refuting boise’s big lies about palestinian refugees

Last Monday night I went with some friends from the Idaho Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid to listen to something the local Jewish community called “Making the Case for Israel.” This is a “four-week course” and the topic for the evening was “Arab Refugees.” Notice the erasure of Palestinian in the title. Obviously from the start they wanted to present the Zionist mythology that Palestinians are Arabs just like any other country in the region and therefore they should just leave their country to make room for Ashkenazi colonial settlers. The questions promised to be answered were: “Who started the war of 1948?; Did Israel create the Arab refugee problem?; Why won’t Israel let the refugees return to their homes?; Isn’t Israel an apartheid state?”

I had written about this “course” on my blog a couple of weeks ago, to which Rabbi Dan Fink wrote on this blog: “…that there were Muslims in attendance. Unlike you, we are interested in genuine exchange of views and debate. If I want propgaganda [sic], I go to your site.” (First, I should note that the women he believed to be Muslims are actually Christian; but of course his knowledge of Palestinian and Iranian people is so limited that he just assumes they are Muslim.) More particularly, I emailed the Rabbi to let him know that I was planning to attend last Monday’s lecture. In response I received this email:


After speaking with my co-presenters and organizers, I wanted to follow up on your e-mail from last night and clarify a few things.

The event this evening is not a debate. It is, as it is billed, an education forum for those who want to learn about “The Case for Israel.” The flyer for it, which you posted on your own blog, notes: “This course is being offered to the Jewish community and concerned supporters of Israel. You are welcome to bring a friend.”

You are, by your own description, clearly not a concerned supporter of Israel. You are also, by your own choice, not a part of the Jewish community. You are, therefore, not invited to this event.

There may well be other forums in the future that are for debate. But we are not interested in expending our time and energy on fruitless debate in this setting. This is an educational event for Israel supporters and those who are genuinely interested and open to learning more about how to make the case for Israel.. Anything else would be a distraction.


Interestingly, while I had intended primarily to listen to their propaganda and not provoke a debate, his initial comment on my blog makes the claim that he is the one interested in debate in contradistinction to me. In any case, I went to the event, came in late to make sure that if they were to kick me out they would have to make a spectacle out of kicking a Jew out of a synagogue. Needless to say, they did not. I wonder if the reason they did not want me there was because last week they had made particularly egregious claims that there is a long history of Arab and Iranian Nazism; perhaps this is to rationalize positions made by Rabbi Fink that we should bomb Iran? Perhaps this is to erase the genocide happening each day in Gaza right now? Somehow if we paint Palestinians as Nazis then it’s okay for members of the Israeli Occupation Forces to call for a “Holocaust” against Palestinians.

I suppose if someone were distant, didn’t know the truth–both from history and experience–one would look at these speakers and believe them to be knowledgeable. I mean, who would think that rabbis and professors would willingly or willfully erase massacres of Palestinians and the forced removal of indigenous people from their land especially in the context of recent pogroms in Russia and the Nazi Holocaust in Europe? Certainly, this is how my thinking was for a good eighteen years before I began to delve into history that was not written by Zionist propagandists. There were four such Zionist speakers at this particular event: Rabbi Dan Fink, Rabbi Mendel Lifshitz, Professor Howard Berger, a history professor from the College of Idaho, and Allen Gorin who is the Director of Idahoans United for Israel.

When I entered the room I had some idea of what to expect as friends who attended the previous week had given me a pamphlet by David Meir-Levi (with an Introduction by David Horowitz) entitled Big Lies: Demolishing the Myths of the Propaganda War Against Israel. The chapter in this booklet entitled “The Refugee Question” lays out several of the most egregious myths, particularly in light of the historical record. Consider these examples:

The State of Israel was created in a peaceful and legal process by the United Nations. It was not created out of Palestinian lands. It was created out of the Ottoman Empire, ruled for four hundred years by the Turks who lost it when they were defeated in World War I. There were no “Palestinian” lands at the time because there were no people claiming to be Palestinians. There were Arabs who lived in the region of Palestine who considered themselves Syrians. (15)

The Arab refugees were roughly 725,000 people who fled because of the war that the Arab states–not the Palestinian Arabs–started. The Arab states–dictatorships all–did not want a non-Arab state in the Middle East. The rulers of eight Arab countries whose populations vastly outnumbered the Jewish settlers in the Turkish Empire initiated the war with simultaneous invasions of the newly created state of Israel on three fronts. Nascent Israel begged for peace and offered friendship and cooperation to its neighbors. The Arab dictators rejected this offer and answered it with a war of annihilation against the Jews. The war failed. But the state of war has continued uninterruptedly because of the failure of the Arab states–Saudi Arabia and Iraq in particular–to sign a peace treaty with Israel. To this day, the Arab states and the Palestinians refer to the failure of their aggression and the survival of Israel as an-Nakba–the catastrophe. (16)

It should be completely obvious to any reasonable and fair-minded observer of this history, therefore that it was not Israel that caused the Arab refugee problem, nor Israel that obstructed its solution. On the contrary, the Arab refugee problem was the direct result of the aggression by the Arab states, and their refusal after failing to obliterate Israel to sign a formal peace, or to take care of the Arab refugees who remained outside Israel’s borders. (17)

There were other refugees from the Arab-Israeli conflict that everyone on the Arab side of the argument chooses conveniently to forget. Between 1949 and 1954, about 800,000 Jews were forced to flee from Arab and Muslim lands where they had lived for hundreds and even thousands of years–from Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan and Iran, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, and other Muslim countries. These Jews were peaceful citizens of their Arab countries and in no way a hostile population. Nonetheless, they were forced at gun-point to flee with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The only reason for their expulsion was revenge against the Jewish citizenry of Arab countries for the shame of the Arab defeat in their war of aggression. (17)

Some observers have suggested that the dual refugee situation should be understood as a “population exchange”–Arabs fled to Arab countries as Jews fled to the Jewish country, both as a result of the 1948 war, both under conditions which their side regards as forced evacuations. On the other hand, both under conditions which their side regards as forced evacuations. On the other hand, no one on the Arab side has suggested the obvious: if Jewish refugees were resettled on land vacated by fleeing Arabs, why not resettle Arab refugees on the lands of Jews who were forced to flee the Arab countries. One reason no one has suggested this is that no Arab state with the exception of Jordan will even allow Arab refugees to become citizens. (17-18)

Palestinians who fled Israel in 1948 and are still alive have no legal right to return to Israel, because the Arab leadership representing them (Arab nations until 1993, and since then the Palestinian Authority) are still, de jure and de facto, at war with Israel; and these refugees, therefore, are still potential hostiles. International law does not require a country at war to commit suicide by allowing the entry of hundreds of potentially hostile population. In the context of a peace treaty, in 1949, the Arab refugees could have taken advantage of Israel’s offer; but their leadership refused” (19-20)

Sixty years ago there were nearly a million Jews in the Arab states of the Middle East: honest hard-working citizenry contributing to the culture and economy of their countries of domicile. Today, there are almost no Jews in the Arab countries of the Middle East, and racist apartheid laws prohibit even Jewish tourists from entering some Arab countries. In Israel, on the other hand, the Arabs who did not flee numbered about 170,000 in 1949; and no number more than 1,400,000. They have 12 representatives in the Israeli Parliament, judges sitting on the Israeli courts and on the Israeli Supreme Court benches, and Ph.D’s and tenured professors teaching in Israeli colleges and universities. They are a population that enjoys more freedom, education, and economic opportunity than do any comparable Arab populations anywhere in the Arab world. (20)


These are some of the arguments I was prepared to deal with upon entering. They are typical with respect to the mythologizing that happens when they want to “make the case for Israel.” Telling the truth would most obviously raise moral questions that would not allow one to make such a case. Thus, eliding the truth, and in fact, turning it on its head and expressing its opposite is what gets presented as “facts” by these Zionists. The same, of course, was true in the “class” as well. Here is a sampling of what was said:

It began with Allen Gorin explaining to us that just like the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1992 by Los Angeles policemen, we need “to really grasp the Middle East and what’s going on you must grasp it as a moving picture and not as a snapshot.” In other words, one needs to understand it in context. Well, yes, of course. But what he erases in relation to both the situation with Rodney King (which was entirely dependent upon understanding the history of a white racist police force in Los Angeles) and with Palestinians is the racism that undergirds both contexts. By erasing that historical and current context one will never be able to examine a “moving picture” as Gorin puts it.

When the lecture began with Howard Berger his view of history was extremely selective. He begins by saying “a Jewish nation was already coming into being in the 1920s” though he fails to mention the numbers of Palestinians in relation to Jews in Palestine during the British Mandate: in General Allenby’s Palestine there were 800,000 people classified by the British as: “650,000 Muslims, 80,000 Christians, and 60,000 Jews.”1 He argues that in the 1920s “a Jewish state was in place” already because “it had an elected government” and they had a nascent and embryonic state.”

demography palestine

Berger continues: The UN “didn’t create a Jewish state, the United Nations recognized the existence of a Jewish nation.” He continues, “as soon as the intention is clear that there is going to be partition and two nations will emerge in British Palestine that we now refer to in the world as a two-state solution, which existed in 1947.”

What is missing here, as with all such propaganda, is context in spite of what was promised here (should I have expected anything less?). The reason why Palestinians refused partition in this context is because, as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe explains: “For the Palestinians, leaders and common people alike, partition was totally unacceptable, the equivalent in their eyes of the division of Algeria between the French settlers and the indigenous population.”2

Moreover, not all Jews were willing to live with partition as per UN Resolution 181 as Israeli historian Avi Shlaim notes:

“But the followers of Ze’ev Jabotinsky in the Irgun and the Stern Gang did not join in the general celebrations. A day after the UN vote, Menachem Begin, the commander of Irgun, proclaimed the credo of the underground fighters: ‘The partition of Palestine is illegal. It will never be recognized….Jerusalem was and will for ever be our capital. Eretz Israel will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And for ever.'”3

Thus, this idea that the Jews were willing to live in peace from the outset is an incredible exaggeration. Indeed, it was the Jews, from the beginning, who wanted to throw the Palestinians into the Jordan River not the other way around (in re: the oft-repeated mantra that the Arabs want to “throw the Jews into the Sea”).

Berger continues: “As May 15th approaches, the day the British would leave, and that two independent nations would now come into existence, the fighting between Arabs begins in earnest. That’s before 1948. Nobody–and the word matters when they talk about Arab-Jewish violence–nobody is using the word Palestinian and nobody is using the word Israeli.”

No one using the word Palestinian, because Zionists from the beginning strategically refused to admit the existence of a Palestinian people. Instead, purposefully using the word “Arab” as a replacement to erase the indigenous population has been their strategy. No one used the word “Israel,” as Berger notes, because it did not exist as a state yet. However, we know, from the famous statement by Golda Meir, “who declared that there was no such thing as the Palestinian people, and that therefore there could only be one partner for negotiations over the occupied areas–the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan.”4 But by pretending that Palestinians and Israelis did not exist he is drawing a false moral equivalent that just did not exist.

Berger continues: “The Hagana now goes into operation. That is Israel’s defense force. They only have 30,000 people. That’s very small…. The Hagana was going to go into operations to protect the Jewish community. That’s what their goal is. Existing Jewish communities in that area that was to be a Jewish state.”

He mentions Palmach, but no other Jewish groups nor their varied and various terrorist actions. Here is an example, from Ilan Pappe of what the Hagana and other Jewish militia groups were up to: “The second, and far more important, objective of the plan was to cleanse the future Jewish state of as many Palestinians as possible. The main military force was the Hagana, which had several brigades. Each brigade received a list of villages it was to occupy. Most of the villages were destined to be destroyed, and only in very exceptional cases were the soldiers ordered to leave them intact. In addition, some of the brigades were to engage in the take-over of the mixed Arab-Jewish towns of Palestine and their environs. This meant occupation and the expulsion of the Palestinian population. This was the fate of Jaffa, Haifa, Safad and Tiberias….A few days earlier in Haifa, the Jewish forces had committed the Dir Yassin massacre, a well-publicized bloodbath. The local people were terrorized and further intimidated by explosions set off by Jewish forces in Arab neighborhoods and harassed by sniper fire all around. Very few Palestinians stayed in the city, and their leaders considered the Jewish offer to stay deceitful and hypocritical. Their fear for their lives was accentuated by massacres committed in Balad al-Shaykh, where in January 1948 scores of Palestinians were slaughtered in retaliation fora terrorist attack on Jewish workers in the nearby refinery. Several massacres were committed near the mixed towns, sometimes in retaliation for Palestinian attacks on Jewish convoys, but quite often they were unmitigated acts of brutality. They may have been meant to, as they eventually did, force Palestinians living in areas falling into Jewish hands to flee under the threat of death or eviction. These atrocities were not randomly committed; they were part of a master plan to rid the future state of as many Palestinians as possible.”5

Berger continues: “It is a government ready to go. Those of you who know, are repeating the British experience with the shadow government….The Jews have a government ready to go. The Arabs do not.”

Though this line of reasoning is underdeveloped in the entire class, what Berger insinuates here is that because Jews have a government ready to go they are somehow worthy of statehood on someone else’s land whereas Palestinians are not because they have been colonized for 400 years by the Ottomans. This is not an argument for Jews being allowed to colonize someone else’s land. Palestinian leadership at the time was unable to cope with these unexpected colonial designs on its land from both the English and the Jews as Ilan Pappe explains:

“The Zionist community, by contrast, had achieved more in terms of solidarity and leadership. Its members had moved with relative ease from communal life in small Jewish towns in Eastern Europe to participation in a nationalized community. It used colonialism, both its own and the British version, for this purpose, while the Palestinian leadership needed more time to cope with the dual colonialist designs on the country. The Palestinian leaders, semi-feudal in the countryside and authoritarian in the cities, were unable to transcend the narrow world of the politics of notables. In a situation where political elites fought each other vehemently, this narrowmindedness was tantamount to paralysis and stagnation.”6

Berger continues: “As the date gets closer the Hagana becomes successful in picking disputed territories in their area, in the area allotted to the Jews. As they become more successful we one of the more controversial issues. The Arabs begin to leave. Many Arabs leave. They do not go from the Jewish area to be alloted to the Jews to the Arab area to be allotted to the Arabs. No. They leave the Jewish area and go to neighboring Arab states primarily Lebanon, Syria, and Transjordan. They leave. Now, to be sure, the yeshuv were happy to see them go. Jews were happy to see them go. And there were elements in the Jewish organizations that wanted to hasten it. Because of that we get the single worst atrocity committed by the Jews during this period. Now remember this is all before they name the state because they name the state on May 14th. Now I want to specifically talk about why the massacre takes place. And Jews will do it. There is no doubt about it. Arabs will do their massacres. Jews do their massacres. Americans do their massacres. You can’t find anyone on this planet…everybody has carried out massacres, right? This was the one in Deir Yassin carried out on April 9, 1948. Elements of extremist Jewish groups came into an Arab town that had been partially evacuated, by Arabs on their own, but not completely, and they did kill many civilians. It was horrible. Ben-Gurion condemned it. Everyone in the Jewish yeshuv condemned it.”

There is much that is left out here when discussing massacres in Palestine, but I will highlight some key points here vis-a-vis David Ben-Gurion, who was to be the first Prime Minister of Israel. Here is what Israeli Ilan Pappe has to say about Jewish involvement in massacres and ethnic cleansing a month before the UN Resolution 181 partitioning Palestine: “On 2 November, i.e., almost a month before the UN General Assembly Resolution was adopted, and in a different venue, the Executive of the Jewish Agency, Ben-Gurion spelled out for the first time in the clearest possible terms that ethnic cleansing formed the alternative, or complementary, means of ensuring that the new state would be an exclusively Jewish one. The Palestinians inside the Jewish state, he told his audience, could become a fifth column, and if so ‘they can either be mass arrested or expelled; it is better to expel them.'”7

“The first step was a well-orchestrated campaign of threats. Special units of the Hagana would enter villages looking for ‘infiltrators’ (read ‘Arab volunteers’) and distribute leaflets warning the local people against cooperating with the Arab Liberation Army. Any resistance to such an incursion usually ended with the Jewish troops firing at random and killing several villagers. The Hagana called these incursions ‘violent reconnaissance’ (hasiyur ha-alim). This, too, was part of the legacy of Orde Wingate, who had instructed the Hagana in the use of this terrorist method against Palestinian villagers in the 1930s. In essence the idea was to enter a defenceless village close to midnight, stay there for a few hours, shoot at anyone who dared leave his or her house, and then depart. Even in Wingate’s day this was already intended as a show of force than a punitive action or retaliatory attack.”8

“[Yigal] Allon and [Yehoshua] Palmon now set out to explain the new orientation to their colleagues: there was a need for a more aggressive policy in areas that had been ‘quiet for too long.’ There was no need to persuade Ben-Gurion. By the end of the Long Seminar he had given the green light to a whole series of provocative and lethal attacks on Arab villages, some as retaliation, some not, the intention of which was to cause optimal damage and kill as many villagers as possible. And when he heard that the first targets proposed for the new policy were all in the north, he demanded a trial action in the south as well, but it had to be specific, not general. In this he suddenly revealed himself as a vindictive book-keeper. He pushed for an attack on the town of Beersheba (Beer Sheva today), particularly targeting the heads of al-Hajj Salameh Ibn Said, the deputy mayor and his brother, who in the past had refused to collaborate with the Zionist plans for settlement in the area. There was no need, stressed Ben-Gurion, to distinguish anymore between the ‘innocent’ and the ‘guilty’–the time had come for inflicting collateral damage. [Ezra] Danin recalled years later that Ben-Gurion spelled out what collateral damage meant: ‘Every attack has to end with occupation, destruction and expulsion.'”9

That expulsion, Ilan Pappe tells us, was masterminded under the name Plan Dalet or Plan D. According to Pappe, “it contained direct references both to the geographical parameters of the future Jewish state (the seventy-eight per cent coveted by Ben-Gurion) and to the fate of the one million Palestinians living within that space: ‘These operations can be carried out in the following manner: either by destroying villages (by setting fire to them, by blowing them up, and by planting mines in their rubble), and especially those population centres that are difficult to control permanently; or by mounting combing and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the villages, conducting a search inside them. In case of resistance, the armed forces must be wiped out and the population expelled outside the borders of the state.'”10

Pappe explains that “Plan Dalet was handed down to the brigade commanders not as vague guidelines, but as clear-cut operational orders for action.”11

With respect to the massacre of Deir Yassin that Berger references above, here is what Pappe has to say about it: “The systematic nature of Plan Dalet is manifested in Deir Yassin, a pastoral and cordial village that had reached a non-aggression pact with the Hagana in Jerusalem, but was doomed to be wiped out because it was within the areas designated in Plan Dalet to be cleansed. Because of the prior agreement they had signed with the village, the Hagana decided to send the Irgun and Stern Gang troops, so as to absolve themselves from any official accountability. In the subsequent cleanings of ‘friendly’ villages even this ploy would no longer become necessary.”12

Pappe makes it clear that neither was this massacre of Deir Yassin an isolated incident nor was it unknown to Hagana. Rather, it was planned by the Hagana with coordination from other Jewish terrorist organizations like Irgun and Stern Gang. Moreover, Deir Yassin was not alone in its fate as Pappe makes clear: “Four nearby villages were next–Qalunya, Saris, Beit Surik and Biddu. Taking only an hour or so in each village, the Hagana units blew up the houses and expelled the people.”13

Thus, neither was Ben-Gurion one who castigated the events in Deir Yassin, or any other Palestinian village for that matter, nor did the greater community of Jewish settlers condemn it as Berger claims. Rather, Deir Yassin was one of many massacres that Jewish settlers and armed militias participated in as part of Plan Dalet which was orchestrated to ethnically cleanse Palestine of its indigenous population.

Berger tries to rationalize why Deir Yassin happened: “But why does it happen? In 1929 in the city of Hebron Arabs kill 67 yeshiva students with pipes and machetes. There was no Jewish response to that because it was under British administration. But even in the early days of the 20s when Arab Jewish violence was bad at times, Jews did not commit these massacres. Why now? Why in 1947 we didn’t get one after the Hebron massacre. And the issue is what happened in Europe. as the word had come to Jews as evidence came…Jews felt now the mood had changed. We had to toughen up. This is the new Jew–to create a tough Jew. Not a Jew who simply responds with gratitude and submission. One who responds with anger and ferocity because that’s what seems to make history go. So because of the events in Europe, they carry out a massacre. It’s not the only one in this period, but it is the most significant one carried out by Jews. The Arabs carried out their worst massacre in the war and that is when they wiped out 77 Jewish doctors and nurses that had trucks going to Jerusalem to assist in Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus. This happens. War creates bad things.”

Berger’s use of the Hebron massacre of 1929 leaves out some very crucial details of what happened at the time–particularly the Palestinians saving the lives of their Jewish neighbors–as Israeli journalist and historian Tom Segev points out in his articulation of these events: “David Ben-Gurion compared the massacre in Hebron to the Kishinev pogrom, and he would later use the Nazi expression Judenrein to describe Hebron after the Jews left. ‘The pogrom was committed by Hebrons Arab masses,’ wrote Rehavam Ze’evi, who edited a book on the event. ‘All the Arabs of Hebron did this,’ he noted, ‘[w]ith the exception of individuals who provided shelter for their Jewish neighbors.’ He added the Hebron massacre to the historic roster of anti-Jewish persecutions. ‘Pogroms, slaughters, and massacres have been part of our nation’s history in their Diaspora and now this horrifying spectacle has been repeated in the Land of Israel,’ he wrote. But he was wrong. The murder of Jews in Hebron was not a pogrom in the historic sense. Unlike attacks on the Jews of Eastern Europe, the authorities did not initiate the Hebron riots, and the police did not simply stand aside. Raymond Cafferata did his best, but the Hebron police force was just too weak to be effective. Thirty years later David Ben-Gurion wrote, ‘What can a lone British officer do in a city like Hebron?’ He could have been writing about British rule in Palestine as a whole. The British could do very little…. Most of Hebron’s Jews were saved because Arabs hid them in their homes. The community confirmed this, writing, ‘Had it not been for a few Arab families not a Jewish soul would have remained in Hebron.’ The Zionist Archives preserves lists of Hebron Jews who were saved by Arabs; one list contains 435 names. Over two-thirds of the community, then, found refuge in twenty-eight Arab homes, some of which took in dozens of Jews. ‘Arabs were hurt defending their neighbors,’ one Jew testified afterward. Dr. Abdal Aal, an Egyptian doctor, received a letter of gratitude from Colonel Kisch for the assistance he rendered the Jews of Hebron; in addition to the care he gave the wounded, he himself protected an entire family.”14

The argument Berger puts forward that it was the Nazi Holocaust that changed things on the ground for Jewish massacres against Palestinians is a factor, however, not in the way that Berger claims. Ilan Pappe provides a more specific and accurate context of this: “The Jewish forces did suffer casualties in their attempts to keep the lines open to all the isolated settlements the Zionists had planted in the heart of the Palestinian areas. By the end of January, 400 Jewish settlers had died in these attacks–a high number for a community of 660,000 (but still a much lower number than the 1500 Palestinians who had so far been killed by the random bombardment and shelling of their villages and neighborhoods). These casualties Ben-Gurion now depicted as ‘victims of a second Holocaust.’ The attempt to portray Palestinians, and Arabs in general, as Nazis was a deliberate public relations ploy to ensure that, three years after the Holocaust Jewish soldiers would not lose heart when ordered to cleanse, kill and destroy other human beings.”15

Thus, things did change after the Nazi Holocaust, but what changed was the use of it as a propaganda tool to enable Jewish militias to kill innocent Palestinians. By making claims that everyone commits massacres and that somehow it’s expected does not remove Jewish responsibility and complicity for what happened. That violence occurred on both sides also does not diminish Jewish responsibility as they were the settler colonialists who were taking over Palestinian land for themselves. What occurred in Hebron was about resistance to colonial rule and it would have happened whether it was the English alone colonizing the land or Jews colonizing the land.

Berger continues with his mythologizing: “In Haifa intense fighting between Jews and Arabs led to a successful Jewish take over of Haifa. by the way, many Arabs in Haifa never left. They did not leave. Even though many Arabs–Arab governments encouraged Arabs to leave–and come to Lebanon and they would return in time. Many Arabs did not leave. They stayed. They refugee problem is overwhelmingly Arabs going into the Arab areas of other countries.”

What really happened in Haifa? Let’s see what Ilan Pappe has to say about this: “The new policy [of ethnic cleansing] was also aimed at the urban spaces of Palestine, and Haifa was chosen as the first target. Interestingly, this city is singled out by mainstream Israeli historians and the revisionist historian Benny Morris as an example of genuine Zionist goodwill towards the local population. The reality was very different by the end of 1947. From the morning after the UN Partition Resolution was adopted, the 75,000 Palestinians in the city were subjected to a campaign of terror jointly instigated by the Irgun and the Hagana. As they had only arrived in recent decades, the Jewish settlers had built their houses higher up the mountain. Thus, they lived topographically above the Arab neighborhoods and could easily shell and snipe at them. They had started doing this frequently since early December. They used other methods of intimidation as well: the Jewish troops rolled barrels full of explosives, and huge steel balls, down into the Arab residential areas, and poured oil mixed with fuel down the roads, which they then ignited. The moment panic-stricken Palestinian residents came running out of their homes to try to extinguish these rivers of fire, they were sprayed by machine gun fire. In areas where the two communities still interacted, the Hagana brought cars to Palestinian garages to be repaired, loaded with explosives and detonating devices, and so wreaked death and chaos. A special unit of the Hagana, Hashahar (‘Dawn’), made up of mistarvim–literally Hebrew for ‘becoming Arab,’ that is Jews who disguised themselves as Palestinians–was behind this kind of assault. The mastermind of these operations was someone called Dani Agmon, who headed the ‘Daw’ units. On its website, the official historian of the Palmach puts it as follows: ‘The Palestinians [in Haifa] were from December onwards under siege and intimidation.’ But worse was to come.”16

Pappe further contextualizes events in Haifa: “These operations were accompanied by acts of terrorism by the Irgun and Stern Gang. Their ability to sow fear in Haifa’s Arab neighborhoods and in other cities saw well, was directly influenced by the gradual but obvious British withdrawal from any responsibility for law and order. In the first week of January alone the Irgun executed more terrorist attacks than in any period before. These included detonating a bomb in the Sarraya house in Jaffa, the seat of the local national committee, which collapsed leaving twenty-six people dead. It continued with the bombing of the Samiramis Hotel in Qatamon, in western Jerusalem, in which many people died, including the Spanish consul. This last fact seems to have prompted Sir Alan Cunningham, the last British High Commissioner, to issue a feeble complaint to Ben-Gurion, who refused to condemn the action, either in private or in public. In Haifa such actions were now a daily occurrence…. The national committee of the Palestinians in Haifa appealed again and again to the British, assuming, wrongly, that since Haifa was to be the last station in the British evacuation, they would be able to rely on their protection at least until then. When this failed to materialise, they started sending desperate letters to members of the Arab Higher Committee inside and outside Palestine asking for guidance and help. A small group of volunteers reached the city in January [1948], but by then some of the notables and community leaders had realised that the moment the UN had adopted the Partition Resolution, they were doomed to be dispossessed by their Jewish neighbors. These were people whom they themselves had first invited to come and stay with them back in the late Ottoman period, who had arrived wretched and penniless from Europe, and with whom they had shared a thriving cosmopolitan city–until that fateful decision by the UN. Against this background one should recall the exodus at this time of about 15,000 of Haifa’s Palestinian elite–many of them prosperous merchants whose departure ruined local trade and commerce, thus putting an extra burden on the more impoverished parts of the city.”17

Arab governments encouraging Palestinians to leave is one of the most often repeated myths by Zionists. In reality, it was the fear of massacres spreading to other Palestinian villages, which were so widespread and so horrific in scale, that led Palestinians to flee their homes as Ilan Pappe makes clear in the quote above (footnote 5). With respect to Palestinian citizens of Israel, British journalist Jonathan Cook, who lives in Nazareth, states: “True, the 150,000 Palestinians remaining inside the borders of the new Jewish state after the 1948 war received formal citizenship–a passport and the right to vote in the country’s parliamentary elections–but in every other respect they were non-citizens, stripped of the rights associated with a democracy. They needed a permit from the local military governor to work outside their town or village, or to visit relatives or friends living in other parts of the country; independent newspapers, and political parties and gatherings were banned; Arab teachers were vetted by the Shin Bet security service (as they were until very recently); coercion and torture were used routinely to pressurise Arabs to turn informant for the security services; and political dissidents were deported from the country.”18

Berger continues: “The Jews have always recognized the two state solution from the beginning. The issue is on May 15 neighboring Arab states invade Israel…. The issue of expulsion. Did Israel expel Arabs? They certainly did. Particularly between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. They did. Did Arabs expel Jews? Absolutely. The model of this, accepted by everyone in the world, nobody thought this model was a problem. The reason was the model they were all using in the whole world was India and Pakistan of 1947. The world had created a partition–Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan–and there was to be an exchange of populations and everyone knew there would be expulsions in certain areas. That was the whole idea of expulsion: you go to your area we’ll go to ours. Here’s the problem, unresolved to this very day as of today, not resolved. The Jewish area established by the UN, becomes, as it was intended, becomes an independent Jewish state, Israel. The Arab area does not become an independent because in the war with Israel the Arab states took those areas and had no intention of giving it either to Israel or any other Arab nation and you know what I mean. No independent Palestine for the Arabs.”

As my quotes from Israeli historian Ilan Pappe make clear above, not only did expulsion take place, it was a planned ethnic cleansing known as Plan Dalet and there were a number of massacres that took place in order to hasten the process. It was not a population transfer and it is not at all akin to what took place in India and Pakistan. Consider what Palestinian historian Nur Masalha says on this issue: “Israel has also argued that the Palestinian refugees constituted a population exchange with those Jews who left the Arab world in the 1950s. Although Israel’s case was as mendacious as it was misleading, Israeli spokesmen continued to propagate it at home and abroad and many of Israel’s friends in the West continued to believe it…. In the 1950s a key slogan coined by senior Israeli Foreign Ministry officials was: ‘If you cannot solve it, dissolve it,’ that is to say, if you cannot solve the Palestinian refugee problem as a political problem, you can try to ‘dissolve’ the problem and disperse the refugees through economic means and employment projects. In other words, the problem of the Palestine refugees could and should be solved by an economic approach, mainly through their integration into the economies and societies of their countries of residence and/or through their dispersal throughout the interior of the Arab world. This preoccupation with the need to ‘dissolve’ the refugee problem stemmed from a variety of reasons including the deep fear of Arab ‘return’ and the determination to remove the problem from the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”19

Furthermore Masalha quantifies the expulsion and its effect on Palestinian refugees: “According to [Benny] Morris, 282 of the 330 villages (85 per cent) evacuated were depopulated as a result of direct Jewish attack. However, based on several books published in the last 15 years we have calculated that:

* at least 122 Arab localities were expelled at gunpoint by Jewish forces;
* 270 localities were evacuated under assault by Jewish troops; the tactic of attacking a locality from two directions, but leaving ‘escapes routes’ was particularly perfected by Yigal Allon as a deliberate method to ensure Arab evacuation;
* 38 localities were evacuated out of fear of attack or being caught in the cross-fire;
* 49 localities were vacated under the influence of the fall of a neighboring town;
* 12 were evacuated as a result of psychological warfare methods, spreading rumours and whispering campaigns.”20

What is particularly striking in its absence here is nowhere in Berger’s presentation–nor indeed in anyone’s presentation from the evening was UN Resolution 194 mentioned. Of course, this is the very text in international law that ensures Palestinians right to return to their homes, which was passed in the General Assembly on December 11, 1948. It is Article 11 of that Resolution that is most pertinent here:

“Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours 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 loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”21

unrwa refugee camps

For a symposium supposedly on Arab refugees there was surprisingly little on the subject. It didn’t get better. It got worse with the second presenter, Rabbi Mendel Lifshitz, an Orthodox Rabbi who runs the Chabad Jewish Center in Boise. Instead of focusing on Palestinian refugees he focused on “Jewish refugees,” but not the circumstances that created that problem to begin with. From the beginning he promises to “get us to look at some of the more crucial facts.” But facts are far from present in his Powerpoint. He began with the typical trick of showing Israel on the map to demonstrate how small it is among its “friendly neighbors” and to suggest, by extension, that this tiny piece of land should belong to the Jews because they aren’t asking for much and they must be able to defend themselves in this sea of hostility. Or so their logic goes.

Rabbi Lifshitz frames his presentation with a series of “accusations” against Israel and pretends to refute them. The first one he presents is, “The accusation against Israel is that the Palestinian Arabs are the victims and they are the only victims in this entire conflict and that therefore Israel bears responsibility for their continued suffering.”

Before getting to Lifshitz’s reason why Israel is somehow not responsible for the creation of the Palestinian refugee crisis, it is important to re-examine UN Resolution 194, quoted above. Second, legal scholar Susan Akram identifies an additional culprit: “First, the UN body recognized that it bore a large part of the responsibility for creating the refugee situation in the first place by way of General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) of November 1947, recommending partition of Palestine. Second, the Palestinian refugee problem was to e resolved on the basis of a special formula, that of repatriation and compensation–on which there was complete consensus by all states but Israel–rather than the formula commonly accepted for refugees at the time, which was third-state resettlement. The consensus of the world body, as is evident from the drafting history of the Refugee Convention and related instruments, was that the Palestinian refugee situation required special attention because of the unique responsibility of the UN in creating it, and was of such urgency that it should not be subsumed under the existing refugee regime, but required a heightened protection regime.”22

Lipshitz continues: “The reality is that Jews suffered terribly. It wasn’t just Arabs that suffered. Jews suffered. This is war. War is nasty, it’s not fun. No one is promoting war, but that is what happens. And the Jews were also refugees, many many hundreds of thousands of Jews. The difference is what is the response. What’s the response of the Arab world for the Arab refugees and what’s the response of the Jewish world for the Jewish refugees. And that is where we will see the primary distinction. The Jews were welcomed into their land. Millions and millions of dollars were raised to bring them to Israel, to absorb them, to set them up, to inculcate them into society. The Arabs were specifically allowed to fester. They were the bargaining chip for all the Arab countries. Instead of helping them, reaching out to them, allowing them to grow, what did the Arab states do? Lock them up in their camps.”

Iraqi Jewish Israeli scholar Ella Habiba Shohat offers quite a different perspective on what it means to have left Iraq for Israel: “Within Israel, for at least four decades, performing even a symbolic return within the public sphere–the expression of nostalgia for an Arab past–became taboo. Meanwhile, the propagandistic description of the dislocation of Arab-Jews as a ‘population exchange,’ which supposedly justifies the creation of Palestinian refugees, is also fundamentally problematic. It elides the simple fact that neither Arab-Jews nor Palestinians were ever consulted about whether they wanted to be exchanged.”23

Palestinian refugees may remain in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip, but their presence there is decidedly linked to their desire to hold on to their right of return under UN Resolution 194. While conditions in these camps is abysmal–including those in the Occupied Territories, which are under Israeli control–the notion that Arab Jews were welcomed into the state of Israel is quite an exaggeration. Ilan Pappe explains: “In the makeshift hut camps for newly arrived immigrants, in the slums of the big towns, and in the newly isolated settlements near the borders, Mizrahi (Arab) Jews did not have time or leisure to deal with past horrors being preoccupied with their current hardships. The past was even less relevant to the Palestinian citizens confined within the military-ruled areas in the Galilee and Wadi Ara’. These Arabs, Jews, Muslims and Christians made up almost half the overall population in Israel. The new alliance with Germany, however spawned new financial realities, increasing the sense of deprivation and dismay. German reparations, while justifiably allowing many European Jews in Israel to prosper, widened the gap between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews even further. Thee sense of inferiority attached to anyone Arab, whether Jewish or Palestinian, was reinforced by the state’s cultural policy. A monolithic culture of memory developed that repressed the experiences of marginalized groups within society. The economic policy, their exclusion from the cultural canon and their encroachment on the social and geographical margins of society alienated the Mizrahi Jews, particularly from Morocco, as well as the Israeli Palestinians.”24

And, although Lipshitz does not bring up the Nazi Holocaust, it is worth mentioning that Jews arriving in the new state of Israel did not fare much better than Arab Jews in this context of supposed brotherly love he tries to paint. Instead, consider Ilan Pappe’s account of how Jews feeling Nazism were treated by Israel: “Survivors of the Holocaust who arrived in Israel after 1948 were similarly received [compared to Arab Jews] by absorption officials. Holocaust survivors were particularly loathed by native Israelis, who regarded them and their whole experience as the antithesis of Zionism and its heroic struggle in Palestine. Like the Arab Jews, these European Jews were callously put in camps that must have reminded many of them of concentration camps, even though physically there was no resemblance whatsoever. They were also put through a humiliating process of decontamination and medical treatment, which included mass spraying with detergents such as DDT.”25 This scenario should be viewed in the context of Berger’s claims about Jews becoming “tough”; treatment of survivors of Nazi Europe were deemed the antithesis of tough and therefore mistreated by the state.

Lipshitz continues: “Over 850,000 Jews from predominantly Arab countries come to Israel in the years following 1948–between roughly 1948 and 1954. Why did they come? Because they weren’t welcome anymore where they had been. Most of them had to smuggle out out of fear of death because of riots. Most Jews lost their assets. Their assets were frozen or confiscated never to be returned. In fact riots killed hundreds and hundreds of Jews, wounding over thousands and Jews’ rights were severely restricted in the countries where they weren’t allowed to stay.”

Lipshitz briefly mentions Jews from Yemen, Morocco, Syria, Lebanon, and Algeria before delving into Jews from Iraq: “The largest contingent came from Iraq. Let’s look at Iraq as an example of what was going on. They had been living there for how long? Millennia. Over two millennia. All of a sudden we are no longer welcome there. Zionism became a capital crime. Punishable by death. Anti-Jewish rioting causes hundreds of deaths in the late 1940s. 130,000 of them in two different operations called Ezra and Nehemiah end up coming to Israel. This is the Jewish response to the persecution of Jews by Arabs. The model that was going on in the world was population exchange and while atrocities did occur to Jewish people. It’s unfortunate, it’s sad, it’s terrible, but as many scholars have argued look back and the numbers are eerily identical. According to the UN 472,000 Arabs were displaced. According to the highest number it was 810,000 Arabs were displaced during the 48 war and approximately 850,000 Jewish refugees came from Arab lands. So if you want to talk about population exchanges the Hindus and Muslims in India and Pakistan as a model here the numbers were much more equal. The discrepancy I believe in India and Pakistan was over 2 million in the population exchanges and 7 million in the conflict there, here it was much more even if you want to look at it from that perspective. The other ones are much larger scale and still they manage to do it. Yes, it’s terrible, but you move on. Try to get a life for yourself as opposed to instead of allowing the situation to continue and continue and continue which is what the Arabs did.”

As quoted above, Shohat states what she thinks about the “propaganda” of population exchange. But let’s take a closer look at what precipitated these events leading Arab Jews, especially from Iraq, to leave the countries where they had lived for so many generations. Sociologist Jan Abu Shakrah points out that: “The 1948 war brought political unrest and economic instability as well as the imposition of martial law, which affected all Iraqis. No specifically anti-Jewish laws were passed, but the position of Iraqi Jews began to deteriorate. Large numbers of Jews were dismissed from public service, restrictions on travel abroad and disposal of property were instituted, and Jewish banks were deprived of licenses to deal with foreign exchange, presumably because of attempts to channel funds abroad illegally. Martial law, which was lifted at the end of 1949, mainly targeted Communists, with a secondary focus on Zionist activity.”26

Further, Abu Shakrah tells us that there were two main factors leading up to Jewish emigration from Iraq: “The first was pressure, primarily from Britain and the United States, for a transfer or population exchange proposal to resettle 100,000 Palestinians in Iraq in exchange for 100,000 Iraqi Jews to be resettled in Israel…. The second factor that facilitated the Iraqi Jewish exodus was the enactment of Law 1/1950 known as the denaturalization law, and its annex, ‘Ordinance for the Cancellation of Iraqi Nationality’ (Law 62/1933).”27 Importantly, Abu Shakrah points out that “Iraqi officials expected no more than 7,000-10,000 to leave under the 1950 law, and they believed that it would undermine Zionist propaganda against the Iraqi government. The law placed no restrictions on property, despite the urging of Britain and some Iraqis that such restrictions would be appropriate retaliation for the seizure of Palestinian properties.”28

But what is most compelling in the so-called “population exchanges” that Rabbi Lipshitz describes is the Israeli-sponsored terrorist activities against Jews in Iraq as a way to hasten Iraqi Jewish emigration. Abu Shakrah explains: “Before 1950, Iraqi Jews were highly unlikely to go to Israel. ‘Operation Ali Baba’ changed that. This organized campaign to bring Iraqi Jews to Israel relied on extensive propaganda internationally and in Iraq’s Jewish community, as well as two other programmes. The first was an evacuation plan negotiated by Shlomo Hillel (an Iraqi-born Mossad agent who later served as a minister in several Labour governments as well as Speaker of the Israeli Knesset) with Iraqi Prime Minister al-Suwaidi…. The second crucial component of ‘Operation Ali Baba’ was a series of five bomb attacks on Jewish targets from April 1950 through June 1951. Only 14 months into the bombing campaign did Iraqi officials finally uncover the spy ring responsible for the attacks and make the first arrests, which included an Israeli officer and a British subject who was also a Mossad agent. Explosives, papers and plans uncovered at the time confirmed the intent of the ring to terrorize Jews and force them to immigrate to Israel.”29

Lipshitz continues: “It never caused the type of strife that it causes now why the Arabs? Why is that so? Why is it only on one side of the equation. It is because the Arabs who were the initial occupiers and rulers of those refugees caused that problem. The Jews were not in charge of those refugees whatsoever. Egypt and Lebanon did not allow them entering into their countries except in refugee camps. That was the only place they were allowed to live. This whole situation would have been totally avoided if they would have accepted the partition plan. But instead, they lived in refugee camps and none of them throughout all those years organized an effort to ask for their liberation. Why didn’t they demand a state? Self-determination. The reason is because this was not about making a Palestinian state. It was about Jews versus Arabs. Arabs versus Jews. And if we keep them in refugee camps then the Arabs can have an ultimatum against Jews. Then we can re-take the land and put them back there where they belong. All the neighboring countries except for Jordan who annexed the land did not allow them to become citizens in their land, did not let them settle. Jordan does grant them citizenship as it annexes the land.”

This claim above is already refuted earlier with respect to why Palestinians rejected partition. They were rejecting colonization of their land, which they had a right to do. Moreover, Palestinians had been arguing for self-determination–since President Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Point Plan made the case for the rights of nations to do so. What Lipshitz does is confuses several points: Palestinians as different than the broader category of Arab; Palestinian civil rights in Arab host countries where they are refugees; and Palestinian and Arab aspirations. These aspirations, particularly of refugees, are those under UN Resolution 194. However, because return to their homes would upset the delicate demographic balance of Israel’s Jewish character this remains threatening to Zionists. Instead, he blames the victim for their circumstances; I wonder if we were to do the same for Jews who suffered in the Nazi Holocaust what might be said of us?

Lipshitz continues: “The Jewish refugees were integrated the land. And might I tell you they came from more diverse backgrounds than the Arabs. They came from all different parts of the world. They were numerous nationalities. In fact, there was a lot of trouble integrating them into Israeli society. There were a lot of clashes in the predominantly European Jews living in Israel at the time and the predominantly Sephardic Middle Eastern Jews who were the new arrivals in Israel. nonetheless, they put their differences aside…. Their civil rights were never denied by their host country, namely Israel, even though it was tough and there was discrimination between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews they all managed to eventually get along. And these Jews were never paid back for all their losses. In fact, if you extrapolate they had left behind $2.5 billion worth of assets.”

These claims have also been refuged above in the preceding paragraphs.

Lipshitz continues mythologizing: “Egypt came in and occupied Gaza. from 1948 until 1967 when Israel won the Six Day War. During that entire time we don’t find any effort by these Arabs living in these refugee camps to ask for any liberation, any nationality. And in fact like we mentioned earlier there was no mechanism in place in the first place. They were against having an Arab state because their only objective was to drive the Jews into the sea. And that is why they kept refugees in camps and did not let them into their country. Jordan was different. Jordan came forward and instead of just occupying the West Bank, Jordan actually annexed the West Bank in 1950 until they lost the Six Day War. They prohibited people from referring to themselves as Palestinian. On your citizenship papers you could not write that you were Palestinian. King Hussein was very worried. He was a minority Hashemite ruler over a majority Palestinian people. He said we have to get rid of this notion of Palestine from their minds; they are Arabs they are Jordanians. And of course similarly in the West Bank they embraced their new state. They became Jordanians and there wasn’t a word about becoming Palestinian. And that continues today.”

Likewise this claim is refuted above with respect to why partition was refused given that it involved accepting foreign colonial rulers onto indigenous Palestinian land. But with respect to the preceding claims about Palestinian refugees and their context, Ilan Pappe explains: “Three-quarters of a million Palestinians became refugees. This was almost 90 per cent of those living in what was designated as the Jewish state. By the winter of 1948, they were already in tents provided by international charity organizations, warmed only by the UN resolution promising them a quick return to their homes. Those living in the Gaza Strip became acquainted with Egyptian military rule, harsh at the time, but mostly indifferent, in a packed area that included the largest segment of the refugee community. Those in the West Bank who were still in their own homes and had retained their connection to the Hashemites carved out a new political and economic future for themselves. Those who found themselves as refugees there [sic] were crammed into tented camps, living off charity and solidarity. Those who still hoped for an independent Palestine soon encountered the rough treatment of the Hashemite secret service and police, but later succeeded in creating a national political infrastructure for independent action.”30

As for the various contexts of Palestinians living in their host countries, Ilan Pappe explains: “While the international deliberation over the refugees’ future bore no fruit, some Arab countries had to take swift decisions and formulate their own policies towards the refugees in their countries, since their presence dramatically changed delicate religious balances, as in Lebanon, or ethnic ones, as in Jordan, where there was a strong possibility that the refugees’ arrival and the annexation of the West Bank would lead to the country’s Palestinization. Abdullah of Jordan was keenly aware of this danger and set out to assimilate the Palestinians. From the beginning refugees in Jordan were allowed occupational freedom, and were also entitled to leave the camps, provided they show loyalty to the regime. This was coupled with a ruthless elimination of any real or imagined manifestations of an alternative Palestinian identity in the newly enlarged kingdom.”31

To be clear, Lipshitz’s inference here, as with most Zionists, is that since Palestinians are not treated well in Arab countries that Israel should somehow be let off the hook for its complicity (which should already be abundantly clear at this point) for its ethnic cleansing, massacres, and mass expulsion of Palestinian refugees.

Lipshitz makes his final “accusation”: “Israel is a racist state. Why is Israel a racist state? Because it allows Jews to come into the land but prohibits Arabs from returning. What is the reality? The reality is that all the states in the Middle East have officially established religions. Yes, it is a Jewish state, it is not simply a generic democracy. It is a Jewish democracy. But it is the most democratic state in the entire region. And in fact it gives the most freedom to adherents of other religions. The Law of Return, by the way, is in place in many countries around the world. It is not a unique Israeli system in place. Germany allows back all Germans. This is universal, it is not a Jewish gimmick here. In Israel non Jews may indeed become citizens. In fact, they serve in parliament. Arabs, there are 12 Arabs in the Israeli Knesset. Is that not democracy? And, of course, no country would welcome a hostile people into their midst. If the Palestinian Arabs do not recognize Israel then that means they are enemies of Israel.”

In spite of these grandiose claims, as with other forms of discrimination mentioned above, particularly with respect to Arab Jews, one Palestinian Israeli Knesset member highlights the way that Lipshitz’s claims are far removed from reality as English journalist Jonathan Cook explains, “In the late 1990s an Arab Member of the Knesset and a former philosophy professor, Azmi Bishara, offered the Palestinian minority a new political slogan: he called for Israel’s reinvention from a Jewish state into a ‘state for all its citizens.’ An idea that had until then remained largely an obscure academic talking point quickly became a rallying cry for the minority. Decades of privileges for Jewish citizens had to end, Bishara and others demanded, and a common bond of Israeli citizenship for Jews and Arabs be forged instead. Land and budgets should be allocated on the basis of need instead of ethnic belonging, a long-standing discriminatory policy of house demolitions enforced only against Arab homeowners should be halted, control of Arab education and culture should be placed in the hands of Arab institutions, and racist employment practices that excluded Palestinian citizens from large sections of the Israeli economy should be made illegal.”32

Further, Jonathan Cook highlights the ways in which an ethnic-religious government is antithetical to “democracy”: “Aware of the extent of the discrimination inside Israel, however, other Israeli academics developed the model of ‘ethnic democracy,’ a supposedly rare species of democratic state in which power was exclusively exercised by the ethnic majority to ensure taht the rights of the minority were subordinate to those of the majority, but which nonetheless still operated within the parameters of democratic behavior. Only belatedly, in the late 1990s, did dissident Israeli intellectuals begin challenging this comforting picture. Most notably, Oren Yiftachel, a political geographer from Ben Gurion University in the Negev, referred to Israel as an ‘ethnocracy,’ arguing that Israel’s continuing repression of the Palestinian minority, its policy of Judaising all public space, its undefined borders and inclusion of extra-territorial Jewish settlers within its body politic, the enduring influence of the Jewish diaspora and international Zionist organisations inside Israel, and its lack of laws ensuring equality and protection of minority rights disqualified Israel from being a democracy. Ethnocracies, he noted, ‘are neither authoritarian nor democratic. Such regimes are states which maintain a relatively open government, yet facilitate a non-democratic seizure of the country and polity by one ethnic group. Ethnocracies, despite exhibiting several democratic features, lack a democratic structure.”33

Moreover, Israel does not have a constitution, something that most people in the world consider a requirement for claiming democracy. Jonathan Cook explains that “Instead of a constitution, Israel has 11 Basic Laws, none of which guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of religion, or most importantly, equality. The Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty, passed in 1992 and the nearest thing Israel has to a Bill of Rights, fails to include equality among the rights it enumerates, instead emphasizing the values of the state as ‘Jewish and democratic.’ As a result, state-organised discrimination cannot be easily be challenged in the courts. Repeated attempts by Arab Knesset members to introduce an amendment to the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty incorporating the principle of equality have been rejected by an overwhelming majority of Jewish MKs. (In any case, since the 1948 war Israel has never revoked a state of emergency that allows gross violations of human rights inside Israel.)”34

The final speaker for the evening was Rabbi Dan Fink, a reformed rabbi who defines himself as a member of “the American political left.” He began his presentation by contradicting Rabbi Lifshitz who claimed that there was no effort by Palestinians for any sort of liberation movement by stating, “June 2, 1964 the PLO is formed. It is formed out of existing terrorist organizations. Organizations of Palestinians living in the refugee camps in the territories that are under Egyptian and Jordanian rule. And the charter of the PLO from the start from day one calls for the elimination of the state of Israel. If you look at the emblem, the flag, the symbol of the PLO from day one there is a map of what they envision to be Palestine. It is not the West Bank which was then a part of Jordan. It’s not Gaza, which was then a part of Egypt. It’s the entirety of the state of Israel. From day one the goal of the Palestinian Liberation Organization is to drive the Jews into the sea and take the land. This is what the Palestinian proclamation states.”

What Fink fails to realize in quoting from the PLO’s charter is that the intention was not to drive Jews into the sea as Zionist mythology would have it. Rather, as Article 6 of the charter states: “The Jews who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion will be considered Palestinians.”35 The fact that the PLO’s charter and symbols envision a Palestinian state that is complete does not mean that they call for the annihilation of Jews. Instead, it calls for Palestinians right to their land which was colonized by foreign invaders. His logic inverts reality as it was the Zionists who drove Palestinians from their land. In this distorted logic he plays the game that most Zionist play which is to equate Israel with all Jews.

Fink moves from this into in his characterization of the end of 1967 war: “Israel holds Sinai, the entire Sinai peninsula, Israel took the Golan Heights from Syria, Israel controls the West Bank of the Jordan River, which had previously been under the Jordanians. So what did Israelis do under this new reality? From day one the Israelis are ready and eager to make peace. The Israelis are ready to give up Sinai, the Golan, and most though not all of the West Bank. The Allon Plan, General Yigal Allon, is designed to have a plan that is designed to give up the centers of population in the majority of the land in the West Bank, but to keep enough given the history so that Israel will have safe, defensible borders. The United Nations passes a resolution, Resolution 242, this is what Resolution 242 says and it’s important because it is quoted all the time to this day: ‘the Security Council affirms that fulfillment of Charter principles requiring the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include both of the following principles: (i) withdrawal of Israeli forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.’

Fink continues: “And in diplomacy every word counts. The word is territories. It is not the territories. And that was a conscious point of the negotiation. The elimination of the definite article ‘the,’ which is to say Israel was not required and is not required by Resolution 242 to relinquish every square inch of ground conquered in their defensive war in 1967. Territories. Not the territories and “(ii) that is conditioned, not surprisingly, a termination of all claims or states of belligerency in acknowledgement of sovereignty of every state in the nation and their right to live in peace with secure borders.”

Tellingly, just as all of the speakers fail to mention UN Resolution 194, Fink’s quoting from UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967 leaves important parts out in general, and specific words in particular. The actual resolution reads as follows:

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 fulfilment [sic[ of the 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 Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;

(ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace with 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.”36

There are a number of words left out of Fink’s characterization of UN Resolution 242, but most importantly, given what they promised to discuss in this “class” is the clause referring to Palestinian refugees.

Fink continues: “So Israel holds onto this land and by the terms of Resolution 242, what does it say? We give back the land you give us secure borders and peace. From day one the question is land for peace and we are willing to give up land for peace…. We offer land for peace and what is the Arab response? No land for peace, no peace, no negotiations. No peace with Israel, no negotiations, no recognition of Israel…. The Palestinian charter rejects partition and as Abba Eban a dovish Israeli diplomat says this is one more example of ‘the Arabs never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.'”

What really happened in relation to Fink’s claim about offers of peace in the aftermath of the 1967 war, which created a new Palestinian refugee population and placed Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip under Israeli occupation? Israeli historian Avi Shliam tells us that on June 13th Abba Eban, Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon, and Israel Galilee met to discuss “Israel’s terms for a peace settlement with its neighbors. A broad consensus emerge din favor of peace with Egypt and Syria on the basis of the international border and withdrawal from heavily populated areas of the West Bank…. The decision of 19 June read, ‘Israel proposes the conclusion of a peace agreement with Egypt based on the international border and the security needs of Israel.’ The international border placed the Gaza Strip within Israel’s territory. Israel’s conditions for peace were: (1) guarantee of freedom of navigation in the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba; (2) guarantee of freedom of navigation in the Suez Canal; (3) guarantee of overflight rights in the Straights of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba; and (4) the demilitarization of the Sinai peninsula. The decision also proposed the conclusion of a peace treaty with Syria, based on the international border and the security needs of Israel. The conditions for peace with Syria were (1) demilitarization of the Golan Heights and (2) absolute guarantee of noninterference with the flow of water from the sources of the river Jordan to Israel. Finally, the cabinet agreed to defer a decision on the position to be taken with regard to Jordan. The cabinet decision was taken unanimously. The cabinet decision of 19 June was communicated to Abba Eban in New York, where he had gone to enlist American support for the forthcoming debate at the United Nations. This was very close to the views he had expressed in the earlier sessions prior to his departure. ‘I was surprised,’ writes Eban in his autobiography, ‘by the spacious approach which [Levi] Eshkol now authorized me to communicate to the United States for transmission to Arab governments.’ Eban met Secretary of State Dean Rusk on 21 June and outlined to him Israel’s proposals for a final peace. According to Eban’s account, Rusk and his colleagues could hardly believe what he was saying: ‘Here was Israel, on the very morrow of her victory, offering to renounce most of her gains in return for the simple condition of a permanent peace. This was the most dramatic initiative ever taken by an Israeli government before or since 1967, and it had a visibly strong impact on the United States.’ Eban goes on to report, ‘A few days later replies came back through Washington stating that Egypt and Syria completely rejected the Israeli proposal. Their case was that Israel’s withdrawal must be unconditional.’ The American record of the meeting confirms that Rusk considered the Israeli terms as not ungenerous but makes no mention of a request by Eban to transmit the terms to Egypt and Syria. Nor is there confirmation form Egyptian or Syrian sources that they received a conditional Israeli offer of withdrawal through the State Department in late June 1967. One is left with the impression that Eban was more interested in using the cabinet decision of 19 June to impress the Americans than to engage the governments of Egypt and Syria in substantive negotiations.”37

Thus, Fink’s characterization of a generous offer of offering land for peace is neither as simplistic as he makes it out to be nor is it a real land for peace deal given the number of conditions attached and the fact that Palestinians are completely left out of the equation. True to form, this Zionist forum continues the practice of outright deception, lies by omission, and deep mythologizing that elides Palestinians their rights to their land, including the right to return to that land.


1 Ilan Pappe, A Modern History of Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 73.
2 Ilan Pappe, A Modern History of Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 124.
3 Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. (New York: Penguin, 2000), 25.
4 Ilan Pappe, A Modern History of Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 211.
5 Ilan Pappe, A Modern History of Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 130-131.
6 Ilan Pappe, A Modern History of Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 87.
7 Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. (Oxford: One World, 2006), 49.
8 Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. (Oxford: One World, 2006), 55-56.
9 Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. (Oxford: One World, 2006), 64.
10 Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. (Oxford: One World, 2006), 82.
11 Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. (Oxford: One World, 2006), 83.
12 Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. (Oxford: One World, 2006), 90.
13 Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. (Oxford: One World, 2006), 91.
14 Tom Segev, One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate. (New York: Owl Books, 2000), 325-326.
15 Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. (Oxford: One World, 2006), 72.
16 Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. (Oxford: One World, 2006), 58.
17 Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. (Oxford: One World, 2006), 60-61.
18 Jonathan Cook, Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State. (London: Pluto Books, 2006), 7.
19 Nur Masalha, “The Historical Roots of the Palestinian Refugee Question.” In Palestinian Refugees and the Right of Return. Ed. Naseer Aruri. (London: Pluto Books, 2001), 52-53.
20 Nur Masalha, “The Historical Roots of the Palestinian Refugee Question.” In Palestinian Refugees and the Right of Return. Ed. Naseer Aruri. (London: Pluto Books, 2001), 45.
22 Susan M. Akram “Reinterpreting Palestinian Refugee Rights Under International Law.” In Palestinian Refugees and the Right of Return. Ed. Naseer Aruri. (London: Pluto Books, 2001), 173-174.
23 Ella Shohat, Taboo Memories, Diasporic Voices. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 340.
24 Ilan Pappe, A Modern History of Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 175.
25 Ilan Pappe, A Modern History of Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 179.
26 Jan Abu Shakrah, “Deconstructing the Link: Palestinian Refugees and Jewish Immigrants from Arab Countries.” In Palestinian Refugees and the Right of Return. Ed. Naseer Aruri. (London: Pluto Books, 2001), 210.
27 Jan Abu Shakrah, “Deconstructing the Link: Palestinian Refugees and Jewish Immigrants from Arab Countries.” In Palestinian Refugees and the Right of Return. Ed. Naseer Aruri. (London: Pluto Books, 2001), 210.
28 Jan Abu Shakrah, “Deconstructing the Link: Palestinian Refugees and Jewish Immigrants from Arab Countries.” In Palestinian Refugees and the Right of Return. Ed. Naseer Aruri. (London: Pluto Books, 2001), 210-211.
29 Jan Abu Shakrah, “Deconstructing the Link: Palestinian Refugees and Jewish Immigrants from Arab Countries.” In Palestinian Refugees and the Right of Return. Ed. Naseer Aruri. (London: Pluto Books, 2001), 211.
30 Ilan Pappe, A Modern History of Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 139.
31 Ilan Pappe, A Modern History of Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 144.
32 Jonathan Cook, Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State. (London: Pluto Books, 2006), 9.
33 Jonathan Cook, Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State. (London: Pluto Books, 2006), 12-13.
34 Jonathan Cook, Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State. (London: Pluto Books, 2006), 18.
37 Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. (New York: Penguin, 2000), 253-254.


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