Why did Israel lose its “soul” after the 1967 occupation? | P.S. Lounge | 13 Sept 2021
When they’re not trying to justify or deny the latest Israeli war crime, we often hear liberal Zionists lamenting the state of Israeli politics today. They see these politics as a “betrayal of the values upon which Israel was founded” and frame them as an aberration from Israel’s supposedly core democratic and progressive values. They usually lay the blame on whatever Prime Minister is currently holding office. This was especially widespread during the Netanyahu years, and given Bennett’s track-record, we don’t see this changing any time soon.
If you were to ask these liberal Zionists when it all went wrong, their answer would be with the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the 1967 war. According to the popular liberal Zionist narrative, occupying land in 1967 “corrupted” the Zionist project and Israeli society, and constituted a deviation from Israel’s founding principles:
On the 5th of June 1967, About 400,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from the West Bank and Gaza to Jordan across the Allenby Bridge. Fleeing on foot, refugees carry the sick, the old and their few belongings on their backs.
© 1967 UNRWA Archive Photographer Unknown
Many of those displaced during the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict were already registered refugees, and so they suffer displacement for a second time. About 150,000 registered refugees flee from the West Bank into Jordan. Another 38,500 flee to Jordan from the Gaza Strip. Some 16,000 registered refugees from the Golan area in Syria flee mainly to Damascus and Dera’a in the south. To cope with the influx of the displaced, nine new emergency camps are set up, six of them in Jordan. Forty-eight years on, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory still continues. This photograph above shows a young Palestinian girl at the Allenby Bridge, 8 kilometers from Jericho and 43 kilometers from Jerusalem.
Liberal Zionists are not unique in this nostalgia for the past. Beneficiaries of imperialism are always looking back fondly on the “good old days”, which they imagine represented a better form of society. For instance, half of white Americans say that things were better in 1950 than they are today.
To put that into perspective, half of white Americans think that a society with segregation, where you needed to sit at the back of the bus if you weren’t white, where there were lynchings of Black people, was preferable to society today. And why not? They weren’t the ones facing any of this tyranny. They weren’t the ones being murdered in cold blood in the street.
A large portion of white Britons are also nostalgic for the days of the British empire, one of the most bloody and colonial empires in history. Half of those who voted “leave” during Brexit would prefer that Britain be an empire again. Once again, why wouldn’t they? They enjoyed the spoils of colonialism, and never needed to suffer its consequences. It wasn’t them being enslaved and butchered.
Ultimately, the common thread uniting all of this nostalgia is the complete erasure of its victims.
Erasing the victims:
Just like any other colonizer, Israelis are impressively self-centered. Settler narcissism knows no bounds, as even as they lament the occupation of 1967, it is not out of concern for the Palestinians, who are the direct victims oppressed by this brutal military dictatorship. Instead, their focus is on themselves:
“The greatest damage has been internal. The settlement enterprise has become a divisive factor in Israeli society, sowing bitter rivalries among Jews not seen since the end of the Second Temple period, a story with its own tragic ending.”
Even when Israelis oppress, they are still the victims. As if this “settlement enterprise” happened in a vacuum, without any people being displaced, killed or oppressed. The real damage, it seems, is how it became a divisive factor for Israelis, because Palestinians have always been invisible collateral damage to the Zionist project. As a matter of fact, great efforts were implemented to erase Palestinians’ presence; entire forests, parks and nature reserves were created with the sole purpose of hiding the ruins of destroyed Palestinian villages. It appears that these efforts have been successful when it comes to the Israeli public, because the only way someone could possibly believe that pre-1967 Israel was on the “right side of history” is if you completely excise Palestinians from this history.
I remind you that these were supposed to be the so-called “Arab Israelis” which were citizens of the state. They remained living under such conditions until 1966, basically a year before the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As a matter of fact, the reason Israelis were able to so easily seize and administer the newly occupied areas was because they simply transferred the same structures and systems used on Palestinians living under Israeli control after 1948.
Furthermore, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians would not stop after the war; Palestinians in the Naqab, as well as those close to the ceasefire lines, would continue to face mass expulsions into the 1950s. This should solidly dispel the myth that the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was an unplanned consequence of war, as it continued years afterwards.
In the rare event that Israelis acknowledge that the Nakba was perpetrated by Zionist militias rather than being the result of some mythical Arab evacuation orders, the argument then becomes that it was a byproduct of war and not a deliberate policy. This should not be surprising, as much of the Israeli narrative depends on framing the Zionist colonists as morally superior underdogs who only resorted to violence to defend themselves. However, like most Zionist talking points, actual scholarship and primary sources paint a completely different picture. The concept of “transferring” the Arab population of Palestine -also known as ethnic cleansing- has a long and robust history within the Zionist movement and its political thought. The concept of “transfer”: From its earliest days, the Zionist movement was well-aware of the existence of the Palestinian natives. Even though the claim was “a land without a people for a people without a land” what they truly meant is that the land had no people worth talking about. This becomes exceedingly clear when reading the discussions of early Zionists, such as Chaim Weizmann, who when asked about the inhabitants of Palestine responded with: “The British told us that there are there some hundred thousands negroes [Kushim] and for those there is no value.”. You can clearly see the influence and internalization of racist European colonial rhetoric. This attitude would become a cornerstone of Zionism as a political and colonial movement. Denying the existence of the natives, or their validity or right to exist, is par for the course for many a colonizing movement.
This is merely another formulation of the Terra Nullius argument which was used to legitimize settler-colonialism all over the globe. With the arrival of the first Zionist colonists it became apparent that there was no hope of establishing an ethnocracy without first getting rid of the Palestinians already living there. This was encapsulated by an overheard conversation documented by Moshe Smilansky in 1891: “We should go east, into Transjordan. That would be a test for our movement.” “Nonsense… isn’t there enough land in Judea and Galilee?” “The land in Judea and Galilee is occupied by the Arabs.” “Well, we’ll take it from them.” “How?” (Silence.) “A revolutionary doesn’t ask naive questions.” “Well then, ‘revolutionary,’ tell us how.” “It is very simple, we’ll harass them until they get out… Let them go to Transjordan.” “And are we going to abandon all of Transjordan?” asks an anxious voice. “As soon as we have a big settlement here we’ll seize the land, we’ll become strong, and then we’ll take care of the Left Bank [of the Jordan River], we’ll expel them from there, too. Let them go back to the Arab countries.”
This is hardly the only example of such candid conversations about the colonist’s intentions towards the Palestinians. There was never an intention to settle Palestine and live in peace with the natives. When asked about the deprivation of Palestinians from their rights as a result of the Zionist project, Moshe Beilinson, close associate of Ben Gurion stated in 1929 that: “There is no answer to this question nor can there be, and we are not obliged to provide it because we are not responsible for the fact that a particular individual man was born in a certain place, and not several kilometres away from there.” In 1930, Menahem Ussishkin, Chairman of the Jewish National Fund and a member of the Jewish Agency executive, declared that: “We must continually raise the demand that our land be returned to our possession….lf there are other inhabitants there, they must be transferred to some other place. We must take over the land. We have a greater and nobler ideal than preserving several hundred thousands of Arab fellahin.”
There are dozens of other examples of such public statements, this is of course not even taking into account what was being said behind closed doors. But it is obvious that for the Zionist movement to succeed, the Palestinians needed to be removed from Palestine. Anything else would not allow for the erection of an exclusivist Zionist ethnocracy. The idea of removing the Palestinians was rather popular among Zionist leaders decades before any kind of war or conflict, and was even seen as a necessity by many. Naturally, this set the stage for the ethnic cleansing that occurred between 1947-1950 (and beyond). Plan Dalet: It is within this context that Plan D(Tochnit Dalet) was developed by the Haganah high command. Although it was adopted in May 1948, the origins of this plan goes back a few years further. Yigael Yadin reportedly started working on it in 1944. This plan entailed the expansion of the borders of the Jewish state, well beyond partition, and any Palestinian village within these borders that resisted would be destroyed and have its inhabitants expelled. This included cities that were supposed to be part of the Arab Palestinian state after partition, such as Nazareth, Acre and Lydda. Ben Zohar, the biographer of Ben Gurion wrote that: “In internal discussions, in instructions to his men, the Old Man [Ben-Gurion] demonstrated a clear position: it would be better that as few a number as possible of Arabs would remain in the territory of the [Jewish] state.”
Although it could be argued that Plan D did not outline the exact villages and cities to be ethnically cleansed in an explicit way, it was clear that the various Yishuv forces were operating with its instructions in mind. To further reinforce my argument that the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was not some byproduct of warfare, but rather deliberate policy -regardless of degree of central organization- I would like to share some rather explicit and deliberate examples of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Deir Yassin: Deir Yassin was a small, pastoral village west of Jerusalem. The village was determined to remain neutral, and as such refused to have Arab soldiers stationed there. Not only were they neutral, they also had a non-aggression pact signed with the Haganah. This, however, did not save it from its fate, as it was in the territory of the Jewish state lined out in Plan D. This meant that not only was it to be destroyed and have its population ethnically cleansed, an example needed to be made of it as to inspire terror in the surrounding villages. As a result this massacre was particularly monstrous.
On April 9th 1948, Zionist forces attacked the village of Deir Yassin under the cover of darkness. The Zionist forces shot indiscriminately and killed dozens of Palestinian civilians in their own homes. The number of those murdered ranges from roughly 100 to over 150, depending on estimation. Perhaps one of the most graphic witness testimonials comes from Othman Akel: “I saw the Zionist terrorist soldiers ordering the bakery man of the village to throw his son in the oven and burn him alive. The son is holding the clothes of his father tightly and crying from fear and pleading to his father not to do it. the father refuses and then the soldiers hit him in his gut so hard it caused him to fall on the floor. Other soldiers held his son, Abdel Rauf, and threw him in the oven and told his father to toast him well-done meat. Other soldiers took the baker himself , Hussain al-Shareef, and threw him, too, in the oven, telling him, “follow your son, he needs you there”. Other stories include tying a villager to a tree before burning him, rape and disembowelment. Dead villagers were thrown into pits by the dozen. Many were decapitated or mutilated. Houses were looted and destroyed. A number of prisoners were taken, put in cuffs, and paraded around West Jerusalem as war trophies, before being executed and dumped in the village quarry. It is important to note that this massacre was carried out before the 1948 war. It posed no threat and was not part of any military action.
More recently, Zionist revisionists have tried to frame the massacre as a battle because the village guards put up resistance to the invading militias. In typical Zionist fashion, I’m certain that even had the villagers lain on the ground and died without resistance, they would have found a way to blame them for their deaths anyway. It is also noteworthy that because the village had a non-aggression pact with the Haganah, it was the Stern and Lehi that carried out this massacre. The Yishuv offered a few words of condemnation, but later the name of Deir Yassin would be seen listed next to successful operations. In the future, there would not even be the charade of caring about non-aggression pacts or the neutrality of villages that were designated for ethnic cleansing. Al Faluja and Iraq al Manshiyya: Al Faluja and Iraq al Manshiyya were Palestinian villages east of Gaza. They were both home to a pocket of Egyptian troops who were assigned to defend the villages, and were besieged since October 1948.
On February 1949, an armistice agreement was reached between Egypt and Israel, where the Egyptian troops and all military personnel would evacuate the pocket and hand it over to Israel. One of the conditions of this armistice agreement was that the civilians of these villages were to remain safe and unharmed. Israel agreed to this. However, as soon as the villages were under Israeli control they were subjected to a merciless campaign of intimidation to push the villagers to leave, which included beatings, looting, attempted rapes, threats, and the employment of the so called “whispering campaigns”. It is speculatedby Benny Morris that the decision was most likely approved by high ranking Israeli officials, but of course, as with Deir Yassin they feigned outrage without doing anything about it. Al Dawayma: Al Dawayma was a Palestinian village that lay west of Al-Khalil (Hebron). According to Haganah records, the village was considered “Very friendly”. Meaning it had not hosted or participated in any attacks against the Yishuv. This, like Deir Yassin, did not spare them the brutality of the Zionist militias.
On October 8th 1948, the village was occupied by Battalion 89 of Brigade Eight, who committed some depraved acts upon the villagers. 20 armored cars invaded the village while soldiers attacked from another flank. The village guards couldn’t even respond, and the village fell with very little resistance. The soldiers got out of their vehicles and started indiscriminately shooting villagers to force a panic and hurried depopulation of the village. Hundreds were killed, many of which were women and children. Villagers attempted to seek refuge in mosques and a close by shrine were shot by the dozens. Acts of barbarity were also reported by Zionist troops: Babies skulls cracked open, women raped and burned alive in houses, villagers stabbed to death. The village posed no threat, and was merely in the way of the expanding Jewish state that necessitated a Jewish demographic majority. So it had to be eradicated.
These are just only a few of the examples of Palestinian villages that were destroyed and depopulated outside the context of combat or war. As a matter of fact, ethnic cleansing operations continued well into the 1950s, a long time after the war was over. Further reading: * Khalidi, Rashid. The Hundr The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians was deliberate and necessary for the creation of Israel. The evidence that it was planned and not simply a byproduct of the fighting is overwhelming. Israel was not born in a vacuum, its birth was preconditioned on making the native Palestinians disappear.
Many massacres and mass killings took place during this period against Palestinians who were supposedly “equal citizens of Israel”. For instance, the Kufr Qassim massacre claimed 49 Palestinians, who were murdered in cold blood by Israel. To drive in how dehumanized and erased Palestinians are, the commander responsible for giving the order to open fire was fined 10 measly pennies. This is what the life of 49 Palestinians was worth. His accomplices were sentenced to very light jail time, but were all pardoned and set free within a year.
Palestinians memorial of the Kafr Qasim massacre.Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel remember the Kafr Qasim massacre63 years later, no justice or accountability has been servedhttps://www.mossawa.org/eng/?mod=articles&ID=823
Given these facts, the idea that Israel somehow lost its way after 1967 is quite laughable. The tactics used to dehumanize and dominate Palestinians in 1967 occupied areas were pioneered and tested on Palestinians in 1948 occupied areas. Ethnically cleansing 800,000 Palestinians and destroying over 500 villages is not some small aberration to the noble Zionist project, but a necessary precondition for the existence of the Israeli state today.
Denial and complicity:
The occupation of 1967 is a symptom, not the root cause of the question of Palestine. Trying to understand the Palestinian revolution by starting at 1967 will produce a flawed, incomplete and selective understanding of the conditions on the ground today.
Despite their insistence to the opposite, Zionists are largely uninformed and selective about the history of their ideology and state. This is because for the most part, the information they get is from either Israeli or Zionist media and education sources. One need only look at some of the colossal myths still popular in Zionist circles today, to see how effective this brainwashing has been. The vast majority of these myths are lazy, and could be dispelled through a basic investigation of primary sources. When it comes to the story of the founding of Israel, Avi Shlaim argues that the disconnect between the Zionist narrative and reality is aided by the fact that:
“Most of the voluminous literature on the war was written not by professional historians but by participants, by politicians, soldiers, official historians and by a large host of sympathetic chroniclers, journalists, biographers and hagiographers.”
Therefore, most “historical” knowledge Israelis and Zionists have are from sources relegated to the realm of political claim-making rather than honestly reflecting actual events. Combine this with the silencing of Palestinians (You can see it clearly even on Quora here) , willful ignorance and reactionary ethno-nationalist chauvinism and you have a recipe for an impenetrable bunker mentality. Liberal Zionists are not immune to this mentality, as we see their cognitive dissonance and contradictory politics all the time. They talk about the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in the West, and revert to blood and soil fascists the moment the right of return for Palestinians is mentioned, discarding their “progressive” charade and ranting about “demographic threats”.
Simply put, liberal Zionists live in denial. They are in denial about how Israel was founded, how Israelis came to have their homes, how Israel operates, and how it is sustained. They never ask themselves why Israel was supported by the biggest colonial powers at the time. They never ask why they are supported today by the largest imperialist hegemon in history. They make-believe that they are part of some liberation movement, while being sponsored by the forces squashing liberation movements all over the world.
It is easy for them to condemn the occupation, as far as they are concerned 80% of the territory is enough. Some even look down on the West Bank settlers as uncivilized, thinking that somehow the colonization of Palestine in 1948 was different than what the settlers are doing today, or that their homes were acquired in a different manner than the infamous Yacov in Sheikh Jarrah. They live in a bubble, claiming “this isn’t the Israel I believe in” whenever a new heinous war crime is committed by a state that could only exist due to heinous war crimes. This denialism is akin to Americans saying “this is un-American” whenever something terribly American happens.
Invoking a mythical idealized version of Israel that never existed serves mainly to assuage liberal Zionist guilt about supporting Israel today. Regardless of how loud they protest, Israel is increasingly being identified with reactionary and fascist movements all over the world. With every war crime committed, support for Israel becomes more of a taboo in progressive circles. Claiming that Israel has merely “lost its way” is a coping mechanism to keep pretending that this is a temporary state of affairs, that Israel at its core is good, and thus worthy of continuous support.
Naturally, this means that they must concede that Israel has some faults, but this criticism is reserved and shallow, focusing on individuals rather than systems, and definitely not interested in root causes. This saves them from having to admit that Israel as a whole has been a racist, colonial endeavor, or confront their own complicity in the destruction of Palestinian society. Fortunately, this tactic has been transparent and ineffective. As a result, there are personalities on the Zionist “left” whose sole purpose is to endlessly whine about how they aren’t welcome in progressive circles anymore, naturally accusing those circles of antisemitism rather than inspecting their own reactionary politics.
In reality, for Palestinians there has never existed a “good” Israel which was corrupted. It is an impossibility, and a complete contradiction of terms. Israel was built at the expense of the destruction and subjugation of Palestinian society. The only way liberal Zionists think Israel was on the “right track” in this period is because, like their right-wing counterparts, they don’t view Palestinians as equally human.
- Salaita, Steven. Israel’s dead soul. Temple University Press, 2011.
- Sayegh, Fayez Abdullah. Zionist colonialism in Palestine. Vol. 1. Beirut, Lebanon: Research Center, Palestine Liberation Organization, 1965.
- Honig-Parnass, Tikva. The False Prophets of Peace: Liberal Zionism and the Struggle for Palestine. Haymarket Books, 2011.