The Zionist conquest of Palestine

Here is an excerpt from
The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by the Israeli-born historian Ilan Pappé.
The emphasis (except for italicized Arabic words) is added.
The majority of the notes refer to documents in
the archives of the Haganah or the State of Israel.

An important complement to this Israeli point of view
is the book All That Remains by Walid Khalidi,
presenting the picture from the Palestinian point of view,
an angle that seems to be almost ignored by the American “elite”,
or David Brooks’s “educated class”.

Chapter 2
The Drive for an Exclusively Jewish State

Section 2.2
Military Preparations


[I]n June 1938 Jewish troops got their first taste
of what it meant to occupy a Palestinian village:
a Hagana unit and a British company jointly attacked
a village on the border between Israel [sic ?] and Lebanon,
and held it for a few hours. [n. 2.17]

Amatziya Cohen, who took part in the operation,
remembered the British sergeant who showed them how to use bayonets
in attacking defenseless villagers:
‘I think you are all totally ignorant in your Ramat Yochanan
[the training base for the Hagana]
since you do not even know the elementary use of bayonets
when attacking dirty Arabs:
how can you put your left foot in front’
he shouted at Amatziya and his friends after they had returned to base. [n. 2.18]
Had this sergeant been around in 1948, he would have been proud to see
how quickly Jewish troops were mastering the art of attacking villages.

The Hagana also gained valuable military experience in the Second World War,
when many of its members volunteered for the British war effort.
Others who remained behind in Palestine
continued to monitor and infiltrate the 1200 or so Palestinian villages
that had dotted the countryside for hundreds of years.

Section 2.3
The Village Files

[Wikipedia on these files.]

More was needed than just
savoring the excitement of attacking a Palestinian village:
systematic planning was called for.
The suggestion came from
a young bespectacled historian from the Hebrew University
by the name of Ben-Zion Luria,
at the time an employee of the educational department of the Jewish Agency.
Luria pointed out how useful it would be
to have a detailed registry of all Arab villages,
and proposed that the Jewish National Fund (JNF) conduct such an inventory.
‘This would greatly help the redemption of the land,’
he wrote to the JNF. [n. 2.19]
He could not have chosen a better audience:
his initiative to involve the JNF in the prospective ethnic cleansing
was to generate added impetus and zeal to the expulsion plans that followed.

Founded in 1901,
the JNF was the principal Zionist tool for the colonization of Palestine.
It served as the agency the Zionist movement used to buy Palestinian land
upon which it then settled Jewish immigrants.
Inaugurated by the fifth Zionist Congress [Wikipedia, Google],
it spearheaded the Zionization of Palestine throughout the Mandatory years.
From the onset
it was designed to become the ‘custodian’, on behalf of the Jewish people,
of the land the Zionists gained possession of in Palestine.
The JNF maintained this role after the creation of the State of Israel,
with other missions being added to its primary role over time. [n.2.20]

Most of the JNF’s activities during the Mandatory period
and surrounding the Nakba
were closely associated with the name of Yossef Weitz,
the head of its settlement department.
His main priority at the time was
facilitating the eviction of Palestinian tenants
from land bought from absentee landlords who were likely to lie
at some distance from their land or even outside the country,
the Mandate system having created borders where before there were none.
when ownership of a plot of land, or even a whole village, changed hands,
this did not mean that the farmers or villagers themselves had to move. [n. 2.21]
Palestine was an agricultural society,
and the new landlords would need the tenants to continue cultivating his lands.
But with the advent of Zionism all this changed.
Weitz personally visited the newly purchased plot of land
often accompanied by his closest aides,
and encouraged the new Jewish owners to throw out the local tenants,
even if the owner had no use for the entire piece of land.
One of Weitz’s closest aides, Yossef Nachmani, at one point reported to him that ‘unfortunately’ tenants refused to leave
and some of the new Jewish land owners displayed, as he put it,
‘cowardice by pondering the option of allowing them to stay.’ [n. 2.22]
It was the job of Nachmani and other aides
to make sure that such ‘weaknesses’ did not persist:
under their supervision
these evictions quickly became more comprehensive and effective.

The impact of such activities at the time remained limited because
Zionist resources after all were scarce,
Palestinian resistance fierce,
and the British policies restrictive.
By the end of the Mandate in 1948,
the Jewish community owned around 5.8% of the land in Palestine.
But the appetite was for more,
if only for the available resources to expand and new opportunities to open up;
this is why Weitz waxed lyrical when he heard about the village files,
immediately suggesting turning them into a ‘national project.’ [n. 2.23]

All involved became fervent supporters of the ideal.
Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, a prominent member of the Zionist leadership,
a historian and later the second president of Israel,
explained in a letter to Moshe Shertock (Sharett),
the head of the political department of the Jewish Agency
(and later Israel’s second prime minister),
that apart from topographically recording the layout of the villages,
the project should also include exposing the ‘Hebraic origins’ of each village.
Furthermore, it was important for the Hagana to know
which of the villages were relatively new,
as some of them had been built ‘only’
during the Egyptian occupation of Palestine in the 1830s. [n. 2.24]

The main endeavor, however, was mapping the villages,
and therefore a topographer from the Hebrew University
working in the Mandatory cartography department
was recruited to the enterprise.
He suggested conducting an aerial photographic survey,
and proudly showed [David] Ben-Gurion two such aerial maps
for the villages of Sindiyana and Sabbarin
(these maps, now in the Israeli State Archives,
are all that remains of these villages after 1948).

The best professional photographers in the country
were now invited to join the initiative.
Yitzhak Shefer, from Tel Aviv, and
Margot Sadeh, the wife of Yitzhak Sadeh, the chief of the Palmach
(the commando units of the Hagana) were recruited too.
The film laboratory operated in Margot’s house
with an irrigation company serving as a front:
the lab had to be hidden from the British authorities
who could have regarded it as
an illegal intelligence effort directed against them.
The British did have prior knowledge of it,
but never succeeded in spotting the secret hideout.
In 1947, this whole cartographic department was moved to the Red House.
[This was a building in Tel Aviv
which served as a headquarters for the Haganah
during the years before Israel’s founding in 1948.]

[n. 2.25]

The end results of both the topographic and Orientalist efforts were
the detailed files the Zionist experts gradually built up
for each of Palestine’s villages.
By the late 1930s, this ‘archive’ was almost complete.
Precise details were recorded about the topographic location of each village,
its access roads, quality of land, water springs, main sources of income,
its socio-political composition, religious affiliations, names of its mukhtars,
its relationship with other villages,
the age of individual men (sixteen to fifty) and many more.
An important category was an index of ‘hostility’
(towards the Zionist project, that is)
decided by the level of the village’s participation in the revolt of 1936.
There was a list of
everyone who had lost someone in the fight against the British.
Particular attention was given to people who had allegedly killed Jews.
As we shall see, in 1948 these last bits of information
fueled the worst atrocities in the villages,
leading to mass executions and torture.

Regular members of the Hagana who were entrusted with
collecting the data on ‘reconnaissance’ journeys into the villages
realized, from the start,
that this was not a mere academic exercise in geography.
One of these was Moshe Pasternak,
who joined one of the early excursions and data collection operations in 1940.
He recalled many years later:
We had to study the basic structure of the Arab village.
This means the structure and how best to attack it.
In the military schools,
I had been taught how to attack a modern European city,
not a primitive village in the Near East.
We could not compare it [an Arab village] to a Polish or an Austrian one.
The Arab village, unlike the European ones,
was built topographically on hills.
That meant we had to find out how best to approach the village from above
or enter it from below.
We had to train our ‘Arabists’
[the Orientalists who operated a network of collaborators]
how best to work with informants. [n. 2.26]
Indeed the problem noted in many of the villages’ files was
how to create collaborationist systems with
the people Pasternak and his friends regarded as primitive and barbaric:
‘People who like to drink coffee and eat rice with their hands,
which made it very difficult to use them as informants.’
In 1948, he remembered, there was a growing sense that
finally they had a proper network of informants in place.
That same year the village files were re-arranged
to become even more systematic.
This was mainly the work of one man, Ezra Danin,
who would play a leading role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. [n.2.27]

In many ways, it was the recruitment of Ezra Danin,
who had been taken out of his successful citrus grove business,
that injected the intelligence work and the organization of the village files
with a new level of efficiency.
Files in the post-1943 era included detailed descriptions of
the husbandry, the cultivated land, the number of trees in plantations,
the quality of each fruit grove (even of each single tree),
the average amount of land per family,
the number of cars, shop owners, members of workshops
and the names of the artisans in each village and their skills. [n. 2.28]
Later, meticulous detail was added about each clan and its political affiliation,
the social stratification between notables and common peasants,
and the names of the civil servants in the Mandatory government.

And as the data collection created its own momentum,
one finds addition details popping up around 1945,
such as the descriptions of village mosques and the names of their imams,
together with such characterizations as ‘he is an ordinary man,’
and even precise accounts of the living rooms
inside the homes of these dignitaries.
Towards the end of the Mandatory period
the information becomes more explicitly militarily oriented:
the number of guards (most villages had none)
and the quantity and quality of the arms at the villagers’ disposal
(generally antiquated or even non-existent). [n. 2.29]

Danin recruited a German Jew named Yaacov Shimoni,
later to become one of Israel’s leading Orientalists,
and put him in charge of special projects inside the villages,
in particular supervising the work of the informants. [n. 2.30]
One of these Danin and Shimoni nicknamed the ‘treasurer’ (ha-gizbar).
This man, who proved a fountain of information for the files’s collectors,
supervised the network of collaboration for them between 1941–45.
He was exposed in 1945 and killed by Palestinian militants. [n. 2.31]

Danin and Shimoni were soon joined by two other people,
Yehoshua Palmon and Tuvia Lishanski.
These, too are names to remember
as they took an active part in preparing for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
Lishanski was already busy in the 1940s with
orchestrating campaigns against the tenants who lived on plots of lands
the JNF had brought from present or absentee landlords,
and he directed all his energy towards
intimidating and then forcibly evicting these people
from the lands their families had been cultivating for centuries.

Not far away from the village of Furaydis
and the ‘veteran’ Jewish settlement Zikhron Yaacov,
where today a road connects the coastal highway with Marj Ibn Amir (Emeq Izrael) through Wadi Milk,
lies a youth village (a kind of boarding school for Zionist youth)
called Shefeya.
It was here that in 1944 special units in the service of the village files project received their training
and it was from here that they went out on their reconnaissance missions.
Shefeya looked very much like a spy village in the Cold War:
Jews walking around speaking Arabic
and trying to emulate what they believed were
the customary ways of life and behavior of rural Palestinians. [n. 2.32]

In 2002, one of the first recruits to this special training base
recalled his first reconnaissance mission
to the nearby village of Umm al-Zinat in 1944.
Their aim had been to survey the village and bring back information such as
where the mukhtar lived, where the mosque was located,
where the rich people of the village resided
and who had been active in the 1936 revolt.
This was not a very dangerous mission
as the infiltrators knew they could exploit
the traditional Arab hospitality code
and were even guests at the home of the mukhtar himself.
As they failed to collect in one day all they data they were seeking,
they asked to be invited back.
For their second visit they had been instructed to get
information about the fertility of the land,
the quality of which seemed to have impressed them greatly.
In 1948, Umm al-Zinat was destroyed and all its inhabitants expelled
without any provocation on their part whatsoever.
[n. 2.33]

[What can you call people who say that
the Palestinians left on account of “radio broadcasts”?
Fortunately, this false narrative has been corrected by Norman Finkelstein
in, as I recall, either
Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict or
Beyond Chutzpah.]

The final update of the village files took place in 1947.
It focused on creating lists of ‘wanted’ persons in each village.
In 1948 Jewish troops used these lists
for the search-and-arrest operations they carried out
as soon as they had occupied a village.
That is, the men in the village would be lined up
and those appearing on the lists would then be identified,
often by the same person who had informed on them in the first place
but who would now be wearing a cloth sack over his head
with two holes cut out for his eyes so as not to be recognized.
The men who were picked out were often shot on the spot.
Criteria for inclusion in these lists were
involvement in the Palestinian national movement,
having close ties to the leader of the movement,
the Mufti al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni,
and as mentioned,
having participate in actions against the British and the Zionists. [n. 2.34]
Other reasons for being included in the lists
were a variety of allegations, such as
‘known to have travelled to Lebanon’ or
‘arrested by the British authorities
for being a member of a national committee in the village’. [n. 2.35]

The first category, involvement in the Palestinian national movement,
was very liberally defined and could include whole villages.
Affiliation with the Mufti or to the political party he headed was very common.
After all, his party had dominated local Palestinian politics
ever since the British Mandate was officially established in 1923.
The party’s members went on to win national and municipal elections
and hold the prominent positions in the Arab Higher Committee
that became the embryonic government of the Palestinians.
In the eyes of the Zionist experts this constituted a crime.
If we look at the 1947 files, we find that
villages with about 1500 inhabitants
usually had between twenty and thirty such suspects
(for instance, around the southern Carmel mountains, south of Haifa,
Umm al-Zinat had thirty such suspects
and the nearby village of Damun had twenty-five). [n. 2.36]

Yigael Yadin recalled that it was this minute and detailed knowledge
of what was happening in each single Palestinian village
that enabled the Zionist military command in November 1947 to conclude
‘that the Palestine Arabs had nobody to organize them properly.’
The only serious problem was the British:
‘If not for the British, we could have quelled the Arab riot
[the opposition to the UN Partition Resolution in 1947] in one month.’ [n. 2.37]

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