There are several competing narratives about the tragedy that befell Palestinians in 1948. The Palestinians regarded the event as ‘Nakba’ or catastrophe in English. The Israeli regarded it as their victory and the foundation of their modern state. Ilan Pappe, the Chair in History at the University of Exeter, UK, however, challenge these two narratives. He argues that what happened in 1948 was a clear-cut case of a war crime, a systematic and planned ethnic cleansing which rooted from the Zionist ideology.
The result of this crime was the expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians, 531 villages destroyed and 11 urban neighborhood emptied. Pappe argued that the evidence of this crime is abundance, it is possible to reconstruct the historiographical account of the crime, and the names of the criminal are known. He argued that all these criminals must be brought into a special tribunal and serve justice.
Pappe described in the book how British, with the work of their officer, Orde Wingate, helped train Jewish settlers combat tactic. Wingate who was enchanted with the Zionist ideology transformed the paramilitary organization, the Hagana to become a military army. Wingate attached the Hagana with British forces to crush the Arab revolt, which they jointly attacked villages. The Hagana also gained valuable military experience by volunteering in British war effort in the second world war.
Pappe also disclosed detailed data collection and studies done by the Zionist called ‘The Village Files’ which gather information on every single village by the help of professional topographer, photographer, surveyor, and a network of spies. These files include data on political composition, religious affiliation, quality of land, water springs, main sources for income, the name of the mukhtars, and during the final update in 1947, the files focused on ‘wanted list’ for each village. This intelligence was crucial during the execution of the ethnic cleansing operation in 1948.
Early on the Zionist leadership understand that the major problem to established an exclusively Jewish state is the vast population of Palestinians living in their desired territory. Ben-Gurion, the architect of the ethnic cleansing admits this reality to his Mapai party in 1947, that 40% of the Jewish population will not create a stable state. To overcome this problem the Zionist encourage Jewish immigration in a public venue as a solution. But they know this will not be enough, in their closed meeting the solution on the table was expulsion by force.
The initial Zionist strategy is to used retaliation as a pretext to expel Palestinian villagers. Although many of the villages have been attacked up to December 1947 the mood on the ground did not give the Zionist this pretext. Palti Sela, Zionist intelligence officer reported that although many Jewish settlements have turned their residence into a military outpost. Many Palestinians villages continue to live as normal, in fact, many received him during his visit with a warm greeting as a potential customer for trading. The Zionist knew they need a new strategy as they did not have any pretext to retaliate.
Pappe noted the betrayal the Palestinian has suffered from their Jewish neighbor, who they themselves had invited to come and stay with them in the Ottoman period. The Jew arrived in Palestine wretched and penniless from Europe, they shared their thriving metropolitan city only to be expelled and betrayed by their neighbor.
Starting in February 1948 the operation to ethnically cleanse Palestine become more systematic, no longer sporadic as in December 1947. Qisayra was the first village to be explled in its entirety on 15 February 1948 under the watchful eyes of the British troops stationed nearby. The Zionist in their operation will blow up houses while the families still sleeping inside, which left many dead children. Up to this moment, the Palestinians still reluctant to fight, the Zionist later codified their operation into a well-defined plan to uproot the Palestinians en masse from their homeland. The massacre in Deir Yassin also was discussed in the book, the Hagana sent Irgun and Stern Gang to absolve themselves. Many villagers were massacred in cold blood, sparing not even children, and women were raped.
Arab leaders at that time were not serious in defending Palestine while the king of Jordan made a secret pact with the Jews on dividing the land between themselves. The Arab leader also knew that their young nations have inferior military power compared to the Jews. Although the leaders are weak, their citizens demanded action, as the event evolved, although their leaders betrayed the people, volunteers and soldiers on the ground fight heroically, some defied their leader’s order to retreat. Among them, worthy of mention include the volunteer from the Muslim Brotherhood, volunteers and soldiers from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.
Looking at the historical archive, Pappe dispelled Israeli myth about Palestinians voluntary flight. Popular among traditional Israeli historians that they made way for invading Arab armies, the reality, however, is that hundred thousands of Palestinians already been uprooted and expelled even before the war began. This sheer fabrication according to Pappe – “holds no water”. Many of the massacres committed by the Jews were re-told vividly by Pappe from survivors account. One survivor, Muhammad Nimr al-Khatib described the massacre that took place in Tantura “The Jews gathered all women and children in a place, where they dumped all the bodies, for them to see their dead husbands, fathers, and brothers..”.
Despite the cowardice and betrayal from Arab leaders, Pappe recounted the bravery of individual soldiers, who defied orders to retreat and hold ground to defend the villagers. Captain Abu Rauf Abd al-Raziq for example, decided to stay behind and defend the village of Taytaba and Qalansuwa. There is also an account of Lebanese soldiers, crossing the borders to help defend Palestinians villages.
Then there are cases of rape. The most chilling was the case on 12 August 1949 by soldier based in Kibbutz Nirim where they abducted 12 years old Palestinian girl. She becomes a sex slave for the Jewish platoon, 22 soldiers participated in this barbaric act. The soldiers shaved her head, gang-raped her and in the end murdered her.
The Jews not only committed genocide and land grab. They also were responsible for what Pappe termed as ‘memoricide’ – a systematic act backed by the apartheid state to erase the memory of the Nakba in 1948. This was done by demolishing the villages, renaming the site with a Jewish name, reconstructing settlement on top of the ruin villages, and also planting a forest to cover the destroyed villages. This policy of erasing the memory and history of the Palestinians on their stolen land was the main job of the Jewish National Fund (JNF).
At the end of the book, Pappe highlighted that there are minority Jews that are not blind and deaf to the crimes committed by their army. Although their numbers are few, they hold the key to reconciliations with the Palestinians, as Pappe believes that peace only can be achieved, when these crimes were acknowledged and the right of return for refugees are respected. Overall the book is about how Palestinian been betrayed by their elites, Arab leaders, British, UN, and their Jewish neighbor. All of whom left them to bleed to death, savagely massacred by the Jews fueled by the Zionist ideology. If you did not cry reading this book, you have lost your heart.
Author of several books including Berfikir Tentang Pemikiran (2018), Lalang di lautan Ideologi (2022) and Dua Sayap Ilmu (2023). Fathi write from his home at Sungai Petani, Kedah. He like to read, write and sleep.