Was what happened in Palestine “ethnic cleansing”?

On my use of the term “ethnic cleansing” in describing what the Zionist forces did in Palestine in 1948-1949, I received the following message from AM:

Two things about the use of the term ethnic cleansing:

First, it is an anachronism, using a contemporary term to refer to an historic event.

Second, from the reading I have done, including Benny Morris and others on the events of that time, it seems to me it was much more complex than the nascent Israelis chasing the Arab residents out of the area. Certainly there was Deir Yassin which was a terrible massacre and which created a climate. Morris finds some evidence of efforts to frighten and intimidate, and escort Arab residents out of the area. The great Israeli myth is that Arab residents left because they were told to by Muslim religious leaders; there appears to be no evidence of this either. The most likely explanation is that people left because they were in a war zone. After the war, they found that they could not return, and the new Israeli government appropriated their land, and destroyed their villages without compensation. All of which was wrong but which does not constitute ethnic cleansing in the contemporary use of the term. At least that is how I understand it. Am I wrong?


In response, I sent the following message:

Hello AM,

First, on the use of a contemporary term to describe a historic event, I offer the following argument:

I limit my agreement with your assertion only as it applies to the explicit words that were used to describe the intent of the perpetrators at the time.  Yes, they probably did not think that they would “ethnically cleanse” Palestine from the great majority of non-Jews.  However, their intent was clear that they would clear the homes, the land, the villages, the towns, the cities, etc. from their inhabitants and never allow those inhabitants to return.  They could have used other terms, like cleaning, clearing, evacuating, expelling, moving, throwing out, encouraging, frightening, terrorizing, etc.  But what counts is what actually happened, regardless of how the intent of the perpetrators might have been expressed.

I would say that if a contemporary term objectively describes a historic event more accurately, then the use of such contemporary term would be reasonable.  In accurately describing historic events, one would be expected to focus on the most objective words to accurately describe what actually happened; not only on what words perpetrators might have used to describe their actions.

Second, on using the term “ethnic cleansing” to describe the events that took place in Palestine in 1948-1949, I offer the following argument:

The substance of the matter is that certain people (i.e. the Palestinians) were forcibly removed or terrorized away from their homes, villages, towns, and cities; and were never allowed to return back.  In the specific example of Yafa, there was no war; i.e. there was no Arab or Palestinian army in Yafa; not even a few armed men.  The Irgun, and its mother organisation the Haganah, were not fighting an army in Yafa; they were attacking civilians in their homes, with the explicit objective to drive them away.  The Zionist fighters simply utilized terror to literally chase people out of their homes; one house at a time under the threat of killing them.  Delivering on the threat of killing a minority of the population convinced the majority to flee.  Many of those fleeing people contributed to the panic that inevitably followed, and many just left out of sheer fear for their lives without even seeing the Irgun or Haganah fighters.  How else would a city of more than 120,000 be reduced to less than 4,000 in a few days back in May 1948?

Let us break the contemporary term “ethnic cleansing” down to its components, and examine its applicability to the historic events that took place in Palestine in 1948-1949.
1.  Cleansing:
I would think that removing people from their land by all means available and subsequently not allowing them to return is best described as “cleansing” the land from those people.  Removing, clearing, chasing away, kicking out, expelling, evacuating, or cleansing provide the same substantive meaning, except the term “cleansing” includes the added dimension that they were removed with the intent, that was confirmed by subsequent actions, to never allow them to return back.  It was not a temporary evacuation of people until the war subsides; it was meant from the very first moment inside the planning rooms that those people would be removed – by all possible means – permanently, and never be allowed to return.  That intent was executed with deadly accuracy.  Accordingly, there is no doubt that the act that was perpetrated against the Palestinian people in 1948-1949 at the hands of the Zionist fighters was “cleansing”.
2.  Ethnic:
Those people were chased away of their homes because they were not Jews; i.e. had they been Jewish, they would not have been driven out.  And if they were Jewish and were driven out in error, they would have been allowed to return.  In other words, the explicit reason for driving the Palestinians out was their ethnicity.  It was an act of clearing the land from certain people based on their ethnicity in order to prepare the land for another people based on their ethnicity.  The act was ethnic-based at its core.

Therefore when one – with a cold scientific approach, void of any and all emotions – wishes to describe that which happened in 1948-1949 in Palestine, I respectfully submit that one would find the contemporary term “ethnic cleansing” applies accurately.

A good book to read on this subject would be “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” by the highly respected Israeli-Jewish historian Ilan Pappe.

Monzer Zimmo
Ottawa, Canada

Hope is the stuff from which life is made!

About Alcanaanite

Monzer Zimmo, a Palestinian-Canadian living and working in Ottawa, Canada. Monzer is an advocate of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the peaceful creation of a bi-national-democratic state on all the territory of historic Palestine, where Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others live together as equal citizens; be and feel safe, secure, and at home.
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5 Responses to Was what happened in Palestine “ethnic cleansing”?

  1. Nizar Shureih says:

    Let me refer you to Ilan Pappe’s book:
    first published by: Oneworld Publications limited 2006

    The book is a great academic document on the tragic event in Palestine in 1947-48

  2. themadjewess says:

    The Zionist fighters simply utilized terror to literally chase people out of their homes….

    Bla bla Bla… and what about when over 8000 Israeli Jews were forced out of their homes in Gush Katif?
    Where is the ‘peace’, oh “palestinian?”

    • Alcanaanite says:

      Didn’t you know that Gush Katif was evacuated by the Israeli military for srategic reasons; specifically, to remove Gaza – and it one and a half million Palestinians – from the demographic threat to the “Jewish character” of the state of Israel as well as to facilitate the blockade over Gaza after the Israeli military redeployment from inside Gaza to surrounding it from land, see, and sky? Didn’t you know that all past Israeli Jewish settlers of Gush Katif were generously compensated and given even better accomodations in other Jewish-only Israeli settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank? If you did not know; now, you do.

  3. Themadjewess is a rabid Zionist, by the way, a troll. Don’t even attempt to talk to her. Alcanaanite there is actually a better book than Pappé on Palestinian ethnic cleansing, but it is little known: The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by Geoff Simons, published by the Palestinian Return Centre, http://www.prc.org.uk, ISBN 1 9019 2465 3, American class mark 9781901924657. The importance of Simon’s little known work is that a) he takes story of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine up to the summer of 2006, showing its continuity with the early expulsions and b) he shows how this ethnic cleansing is rooted in a Biblical narrative. Simons is actually a Communist, but it doesn’t stop him being enlightened, apparently…

  4. themadjewess says:

    Jacob whoever, I dont know you, you do NOT know me, so that is a stupid judgement call.
    I am not a political Zionist, #1. #2. I do NOT support the Israeli-govt #3. I support the PEOPLE of Israel.
    That is not a “Zionist” that is just a humanitarian.
    I believe in SPIRITUAL Zion.

    It is you, Dear Yacov, that is the troll.

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