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Akevot is Israel’s foremost historical research Institue documenting the Nakba and related war crimes. Its Hebrew name is evocative. It can mean either “footsteps,” “evidence,” or “traces.” All meanings consistent with its mission of finding traces of the past which serve as evidence, enabling researchers to document Israeli history without fear or favor. The NGO has spent years delving into the national archives. State archivists routinely refuse to release historical materials on the grounds that publication will damage national security. Government reports, studies, plans, and memoranda written 75 years ago are vital documents attesting to the nation’s history. The only thing they “damage” is the State’s reputation. History doesn’t care about reputation. The materials must be available to historians and the public to ensure an accurate appraisal of the historical record.
As a result, Akevot routinely sues in court in order to gain access. The latest court victory has exposed a particularly troubling 1956 massacre by IDF forces in the Palestinian village of Kafr Qasim.
We know that Israel expelled nearly 1 million indigenous Palestinians from its borders before and during the 1948 War. Less well known is that the project of dispossession didn’t end there. In fact, the tragedy of Kafr Qasim is evidence that the Nakba continued through 1956 and beyond (more on this below).
Despite their differences, David Ben Gurion and the right-wing terror militia, the Stern Gang believed their future state must ensure a Jewish majority. They understood that they could not do so based on Jewish immigration alone, especially considering the British denying entry to boatloads of Jewish refugees.
So they turned to the alternative. Through terror and forced expulsion, they systemically ethnically-cleansed Palestinian villages (400 in all). Of 1.3-million Palestinians prior to 1948, only 250,000 remained afterward. Anyone who sought to return to their native villages or homes was considered an “infiltrator” and arrested (if lucky) and shot (if not).
The villages themselves were left in ruins. In many cases, Israelis disappeared the former Palestinian communities and built new cities and suburbs directly on top of them. They were, of course, for Jews only. Homes of Palestinians were confiscated and handed over to the Jews. It is, of course, a violation of the Geneva Convention to displace a native community and replace its population with that of the conquering state.
The Stern Gang (Lehi) used vicious attacks to terrorize the Palestinian community in the years leading up 1948. At Deir Yassin, they massacred over 100 men, women and children. They used various methods in their murder spree. They threw hand grenades into some houses with inhabitants sheltering inside them. They stood others against a wall and machine-gunned them to death in scenes reminiscent of the Nazi mass executions of Jews during the Holocaust. Aware of the implications of exposure of the massacre, the killers hastily dug pits and buried the bodies, leaving no trace of their deeds.
The Israeli documentary, Born in Deir Yassin (above), includes interviews with the Jewish perpetrators. One of them in particular, Yehoshua Zettler (see above), has a particularly murderous past. The brutality he wreaked on that Palestinian village served him well leading to a far more brutal act: he was tasked by future prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, with assassinating Count Folke von Bernadotte. He was the Swedish diplomat assigned by the UN to negotiate an agreement between the Yishuv and Palestinians. Zettler did so by ambushing a procession of UN vehicles, identifying the Count, and shooting him and the French military attache at point-blank range. Zettler was an especially cold-blooded, unrepentant killer who was proud of his deeds on behalf of his nation. He died several years ago peacefully in his sleep, which can’t be said for his victims.
Deir Yassin and Yad Vashem: the Conflict of Dual Memories
A mental hospital, Kfar Shaul, sits on the former site of Deir Yassin. Nearby is the Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem. The name itself comes from the book of Isaiah, in which God promises to give a “place and name” to those who uphold His covenant.
A Holocaust memorial dedicated to the sacred mission of naming and giving voice to the dead, itself has obliterated the names and memory of a Palestinian village and its inhabitants. As it memorializes today the Jewish victims of Nazi genocide, yesterday Zionist murderers at neighboring Deir Yassin committed acts of mass murder. Both places share the same blood-stained ground.
Yad Vashem itself lies on what were the agricultural lands of the village of Hirbat (sometimes transliterated “Khirbet”) al-Hamama. It lay on the western portion of the current Yad Vashem complex. It too was liquidated during the Nakba. It is shameful that the State was founded on the ashes of such Palestinian communities. And that leaders of the Yishuv and their terrorist accomplices determined such brutality was necessary to ensure Jewish supremacy in the new State.
Tantura Massacre: Victims Hurriedly Buried, Now Lie Under Parking Lot
Another notorious massacre happened in the village of Tantura, which I documented here. In that case, the village lay along an important coastal highway connecting Haifa with Tel Aviv. The Palmach military command, at the behest of Ben Gurion, ordered its troops to expel all Palestinian villages in the vicinity. After they surrounded the village on all sides, the villagers agreed to surrender. Nevertheless, the Israeli force entered and commenced a bloody massacre in which (depending on which source one consults) between 50 and 200 villagers were murdered. Soldiers then looted any valuables from the deserted homes.
As I wrote in my earlier account, which is reminiscent of the aftermath of the Deir Yassin massacre:
After the killing spree ended, the perpetrators dug a large pit on the beach and shoveled the bodies into it. There were so many bodies, it took a week to complete the task. After their work was done, an officer found that the pit remained exposed and the unit commander was disciplined Further work concealing the evidence was done and another officer who followed up, sent a written message that the work had been satisfactorily completed.
Today, the burial ground lays unmarked underneath the parking lot of an Israeli beach frequented by nearby Kibbutz residents. There are no plans to commemorate the spot or excavate the remains for decent burial.
Later, a university graduate student, Teddy Katz, researched the incident and interviewed both survivors and the soldiers who participated in the attack. The thesis he wrote was accepted and given high marks by his faculty committee. Haaretz reporter wrote a story about Katz, his study and the massacre itself. The former killers were enraged to be accused of committing mass murder. They began a vicious campaign attacking the student and his faculty advisor, Ilan Pappe. They pressured the University to rescind its acceptance of the thesis. The academic authorities cravenly gave in to the mob. Katz was sued for libel and felt compelled to agree to renounce his work to settler the case. Pappe emigrated to Great Britain and was appointed to the faculty of Exeter University. Katz was ostracized and disgraced. His degree was canceled. As is typical in cases of war crimes, memory and victims are erased in order to suppress guilty consciences and vindicate the victors. In this way, the killers get to defile their victims a second time.
Alon Schwarz produced an award-winning film on the massacre and Teddy Katz’s personal suffering as a result of his research. Hala Gabriel, a child of a Palestinian survivor has produced her own documentary, One Night in Tantura. Adam Raz of Akevot played a critical role in redeeming Katz and his research with an article he published in Haaretz,. It offered documentary proof of the truth of the graduate student’s original thesis.
Kafr Qasim and the Ongoing Nakba
Until 1966, Israel maintained a martial law regime on Palestinians, who were viewed as a Fifth Column, hostile population. A military administration governed them. Authorities could impose arbitrary arrest on anyone along with indeterminate administrative detention.
In 1956, Israel, Great Britain and France invaded Egypt in order to take control of the Suez Canal, which Nasser had threatened to nationalize. Israel was concerned that Jordan might enter the war on behalf of its Egyptian Arab brothers. In addition, the war offered an opportunity to further “cleanse” Israel of its unwanted Palestinian population.
As a result, curfews were imposed on Palestinian villages like Kafr Qasim which lay only miles from the Jordanian border. However, the military commander responsible for the village arbitrarily advanced the curfew hours, without notifying Palestinian residents, many of whom farmed or worked outside the village. The army command ordered soldiers to shoot on sight anyone violating the curfew, knowing residents would be returning after it began. Advancing the curfew hour was a ploy enabling the soldiers to kill them in cold blood.
When the unit head responsible for Kafr Qasim questioned these orders, he was told that Palestinians should be killed as a lesson to the survivors. Either they would remain sd “quiet sheep,” according to testimony given at the later trial of the killers; or they would flee toward Jordan. The troops deliberately left no forces to the east of the village to facilitate those who fled to Jordan. The officers spoke explicitly about the killings as a way to depopulate the Arab sector. The result was a deliberate, planned massacre in which 49 of the inhabitants were murdered.
An uproar ensued among Israelis and the foreign press. The government felt compelled to offer sacrificial victims. It prosecuted 11 of the officers involved in the massacre. Several were convicted and served jail time. But the sentences were shortened by the military, civilian officials, and judges. In the end, they served minimal sentences. Two of the convicted men were later promoted to prominent positions. One became the director of security at the Dimona nuclear reactor. The other was (ironically) named the director for “Arab affairs” for the mixed ethnic city of Ramleh.
The Nakba, as we can see, did not stop after the 1948 War. In fact, it continued through the period of the Sinai War and even later. Ethnic cleansing by means of mass murder and terror was the strategy of choice for Israel in its first decade.
The 1967 War involved major battles with Syrian in the Golan and Egyptian forces in the Sinai. Israel also fought to conquer the eastern portion of Jerusalem, which had been under Jordanian control. Less well known it that nearly 400,000 West Bank Palestinians fled in terror from advancing Israeli forces. They became refugees in camps in Jordan and Syria, where they live to this day. The ethnic cleansing of large portions of the West Bank facilitated the later settlement of Israeli colonists on land stolen from these Palestinians.
1967 marked the end of the most violent and explicit phase of Palestinian displacement. Afterward, the means and methods changed and became somewhat more “sophisticated.” The change involved the theft of Palestinian lands by settlers and the government, not at the barrel of a gun, but by bureaucratic fiat. The authorities issued edicts, the military confiscated private Palestinian land by designating it for military use. Then the army transferred the land to authorities who handed it over to settlers. It also included the import of 700,000 Israeli Jewish settlers who built scores of new communities, thus displacing the former inhabitants in an echo of the aftermath of the 1948 Nakba. This was origanized, methodical state-sponsored dispossession. Laws were established which denied citizenship to any Palestinian who left the country for an extended period of time. In many cases, this rendered them stateless like the millions of Palestinian refugees from 1948 and 1967. All this was Nakba by another name. Call it, bureaucratic Nakba.
Israel is a state founded in violence, ethnic cleansing and mass murder. It remains steeped in such acts. The massacres portrayed above served as a precedent and model for the today’s racism and ongoing violence against Palestinians. As such, they define the State, giving it the mark of Cain, the original perpetrator of fratricide.
It has become accepted practice to label Israel an apartheid state. But it is less accepted to use the “G-word” to describe Israel’s 75-year-long effort to destroy the Palestinian people. In this post, I offered the argument in favor of calling this comprehensive and intentional policy genocide. I believe that just as apartheid was once a taboo term used to describe the racism of the Israeli state, so genocide will eventually find acceptance as a descriptor for this brutal, murderous regime of terror inflicted on the Palestinian people.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.