HISTORY, Part 3: 1948 - 1967

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History: 1948 - 1967

On May 15, 1948—the day after the creation of the State of Israel—the Arab world went to war against the new state. It is no surprise that the rejection of Israel’s dominance would lead to conflict. Israel was backed by Western sympathizers and Stalin, and was able to obtain a huge quantity of weapons for the Israeli army (Gorodetsky 20), which was now fighting for its existence. On the other side were the Arabs, loosely allied and less prepared for the magnitude of the war (Khalidi 9). While the Palestinians viewed this as a fight to keep their land and lifestyle, they were undermined by several terrorist attacks and massacres by Israelis which frightened the population, causing hundreds of thousands to flee their villages rather than fight (Molavi 1).

When the war was over, Israel controlled all of the land that had been promised to them in the Partition Plan, plus almost 60% of the area that had been allocated to the Palestinians (Moughrabi 37). This outcome must be recognized as much more than the gain or loss of land. To use Noel’s language, the conflicted culminated in “annihilation, expulsion, [and] total subjugation of the less powerful group” (Noel 5). The nation of Palestine as it had existed was now annihilated: an unknown number were dead; about 800,000 Palestinian Arabs were expelled or fled from their homes, most never to return; and those who remained inside the borders of the State of Israel have been subjected to varying degrees of subjugation ever since (Molavi 1).

According to Badil (“Alternative”) Resource Center For Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, “most refugees were displaced by Israeli military forces using tactics violating basic principles of international humanitarian and human rights law: attacks on civilians, massacres and other atrocities; expulsion; and destruction and looting of property” (Ongoing). Palestinians around the world remember May 15th, Israel’s Independence Day, as Nakba (Catastrophe) Day, and consider it a day of deep mourning. The tragedy of the event was not lost on David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister:

Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader, I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, it’s true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we came here and stole their country. Why should they accept that? (Goldmann 99)

Once the war was over, Israel began to develop a new set of laws that would maintain and enhance its dominance. The task: to keep the 150,000 Palestinian Israeli citizens in a position of relative powerlessness. The scarce commodity to control: land—not only the land owned by the State and its Jewish Israeli citizens, but also as much as possible of the land owned by the Palestinian Israelis. This was accomplished through subjugation and expulsion.

To begin with, an aggressive policy of depopulation of Palestinian villages, which had emerged years before the birth of the State, picked up speed. Over time, more than four hundred villages (including my in-laws’ village, Ibdis) were evacuated and either repopulated with Jewish immigrants or bulldozed. On a smaller scale, neighborhoods in larger cities were also emptied of their Palestinian residents and appropriated by Jews. This act served the dual purpose of providing ready-made housing to incoming Jewish immigrants, and preventing Palestinians who had fled during the war from returning (Aruri 50). Palestinian Israelis who remained, and were in the way, were redirected to areas that had been assigned to them. The boundaries of these new towns were predetermined, and no growth was permitted; nor was construction of any new towns permitted (Fields 69). This policy is still in place today: not one new Palestinian town or village has been approved or established since the creation of the State in 1948 (Hesketh 10).

The other method Israel used to maintain power and thereby control over the land was more insidious. It took the form of Land Laws, and they were myriad. Most were not overtly discriminatory, but their underlying purpose was to appropriate land from the Palestinian citizens (Fields 70). A few examples will suffice:

-       Defense Regulation 125: under this law, Israel was permitted to declare any lands necessary for security zones and expel their inhabitants. When the people were gone, the Ministry of Agriculture would declare the land as “wasteland” and take control of it. (Dajani 40)

-       The Absentees Property Law: in this linguistic masterpiece, Palestinians who had fled from their homes and been barred from returning to them—even if they were within sight of their homes, and even if they held the deeds—were considered “absentees” because they were not in their homes on a particular day (that was chosen by the Israeli government). Their literal presence was acknowledged, but not considered sufficient to consider them legally allowed to keep their homes. Hence nearly 50,000 Palestinian Israelis were considered “present absentees.” (41) They number near 100,000 today, and are still internally displaced, residing in “unrecognized villages,” unable to receive services from the State of Israel. In the first five years of Israel’s existence, 350 of the 370 new Jewish settlements were built on land confiscated under this law. (41)

-       The Prescription Law: under this law, Palestinian Israeli farmers were required to prove that they had cultivated their land, uninterrupted, for a period of 15 years. If they were unable to do so, the land reverted to the State. This was problematic for many reasons, not the least of which was the fact that some of the Palestinian farmers’ documents had been lost in the war or during their evacuation. Some tried to use tax records as proof, only to have that form of documentation rejected. (45)

-       Town Planning Ordinance: on the surface this law looks innocent enough. It stipulates that a permit is required in order to build a new structure or add on to an existing structure. Without a permit, the structure is subject to demolition at the owner’s expense. However, it is important to note that Israeli bureaucracy makes it almost impossible for Palestinian Israelis to obtain building permits, and since the population continues to grow, new buildings are essential. It is not uncommon for a family to try unsuccessfully for years to get a permit, and finally to build an addition onto their home anyway, only to have it demolished. This may happen many times to the same family. (45)

The Palestinian Israelis’ position in the ethnic stratification was humiliating and infuriating: the entire Arab world was angered by Israel’s very presence as well as by its treatment of the Palestinians.

In 1967, a war broke out between Israel and its neighbors, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. Again, Israel was reported to have broken international humanitarian and human rights laws in the war that lasted six days (Israel’s Belligerent 10). The end result was that Israel occupied all of the remaining Palestinian lands—that 22% that had remained from the war in 1948. The Gaza Strip (which had been under Egyptian control) and the West Bank (which had been under Jordanian control) were now fully subject to Israel. Significantly, East Jerusalem, which had been Palestinian, was annexed by Israel as well. (Dajani 124) Palestinians commemorate June 5th, the day the war started, as Naksa (“setback” or “relapse”) Day. Less than two decades into the existence of the State of Israel, its control over the scarce resource of land was categorical and its domination absolute.

It can not be understated that it is unlawful for a state to expand its territory through war, even while acting in self-defense. This is in the charter of the United Nations (UN Charter). After the war, the UN General Assembly characterized Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank as a denial of self-determination and therefore “a serious and increasing threat to international peace and security” (Quigley 220).

When the dust settled on this short but decisive war, 400,000 Palestinians were displaced—half of which (including my in-laws) had already been displaced by the 1948 war. Nearly half of all Palestinians now lived outside their homeland (From 3).

Immediately after the 1967 war, the United Nations Security Council called on Israel to ensure the safety of the inhabitants of the occupied lands and facilitate the return of those who had fled during the conflict (UNSC), a demand which Israel ignored. More than 200 resolutions have been passed since 1967, calling attention to various human rights violations on the part of the State, nearly all of which have been disregarded (Hammond, un.org). Significantly, the United States has vetoed more than 40 resolutions calling on Israel to subscribe to international law (UNSC US Vetoes). It is important to keep in mind that, according to international law, occupation is intended to be a temporary measure (Occupation); yet Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza uninterrupted since 1967.

This neglect of their responsibility as occupiers has very real life (and death) consequences: just one striking example is in the infant and maternal mortality rates, as reported in the CIA World Factbook and other sources. In 2010, Israel saw an infant mortality rate of 4 deaths per 1,000 live births (2.6% for Jewish Israeli infants, 6.4% for Palestinian Israeli infants (Kelner)), while the Occupied Territories saw 14 deaths per 1,000 live births (CIA). The maternal mortality rate in Israel is 7 deaths per 100,000 live births (CIA) (for Palestinian Israeli women—especially Bedouin in unrecognized villages—the number is higher (UNESC)), compared to the OT’s alarming 64 deaths per 100,000 live births. (CIA) Besides the danger to babies and women, young men were being detained, often without charges; older men were unemployed and humiliated (UPDATE). Palestinians have faced an ongoing struggle for survival.

The history of the State of Israel is brief and bloody. It is the story of an oppressed people oppressing another people. The Jewish population that entered the land of Palestine before 1948 had powerful backers and strong ethnic identity, enabling them to quickly become dominant over the indigenous Palestinians. The Palestinians in turn refused to be subjugated or regulated. Because both groups wanted the land (scarce resource), conflict ensued—and continues to this day.

Kathryn ShihadahComment