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Massacres as a weapon of ethnic cleansing during the Nakba

Salman Abu Sitta , June 12, 2020

Source: https://mondoweiss.net/2020/06/massacres-as-a-weapon-of-ethnic-cleansing-during-the-nakba/

Massacres as a weapon of ethnic cleansing during the Nakba

From April 1st to May 14, 1948 -- before Israel was declared, before the British left, and before any Arab soldier entered Palestine to save it -- Zionist militias essentially conquered Palestine.

In May each year, Palestinians all over the world commemorate the ongoing al Nakba of 1948, in which they were dispossessed by Israel of their land, property and identity. This year, it was different. Thanks to the coronavirus, the use of video conferencing technology enabled them to cross borders where they were previously denied access, speak freely about their silenced history without censorship, blockade or defamation, virtually visit and communicate with their kith or kin even if they were deprived of passports or citizenship.

The main beneficiary of this revolution are the young people. I had an immense pleasure in mid-May to speak, at one event, to 600 young people in the US, students, activists and concerned citizens about the still-live history of Al Nakba.

This is refreshing. For decades the Zionist narrative dominated the Western mind. The unprecedented depopulation of two thirds of the Palestinian people by the Zionist militia (The Haganah, renamed IDF) in 1948 was explained away as ‘the Arab Invasion’ of Palestine, by Arab orders or an act of Israeli self-defense.

Palestinian historians such as Aref al Aref, Mustafa al Dabbagh, or Walid Khalidi were not widely known in the west. In 1980s, the Israeli “new historians” and writers such as Simha Flapan, Benny Morris, Baruch Kimmerling, and Ilan Pappe among others broke the wall of silence and exposed the deception and distortion of the Zionist narrative. Benny Morris retained his Zionist loyalty by describing the long trail of massacres committed by Israel and claiming it was not planned. Ilan Pappe, almost alone among Israeli historians, went on to describe in detail “the ethnic cleansing of Palestine”, that was deliberate, consistent, and continuous in its aim to depopulate Palestine.

Those young people are now discovering the truth about Al Nakba, that it is still going on, that they are its victims and will continue to be until they realize their Right of Return. They also learn, as more facts are revealed, that they (and their parents) were the victims of the Zionist Invasion of Palestine in which the massacres of ordinary civilians in occupied villages were the primary weapon of ethnic cleansing.

Here we need to go back a little before 1948.

The Arab Revolt (1936-1939) against the flood of Jewish European settlers into Palestine was quelled by the British Army most brutally. Thousands were killed, tens of thousands were injured or imprisoned, villages were bombed by air, collective punishment was applied, leaders were jailed or deported. In short, the Palestinian society was decimated and rendered defenseless. It is fair to call the year 1939 the year of the British-inflicted Nakba.

Ben-Gurion seized the moment. In May 1942, at the Biltmore conference attended by 600 Zionist leaders, he declared Palestine to be “the Jewish Commonwealth”. He ordered the Haganah to draft military plans to conquer Palestine and he created the Village Files, in which complete intelligence was gathered about every Palestinian village. There was one remaining obstacle, the British, his erstwhile benefactors, who were still in Palestine.

From 1945-1948, the Zionist militia waged a relentless terror campaign against the British for which they had to bring in the 6th Airborne Division. After creating havoc in Palestine since the infamous Balfour declaration of 1917, the British decided to throw the wounded Palestine into the lap of the UN.

The Partition Plan (UNGA 181 of 29 November 1947) was born. The plan suggested dividing Palestine into two parts, the larger part was allocated for the Jewish settlers to rule and the lesser part for the Palestinian majority to rule, on the condition that the minority in either part should not be displaced. It was merely a suggestion which had no legally binding value. But it was the fig leaf for Ben-Gurion to act.

By mid-March 1948, the US and the UN realized that the plan could not be implemented without bloodshed. They dropped it, and an UN Trusteeship over Palestine, replacing Britain, was proposed by the US.

That was a major blow for Ben-Gurion’s scheme. He upgraded the plan to conquer Palestine to what became Plan Dalet, (Plan D, after the preceding three versions) to conquer Palestine, expel its population, destroy its villages, and attack Arab capitals if needed.

It was a vast plan, carefully matured over the years, encouraged by the detailed knowledge of British withdrawal plans and by the feeble defense of the Palestinian villagers.

From the 1st of April to May 14, 1948, before the settlers’ state was declared and before the British left and before any Arab soldier entered Palestine to save it, the Zionist Invasion essentially conquered Palestine. Its declaration on May 14 was the crowning conclusion of this invasion.

This critical period leading to Al Nakba has rarely been looked upon in this light. We made a detailed study of this period.

We charted the Palestinian land occupied by the Haganah from the beginning of 1948 in weekly intervals, marked the name of the military operation involved (out of a total of 39), the brigade located in a particular area (out of nine brigades, totaling 60,000 soldiers, increased to 120,000 by the end of the year), the region occupied, the massacres and atrocities committed, and the depopulated villages or cities in this region.

We divided the attacked areas are into nine regions according to the distribution of the Haganah military activities. We also divided the time scale into three phases:

Phase 1, studied here in detail, from November 29, 1947 to May 14, 1948, the date Israel was declared.

Phase 2, up to July 18, 1948, including the first encounter with various Arab forces entering Palestine on May 15, 1948, without preparation, common aim or unified command.

Phase 3, up to July 1949 the signing of the last Armistice agreement with Syria. The main event in this phase was the conquest of the southern district and the northern district of Arab Galilee, quite early in this phase, in late October and early November 1948.

In all, we listed 155 war crimes of massacres and atrocities (indiscriminate killing of civilians) which led to the depopulation of 530 cities and villages.

This essay covers only Phase 1, which led to the Declaration of Israel.

The aim of this study was to examine the temporal and spatial correlation between the massacres committed and the depopulated villages in what we call the Area of Influence, that is whether the massacres committed in a region at this time caused the depopulation of nearby villages through the actual death, threat of death, or actual fear of death, which was sometimes encouraged by delivering direct threats to the villagers.

The four maps here tell the results of this examination.

The location of war crimes in Central Palestine highlighted in blue dots.
The depopulated villages and cities in Central Palestine highlighted in blue dots.
The location of war crimes in North Palestine highlighted in blue dots.
The depopulated villages and cities in North Palestine highlighted in blue dots.

Map Legend:

  • Grey: Jewish land during the Mandate
  • Red and Pink: Areas occupied by the Haganah in this period. The names of brigades are shown.
  • The Black line outlines the borders of the Partition Plan.
  • The Black circles indicate the Areas of Influence in which the villages were depopulated upon the direct or indirect influence of massacres and atrocities.
  • Numbers designate the different regions of Palestine

Source of Data: Salman Abu Sitta, Atlas of Palestine 1917- 1966. London, Palestine Land Society, 2010. Table 3.1 List of Military Operations. Table 3.2 List of War Crimes. Table 3.9 Register of Depopulated villages and Cities.

West Jerusalem and Latrun (Region 1) witnessed the infamous Deir Yassin massacre. [1] It also was the scene of 11 other massacres and atrocities in Lifta, Sarris and seven other cases in Jerusalem. These massacres took place within the sight of the British police and army; they did not move to stop them. Twelve villages were depopulated in this region. Few are left. The Haganah-conquered area is in the ‘Arab State’ and the International Zone.

Although the northern portion of Gaza District was not occupied yet (Region 2), the Haganah committed a horrendous massacre in Burier (and Simsim) and torched the village, only hours before Ben-Gurion gave his speech of “independence”. Six affected villages were depopulated.

In Ramle district (Region 3), Abu Shusha massacre continued for two days where women and children were killed by axes. The massacre was one of eight in the region which resulted in the depopulation of 20 villages.

In Jaffa area (Region 4), there was a heavy concentration of atrocities in Jaffa city (8) and around Jaffa (6) in Beit Dajan and others. Al Manshiya suburb was destroyed and Jaffa city was hit relentlessly by mortar, forcing its 70,000 inhabitants to seek safety by jumping into boats in the port, many drowned. Jaffa city, which was designated to be in the ‘Arab State’, was depopulated in addition to twenty two villages in the district.

In the coastal area south of Haifa (Region 5), 16 atrocities, including massacres in Abu Zureik, Umm esh Shauf and Qisariya, were committed, forcing 42 villages to be depopulated. The whole region became empty except for a small triangle of 3 villages (Ayn Ghazal, Ijzim and Jaba’) which stubbornly defended themselves, for some months later.

In Haifa city (Region 6), as in the other big cities of Jaffa and Jerusalem, more than a dozen cases of killing, bombing and acts of terror spread a reign of imminent death to its Palestinian inhabitants. They poured into the port, assisted but not defended by the British army, to seek safety in Acre or Beirut. Seventy thousand people became refugees under the watchful eye of the British Army. Thirty villages in the neighborhood were also depopulated.

In a third violation of the Partition Plan, claimed to be accepted by the Zionists, the Haganah attacked western Galilee (Region 7), north of the city of Acre, up to the Lebanese border, which was part of the ‘Arab State’. They committed massacres in Al Manshiya and Al Ghabisiya causing the depopulation of five villages in the region.  Three days after the declaration of the settlers’ state, undefended Acre (population 14,000) fell to the Haganah after siege and polluting its drinking water with typhoid.

In eastern Galilee, north and south of Lake Tiberias (Regions 8 and 9), the pattern of massacres, expulsion and depopulation is the most glaring demonstration of the policy of making Palestine empty of its people through massacres. Seventeen massacres, in Ayn az Zeitoun, Biriya, Husseiniya, Nasir Ad Din, Mansurat Al Kheit, Mughr Al Kheit, Farwana, Al Shajara, Samakh, Tiberias, Baysan and others, were committed. Sometimes if a massacre failed to propel people to leave, another more brutal massacre was carried out. In this region Palestinians lost three important cities, Safad, Tiberias and Baysan (population 23,000). No less than 75 villages were depopulated. Eastern Galilee became under full Jewish occupation.

On the afternoon of May 14, Ben-Gurion stood up to address the council of European Jewish settlers in Palestine and to declare Israel’s independence. Without a hint of irony, he stated, “We appeal – in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace.”

Ben-Gurion knew that it took 90 massacres to enable him to make his statement.  The blood of victims in Bureir, Simsim and Abu Shusha, hours earlier, had not dried yet. He knew that the lands and homes of 200 coastal and inland cities and villages (216 by IDF count), conquered by the Haganah, now called Israel, are the property of Palestinians who will never cease to demand to return and possess them. He did not realize that the common Zionist mantra usually attributed to Ben-Gurion, that the old will die, which they did, and the young will forget, did not materialize.

He did not foresee that the lie, that the “Arab Invasion” and “Arab orders” were the cause and the reason for dispossessing two thirds of the Palestinian people, will be exposed. He did not imagine that the true face of the Zionist Invasion and the trail of blood from dozens of massacres will come to haunt his successors and beneficiaries.

He did not imagine in his wildest dreams that millions of young Palestinian people around the world, armed with knowledge and determination, will cross virtual borders, speak in so many languages,  find friends and support in many cities, to commemorate Al Nakba of 72 years and demand the Right to Return to the homes and lands robbed from them by the Zionist Invasion seven decades, with fresh vigor as if it were yesterday.


  1. For data on the events described in this essay see the spreadsheet Massacres and Atrocities During the Nakba which has been adapted from Table 3.2 in the Atlas of Palestine 1917- 1966.