Zionism And The Birth
Of Middle East Terrorism

Terrell E. Arnold

Ilan Pappe's book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, is the most important work on the history of Palestine that has appeared in decades. Its central focus is the manner in which the Zionists designed and executed a plan to expel the Palestinian people from their homeland, to erase the history of those people from the landscape of the new state of Israel, and to create an ersatz history of the region to tell a false Israeli story. Pappe's history, told with integrity and clarity, provides an essential framework for understanding the birth and development of Middle East terrorism and insurgency. That may not have been Pappe's goal, but the inevitability of Palestinian insurgency emerges clearly from his account.
The first myth to die under Pappe's pen is Israeli innocence. 
The Israeli version of Middle East turmoil has it that the entire fault lies with the Palestinians. While Lord Balfour's declaration may have been written with the good Lord's fingers crossed behind his back, the declaration actually specified that nothing was to be done to disturb the rights of the people already in Palestine. The declaration, realistic or not, expected that Jews who migrated to the region would somehow fit in the spaces between Palestinians.
However, there was no unoccupied space worth occupying. Rather, the Palestinians-close to a million of them-lived in more than a dozen towns and a thousand villages. Since the economy was traditional agriculture, each Palestinian village was the home and gathering place for villagers who farmed the surrounding near countryside. Since most human movements were on foot, the reality of community design was that the peasant farmers as well as their landlords created a new village cluster when distances exceeded the practical norms for daily foot travel between village and farmlands. Many of the villagers did not own the land they farmed; Palestinian landed gentry often owned it, but the villagers were wedded to the land as their principal if not sole livelihood.
Over centuries the size and shape of these communities had been well defined by the realities of traditional agriculture, that combination of land, water, climate, and lifestyle needed to sustain a given population. For centuries that combination was productive, but as the population slowly expanded there simply were no empty spaces. Here the Zionist design hit an insuperable barrier: There actually was no place for a Jewish national home in Palestine.
Initially the Zionist response to the space problem was to buy land from landowners who were often absentees. In traditional practice, the villagers working the land went with it when the land was sold, but that practice did not serve the purposes of the Zionists. Palestinians were pushed off the land the Zionists bought and Jewish immigrants replaced the Palestinians. Resistance to this intrusive pattern of displacement caused two Palestinian uprisings before World War II. The British suppressed both rebellions rather harshly and dispersed much of Palestinian leadership. However, perhaps surprisingly, no Palestinian insurgent group emerged from that experience.
The second myth the Zionists invented was that the Palestinians left voluntarily. 
The problem, as Pappe defines it for the Zionists, was that leaving the Palestinians on the land did not allow creation of the Jewish national home either rapidly or expansively enough to meet their scheme. The newborn United Nations organization notionally set out to solve this problem right after World War II by partitioning Palestine. The UN neither consulted the Palestinians nor considered their interests. Rather its solution gave more that half of Palestine- in fact most of the best lands-to the new Jewish national home. However, the Palestinians still occupied all of it; Pappe estimates the Zionists had acquired less than 6% of the land at that stage. The UN scheme, innocently it seems, but certainly ill thought out, was that the Palestinians and the new Jewish settlers would live together.
That scheme simply did not fit Zionist plans. To reject it David Ben Gurion-eventual first Prime Minister, then de-facto leader-conceived stage one of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Pappe says the operation was called plan D. The ensuing process is what the Palestinian people call the Nakba or catastrophe of 1948. Ben Gurion and his core group took two Israeli terrorist groups, Stern and Irgun, as well as the young security force called Haganah and began to clear the land of Palestinians. During 1947 and 1948 these forces systematically murdered many Palestinian males and expelled the Palestinians from more than 500 villages and many from the traditional towns of Palestine except Jerusalem. They pushed more than 800,000 Palestinians into exile to Jordan-then including the West Bank-and surrounding countries.
Several massacres by Zionist terrorists, such as the killing of the people of the village of Deir Yassen near Jerusalem, received little to no international attention at the time (Albert Einstein and a small group of American Jewish notables wrote a letter about it to the New York Times, while Alfred Lilienthal's early 1950s book, What Price Israel, called sharp attention to it), but the great bulk of this Zionist war crime went virtually unnoticed in the United States and elsewhere in the west. Despite objections from knowledgeable officials in the State Department, the Truman administration, in power throughout the process, took no note of the crimes. Rather, in 1948 the United States was the first country to "recognize" the new state of Israel. That recognition essentially blessed the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
Zionist myth number three says that Israel was founded in a barren wilderness that the Israelis made flower.
The Zionist PR scheme was to pretend they were putting deserving Jews into empty Palestinian lands. Pappe puts this myth to rest very persuasively. In a most literal sense, the Zionists buried the evidence. Systematically, as the Palestinian people were expelled their villages were destroyed. Buildings were pulled down and plowed under. In many cases fruit and olive trees, many centuries old, were kept but they were surrounded by new plantings including evergreens and other trees. Landmarks that were distinctively Palestinian were destroyed. The result was an "Israelized" landscape that, visitors were told, was the greening of the barren land that had existed before Jewish settlers transformed it. For people who knew little to nothing about the region or its history, meaning most Americans, the myth was persuasive at the time, and it pretty much remains so. But the myth can persist only if people ignore the fact that more than four million Palestinians-the Nakba refugees, their children and grandchildren-today are crammed into the confining space of about 10% of their historic homeland, imprisoned by walls, razor wire and Israeli checkpoints in the least desirable parts of Palestine.
Myth number four is that the Israelis are the innocent victims of Palestinian terrorism.
This has to be the most carefully contrived and media protected fiction in history. For example, back last July the Israel Defense Force invaded Lebanon. While the IDF was unable to find and decimate Hezbollah-the Shi'a insurgent group in southern Lebanon-as planned, Israeli aircraft conducted a virtual carpet bombing of the coastal regions of Lebanon, largely destroying the country's economic infrastructure. However, while the Lebanon campaign had the world's attention, the IDF undertook a similar attack on the Gaza Strip and West Bank open-air prisons of the Palestinians. That campaign of bombing, strafing, assassination and harassment of the Palestinian people has continued to the present. The Palestinians sporadically have fought back with rocket fire and suicide bombings, but the casualty count is brutally lopsided. Hundreds of Palestinians are killed or injured for every Israeli. The Israelis now have in prison more than 11,000 Palestinians, while the alleged cause celebre of the recent attacks is Palestinian confinement of one IDF soldier.
Palestinian insurgency and terrorism are children of the Israeli pattern of repression.
The West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the areas where 90% of Palestinians are presently confined, have been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. The link between that condition and the evolution of Palestinian insurgent/terrorist groups is absolutely clear.
Why is it that insurgent/terrorist group formation did not begin with the Nakba? The answer is inexact, but an article by the PLO representative to the United States, Afif Safieh, that appeared in the American Jewish paper, FORWARD, suggests the explanation. By way of background, at the time of the Nakba many Palestinians appear to have believed that surrounding Arab countries would come to their rescue, and sporadic if weak military ventures by Egypt and others appear to have sustained this dream. The 1956 war that involved US, Britain and the Israelis should have demonstrated the hopelessness of that strategy, but the really decisive setbacks were Israeli capture of the West Bank in the 1967 war followed by the indecisive 1973 war. These failures persuaded Palestinians, as Safieh, put it, "that there was no military solution to the conflict" as well as no chance of a unitary Palestinian state in which Israelis and Palestinians could live together. As David Ignatius of the Washington Post noted in an August 2006 article, the 1973 war appeared to jolt all the players into recognizing that they had a stake in making peace.
That realization penetrated many different segments of the Palestinian people who were then variously dispersed in refugee camps in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and surrounding countries. But, while moving toward negotiations, the Palestinians were not prepared to abandon paramilitary moves. According to Safieh, " the PLO aimed to remain a military factor so as to be accepted as a diplomatic actor."
The PLO, however, was not able to exert a singular control of Palestinian military impulses. Formed in 1964 in Egypt as a Palestinian nationalist umbrella group, the PLO has a history that reflects the ups and downs of the Middle East peace process. After Israel's successful 1967 war, the PLO became a breeding ground for militant groups. Initially Yasser Arafat brought his Fatah group into the PLO and the organization carried out numerous attacks against Israel and in the region. Dissatisfied with the PLO performance, the Abu Nidal organization (ANO) spun off from it and became the most aggressive Middle East terrorist organization. Reflecting extensive militant factionalism, other groups emerged, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in 1967, the PFLP General Command in 1968, the Palestine Liberation Front in the mid 1970s, Palestine Islamic Jihaad in the mid 1970s, and various splinter groups of the above.
Most important groups formed in later years were Hamas in 1987 and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades in 2000. While Abu Nidal, Fatah, PFLP, and PFLP General Command carried out numerous attacks both within Palestine and Israel as well as regionally, the new arrivals, Hamas and Al Aqsa Brigades, confined their activities to Israel and Palestinian territory. With the death of Abu Nidal in 2002, that group appears to have curtailed its activities, and the recent pattern of Palestinian insurgent activity has been pretty much confined to Israel and the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza. A year before the 2006 Palestinian elections Hamas declared a unilateral ceasefire and concentrated on political action that resulted in Hamas winning a majority of the assembly. That ceasefire still stands as Hamas policy, although there have been a few lapses by Hamas hardliners.
The peace process has moderated Palestinian terrorism patterns even as the Palestinians continued to lose ground.
Deciding in favor of the political process in 1974, Arafat pretty much held the PLO to a non-violent stance until the mid 1980s. That was partly responsive to the first Camp David round during Jimmy Carter's presidency. However, the prospect that those accords would actually go anywhere had pretty well dimmed by 1985. Nonetheless, the peace process received another boost via the signature of the so-called Oslo Accords by Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin in 1993. The Accords were actually signed in Washington, DC in a meeting hosted by Bill Clinton, and the better term for the document is a Declaration of Principles on Interim Self Government Arrangements for Palestine.
While the Accords have been widely touted as a breakthrough and a binding set of principles for the parties, as Rabin pointed out in a letter to Arafat, the Declaration stated that "permanent status issues, such as Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements and borders are to be excluded from the interim arrangements and that the outcome of the permanent status talks should not be prejudged or preempted by the interim arrangements." While this letter made clear that Israel had neither given anything away nor committed itself to doing so, Rabin was assassinated in November 1995. The gunman who did it said he was fearful that Rabin would give part of the holy land to the Palestinians. In effect, subsequent history has demonstrated that the assassin actually had nothing to fear; to date all Israeli leaders have successfully avoided giving away anything, except maybe the promised turnover of control over the Gaza Strip. The word "maybe" applies because even though Sharon executed a high-profile withdrawal from Gaza, the IDF still has the Strip locked down, regularly bombs it and rigorously controls traffic in or out.
King Abdullah's renewal of an Arab League peace proposal is the first significant move in several years.
While early in the Bush administration the so-called Roadmap was proposed by the US, EU, UN and Russian Quartet, the most substantial feature of the map is a set of admonitions to the Palestinians as to what they must do to move toward negotiations. In any case, neither Ariel Sharon nor his successor Ehud Olmert signed on to the Roadmap, and so far the Israeli posture on King Abdullah's renewal of the Arab proposal is equally non-committal. Shimon Perez, the vice premier, said last week "the Saudi initiativehas merits." He summed it up cautiously by saying: "You come with your positions, and we will come with ours." That actually could represent a step forward, if the Israelis were to come to the table prepared to make real, here-now concessions on the final status issues that were supposed to have been settled-under the Oslo Accords-by negotiations no later than 1999. However, the Arab initiative calls for the Israelis to move back to the 1967 Green Line, as well as for resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem, in exchange for peace with the Arab world. Israeli refusal to talk about giving ground on such issues has effectively scuttled any prior peace initiative.
Compared to past proposals the Arab initiative lands in a much different Palestinian milieu.
All previous negotiations have occurred with Yasser Arafat in the Palestinian lead and with his Fatah party politically in charge of the process. Since the January 2006 elections Hamas has had the political lead. Hamas leadership has proved exasperating to the US and Israel because Prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders have adopted the normal Israeli line: no concessions in advance. If Israeli leadership were to accept that even-handed concept, negotiations probably could begin tomorrow. For Israel to sit down for talks, however, it would have to start by accepting the fact that willingness to sit down on the other side of a negotiating table and do business with them is the only advance recognition Hamas seems prepared to extend.
If one reads Ilan Pappe's work carefully, the Zionist leadership of Israel is hung up firmly, perhaps terminally, on three issues: Any right of Palestinian return beyond the West Bank and Gaza, any concession of territory beyond the Gaza Strip and the slivers of Palestine now contained in the Bantustans where Palestinians are now confined, and any genuine concession of equality to the Palestinian people. The Zionist hope has been that their own resistance and unrelenting pressure from the United States would keep the 4 million Palestinians at bay until Israeli facts on the ground make any Palestinian state impossible. Then the Palestinians can either leave or remain in a slave status to the Israelis.
Hamas, it would appear, has forced the issue. Having refused to make any concessions, Hamas has reserved the right to apply as much force against Israel as Hamas resources can muster. The only thing holding that posture in check is the possibility, now dangled collectively by the Arabs together, that peace can be had for a simple price: Israel gets the part of Palestine it has confiscated so far, but only up to the 1967 green line; while the Palestinians get the rest of Palestine and some just settlement for their expulsion. Any simpler, more forgiving statement of the options is unlikely. Any hard line refusal of the Zionists to negotiate on the merits of those proposals is likely to assure renewal of older groups or the birth of new Palestinian groups to continue the struggle.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at <>



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