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Why is Israel allowed to own Palestinian history?

December 21, 2021 at 9:41 am

A Palestinian protester raises a national flag as he stands facing Israeli security forces, during a demonstration against the establishment of Israeli outposts on Palestinian lands, in Beit Dajan, east of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, on 12 November 2021. [JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images]

An investigative report in Haaretz — “Classified Docs Reveal Massacres of Palestinians in ’48 – and What Israeli Leaders Knew” — is a must-read. It should be read in particular by all who consider themselves to be “Zionists” as well as those who, for whatever reason, support Israel, anywhere in the world.

“In the village of Al-Dawayima… troops of the 8th Brigade massacred about 100 people,” reported Haaretz, although the number of the Palestinian victims later grew to 120. One of the soldiers who witnessed that horrific event testified before a government committee in November 1948: “There was no battle and no resistance. The first conquerors killed 80 to 100 Arab men, women and children. The children were killed by smashing their skulls with sticks. There wasn’t a house without people killed in it.”

The Haaretz report of nearly 5,000 words is filled with such painful details: stories of Palestinian elders who could not flee the Zionist invasion and ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine (1947-48), and were lined up against various walls and massacred; of an older woman being shot at point-blank range with four bullets; of other elders who were crammed inside a home which was then shelled by a tank and hand grenades; of many Palestinian women raped. The devastating stories just go on and on.

Historians often refer to the way that Palestine was ethnically cleansed of its native inhabitants by making a typical assertion that Palestinian refugees were “…those who fled or were expelled from their homes”. The use of the word “fled” has been exploited by supporters of Israel, who claim that the Palestinians left Palestine of their own accord.

It was also Haaretz that, in May 2013, reported on how Israel’s founding father and first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, had fabricated history to protect Israel’s image. Document number GL-18/17028, which was found in the Israeli military archive, demonstrated how the story of the Palestinians who “fled” — supposedly at the behest of Arab governments — was invented by the Israelis themselves. Sadly, as the latest revelations unearthed by Haaretz prove, Palestinians who stayed behind due to their disability, age or illness were not spared; they were massacred in the most horrific way imaginable.

However, something else struck me about the latest report by the Israeli newspaper. There was (and still is) a constant emphasis by delusional Israeli leaders that those who carried out the many grisly murders were few in number and do not represent the conduct of an entire army. It is important to note here that “army” refers to Zionist militias, some of whom operated under the title of “gang”.

We do exist: Why the Palestinian voice should take centre stage

Moreover, much emphasis has always been attached to the concept of “morality” when it comes to those who don uniforms representing the occupation state. Thus, “Israel’s moral foundations” were, according to those early “ethical Zionists”, jeopardised by the misconduct of a few “soldiers”, for which read militiamen and women, and even “terrorists”.

“In my opinion, all our moral foundations have been undermined and we need to look for ways to curb these instincts,” Haim-Mosh Shapira, the then Minister of Immigration and Health, was reported by Haaretz as saying during a meeting of the government committee.

Shapira, who represented the voice of reason and ethics in Israel at the time, was not arguing about Israel’s right to be established on the ruins of colonised — and eventually destroyed — Palestine. Nor was he questioning the killing of tens of thousands of Palestinians or the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands during the Nakba. Instead, he was referencing and protesting against the violent excesses which followed the Nakba, once the future of Israel and the destruction of Palestine were assured.

A huge demonstration of tens of thousands of people marches from the Embankment to Hyde park in solidarity with the Palestinian people on 22 May 2021 in London, England. [Guy Smallman/Getty Images]

A huge demonstration of tens of thousands of people marches from the Embankment to Hyde park in solidarity with the Palestinian people on 22 May 2021 in London, England. [Guy Smallman/Getty Images]

Needless to say, very few Israelis, if any, have been held accountable for the crimes of the past. Seventy-three years later, Palestinian victims continue to cry out for a justice that continues to be deferred.

Shapira’s brand of “humanistic” Zionism, with its selective and self-serving morality, continues to exist to this day. As odd as this may seem, the editorial line of Haaretz itself is the perfect manifestation of this supposed Zionist dichotomy.

Some may find this conclusion to be somewhat harsh. Zionist or not, they may protest that Haaretz has at least exposed these massacres and the culpability of the Israeli leadership. Such assumptions, however, are grossly misleading.

Generation after generation of Palestinians, along with many Palestinian historians — and even some Israelis — have known about most of these “previously unknown” massacres such as those at Reineh, Meron (Mirun) and Al-Burj, as reported by Haaretz. The assumption here is that these massacres were “unknown” until unacknowledged by the Israelis themselves. Since Haaretz’s editorial line is driven by Israel’s own misconstrued historical narrative, the killings and destruction of these villages simply didn’t happen officially until an Israeli researcher acknowledged that they did.

Walid Khalidi, one of Palestine’s most authoritative historians, has been aware, as have many others, of these massacres for decades. In his seminal book, All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948, Khalidi speaks of Al-Burj, of which the only sign of its existence now is “one crumbled house… on the hilltop.”

The Palestinian historian discusses what remains of the village of Meron (Mirun) in detail: “While the Arab section of the village was demolished, several rooms and stone walls still stand. One of the walls has a rectangular door-like opening and another has an arched entrance.” His records are very precise.

READ: Words without action expose the West’s role in Israel’s illegal settlement expansion

This is not the first time that an Israeli admission of guilt, although always conditional, has been considered as the validation of Palestinian suffering. Every Palestinian claim of Israeli misconduct, even though it may be verified by eyewitnesses and survivors, or even filmed, remains questionable until an Israeli newspaper, politician or historian acknowledges its validity. Why is Israel allowed to own Palestinian history in this way?

Our insistence on the centrality of the Palestinian narrative is becoming more urgent than ever, because marginalising Palestinian history is a form of denial of that history altogether; the denial of the bloody past and the equally violent present. From a Palestinian point of view, the fate of Al-Burj is no different to that of Jenin; the fate of Mirun is no different to that of Beit Hanoun; and the fate of Deir Yassin is no different to that of Rafah — in fact, the whole of the Gaza Strip.

Reclaiming history is not an intellectual exercise, it is a necessity. Yes, there are intellectual and ethical repercussions, but there are political and legal consequences too. Palestinians do not need to re-write their own history, because it is already written. It is time for those who have paid far more attention to the Israeli narrative to abandon such sophistry and, for once, listen to Palestinian voices. The truth conveyed by the victim is very different to that claimed by the aggressor.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.