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The crimes of 1948: Jewish fighters speak out

“The most ferocious Jewish terrorists on Palestinian civilians were those who had escaped the Nazi camps”.

#Nakba

Thomas Vescovi. Thursday 28 June 2018 13:08 UTC

More than 60 years after these events, the combatants express little remorse: the territory needed to be liberated to found the Jewish state and there was no room for “Arabs” (Meaning Palestinians)

For the Israelis, 1948 represents the high point of the Zionist project, a major chapter in the Israeli national narrative when the Jews became masters of their own fate and, above all, succeeded in realising the utopia formulated 50 years earlier by Theodor Herzl – the construction, in Palestine, of a state of refuge for the “Jewish people”.

(This utopia was the concept of the USA “Christian” Evangelists, 50 years prior to Herzl ideology: They believed the Second Coming will take place only when the Jews occupy Jerusalem)

For the Palestinians, 1948 symbolises the advent of the colonial process that dispossessed them of their land and their right to sovereignty – known as the “Nakba” (catastrophe, in Arabic).

In theory, Israeli and Palestinian populations disagree over the events of 1948 that drove 805,000 Palestinians into forced exile. However, in practice, Jewish fighters testified early on to the crimes of which they perhaps played accomplice, or even perpetrator.

Dissonant voices

Through various channels, a number of Israelis would testify to the events of the day, as early as 1948.

At the time of the conflict, a number of Zionist leaders questioned the movement’s authorities on the treatment of Arab populations in Palestine, which they considered unworthy of the values the Jewish fighters claimed to defend. Others took notes hoping to testify once the violence had stopped.

Yosef Nahmani, a senior officer of the Haganah, the armed force of the Jewish Agency that would become the Army of Defense for Israel, wrote in his diary on 6 November 1948:

“In Safsaf, after the inhabitants had hoisted the white flag, [the soldiers] gathered the men and women into separate groups, bound the hands of fifty or sixty villagers, shot them, then buried them all in the same pit. They also raped several women from the village. Where did they learn such behaviour, as cruel as that of the Nazis? […] One officer told me that the most ferocious were those who had escaped the camps.”

During the conflict, a number of Zionist leaders questioned the movement’s authorities on the treatment of Arab populations in Palestine, which they considered unworthy of the values the Jewish fighters claimed to defend

The truth is, once the war was over, the narrative of the victors alone was heard, with Israeli civil society facing a number of far more urgent challenges than that of the plight of the Palestinian refugees. People who wanted to recount the events of the day had to turn to fiction and literature.

,In 1949, the Israeli writer and politician, Yizhar Smilansky published the novella Khirbet Khizeh, in which he described the expulsion of an eponymous Arab village. But according to the author, there was no need to feel remorse about that particular chapter of history. The “dirty work” was as a necessary part of building the Jewish state. His testimony reflects, instead, a kind of atonement for past sins. By acknowledging wrongs and unveiling them, one is able to cast off the burden of guilt.

The novel became a bestseller and was made into a TV film in 1977. Its release provoked heated debate since it called into question the Israeli narrative claiming the Palestinian populations had left their lands voluntarily to avoid living alongside Jews.

A squad of Jewish fighters during the Nakba. Photo from the TV drama, Khirbet Khizeh, based on the eponymous novella (Wikipedia)

Other works were published but few as realistic as Netiva Ben-Yehuda’s trilogy, The Palmach Trilogy, published in 1984, recounting the events of a three-month period in 1948.

A commander in the Palmach, the elite fighting force of the Haganah, she evokes the abuses and acts of violence perpetrated against Arab inhabitants and provides details of the massacre at Ein al Zeitun, which took place around 1 May 1948.

The Deir Yassin massacre

On 4 April 1972, Colonel Meir Pilavski, a former Palmach fighter, was interviewed by Yediot Aharonot, one of Israel’s three largest daily papers, on the Deir Yassin massacre of 9 April 1948, in which nearly 120 civilians lost their lives.

His troops, he claims, were in the vicinity at the time of the attacks, but were advised to withdraw when it became clear the operations were being led by the extremist paramilitary forces, Irgun and Stern, which had broken away from the Haganah.

From then on, the debate would focus on the events at Deir Yassin, to the point of forgetting the nearly 70 other massacres of Arab civilians that took place. The stakes were high for the Zionist left: responsibility for the massacres would be placed on groups of ultras.

The debate would focus on the events of Deir Yassin, to the point of forgetting the nearly 70 other massacres of Arab civilians that took place

In 1987, when the first works of a group of historians known as the Israeli “new historians” appeared, including those of Ilan Pappé, a considerable part of the Jewish battalions of 1948 were called into question. For those who had remained silent in recent decades, the time had come to speak out.

Part of Israeli society seemed ready to listen as well. Within the context of the First Palestinian Intifada and the pre-Oslo negotiations, pacifist circles were ready to question Israeli society on its national narrative and its relationship to non-Jewish communities.

These attempts at dialogue ended suddenly with the outbreak of the Second Intifada, which was more militarised and took place in the aftermath of the failed Camp David talks and the breakdown of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The Katz controversy would perfectly embody the new dynamic.

The Katz controversy

In 1985, a 60-year-old kibbutznik, Teddy Katz, decided to resume his studies and enrolled in a historical research programme under the direction of Ilan Pappé at the University of Haifa. He wanted to shed light on the events that took place in five Palestinian villages, deserted in 1948.

He conducted 135 interviews with Jewish fighters, 64 of which focused on the atrocity that allegedly took place in the village of Tantura, cleared of 1,200 inhabitants on 23 May 1948 by Palmach forces.

After two years of research, Katz states in his work that between 85 and 110 men were ruthlessly shot dead on Tantura beach, after digging their own graves. The massacre would then continue in the village, one house at a time, and a man hunt was played out in the streets.

The killing only stopped when Jewish inhabitants from the neighbouring village of Zikhron Yaakov intervened. More than 230 people were murdered.

Ilan Pappé: “The Nakba, the observation of a crime, ignored but not forgotten

In January 2000, a journalist from daily Maariv newspaper decided to talk to some of the witnesses mentioned by Katz. The main witness, Bentzion Fridan, a commander for the Palmach forces present in Tantura, denied the whole story point blank, then filed a complaint, along with other senior officers, against Katz, who found himself forced to face a dozen lawyers determined to defend the honour of the nation’s “heroes”.

Under pressure from the media – who were calling him a “collaborator” and were only covering his accusers’ version of the facts – and the courts, he agreed to sign a document acknowledging he had falsified their statements. Though he withdrew his acknowledgement a few hours later and had the backing of a university commission, the legal proceedings were over.

With the collapse of the Oslo Accords, the return to power of the Likud, the failure of the Camp David Accords and the Taba Summit, the Second Intifada and the kamikaze attacks, Israeli pacifists were no longer interested in the Palestinian version of 1948. Indeed, most were too busy falling into rank to escape the repercussions of the country’s increasingly conservative social order.

Testifying for posterity

In 2005, the filmmaker Eyal Sivan and the Israeli NGO Zochrot developed the project Towards a Common Archive aiming to gather testimonies from the Jewish soldiers of 1948. More than 30 agreed to testify on the events of those days which had been subject to such conflicting accounts.

Why had fighters now agreed to testify, a mere few years later? According to Pappé, the scientific director of the project, for three reasons.

They did all agree on the necessity, in 1948, of forcing Arab populations into exile in order to build the State of Israel

First, most were approaching the end of their lives and were no longer afraid of speaking out.

Second, the former fighters had fought for an ideal that had deteriorated with the rise in Israel of religious circles and the far right, as well as the neoliberal electroshock imposed by Netanyahu during his successive mandates.

Third, they were convinced that sooner or later the younger generations would discover the truth of the Palestinian refugees, and they believed it was their duty to pass on the knowledge of the disturbing events.

The testimonies are Not identical across the board.

Some fighters went into great detail, whereas others did not wish to address certain topics. Nevertheless, they did all agree on the necessity, in 1948, of forcing Arab populations into exile in order to build the State of Israel, though their views differed at times on the usefulness of firing on civilians.

All claim to have received specific orders concerning the razing of Arab villages, however, to prevent the exiled populations’ return.

The villages were “cleaned out” methodically.

As they approached the site, soldiers would fire or launch grenades to frighten the local populations. In most cases, such actions were enough to drive the inhabitants away. Sometimes, a house or two had to be blown up at the entrance of a village to force the few recalcitrant inhabitants to flee.

As for the massacres, for some, the acts were merely part of the “cleansing” operations, since the leaders of the Zionist movement had authorised them to “cross this line”, in certain cases.

The “line” was systematically crossed when inhabitants refused to leave, put up resistance, or even fought back.

No remorse

In Lod, more than 100 people took refuge in the mosque, believing rumours that Jewish fighters would not attack places of worship. A rocket launcher destroyed their shelter, which collapsed on them. Their bodies were burned.

For others, the leaders Yigal Allon, of the Palmach, and David Ben Gurion, of the Jewish Agency, reportedly opposed the shooting of civilians, ordering forces to first let them go and then to destroy the homes.

The combatants also testify to a contrasting Palestinian response. In most cases, they seemed “frightened” and overwhelmed by the events, hastening to join the flow of refugees. Some Arabs begged the soldiers not to “do to them what they did in Deir Yassin”.

Other inhabitants seemed convinced they would be able to return home at the end of the fighting. One witness spoke of residents of the village of Bayt Naqquba who left the key to their houses with Jewish neighbours in the Kiryat-Avanim kibbutz, with whom they were on good terms, so the latter could ensure that nothing was looted.

Good Jewish-Arab relations come up regularly, and few witnesses speak of being on bad terms with their neighbours before the beginning of the war.

During an eviction around Beersheba, Palestinian peasants came to ask for help from the inhabitants of the neighbouring kibbutz, who did not hesitate to intervene and denounce the actions of Zionist soldiers.

More than 60 years after these events, the combatants expressed little or No remorse.

According to them, it was necessary to liberate the territory promised by the UN in order to found the Jewish state, and this meant there was no room for Arabs in the national landscape.

– Thomas Vescovi is a teacher and a researcher in contemporary history. He is the author of Bienvenue en Palestine (Kairos, 2014) and La Mémoire de la Nakba en Israël (L’Harmattan, 2015).

READ MORE ►

“Nakba’s harvest of sorrow: We will be back, grandmother 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: On 12 May 1948, members of the Haganah escort Palestinians expelled from Haifa after Jewish forces took control of its port on 22 April (AFP).

This article originally appeared in French.

Never forget the Deir Yassin massacre by Israelis in 1948.

Dina Elmuti The Electronic Intifada Chicago 8 April 2013

The author’s grandmother, Fatima Radwan (right) and her younger sister Sakeena at the Dar al-Tifl school four years after the Deir Yassin massacre.

Transcribing the vivid details of the account engraved into the fabric of her memory, I am transfixed by all that she’s held onto for 65 years.

From paper to pulse, I write the story buried deep in her consciousness to affirm her truth. Without her, it never would be written at all.

I study the lines on my grandmother’s face knowing behind every one there is a timeless story of unmitigated pain, survival and hope.

This story, where the continued dispossession, suffering and oppression of the Palestinian people began, is one that refuses to be silenced or forgotten. It is the story of Deir Yassin.

Remember the date: Friday, 9 April 1948, a day of infamy in Palestinian history.

My grandmother was nine years old at the time of the Deir Yassin massacre and every day since she has lived with a steadfast commitment to never forget.

Premonition

Thursday, 8 April, ended like any other in the small, quiet village. My grandmother and her younger sister returned home from school to complete their composition assignment entitled Asri’ (meaning “to hurry” in Arabic). She recounts that detail animatedly.

Like other children their age, she wanted to complete the assignment in order to enjoy the next day off. (Fridays are the official day-off, along with Sundays in mixed communities)

The excitement, however, was short-lived. I can’t help but think of the irony in the assignment’s title. Asri’ — it’s almost as though it were a premonition of sorts.

The following day, entire families ran hurriedly in sheer terror, fleeing the only homes they had ever known to escape a bloodbath. By dawn on that Friday morning, life as they had known it would never be the same again. Deir Yassin would never be the same again.

Fathers, grandfathers, brothers and sons were lined up against a wall and sprayed with bullets, execution style.

Beloved teachers were savagely mutilated with knives. Mothers and sisters were taken hostage and those who survived returned to find pools of blood filling the streets of the village and children stripped of their childhoods overnight.

The walls of homes, which once stood witness to warmth, laughter and joy, were splattered with the blood and imprints of traumatic memories.

My grandmother lost 37 members of her family that day. These are not stories you will read about in most history books.

Bitter symbol

The Deir Yassin massacre was not the largest-scale massacre, nor was it the most gruesome.

The atrocities committed, the scale of violence and the complexity of the methods and insidious weaponry used by Israel against civilians in the recent decade have been far more sadistic and pernicious. But Deir Yassin marks one of the most critical turning points in Palestinian history.

A bitter symbol carved in the fiber of the Palestinian being and narrative, it resonates sharply as the event that catalyzed our ongoing Nakba (catastrophe), marked by the forced exile of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, creating the largest refugee population worldwide with more than half living in the diaspora.

Deir Yassin is a caustic reminder of the ongoing suffering, struggle and systematic genocide of the Palestinian people, 65 years and counting.

When the village was terrorized into fleeing, tumultuous shockwaves of terror ran through Palestine, laying the blueprint for the architecture of today’s apartheid Israel.

Sacred ground

The author’s great-uncle, Muhammad Radwan, outside of the family home in Deir Yassin.

I have been fortunate enough to see Deir Yassin and step foot on its sacred ground. Deir

Yassin remains a permanently cemented and rigorous reminder of the spirit that has never permitted defeat. Despite the illegal settlements, pillaging, plundering and human suffering that took place, my grandmother’s home stands with resolve just as she does today.

The silence of her home and the original stones laid by my great-grandfather’s hands remain haunting reminders of life that once existed behind the cold facade.

Standing outside her home I studied the horizon intently and found solace, irrespective of the large wooden Star of David hanging on the window.

This scathing and unholy reminder of the ethnic cleansing that took place there could never conceal the insult, injury and history it attempts to erase.

In fact, it is a reminder of the inflicted wounds that remain open and the memory that remains very much alive. All the flags, banners and stars in the world, all the inconvenient truths, dehumanizing myths of exceptionalism and litany of crimes, will never succeed in drowning out the truth or erasing the memories.

My grandmother is an intrepid survivor and living proof that neither the old nor the young will forget. She and survivors like her endure with a steadfastness that will live long after they’re gone. Their narratives may not be recorded in our history books but they have left indelible impressions that will remain inscribed in our hearts and minds.

The narratives of these survivors will continue to run through the veins of every Palestinian child who carries them in their blood. And so long as our hearts beat, the eloquent symbols of Palestinian life — resistance, resilience and hope — will continue to run strong.

No amount of fear-mongering, lip service or pontificating will ever keep these narratives of resistance from circulating, because becoming comfortable with our own silence and anesthetizing our minds to all that has passed will never be options.

After all, we are the children of generations of strength. Our grandparents and parents are refugees and survivors, and the blood of Deir Yassin courses through our veins. We are like the olive tree with its tenacious roots in the ground, remaining unshakable and determined to stand its ground with patience and a deeply-rooted desire to remain.

We will see a free and just Palestine because we will have a hand in making it so. Deir Yassin may have catalyzed our catastrophe but 65 years later it also continues to catalyze our devotion and enduring love for a people, a cause and a home that will never be relinquished or forgotten.

All images courtesy of Dina Elmuti.

Dina Elmuti is a social worker researching the impacts of chronic traumatic stress and violence on the physical, mental and pyschosocial health of children in Chicago and Palestine.

Open Letter to Wall Street Journal: No, Palestinian mothers do Not raise their kids to become martyrs

Where are the Palestinian Mothers?

Bret Stephens penned a column last week in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Where are the Palestinian Mothers?” in which he makes the racist assertion, based on conversations he’s had with three individual women, that all Palestinian mothers raise their children to become “martyrs.”

The thing that Stephens must understand about Palestinians’ concept of “martyrdom” is that it’s a coping mechanism for the senseless loss of life they must endure. Their “martyrdom” is not an aspiration. It’s forced upon them.

palestinian woman

My mother is a Palestinian.

At the moment, she’s probably enjoying the peace of her suburban home. Unlike her counterparts in the West Bank and Gaza, she’s free from having to worry about her children being killed by occupational forces in the middle of the night, or even broad daylight. For a Palestinian mother, this is a freedom that can never be appreciated enough.

My grandmother was a Palestinian.

She passed away last summer after decades of being a flag bearer of the strength of Palestinian mothers. She was a survivor of the Deir Yassin massacre in 1948, which was one of the first Palestinian villages to be ethnically cleansed by Zionist militias to create the state of Israel.

Grandmother was 7 years old at the time and witnessed the murder of her neighbors and relatives, including her own Palestinian grandmother and infant brother. Yet, she survived and, in her refugee exile, created a fruitful and happy life for her family that allows me to write this letter today.

Over that time, those militias came together to become the Israeli Defense Force. One of their leaders, Yitzhak Rabin, rose to become the prime minister of Israel. (As was Menahim Gigen, Shamir, and Sharon)

In his column, Stephens claims that he has “yet to meet the Israeli mother who wants to raise her boys to become kidnappers and murderers.”

Actually, every Israeli mother is legally obligated by the Israeli government to enter her sons and daughters into an institution that systematically kidnaps and murders. It’s the Israeli Defense Force.

palestinian women confrontation

Since 1948, the IDF has been creating mourning mothers for the longest occupation in modern human history, riddled with war crimes and human rights atrocities. Its illegal and immoral actions have been denounced in more United Nations resolutions than any other country in the world.

The most recent were a series of 4 resolutions in the UNHCR denouncing Israel’s international law violations. All four of them passed 46 to 1 — with the lone dissenter being the United States.

Stephens refers to West Germany’s “moral rehabilitation” and ironically suggests it for the Palestinian people. Yet, in an iconic visit last month,

Pope Francis stood before Israel’s apartheid wall and placed his hand on Palestinian graffiti that, in desperate broken English, said in spray paint: “Bethlehem looks like Warsaw ghetto.”

Extremist Israeli settlers have been engaging in some of the worst hate crimes in the conflict, notoriously known for pillaging mosques and churches, attacking and even running over Palestinians, and vandalizing Palestinian property with calls for the death of all Arabs.

One of the 3 kidnapped Israelis was old enough to have already served in the IDF, and all three of them were on an illegal settlement on Palestinian territory.

While no mother should endure the abduction or death of a child — neither Israeli nor Palestinian — the situation must be placed in the context of the conflict as a whole.

Since the disappearance of the three Israelis on June 12, 2014, at least 50 Palestinian civilians have been killed in retribution — including a 7-year-old child and a 15-year-old child — and hundreds more injured or imprisoned with no charges. But, you don’t know any of their names, despite having the three Israelis’ names memorized by heart.

Last Tuesday night, Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir was kidnapped and burned alive by an Israeli mob. His mother — like the mothers of the eight other murdered Palestinians or the hundreds of newly detained prisoners — will never be given the media attention to express her grief. Nor does she or any of the other Palestinian mothers have the power to demand that Israel brings back their boys.

Among many Israelis, Mohammad’s death was celebrated. All facets of Israeli society, even up to the government, called for this sort of retribution, with Netanyahu demanding “revenge” and Ben-Ari calling for “death to the enemy.” While the call for justice is expected of any democratic country, what Israel is calling for is indiscriminate revenge.

Netanyahu called the killers of the three Israelis “human animals.” But, in Israel’s collective punishment of the Palestinian people, his accusations and references of a faceless Palestinian enemy, and his sheer condoning and even encouragement of anti-Arab racism, he is implicating the Palestinian people as a whole.

Indeed, Israel treats Palestinians as nothing more than animals. In this case, Israel has placed its “animal” in a cage and keeps prodding it with a stick — or, more accurately, with rubber bullets, tear gas, and even white phosphorous.

Then, when the animal bites back, Israel feigns selective memory and moral outrage and punishes it in ways that are unprecedented in our modern history.

Stephens makes the racist suggestion that Palestinian culture is filled with hate, but what, then, can we say of a society that views another people as collectively subhuman?

If you want to know where the Palestinian mothers are, they are living under a military occupation, among an unarmed civilian population, quietly reciting their boys’ names in their hearts as American columnists try to write them away.

Photography by Robert Croma.

A condensed variation of this column was originally published as a letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal.


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