The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

Ilan Pappé's book The ethnic cleansing of Palestine can be read as a rebuttal of Morris's main arguments. He maintains not only that the Palestinians' expulsion was planned but also that the war-instigated by the Zionist leadership-intended to serve as a cover for emptying Palestine of its indigenous population. Most importantly he argues that Plan D (Tochnit Dalet in Hebrew) was in fact not a general scheme-as Morris and other Zionist scholars claim-rather a detailed plan of occupation and ethnic cleansing. Thus he writes: 'The Israeli documents released in the late 1990s show clearly that ...Plan Dalet was handed down to the brigade commanders not as vague guidelines, but as clear-cut operational orders for action' (p. 83). Even villages which maintained good relations with Jewish settlements or cordial relations with Hagana commanders and refrained from taking part in hostile activities (such as Deir Yasin) were not spared. Furthermore, the ethnic cleansing campaign had been pursued as late as 1962, fourteen years after Israel's establishment (p. 22).

The seeds of the transfer plan were laid down in a gathering of Zionist leaders at a Parisian hotel in late August 1946, where Ben-Gurion announced that he would accept a Jewish state with a Jewish majority in a large chunk of Palestine. Later, his ideas were translated into a map which, by and large, resembles the one that emerged after the war. Moreover, his demographic definition of a Jewish state where 90 to 80 per cent of the citizens are Jews was also met.

The actual planning and supervision of the ethnic cleansing took place in the Red House, the headquarters of the labour union, Histadrut, in Tel Aviv which was turned into the Hagana's headquarters during the war. A small group of twelve men referred to as the 'Consultancy', an ad hoc cabal, 'assembled for the purpose of plotting and designing the dispossession of the Palestinians' (p. 5). Composed of top Israeli military commanders, senior intelligence officers and orientalists, the list includes, besides Ben-Gurion, Yigael Yadin, Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon, Yitzhak Sadeh, Moshe Carmel, Yitzhak Rabin, Rahavam Zeevi, Issar Harel, Ezra Danin, Yehoshua Palmon and Eliyahu Sasson.

Pappé also discusses the village files-an archive which included files for almost all Palestinian villages. A file for each village that encompassed all the relevant data in addition to the results of a standardized survey was compiled. These records in addition to aerial photographic surveys conducted by professors at the Hebrew University in collaboration with the British authorities were moved to the Red House at the beginning of the ethnic cleansing operation and proved to be essential for its swift conduct (pp. 17-28).

Pappé's book sheds fresh light on the practicalities of the ethnic cleansing process; he brings the reader as close as possible to the mindset of the perpetrators: the decision-makers, the supervisors and the operators. Pappé uses the concept of ethnic cleansing, a western-employed concept that was used to morally and legally condemn the leadership of former Yugoslavia. If the model of ethnic cleansing, he argues, fits what some Zionist leaders have done in the 1948 war, why not bring them to justice? What is the culpability of the United Kingdom whose soldiers allowed many cases of ethnic cleansing to be carried out when the British Empire was the ruling power in Palestine? Why are Palestinian refugees, as victims of ethnic cleansing, not getting the needed UN and western assistance so as to make their repatriation possible?

Besides the new facts that Pappé brings, his book is written in a rarely humanizing style. Throughout it he brings the destroyed villages back to life through a description of their communities, fields, buildings and collective endeavour to improve their well-being. He then moves on to describe the orders that were given to the Israeli commander who occupied these communities and concludes by succinctly describing the current state of their sites.