Palestine 101: Palestinian Refugees & Washington’s Role In Mass Expulsions

U.S. government officials and the corporate media present
the Middle East “peace process”–and Middle East issues in
general–in a stunningly dishonest and distorted manner. The
victims of aggression are routinely depicted as the
aggressors and vice-versa.
Take, for example, a CNN news reader’s statement in early
September [of 1999] that the talks had stalemated because “the
Palestinians are refusing to compromise and want to retain
all of East Jerusalem.”
In this brief sound bite, the Palestinians are condemned for
being the unreasonable party, the roadblock on the path of
peace. Not coincidentally, this is precisely the Clinton
administration’s line, which presents itself to U.S. public
opinion as the frustrated “honest broker” in the Middle East
negotiations.

U.S. government officials and the corporate media present
the Middle East “peace process”–and Middle East issues in
general–in a stunningly dishonest and distorted manner. The
victims of aggression are routinely depicted as the
aggressors and vice-versa.
Take, for example, a CNN news reader’s statement in early
September [of 1999] that the talks had stalemated because “the
Palestinians are refusing to compromise and want to retain
all of East Jerusalem.”
In this brief sound bite, the Palestinians are condemned for
being the unreasonable party, the roadblock on the path of
peace. Not coincidentally, this is precisely the Clinton
administration’s line, which presents itself to U.S. public
opinion as the frustrated “honest broker” in the Middle East
negotiations.

What Are the Facts?
As
“East” implies, there is also a West Jerusalem, the far
larger part of the city, which has been a part of Israel
since it and 80 percent of historic Palestine were conquered
in 1948–the year the Israeli state was established. The
four-fifths of Palestine seized by force of arms 52 years
ago are not even on the table in these negotiations.
What is under discussion in the Oslo peace process is the
remaining 20 percent of Palestine, which Israel–with U.S.
arms and full backing–seized in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Palestinian East Jerusalem was occupied, and, in violation
of international law, annexed to Israel. The Israelis
declared all of Jerusalem to be their “eternal, unified
capital.”

Since then, Jerusalem has been expanded several times by
annexing additional Palestinian West Bank land.
The Israeli government has adamantly refused to relinquish
any part of East Jerusalem, which Palestinians unanimously
regard as their rightful capital. Yet it is the Palestinians
who are depicted as the unreasonable side.

Rather than being an honest broker, the U.S. government is
really the senior partner in an alliance with Israel against
the Palestinians and the Arab people as a whole.
The United States has given hundreds of billions of dollars
in economic and military aid to Israel over the past several
decades. The United States has built up the Israeli military
into one of the world’s most modern and powerful, even
though Israel’s population is just 7 million.
Today, Israel is the only country in the Middle East that
possesses nuclear weapons.

From the very beginning, Israel’s survival was dependent on
support from the United States and other imperialist powers.
U.S. leaders have lavished such uniquely extravagant support
on Israel not out of sympathy or sentimentality–they have
none–but because Israel serves as a military watchdog for
U.S. corporate and geopolitical interests in a most
strategic region of the world.
The destruction of national-liberation movements and
independent governments in the Middle East has been a fixed
objective of U.S. policy since the end of World War II, when
the United States became the dominant power in the oil-rich
region. And since its very beginnings as a settler state,
Israel’s leaders have consciously and willingly played a key
role in these efforts.

In 1951, Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion,
said in an interview with the newspaper Ha’aretz:
“Strengthening Israel helps the Western powers to maintain
equilibrium and stability in the Middle East. Israel is to
become the watchdog. There is no fear that Israel will
undertake any aggressive policy towards the Arab states when
this would explicitly contradict the wishes of the U.S. and
Britain.
But if for any reason the Western powers should sometimes
prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied on to
punish one or several neighboring states whose discourtesy
towards the West went beyond the bounds of the permissible.”

Over the years, Israel has invaded Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan
and Syria, made relentless war on the Palestinians,
intervened against liberation movements in the Persian Gulf,
bombed Iraq, aided the reactionary shah of Iran and much,
much more. Israel has always been perceived throughout the
Middle East as an implanted agent of the imperialist and
colonizing powers.

Expulsion of Palestinians
Along with Jerusalem, another major issue in the
negotiations is the right of expelled Palestinians to return
to their homeland. The U.S./Israeli team has offered nothing
here, either. More than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled when Israel was
established in 1948-1949. Hundreds of thousands more were
forced out in the 1967 war.
Today, they and their descendants number over 4 million–the
majority of the Palestinian people. Many continue to live in
refugee camps and cities in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and
elsewhere, often in dire poverty.
The forced removal of the Palestinian people from their
homeland was a crime of staggering proportions.

For decades, Israeli and U.S. officials claimed that those
who had left either did so voluntarily, or had never existed
at all. These Israeli creation myths have been thoroughly
exposed and discredited, even to a large degree within
Israel itself.
The myth was important to the legitimacy of the Israeli
state, because its founders claimed to be taking over “a
land without people for a people without land.”

Throughout the 1950s, the U.S. media often referred to
“refugees” or “displaced persons” living in abject misery in
the Middle East without identifying their land of origin. It
was a concerted attempt to make the name “Palestine” vanish
from the world’s geography.
How did the modern Israeli state come into existence and why
was the expulsion of the Palestinian population essential to
its creation?

In the late 1800s, the European advocates of an exclusively
Jewish state in Palestine began settling there. After World
War I Palestine became a British colony. But most of the
world’s Jewish community did not support the Zionist
project.
In the 1930s Hitler came to power in Germany. The Nazi
genocide in World War II killed 6 million Jews. After the
war, there was great worldwide sympathy for the Jewish
people.
The U.S. government had looked the other way while the Nazis
carried out the mass murder of Jews. During the war
Washington refused entry to Jews trying to flee the
Holocaust. And after the war, the United States turned away
Jewish death-camp survivors who wanted to emigrate here.
According to a New York Times report of the time, 90 percent
of Europe’s surviving Jews who wished to emigrate wanted to
go to the United States. But most were turned away.

Instead,
the Zionist leaders and their U.S. imperialist backers
worked to channel sympathy for the victims of the Nazi
Holocaust into support for creating an Israeli state in
Palestine.
The founders of Israel and their backers promoted an
international public-relations campaign around the
thoroughly racist slogan, “A land without people for a
people without a land.”
But Palestine was not empty territory. More than a million
Palestinian Arabs lived there.
The very existence of the Palestinians, whose ancestors had
been on the land for many centuries, was a major problem for
the Zionists. This was true even after the United Nations
voted to partition the British colony of Palestine into two
states on Nov. 29, 1947. Then, as now, the UN was under the
domination of the United States.
Under the plan, the new Israeli state was to receive 55
percent of Palestine’s territory, although just 30 percent
of the population was Jewish and only 6 percent of the land
was Jewish-owned.

War between Zionist settlers and the outraged Palestinians
broke out immediately. The Zionists had military superiority
thanks to outside aid, but the settlers could not achieve a
decisive victory for Israel as an exclusively Jewish state
as long as the Palestinians remained a majority.
Far from being a “land without people,” all the arable parts
of the country were inhabited by Palestinians.
In January 1948 the Haganah and the Irgun, Zionist
paramilitary forces, began to carry out “Plan Dalet.” Under
this plan, they staged nighttime attacks on “quiet”
Palestinian villages–those not involved in fighting.
Haganah and Irgun units would typically plant explosives
around houses, drench them with gasoline and open fire. The
point was to drive out the population.
Villagers left their homes, but went only as far as the next
village or city. They remained in Palestine.

Massacre as a Policy of Removal
The April 9, 1948, massacre of the entire village of Deir
Yassin raised “Plan Dalet” to a new level of brutality. When
it was over, 254 children, women and men lay dead.
It was meant as a warning to all Palestinians. While the
Jewish Agency “condemned” the Deir Yassin massacre in words,
on the same day it brought the Irgun into the military Joint
Command.
Twelve days after Deir Yassin, joint Irgun-Haganah forces
launched a lethal attack on the Palestinian areas of Haifa.
They rolled barrel bombs filled with gasoline and dynamite
down narrow alleys in the heavily populated city while
mortar shells pounded the Arab neighborhoods from overhead.
Haganah army loudspeakers and sound cars broadcast “horror
recordings” of shrieks and screams of Arab women, mixed with
calls of: “Flee for your lives. The Jews are using poison
gas and nuclear weapons.”
The Irgun commander reported that many Palestinians cried
“Deir Yassin, Deir Yassin,” as they fled.

Within a week, similar tactics led 77,000 of 80,000
Palestinians to flee the port city of Jaffa. These tactics
included Israeli sound cars driving through Arab
neighborhoods announcing, “Flee or the fate of Deir Yassin
will be yours.”
Jaffa was in what was supposed to be the Palestinian
partition zone.
Similar operations were repeated many times. By May 15,
1948, when Israel’s independence was proclaimed, 300,000
Palestinians were living and dying in abominable conditions
of exile in Lebanon, Gaza, Syria and the Jordan Valley.
By the end of that year, the number of dispossessed
Palestinians had grown to 750,000.
Their farms, livestock, work places and homes were stolen,
forming an indispensable foundation for the new Israeli
economy and state.

Today, millions of descendants of the dispossessed
Palestinians of 1948 still live in refugee camps and exile,
forbidden to return to their country by the Israeli
authorities. At the same time, it must be noted, according
to Israeli law, any Jewish person born anywhere in the world
has the “right of return” to Israel.
Over the past 50 years, the Palestinian people have
displayed incredible heroism and resiliency. They have faced
what appear to be insuperable odds: a people small in
number, with few resources, fighting not only Israel and the
United States, but also against the machinations of
reactionary Arab governments in the region.
The Palestinians have been counted out many times, but they
have not surrendered or disappeared. Nor will they.

Real peace in the Middle East is impossible without real
justice for the Palestinian people. Real justice requires a
truly independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its
capital and the Palestinian right to return.

Author: Richard Becker

News Service: Workers World News Service

URL: http://www.workers.org