On May 14th, 1948, the Zionists declared their area of the UN partition plan to be the independent state of Israel. But the problem was, about 50% of population of the new state was Arab, and the Jewish armies and militias set about reducing that proportion with a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
As Arabs were expelled or terrorised and fled the new state to neighbouring Arab countries, steps were taken by the UN to deal with the worsening humanitarian situation. But nearly 70 years after the events, the legacy of Britain’s thirty years of interfering in the affairs of Palestine is a turbulent Middle East, millions of displaced descendents of the Palestinian refugees, and the fortress state of Israel, alone in a sea of hostile neighbours and reliant on American support.
The Final Days
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The seeds of the past 60 years of hostility in the Middle East were sown on the day a group of people, the Jews, took over land that didn't belong to them and in which many of them had no roots, from a people, the Palestinian Arabs, who had lived there for centuries. There was no consultation with the inhabitants, just a UN resolution that told them they would have to give up their land.
British responsibility for this was total. Even after the British Mandate was drawn up, if Britain had facilitated merely a National Home in Palestine, as the Balfour Declaration said, at the same time as attending to the rights of the indigenous inhabitants, a viable state could have emerged in which Palestinians - Arabs and Jews - ran their own state. But by giving in to the Zionist demands for a state that was totally Jewish, the British sealed the fate of the Palestinians. By the time it became apparent to some people in the British government that an injustice was being perpetrated on the Palestinian Arabs it was too late. The influx of immigrants, legal and illegal, to Palestine and the support of American Jews meant that any attempt to correct the injustice and stop Palestine becoming a Jewish state was met with a violent resistance which Britain could not defeat.
The final betrayal was for the British to wash their hands of the whole affair when the cost in British lives at the hands of Jewish terrorists became too high. Once the problem was put in the hands of the UN, Zionist power and influence was more than a match for the weak Palestinian voices in the west, and on May 14th, 1948, the Zionists declared their state.
But the problem was, about 50% of population of the new state was Arab, and the Jewish armies and militias set about reducing that proportion with a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Although this was vehemently denied at the time, even modern Jewish historians have now accepted that this is what happened. Some even justify it.
One of the leading Israeli historians, Benny Morris, said in an interview:
“A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on.”
When it became clear that the new state of Israel was determined to grab as much Arab land as possible and expel as many Arabs, the armies of several Arab states took action. It is often said by Israel and its supporters that in 1948 "five Arab armies invaded Israel". In fact, faced with the explicit aim of the Jewish armies to invade areas allocated by the UN to Palestinian Arabs, the Arab armies moved perfectly legitimately into the Arab area and up to the border of the Jewish area in an attempt to prevent this. There was no invasion of the Jewish partition area to ‘push the Jews into the sea’, as is often alleged.
As Arabs were expelled or terrorised and fled the new state to neighbouring Arab countries, steps were taken by the UN to deal with the worsening humanitarian situation. Afraid that their efforts to remove Palestinians from their homes might be thwarted, Jewish terrorists, led by a future prime minister of Israel, murdered the UN mediator, Count Folke Bernardotte, who had drawn up a detailed plan which might have retrieved the situation. This was possibly the last chance to avoid the disaster that befell the Palestinians – the Nakba – and construct a fair solution to the competing claims on Palestine.
From its establishment in 1948, Israel maintained a hostility bordering on racism to the people it displaced, refusing any peace agreement that would restore some at least of the rights and property it had stolen from the Palestinians. Buried in thousands of words of British parliamentary debates about Palestine in the 1930s is an uncannily accurate prophecy of the effect on world politics of the extreme and dogmatic Zionism, that led to the creation of Israel. The first High Commissioner to Palestine, Herbert Samuel, airily dismissed any suggestion that Jews wanted to take over Palestine and make it a Jewish state.
“If there were any question that the 600,000 Arabs should be ousted from their homes in order to make room for a Jewish national home; if there were any question that they should be kept in political subordination to any other people: if there were any question that their Holy Places should be taken from them and transferred to other hands or other influences, then a policy would have been adopted which would have been utterly wrong. It would have been resented and resisted—rightly—by the Arab people. But it has never been contemplated.”
He gave four reasons why this would be impossible. Every one of those reasons has proved to be spurious:
In the first place … it would have been an unjust policy; and being unjust and contrary to all the principles on which the British Empire is based, it would never have had the approval of English public opinion and of this House, or the support of the Dominions. Secondly, it would have been impossible of enforcement. The Arabs are a high-spirited people, with proud traditions, and they would have had the sympathy and support of the whole Arab world, the whole Moslem world, in resisting any such policy. Thirdly, the League of Nations, which is the organ of the opinion of the civilised world, would not have endorsed a tyrannous policy of that kind. Fourthly, and lastly, any such anti-Arab, ruthless policy, would have reflected the gravest discredit on the whole Jewish movement, and a Jewish national home that was animated by a spirit of that kind would not have been worth having. If, after a generation, it had been found that in Palestine the Arabs were there still as a helot people, with no advancement in their economic condition, or in their standards of education and sanitation, the moral prestige of the whole Jewish people would have suffered thereby. The Jews have themselves suffered through centuries from oppression and it is inconceivable that they should have learned nothing from that oppression except how to inflict it, and that they should apply to others the injustices which they have abhorred in their own history.
Samuel was so wrong, for many reasons. First, his naïve chauvinism led him to say that there could be no unjust policies in the British Empire, at a time when Orientalism was rife in Whitehall, and every colony had its stories of neglect and exploitation of indigenous peoples. Second, the belief that the might of the British Empire would not be able to enforce its will if the ‘high-spirited’ Arabs objected was disingenuous. Oil had not yet been discovered in large quantities and so Britain had no need at all to listen to anything Arabs or Muslims said. Third, the successor to the League of Nations, the United Nations, did endorse the handing over of large chunks of Palestine to the Jews, thanks to bribes and threats by America to make four countries change their votes. And fourth, perhaps the most ironic of all since Samuel was speaking before the rise of the Nazis and their plans for the Holocaust, the idea that Jews would be unlikely to oppress others because of their own experiences, and because their ‘moral prestige’ would suffer, is laughable now that we know what Israel is capable of towards the Palestinians.