Israel's 'Independence' Day

GUEST COMMENTARY

The party planned at Hillel this week in celebration of Israel's "independence" can only conjure up one incident in my mind. This true story is one that my mother told me, and one which I will tell to my children and grandchildren. The story is that of my grandmother, Naheel, who lived in the coastal town of Jaffa in current-day Israel. Some 47 years ago, Naheel was preparing a hot meal on her oven. Israeli soldiers broke into the house, and ordered her to leave her home. Leaving her food on the stove, Naheel left her home, never to return again.

This is one of the less painful memories of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were forcibly cleansed from their homeland during the so-called "War of Independence." The facts about the war are rarely mentioned in the U.S. media and are continuously disregarded by many with direct ties to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. My intention here is not to raise questions about Israel's raison d'être, legitimacy or right to exist. I am simply informing those who do not know, and reminding those who have forgotten, that a Jewish homeland was created in the midst of an Arab population.

Months before Israel declared her "independence," and before the outbreak of war between the Jewish militia and Arab armies, there were hostilities between the Jewish and the native Palestinian population. Indeed Yigael Yadin, Acting Chief of Staff for the Jewish forces in 1948, talked about a D-plan based on previous ones drawn up by the Haganah.

The D-plan included "the destruction of Arab villages" near Jewish settlements or main arteries of transportation, the "evacuation of their inhabitants [my emphasis], the siege of Arab cities that were not located inside the Jewish State according to the United Nations resolution and direct actions against Arab targets in Western Palestine outside the borders of the Jewish State."

The idea of evacuation was not new in Zionist thinking. Theodor Herzl, in hisDiaries, made the following statement regarding the Palestinian natives: "We shall have to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly."

The notion of secrecy was so central to the Zionist ideology that discussion of such a topic remains marginalized in Israel today. To this day, many of the Israelis and Jews around the world have failed to come to terms with their past cruelty. They refuse to recognize the harm and dispossession the Israelis inflicted, and continue to inflict, upon the Palestinians. The existence of any native population in Palestine was problematic to the Zionist myth of "a land without a people for a people without a land." Twenty years after the creation of Israel, Golda Meir, a Prime Minister of Israel, stated: "There is no such thing as the Palestinians."

One of the most notorious incidents that took place was the massacre of Palestinians at Deir Yassin, a village outside Jerusalem. On April 9, 1948, the Irgun, a right wing faction of the Jewish militia, massacred 300 men, women and children. In the words of Jacques de Reynier, Chief Delegate of the International Red Cross, the Irgun members killed their victims "Without any military reason or provocation of any kind." British documents and Red Cross sources state that the attackers simply "lined men, women and children up against the walls and shot them."

While Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion condemned the massacre, Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first president, described the Palestinian exodus as "a miraculous simplification of Israel's tasks." I wonder what "miracle" Mr. Weizmann was referring to. The beginning of life is miraculous; its cruel end is not.

The Jewish forces made full use of the massacre at Deir Yassin. John H. Davis, Commissioner-General of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, blamed the exodus of Palestinians on measures ranging from "expert psychological warfare to ruthless expulsion by force." Deir Yassin provided the ammunition for such "psychological warfare."

Evidence for incidents of "ruthless expulsion by force" can be found in various statements made by Israeli leaders and soldiers. An Israeli soldier quoted inAl-Hamishmar, an Israeli newspaper, said, "In the Independence War, we expelled whole villages of Palestinians...It is a fact that today is not denied anymore."

And Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, said in an article in the New York Times: "Yigal Allon asked Ben-Gurion what was to be done with the civilian population. Ben-Gurion waved his hand in a gesture of `drive them out.' `Driving out' is a term with a harsh ring. Psychologically, this was one of the most difficult actions we undertook."

Rabin, a brigade commander during the war, talks about the "great suffering" that was "inflicted upon the men taking part in the eviction action. The eviction went beyond the concepts they were used to. Prolonged propaganda activities were required after the action...to explain why we were obliged to undertake such a harsh and cruel action." Mr. Rabin finds it suitable to talk about the "great suffering" of the oppressor, the soldiers who expelled the Palestinians from their homes. Thus he emphasizes the mental "suffering" of the oppressor and neglects the harm inflicted on the oppressed and dispossessed. George Orwell would have been impressed.

After the declassification of many important documents dealing with the 1948 war, a revisionist movement emerged among Israeli historians to examine the national myths promoted by successive governments. Professor Israel Shahak, an Israeli citizen, estimates that almost 400 villages were eliminated, in the sense that they were "destroyed completely, with their houses, garden-walls, and even cemeteries and tombstones, so that literally a stone does not remain standing, and visitors are passing and being told that "it was all desert.'" When Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, the U.N. High Commissioner for refugees, referred to the Bosnians as "the Palestinians of Europe," perhaps he also should have referred to the Serbs as "the Israelis of Europe." Indeed, the pattern of their thinking and practices is terrifyingly similar.

Two years after the famous handshake at the White House, four million Palestinians live in the Diaspora, and another two million live under siege in the Gaza Strip and Jericho, or under Israeli military occupation in the rest of the West Bank. Israeli settlements continue to be built on the West Bank, especially around Jerusalem, creating a de facto situation on the ground before any final negotiations take place. Earlier this week, a Palestinian prisoner died at the hands of Israeli interrogators.

To my fellow students celebrating the birth of Israel at Hillel, I ask them to pause and consider the past. I ask them to remember the Palestinian people, to whom this "independence" meant, and still means, decades of occupation, dispossession and denial of their basic right of self-determination.

The author is a member of the Society of Arab Students