)

Following the April 3 armistice with Jordan, Israel’s top envoy Moshe Sharett noted that international attention now made it impossible to repeat in the Little Triangle villages what had been done on the northern Negev approaches a month earlier. He wrote in July:

This time the Arabs learned the lesson; they are not running away. It is not possible in every place to arrange what some of our boys engineered in Faluja [where] they chased away Arabs after we signed an…international commitment… There were warning from the UN and the US in this matter.” He said there were “at least 25-30,000…whom we could not uproot. [Morris, 1987, p. 249]

Nonethless, an exception was made for some 1,5000 refugees from elsewhere who had settled around the Little Triangle village of Baqa al-Gharbiya. On the night of June 27, they were “forcefully and brutally” (in Sharett’s phrase) evicted and pushed across the border into the Jordanian-held “Greater Triangle” defined by the West Bank towns of Jenin, Tulkarm and Nablus. Israel claimed to the UN commission overseeing the armistice that the refugees had been expelled by Baqa al-Gharbiya’s mukhtar. The Armistice Commission accepted this claim—with the exception of 36 of the displaced, found to be not refugees but permanent inhabitants who had been illegally expelled. (Morris, 1987, p. 249)

With Jerusalem divided between Israel and Jordan, the UN General Assembly on Dec. 9, 1949 passed Resolution 303, declaring the Holy City a corpus separatum under United Nations jurisdiction. It has never been respected by any side in the conflict. (Hadawi, 1989, p. 132, MidEast Web)

The episode celebrated by the Israelis as the War of Independence would be known to the Palestinian Arabs as the Nakba—the catastrophe. (Karmi & Cotran, p. 172)


The war was a clear victory for Israel, and a humiliating defeat for the Arabs. The Yishuv suffered some 6,000 dead. The Arab national armies all suffered lesser casualties, but the Palestinian Arabs—irregular forces and civilians—probably suffered far greater numbers killed, although a reliable count has never been arrived at. Some estimates put the number of Palestinian dead at 12,000. (Morris, 2001, p. 248)

Israel established its capital at Tel Aviv, although its parliament, the Knesset, was shortly moved to West Jerusalem. Although no formal constitution was adopted, a “Transition Law” was passed to establish the frameworks of the state, unofficially dubbed the “Minor Constitution.” Ben-Gurion served as Israel’s first prime minister and defense minister; Chaim Weizmann served as president. The Arab states of course launched a boycott of Israel and firms that supported the Jewish state. (Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 169; Hadawi, 1989, p. 205)

The war’s end found less than half of the Palestinian Arabs in their original homes. Fewer than 150,000 were in Israel (out of a total Israeli population of around 900,000), some 400,000 in the West Bank and 60,000 in the Gaza Strip (by conservative estimates). The remainder of the displaced were in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and other Arab states. Those in Jordan, like those in the West Bank (over which Jordan now claimed sovereignty), became citizens. Those in Lebanon and Syria were given refugee ID cards and faced an ambiguous legal status. The total number of the displaced has been widely disputed. Although Israel put the figure at 520,000 and the Arab states at up to a million, the generally accepted figure is today 700,000. Some 350 Arab villages and towns had been depopulated, and many of them were in ruins. The dispersed became known as the ghourba—the Arab word for diaspora. Those who remained in Israel became Israeli citizens—if not entirely willingly. Some 20,000 of those who had been internally displaced within the lands that became Israel (officially designated with the oxymoron “present-absentees”) were issued refugee ID cards and deported in time to Jordan or Lebanon. Even those not deported were unable to recover their lands and properties. Israel was quick to point out that all Jews had been purged by the Arab armies from Jerusalem’s Old City and nearby Etzion settlement bloc. (Davis, p. 89; Morris, 2001, p. 252, 259; Morris, 1987, p. 155; Dowty, p. 95; McDowall, p. 197; Sayigh, p. 99, 100, 103)

The causes of the Arab exodus have been subject to bitter debate. Haganah documents describe a “psychosis of flight” gripping the Palestinian population in the wake of Deir Yassin. But other documents indicate an intentional Haganah/IDF strategy to—at a minimum—induce such a “psychosis.” In Operation Hiram, in the Galilee, Gen. Moshe Carmel—who commanded his own Carmeli Brigade—issued presumably euphemistic orders to his troops “to assist the Arabs to depart from the conquered area.” Another Carmel order demanded that a strip on the north of the seized villages “must be empty of [Arab] inhabitants.” Such orders belied Ben-Gurion’s frequent claim of subsequent years that “Israel did not expel a single Arab.” (Morris, 2001, p. 257-8; Rogan & Shlaim, p. 52)

IDF documents on Operation Hiram remain classified even today, but Israeli historian Benny Morris, on the basis of both Arab and Israeli testimony at the time to both UN and Israeli authorities, believes that a “series of massacres” were carried out by Carmel’s troops in the Galilee. Although Morris concludes that Carmel never gave any explicit order for massacres, he notes that no record suggests any soldier was disciplined for these crimes. (Rogan & Shlaim, p. 54)

One Carmeli commander, Shmuel Lahis, would be convicted and sentenced to seven years for a massacre in which 70 young men were killed at the village of Hula, apparently occupied by his troops without official orders. An appeals court reduced the sentence to a year, and Lahis would later go on to become secretary general of the World Zionist Organization. (Sayigh, p. 3)

Chaim Herzog, a Haganah fighter who would become Israel’s first Military Intelligence chief, asserts that the Arabs were following orders from their own leadership to flee, and that “[t]he Jews endeavoured, particularly in Haifa and in other places, to dissuade the Arab population from following their leaders in this.” He again places the blame on an “atmosphere of panic.” (Herzog, p. 37)

Herzog points out that Syria’s then-Prime Minister Khaled al-Azm would write in his memoirs that “we ourselves are the ones who encouraged [the Arabs of Palestine] to leave.” But this merely raises the question of what fears such orders were issued in response to, and how legitimate those fears were. (Herzog, p. 38)

Yitzhak Rabin in his memoirs openly recalled participating in the forceful expulsion of the Arab populace of Lydda—on Ben-Gurion’s implicit orders:

Yigal Allon asked Ben-Gurion what was to be done with the civilian population. Ben-Gurion waved his hand in a gesture of “drive them out.” “Driving out” is a term with a harsh ring. Psychologically, this was one of the most difficult actions we undertook. The population of Lydda did not leave willingly. There was no way of avoiding the use of force and warning shots in order to make the inhabitants march the ten or fifteen miles to the point where they met up with the Arab Legion. [Flapan, p. 81]

Ben-Gurion’s own words appear to back up this account. He wrote after the war:

The strategic objective [of the Jewish forces] was to destroy the urban communities, which were the most organized and politically conscious sections of the Palestinian people. This was not done by house-to-house fighting inside the cities and towns, but by the conquest and destruction of the rural areas surrounding most of the towns. This technique led to the collapse and surrender of Haifa, Jaffa, Tiberias, Safed, Acre, Beit-Shan, Lydda, Ramleh, Majdal, and Beersheba. Deprived of transportation, food, and raw materials, the urban communities underwent a process of disintegration, chaos, and hunger, which forced them to surrender. [Flapan, p. 92-3]

Upon witnessing Haifa after the Arab flight, Ben-Gurion wrote that it was like “a dead city, a corpse city…a horrifying and fantastic sight.” But again he saw advantages: “What happened in Haifa can happen in other parts of the country if we will hold out… [I]t may be that in the next six or eight months of the campaign, there will be great changes in the composition of the population of the country.” (Flapan, p. 99)

He was even clearer when he wrote (seeming to conflate the expelled Arab residents with their military allies from outside Palestine’s borders): “If we win, we will not annihilate the Egyptian or Syrian people, but if we fail and fall to defeat, they will exterminate us; because of this, we cannot permit them to return to the places which they left… I don’t accept the formulation that we should not encourage their return: Their return must be prevented…at all costs.” (Flapan, p. 1-5)

Haganah intelligence officer Ezra Danin expressed similar sentiments:

War is a complicated and unsentimental affair. If the command believes that by destruction, murder, and human suffering they will reach their desired end more quickly—I wouldn;t stand in their way… If they had pitied the people of Lydda and Ramleh and let them remain for human reasons, the Arab Legion would have conquered Tel Aviv… As for the minority that will remain, I truly believe that the good of both peoples requires absolute separation. Therefore I would do everything in my power in order to reduce that minority. There is no alternative but to swim with the tide even if, at times, it is foul and defiling. [Flapan, p. 109]

Glubb Pasha placed the blame for the exodus squarely on explicit Zionist threats of massacre, asserting: “Officers of the Haganah in specially prepared vans fitted with loud-speakers, drove through the streets calling out in Arabic: ‘The Jericho road is still open. Fly from Jerusalem before you are killed!'” (Hadawi, 1989, p. 25-6)

This claim is echoed by the Palestinian scholar Sami Hadawi, who relates that shortly after the Deir Yassin massacre, an IDF armored truck arrived in his village of Katamon, with a loud-speaker atop threatening in Arabic: “The road to the Allenby Bridge [over the Jordan River] is still open; flee before your fate will be the same as Deir Yassin!” (Palumbo, p. 99)

Even dissident voices from within the Haganah who protested the cleansing of Arab villages loan credence to this view. Yitzhak Avira, a Haganah officer and member of Kibbutz Ashdot Yaakov in the Jordan Valley, wrote to Ezra Danin during the war that “recently a view has come to prevail among us that the Arabs are nothing. ‘Every Arab is a murderer,’ ‘all of them should be slaughtered,’ ‘all the villages that are conquered should be burned’… I…see a danger in the prevalence of an attitude that everything of theirs should be murdered, destroyed and made to vanish.” Danin answered: “War is complicated and lacking in sentimentality. If the commanders believe that by destruction, murder and human suffering they will reach their goal more quickly—I would not stand in their way. If we do not hurry up and do [these things]—our enemies will do these things to us.” (Morris, 1987, p. 167)

A similar rationalization was offered by Yosef Weitz, who wrote upon a 1948 tour of an evacuated Arab village:

I went to visit the village of Mu’ar. Three tractors are completing its destruction… Nothing in me moved at the sight of the destruction… We simply want to live and the inhabitants of those mud-houses did not want us to exist here. They not only aspire to dominate us, they also wanted to exterminate us. [Said, p. 102]

In May 1948, Mapam militant Aharon Cohen had offered this observation on the expulsion of Arab villagers:

There is reason to believe that what is being done…is being done out of certain political objectives and not only out of military necessities, as they claim sometimes. In fact, the “transfer” of the Arabs from the boundaries of the Jewish state is being implemented… [T]he evacuation/clearing of the Arab villages is not always done out of military necessity. The complete destruction of villages is not always done only because there are “no sufficient forces to maintain a garrison.” [Masalha, p. 181]

And a 1948 Transfer Committee memo to Ben-Gurion acknowledged:

The exodus of the Arabs beyond the boundaries of the State of Israel was not from the start an impossible occurrence and its occurrence is not among the surprises that have never been predicted… On the contrary, much had been said about such a possibility, which has come out of planned considerations, in recent years, as a solution to the problem of the whole Land of Israel. [Masalha, p. 196]

Chaim Weizmann, for his part, hailed the Arab exodus of 1948 as “a miraculous clearing of the land; the miraculous simplification of Israel’s task.” (Sayigh, p. 1)

The Lausanne Conference and the Refugee Problem

In the face of international pressure, however, Israel’s leaders were faced with the dilemma of how to react to the refugee criss. Golda Meir wrote, “I am not willing to make extraordinary arrangements to bring back the Arabs.” Ben-Gurion stated that the remaining Arabs should be treated “with civil and human equality,” but “it is not our job to worry about the return of the Arabs.” Later, he went further, stating: “We must start out from an assumption of how to help those who will not return, whatever their number (and we want them to be as numerous as possible), to resettle abroad.” (Morris, 1987, p. 133, 149)

Yosef Weitz openly called for reviving the “Transfer Committee”—this time as an agency of the new Jewish state’s Foreign Ministry. The Committee—which Weitz offered to head—would actually oversee the expulsion of the remaining Arabs. Ezra Danin supported this proposal, and resigned from the Committee for Abandoned Arab Property, which was charged with protecting such properties from looters until permanent arrangements were made for them. Danin wrote Weitz that what was needed was “an institution whose role will be…to seek ways to carry out the transfer of the Arab population at this opportunity when it has left its normal place of residence.” He suggested that “if we do not seek to encourage the return of the Arabs…then they must be confronted with faits accomplis”—including the destruction of their abandoned properties and “settling Jews in all the area evacuated.” Weitz and Danin constituted a de facto Transfer Committee, which effectively functioned despite having no official existence, or perhaps a highly classified one. (Morris, 1987, p. 135; Palestine Remembered)

In September 1948, when the UN took up the question of the refugees, the Israeli delegation received the following instructions: “No return before the end of the year save for individual cases; a final solution to the refugee problem as part of a general settlement when peace comes. In informal conversations, the delegation will explain that it were better that the problem be solved by settling the refugees in the neighboring countries.” (Morris, 1987, p. 151)

On Dec. 11, 1948, the UN General Assembly approved Resolution 194, stating that “the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for the loss of or damage to property, which, under principles of international law…should be made good by the Government or authorities responsible.” (Hadawi, 1963, p. 41)

Talks on the fate of the refugees convened in Lausanne, Switzerland, in the spring of 1949, with the UN’s Palestine Conciliation Commission (PCC) mediating between Israel and the Arab states. Mark Ethridge, US President Harry Truman’s representative on the PCC, reported that he found Israel’s position that the refugees were “essentially unassimilable” in Israel and should be permanently settled in Arab countries to be “inhuman.” He said Israeli views in the matter were “similar to those which I heard Hitler express in Germany in 1933. It might be described as anti-Semitism toward the Arabs.” Leo Kohn, Moshe Sharett’s political advisor, in reply to such charges invoked post-war population transfers in Europe, asking, “what moral right have those who fully endorsed the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia to demand that we readmit these Arabs?” (Morris, 1987, p. 257)

William Burdett, the US consul in Jerusalem, saw the question through the prism of the emerging Cold War, warning that a restive and disenfranchised refugee population in the region would be an “opportunity” for subversion on which the USSR “may capitalize.” Israeli diplomat Eliyahu Sasson wrote that the refugees had become “a scapegoat. No one pays attention to them, no one listens to their demands, explanations and suggestions. But…all use their problem for purposes which have almost no connection to the aspirations of the refugees themselves.” (Morris, 1987, p. 257, 277)

Israel (above the objections of Weitz and his Transfer Committee) offered to take in 100,000 refugees if the Arab countries agreed to permanently resettle the rest as part of a formal peace settlement. This was of course rejected by the Arab governments. Israel similarly refused any territorial concessions in return for a peace settlement—such as Egyptian representatives had broached for the sparsely populated Negev. Israel and the Arab states both signed a toothless Lausanne Protocol that essentially put off the question of the refugees to future negotiations. As Ben-Gurion admitted (or boasted) in a December 1948 cabinet meeting, Israel was “drunk with victory.” (Morris, 2001, p. 258, 262, 265; Morris, 1987, p. 279; Hadawi, 1963, p. 41)

Appropriation of Palestinian Land and Property

The signing of the Lausanne Protocol in Geneva on May 12, 1949 coincided almost to the hour with approval of Israel’s admission to the UN on May 11, New York time. Of some 90 states admitted to the UN since 1949, Israel is the only one whose admission was explicitly conditional on the future implementation of General Assembly resolutions. The preamble of the resolution admitting Israel referenced the resolutions of Nov. 29, 1947 (on partition) and Dec. 11, 1948 (on repatriation and compensation of Arab refugees), stating that admission was granted “in respect of the implementation of the said resolutions.” (Hadawi, 1989, p. 131)

The 1947 Partition Resolution provided that Arab human, civil, religious and property rights would be respected in the territories reserved for the Jewish state. It explicitly stated that “no expropriation of land owned by an Arab in the Jewish State shall be allowed except for public purposes. In all cases of expropriation full compensation…shall be paid previous to the dispossession.” (Hadawi, 1963, p. 25-6)

Yet as early as the spring of 1948, crops which had been abandoned by fleeing Arabs were harvested by Jewish settlers, who began petitioning formally for the right to take over the fields. By the summer, the JNF was leasing out these lands to Jewish settlements. Israel’s new Agriculture Ministry established a Committee for the Cultivation of Abandoned Lands to oversee the transfer of the fields from Arab villages to Jewish settlements. (Morris, 1987, p. 175)

New Jewish settlements were established on abandoned Arab-owned lands, often on the very sites of abandoned Arab villages, and many in territory earmarked for the Palestinian Arab state by the 1947 UN resolution. There were 279 Jewish settlements in Palestine when the war began in November 1947. By March 1949, 53 more had been established, and another 80 by September of that year. These were mostly established by the Zionist youth groups (halutzim) or military settlers (gar’inim). They were also mostly new olim. Between May 1948 and February 1949, some 143,000 Jewish immigrants arrived in Israel. Many came from the DP camps of Europe, but growing numbers came from Arab countries—whether lured by dreams of a new life in a Jewish homeland, or fleeing anti-Jewish violence that broke out in response to war in Palestine. (Morris, 1987, p. 179, 188-9)

The pattern was the same in urban areas. Authorities reported in April 1949 that of the 190,000 olim who had arrived since the establishment of the state, 110,000 had been settled in abandoned Arab homes, mostly in Jaffa, Haifa, Jerusalem and Safed. (Morris, 1987, p. 195)

Some of this settlement was seemingly aimed at establishing “facts on the ground” to justify territorial claims as armistice talks commenced. Col. Moshe Dayan, military governor of Jerusalem, in March 1949 urged the settling of Jewish civilians in the city’s IDF-held southern neighborhoods, warning that if they were found “empty of civilians, there will be United Nations pressure [on us] to evacuate them.” (Morris, 1987, p. 193)

In the summer of 1949, several hundred new olim from Eastern Europe established the settlement of Givat Shaul Bet at the former Deir Yassin, site of the horrific massacre—above the protests of dissident Zionists. Martin Buber and other leading Zionist intellectuals warned in a letter to Ben-Gurion that establishment of a Jewish settlement at Deir Yassin would appear to be an “approbation of the slaughter.” The letter was ignored. Two chief rabbis, several cabinet ministers and Jerusalem’s mayor attended the dedication ceremony of Givat Shaul Bet. (Morris, 1987, p. 193)

There was Jewish dissent from the land appropriation generally. Ya’acov Amit of the left-Zionist Mapam asked critically: “Should we use this moment of opportunity when the Arabs have fled in order to create settlement facts?” Even JNF chairman Avraham Granovsky “doubted the legality of settlement on Arab land.” But Ben-Gurion and the bulk of the bureaucracy agreed with Yosef Weitz that “military victories [should be] translated into political achievement.” (Morris, 1987, p. 182)

American scholar Don Peretz, who studied the question on the ground in 1953, wrote that “Abandoned property was one of the greatest contributions toward making Israel a viable State.” He found that “abandoned cultivable land included nearly 95 per cent of all Israel’s olive groves, 40,000 dunums of vineyards, and at least 100,000 dunums of other orchards…” In 1949, he found, “the olive produce from abandoned Arab groves was Israel’s third largest export, ranking after citrus and diamonds.” (Hadawi, 1963, p. 51)

Joseph Schechtman, an Israeli scholar who studied the question of “abandoned” Arab property, wrote that “The amount of this property is very considerable”:

2,990,000 dunams (739,750 acres) of formerly Arab-owned land, including olive and orange groves, vineyards, citrus orchards and assorted tree gardens, became totally deserted as a result of the Arab mass flight. Of this Arab land, 2,070,270 dunams were of good quality, 136,530 of medium quality and 751,730 dunams were of poor soil. In addition, 73,000 dwelling rooms in abandoned Arab houses and 7,8000 shops, workshops and storerooms became ownerless in towns and villages. [Flapan, p. 107]

Jewish ownership of land in Palestine at the time of the UN Partition Resolution was 5.67%—up from 2% in 1920. In the years following the Nakba, the big majority of land in the new state of Israel would come under Jewish control. Arab citrus groves, which covered some 34,000 acres of Palestine’s best lands in 1948, would be reduced to 8,000 acres. Most of the alienated citrus groves of the coastal plain were rapidly urbanized. (Hadawi, 1963, p. 25, 121)

A bureaucracy was created to oversee the distribution of appropriated “national” lands to new Jewish owners. In 1947, the JNF’s landholdings amounted to only 6% of Palestine, or 14% of its cultivable land. In 1948 it became the single most powerful national institution virtually overnight (with the possible exception of the IDF). The JNF and Ministry of Agriculture jointly launched a Land Development Authority and Israel Land Administration. These two bodies eventually came to develop, lease and administer some 90% of Israel’s land area. (McDowall, p. 127)

In March 1950, the Knesset passed the Absentee Property Law, which allowed the Custodian of Absentee Property (successor agency to the Committee for Abandoned Arab Property) to sell said “absentee property”—and giving legal recognition to the de facto distribution of Arab properties to Jews which had already taken place. Also passed was a Transfer of Property Law, which established the Development Authority to oversee the sale of “absentee” lands from the Custodian to the JNF, and then, eventually, to Jewish settlements or private Jewish hands. In all this elaborate bureaucracy—aimed, in Peretz’ words at creating a “legal fiction”—there was no mechanism for any remuneration to the refugees. (Hadawi, 1963, p. 52-3; Fischbach, p. 15)

The only pretense of such a mechanism amounted to another legal fiction. Proceeds from the sale of these “absentee” lands were ostensibly put into accounts for eventual remuneration of the former holders. But after taxes and administrative costs were deducted from a price already low-balled through creative math, there was little left. Meanwhile, the funds were actually used for the settlement of new Jewish immigrants on the lands. (Hadawi, 1963, p. 62-4)

The Palestine Conciliation Commission, contradicting much lower Israeli estimates, put the total of appropriated “absentee” property at some 300 abandoned or semi-abandoned villages constituting over 16 million dunums of land. State seizures included virtually all the holdings of the waqf, the Islamic institution of religious endowments, which had been the largest land owner in Palestine. (McDowall, p. 126)

The Custodian of Absentee Property would admit to a journalist’s inquiry that 70% of Israel’s national territory might have two claimants—an Arab and a Jew holding respectively a British Mandate and an Israeli title to the same land. (Davis, p. 33)

Numerous other laws passed in subsequent years further consolidated land in Jewish hands. The 1953 Land Acquisition Law aimed to regularize properties taken by the Development Authority, putting to rest potential challenges to the title by past Arab occupants. In contrast, the 1958 Law of Limitations required farmers to submit proof of continuous undisputed possession of unregistered lands or forfeit them to the state. Since Jewish lands had passed through the hands of the JNF, they were by definition already titled. So this law in reality only applied to Arab-held lands. And, as noted earlier, many Arab landowners, especially small-holders, had not registered their lands in the Ottoman and British eras, viewing titling as a form of bureaucratic control that threatened village autonomy, and fearing that land ownership records would be used for military conscription. Worse, owners in exile obviously could not comply. Many Arab land titles were simply extinguished thanks to these laws. (Hadawi, 1963, p. 56-7)

The 1960 Consolidation of Agricultural Lands Law empowered the Agriculture Ministry to declare “consolidated zones” where properties said to be “fragmented,” “scattered” or too far from a farmer’s place of residence were to be centralized under new ownership, with compensation to former holders to be determined by the ministry. The law stipulated that grievances arising from this policy could not be addressed in the ordinary civil court system, but only by special Agriculture Ministry tribunals. This again almost exclusively affected Arab farmers—who had long maintained the custom of moving their families to small hamlets (khirbets) near their fields during ploughing and harvest seasons. Since these hamlets were not considered an official residence, the adjacent lands were held to be “fragmented” and subject to expropriation. (Hadawi, 1963, p. 59-61)

This land-expropriation regime continued to be consolidated despite UN General Assembly Resolution 394 of December 1950 which again expressed concern for “the protection of the rights, property and interests of the [Palestinian] refugees.” (Hadawi, 1963, p. 71)

That same year, Israel passed the Law of Return, guaranteeing citizenship to Jews (as defined by rabbinical law) from anywhere around the world. The World Zionist Organization and affiliated Jewish Agency continued to have responsibility for helping to facilitate Jewish immigration to Israel and to integrate the new arrivals. (Davis, p. 43)

In 1951, the 23rd Zionist Congress convened in Jerusalem—the first to meet in Israel. The World Zionist Organization’s old Basel Program was officially replaced with a “Jerusalem Program,” formalizing the relationship between the WZO and the Israeli state, with provisions for encouraging immigration and investment. (Davis, p. 28-9)

In 1952, the Knesset passed the “World Zionist Organization—Jewish Agency for the Land of Israel (Status) Law,” recognizing WZO/JA responsibility for “settlement projects in the state.” The law made no specific reference to religion or ethnicity. But the WZO and Jewish Agency are restricted by their own constitutions to promoting “agricultural colonization based on Jewish labor.” In 1953, a Jewish National Fund Law was passed, codifying the JNF’s coordination with the WZO, JA and Israeli state. In 1954, the relationship between the WZO and Israel was formalized in a “Covenant.” (Davis, p. 43-4, 49)

Knesset Member Shulamit Aloni would later admit: “[A]ll options for agricultural settlement are carried out through the Jewish Agency, and any person who is non-Jewish, even if he (or she) is the spouse of a Jew, cannot be a farmer here in this country, even if he (or she) is a citizen.” Of course there were some Arab farms that survived the Nakba and consolidation of the Israeli state, but they were an anomaly; the very nature of the bureaucracy was to move Arab lands to Jewish hands. (Davis, p. 124)

Palestinians as Political Pawns

In 1950 UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was established, taking over from the Red Cross and American Friends Service Committee. UNRWA’s official policy was to integrate the refugees into the populace and economies of the host countries, and thereby eventually phase out the “refugee problem.” But of the host country governments, this only became official policy in Jordan. (Morris, 2001, p. 249; McDowall, p. 82; Sayigh, p. 109-111)

Some 8,000 Palestinians were allowed to re-enter Israel as part of a UN-supported family reunion program that ended in 1953, but this hardly touched the massive numbers of Palestinians wishing to return to their homes. (Gerner, p. 133)

Despite Jordan’s annexation of the West Bank, Palestinians were discriminated against under Jordanian rule, and were largely barred from serving in the armed forces. In 1950, King Abdullah ordered that the word “Palestine” be removed from all maps and official documents concerning the West Bank. The following year, he was assassinated by Husseini supporters during a visit to Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque. (Morris, 2001, p. 26; McDowall, p. 69)

Ben-Gurion at this time began drawing up military plans for an Israeli seizure of the West Bank. (Thomas, p. 97)

Almost immediately after the armistice, Israel’s “infiltration” problem began, with displaced Palestinians crossing the border in secret, mostly from the West Bank and Gaza. Most initially came to harvest crops they had left behind, or plant new crops on their (former) lands, or retrieve abandoned livestock and property. But as “abandoned” Arab villages and property were turned over to Israelis, raids on Israeli settlements and clashes with security forces followed. With Egyptian backing, the Gaza infiltrators were armed and encouraged, and became known as the fedayeen (self-sacrificers). (Morris, 2001, p. 269-72)

After Egypt’s King Farouk was deposed in 1952 and the nationalist Gen. Gamal Abdel Nasser subsequently took power, Cairo’s support for the fedayeen grew. A group of Nazi Wehrmacht veterans ere brought in (with CIA connivance) to train Nasser’s armed forces, overseen by Hitler’s notorious spy-master and SS commander Otto Skorzeny. This training (likely without CIA connivance) also extended to a small guerilla force of Arab internationals, including Palestinian exiles, ostensibly to fight the British who still controlled the Suez Canal zone. The Palestinian exiles—who included the young Yasser Arafat—clearly saw their real enemy as Israel. (Lee, p. 112-8)

But to a degree, Egypt was cultivating the fedayeen as a bargaining chip. It was also upon Nasser’s assumption of power that Egypt and Israel launched Project Alpha, a secret peace dialogue brokered by the US and UK. But Israel rejected any territorial concessions (e.g., a proposed strip through the Negev linking Egypt with Jordan) even after Egypt dropped demands for repatriation of refugees. (Morris, 2001, p. 266)

Again, Ben-Gurion’s public statements showed a different face. He told the Knesset in 1952: “All my life down to today—as a Zionist and a Jew—I regarded peace and understanding with the Arabs as a basic and primary value… I would not want to be the person that our grandchildren or great-grandchildren would charge with having missed, at some point, a possible chance for Israeli-Arab peace.” (Morris, 2001, p. 268-9)

Nasser, in contrast, assumed a hardline stance in public, even as he compromised in talks behind closed doors. His speeches invoked retribution for the crimes against the Palestinians, e.g.: “There will be no peace on Israel’s border because we demand vengeance, and vengeance is Israel’s death.” (Dowty, p. 102)

Israel’s borders with the West Bank and Gaza were further militarized, with mines laid along infiltrator routes. Between 1949 and 1956, hundreds of Israelis were killed in fedayeen raids, and thousands of Palestinians—mostly unarmed—were killed by Israeli mines and security forces. (Morris, 2001, p. 271, 274)

Gen. Moshe Dayan, who became Chief of Staff in 1953, asked rhetorically whether Israel was justified “in opening fire on the Arabs who cross [the border] to reap the crops they planted in our territory; they, their women and their children? Will this stand up to moral scrutiny…? We shoot at those from among the 200,000 hungry Arabs who cross the line… [W]ill this stand up to moral review? Arabs cross to collect the grain that they left in the abandoned villages and we set mines for them and they go back without an arm or leg…” Dayan conceded that perhaps such methods “cannot pass review, but I know of no other method of guarding the borders. If the Arab shepherds and harvesters are allowed to cross the borders, then tomorrow the State of Israel will have no borders.” (Morris, 2001, p. 275)

Dayan began ordering “reprisal” raids on Jordanian villages that were presumed to be supporting “criminal infiltrators” entering Israel. (Thomas, p. 97)

In the most notorious act of retaliation against infiltration, the IDF’s special Unit 101, led by Maj. Ariel Sharon, conducted a raid on the West Bank border village of Qibya on the night of Oct. 15, 1953, days after a grenade had been tossed into a home at the Jewish settlement of Yehud near Tel Aviv, killing a woman and two children. In the Qibya raid, some 60 villagers were killed by Sharon’s troops. Some Jordanian soldiers who attempted to come to the village’s aid were also killed. There were no IDF casualties. (Morris, 2001, p. 278)

Palestinians protested that Jordan was failing to protect them. 1954 saw repeated protests against the new king, Hussein, in East Jerusalem, Ramallah and even Amman. (McDowall, p. 71)

In July 1954, Unit 131 of the IDF’s psychological operations department recruited a group of Egyptian Jews to stage a series of bomb attacks in Egypt, in a bid to discourage Britain from withdrawing from the Suez Canal zone (as it had begun to do at Nasser’s insistence). The secret bombing campaign, dubbed Operation Susannah, targeted British and American interests—including the American libraries in Cairo and Alexandria. The attacks claimed no fatalities. The ring was broken by the Egyptian authorities, and the trial of the arrested ringleaders was widely criticized as a show trial. Two were hanged, two committed suicide in Egyptian prisons; the remaining six served lengthy prison terms. In Israel, Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon was cleared by a Commission of Inquiry of authorizing the operation, but stepped down in the aftermath anyway. The scandal became known as the Lavon Affair. (Morris, 2001, p. 282; Jewish Virtual Library)

Tensions with Egypt rapidly escalated after this. In September 1954, the Bat Galim, an Israeli merchant ship, was impounded by the Egyptian military when it was passing through the canal, and the crew beaten and tortured. In February 1955, the IDF launched Operation Black Arrow, raiding an Egyptian army camp across the Gaza border, leaving 40 dead. Egypt began blocking the Suez Canal to all Israeli traffic, as well as closing airspace over the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli aircraft. (Morris, 2001, p. 282-3, Herzog, p. 113)

Egypt formed a joint military command with Syria in October 1955, which would be expanded the next year to include Jordan. Tensions were rising along these borders as well. (Herzog, p. 113)

In December 1954, Israeli warplanes captured a Syrian civilian jetliner to obtain hostages with which to press demands for the release of five IDF troops captured by Syrian forces in a cross-border incursion. Israel claimed the plane had ventured into Israeli airspace. The action ironically presaged the tactic of hijacking jetliners that would later become associated with Palestinian terrorists. Prime Minister Moshe Sharett wrote in his diary that he was informed by the US State Department that “our action was without precedent in the history of international practice.” (Chomsky, p. 77; Sam Husseini letter to the New York Times, March 3, 1992)

Prime Minister Sharett, who governed briefly from 1954-5, sought to de-escalate tensions with a more diplomatic policy. But before he had accomplished much in this regard, he was succeeded by Ben-Gurion’s return to office—and a more openly hardline stance. (Dowty, p. 97-8)

In August 1955, following a fedayeen raid that left 17 Israelis dead, the IDF again raided the Gaza Strip, blowing up an Egyptian police station at Khan Yunis. (Thomas, p. 109)

In October, a commando led by Ariel Sharon raided the Egyptian police fort at Kuntilla, in the Sinai, killing 12 and losing three Israeli troops. An Egyptian retaliatory raid on the IDF post on the Gaza border resulted in no casualties. Early November saw clashes between Israeli and Egyptian forces in the DMZ on the Sinai border, where Israel had illegally established a military force disguised as a kibbutz. An Israeli attack on the villages of al-Sabha and Wadi Siram on the Egyptian side of the line resulted in some 80 Egyptians and five Israelis dead. (Morris, 2001, p. 286-8; Thomas, p. 109; Troen & Shemesh, p. 75)

Skirmishes along the Gaza border became frequent. One in April 1956 exploded into mortar and artillery fire across the line. In July, an IDF commando assassinated the Egyptian commander of fedayeen operations in Gaza, Lt. Col. Mustafa Hafiz. (Morris, 2001, p. 286-8)

In September and October 1956, the IDF launched attacks on Jordanian police and military installations in the West Bank in response to an infiltrator attack on an Israeli archaeological team that left four dead. (Morris, 2001, p. 289)

It was not difficult to see where all this was leading. Before leaving office, Sharett wrote in his journal the following summation of the position of the hardliners around Moshe Dayan:

The conclusions are clear: This State has no international obligations… the question of peace is non-existent… It must see the sword as the main, if no the only, instrument… Toward this end it may, no—it must—invent dangers, and to do this it must adopt the method of provocation-and-revenge… And above all, let us hope for a new war with the Arab countries, so that we may finally get rid of our troubles and acquire our space. [Thomas, p. 111]

The Suez Crisis and Cold War Politics

The decision for all-out war was taken at the secret Sevres Conference in a villa outside Paris, where Prime Minister Ben-Gurion met with French Premier Guy Mollet and British Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd, where a tripartite assault on Egypt was agreed upon. France and Britain would re-take control of the Suez Canal and re-establish the recently vacated British military bases there. Isreal would destroy the Egyptian army in the Sinai and the fedayeen bases in the Gaza Strip. (Morris, 2001, p. 289)

Israel began quietly receiving arms from France, with Foreign Minister Golda Meir, Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan and Defense Ministry general-director Shimon Peres all developing close relationships with French diplomatic and military figures. (Herzog, p. 112-3)

On Oct. 29, the IDF pushed across the border into the Sinai and Gaza in force. French warplanes that had been stationed in Israel helped provide air cover. Simultaneously, Egypt sealed off the Straits of Tiran that guard the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, blockading the Israeli port of Eilat. On Oct. 31, an Egyptian warship briefly bombed Haifa, but to little effect (no damage or casualties). By the time the Israeli divisions had reached the canal, at the western end of the Sinai Peninsula, on Nov. 2, the IDF had lost only 190 soldiers—compared to several thousand Egyptians. British and French warplanes, operating from carriers off the coast and bases in Cyprus, attacked Egypt’s air bases, destroying much of its aircraft. (Gilbert, p. 63; Herzog, p. 138-9; Morris, 2001, p. 294-6)

Some 500 Palestinians were killed in the course of the campaign—many in two massacres by the IDF, at Khan Yunis and Rafah in the Gaza Strip. Several dozen suspected fedayeen rounded up by the IDF in Gaza were summarily executed. At least one senior officer, Col. Uri Ben-Ari, would be tried and convicted after the war for widespread looting in Gaza by his Seventh Brigade—although he would eventually be allowed to return to active duty. (Morris, 2001, p. 295)

The war also occasioned an atrocity within Israel. On Oct. 29, the Israeli Frontier Force imposed a curfew on the Little Triangle border village of Kafr Qasem—while the villagers were still working in their fields. As they returned for work unsuspecting, the Frontier Force fired on them, killing 50, including many women and children. (Hadawi, 1989, p. 155; Morris, 2001, p. 295)

On Nov. 5, Israel and Egypt both accepted the UN demand for a ceasefire. The Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin (whose own forces were at that moment invading Hungary) sent a letter to the Israeli government warning that its attack on Egypt was “sowing a hatred for the State of Israel among the peoples of the East.” (Morris, 2001, p. 297)

On Nov. 6, British and French troops landed at Egypt’s Port Said and Port Fouad—but were forced to withdraw almost immediately, with the campaign collapsing under international diplomatic pressure. Both the US and USSR saw Israel’s joint action with the former Mandate powers as a threat to world peace. (Herzog, p. 139)

On Nov. 7, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of the three invading armies from Egyptian territory. The US lined up with the majority; Israel cast the lone dissenting vote, while Britain and France abstained. A UN Emergency Force (UNEF) was established to remain in the Sinai as a buffer between the Israeli and Egyptian forces. Israel complied with the resolution in phases, not finally abandoning the Gaza Strip until March. (Morris, 2001, p. 299)

Although condemned by the UN and US alike as an aggressor, Israel emerged from the war stronger. Prior to the war, both Isarel and Egypt had tried to chart a course equidistant between the two Cold War superpowers; afterward, the geopolitical lines in the Middle East were sharply drawn. US aid to Israel was dramatically increased as Nasser moved closer to the Soviets. The ousted prime minister Moshe Sharett, who had warned of the war ominously in his journal, wrote bitterly in its aftermath how his hardline rivals had been vindicated:

[T]hey played with fire, and they won. Admit that the balance sheet of the Sinai war is positive. Moral evaluations apart, Israel’s importance in the world has grown enormously. [Thomas, p. 128]

From Fedayeen to PLO

Following the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the fedayeen increasingly became the real power in the Strip, as the UN, under pressure from Egypt, scaled back its military presence there. The Strip saw a wave of reprisals against Arabs suspected of having collaborated with the occupation. There were several summary executions, which neither the Egyptians nor UN forces did much to stop. (Herzog, p. 140)

This period also saw the beginnings of Palestinian Arab national consciousness and organization. 1958 saw the foundation of the Usrat al-Ard or “Family of the Land,” a short-lived independent organization aimed at securing Arab rights within Israel. Although peaceful and attemptong to do things legally, its literature was banned under emergency decrees still in force, and it was effectively supressed. Arab writers and activists were placed under administrative arrest, sometime for years, bottlenecking the emergence of an independent Arab national movement. (Bober, p. 143; Said, p. 129; Thomas, p. 137)

A minor war of attrition began between Israel and Syria began in 1960, with the Syrians shelling Israeli settlements in the Galilee from positions on the Golan Heights across the now fairly fictional DMZ, and Israel retaliating with raids across the border. (Herzog, p. 146)

In April 1961, the UN Special Political Committee approved a resolution

Noting with deep regret that repatriation or compensation of the refugees as provided for in Paragraph 11 of General Assembly Resolution 194, has not been effected, and that, therefore, the situation of the refugees continues to be a matter of serious concern. [Hadawi, 1963, p. 109]

But repeated efforts at the UN on resolving the matter of the refugees came to nothing. In 1964, Afghanistan and Malaysia introduced a draft resolution calling for appointment of a custodian to administer alienated Arab properties, allowing the refugees to derive an income from the economic activities of the new Israeli owners. Israel argued this was an encroachment on its sovereignty, and that the Arabs had forfeited such rights when they rejected the partition plan. The proposal went nowhere. (Hadawi, 1989, p. 141)

There continued to be forthright if marginal Israeli dissent to the expropriation of Arab land and property. Commenting on the Jerusalem trial of Final Solution mastermind Adolf Eichmann in 1961, Israel’s leftist Third Force Movement wrote:

With deep sorrow and shame we ask: Does Israel, which for threteen years has been imposing exile and misery on hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, whose only guilt is that they are Arabs; which has deprived her Arab inhabitants of elementary human rights, confiscated most of their lands, and forces them to beg for a permit for every move in the country—Does the Israel of Qibya, Gaza, Kafr Qasem and the wanton attacks of Egypt have the moral right to sit in judgment? Israeli leaders and newspapermen vehemently denounce those Germans who were silent during the beastly Nazi reign. Even the “good Germans” profited from the plunder of Jews. Even German liberals and leftists became Nazis, it is said. But how do the Jews in Israel behave? Do they not approve—not tacitly, but quite loudly—the inhuman actions of their government? Are there many Jewish houses in Israel that do not harbor Arab property? Do not the Kibbutzim build “socialism” on robbed Arab land? What a spectacle: In the City of the Prophets and under the eyes of Humanity they are sitting in judgment. [Hadawi, 1963, p. 99]

At the other end of the Israeli spectrum was the Herut party, representing the Revisionists, who even then called for annexation of the West Bank and Gaza to create “Eretz Israel” (which by then had connotations of a “Greater Israel”). (Dowty, p. 103)

Israel’s own demographics were changing. Some 1 million Jews arrived in Israel between 1948 and 1960—mostly arriving in the first three years. Greater numbers, however, were now coming from the Islamic world than from Europe. By 1965, Sephardic (Spanish-origin, Mediterranean) and Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) Jews outnumbered the Ashkenazim (Central and Eastern European Jews, originally Yiddish-speaking). Yet the political and economic elite remained overwhelmingly Ashkenazic. The Mizrahim and Sephardim constituted an underclass within Israel’s Jewish society, and a three-tier social system was emerging: Ashkenazim on top, Arabs on bottom and Mizrahim/Sephardim in between. 1959 saw riots at Wadi Salib, an overcrowded Mizrahi slum in Haifa. (Thomas, p. 136; McDowall, p 125)

The Arab minority in Israel ostensibly had full political rights—but in reality, these were harshly circumscribed. Although now rarely invoked, emergency military regulations inherited from the British—particularly the 1945 Mandate Defense (Emergency) Regulations—remained in effect throughout Israel. Under these, legal residents could be banished and their property confiscated—with no chance for review by the civilian courts. Any lands could be declared “closed areas,” with stringent restrictions on travel and work outside the designated districts. (Hadawi, 1989, p. 152; McDowall, p. 126)

Such regulations facilitated, for instance, destruction of the Christian village of Ikret in the Galilee, which had been forcibly evacuated as an ostensible emergency measure in 1948. The residents were never allowed to return, and in 1951 took their case to the courts. When a court returned a favorable verdict, the military demolished the village—on Christmas Day. The bell from the demolished village church was turned over to a Jewish settlement, where it was used to announce meal times. In 1953, the Christian village of Kafr Bir’im was ordered evacuated and similarly destroyed. (Hadawi 1989, p. 154-5)

The residents were similarly expelled from the Muslim village of Ghabisiya in the Galilee in 1950—the military this time disregarding a ruling in favor of the villagers by the Israeli High Court of Justice. (Karmi & Cotran, p. 138)

Ashkelon, in Israel’s south, was similarly cleansed of its Arab residents by IDF troops who arrived one morning in 1950 and ordered the residents to flee to the Gaza Strip. The Arab village of Ashkelon was thus cleared and the Jewish city of that name built in its place. Several other such mass expulsions occurred throughout the ’50s. At the northern town of Karmiel, Arab agricultural lands were seized under the regulations; the farmers thus deprived of their livelihood were employed to build the new city—which was then closed to Arab residents under the same regulations. (Bober, p. 138-9)

To implement these regulations, a formal military administration was established to govern the Arab-populated areas of Israel. This was not allowed to formally expire until 1966. And the end of formal military rule in the Arab areas was largely due to economic imperatives—as more poor Jewish immigrants began to enter the middle class, Arab labor was needed to fill the vacuum, necessitating greater freedom of mobility. By then, surviving Arab villages had already lost about half their lands. But land transfers would continue even after the lifting of the emergency measures; by the mid-1970s, the Arab villages would be reduced by two thirds. (McDowall, p. 127)

Many Arabs continued to work their former lands under employment or lease of the JNF as they awaited new Jewish owners. But a 1967 Agricultural Settlement Law put an end to this practice. Between 1966 and 1974, the proportion of Arab Israelis employed in agriculture was reduced from nearly 40% to 14.5%. By 1984, it would be reduced to 9%. (McDowall, p. 135)

In May 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was established under Egyptian sponsorship with the aim of destroying the “Zionist entity.” The leading faction of the PLO was Fatah (the Palestine National Liberation Movement), founded by Palestinian exiles in the late ’50s. In January 1965, Fatah carried out its first military action, sabotaging a section of Israel’s National Water Carrier, a canal and pipeline network bringing water from the Sea of Galilee to the center and south of the country. A series of similar raids followed. These of course prompted IDF reprisals across the border in the West Bank. (Although Fatah’s leadership was based in Syria, the militants infiltrated into Israel through the Jordan-controlled West Bank.) In November 1966, after a Fatah mine killed three Israeli paratroopers on the West Bank border, an IDF incursion targeted the village of as-Samu and engaged a Jordanian army column. The incident sparked widespread anti-Hashemite demonstrations in Jordan, with protesters accusing the regime of appeasing the Israelis by failing to respond to provocation. (Morris, 2001, p. 303, 364; Khouri, p. 229)

A Palestine National Council (PNC) was established as a parliament in exile, and issued a Palestinian National Charter stating that the PLO “aims at the elimination of Zionism in Palestine.” The partition was declared “illegal” and the establishment of Israel “null and void.” The charter affirmed a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and asserted that “armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine.” Zionism was declared “racist and fanatic… aggressive, expansionist and colonialist in its aims, and fascist in its methods.” The notion that Jews constitute a “nationality” was denied, as were Jewish “claims of historical or religious ties…with Palestine.” The only ambiguous reference to Jewish territorial rights stated: “The Jews who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion will be considered Palestinians.” (Morris, 2001, p. 364-5; McDowall, p. 203)

In February 1966, the nationalist Ba’ath Party took power in a coup d’etat in Damascus. The new regime in Syria began speaking of a “war of liberation” in Palestine. A series of border skirmishes between the IDF and Syrian military followed. (Morris, 2001, p. 303-4)

October saw more fedayeen raids on Israel, leaving several dead. Israel protested to the UN, but a Soviet veto blocked any resolution condemning Arab states for their complicity in the raids. (AFSC, p. 32)

In November, Syria and Egypt signed an agreement again creating a joint military command, under the name of the United Arab Republic. That same month, Israel carried out a raid on the Jordanian town of Es Samu, killing 18 Jordanian soldiers and civilians, and wounding some 45. The UN Security Council condemned Israel for “this large-scale military action in violation of the UN Charter and of the General Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan.” The UN warned that such reprisals wold not be tolerated and threatened “further and more effective steps” if Israel repeated such actions. (AFSC, p. 32)

The Six-Day War and the Occupation

On April 7, 1967, one of the frequent Israel-Syria border clashes escalated into an aerial battle over the outskirts of Damascus, with the Israelis shooting down six of the defending Syrian planes. Syria petitioned Egypt for action. (AFSC, p. 33)

On May 14, 1967, Lt. Gen. Yitzhak Rabin, the IDF Chief of Staff, reported to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol unusual Egyptian troop movements in the Sinai Peninsula. But little was made of it. An IDF “national strategic assessment” had concluded earlier that month that there was “no chance” of war in the coming year. Israel held Independence Day celebrations the next day with no sense of crisis. (Dowty, p. 104; Herzog, p. 149; Morris, 2001, p. 302)

On May 17, Nasser demanded the withdrawal of the UNEF from the Sinai, and re-occupied Sharm as-Sheikh, the strategic point at the southern tip of the peninsula that controls passage into the Gulf of Aqaba. In May 22, he again ordered the Straits of Tiran closed to Israeli shipping. (Herzog, p. 149; Dowty, p. 106; Morris, 2001, p. 306)

Soviet manipulation seems to have played a role in Egypt’s move, with Moscow accusing Israel—apparently on little evidence—of mobilizing forces to the Syrian border. (Dowty, p. 108)

Israel remained confident. Egypt’s forces were currently bogged down in a civil war in Yemen. But despite the outward signs of normalcy in Israel, there were signals that the Israeli as well Egyptian government was preparing for war. On May 12, UPI reported that a “high Israeli source said Israel would take limited military action designed to topple the Damascus army regime if Syrian terrorists continued sabotage raids inside Israel.” The source was later revealed to be Gen. Aharon Yariv, the head of Military Intelligence. (Morris, 2001, p. 304)

Eshkol also boasted on May 12 that “Israel will choose the time, the place and the means to counter the aggressor.” He added that Israel “must use force” to prevent an Arab invasion. (New York Times, May 13, 14, 1967)

By the end of the month it was clear to close observers that both sides were preparing for war. On May 26, Nasser told a meeting of the Arab Trade Union Congress in Cairo that war was coming. Israel avoided such overt pronouncements, but quietly dispatched Foreign Minister Abba Eban to Paris to appeal for French military support—this time to no avail. (Herzog, p. 149)

Nasser openly declared in his statement of May 26: “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel.” (Gilbert, p. 68) In private, however, diplomats saw less ambitious Egyptian aims—such as bargaining off the Tiran naval blockade against a settlement of the Palestinian refugee problem. Even at this late date, there may have been alternatives to war. (New York Times, July 10, 1967)

But instead of an emergency diplomatic effort, Israel’s Labor Party government decided to strike the first blow. Eshkol formed a “National Unity Government,” inviting prominent right-wing leaders into his cabinet. Moshe Dayan, hero of the 1956 war, became defense minister, while Menachem Begin of Herut became minister without portfolio. This marked the first time that a figure from the Revisionist movement was brought into the Israeli cabinet. (Herzog, p. 150)

In a pre-emptive strike on June 5, the Israeli Air Force destroyed 197 Egyptian aircraft—most of them on the ground. IAF commander Gen. Mordechai “Motti” Hod boasted to Rabin: “The Egyptian Air Force has ceased to exist.” (Morris, 2001, p. 318; Herzog, p. 151)

That same day, the IDF established a command for the West Bank under Reserve Gen. Chaim Herzog—an implicit move toward occupation of the territory. (Morris, 2001, p. 314)

The statements of Israel’s own leadership belie the popular portrayal of Egypt starting the war. Menachem Begin would later write:

In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him. [Chomsky, p. 100]

The Israeli political class’ agenda behind the war was articulated by former Air Force commander Gen. Ezer Weizmann, who would state after the war that there was “no threat of destruction”—but that the attack on Egypt, Jordan and Syria was nevertheless justified so that Israel could “exist according to the scale, spirit and quality she now embodies.” (Chomsky, p. 100)

A CIA report to President Lyndon Johnson in Washington apparently stated that “Israel would win in a few days even if the Arabs made the first major strike from the air.” (New York Times, June 28, 1967)

In terms of total troop strength, the Arab forces this time appeared to have an overwhelming superiority: a combined 550,000 to Israel’s 265,000, as well as greater numbers of warplanes. (Gilbert, p. 67) However, the rapidity of Israel’s strikes made this imbalance less relevant. The New York Times noted in an analysis of the war: “Since the vaunted superiority in numbers of the Arab armies was never brought to bear on the fighting front, Israel probably had an over-all numerical superiority in the troops actually involved and a clear-cut superiority in firepower and mobility in the actual battles.” (New York Times, June 8, 1967)

Unaware of the scale of the disaster suffered by its Egyptian ally, Syria launched retaliatory air-strikes on the Haifa oil refinery and an airfield at Meggido; Jordanian and Iraqi aircraft also carried out some strikes. The response was overwhelming. By that night, Israeli air-strikes had wiped out the Jordanian air force, and significantly reduced the Syrian and Iraqi air forces. (Herzog, p. 153)

Labor Minister Yigal Allon suggested transfer of the Gaza refugees into Egypt proper, but the new Defense Minister Moshe Dayan rejected the idea, stating that Israel would be forced to carry out an “unparalleled inhumane and barbaric expulsion.” (Morris, 2001, p. 319)

Since 1949, Ben-Gurion had been calling Israel’s failure to conquer East Jerusalem that year “a lamentation for generations”—a phrase taken up as a slogan by the Israeli right. Shortly after Jordan began shelling, Dayan proposed taking part of the West Bank. In the following days, the cabinet took the decision to “liberate Jerusalem.” (Morris, 2001, p. 321, 323)

On June 8, off the Sinai’s Mediterranean port of al-Arish, Israeli torpedo boats and aircraft attacked the US spy ship Liberty, leaving 34 servicemen dead and some 100 wounded. The official story that the ship was mistaken for an Egyptian vessel has been widely questioned. Some journalists hypothesized an Israeli bid to prevent intercepted communications on the widening of Tel Aviv’s war aims from being forwarded to Washington. (Hadawi, 1989, p. 226-233; Morris, 2001, p. 327)

On June 9, a campaign launched to take the Golan Heights under Gen. David “Dado” Elazar, while Maj. Gen. Elad Peled and Col. Moshe Bar-Kochva were dispatched to take the northern West Bank (Samaria, as it would become known in Zionist argot, resurrecting the biblical name). Tank battles were fought with Jordanian forces, and a conflict erupted with the Palestinian residents of Nablus in which were several were killed. (Morris, 2001, p. 325; Herzog, p. 177-80)

Here too, Israel’s own leadership would admit after the fact that their action was aggressive. In an interview with the New York Times, Moshe Dayan would admit that the military used the kibbutz farmers of the Galilee as pawns to provoke Syria into the border skirmishes that then justified seizing the Golan Heights:

They didn’t even try to hide their greed for land… We would send a tractor to plow some area where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance further, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was… The Syrians, on the fourth day of the war, were not a threat to us. [New York Times, May 11, 1997]

Col. Mordechai “Motta” Gur led the final assault on Jerusalem, then continued on to take the southern West Bank (Judea, in the revived biblical argot). When the fighting was over on June 11, Israel held all the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well the Golan Heights, Gaza Strip and all of the Sinai Peninsula. (Herzog, p. 180-91)

In the Sinai, Israel lost 338 men, compared to some 1,500 Egyptian dead and 5,000 taken prisoner. In the West Bank and Jerusalem, Israel suffered some 300 dead compared to some 800 Jordanian. In the Golan, Israeli losses were 141 to 500 Syrians, with another 578 Syrians taken prisoner. Some 20 Iraqi soldiers were also killed in IAF air raids. (Morris, 2001, p. 327)

There was, predictably, a new wave of Palestinian displacement. Possibly acting independently of Dayan and the cabinet, a number of IDF commanders in the West Bank attacked the civil population, destroying Palestinian homes and sending some 300,000 (largely although not exclusively 1948 refugees) fleeing across the river into Jordan. The worst of these IDF attacks were in the towns of Qalqilya and Tulkarm. Dayan would write in his memoirs that these attacks occurred “not in battle, but as punishment…and in order to chase away the inhabitants… contrary to government…policy.” A New York Times account quoted UN officials saying Israeli loudspeakers warned the inhabitants of Qalqilya and Tulkarm: “You have two hours to leave. After that we cannot guarantee your safety.” Four villages in the small western pocket of the West Bank north of Jerusalem known as the Latrun salient—Imwas, Yalu, Beit Nuba and Deir Aiyub—were leveled and their inhabitants sent into Jordanian exile, with at least after-the-fact cabinet approval. Another 200,000 were driven from the Gaza Strip into Egypt and from the Golan Heights into Syria. Again without cabinet authorization, the IDF razed Golan villages abandoned by their fleeing inhabitants. (Morris, 2001, p. 327-8, 333; McDowall, p. 72; New York Times, June 12, 1967)

In East Jerusalem, the Mughrabi Quarter near the Temple Mount was destroyed in the immediate aftermath of the war—and a large plaza in front of Judaism’s holiest site built where it once stood, completed by October. Even the left-wing Israeli daily Ha’aretz boasted in a June 8 editorial: “Jerusalem is all ours. Rejoice and celebrate, O dweller in Zion!” (Morris, 2001, p. 328, 329)

Menachem Begin openly called for annexation of the West Bank and Gaza. So did the National Religious Party, also part of the new unity government. (Morris, 2001, p. 330)

The Labor Party generally (although not officially) supported the “Allon Plan” drawn up by Yigal Allon, which called for returning the West Bank to Jordan, except for a “security belt” stretching six miles inland from the Jordan River. The cabinet, however, would not agree to this. (Morris, 2001, p. 330)

But even the Allon Plan called for keeping East Jerusalem—and evicting the Arab families who had been living in the Jewish Quarter since 1949. Dayan fought for this, the cabinet approved it, and some 300 families were indeed evicted. (Morris, 2001, p. 331)

Another plan that did win cabinet approval on June 19 called for a withdrawal from the Sinai (with “special arrangements” to be made for Sharm as-Sheikh) and Golan Heights in return for a formal peace. But Egypt and Syria, with new offers of Soviet military aid, rejected this. A “land for peace” option with Jordan—that is, withdrawal from the West Bank in exchange for recognition—was also proffered, and similarly rejected. Recent historical research indicates that the US, which was serving as a mediator, never delivered the Israeli offer to Egypt, seeking to extend hostility with the emerging Soviet client state. (Herzog, p. 190-1; Kimmerling, p. 62)

On June 27, the Knesset passed a measure extending the rule of Israeli law throughout the seized territories. While the rest of the West Bank remained officially “occupied” (an ostensibly temporary state of affairs), East Jerusalem was declared annexed by Israel—in violation of international law. (Davis, p. 127; Morris, 2001, p. 338)

That same day, the Knesset passed two more measures, pledging to protect all holy sites in Jerusalem, and declaring them open to worshipers of any faith “without discrimination.” Jews, of course, had been barred from East Jerusalem under Jordanian rule. (Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 195)

In July, a group of Arab notables, including the former Jordanian governor of East Jerusalem, sent a petition to the Israeli authorities protesting the annexation. Four of the signatories were temporarily exiled. Street protests and strikes against the annexation followed, with stone-throwing youth clashing with baton-wielding Israeli troops. (Morris, 2001, p. 240)

That same month, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 2253 condemning the annexation of Jerusalem. No negative vote was cast, although the US and 19 other countries abstained. (Khouri, p. 114; Jewish Virtual Library)

The Land of Israel Movement, led by Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Hacohen Kook, emerged to advocate annexation of the whole West Bank, and became the focal point of an effort to settle the occupied territories. The cabinet first approved ostensibly temporary settlement of disputed lands in the former Golan DMZ which had been taken from Syria. By fall, the cabinet approved the first West Bank settlement—the Etzion Bloc , between Bethlehem and Hebron, where the Jewish settlement of Kfar Etzion had stood before being destroyed by the Arab Legion in 1948. From these beginnings, the movement that would eventually become known as Gush Emunim expanded West Bank settlement—sometimes with official government approval, sometimes without. In any case, the government rarely interfered. (Morris, 2001, p. 332-3)

Both the government and settler associations began to purchase lands from local proprietors—and to simply claim uncultivated tracts. Sometimes lands claimed by authorities on the basis of security concerns were in fact turned over to settlers. “Nahal” settlements, ostensibly set aside for military outposts to cultivate land to sustain themselves, in fact became permanent settlements. Efforts by Israeli peace activists to halt the land grabs through petitions to the courts almost always were turned down. (LartĂ©guy, p. 101; Morris, 2001, p. 335)

Dayan instated an “Open Bridges” policy which allowed commerce to continue with Jordan. West Bank and East Jerusalem schools retained Jordan’s curricula, although anti-Israel content was purged. The Dome of the Rock remained under the administration of the Waqf. At the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimiyya Mosque in Hebron (purported resting place of the biblical Abraham), arrangements were made granting both Muslims and Jews access for worship. (Jews had been barred under Jordanian rule.) Under UN pressure, some of those who had fled Qalqilya for Jordan were allowed to return. (Dolphin, p. 74; Morris, 2001, p. 337-8)

At the same time, Dayan spoke in barely veiled terms of a program of transfer. In September 1967, he told a meeting of the IDF staff that some 200,000 Palestinians had left the Occupied Territories, adding that “we must understand the motives and causes for the continued emigration of the Arabs, from both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and not undermine these causes, even if they are a lack of security and lack of employment, because after all, we want to create a new map.” (Morris, 2001, p. 338)

In November, this point of view was officially adopted, when a meeting of IDF West Bank governors concluded with a decision “to seek ways to increase Arab emigration from the West Bank.” (Morris, 2001, p. 339)

Indeed, increasingly deprived of land and water, many Palestinians soon began seeking livelihoods abroad, patricularly in oil-rich Persian Gulf states. (Morris, 2001, p. 339)

With the crushing of civil protests in East Jerusalem in the fall of 1967, armed resistance began to emerge—bombs planted in the city, grenades thrown at patrols. This prompted repression from the IDF and Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, with sweeps, house raids, beatings, and torture. (Morris, 2001, p. 342)

When such responses prompted protests from Israeli intellectuals such as Amos Oz and Yizhar Smilansky, Labor Party leader Golda Meir responded: “I am shocked. All of me rebels against Oz, Smilansky and professors and intellectuals who have introduced the moral issue. For me the supreme morality is that the Jewish people has a right to exist. Without that there is no morality in the world.” (Morris, 2001, p. 343)

The PLO immediately undertook to establish cells in the Occupied Territories. Fatah stated: “Our organization has decided to continue struggling against the Zionist conqueror. We are planning to operate far from the Arab states so that they will not suffer Israeli reprisals for fedayeen actions… We are united in our resolve to free our stolen homeland from the hands of the Zionists.” (Morris, 2001, p. 365)

Algeria and Syria began providing military training for PLO militants. By August 1967, a “popular rebellion” had been declared, although it mostly consisted of militant raids on targets across the “Green Line”—the West Bank’s 1967 western border—that is, in Israel proper. The raids were largely ineffectual—other than sparking further Shin Beth reprisals. Despite such efforts to establish a West Bank network, the refugee camps in Jordan became the PLO’s primary base of operations. (Morris, 2001, p. 365-6)

At an Arab summit in Khartoum, Sudan, in September 1967, a resolution was adopted that came to be known as a “three nos”—no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no peace with Israel. However, there was also a fourth affirmative principle: a commitment to advance “the Palestinian people’s right to a state of its own.” (Herzog, p. 190-1; Morris, 2001, p. 346)

The Israeli cabinet moved after the Khartoum meeting to a posture of “defensible borders”—which meant in practice a permanent occupation. (Morris, 2001, p. 346)

On Nov. 22, 1967, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242. The USSR wanted an outright condemnation of Israel and a clear-cut demand that it withdraw to its June 4 borders. But opposition from the West and especially the US resulted in the following compromise wording:

The Security Council,

Expressing its continuing concern with the grave situation in the Middle East,

Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security,

Emphasizing further that all Member States in their acceptance of the Charter of the United Nations have undertaken a commitment to act in accordance with Article 2 of the Charter.

1. Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:

(i) Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;

(ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force;

2. Affirms further the necessity:

(a) For guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area;

(b) For achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem;

(c) For guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area, through measures including the establishment of demilitarized zones;

3. Requests the Secretary-General to designate a Special Representative to proceed to the Middle East to establish and maintain contacts with the States concerned in order to promote agreement and assist efforts to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement in accordance with the provisions and principles in this resolution;

4. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Security Council on the progress of the efforts of the Special Representative as soon as possible. [US State Department]

The absence of a modifier (such as “all” or “the”) before the phrase “territories occupied in the recent conflict” was a strategic ambiguity which left open the possibility that a poriton of the Occupied Territories could remain permanently in Israeli hands.

The new order on the West Bank was imposed with the requisite brutality. In February 1968, the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a report on conditions in Tulkarm Prison, finding widespread torture, including suspension by limbs, burns with cigarette stubs, blows by rods to the genitals, use of attack dogs and electric shocks. (Hadawi, 1989, p. 180)

The aftermath of the Six-Day War saw a long “war of attrition” in which Egyptian and Israeli forces dug in on either side of the Canal and intermittently exchanged artillery fire and commando raids. Israel constructed the fortified “Bar-Lev Line” (named for the chief of staff at the time, Gen. Chaim Bar-Lev) on its side of the Canal. (Morris, 2001, p. 348-9)

In a UN peace effort, Swedish diplomat Gunnar Jarring was appointed to broker a deal. His 1971 proposal called for Israel to withdraw from the lands it had occupied in exchange for security guarantees, free access through the Suez Canal, and “termination of all claims or states of belligerency.” It was accepted by Egypt but categorically rejected by Israel. (Hadawi, 1989, p. 426)

The UN General Assembly in the these years passed several resolutions addressing the occupied Palestinians. Resolution 2535B of Dec. 10, 1969 “reaffirms the inalienable rights of the people of Palestine” and notes the “grave situation resulting from Isralei policies and practices in the occupied territories and Israel’s refusal to implement [UN] resolutions.” Resolution 2672C of Dec. 8, 1970 stated that “full respect for the inalienable rights of the people of Palestine is an indispensable element in the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” Resolution 2799 of Dec. 13, 1970 “noted with appreciation” Egypt’s receptivity to Jarring’s plan and called “upon Israel to respond favorably to the special representative’s peace initative.” Resolution 3070 of Nov. 30, 1973, addressing both Palestine and Africa, cited “the inalienable right of all people under colonial and foreign domination…to self-determination…” The text “reaffirms the legitimacy of the people’s struggle for liberation from colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation by all available means, including armed struggle.” (Hadawi, 1989, p. 246-7)

By the end of 1969, the US was officially backing what came to be called the Rogers Plan after Secretary of State William Rogers, which called for Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders in exchange for an Egytpian “specific agreement to peace.” But Israel nonetheless appeared to believe it had Washington’s support for its bellicose posture. Yitzhak Rabin, then ambassador to Washington, reported: “A man would have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to sense how much the administration favors our military operations.” (Morris, 2001, p. 351, 354)

It was at this time that Golda Meir, the new prime minister, famously said, in reference to 1948: “There was no such thing as Palestinians. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their contry away from them. They did not exist.” (Davis, p. 162)

The political imperative for this denial were made clearer by Menachem Begin, leader of the right-wing opposition, who also in 1969 told a group of kibbutzniks:

If this is Palestine and not the Land of Israel, then you are conquerors and not tillers of the land. You are invaders. If this is Palestine then it belongs to the people who lived here before you came. Only if it is the Land of Israel do you have a right to live in it. [Bober, p. 77-8]

On April 8, 1970, the Israeli Air Force launched a raid on Salahiya, deep inside Egyptian territory. Israel claimed the target was a military base; Egypt said it was a school. Whether or not there was a military base in the area, 47 schoolchildren were killed in the raid. After this, the Soviets provided Egypt with missiles which succeeded in bringing down a few Israeli warplanes. In this period, several thousand Egyptians fled the Israeli occupation of the Sinai across the canal area to Egyptian government-controlled territory. (Morris, 2001, p. 357-9; Sayigh, p. 1)

New factions began to emerge within the PLO, with a more populist and radical posture than the old leadership. George Habash established Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in late 1967. Ahmed Jibril broke away to form PFLP-General Command (PFLP-GC) the following year. Naif Hawatmeh established Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) with Syrian sponsorship in early 1969. Abu Nidal broke from Fatah to form the Fatah Revolutionary Council with Iraqi sponsorship in 1973. Ambitious international terrorist attacks pushed the PLO leadership to a more hardline position. At a July 1968 PNC meeting in Cairo, the National Charter was amended to give greater weight to armed struggle. In February 1969, Yasser Arafat—scion of a Jerusalem notable family who had fought for the city in an Arab militia in 1948—was named chairman of the PLO Executive Committee, with the backing of all the Arab governments. (Lartéguy, p. 218; Morris, 2001, p. 366-7)

March 1968 saw an Israeli raid on the primary PLO base area at Karameh in Jordan after a mine laid by militants blew up a school bus near the settlement of Be’er Ova in Israel’s Upper Jordan Valley, killing two adults and wounding nine children. Some 240 PLO militants and Jordanian troops were killed in the operation, and another 150 PLO fighters captured. (Morris, 2001, p. 368; Herzog, p. 203)

In December 1968, the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal unit carried out a helicopter-borne raid on Beirut’s airport in retaliation for PFLP hijackings, blowing up 13 empty Arab airliners—and one Ghanian airliner, apparently by mistake. (Morris, 2001, p. 378)

In 1969, fedayeen launched their first rocket attacks on the Galilee from Lebanon. A Palestinian uprising in Lebanon, in alliance with local Muslims, forced the Lebanese government to lift the pressure that had reined in Palestinian militants. Under a “Cairo Agreement” that emerged from Egyptian-brokered talks, Lebanon agreed to turn the area around Arkoub town into a PLO-controlled base. IDF raids across the Lebanese border of course followed. (Morris, 2001, p. 372; Sayigh, p. 156)

Jordan’s King Hussein felt threatened by the growing power of the PLO enclave on his territory and Israeli retaliation. In the summer of 1970, clashes broke out between the PLO and Jordanian army. As negotiations broke down (thanks, in part, to the PFLP’s hijacking of three Western airliners), Jordan launched a full-scale attack on the PLO bases and refugee camps in a bloody military campaign that became known as “Black September.” A brief Syrian invasion in support of the PLO and Egyptian attempts at mediation both failed to prevent the expulsion of the Palestinian leadership to Lebanon. Perhaps some 3,000 Palestinians were killed in the fighting. Southern Lebanon became the PLO’s new primary base of operations. (Morris, 2001, p. 373-5; McDowall, p. 73)

The Palestinian cell “Black September” (named in remembrance of the massacre) assassinated Jordan’s Prime Minister Wasfi Tal in Cairo in November 1971. The following year it carried out the attack at the Munich Olympics, in which nine Israeli athletes who had been taken hostage were killed when German police attempted a rescue. (Morris, 2001, p. 3979-80)

In May 1972, the Japanese Red Army militant group participated in an attack on Puerto Rican pilgrims at Israel’s Lod Airport, that left 24 dead. (Herzog, p. 327)

Just as Syria had shelled Israeli territory from the Golan Heights before 1967, Israel now shelled Syrian and Jordanian territory from the Heights. Between 1967 and 1970, there were nearly 100 casualties in the Jordanian city of Irbid from Israeli shelling and air attacks. (Chomsky, p. 103)

In April 1973, the elite “Sayeret Matkal” commando led by Lt. Col. Ehud Barak carried out another raid on Beirut, killing three PLO leaders in night attacks on their homes—including Fatah intelligence chief Yusuf al-Najjar, whose wife was also cut down when she tried to shield him. (Morris, 2001, p. 381)

As terrorist outrages won the attention of the western media, depredations against the inhabitants of the Occupied Territories continued with growing invisibility. In July 1972, there were reports of chemical defoliations dropped by small aircraft on wheat fields at the West Bank village of Akraba. (Said, p. 120)

In 1971, the 1954 “Covenant” between the World Zionist Organization and the state of Israel was renewed and rewritten, and the WZO formally severed from the Jewish Agency. Under the new arrangement, the Jewish Agency continued to be responsible for settlement activities in the Israeli state, while the Settlement Division of the WZO (funded internationally by such groups as the United Jewish Appeal and the Foundation Fund) was responsible for such activities in the Occupied Territories. Both coordinated their work with the Agriculture Ministry’s Israel Lands Administration. Permitting this was the text of Israel’s 1953 Jewish National Fund Law, calling for Jewish settlement in “any area within the jurisdiction of the Government of Israel.” (B’Tselem, p. 13; Davis, p. 46; Badil Resource Center, 2010)

In September 1973, the Labor Party approved the “Galili Protocols,” calling for extensive settlement not only of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights, but also north Sinai, where the city of Yamit was to be established—the original mostly Bedouin inhabitants of the area having been expelled to Egyptian-held territory. (Chomsky, p. 105, 194)

The Yom Kippur War

In a February 1971 speech to Egypt’s parliament, the country’s new president, Anwar Sadat (who had succeeded Nasser upon his death in 1970), announced a new peace “initiative” with Israel, with a permanent ceasefire to replace the interim and temporary ones brokered by the US since the end of the 1967 war. He broached a full peace treaty, with recognized borders. In a December 1970 interview with the New York Times, he spoke openly of the possibility of “peace” with Israel if it withdrew from all the lands occupied in 1967. (Chomsky, p. 64; Morris, 2001, p. 388)

With US National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger serving as go-between, Cairo and Tel Aviv exchanged proposals over the following months. Yitzhak Rabin, then ambassador to Washington, supported pulling troops back from the Suez Canal as an interim good-will measure, but Prime Minister Golda Meir would not consider this without a full peace treaty. She further declared that even if Egypt agreed to a demilitarized Sinai, Israel would have to permanently keep the Sharm as-Sheikh enclave and a corridor to Eilat—as well as the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. US Assistant Secretary of State Joseph Sisco replied that “Israel will be considered responsible for the rejection of the best opportunity to achieve peace since the establishment of the state.” (Morris, 2001, p. 388-9)

By May 1971, Sadat was apparently convinced that war was his only option to recover the Sinai. He signed a pact with the USSR that committed to Soviets to helping Egypt “erase the consequences of [Israeli] aggression.” Large arms shipments—especially anti-aircraft missiles—commenced. Over the next weeks, he declared that 1971 would be the “year of decision,” and that he could no longer accept the situation of “no war, no peace.” (Morris, 2001, p. 390)

But internecine shake-ups in the Egyptian military, and in relations with Moscow, put off the “year of decision” until 1973. In secret talks with Syria’s leader Hafez Assad in the spring of that year, Sadat determined that the attack would be on Oct. 6, the tenth day of the Muslim holy month Ramadan—and the Jewish holy day Yom Kippur. (Morris, 2001, p. 391)

In the days before Oct. 6, as Egypt engaged in military maneuvers that included preparations for crossing the Canal with movable causeways, Defense Minister Dayan quickly prepared for imminent war—although, he ruled out pre-emptive air-strikes on the logic that maintaining Washington’s good will would be critical. (Morris, 2001, p. 398)

On the 6th, over 200 Egyptian planes bombed Israeli military installations in the Sinai, while Syrian tanks crossed into the Golan. Brig. Gen. Rafael Eitan, the commander in the Golan, led Israeli forces in the biggest tank battle since World War II—but commanded only some 175 tanks to nearly ten times as many Syrian. Israeli air-strikes were also launched, but few of the Israeli Phantom jets hit the Egyptian and Syrian missile batteries—and several of the Phantoms were downed. With things going poorly, Dayan warned that “the Third Temple is in danger”—using the biblically charged Zionist phrase for the state of Israel. The cabinet reportedly discussed use of Israel’s recently developed nuclear weapons on the morning of Oct. 9. (Herzog, p. 241; Morris, 2001, p. 402-4, 416)

The USSR air-lifted war material to Egypt and Syria, while the US did likewise to Israel. A US shipments of tanks and more Phantom jets proved critical in turning the course of the war. (Morris, 2001, p. 434)

In the following days, Israel succeeded in organizing a successful counter-offenses. Israeli air-strikes on Syria damaged the Damascus television building, as well destroying tank columns. More Israeli ground forces were meanwhile rushed to the Golan. Eitan’s forces subsequently crossed the “Purple Line” (the 1967 ceasefire line with Syria) into unoccupied Syria. (Herzog, p. 285; Morris, 2001, p. 406-8)

In the Sinai, the Bar-Lev line was breached by the Egyptian assault, but Egyptian forces never succeeded in crossing the Lateral Road that parallels the Canal some 10-20 kilometers to the east. By Oct. 17, the IDF had built its own bridges across the Canal and actually crossed into the Egyptian side, surrounding the Red Sea ports of Suez and Ras Adabiya. (Herzog, p. 267; Morris, 2001, p. 412-22)

On Oct. 19, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger flew to Moscow for an emergency meeting with Soviet ruler Leonid Brezhnev to hash out a superpower-backed ceasefire. This became the basis of Security Council 338, which called for “a just and durable peace in the Middle East” on the basis of Resolution 242. The new resolution was approved by a vote of 14 to 0 with China abstaining on Oct. 22. But Israel did not withdraw, and fighting continued around Suez, thus prompted Resolutions 339 and 340 of Oct. 23 and 25, respectively, reiterating the call for an immediate ceasefire—under implicit threat of Soviet military intervention. (Morris, 2001, p. 429-1)

This finally ended the war. By Oct. 27, UN observers were deployed along the front lines. All told, Israel had lost some 2,300 dead and 294 prisoners (mostly along the Bar-Lev Line). Egyptian dead numbered some 12,000 and prisoners 8,400. Syria lost some 3,000 dead and 411 captured (including small numbers of Iraqi and Moroccan troops under Syrian command). (Morris, 2001, p. 432)

On Nov. 11, at a point on the Cairo-Suez road, Israel and Egypt signed a formal ceasefire, leading to an exchange of prisoners and lifting of the Israeli siege of Suez. The Kissinger-brokered process known as “Sinai I” (officially the “Egyptian-Israeli Disengagement of Forces Agreement”) followed in 1974, calling for an Israeli withdrawal from the west bank of the Canal, and for the return of a small strip east of the Canal to Egyptian control. A buffer zone between the Egyptian and Israeli forces was to be patrolled by UNEF. (Morris, 2001, p. 438)

The “Agreement on Disengagement between Israeli and Syrian Forces” called for Israel to withdraw from territory occupied east of the Purple Line, with a strip just west of the line established as a buffer zone, patrolled by a new UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). (Morris, 2001, p. 439)

US-brokered talks with Egypt continued, but Israeli insistence on no “interim” agreements until Egypt agreed to “non-belligerency” frustrated Kissinger. In 1975 he remarked to Yitzhak Rabin, the new prime minister: “This is a real tragedy… It’s tragic to see people dooming themselves to a course of unbelievable peril.” Talks on new arms deals were (temporarily) put on hold. (Morris, 2001, p. 440)

Elsewhere, Kissinger wrote of his frustrations with Israel: “I ask Rabin to make concessions, and he says he can’t because Israel is weak. So I give him more arms and he says he doesn’t need to make concessions because Israel is strong.” (McDowall, p. 54)

Nonetheless, in September 1975, “Sinai II” was signed in Geneva. While the deal fell short of explicit “non-belligerency,” both sides agreed “not to resort to the threat or use of force or military blockade against each other” and that the conflict “shall not be resolved by military force but by peaceful means.” Israeli forces immediately withdrew east of the passes through central Sinai. (Morris, 2001, p. 440)

But the Palestinians were completely marginalized in the peace process. While Egypt was accepted as a legitimate negotiating partner by Washington despite its refusal to accept “non-belligerency” (much less actual recognition of Israel), the US committed itself not to recognize or negotiate with the PLO “as long as the PLO does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and does not accept” Resolutions 242 and 338. (Morris, 2001, p. 441)

“Peace” or Betrayal?

Prime Minister Rabin explicitly endorsed “voluntary” transfer and by-passing the Palestinian leadership in any talks, urging that Israel “create in the course of the next 10 to 20 years conditions which would attract natural and voluntary migration of the refugees from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to Jordan. To achieve this we have to come to agreement with King Hussein and not with Yasser Arafat.” (Chomsky, p. 116)

It is predictable that violence continued in the face of this. In May 1974, the PLO took children hostage at a school in the Galilee town of Maalot; IDF units stormed the building despite the danger to the children. The militants were killed—along with 22 children. (Herzog, p. 327)

In July, 21 prominent Israeli political figures and intellectuals issued an open letter to Prime Minister Rabin urging: “Israel and the Palestinian people must negotiate in order to arrive at a peaceful coexistence. Any delay in dealing with the problem will not make it disappear, but will only make it that much more difficult to solve and will result in Israel’s continuing isolation in the world.” (Avneri, et al, p. v)

In October, Arab states meeting at the Rabat Summit in Morocco declared the PLO to be the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Later that month, the UN General Assembly voted to grant the PLO the right to participate in the body’s deliberations on the question of Palestine. (Dowty, p. 123; Hadawi, 1989, p. 197)

On Nov. 13, Arafat addressed the UN General Assembly, famously saying: “I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” (Avneri, et al, p. v)

In November 1975, the General Assembly, in a vote of 93 to 18 with 27 abstentions, approved Resolution 3379, declaring Zionism “a form of racism or racial discrimination.” (Dowty, p. 124; Middle East Issues)

Israel did allow municipal elections in the Occupied Territories in 1976—and these brought to power a Palestinian leadership sympathetic to the PLO and its national aims. (Said, p. 169)

On March 30, 1976, Israeli troops opened fire on peaceful protests over the confiscation of lands in the Galilee, killing six Arab citizens. March 30 would henceforth be commemorated by Palestinians as Land Day, or Youm al-Ard. (In Pursuit of Justice website, March 30, 2007)

The secret 1976 Koenig Memorandum—drawn up by Interior Ministry northern district administrator Israel Koenig as a policy recommendation for the Arab minority, and later leaked to the Israeli press—blatantly called for confiscation of Arab lands for the establishment of new Jewish settlements, erecting bureaucratic barriers to Arabs receiving social security benefits, and taking measures to prevent the emergence of an independent Arab leadership. (Hadawi, 1989, p. 157-8)

June 1976 saw the dramatic IDF hostage rescue at Uganda’s Entebbe airport, where a PFLP cell (with members of Germany’s Red Army Faction) had hijacked an Air France jetliner in flight from Tel Aviv to Paris. The successful mission was led by Yonatan Netanyahu, brother of the future prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Morris, 2001, p. 383-5; Herzog, p. 328)

Under the Labor governments of prime ministers Levi Eshkol (1963-9), Golda Meir (1969-74) and Yitzhak Rabin (1974-7), Jewish settlement outside certain designated areas of the West Bank (mostly where Jewish settlements had existed before 1948) was, at least, officially discouraged. And even if there were to be some border adjustments—most significantly, the annexation of East Jerusalem—the government’s official line was eventual negotiation of a “land-for-peace” deal. (Dowty, p. 116-7)

Rabin called for a policy of “functional compromise,” under which all land in the Occupied Territories not being used by the residents could be confiscated for the use of Israeli settlers. In exchange for accepting this arrangement, Palestinians would be offered autonomy over their own areas. This won support from Gush Emunim, but not from Palestinians. (Shahak & Mezvinsky, p. 56)

Israel shifted sharply to the right when the 1977 elections brought the Likud Party (successor to Herut) to power, and Menachem Begin—1940s leader of the Revisionist movement and Irgun—became prime minister. The notion of “land for peace,” the assumption behind Kissinger’s “shuttle diplomacy,” was called into question. In 1970, Begin had resigned from the Emergency Government precisely over its acceptance in principle of Resolution 242 and the land-for-peace formula. Begin declared that the West Bank and Gaza were “as Jewish as Tel Aviv,” and that “Judea and Samaria” (meaning the West Bank) were “rightful parts” of the Jewish state. (Morris, 2001, p. 445; Said, p. 57)

Begin sported a plan for limited “self-rule” in the Occupied Territories—but the plan only referred to the territories as “Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District.” (Eisenberg & Caplan, p. 31)

Following the Likud victory, the settler movement exploded, with vast sums of money invested in construction on the West Bank. Rustic settlements were replaced by suburban-style “bedroom communities.” In 1977, there were some 11,000 settlers in the Occupied Territories. Twenty years later, the figure surpassed 150,000, including East Jerusalem’s satellite settlements. Some 100 new settlements were established, including large urban complexes ringing Jerusalem on the east. (Morris, 2001, p. 225-6, 567; Dowty, p. 183)

A manifesto of the settler movement, Master Plan for the Development of Judea and Samaria by Matityahu Drobles, saw a goal of the effort as to disrupt any potential for the emergence of a Palestinian polity: “The aim is to render it difficult for the minority [sic] Arab population to unite and create territorial and political continuity.” The plan called for transplanting a million Jews to the West Bank by the year 2000. (Dolphin, p. 7)

Official rhetoric changed, with Begin and his cabinet always speaking of the “liberation”—rather than “occupation” or “conquest”—of the West Bank and Gaza. The settler movement’s reference to the West Bank as “Judea and Samaria” was now embraced in official Israeli discourse, as was the annexationist agenda. The Likud platform stated that “Judea and Samaria will not be handed to any foreign administration; between the [Mediterranean] Sea and the Jordan [River] there will only be Israeli sovereignty.” (Morris, 2001, p. 456; Dowty, p. 120, 128)

US diplomatic efforts continued under President Jimmy Carter. An October 1977 US-Soviet “Joint Declaration” called for negotiations in Geneva to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, invoking for the first time Palestinian rights. (Eisenberg & Neil Caplan, p. 31; Said, p. 50)

But relations between Israel and Egypt began to be normalized without any progress on Palestinian rights. Sadat visited Jerusalem in November 1977. Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad), the number-two man in the PLO, wrote that “tears were streaming down the cheeks of some of my comrades” as they watched the visit on television. (Morris, 2001, p. 451-2, 455)

These developments of course led to a near-total break in ties between Cairo and the PLO. In February 1978, Yusuf al-Sibai, editor of the Cairo daily al-Ahram who had flown to Jerusalem with Sadat, was assassinated in Cyprus. Although the breakaway Abu Nidal faction was believed to be behind the slaying, Sadat publicly called the PLO leadership “pygmies and hired killers.” Palestinians began burning Sadat in effigy at their protests. (Morris, 2001, p. 460)

The PLO also stepped up its attacks within Israel—resulting in more Israeli reprisals across the border in Lebanon. After a March 1978 Fatah bus hijacking on the Haifa-Tel Aviv highway resulted in a conflagration with soldiers and police that left 37 civilian hostages dead, the IDF invaded southern Lebanon. Attacking PLO bases and advancing as far north as the Litani River, the incursion exacted a heavy toll in Lebanese civilians. (Morris, 2001, p. 460)

The Israeli movement Peace Now emerged to oppose these policies and support a territorial compromise. It was born following a March 1978 “Officers’ Letter” to Begin signed by 348 IDF reserve officers, including more than a dozen lieutenant colonels and majors, and several decorated war veterans. It declared:

We see it as out duty to call on you to avoid taking steps that might be a cause for lamentation for generations for our people and country… A government that prefers the existence of the State of Israel within the boundaries of Greater Israel to its existence in peace with friendly neighborly relations will awaken in us grave doubts…regarding the justice of our cause.

By the end of May, some 100,000 Israelis had signed petitions in support of the letter. (Morris, 2001, p. 461)

Despite Sadat’s historic gesture of visiting Israel, the talks with Egypt were tough going. In July 1978, Sadat personally pleaded with Begin that Israel make some modest gesture in support of the peace process. Begin rudely replied: “Not even one grain of desert sand. Nobody can get anything for nothing.” (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October/November 1978)

In a private conversation, Begin reportedly told Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (later noted in the American statesman’s memoir, Power & Principle): “My right eye will fall out, my right hand will fall off, before I ever agree to the dismantling of a single Jewish settlement.” (Morris, 2001, p. 468)

In September 1978, Sadat and Begin met again at Camp David, the US presidential retreat in Maryland. The subsequent Camp David Accords signed at the White House fell short of an actual peace treaty. But they called for both sides to negotiate a real peace treaty based on “all the principles of Resolution 242.” Israel was to withdraw from all of Sinai, and would be guaranteed in return unimpeded passage through the Suez Canal and Gulf of Aqaba, with Israeli aircraft secured overflight rights through same. The 13 settlements Israel had established in the Sinai were to be dismantled. (Morris, 2001, p. 460, 473; Gerner, p. 81)

The Accords stipulated that negotiations would “recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and their just requirements. In this way the Palestinians will participate in the determination of their own future.” This rather equivocal phrase—affording the Palestinians only the right to “participate” via proxies not of their own choosing, the Egyptians—was included at the insistence of Sadat and Carter. The explicit reference to Palestinian “self-determination” and “statehood” that Sadat had initially demanded was excluded. (Morris, 2001, p. 473-4)

In principle, Israel agreed to a framework for military withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza over a five-year transition period, in which power would be gradually turned over to an authority elected by the Palestinians. But, at Israeli insistence, there was no “linkage” of a peace with Egypt and a resolution for the Occupied Territories. And Begin insisted this autonomy framework was compatible with Likud’s annexationist platform. (Dowty, p. 126, 128)

Some of Sadat’s closes aides boycotted the White House signing ceremony, amid much muttering that Sadat had “sold out” the Palestinians. (Morris, 2001, p. 475)

The PLO Executive Committee called on the residents of the Occupied Territories to carry out a one-day general strike in protest of the Accords Sept. 20, calling them a “conspiracy” against the Palestinians that would be met with “just retribution.” (Morris, 2001, p. 476)

At a November summit in Baghdad, the Arab League moved to expel Egypt, and move the organization’s headquarters from Cairo. The summit also set up a multi-billion dollar fund to finance continued “resistance” against Israel. (Morris, 2001, p. 476)

There was also a spate of demonstrations against the Accords by the Israeli right—especially the Gush Emunim, which was outraged by the uprooting of the Jewish settlements which had been established in the Sinai. (Morris, 2001, p. 477)

To appease the right, Begin in October agreed to an expansion of the settlements on the West Bank—arguing that the three-month moratorium on settlement he had agreed to in Washington only covered new settlements, not existing ones. Carter was outraged, and wrote to Begin on Oct. 26: “At a time when we are trying to organize the negotiations dealing with the West Bank and Gaza, no step by the Israeli Government could be more damaging. I have to tell you with the gravest concern and regret that taking this step…will have the most serious consequences for our relationship.” The next day, Begin and Sadat were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (Morris, 2001, p. 479)

Ariel Sharon, then a cabinet minister, pushed Carter’s patience further by invoking in barely veiled terms the old agenda of transfer. He declared that “Jordan is Palestine,” adding that within 20 years there would be 1 million Jews on the West Bank, and that it would be an inseperable part of Israel. (Morris, 2001, p. 483)

The final peace treaty with Egypt was approved by Knesset in March 1979, and signed in Washington later that month. It called for a phased withdrawal of all Israeli forces from the Sinai over the next three years, with limited forces zones on either side of the Peninsula and international peacekeepers stationed in between. These were mostly provided by the US-led Multinational Force and Observers (MFO). Both Israel and Egypt were pledged increases in US aid. There were no binding provisions for the Occupied Territories. Sadat, in his comments at the signing ceremony, didn’t even mention the Palestinians. (Morris, 2001, p. 485; Said, p. 193)

US aid to both Israel and Egypt did increase in the ’80s—for many years to come, the countries would occupy the first and second positions, respectively, as United States aid recipients. Egypt had been successfully wooed from the Soviet to the US camp. (IPS, Feb. 3, 2004)

In 1980, by an act of the Knesset, Israel’s capital was officially moved to Jerusalem, although most executive and administrative functions remained at Tel Aviv. The measure was clearly aimed at securing Israel’s claim for the annexed eastern part of the city, reading: “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.” (Dolphin, p. 112)

Begin returned to power in the 1981 elections, and his new cabinet actually represented a shift to the right. Yitzhak Shamir, former leader of the Lehi and an opponent of the peace treaty, became foreign minister. Ariel Sharon became defense minister. Unappeased, the right-wing Movement to Stop the Withdrawal was holding protests against the disengagement from the Sinai. (Morris, 2001, p. 489)

But the backlash in Egypt was far worse. On Oct. 6, Sadat was assassinated by Muslim Brotherhood militants as he presided at a military parade commemorating Egypt’s “victory” in the 1973 war. (Morris, 2001, p. 489)

The Camp David provisions for the West Bank and Gaza were never implemented. Talks with Egypt on instating a limited autonomy for Gaza were brief and abortive, Cairo frustrated with Begin’s severely circumscribed notions of “autonomy.” Talks with Jordan on the fate of the West Bank were never held. And talks with the Palestinian leadership were never broached by either side. (Dowty, p. 126)

Between 1967 and 1982, Israel confiscated nearly 50% of the West Bank’s territory and some 30% of the Gaza Strip for military use or for Jewish settlements. Over this period, more than 1,300 Palestinian homes were demolished on the West Bank, and more than 300,000 Palestinians were detained without trial for varying periods by Israeli security forces. (Lockman & Beinin, p. 108)

By this point, an entire generation of Palestinians had been born in the refugee camps, and the ranks of the refugee population had also been swollen by the post-1948 expulsions. A 1978 count by the UN placed their numbers at 1,757,259, scattered between camps in (from greatest numbers to least) Jordan, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Lebanon and Syria. (Hadawi, 1989, p. 139)

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