Even today, you can find some left-wingers in Israel who try to reconcile the creation of the Israeli capitalist state with the mass expulsion of the Palestinian masses. After so many years they still think that a better partition, one that could have been fairer to the two peoples was possible. Since they refuse to learn from the mistakes of the past they repeat them today with their support for the slogan: “two nations, two states”.
Fifty years ago, on November 29 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a Partition Plan calling for the creation of two States, one Jewish and the other Arab. Jerusalem would be given a special status outside the sovereignty of each of the two States. The Zionist leadership accepted this but the Arab States refused and argued that it was very unfair that one third of the population – the Jews – would be granted 60% of the territory. The day after the declaration of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, Israel was invaded by military troops from Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan and Egypt.
This first war came to an end with the Armistice agreements signed under the aegis of the UN in 1949 with Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. In accordance with these agreements, at that time the Israeli territory extended over 20,000 km², almost four fifths of former Palestine under the British mandate. At the same time, no more than approximately 130,000 Arabs remained within the Israeli borders against 850,000 previously.
The Zionists and their supporters argued that if only the Palestinians accepted the partition there could be peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
In reality the partition of Palestine – like the partition of Ireland, India and Cyprus – was a device used by the big powers, the imperialists and the Stalinist bureaucracy to divert the class struggle into national hatred in order to restore the imperialist order that had been shattered after the war.
The lie that partition, including partition along ethnic lines, could bring peace between different nations and ethnic or religious groups was no more than crude propaganda aimed at hiding the real aims of the imperialists. A review of a few historical examples will show that they all brought the same result, blood baths, ethnic cleansing and hatred that served to put many millions of workers and peasants under the control of a handful of rich imperialists.
After World War I, Ireland was divided by the British imperialists into the Catholic South and the North which had a Catholic-Protestant divide, with a Protestant majority. Violence in the North is still continuing to this day, some 80 years later. Power in the North has always been in the hands of British imperialism and their local Protestant political allies. In this set up the Catholic minority in the North were treated as second-class citizens for decades.
Meanwhile in the Republic of Ireland, where the Catholic clergy has a powerful influence in the state apparatus, there are laws allowing the censorship of books and films, and laws that prohibit divorce and abortion and other backward measures.
The island of Cyprus is another example. After the invasion by Turkey in 1974, evidently with the approval of the U.S. imperialists, the island was divided. In the ethnic cleansing that took place 20,000 Turks went north while ten times that number of Greeks went south. The island is now divided, with only one crossing, and there are separate currencies and even different time zones. There is also mistrust on both sides after what happened in 1974.
After World War II the British divided India into a Muslim section and a section for the remainder who were mostly Hindu. As result some 17 million people were forced out of their homes and became refugees, and countless other were killed in the pogroms. More Muslims remained in India, however, than went to Pakistan, which declared itself a Muslim country. Later, East Pakistan, aided by India, broke away from Pakistan. India and Pakistan have had three major wars over the province of Kashmir and were only a few years ago poised to go to war again. They are both armed with nuclear weapons.
In this article however we will focus on Palestine, which came under the rule of Britain at the end of the First World War and was given to her as a mandate by the League of Nations, the precursor of the UN.
The standard Zionist position is that they came to Palestine to reclaim their ancestral homeland in the late 19th century. Jews bought land and started building up the Jewish community there. They argue that they were met with increasingly irrational, primitive, violent opposition from the Palestinian Arabs, presumably stemming from the Arabs’ inherent anti-Semitism. The myth the Zionists try to maintain is that they came with good will, but were then forced to defend themselves and, in one form or another, this same situation continues up to today.
The problem with this line of argument is that it is simply not true, as the documentary evidence shows. What really happened was that the Zionist movement, from the beginning, looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the indigenous Arab population so that Israel could be a pure Jewish state, or as close to this as was possible. Land bought by the Jewish National Fund was held in the name of the Jewish people and could never be sold or even leased back to Arabs (a situation which continues to the present).
The Arab peasants and workers, the bulk of the population of Palestine, had been Arabic since the seventh century A.D. (over 1200 years ago). They included Jews who converted to Islam with the arrival of the Arabs in the 7th century A.D. The local Arab population became increasingly aware of the Zionists’ intentions. Insisting on Hebrew labour meant the removal of Arab workers. Hebrew land meant the removal of Arab villages from land bought from the big landlords living in Beirut. This was land that had been tilled by the peasants for centuries.
The Zionist policy caused the opposition of the local population to oppose further Jewish immigration and purchasing of land because it posed a real and imminent danger to the very existence of Arab society in Palestine. Because of this opposition, the entire Zionist project could never have been realized without military backing. From the very beginning, Zionism was based on a colonialist world view which held that the rights of the indigenous inhabitants didn’t matter. Theoder Herzl was the one who said that Palestine was an empty land waiting for a people without a land.
At the time the Zionists used the phrase “land without people for a people without land”, Palestine was already home to 700,000 Palestinians as the census of 1919 showed. Out of these 700,000, only 10 % were Jews and half of them were not Zionists.
The hypocritical Zionist argument that the local Arab opposition to their own self-destruction constituted a form of anti-Semitism has been contradicted not only by the direct victims of Zionism, and not only by the Marxists, but by many progressive Jews.
Albert Einstein said: “I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish State. Apart from practical considerations, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish State with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power, no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain...”
Erich Fromm, a noted Jewish writer and thinker, stated:
“In general international law, the principle holds true that no citizen loses his property or his rights of citizenship; and the citizenship right is de facto a right to which the Arabs in Israel have much more legitimacy than the Jews. Just because the Arabs fled? Since when is that punishable by confiscation of property, and by being barred from returning to the land on which a people’s forefathers have lived for generations? Thus, the claim of the Jews to the land of Israel cannot be a realistic claim. If all nations would suddenly claim territory in which their forefathers had lived two thousand years ago, this world would be a madhouse...”
“A Jewish Home in Palestine built upon bayonets and oppression [is] not worth having, even though it succeed, whereas the very attempt to build it up peacefully, cooperatively, with understanding, education, and good will, [is] worth a great deal even though the attempt should fail.” (Rabbi Judah L. Magnes, first president of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, quoted in “Like All The Nations?”, ed. Brinner & Rischin.)
Since the 1980s some of Israel’s new historians have refuted the myths of the founding of the state. Those “new Israeli historians” such as Benny Moris, Tom Segev or Ilan Pappe, have shown that the departure of the refugees was largely caused by the attitude of the Israeli army acting with impunity (expulsions, harassment, and massacres counted by Benny Moris to number 80 between 1947 and the end of 1948, especially that of Deir Yasir but also in Lydda, Ramleh, Dawimiyya, Sa’sa, Ein Zietun and other places. The Zionist army terrorized the population and incited them to leave their land, etc...)
These new historians concurred with their Palestinian counterparts that the programme of Zionism was carried out as a pure colonialist act against the local population: a mixture of exploitation and expropriation.
The Zionist justification for the ethnic cleansing of 1947-1948 is the myth of Annihilation. The new historians like, Ilan Pappe ( “The Link”, January, 1998) challenged the official history that says the Jewish community faced possible annihilation on the eve of the 1948 war. Archival documents expose the fact that the Arab rulers controlled by the British masters had no intention of stirring up the Arab masses. They feared the Arab masses more than they feared the British masters or a Palestinian nation, which possessed no military ability with which it could fight the strong Jewish army that had been armed with the help of the Soviet bureaucracy.
The Jewish military advantage was translated into an act of mass expulsion of 700,000 to one million Palestinians. Many of them were expelled long before the Arab states invaded Palestine. These mass expulsions began shortly after the UN declaration of November 29, 1947.
Some hypocritical supporters of the creation of the Israeli state were very surprised to discover that as a result of the partition at least 700,000 Palestinians became refugees.
But they cannot deny that the idea of partition included from its very first beginning the plan of ethnic cleansing. The Peel Commission of 1937, sent to investigate the causes of the unrest, resulted in a report and White Paper. Their major recommendations were the partition of the land into two unequal states, as well as a population transfer:
After considerable debate, the Zionist executive accepted the Peel plan. Berl Katznelson, an influential leader of the Mapai party favoured a population transfer, including a “compulsory” transfer. However, the “compulsion” was to come about as the result of agreement, and not through war or violent action. He wrote:
“The matter of population transfer has provoked a debate among us: Is it permitted or forbidden? My conscience is absolutely clear in this respect. A remote neighbour is better than a close enemy. They [the Palestinians] will not lose from it. In the final analysis, this is a political and settlement reform for the benefit of both parties. I have long been of the opinion that this is the best of all solutions... I have always believed and still believe that they were destined to be transferred to Syria or Iraq.” (At the World Convention of Ihud Po'alei Tzion, August 1937. Al Darchei Mediniyutenu: Mo'atzah ‘Olamit Shel Ihud Po'ali Tzion (c.s.)-Din Vehesbon Maleh, 21 July-7 August , [Full Report of the World Convention of Ihud Po'alei Tzion, C.S.] (Tel Aviv: Central Office of Hitahdut Po'alei Zion Press, 1938).
The PKP (the Palestine Communist Party – under its Stalinist leadership) and Mapam (a left wing Social Democratic Zionist party) were in the beginning opposed to the idea of the partition of Palestine. To understand the reason for the shift in their position we must understand the role of the Social Democrats and the Stalinists in helping to restore the imperialist order after the Second World War.
For a detailed background to this read our previous article, Arab-Jewish workers’ joint struggles prior to the partition of Palestine – Part One and Part Two where we explain how in the context of the post-war situation, with revolutionary ferment around the world, the war of 1948 in Palestine was one of the devices that led to the re-imposition of the imperialist order.
In the above article we also give a detailed account of common class struggle before the imperialists were able to achieve their aims. There had been many events that showed that unity between Arab and Jewish workers was not only possible, but had actually materialised in several trade union disputes. There were signs on both sides that an alternative solution could have been found. The instinct for class unity could have opened the perspective of class struggle for a socialist Palestine, which could have been the beacon for the workers of all the countries of the Middle East to follow. But this would have meant having a mass revolutionary, working class based party working in both communities.
Unfortunately that was not there, and this determined all the later events. In spite of the instinctive moves towards working class unity among some layers, this mood could not become more than that. Thus the reactionaries could divert the movements along nationalist lines. Part of this strategy involved massacres, bombings, etc., to terrorise the people and push them into the arms of reactionaries. This was also fundamental to the Zionist plan.
The task today is to take up the unblemished traditions of the past and work towards a working class solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which can only be achieved on the basis of the struggle for socialism and the overthrow of the reactionary regimes on both sides. The only solution is a Socialist Federation of the Middle East where all nations including the Kurds, the Palestinians and the Israelis will have national autonomy where they will be able to develop their culture, using their own language, maintaining their own traditions, but in harmony with the peoples around them.