Book Review: The Forgotten Palestinians
By Rod Such
Beaver County Peace Links
Ilan Pappé's The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of the Palestinians in Israel (2011) is an important new addition to the growing literature about the Israeli government's treatment of its own Palestinian Arab citizens.
Most people are unaware that Palestinian Arabs now represent 20 percent of Israel's population, a larger minority group than African Americans who make up 11 percent of the U.S. population. Israel's Palestinian Arab population is made up of those Palestinians who remained in Israel after its founding in 1948 and their descendants. Pappé's
The Forgotten Palestinians focuses on the history of this group of people from the period just prior to Israel's formation to the present. It also discusses current conditions facing Israeli Palestinians and their political consciousness and development. For those who want a more detailed understanding of current conditions, however, The Forgotten Palestinians should probably be read in conjunction with Israel's Palestinians: The Conflict Within (Cambridge University Press, 2011) by Ilan Peleg and Dov Waxman.
Pappé is one of Israel's so-called "new historians," a group that includes among others Benny Morris, Tom Segev, and Avi Shlaim. The difference between these historians and all previous histories by Israeli authors is that the new historians-all Israeli Jews--were the first to have access to official Israeli, U.S., and British documents. In this sense, Segev suggests, they should be known as Israel's "first historians" because they were the first to be able to write authoritative history based in large part on actual government and military documents that had previously been classified secret.
No longer having to rely solely on newspaper accounts, memoirs, and other sources, these historians could help verify accounts and uncover new information by examining official documents that were declassified in the 1980s. Many of the documents were found in the archives of the Haganah, the precursor of today's Israel Defense Forces (IDF), which continues to keep other information from the period secret, such as photographs from the Deir Yassein massacre.
Together, the first Israeli historians demolished many of the foundational myths about Israel's creation, some of which are still widely believed today, and in doing so, confirmed what many Palestinian historians and writers had been saying all along. The chief myth was that the Palestinians left their homes voluntarily in 1947 and 1948 on instructions from Palestinian leaders and those Arab governments that opposed the United Nations partition of Palestine. Not only did these historians find no evidence for this broad claim, they found contrary evidence that Israeli political and military leaders of the time followed a strategy of "transferring" or expelling as many Palestinian Arabs as they could conceivably evict, particularly as Israeli military forces proved victorious and claimed 78 percent of Mandate Palestine, far more territory than the UN had allotted to Israel.
Pappé is perhaps best known for The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oneworld Publications, 2006), which combines historical scholarship with political analysis to make the case that the expulsion of about 750,000 Palestinians and the destruction of about 500 Palestinian villages in 1947-48 was the result of a concerted political and military campaign of ethnic cleansing. The aim of that campaign was to create an overwhelming Jewish majority in the new state of Israel, one that would never have to share power with the indigenous Palestinian Arabs.
In a sense, The Forgotten Palestinians picks up where The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine leaves off. What happened to the more than 100,000 Palestinians who remained in Israel after hostilities ended in 1948? As Pappé notes, "the price they paid was far more than taking the oath of allegiance to the new state. They were provided with a quid pro quo: instead of being expelled outside the boundaries of the state, they were allowed to stay but not to return to their original homes; their lands and properties were expropriated and they were told to look for new dwellings." While 750,000 Palestinians became external refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere, the more than 100,000 Palestinians who remained in an expanded Israel became internally displaced refugees, most of them forced off their land without compensation and pushed into low-wage urban labor after living for generations as peasant farmers. In addition, those living in rural areas were placed under military rule while those living in urban areas were monitored by civilian authorities who placed tight restrictions on Palestinians' freedom of movement.
From the very beginning Israeli Palestinians faced discrimination as they were viewed as a "fifth column" within Israel, permanent "outsiders' in a Jewish state. Any Jew anywhere in the world received automatic citizenship but Palestinians living within Israel had to apply for citizenship. Moreover, as Pappé notes, "The Palestinians faced quite an elaborate system of control and oppression. Military rule was imposed mainly on the rural areas, while the urban centres were put under tight civilian monitoring and control. The military rule areas were administered . . . by the Ha-Mimshal Ha-Zvai (military rule) unit within the Israel Defense Forces, which had its own command. The members of this unit did not have a direct presence in the towns and the cities where Palestinians lived but their counterparts in the 'civilian' authority there emulated their mode of control and enjoyed similar wide powers; hence these areas for all intents and purposes came under military rule as well. Politically, the military rule unit came under the Ministry of Defense on the one hand and the Israeli secret service, the Shabak, on the other. A special committee met every now and then to coordinate strategy; at its first meeting this committee defined the Palestinian community in Israel as a 'hostile community' which needed to be constantly monitored and supervised. The Palestinians were described there as 'a fifth column' that at any given moment could join the enemies of the state. Senior members of the Shabak, the Prime Minister's Advisors on Arab Affairs, a representative of the trade union, Histadrut, and officials from the 'military rule' unit were all members of this committee, which 'managed' the Palestinian community in Israel until 1966. It is important to stress that initially there was no dissent inside the Israeli political and military elite about the necessity of military rule. It was imposed on 21 October 1948 by David Ben-Gurion [Israel's first prime minister] and was based on the Defence (Emergency) Regulations established by the British Mandate in 1945, which gave unlimited control to the military governors over the Palestinian community. According to these regulations the governor had the right to arrest people without a warrant and detain them without trial for long periods; he could ban their entrance to a place or expel them from their homes; he could also confine them under house arrest. He could close schools, businesses, newspapers and journals, and prohibit demonstrations or protests."
Ironically, Pappé notes, early Zionist leaders objected to these same regulations when they had been applied to Jewish settlers living in British Mandate Palestine. Back in 1946, prior to Israel's establishment, "Yaakov Shimshon Shapira, the legal advisor to the government and later a Minister of Justice himself . . . used the following harsh words to describe the very same regulations he was now exercising against the Palestinians in Israel:
'The regime that was established in accordance with the emergency regulations has no parallel in any enlightened country. Even in Nazi Germany there were no such rules. . . . Only one form of regime resembles these conditions - the status of an occupied country.'"
Pappé elaborates: "The two most notorious regulations were No. 109, allowing the governor to expel the population, and No. 110, which gave him the right to summon any citizen to the police station whenever he saw fit. Another famous regulation was No. 111, which sanctioned administrative arrest - arrest for an unlimited period without explanation or trial. However, the most important was Regulation No. 125, which became an Israeli law in 1949, allowing the Israeli government to impose military rule on any territory within the state. Officially, Regulation No. 125 focused on the prevention of movement into and out of the designated area and sometimes movement within that area. But the prevention of movement was used by the Israeli government to expropriate land without being interrupted by protest or by legal action taken by the victims of this policy. Without the right to move freely the Palestinians had very little hope of finding work outside the restricted area (and work was only to be found in the forbidden Jewish areas) . . . . the prevention of movement robbed the Palestinians in Israel of their basic civil rights, even if officially the regulation did not relate to every sphere of life."
Israeli military rule in Palestinian rural areas was often brutal and in 1956 led to a massacre in the village of Kafr Qassem after a local military commander arbitrarily imposed a new time for curfew on the village. Pappé elaborates:
"Colonel Issachar Shadmi, a former commander of a POW labour camp of Palestinian prisoners in the 1948 war, and now commanding a brigade, asked and received permission to impose a curfew at 5 p.m. rather than 9 p.m., the time previously announced to the villagers under his command. In a meeting with his soldiers he repeated the general instruction for an Israeli curfew: shoot on sight without warning its violators. Soldiers noted the time difference and asked what they should do with those who were late in returning from the fields or their work. According to their evidence at the trial later, Shadmi retorted, 'Allahu Irhmaum', 'May they rest in peace'; the Arab blessing for the dead. Major Shmuel Melinki was the battalion commander of the border police in Kafr Qassem. He too, according to evidence given in court, was asked by his subordinates what to do with the men, women and children labouring in the fields, unaware that the time of the curfew was brought forward. 'Act without any sentimental hesitations. Do as the commander of the Brigade told us.' It seems soldiers wanted clear instructions. Melinki reread the brigade commander's orders which said, 'the rule [of shooting violators] applies to everyone'. The change of timing did not only occur in Kafr Qassem, it applied to all the villages which were under Shadmi's command and quite a few others all over Israel. But in Qalanswa, Taybeh, Ibtin, Bir al-Saqi, Jaljulya and Kafr Qara, the local commanders allowed latecomers to return until 9 p.m. The court records have a curious but not untypical remark by the commander in Kafr Qara: 'I was somewhat ashamed the next day that nobody in my village was killed.' Shalom Offer was commanding the main checkpoint at the entrance to Kafr Qassem. Just a few minutes before 5 p.m., two villagers appeared in front of him. Ahmad Farig and Ali Taha alighted from their bicycles and were greeted sarcastically by the officer with the question, 'Are you happy (mabsustin)?' [Presumably meaning, 'Are you happy with yourselves for being late?'] 'Yes,' they replied. They were ordered to stand and were shot. 'Enough,' said the officer to his soldiers after a while, 'They are already dead. We have to spare the bullets.' This account was given by Mahmoud Farij and Abdullah Samir Badir who witnessed the event and managed to escape, although they were shot and wounded. Other villagers who came later were shot in a similar way. Among them was Fatma Sarsur, eight months pregnant, who had just finished picking olives nearby. For an hour the shooting continued, according to the evidence given by Hannan Suleyman Aamer, the only woman who survived from the group that was massacred. Forty-eight villagers met their deaths in that hour, including twelve young women, ten male teenagers and seven boys. Thirteen others were badly wounded. It took time before the authorities reacted. Two weeks after the massacre the first official Israeli acknowledgement was published. In hindsight it seems to be less an admission of the facts, and much more a pre-emptive attempt to provide immunity to the perpetrators of the crime."
In addition to brutal repression and attempts to control the movement of Palestinians, the period of military rule was also notable for continued land confiscation. "In property," Pappé notes, "they [the Israeli government] created an apartheid-style system of land transactions. The laws passed in the first years of the state defined most of the land for sale in Israel as being the exclusive and perpetual property of the Jewish people. The result was that almost all Palestinian-owned land was taken by the government and turned into state land, which could be sold or leased only to Jews. By the end of the confiscation frenzy and the formulation of the policy legalizing it, 92 per cent of the country's land had fallen into Jewish hands. Palestinian land, which on the eve of the 1948 war amounted to 4.6 million dunams [one dunam is equal to about 900 square meters] within the territory that became Israel, was reduced by 1950 to 0.5 million dunams. To summarize this period one can say that in the first decade of Israel's existence the basic parameters in the state's attitude towards its Palestinian minority were formulated and fixed."
Military rule also resulted in de facto school segregation. As Pappé explains:
"Another set of laws dealt with the educational system. Under military rule the educational system was practically, although never formally, segregated. The segregation was ostensibly the result of the restrictions on movement imposed on the Palestinians. After 1966, Palestinian citizens were allowed to travel into the Jewish areas and they could theoretically join Jewish educational institutions. There was no law that prohibited them from doing so, but the establishment of separate educational systems for them was a clear enough message. The segregation was not meant to allow Palestinians to develop cultural autonomy. Quite to the contrary, it was meant to supervise it closely so that such autonomy would not develop. It also allowed the government to discriminate in terms of resources and budgets. The standard of an average school or class in the Palestinian areas was much worse by any parameter or criteria compared to that of the average Jewish school. Interestingly, the segregation stopped at the level of higher education. The idea of an Arab university, which has surfaced every now and then from 1967 to the present day, was categorically rejected by the government, which feared that such an institution would become a hotbed of anti-state sentiment."
By the time military rule in rural areas was formally ended in 1966, it had established the parameters for ongoing discrimination and systematic inequality vis-à-vis Israel's Palestinian citizens. Without land, Palestinian farmers became low-wage laborers in Israeli cities and towns, and their children grew up in segregated housing and schooling that further ensured their second-class citizenship. "The Palestinians in Israel had no representation in the army, in the government, in the Supreme Court or in the leadership of the Histadrut [Israel's labor federation], and needless to say they were excluded from the Jewish National Fund, the powerful body that decided how land would be allocated and distributed in Israel, and which also had an impact on the water quota, whereby the Palestinians had been discriminated against ever since 1948. Only 2.3 per cent of the water resources available in Israel were allocated to the Palestinians in Israel in those years, and the percentage has remained the same in the twenty-first century," Pappé writes. So complete was their exclusion from the possibility of upward social mobility that in the educational system alone, by the 1970s, "official Israeli statistics showed that only 1 per cent of Palestinians were enrolled in the official education system beyond the age of sixteen, and only 4 per cent were enrolled between the ages of thirteen and fifteen."
Israel's system of pre-university segregation continues to this day. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Israel publicly funds only one integrated Jewish-Arab school in all of Israel, and it is often threatened with closing if it appears to be losing its Jewish student majority. In separate studies in the early 2000s by Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the two human rights groups discovered official government statistics showing that Jewish-only schools receive three times the funding of Palestinian schools.
Pappé notes, "Half of the families considered to be below the poverty line in Israel are Palestinian, while the Palestinian community accounts for nearly 20 per cent of the population. Two-thirds of the children defined as suffering from malnutrition in 2010 in Israel are Palestinians." Moreover, only people who have served in the army are eligible for state benefits such as loans, mortgages and reduced university fees. There is also a close link between industry and security in the Jewish state, and many employers insist that potential employees have done army service, which means that significant sections (almost 70 per cent) of industry are closed to Palestinian citizens."
Despite an attempt to address inequalities and discrimination with the passage of a law in 1995, under the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the first and only Israeli government ever to consult with Arab political parties, Pappé points out: "the first ever law to grant full equality to its citizens regardless of their ethnicity or religion . . . has been ignored in the years that followed [its passage]. According to this law employers could no longer discriminate against Palestinians. However, Jewish employers continued (and still do) to advertise vacancies for employees 'after their military service', a clear code in the Israeli society for 'Jews only'. Palestinians also continued to be discriminated against in terms of university admissions and welfare benefits, which were also partially dependent on military service."
Land confiscation and Judaization also continue as Israel enters the 21st century and seeks to make more areas of the country free of Palestinian Arabs. Pappé writes:
". . .plans for the most recent wave of Judaization in the Galilee, Wadi Ara and the Negev were announced in 2005. (It is not a coincidence that this was the same year of the disengagement from Gaza: a seemingly dovish move in the occupied territories had to be 'compensated' by a hawkish move inside Israel.) Worried Palestinian heads of councils met in the village of Kafr Manda to oppose a plan for expanding territorially more than one hundred Jewish settlements at the expense of land belonging to Arab landowners. The other side of the plan (not stated openly, but presumed by the participants in the Kafr Manda meeting) involved disallowing the expansion of Palestinian villages. The architect of the 2005 plan was Sharon's deputy prime minister, Shimon Peres, who also suggested at a Jewish meeting in Carmiel before the Manda meeting that 10,000 units would be sold cheaply to Jewish citizens to enhance the plan of Judaization. 'The development of the Negev and the Galilee is the most important Zionist project in the next years,' he declared. The costs for this project were supposed to come from the American administration as part of the $2.1 billon promised by President George W. Bush in compensation for Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. In those days, the Israeli policy makers realized that they could no longer rely on Jewish immigration from abroad as the best means of maintaining their demographic superiority in the state, however its future borders were demarcated. These human resources were running out so all they could do was to encourage Jews to leave the metropolitan centres of Israel and resettle in the north and the south."
Pappé holds out little hope for reform from the principal Zionist political parties within Israel. "If you want to know where the governmental consensus lies in twenty-first-century Israel, you listen to the members of the Labour Party - partners in the coalition government of both [former prime minister Ehud] Olmert and [current prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. One such representative is the head of the regional council of lower Galilee, Motti Dotan, who said in 2008: 'If we lose the Jewish majority in the Galilee this is the end of the Jewish state.' This member of the allegedly left-wing Zionist party added: 'I would like to imagine a Galilee without Arabs: no thefts, no crimes …we will have normal life.' If the 'left' talks in such a manner, you can imagine what the language used by members of Likud and Israel Beitenu [Israel Our Home, the party of foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has openly called for the expulsion of Israel's Palestinians] might be."
What kind of state has Israel become? Pappé is in search of a definition. "Nor is it enough," he writes, "to define Israel as an ethnocracy. If it were, the deterioration could then be halted or slowed down by reinforcing democracy; but, as this book tries to argue, such a fundamental change would be a total sell-out of the most basic assumptions on which the Jewish state was built and on which it is currently maintained. Israel controls the whole area that was formally Mandatory Palestine and the examination of its oppressive nature relates to its relationship with about five million Palestinians who live in the Mandatory Palestine area. In more ways than one, the oppression also affects the lives of the millions of Palestinians who live in exile or in refugee camps as a result of the ethnic cleansing Israel carried out in 1948. The professional literature also offers models of such oppressive regimes beyond the Arab world, such as the term 'Masters' (Herrenvolke) democracy', chosen by some scholars to describe the apartheid regime in South Africa. For the lack of a better paradigm I opt here for the 'Oppressive State' as the paradigm that can best describe the current reality for the Palestinian minority in Israel."
The reality is, Pappé writes, that Israel is "a country whose founders wanted to build a central European liberal democracy, but instead created a hybrid between a settler colonialist state and a secret-service . . . regime imposed on its Palestinian population." As a result, today "there are two kinds of Palestinians: the 'occupied', with no rights whatsoever, and 'our Palestinians', the citizens of the state who have no collective rights - apart from formal democratic rights such as voting. Unlike the Jewish majority, they have no right of land ownership, cannot identify in public with their national movement and cannot build autonomous educational or cultural systems. For most of the time this was sufficient for presenting Israel as the 'only democracy in the Middle East', but the apparition disappeared when, after 1975, the Palestinians in Israel increasingly demanded collective rights."
Pappé devotes considerable space to the evolution of Palestinian political consciousness within Israel. Much of this discussion is based on his own familiarity with and involvement in the struggle for equal rights for Palestinians. This section of the book is somewhat impressionistic, weaving back and forth in time without a clear narrative. Readers looking for a more concise overview might want to consult other works, such as Laurence Louer's To Be an Arab in Israel (Columbia University Press, 2007). Nevertheless, Pappé's empathy and insights are invaluable.
So what lies ahead for Israel's Palestinians, who are insisting that Israel should be a state for all its citizens? Pappé outlines the principal components of the "vision documents" recently put forward by Palestinian intellectuals. These vision documents, he says, "seek a concessional democracy, like the one that was intact for a while in the post-Soviet Czech Republic and those that still survive in Belgium, Switzerland and Canada, in which the right of the 1948 refugees to return would be recognized and the Palestinians would enjoy cultural autonomy; according to their demographic share they would be represented in the legislative, executive and constitutional arms of the state and hence in the distribution of resources and budgets. Finally, the documents demanded an equal status for Arabic and national Palestinian insignia in the state. Some documents also suggested a power of veto over crucial strategic decisions pertaining to the society as a whole."
How likely is this vision to be fulfilled given the increasingly rightward and racist drift of Israeli society? Israel's foreign minister Lieberman and Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni have both proposed including Israeli Arab villages in a "land swap" so that thousands of Israeli Palestinians would be expelled to a new Palestinian state, according to the "Palestine Papers" disclosed by al-Jazeera. This would purportedly insure that Israel will continue to be an overwhelmingly Jewish state. On the other hand, figures like Avraham Burg (former Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, and author of The Holocaust Is Over: We Must Rise from its Ashes) have emerged to embrace the slogan of "a state for all its citizens."
Will Israeli Jews ultimately embrace the idea of a multiethnic, pluralistic democracy or will they continue to believe that only an ethnically dominant state can ensure the safety of Jews worldwide? Isn't it telling that Pappé himself was forced to leave Israel, having received death threats, and that similar fates have befallen other Israeli Jewish academics, such as the sociologist Baruch Kimmerling? What happened to the so-called guaranteed safe refuge for these and other Israeli Jews critical of their government? Or is Israel merely a safe refuge for those with a particular ideology; namely, the political Zionists who have caused such vast and deep suffering to millions of people and at what cost to their own humanity?