Ifwewantpeace andtruth, there can’tbeboycotts
ZIONISM WAS a utopian dream of creating a safe homeland, born in the minds of Jewish refugees fleeing the horrific pogroms of Eastern Europe in the 1880s and 1890s. Some 30,000 Jewish utopians took the boat to Palestine, erecting tents and building the first idealistic socialist communes, the kibbutzim. With extraordinary prescience, those Zionists anticipated that a Jewish homeland might be needed to protect Jews from further persecution. They could never have imagined that, in the 1930s and 1940s, two out of every three European Jews would be killed by the Nazis. This is an important early context to the Middle East conflict.
But there is another important context: in 1897, there were more than half a million Arabs, Bedouins, and Druze living in Palestine. The 30,000 Jews who arrived were really guests in someone else’s land. By 1935, the Jewish population comprised a quarter of the population of Palestine and each year the number of Jews in Palestine rose by more than 10 per cent. Arabs in Palestine felt and were displaced. This displacement lies at the heart of the current conflict. By 1936, anger towards the Jews in Palestine was palpable: alKassam called on Arabs to kill Jews, and to carry out a jihad against the Jewish immigrants whom he saw as stealing Palestine from the Palestinians. By 1936, the national Arab leadership was inciting violence against the Jews. The Arab revolt of 1937 led to an increasingly frequent murder of Jews.
In case the claim of Arab displacement is disputed, I provide a clear example of this from Ari Shavit’s important book My Promised Land: On July 4, 1948, Ben Gurion launched Operation Larlar, to conquer the Arab town of Lydda. On July 11, Arabs fired machine guns from Lydda at the advancing Israeli army, who sent in an armoured battalion with a cannon.
In 47 minutes, more than 100 Arab civilians were shot dead, including women, children and old people. The Israeli convoy entered Lydda and confined thousands of civilians in the Great Mosque, the small mosque, and St George’s Cathedral. In the combat, Israeli soldiers fired an anti-tank shell into the small mosque and, in 30 minutes, more than 200 Arab civilians were killed. The next day, July 12, Operations Officer Yitzhak Rabin issued a writ- ten order: “The inhabitants of Lydda must be expelled quickly, without regard to age.” By the evening, tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs left Lydda in a long column. The photo here captures this exodus. In Shavit’s words “Zionism obliterates the city of Lydda.” He describes Lydda as the “dark secret of Zionism”.
Shavit, and the Israeli historian Ilan Pappé, call this ‘‘ethnic cleansing”, an emotive term that is debated by other Israeli historians such as Benny Morris, who nevertheless conclude that the ‘‘old history’’ of Israel was “less than honest” and who are now writing the ‘‘new history’’. In Shavit’s words: “By the end of May 1948… the entire Safed-Tiberias region is cleansed of Arabs” and he reminds us that those Palestinian Arab refugees are “languishing… in the refugee camps of Jericho, Balata, Deheisha, and Jabalia… Seven hundred thousand [Palestinian] human beings have lost their homes and their homeland”.
Israel was founded by the UN on May 14 1948 and the next day five armies (Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon) invaded her. This is the war that Israel celebrates as the War of Independence; but it is the same war that the Palestinian Arabs memorialise as the ‘‘Nakba’’, or “the Catastrophe”. To understand why a war can have a different name to each community, one needs to listen
We must see that those in Israel who will suffer from a boycott are a source for peace