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Nov 2001 • Vol 1, No. 6 •

Pulverizing a Nation:
Seizing Land in Palestine

by Rod Holt

The acute struggle—a civil war—between a resolute Palestinian populace and an Israeli armed force is at the root of renewed war in the Middle East and central Asia. If one cannot grasp that fact then the adventure of American imperialism in Afghanistan will remain a puzzle, a tangle of Rumsfeld’s threats, and spectacles of peanut butter and bombs raining down on the tired, hungry people who have already witnessed 20 years of killing.

The struggle in Palestine is the most visible boil on the beaming visage of world capitalism. Not a day goes by without an Israeli atrocity enraging every Arab worker, who in turn sees the Israeli as American agent, as an American aggressor in disguise. No matter how much the Israeli and US governments want to separate September 11 from the Al Aqsa intifada, they cannot. The conflict in Palestine is pivotal. In his remark to Americans, Osama bin Laden pointed straight to the Israel-US imperialists when he said, “…neither America nor the people who live in it will dream of security before we live it in Palestine,….” [The Associated Press, 10/7/01] It is our obligation to understand why he said this.

The standard lies

There are two common misunderstandings widely circulated by the Zionists, their allies, and a few people who just don’t know better. These misunderstandings are derived from two outright lies: 1. Palestine does not exist; 2. The Palestinian people do not exist. If you believe them, then you must believe that either the Arabs of the eastern Mediterranean are vicious, incorrigible anti-Semites bent on driving every last Jew into the sea. Or you can believe that in 1948 these Arabs were so dumb they failed to appreciate the value of the Western civilization the European Jews brought with them and by refusing to accept a modern, democratic country of their own, missed a good deal when it was offered free of charge. In any case, the lies lead you to the conclusion that either the Arabs use terrorism to destroy the Jews or use terrorism to destroy the evidence of their mistake.

There is an old propaganda saying among Zionists that the Jews were a people without a land and Palestine was a land without people. This saying is well over 100 years old. But it is not true. The Ottoman Empire kept a firm grip on Palestine for 400 years and denied it to covetous imperialism until the British took it during World War One. The Ottoman Turks had chosen the losing side and consequently lost their lands to the victors, England and France. These two divided the Middle East to suit themselves and ignored the Syrian Congress of 1919 at Damascus which had elected Amir Faisal, king of Syria (which included Palestine at that time). Faisal was the son of Husain ibn Ali, Sharif of Mecca and king of western Arabia (the Hejaz).

The League of Nations later endorsed the actions of England and France by approving the mandates (the obligations of the governing power). With the formation of the United Nations, all the old mandates were subject to review by it, and England created numerous commissions of inquiry to investigate conditions in Palestine and report to the UN General Assembly.
Borders of the British Mandate of Palestine, 1921-1923
Fig. 1 Borders of the British Mandate of Palestine, 1921-1923

In Figure 1., the map shows how the Middle East was split between England and France. Palestine was England’s plum. England needed seaports to ensure its trade routes to its global array of colonies. Palestine gave England secure bases in the eastern Mediterranean and a back door entry to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.

The move toward partition

Starting in the 19th century a movement arose among Jewish intellectuals to build the land of Zion, the biblical land of the Jews. Zion is believed to be the site of the Jebusite city stronghold conquered by David. It is also the site of the Temple of Solomon. There is no short history of Zionism. Briefly, among the diverse currents of Zionism, the “political” Zionists with Theodor Herzl as their prominent leader have been dedicated to creating a Jewish state for the last century.

In November of 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour had promised Lord Rothschild that the British government would support the development of Palestine as a “Jewish national home.” With the end of World War Two, millions of Jews had been murdered and millions displaced. England was still in command of Palestine and the time seemed ripe for the Zionists. The political Zionists had decided in the thirty years following the Balfour letter that a “Jewish national home” meant a “Jewish state.” So they organized worldwide for a state in Palestine which in turn meant plans for partition because it turned out there were people in Palestine already.

“Palestine? What Palestine?”

Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, two prominent leaders of the British Empire in the early 20th century, would have been astounded to learn that:

“There never was a “Palestinian” Arab nation. To the Arab people as a whole, no such entity as Palestine existed. To those of them who lived in its neighborhood, its lands were suitable for plunder and destruction. Those few who lived within its bounds may have had an affinity for their village (and made war on the next village), for their clan (for the right of local tax-gathering), or even for their town. They were not conscious of any relationship to a land, and even the townsmen would have heard of its existence as a land, if they heard of it at all, only from such Jews as they might meet.”

These are the words of Samuel Katz, former professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. This paragraph is taken from a book written by him entitled Battleground (1985, NY), a pretentious volume with footnotes, a fine index and a very extensive bibliography. The forward to the second edition was written in August of 1977 by no less than Menachem Begin, then Prime Minister of Israel.

Outside of praise for Katz, Begin adds ideas of his own. In the Forward we read:

The impertinent campaign of the Arab propagandists in appropriating to themselves the name “Palestine” (as though theirs was the land) and Palestinians (as though they owned it) has unfortunately borne a good deal of fruit. The fact that Palestine was simply the name given over the centuries by non-Jews to the country of the Jews; that Palestine as the Jewish heritage is an ineffaceable fact of world history, indeed of the Moslem as well as of the Christian tradition, has been obscured by the weight of the heavily financed and admittedly efficient Arab propaganda.

Amazing! A name is not a name just because that is the name given their land by its indigenous inhabitants. (Is that not what he said?)

These propagandists hope to palm off reasoning that goes like this: If you believe Palestine does not exist (and never did) then the Palestinian people do not exist. Therefore seizing the land of Palestine (or whatever you might call it) could do no harm!

The facts contradict Zionists Katz and Begin.

In 1914, there were 535,000 Muslims, 70,000 Christians and 85,000 Jews living in Palestine. These numbers indicate that Palestine was not a wasteland in 1914. In 1946, a census showed there were 1,269,000 Arabs and 678,000 Jews in Palestine. It has been well documented that the Jewish population had increased dramatically mostly through immigration in the period between the two world wars. A year after the end of World War Two, two years before the proclamation of the state of Israel, Jews remained a minority (and the Zionists a minority among Jews), and Arabic was the language in use (along with English to suit the British colonial rulers).

During and after World War Two, while the British were still in charge, Jewish immigration was legally limited because of the danger of an outright confrontation with the Arab peoples who felt that the British Mandate sanctioned by the League of Nations (1922) had promised them independence and not some vague colonial status. Nevertheless illegal immigration was extensive.

The US sees an opportunity

England was financially and militarily exhausted after the war and further, no longer confident of keeping Palestine under control. Although Egypt and Iran were docile, Syria and Iraq were problematic. To avoid further responsibility, England decided to leave Palestine on May 1, 1948. The problems of keeping the peace were left to the UN and the US. The Truman administration arranged for a partition of Palestine, instant recognition of Israel, and immediate military and economic aid.

The UN decided on a partition plan shown below as Figure 2. The Zionists agreed to it, but the Arab League and its friends (including the USSR) did not agree on any partition at all.
Borders of the British Mandate of Palestine, 1921-1923
Figure 2. The Borders adopted by the United Nations in 1947 for the partition of Palestine.

Did the Zionists offer the partition of Palestine with the intent of living with two states? It is obvious that they did not. The reason the Zionists accepted was that they knew that they had the backing of western imperialism and the Arabs did not.

A look at Figure 2. shows the impossible arrangement. The Israeli state was to have over 50% of the land although Arabs outnumbered them 2 to 1, owned 93% of the land, and 88 to 91 percent of the arable soil. The states are three pieces each and connected by four-way border crossings. The creation of an International zone for the greater Jerusalem area satisfied no one.

The proposed inclusion into Israel of the major urban center of Jaffa and its suburb Tel Aviv is important because it illustrates the central problem the Zionists faced at the beginning of 1948. The majority of Jews lived in or very close to the cities. Only 15 percent of the Jews lived in the countryside. But there did not appear any way to divide Palestine so that a Jewish majority could be obtained. The official census populations for the urban centers were:

Jaffa-Tel Aviv 213,000
—its surrounding area 82,000

Haifa 74,000
—its surrounding area 45,000

Greater Jerusalem 100,000

514,000 total.

(The figures come from the British Palestinian Government Department of Statistics with aid from the Jewish Agency as quoted by Professor Janet L. Abu-Lughod of Northwestern University.)

The total is about 85% of the Jewish population but only 31% of the total population of Palestine. The remaining 15 percent of the Jews are dispersed in rural areas. Had a plebiscite been held, only one district—Jaffa-Tel Aviv—would have become a Zionist state!

The Zionists knew these figures well and they concluded that the state of Israel would have to be formed regardless of relative populations. Now how was this going to produce a Zionist state? The answer to that question should have been obvious at the time: Start a civil war, force the Arab population to flee and then win.

The Zionists had used terrorist tactics to force the British out in 1947-48. Having on hand a well armed and trained paramilitary force, it was only natural to use it to “change the demographics,” as one may delicately put it.

A civil war was provoked in January of 1948. England left Palestine in May of 1948. And the Zionist armies continued fighting up to 1949 against Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon. The armistice of 1949 recognized Israel as controlling the territory as shown in Figure 3.

Borders of the British Mandate of Palestine, 1921-1923
Figure 3. The Borders recognized by the United Nations for the Armistice of 1949.

At this point, Egypt held the tiny Gaza strip and Jordan held the West Bank and a portion of Jerusalem. The Palestinians Arabs ended up with no army, no weapons and no territory.

Palestine disappears

The real expansion of Israel took place behind the armistice lines. One month after the proclamation of the new state of Israel, any property surrendered to, or occupied by, Israeli forces, or deserted, was declared “abandoned.” The state then handed the land over to its Finance Ministry which became the legal holder of the property.

John Ruedy, a professor of history at Georgetown University writing in The Transformation of Palestine, (1985, Evanston, IL) states:

The Absentee Property Regulations of December, 1948, conferred enormous powers upon the custodian, from whose decisions there was no appeal. Specifically, he was given administrative authority to declare any property vacant whose owner (1) was a citizen of Yemen, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, or Lebanon; (2) was in any part of Palestine outside Israeli-held lines; (3) who, even though within Israeli-held lines, had removed himself at any time since November 29, 1947, from his habitual place of residence.

The magnitude of this expropriation of property can be appreciated when one considers the number of refugees who had left their property behind. At the end of 1967, Jordan held 1 million refugees; Lebanon and Syria together held 600,000, other Arab states held together about 500,000 for a total of 2.1 million refugees. 1.5 million Palestinians lived in Israel and its occupied territories. All the refugees outside the 1949 borders lost their property and 70% of those still within Israel’s lines lost theirs too.

The process of using war to drive people from their land and then confiscating it continued with the 1967 war where Israel rounded out her borders.

Figure 4 shows the armistice borders at the end of 1967. Egypt lost the Gaza Strip, Jordan lost the West Bank and Syria lost the Golan Heights. The Palestinians did not have at this point even a friendly border.

Borders of the British Mandate of Palestine, 1921-1923
Figure 4. The Borders of Israel for the Armistice at the end of the 1967 War.

Since 1967 the map has not changed its gross outline. At first glance, one might think that Palestine was being unified with all the little pieces being stitched together with F-16s and Uzis but exactly the opposite was intended. The idea was to break down the society by physically fragmenting it and isolating the fragments. But the Palestinians refused to leave. Dispossessing the Arab peoples was more difficult than the Zionists first thought.

Building the settler state

At the end of the 19th century, many Zionists thought they could colonize Palestine by a system similar to that used by the English when they sent pioneering colonists to America 250 years earlier. If the Zionists could raise enough money, they would send their colonists to Palestine where they would go forth and multiply. But it did not work, a fact painfully evident by the 1920s. The Zionist leaders then decided to use bullets and high explosives in addition to brave colonists and money. They substituted terrorism for patience and hard work.

The logical extension of the methods used to start and win the war of 1948 was the armed “settlement.” This has been a key device in the strategy for dominating Palestine. The settlement may typically be farms, apartment house complexes, groups of businesses, or a fort. Heavily subsidized by the Zionist government, each is set up to be as self-sufficient as possible and capable of defending itself. Some settlements are reminiscent of the 19th century military forts established by the US to lead the westward march against the resistance of the Native Americans, and in contrast some appear to be just suburban developments.

The most important thing about a settlement is that it is built on land taken by force of arms from the previous owners—the Palestinian Arabs. The settlement is paid for by the state; it secures the land for future annexation.

Keeping this intrinsic nature of the settlement in mind helps one to understand that the struggle in Palestine is not over pieces of land per se. It is also a struggle to defeat and destroy the fortresses of the occupier.

Figure 5 shows most of the settlements built in central Israel on territory taken in the war of 1967. This map does not show settlements built on territory seized in the 1948 war, or those built in the last 10 years, but it gives a very good idea of what is going on. Gaza and the Golan Heights are similar. The map is provided by the United Nations Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.

Borders of the British Mandate of Palestine, 1921-1923
Figure 5. Central Israel in 1991. Each Dot is a Settlement.
Click the image for a larger version (55 k)

The settlements you see in Figure 5 are now at least 10 years old. They are “established” amongst a hostile people. The Israeli army has limited personnel to defend them and so roads are built so that armed men can move rapidly. The roads are built inside of safe corridors and the Israeli military secures the land around the corridors. When the corridors connect the various settlements then the land in between is surrounded by a restricted and defended moat. The effect of this in atomizing the occupied territories is shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6 was the actual situation at the beginning of 2001. The black areas are (supposedly) Palestinian and under the authority of the Palestine Authority (PA). The gray areas are (supposedly) areas with civilian police under the PA but with military oversight by the Israelis. The white areas are one-hundred percent Israeli controlled, period.

Borders of the British Mandate of Palestine, 1921-1923
Figure 6. The West Bank and the division into islets and corridors in January, 2001.

Here you can see the effect of all the corridors. An Arab can hardly go from village to town without crossing a corridor—for which he needs permission. The by-pass roads through the corridors are for Israeli use only. The Palestinian is forced to wait at check point after check point. It is by means of these corridors that the Israelis enforce their lock-downs, their curfews, their sieges.

In this current intifada however, the Israelis are finding themselves facing a new contradiction. The more finely they divide up the occupied territories, the greater the periphery they must guard. Every time they divide an Arab area they create one more corridor to defend. And as they divide and divide again, the total population does not change but grows ever more hostile.

Advice for America

David Makovsky is a well traveled think-tank expert on Middle East policy. He is a former executive editor for the Jerusalem Post (a conservative daily published in Jerusalem), author, and Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs. His recommendations are straight to the point:

Now the ongoing misery in the region has made it clear that partition remains the only feasible option for resolving the conflict. And as Israel’s only hope for peace, partition should be pursued whether or not the Palestinians agree to it. After the past several months, something more modest than Oslo is now in order. [ emphasis added] —Foreign Affairs, March/April 2001.

The US needs control of the Middle East to ensure its supply of Persian Gulf oil and to maintain its pressure on Iraq. Israel is a client state of a special sort: it is the fortress, the armed outpost of imperialism. An Israel embroiled in a civil war is of little use. US interests dictate that it must retire for a while and take its winnings to the bank—if it can.

Makovsky goes on to make the proposal:

“If done properly, disengagement will provide Israel with more rational and defensible borders and give the Palestinians the potential for a viable state. Israel should consolidate its settlements in the West Bank into three blocks (where close to 80 percent of the settlers already live) while dismantling all the other smaller and less defensible settlements elsewhere in the territories (including all the settlements in Gaza). Israel could then annex the consolidated West Bank settlement blocks as envisioned at Camp David. [My emphasis]—ibid.

In other words, Israel should simply get its map-makers out, draw the lines and then move in the bulldozers and armed personnel carriers.

Why does Makovsky think that Israel can annex the territories that were proposed by Clinton? Yasser Arafat walked away from the Camp David proposals because Palestinian sentiment was so strongly against them that anything less would have left him without a job. That has not changed.

This intifada, though, is taking on an increasingly religious character. Secular organizations seem to be overshadowed by the militants of Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and others. As this happens the blood-letting will continue until the Israelis give up. The dangers for the Jewish and Arab peoples increase as their common ground—the struggle to be rid of their capitalist and imperialist bosses—is covered over by Zionist and Islamic rhetoric, rhetoric which is not innocent.

Makovsky believes that Bush must push Israel toward this partition whether the Palestinians like it or not. And to be fair, Makovsky does not seem to care whether Israel likes it either. “Above all,” he says, “the Bush team must understand that it cannot just walk away from this volcanic situation. The stakes for Washington are high, and benign neglect for the Israeli-Palestine conflict will occur at America’s peril. … If Clinton was drawn to Middle East peacemaking by rising hopes, Bush will be dragged in by rising fears.”

The fears have certainly risen in the six months since that was written.





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