Photo : Hilde C. Stephansen
Recent historical research, primarily by Ilan Pappé, Benny Moris and Walid Khalidi – the former two are Israeli Jews – has shown that Israel was founded as a result of carefully planned terror against the Palestinian population. Ilan Pappé has had access to the archives of the precursor to the Israeli army (Hagana, Irgun and Palmach). There he found, among other things, ‘Plan D (Dhalet)’ which on 10 March 1948 was adopted by Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion and his inner circle. This was a plan for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. In it, Pappé found statements like :
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 the 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.*
Israel’s first leaders realised that they could only found a Jewish state in Palestine by removing most of the Arab population. For this reason, they implemented a systematic ethnic cleansing which was being planned long before the UN in 1947 resolved to recommend partitioning the country. David Ben-Gurion stated in 1938 that “I am in favour of compulsory transfer. I do not see anything immoral in that.” In a letter to his son he wrote in 1947 that the Arabs “must go, but we need a suitable moment to achieve that, like a war”.
The Israeli forces conducted Plan D to the letter, and over the course of 6 months around 750,000 Palestinians were displaced, 530 villages reduced to rubble and 11 urban neighbourhoods emptied of their inhabitants. At least 31 massacres of Palestinan village dwellers were conducted, of which Deir Yassin is the most frequently cited.
It was the ethnic cleansing that triggered the war in 1948-49. A superior Israeli army defeated an army of Arab volunteers. It is worth noting that this war was conducted mostly on the territories that the UN had declared should be Palestinian. After the war, Israel was left with 78% of the land, while Jordan controlled the West Bank and Egypt Gaza. The Palestinians, who in 1947 made up 67% of the population in historical Palestine, were left without a country of their own.
The current situation of the Palestinians
There are around 5 million Palestinian refugees in Palestine and neighbouring countries. In the Gaza Strip, 1.6 million inhabitants are crowded together in an area of 365 square kilometres. They are completely dependent on outside help, lacking everything from medical equipment to ordinary building materials. Mads Gilbert describes it as a child prison, with 1 million children affected by anaemia and malnutrition. 1400 Palestinians were killed by Israeli bombs during the Gaza war in 2008/9, 169 were killed during the bombings in 2012.
2.5 million live on the West Bank. In 2007 OCHA (the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) said that Israeli infrastructure, such as settlements, the wall, military checkpoints and zones, industrial zones and roads, has claimed 38% of the West Bank. These areas are inaccessible to the occupied population. The West Bank is divided in all directions by the wall and by Israeli roads (which Palestinians are not permitted to use). Israel controls all borders and it becomes impossible to develop an independent Palestinian economy. Israel and Israeli settlers use 80% of water resources on the West Bank. Palestinians currently live on 11% of the land area of historical Palestine.
The Oslo agreement of 1993 determined that the Palestinians gradually would take control of the West Bank. Instead, has increased the number of occupiers (also called settlers) from 200,000 in 1993 to 500,000 today. The Israeli state subsidises the settlements and industrial areas on the West Bank. The West has unanimously condemned these settlements, but not done anything to stop them.
I could continue to list the occupiers’ sordid and aggressive treatment of the Palestinians. I could have told of the daily humiliations in all military checkpoints on the West Bank, of soldiers who shoot at boys throwing bricks, of detention without trial, of the destruction of olive groves, of Palestinian houses being crushed by Israeli bulldozers.
According to the BBC, the Israel Interior Minister Eli Yishai said on 17 November 2012 that "the goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for 40 years”. I would also like to highlight the revelations from Wikileaks published by [Norwegian national newspaper] Aftenposten in January 2011, which cited a US Embassy cable dated 3 November 2008 : “As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to (U.S. embassy economic officers) on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge”.
Israel must acknowledge Palestine
This is deliberate policy by the Israeli leadership. They know that oppression breeds resistance. They know that this will lead Palestinian youth to man rocket launchers and the Palestinian population to celebrate their fallen youth as martyrs.
Why does Israel lead this policy ? Is it for domestic reasons ? Does war increase support at election time ? Does Israel want to provoke rocket attacks from Gaza ? Is it sympathy following missile strikes on Israeli cities that is going to ensure that the massive economic and military support of the US and the West is maintained ? Is it the case that Zionism can only be defended by demonising the Palestinians ?
There can be no peace in Palestine unless the occupation ends. Israel must recognise Palestine ; Israel must lift the blockade of Gaze and withdraw from the West Bank. The refugees from 1948 and 1967 must be allowed to return home. This can create the foundations for a two state solution, which maybe one day can lead to a state where Christians, Muslims and Jews can live together.
If we create human dignity, we create peace.
Kjell Stephansen is chair of the Palestine Committee of Sunnmøre (Norway). This article was originally published in the Norwegian newspaper Sunnmørsposten in November 2012.
Translated from Norwegian by Hilde C. Stephansen.
* Pappé, Ilan (2010) The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Oxford : Oneworld, p. 82. (Quoting from Walid Khalidi (1988) ’Plan Dalet : Master Plan for the Conquest of Palestine’. Journal of Palestine Studies, 18/69, pp. 4-20.)