Washington, DC– On April 9, 1948, scores of Palestinian civilians were massacred at the village of Deir Yassin through co-operative efforts of Yishuv forces like the Irgun, Lehi and the Haganah.
The Zionist narrative on the events of 1948 and the Nakba – the Arabic word for the depopulation of Palestine – talks about the war as a defensive one where there was no intention on behalf of the Israeli forces to shift the demographics by force. Rather, that narrative tells us, the refugees were created during the hostilities which began when five Arab armies invaded Israel the day after it declared its independence on May 15, 1948.
Too often, people who talk about “making peace” advise that we pass over history and look forward without getting lost in the “duelling narratives” of this period. But peace cannot happen without a rectification of past injustices and we cannot approach this without talking about what these injustices are.
The Zionist narrative will counter, defensively, that any injustices are not the fault of Israel and this is where the issue of “duelling narratives” prevents further discussion.
“The goal of the Zionist movement was to establish a Jewish state in the land of Palestine which had a significant non-Jewish majority of Palestinian Arabs.”
But there are simple, undeniable facts that any two sane people, Zionist or otherwise, should be able to agree on. For example, I think we can all agree that April 9, 1948, occurred before May 15, 1948. This is not a matter perspective, this is chronology.
When you actually look at the history – even versions documented by Israeli historians using official Israeli archival material – what you learn is that a very significant portion of the total refugees were created long before May 15, 1948. Had it not been for the hundreds and thousands of refugees flowing into Arab states and massacres like Deir Yassin, the Arab armies would likely not have been compelled to intervene.
Clearly, indisputable and historically non-controversial chronological facts blow significant holes in the Zionist narrative about cause and effect. But sequence is not the only problem. The other point of contention Zionists hold is that Israeli actions during the war were defensive and not intended to depopulate.
The goal of the Zionist movement was to establish a Jewish state in the land of Palestine which had a significant non-Jewish majority of Palestinian Arabs. Through years of immigration, the Zionists managed to grow from 11 per cent of Palestine’s inhabitants in 1922 to about 30 per cent in 1946.
The Zionist goal, which was unachievable for decades, came to fruition after 18 months of hostilities when Jews suddenly became 85 per cent of the population of the state of Israel. So, the Zionist narrative will have you believe that the Zionist dream of establishing a state with a Jewish majority, which was unachievable without war then, finally achieved during the fog of one, happened completely by accident.
One does not have to be a supporter of Israel or Palestine to accept this explanation – just astoundingly naïve.
Sweeping changes in demographics over territory do not happen by accident. In the modern era, they are invariably state-driven initiatives.
Prior to May 15, 1948, the Israeli state army, or Haganah, was engaged in conquering and razing scores of civilian villages – not military installations. There is really no “defensive” explanation for the demolition of scores of entire civilian villages. The only possible objective behind such actions is to prevent Palestinian Arabs from having homes to live in and thus force them elsewhere.
In March 1948, the United States – which had emerged as a superpower after the Second World War – decided to withdraw its support for the 1947 UN Partition Plan because the vacuum of power created by the impending end of the British Mandate would result “in chaos, heavy fighting and much loss of life in Palestine”.
“Within 45 days, nearly 170 towns and villages had been depopulated, accounting for about 380,000 refugees.”
Seeing this, the Zionists knew their shot at achieving a Jewish state through diplomatic means would be delayed at the least, if not abandoned all together. They decided to achieve it by force. That is why the depopulation accelerated at this point.
Within 45 days, before May 15, 1948, nearly 170 towns and villages had been depopulated, accounting for about 380,000 refugees. This period, prior to the entry of Arab armies, saw the highest rate of refugee creation between 1947 and 1949. The effort to change the demography of the landscape by force was in full swing.
We cannot achieve any form of Israeli-Palestinian peace while ignoring this past.
As many marked Easter and Passover this weekend – celebrations of redemption – we should turn our focus today to the anniversary of a massacre and the decisive period of depopulation during which it took place.
Israelis and Palestinians alike cannot move forward without addressing the original sins the state of Israel was built upon.
Yousef Munayyer is Executive Director of the Palestine Centre in Washington, DC.