Israel's original sin


by Paul Eisen

Like anyone else, Jews can define themselves as they wish. If they feel themselves to be a nation, then they are a nation. But, in accordance with the dictum, that ‘your freedom to swing your arm ends where your finger touches my nose’, it is when this self-definition impinges on others that the problems begin. It is then that others may ask whether this Jewish sense of nationhood—often an emotional and religious matter based on a perceived sharing of history and even of destiny—can ever be realised politically. What it boils down to is this: Jews, like any other people, may have the right to establish and maintain a state of their own, but, do Jews have the right to establish and maintain a state of their own in Palestine, already the home of the Palestinians? All this may, and will be argued, but what is beyond dispute is that, for Jewish national self-determination and statehood, it is the Palestinians who have paid a terrible price.
By 1947-48, Palestinians had been reduced to a state of anxiety and insecurity, and in 1948, when the State of Israel was established, a traditional Palestinian society was no match for its democratic, egalitarian and fiercely ideological foe. As a consequence, an entire way of life was obliterated. At least 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and into exile, more than 450 of their towns and villages were destroyed or pillaged and people who had lived a settled life for generations ended up either in tents in Lebanon, Syria or Jordan, or as a bereft and traumatised diaspora in every corner of the earth.
Nor was all this an unintended by-product of war. Although the idea that the Palestinians just ‘ran away’ has, in the main, been dispelled, we are still left with many stories, obfuscations and downright lies about where responsibility lies for this ethnic cleansing. The critical issue has centred on the question of intentionality.
The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, like most instances of ethnic cleansing, was intentional, premeditated and planned. But we need not bother looking for direct documentation. Although there is mounting evidence for the desires and intentions of the Zionist leadership to cleanse the land of Palestinians, the architects of the Nakba left no ‘smoking gun’. There was no written order, because there was no need for a written order. Like other instances of ethnic cleansing, the expulsion of the Palestinians was done on ‘understandings’. As Ilan Pappé has noted, every local Haganah commander, and all the men under their command at every village and town, knew exactly what was required. Sometimes a few shots in the air would be sufficient, and sometimes a full-blown massacre was needed. However, the result was always the same.
This was made clear on Sunday April 9th 2006 at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London, when Deir Yassin Remembered put on Razanne Carmey’s“How Palestine Became Israel”. On one side of the stage the Palestinian villagers of Sindyana went about their daily business, while on the other side, David Ben-Gurion and his comrades planned how to secure the desperately-needed Jewish majority.
Ben-Gurion has the answer: “Don’t be coy” he says, “We know what must be done…We need a few massacres – highly publicised, newspapers with stories of death, rape and burning. As soon as you shoot a few in the village square – that’s how you empty a village.”
So, massacre is the order of the day and we in the audience watched, as, at Deir Yassin, a father was led outside for execution whilst his wife and child sang Wain A Ramallah to drown out the sounds and, in the rest of Palestine we saw the march of ethnic cleansing. As a projected animated map steadily turned from green to pink, Arab Palestine became Jewish Israel, accompanied all the time by flashing pinpoints of light – each of the seventy known massacres making its own special contribution to turning Palestine into Israel. And for a soundtrack, jazz musicians Gilad Atzmon and Yaron Stavi stepped onstage to improvise an agonised Wain A Ramallah – that happy-clappy song used first at a family party, then to drown out the sounds of an execution and finally now to accompany the Palestinian people in their long journey into exile.
That night, after I returned home, I thought back on all that I’d seen. One scene from the play that kept coming back to me – it was a dramatization of an incident from the memoirs of Yitzhak Rabin. Some Haganah commanders are with Ben-Gurion in his office. They’ve captured some towns and villages and they don’t know what to do next. “Prime Minister,” they ask, “What is to be done with these people? Without a word or even a glance Ben-Gurion, with a sweep of his hand gives them their answer and their orders.
This then was Israel’s original sin and since then, the sin has been compounded many times over, as Israel has continued its assault on Palestinians and Palestinian life. From border raids and massacres to the occupation and the settlements, to the slaughter of 20,000 in Lebanon, through provocations, closures, expulsions, demolitions, arrests, torture and assassinations, to the chicaneries of Oslo and the Roadmap where Palestinians were to be bamboozled into going into their cage quietly, all the way to further holocausts on Jenin, Lebanon and Gaza – Israel and Zionism have sought to destroy the Palestinians, if not always physically, then certainly as a people in their own land.

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