The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “PASSION AND POLITICS: The Turbulent World of the Arabs” by Sandra Mackey from Chapter 5 “The War for Palestine” on page 136 and I quote: “Nadia al-Hatar is a strikingly good-looking educator in her late forties who lives in East Jerusalem. I never go to Israel without having at least one cup of tea with her. Over the years, I have found her to be a person steeped in the Palestinian experience but free of the hyperemotional language that pours out of so many Palestinians. On one particular day, we drove north and west out of Jerusalem. Pulling to a stop in front of an old square stone house, we got out and walked across the road, where heavy trucks loaded with cement groaned up a steep incline. Neither of us said anything; we just looked down on the site where the most famous village of the 1948 war for Palestine once stood. After a few moments, Nadia turned to me and said, “You know, the Jews have this saying that unless you are a Jew you cannot begin to comprehend the Nazi Holocaust. I’m sure that must be true. But we Palestinians also have a saying. Unless you are a Palestinian, you cannot completely grasp the meaning of the massacre at Deir Yassin. It was nothing more and nothing less than an eviction notice served on a whole people.”
On April 9, 1948, the Irgun, along with operatives from the Stern Gang, crept in on Deir Yassin, an unremarkable Arab village hugging a rocky promontory west of Jerusalem. At dawn, the commandos quietly eliminated the village’s guard and invaded its stone-and-cactus perimeter. Families pulled from their beds stood dazed as fifteen houses within the village core collapsed, reduced to rubble by the Irgun’s dynamite. The pale stone walls of the remaining houses became backboards for Jewish bullets systematically riddling Palestinian bodies. In an orgy of destruction and death, Irgun and Stern Gang operatives slashed open villagers with the cold steel of their knives, spilling blood and entrails across the dusty ground. Women running with wild-eyed fear fell to the ground and were raped by the attackers. By noon, the operation had ended and Deir Yassin belonged to the Zionists. Its cost—254 Palestinians, most of whom were women and children.
As the sun set that evening on what was left of the grieving village, the heavy question hung—why Deir Yassin? It was nothing but a small community with no particular strategic value that had labored to avoid the conflict raging around it. Ironically, this was the reason Deir Yassin suffered its tragic fate. Deir Yassin was the Irgun’s bloody message to the Arabs to get out of Palestine.
Although the Palestinians wreaked their revenge three days later by killing seventy-seven doctors, nurses, university teachers, and students bound for the Hebrew University and the beleagured Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus, Deir Yassin, a typical Arab village, proved to be the single most devastating psychological blow to the Palestinians of the entire struggle for Palestine. Although the mainstream Zionist leadership publicly denounced the massacre, when Zionist forces moved on Tiberias and Haifa, Haganah jeeps equipped with loudspeakers preceded them to broadcast prerecorded shrieks, wails, and anguished moans of Arab women. Over the wail of sirens and the clang of fire-alarm bells, a sepulchral voice called out in Arabic, “Save your souls, all ye faithful! Flee for your lives! The Jews are using poison gas and atomic weapons. Run for your lives in the name of Allah!” And the Palestinians fled.
Abandoned by its traditional leadership, terrified by rumors of Jewish atrocities, threatened by Haganah artillery, the Palestinians surged out of Palestine’s coastal cities and villages. [FOOTNOTE: A small percentage of Palestinians fled at the urging of their leadership seeking to create chaos in Palestine’s Jewish dominated economy. The actual number of Palestinians fleeing for this reason is disputed.] In the pandemonium, Britain’s illusions of an orderly transfer of the mandate lay shattered. British troops, unable to inject themselves effectively into the chaos, huddled in their barracks while the villages of the eastern Galilee tumbled like dominoes. And there was no one else to stem the tide. Three months earlier, the same day the Irgun massacred the residents of Deir Yassin, the legendary Abd al-Qadir, the symbol of Palestinian resistance, died in the battle for the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road.
The sun was about to set on the British mandate of Palestine. On May 14, 1948, four Scottish bagpipes on top of the Hill of Evil Council outside Jerusalem wailed their lament for Britain’s years in Palestine. On the coast where they had turned back so many shiploads of Jewish immigrants, British soldiers protected by the steel of their tanks rolled through the rubble-strewn streets of Jaffa making their final patrols. In Haifa, eager British soldiers abandoned their wooden barracks overlooking the harbor and packed abroad barges headed for ships waiting to take them home to England. Although the mandate still had eight hours to run, General Sir Alan Cunningham, the last British high commissioner, had already retired to the cruiser Euryalus. There he sat waiting for the night to creep across the eastern Mediterranean. In 1917, Allenby had taken the British triumphantly into Jerusalem. Now they were departing, unhonored and unsung, leaving Jerusalem under the flag of the International Red Cross and Palestine to a new war.
In Jewish Tel Aviv, crowds in the streets chanted the ancient “Hatikvah”–”We have not forgotten, nor shall we forget, our solemn promise.” Inside, in the main gallery of the modern two-story Tel Aviv Museum of Art on Rothschild Boulevard, David Ben-Gurion, flanked by his twelve fellow ministers of the national council, stood beneath a portrait of Theodor Herzl. At precisely 4:00 P.M., he struck a blow on the long speakers’ table before him. “We proclaim the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine, to be called Israel.” Within sixteen minutes of Ben-Gurion’s announcement, U.S. President Harry Truman, against the advice of his State Department and to the total surprise of the United Nations General Assembly, debating at the moment the question of Palestine, announced the United States’ de facto recognition of the state of Israel.
The following day, May 15, the war for Palestine became an Arab war. The Egyptians moved out of the Sinai and along the coast toward Tel Aviv and through the Negev to Beersheba. An Iraqi force crossed the Jordan River and advanced toward the Mediterranean. A few thousand Syrians came down through Galilee, perceptibly reducing the fear spreading through the Arab villages. Even Lebanon sent a small force to join in the Arab cause, a profound symbol for a ruling elite that held as a sacred trust the determination to stay out of Arab politics. All the while, the Arab Legion of Transjordan held the center of the line. The only effective fighting force on the Arab side, it occupied areas east of the Jordan River and held Arab Jerusalem. Control of the Arab side of the war had passed from the Palestinians to the Arab states. And each of these states possessed its own jealous interests in Palestine, but none more than Transjordan, ruled by King Abdullah.
Abdullah in secret meetings with Israel’s Golda Meir had already agreed that in case of war between the Zionists and the Arab states, Abdullah’s army would stay out of that part of Palestine assigned to the Jews by the United Nations partition plan in return for Zionist agreement to Abdullah’s seizure of the Arab part. The Zionists in effect granted Transjordanian sovereignty over the West Bank of the Jordan river north of Nablus and south of Hebron, including the Old City of Jerusalem. When Transjordan appeared to be joining the Arab states in the invasion of Palestine, a worried Golda Meir sent a message to Abdullah asking if he intended to abide by his word. Abdullah responded with indignation, reminding her of three things—he was a Bedouin, a man of honor; he was a king doubly endowed with honor; and he was a man who would never break a promise made to a woman. Thus while the Palestinians and the Arab armies fought against the Zionists, Abdullah fought for himself.
Although the Arab radio and press claimed victory after victory, the Arab armies were losing. Lacking equipment, leadership, and zeal, the Arab League’s main failure evolved from the absence of a commonly agreed on objective. Arab rulers had decided on an invasion of Palestine as much to thwart any attempt by Abdullah to use victory there to establish his own hegemony over Syria and the Levant as to save Palestine for the Palestinians. And Abdullah knew it. As the Arab forces met the Israelis, Abdullah kept his own well-equipped and well-trained Arab legion on a tight rein, waiting for the war to end so he could claim his prize. Thus with Abdullah’s Arab Legion effectively neutralized, Israeli forces by October had driven the Egyptians from most of their positions in the Negev, cleared northern Palestine, and forced the Arab liberation Army into Lebanon and Syria. In December, Israeli mechanized forces pushed the Egyptians into a narrow corridor at Gaza and crossed into the Sinai Peninsula. The Egyptian government sued for peace.
In February 1949 a UN-negotiated truce between Israel and the Arabs took hold. Israel held in its hands all the land allocated to the Jewish state by the United Nations partition plan plus half the territory originally assigned to the Palestinians. Gaza, a narrow strip of territory fronting the Mediterranean, passed to Egypt. King Abdullah of Transjordan took what was left of Arab Palestine. Coiled barbed wire stretched the length of Princess Mary Avenue, dividing the city of Jerusalem between Arabs and Jews. With the truce in place, all that was left for Israel to do was clear out the last of the Palestinians deemed dangerous to the state of Israel and seal the borders.
Through the painful summer of 1948 and on into the desolate fall, the human debris of the war for Palestine had trekked across the ancient rock-strewn hills en route to some unknown destiny. They moved as families, even as villages, toward Transjordan, toward the strip of land along the Mediterranean known as Gaza, across the heights of Golan into Syria, and over the open border into Lebanon. Within these moving herds of people, a few rusting cars burdened with tightly rolled mattresses, sacks of flour, and the sick wheezed along the rough roads. But mostly those fleeing Palestine walked. The fit and the halt, the young and the old marched at a pace set by the most vulnerable among them. They stopped only for a racking birth or an exhausted death. And then they walked on. When the exodus finally ended, 700,000 Palestinians were homeless; 60 percent of the people of an entire society were refugees.
Today on a hilltop in the Galilee just west of Nazareth, the wind moves like a ghost through a stand of broad pine trees. Although traffic speeds by on the nearby road to Haifa and children laugh as they play on a colorful playground in the Jewish town below, here there is a peculiar quiet. The lonely wind sweeps the low boughs of the trees across deserted ground and bends the weeds atop rectangular mounds that were once houses. Even the spring that flowed below an outcropping of rock is quelled and dry. All that still stands in what was once a Palestinian Christian village is a deserted church. Vines tangle across its thick stone walls, entwine the bare rafters that once supported the roof, and choke the nave. Israel claimed this land not only by military force but by expunging from the landscape with dynamite and bulldozers every evidence that these hills were once alive with Palestinians. Only a church remains as a haunting reminder of Palestine before 1948.
The refugees might have starved that first winter if the Quakers and a few other benevolent organizations had not intervened. Claiming tents out of the surplus of World War II, the relief organizations threw together the camps that would shelter the refugees until Israel and the Arab states struck the permanent peace that would return them home. In the meantime, they waited in vast cities of olive-green canvas that sprang up along the borders of Israel. Refugee tents flowed over the sandy plain of Gaza, trapping their residents between the border of Israel and the Mediterranean. On the West Bank of the Jordan River, just as the road from Jerusalem to Jericho drops off the steep escarpment onto the flat floor of the Dead Sea valley, acres of canvas and shoddy burlap blanketed the bleached landscape. On this one site were 25,00 people; another 8,000 crowded into 500 circular tents over the hill; another 5,000 to the north; and 13,500 more billeted within the teeming streets of Jericho itself. The 170,000 refugees in Lebanon took shelter in what they could afford. The rich leased apartments in Beirut. Those with less rented small houses, and sometimes only huts, in the villages of southern Lebanon. One hundred and fifty people squatted in caves in the hills. The rest went to the camps.
The refugees hung suspended between the land to which they could not return and the lands in which they could never belong. Egypt, strapped by overpopulation and an arrested economy, segregated its share of refugees in the Suez Canal Zone and the Gaza Strip, separated from Egypt’s own population centers by the Sinai desert. Syria, with ample room but no resources, held Palestine’s dispossessed near the Golan Heights as if dangling a piteous bargaining tool before the eyes of Israel. Lebanon’s political establishment, fretting that the presence of the predominantly Muslim Palestinians would upset the delicate balance between Christians and Muslims on which the country’s political existence rested, denied the refugees all services of government, including education and health care. Only Jordan incorporated the Palestinians. For Abdullah, the refugees represented a valuable demographic commodity. They doubled Jordan’s minuscule population, and as citizens they legitimated Abdullah’s claim to the West Bank. Yet what Abdullah could deliver politically he could not deliver economically. Although a portion of the refugees escaped into the Jordanian economy, the rest stayed imprisoned in the camps. [FOOTNOTE: Some Palestinians refused to leave the camps when opportunities presented themselves. Of these, most insisted on staying on the borders of Israel in preparation for “the return.” Others regarded the camps as a statement of the injustice visited on the Palestinians.]
Regardless of its location, every camp presented the same deadening sameness. The tents leaked. The cold of winter seeped through blankets that were too thin. The rains of spring washed the waste of thousands of people from inadequate latrines into canals that served as the source of the water for drinking, bathing, and washing. The threat of dysentery, malaria, typhoid, and dengue lurked. Yet it was the absence of kerosene that created the most poignant symbol of refugee life. Every day as the sun set, the camps sank into darkness.
It all took its toll. Children ran through the camps like wild yearlings, because there were no schools. Women turned into scavengers, searching every day for the few sticks of wood that would turn scanty doles of flour into bread to feed their families. Still with their families for which to make some kind of home, women experienced purpose in their desperate lives. The men, without work, without the dignity that came with providing for their families, sat in the tattered tents whiling away the time. With the fear that propelled their flight gone, a debilitating listlessness consumed them. Stripped of their dignity, they sat emotionally naked.
Most of the refugee population were fallahin who knew little but how to bring forth crops out of the soil of Palestine. Their land was their universe, their identity. When it was lost, everything was lost, even the ability to create some order out of the chaos. Sadly there was none among the peasants able to take charge. The muktars, the village elders, suffered the same numbness as those they led. The old Arab adage “One day older, one day more experience” held no relevance in a society torn asunder.
The impassioned utterance “next year in Jerusalem” would sustain the Palestinians in their diaspora as it had the Jews through their diaspora. Wherever Palestinians settled, they wailed the lament for their lost land and wrote the poems of the Palestinian tragedy.
“Evil was made more evil by a nation
That ruled us by oppression and deceit.
Created out of Zionist fancies a home
Which grew to monstrous size:
Let the homeland of the natives be usurped,
Let the Arabs be herded out.”
1950 was a time when everyone except perhaps the Israelis still believed that some of the Palestinians would go home as soon as Israel and the Arab states signed a treaty of peace. But the formal peace that held the Palestinians’ only hope of return never came. The Lausanne Protocol of May 12, 1949, in which both sides agreed to accept the partition boundaries of 1947 and Israel agreed to the return of 100,000 refugees, was rejected by both sides. It was rejected because peace presented risks for both Israel and the Arab states. For Israel, any peace treaty meant compromise on the refugee issue. And such compromise not only brought Palestinians back into the Jewish state but opened up the question of Zionist territorial claims. In 1949, Yigael Yadin, the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, joined together the issue of the refugees and Israel’s final borders; “My opinion is that we must say with all cruelty: The refugee problem is no concern of the Land of Israel.””
(HERE IS SOME INFORMATION ON THE AUTHOR AND I QUOTE: “SANDRA MACKEY, A COMMENTATOR FOR CNN DURING THE GOLF CRISIS, IS A MIDDLE EAST EXPERT WHO HAS LIVED IN THE REGION FOR MANY YEARS AND IS THE AUTHOR OF THE SAUDIS; INSIDE THE DESERT KINGDOM (PLUME/SIGNET), AND LEBANON: DEATH OF A NATION. SHE HAS REPORTED ON THE MIDDLE EAST FOR VARIOUS PERIODICALS AND HAS APPEARED ON NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO, “NIGHTLINE,” AND “ABC NEWS WITH PETER JENNINGS.” SHE LIVES IN ATLANTA, GEORGIA.”
IN THE 1965 EDITION OF THE WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA ON PAGE 86 WRITTEN BY YEHUDA HARRY LEVIN AND WINFRED E. GARRISON UNDER PALESTINE AND I QUOTE: “Arab Conquest. – In the A.D. 600’s, the Arabs, fresh and zealous converts to Islam, swept out of the Arabian Desert. They seized Palestine in their great campaign of conquests. In Iraq, Egypt, and other countries, great centers of Moslem civilization arose. But Palestine remained in the background. The Arab Empire lasted about 400 years. Then Palestine, together with the other Arab provinces, fell to the Seljuk Turks. Later, the Turks lost most of Palestine to the Christian Crusaders, who came from Europe to free the Holy land from the Moslems. The Crusaders were driven out by the Mamelukes of Egypt. In 1517 Palestine was conquered by the Ottoman Turks.
The long series of conquests and increasing neglect turned Palestine into almost a wasteland. Cities crumbled, and swamps formed over rich soil. The population was mostly Arabs. There was also a small number of Jews. All of them were miserably poor. In 1882 the first group of Jews from Europe came to settle in Palestine. That was the start of the Zionist pioneering movement that led to the creation of the State of Israel.”
HOPEFULLY, INTELLIGENT PEOPLE IN THE UNITED NATIONS CAN COME TO A JUST CONCLUSION TO THIS ISSUE BETWEEN PALESTINE AND ISRAEL.
LaVern Isely, Progressive, Overtaxed, Independent Middle Class Taxpayer and Public Citizen and AARP Members