In 2006, dissident Israeli historian Ilan Pappé published his most seminal work, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Although far from the first book which told the truth about the Nakba (Catastrophe), The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine set the facts out in particularly clear and accessible terms. Pappé popularised and solidified the analysis that sees the Nakba for what it was and remains: a form of ethnic cleansing. He also explained all the steps that led up to the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of 800,000 Palestinians between 1947 and 1949.
As he pointed out in Chapter one of his book, though, the term “ethnic cleansing” came into regular use during the wars that accompanied the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, and was used by the perpetrators of those crimes. However, the fact of ethnic cleansing predates the mid-nineties; there have been many instances of ethnic cleansing in history, even if the term was not itself used.
There’s no doubt that the Nazis engaged in ethnic cleansing against Jews before the Holocaust began. The genocide of 6 million Jews and others, including the disabled and gypsies, was presaged by the Nazis expelling and encouraging Jewish citizens of Germany to leave their country. Indeed, Jews were told by both the Nazis and by the Zionist movement that they were not really Germans at all.
In the early 1930s, the German Zionist movement made a deal with the Nazi government. Under the terms of the Haavara (Transfer) Agreement, German Jews were encouraged to leave their homes and become settlers in Palestine, which was then occupied by the British. The deal allowed them to take their wealth and belongings with them to Palestine, especially German-made goods.
As Francis Nicosia explains in his book The Third Reich and the Palestine Question, the agreement served a dual purpose for the Nazis: “Zionism and Palestine played key roles in the Jewish policy of the Hitler regime from 1933 to 1937. The Zionist movement was used as an instrument of domestic Jewish policy to promote the dissimilation and emigration of German Jews; it also became a vehicle for the promotion of German exports to Palestine and the Middle East.” This was at a time when the global Zionist movement was boycotting German goods.
After the Palestinian uprising that began in 1936, and the Peel Commission report published in 1937, an independent Jewish state looked more likely to be established. The Nazis then changed their policy.
Common with other forms of settler-colonialism, a key goal of Zionism was to map out and understand the native people and their land. The Zionist movement did this over the course of decades in the Village Files. These were detailed dossiers on every single Palestinian village. By the late 1930s, explains Pappé, these files were almost complete.“Precise details were provided about the topographic location of each village, its access roads, quality of land, water springs, main sources of income, its socio-political composition, religious affiliations, names of its mukhtars [village leaders], relations with other villages, the age of individual men (sixteen to fifty) and many more. An important category was an index of ‘hostility’ (towards the Zionist project, that is).” The Village Files were used by the Zionists to great effect during the course of the Nakba, helping them to wage their war against the Palestinian people. Ideologically, the Nakba was no aberration; it was planned well in advance.
Unlike the Serbs in former Yugoslavia, the Zionists did not call what they were doing “ethnic cleansing”. Instead, they used the euphemism “transfer”. From its earliest days, the Zionist movement was proposing the removal of the Palestinians from Palestine; their “transfer” sounded much better from a public relations aspect.
The idea was always that “the Arabs” had no particular attachment to Palestine, despite it being their homeland, and thus would agree to “voluntary transfer” to another country. Palestinian historian Nur Masalha wrote the definitive book on this self-deceptive phenomenon: Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of ‘Transfer’ in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948.
This concept of “transfer” has continued ever since — in theory, and in practice — against the indigenous Palestinians. As recently as earlier this month it was revealed by an Israeli official that Israel is running and funding an active programme to facilitate the mass emigration of Palestinians out of Gaza, where 2 million people live. “Israel is ready to carry the costs of helping Gazans emigrate,” it was reported from an anonymous government official. Israeli air force bases would probably be used for this purpose.
Although the policy is not new, such candour is rare. This shows that Israeli “extremists” such as the influential Meir Kahane (1932-1990) as well as the far-right members of Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition are really nothing of the kind. Extremism is the norm for Zionists, with the intention to expel — to ethnically cleanse — the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine having roots in the Zionist project itself from the late 19th century onwards. The “transfer” of the Palestinians is actually a mainstream policy of mainstream Israeli governments.
Zionism is, therefore, clearly a racist ideology. Israel would not and could not exist without ethnic cleansing.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.