By Sheldon Ranz
“We are a people who will not harm a fly, but if the fly bothers him, the fly must be killed and also his children if he hides behind them.” – Amihai Eliyahu, Israel’s Heritage Minister, May 13.
“Considering the military advantage gained by eliminating these senior terrorists, it is irrelevant to ask how many children were incidentally killed.” – Maurice Hirsch, IDF Lt. Col.(res.), May 9
In public discourse around Israel/Palestine this year, the most oft-used term is Nakba. It means ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic and also refers to the 1947-1949 event – the ethnic cleansing of approximately 750,000 indigenous Palestinian Arabs from their homeland. This year marks the Nakba’s 75th anniversary since the nation responsible, Israel, was officially born in 1948.
For old-time SDUSAers and Labor Zionists in the US, the Nakba was unknown. We grew up with a heavily redacted, romanticized version of Israel’s beginnings, and it has been hard to accept that we had been lied to (some will never accept that and will remain Israel diehards). The parallels with red-diaper babies having grown up with a comparable version of the Soviet Union’s beginnings are hard to resist. However, for the here and now, the USSR is no more, so there are no relevant policy issues on that table. With Israel, however, nothing could be further from the truth: it is a nuclear-armed far-right apartheid state flirting with genocide.
How the hell did that happen? It helps to do a deep dive into Israel’s first Prime Minister and the man considered its founder, David Ben-Gurion. The consensus among Israel’s New Historians – Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe – as well as eminent Palestinian historians Walid Khalidi, Rashid Khalidi and Nur Masalha is that he was the mastermind of the Nakba.
He was born David Grun in Plonsk, Poland in 1886. He grew up in the Socialist Zionist Poalei Zion movement and soon emigrated to Ottoman Palestine, where he Hebraicized his last name to Ben-Gurion. From there, he would shuttle back and forth, from Palestine, to New York, to Europe, and back again to Palestine, all to build up and recruit for his movement. One place he stopped at was back in Poland, at the home of Pinchas Goldkranc, my paternal grandfather. Pinchas was a banking agent and Ben-Gurion needed him to set up an account for the local Poalei Zion chapter, so Ben-Gurion stayed overnight as a guest in my father’s room. My father, John (nee Jochanan Goldkranc) recalled being charmed by his vision of a Jewish country that would be the “glory of the working class!” In fact, Ben-Gurion had charm in abundance, and it was critical in hiding the terrible truth: he was a skilled sociopath. The masses of Jews who comprised the bulk of the Labor Zionist movement – the true believers, like my family – were unaware of his true intentions and war crimes.
As head of the Jewish Agency, the leading Jewish communal organization in the British Mandate, Ben-Gurion was fully aware that most Palestinians did not follow the anti-Semitic Grand Mufti. He himself made deals with the Nashashibi Palestinian clan, some of whose members had rescued numerous Jews in Hebron during the infamous 1929 massacre committed by the Mufti’s followers. He and the senior leadership of the Yishuv (the pre-state Jewish community) were fully aware that most Palestinians wanted peaceful coexistence with Jews. And when the British were in charge, Ben-Gurion’s militia, the Haganah, did not organize massacres against the Palestinians, but he revealed his racist ambitions to his inner circle:
- On October 5, 1937, Ben-Gurion wrote in a letter to his son Amos: “We must expel the Arabs and take their places.”
- In a 1941 memorandum entitled “Outlines of the Zionist Policy”, Ben-Gurion stated that “the majority of the Arabs could hardly be expected to leave voluntarily,” noting, “Complete transfer without compulsion – and ruthless compulsion, at that – is hardly imaginable.”
- “I support compulsory transfer. I don’t see anything immoral in it.” (Benny Morris, “Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict 1881-1998”)
Once Ben-Gurion was certain the British were leaving Palestine for good in 1947, he decided to make his move. According to Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi’s “Before Their Diaspora“, on August 15, 1947 the house of the Abu Laban family, prosperous Palestinian orange growers near Petah Tikva, was attacked and blown up by the Haganah. Twelve occupants, including a mother and six children, were killed. (The Palestinians had not launched any offensive attacks since 1939, when the British expelled the Mufti). The massacre of the Abu Labans, innocent civilians by all reputable accounts, came during intense United Nations debate about partitioning the British Mandate. The massacre’s auspicious timing sent a clear signal to the Palestinian leadership that to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on partition later that November would make no difference. Ben-Gurion was going to invade the territory the UN gave to Palestine, regardless. And, he did make a promise a decade earlier to his son. As sociopaths go, David Ben-Gurion was a man of his word!
While the violence between Jews and Palestinians that followed the UN partition vote is widely considered by historians to be a “civil war”, its true Fort Sumter moment – the ‘first shot fired’ of the Nakba – was the Abu Laban massacre. It set the tone for the atrocities to follow, up until the 1949 Armistice. The Armistice was the formal end of armed hostilities between Israel and the Arab states that were called on to invade it by the Palestinian leadership in a desperate ploy to prevent Ben-Gurion’s forces from expelling the Palestinians from their land.
And while much shade is thrown on the right-wing Zionist militia such as the Irgun and Lehi terrorist groups, whose members raped and murdered over 100 Palestinians at Deir Yassin, tossing their corpses into a well, that has served as a deflection from the far more numerous and horrifying massacres committed by the Labor Zionist Haganah militia and its offspring – the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) – who would brag about how much more civilized they are in combat and how they believe in a ‘purity of arms’. Here’s a Haganah/IDF sampler:
- Contrary to stories about Arab propaganda advocating driving Jews into the sea, it was Israeli Jews who were actually doing that to Palestinian Arabs. In late April 1948, as nearly all the Arab inhabitants of the city of Haifa were being expelled, Haganah operation officer Mordechai Maklef ordered his troops to “Kill any Arab you encounter; torch all inflammable objects, and force doors open with explosives.” Crowds of Palestinians seeking safety in a marketplace near the port were deliberately shelled by his forces, causing a panicked flight towards the waterfront as people rushed to evacuate by sea. Many drowned as overloaded boats sank attempting to shuttle people to safety. One witness recalled: “Men stepped on their friends and women on their own children. The boats in the port were soon filled with living cargo. The overcrowding in them was horrible. Many turned over and sank with all their passengers.” (Ilan Pappe, “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”, pp. 95 -6)
- The Tantura Massacre. Yosef Diamont, IDF soldier: “We put Palestinians in cages and killed them. One of us raped a sixteen-year-old girl; some of us ran after them with flame throwers and burned them.” (https://t.co/ma0xwIPYqx) This testimony is from the award-winning documentary “Tantura”, which chronicles the slaughter by the IDF Alexandroni brigade of over 200 Palestinians in the village of Tantura, who were then buried in a mass grave.
- Operation Cast Thy Bread. Ben-Gurion authorized the use of germ warfare to poison the wells of Palestinian villages and spread typhoid bacteria during the Nakba (Ha’Aretz, October 6, 2022). Whereas Jews for millennia had been falsely accused by anti-Semites of poisoning wells to victimize Gentile children, Ben-Gurion decided to give the anti-Semites a gift by doing it for real!
The current government of Israel, the most right-wing in its history, is really not an anomaly, but the logical outcome of Ben-Gurion’s sociopathy. It is not an actual coalition government of left, center and right as previous governments had been; there are no mitigating liberal or moderate elements. It consists of Netanyahu’s Likud Party and those even further to the right, period. In the crosshairs of the government are enemies both Jewish and Palestinian. This year started with a settler-led pogrom in the Palestinian town of Hawara. Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said Hawara should be erased, but professionally, by soldiers instead of settlers! And liberal Israeli Jews were targeted with the government proposal for ‘judicial reforms’, which would allow the Knesset (Parliament) to override the Supreme Court by a simple majority.vote. This has led to massive anti-government street demonstrations attended by hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews, who rightly fear open fascism.
However, there has been little meaningful outreach by the Jewish demonstrators to the Palestinian community to join forces thus far. Reluctance to raise the issue of the Occupation or even toting the Palestinian flag are cited as reasons; in any event, the far right in Israel intimidates the opposition. But let’s be brutally honest here – many, if not most, of the Jewish demonstrators are caught up in the same anti-Palestinian bigotry that their right-wing counterparts display, except they’re a bit nicer about it. To them, it’s all about preserving ‘Jewish democracy.’ Not democracy per se, but ‘Jewish democracy’.
Left to their own devices, the Israeli masses don’t have what it takes to organize an ‘Israeli Spring’. Only enormous outside pressure has a chance of making that happen, and there’s nothing looming on the national horizon right now. The best bet is local organizing. In New York State, for example, Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani and State Senator Jabari Brisport are sponsoring the “Not On Our Dime” Act (A06943/S06992), which will stop charities registered in New York State from sending money in tax-deductible donations to West Bank settlements. Getting behind such legislation here and elsewhere throughout the US should be a no-brainer for social democrats working for an end to Israeli apartheid and justice for the Palestinian people.
Sheldon Ranz is the Director of Special Projects for SDUSA and the editor of Socialist Currents.