Asserting the Past

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(311)

Review of 'The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine', Ilan Pappe, Oneworld Publications £16.99

When I was 17 I went to Israel and I planted a tree in the Jerusalem "forest". The tree wasn't indigenous and the forest was a recent human construction. I have a certificate from the Jewish National Fund (JNF) that states that I helped make Israel green.

The JNF failed to mention that the forest was the site of the Palestinian village of Ayn al-Zaytun, many of whose inhabitants were massacred by Jewish forces in May 1948. Without historians like Ilan Pappe the existence of this village would be confined to those who survived the expulsion.

Israel's axioms for peace negotiations claim that the present conflict began in 1967, when the West Bank and Gaza Strip were annexed during the Six Day War and that therefore the solution lies in an agreement that determines the future status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Furthermore nothing that happened before 1967 will ever be negotiable. This intends to remove the issue of refugees and the event known as the Nakbah (catastrophe) by Palestinians from any peace negotiations.

In his latest work Pappe takes us step by step through the atrocities of 1947 and 1948. There is also an examination of how this history has been covered up and how ideological motivation of the time continues to drive the Zionist leadership in Israel today to continue the unfinished project of the Nakbah.

Using quotes relating to the ethnic cleansing operations in Yugoslavia in the 1990s the reader is able to draw very direct comparisons to the process that took place in Palestine. A widely accepted definition states that "ethnic cleansing is an effort to render an ethnically mixed country homogenous by expelling a particular group of people and turning them into refugees while demolishing the homes they were driven out from". Further, it doesn't matter how the expulsion occurs, whether it is through violence or if people leave because they are worried or frightened and not allowed to come back.

During the 1930s a database was collected of the villages in Palestine including details of topography, quality of land, main sources of income, socio-political composition, and the age of individual men. After riots in the late 1930s, in which Jewish colonial settlers were attacked, lists of individuals involved were added. These village files formed part of the intelligence used during what became known as Plan D (or Dalet).

Plan D was a process of expulsion, extermination, destruction and "de-Arabisation" of Palestine. As Zionist leader Ben Gurion stressed, there was no need to distinguish the guilty, indicated in the village files, from the innocent. The time had come for inflicting collateral damage: "Every attack has to end with occupation, destruction and expulsion."

By 15 May 1948, the day the state of Israel was declared, half of the Palestinian population had been dispossessed and had fled. And despite truces and ceasefires the operation continued in earnest into 1949 and in one way or another has not stopped since.

The key conclusion drawn in this book is that what happened in 1948 continues to happen today. The project of turning Israel into an exclusive Jewish state is not finished. The building of the wall is the latest attempt to "render an ethnically mixed country homogenous". Pappe's book is a vital weapon in exposing the nature of the nakbah and its legacy.