Zionism's legacy of ethnic cleansing
by Jean Shaoul
23 January 2001
While Israel continues to deny Palestinians the right of return, one of
the first pieces of legislation passed by the new state was the Law of
Return, enabling Jews from all over the world to come and live in Israel.
In the aftermath of the Second World War there were hundreds of thousands
of Jews living in desperate conditions in displaced persons camps
throughout Europe, as well as many others facing rampant anti-Semitism and
discrimination. With few countries willing to take them, Israel provided
their only possibility of a home.
The Israeli legislation was not simply a humanitarian measure aimed at
providing a refuge for Jews facing persecution, however. Immigration to
provide manpower was vital if the fledgling state was to survive and its
businesses were to have access to cheap labour. The Zionist state
therefore actively encouraged the immigration of Jews to Israel and
between 1948 and 1952 the Jewish population doubled.
After an initial huge influx of Jews from Eastern Europe, Stalin initiated
a vicious anti-Semitic campaign; Jews faced frame-up trials and the doors
were closed to Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union. So Israel turned
to the Jews living in the Middle East and North Africa for new sources of
It used all means at its disposal to achieve this, going far beyond what
would generally be considered encouragemen.
The case of the Iraqi Jews is the most well known, and is documented in
several books (see Moshe Gat's The Jewish Exodus from Iraq 1948-1951 and
Shlomi Hillel's Operation Babylon). The Zionist underground, backed by
Mossad le-Aliya, the forerunner of the Israeli security service, sent
agents provocateurs abroad to create conditions whereby Jews would leave
their homes and come to Israel. As a result of Mossad activities, in the
space of a few weeks more than 120,000 Jews almost the entire community in
Iraq were forced to leave their homes and possessions for Israel. Until
the onset of Zionist-Palestinian conflict and the inflaming of political
tensions by Britain's stooge regime under King Feisal and Prime Minister
Nuri Said in Iraq, Jews had lived there without incident for 2,500 years,
since the Babylonian exile from biblical Palestine.
Israel was not the destination of choice for the Iraqi Jews. A privileged
few, those with money and connections, went to the West. But the majority
lived in Israeli camps, where food and medicines were in short supply,
until homes in development towns could be built on the ruins of
In subsequent years, entire communities of Jews from all over the Middle
East and North Africa, who had had no interest in Zionism and had not
faced discrimination or the anti-Semitism so prevalent in Europe, came to
Israel They now form the majority in Israel. Both the size and speed of
this exodus gives rise to the suspicion that in some cases at least, deals
were done. Morocco's King Hassan was subsequently able to call on Mossad's
services in Paris to dispose of Ben Barka, a political opponent, in
circumstances that have never been clarified. The Royalist forces in Yemen
received support from the Israeli Defence Force in their murderous civil
war against the Republicans who were backed by Egypt's Nasser.
Thus, irrespective of their stated motives and intentions, and despite
their anti-Israeli rhetoric, the viability of the Zionist state was
crucially dependent upon the actions of the Arab bourgeoisie.
Today the population of Israel has grown to over 6 million, including more
than 1 million Russians who left after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It is widely believed that many of these are non-Jews, who were desperate
to escape the widespread poverty and misery that followed Russia's
economic collapse. This in turn has infuriated the religious authorities,
who fear the diminution of their power.
At the very least, the enormous expansion of Israel's population refutes
any claim that there was not enough room in Israel-Palestine or the means
to support an enlarged Palestinian citizenry. The crucial question for
Zionism was that the expansion has been Jewish and at the expense of the
Palestinians. Those Palestinians who continued to live inside Israel have
been treated as second-class citizens: Israeli Palestinians do not have
the same rights as Israeli Jews. Ninety-three percent of the land is now
characterised as Jewish land, meaning that no non-Jew is allowed to lease,
sell or buy it. Thus the Land Rules have not just made the Palestinians
into refugees, they have also worked to dispossess them of their property
within Israel itself. Furthermore until 1966, Palestinian Israelis were
ruled by military ordinance.
The Six-Day War and Israeli military occupation
After the Six-Day War in June 1967, when Israel seized East Jerusalem, the
West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights in Syria, many Palestinians became
refugees for a second time. They were forced to leave their homes and flee
to Jordan and the Lebanon. Palestinian resistance to the military
occupation that followed the war provoked a brutal response from the
Israeli army. Whole villages were razed to the ground and families
expelled. This vicious sequence was repeated over and over again as the
Israelis drove the Palestinians further away from their original homes.
The Palestinian-Israeli scholar Nur Masalha details how the Zionists
planned and implemented programmes to rid the Promised Land of its
native people in his book A Land without a People: Israel, Transfer and
the Palestinians, 1949-96. He explains that this policy continued well
after the 1948-49 war and involved not just the politicians and military
forces, but also Israeli intellectuals. It included transfer, massacres as
in the case of Kfir Qasim housing demolitions and expulsions.
Jewish settlements were established in the newly occupied lands within
weeks of the war, not by right-wing zealots but by the party of
government, the Labour Party. As Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell explains
in his book The Founding Myths of Israel,Despite the impression that
some of the founders of the labour movement, motivated by internal
political struggles, have attempted to create, everyone in the
coalition both the founders and their successors were united in pursuing a
policy of fait accompli in the occupied territories. Despite the divisions
in the Mapai [Labour] since the mid-1940s, the family of Mapai remained
true to the doctrine of never giving up a position or a territory unless
one is compelled by a superior force
As Sternhell explains, while the then Prime Minister Levi Eshkol feared
the consequences of such a move, he had no ideological alternative to
offer. His failure to prevent the colonising of the Occupied Territories
stemmed not from personal weaknesses, but from the fact that he had no
response to the Zionist argument that if Jews could live in the Arab towns
and neighbourhoods of Jaffa and Haifa and consider them their legitimate
homes, there was no reason to prevent them living in Palestinian Nablus or
According to Sternhell, Golda Meir, who followed Eshkol as prime minister,
was chosen precisely because she wholeheartedly embraced the nationalist
perspective of the Labour Zionists and appealed to history as proof of the
legitimacy, morality and exclusivity of the Jewish people's right to the
country. For her, there was room for only one national movement in
Palestine a Jewish one. This was why she prohibited the use of terms such
as Palestinian national movemen and Palestinian state'' on Israeli
state radio and television.
The promulgation by the government of literally hundreds of occupiers'
laws directly contravened not only the tenets of the United Nations'
Universal Declaration of Human Rights but the Geneva Conventions as well.
These violations of basic democratic rights included administrative
detention, mass land expropriations, forced movement of populations, and
Palestinians were made homeless and whole areas were ethnically cleansed
so that Israelis, often new immigrants, could be housed. Initially it was
only the right-wing zealots, determined to colonise the West Bank (known
as Judea and Samaria in biblical Palestine), who came to the new
settlements. But it was only possible to populate them by offering
financial inducements, in the form of subsidies and tax rebates, to
encourage poor Israelis to settle there who otherwise had no chance of
obtaining decent, affordable housing. Even after talks to reach a
negotiated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulted in the
1993 Oslo Accords, settlement building did not abate. The opposite
occurred, it increased, transforming the demography of the West Bank and
As a result of the 1967 Six-Day War and Israeli reprisals against those
suspected of supporting the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), many
Palestinians fled to Jordan. Three years later, many were hounded out of
Jordan in a military campaign by King Hussein, aided by Israel, in what
became known as Black September, and fled to Lebanon.
The Israeli invasions of Lebanon in 1978 and 1982 created further
displacements as the Palestinians left their homes in southern Lebanon and
moved to Beirut to avoid Israeli air raids. Many Palestinians thus became
refugees several times over. Israel's 18-year occupation of southern
Lebanon was accompanied by frequent aerial bombardments that destroyed
countless Arab homes and villages. The Palestinians, despite their
expulsion from their homes in 1948 and 1967, were never safe from the
extended arm of Israel's military and secret service, even in their place
Palestinian homes were no more sacrosanct in Jerusalem the eternal and
undivided capital of Israel, according to the Zionists. Under vaguely
defined and discriminatory rules, Palestinians who live there lose their
residency rights if they are unable to prove that Jerusalem is the centre
of their life. The loss of residency rights means expulsion from
Jerusalem and exile to a village in the West Bank, where access to
Jerusalem is denied.
1993 Oslo Accords
The Labour politicians Shimon Peres who played a major role in securing
the Oslo agreement in 1993 and Yitzhak Rabin who signed the accords did
not do so because of some Damascene conversion to the legitimacy of
Palestinian national rights. An agreement offered the most rational
solution to the conflict from the perspective of Israel's own national
interests. They postponed the resolution of the most difficult issues the
refugee question and the status of Jerusalem to later talks, in the hope
of first getting agreement on borders and land transfers.
The right-wing opposition within Israel has obstructed every step of the
protracted Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. In the final analysis,
despite the majority of Israelis supporting an end to the conflict, the
Labour Party and its liberal and secular supporters have been unable to
oppose the right-wing fundamentalists. The relationship between the
secular Labourites, the peace movement and the religious nationalists is
much closer than might appear on the surface. All share a perspective
based on upholding claims to an historical and religious Jewish right to
Palestine, which dictated the Palestinian expulsions and precludes the
recognition of similar rights for the Palestinians.
The liberal historian Benny Morris, who has quite correctly exposed the
way Israel forcibly ejected the Palestinians from their homes in order to
establish the Zionist state, exemplifies this outlook. His nationalist
perspective renders him blind to the logical implications of his own work.
He wrote in Britain's Guardian newspaper:The spectacle of Palestinian
rejection of the reasonable terms offered by President Clinton and the
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (Israeli withdrawal from 95 percent of
the West Bank and the Arab half of Jerusalem, and Palestinian statehood),
and the insistence on the refugees' right of return to their homes, towns
and villages in pre-1967 Israel, is alienating most Israelis and
undermining the sympathy that the past decades of suffering and peace
negotiations have engendered.
He concluded his article by saying, Almost all Israeli Jews, including
myself, believe that whatever the rights and wrongs of 1948, and whoever
was to blame for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem, a
solution based on their repatriation to Israel would spell the destruction
of the Jewish state.
United Socialist States of the Middle East
This brief review of the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shows
that any recognition of the Palestinians' right of return, however
circumscribed, immediately raises the undemocratic character of the
Zionist regime and its essential inviability.
As this article has sought to show, it is a myth to say that the state of
Israel was established in a land without people. On the contrary, the
state of Israel was created as a result of the planned and systematic
expulsion of the Palestinian people.
Moreover, Israel cannot be regarded as any kind of progressive society,
committed to social equality and the advancement of all its peoples. The
Zionist state enshrines discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs.
It is a society riven from top to bottom with social and political
divisions of a most explosive character.
Despite posturing as a new form of society, founded on equality and
quasi-socialist principles, from its origins Israel has been a garrison
state, surrounded by hostile neighbours, with the army serving as the
central pillar of society.
The tragic irony of the Zionist solution to the oppression of the Jewish
people traditionally and historically connected with a struggle for
tolerance and freedom has been the brutal suppression of another oppressed
people. In consequence, the right-wing forces cultivated by the Zionist
state now threaten to reproduce within Israel the same conditions of
dictatorship and civil war from which an earlier generation of Jews fled.
The only way out of the current dead end is the development of a political
movement to unite Arab and Jewish workers and intellectuals in a common
struggle against capitalism and for the building of a socialist society.
This also offers the only means of genuinely redressing the historic
iniquities suffered by the Palestinian workers and peasants, and ending
the twin evils of oppression and war that are fuelled by the profit drive
of international capital and the native ruling elites. The creation of a
United Socialist States of the Middle East would remove the artificial
borders that presently divide the peoples and economies of the region,
enabling its plentiful resources to be utilised in order to fulfil the
social, economic and democratic aspirations of all its peoples.
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