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Dreams into squalid conflicts

Jon Taylor on the facts and fictions behind the birth of Israel

All nations have their histories and their myths. The State of Israel is no different in this. Resolution 181 of the United Nations (29 November 1947) envisaged a two-state solution: a Palestinian State and a Jewish State. The Islamic Arab states voted against the resolution and sought to question the competence of the UN to partition a country against the wishes of the majority of the population. The challenge was only narrowly defeated. This Resolution; like the dozens passed since, has been ignored by Israel ever since.

So the very founding of the state on the ‘land of Israel’ was built on a falsehood, since the United Nations had given consent for only part of the land of Palestine to be occupied as a Jewish state. A minority – Jews – backed by the West came to rule over the majority – Arabs. There you have the heart of it. The myths flow directly from that false base.

One of the great myths – which Israelis will still hold as truth – is that Palestine was largely unpopulated before the waves of immigration in the late thirties and after the war. A few thousand and that was it. The proposition

‘had its origins in the work of serious economic and social historians who drew particular attention to the social and economic backwardness of Palestine before the start of modern Jewish immigration and stressed that in that period Palestine had been largely barren and under-populated’. (Wasserstein)

Benyamin Netanyahu (ex-Prime Minister) maintains that prior to the return of the Jews ‘there wasn’t a living soul here’.

But serious research shows a very different picture. For 1914 two sets of figures are usually quoted: Ruppin with 85,000 Jews and 689,000 Arabs or McCarthy with 60,000 Jews and 798,000 Arabs. In either case, hardly ‘not a living soul’. By the end of the mandate and the founding of the state, numbers on both sides had increased. By 1948, there were roughly 660,000 Jews and 1,340,000 Arabs. (Quotation above and figures here from Israel and Palestine, by Bernard Wasserstein).

How were these large numbers of Arabs to be removed and the two-state solution abandoned for the creation of Israel in Palestine?

Listen to Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism in his diary 12 June 1895:
‘The removal of Arabs bodily from Palestine is part of the Zionist plan to spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment. Both the process of expropriation across the frontier and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly’. Note the words ‘penniless’ and ‘poor’.

Or Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, warning in 1948: ‘We must do everything to ensure they [the Palestinians] never do return – the old will die and the young forget’. If the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ comes to mind, listen to the words of Yigal Allon, Commander of the Jewish military force in Galilee in that period: ‘We saw a need to clean the inner Galilee and to create a Jewish territorial succession in the entire area of upper Galilee. We therefore looked for means to cause the tens of thousands of sulky Arabs who remained in Galilee to flee….wide areas were cleansed’.

Largely it was because the political leadership of the Arabs proved more amenable to reason – and hard cash. It was the vast fortune of Lord Rothschild with some additional funds that enabled the Zionists to progress. The Arab leadership, firmly in the hands of the landowning class, sold their land to the Zionists to make enormous financial gains, even though as a class they liquidated themselves in the process. The Zionists have never had anything but contempt for the Palestinians; they regard them as inferior people, not worthy of anything but providing cheap labour. These views are simply a reflection of the attitudes of superiority the Zionists brought with them from Enlightenment Europe and which underpinned the colonial empires of Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Russia and Holland. Viscount Samuel in 1915:

‘The dreams of a Jewish State, prosperous, progressive and the Home of a brilliant civilisation, might vanish in a series of squalid conflicts with the Arab population’.

Indeed those conflicts have become squalid but it is the actions of Zionists and the State of Israel in denying the damage to the Palestinian people all those years ago and in denying them a land for themselves that has created that squalid present.

Let me end with a more sympathetic voice, that of Nahum Goldmann in The Jewish Paradox: ‘There has been anti-semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz but was that their fault ? They [the Palestinians] see one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. They should accept that?’