The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Book Notes) 
15 min read

Albert Speer was Adolf Hitler’s chief architect. 

During the Nurnberg trials and the 20 years he served in prison, he denied any knowledge of the crimes against the Jews.  

Speer was often asked about what he knew. 

But the right question, he said, wasn’t what I knew. The right question is what I could have known if I wanted to. 

Gabor Mate mentioned this story during an interview with Russell Brand. 

In his mouth, it carries weight. 

Gabor Mate is a renowned psychologist, Holocaust survivor, and ex-Zionist.  

He believed in this dream of Jewish people returning to their historical land, protected by a powerful state. 

But the price for this dream was to impose a nightmare on Palestinians. 

Once he learned and visited the Occupied Territories, he became a pro-truth. 

The point of all this is simple. 

We are not living in the forties. All the necessary information is available. 

The more we educate ourselves, the more we can neutralize Israel’s hegemonic narrative and give a chance to resolve the conflict. 

At the center of this conflict is the denial of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. 

Luckily, the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe wrote a great book on the topic.

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine


Israel’s Hegemonic Narrative  

Not So Fast Buddy 

This narrative has only one goal: Eliminating the Palestinian point of view

But before even discussing the narrative, there are some major obstacles to overcome. 

If you want to question Israel’s actions, especially when you are a public figure, the first charge you’ll receive is the one of antisemitism. 

Either you are pro-Israel or antisemitic. There’s nothing in between. 

If you survive this first charge, the second one is most likely to be ‘supporting terrorists’. 

Why Ukrainians are heroes when Palestinians are terrorists is a complete mystery! 

It’s an efficient charge because it diverts from the Palestinians to drown you in discussions about terrorism, Islam, and all those stuff. 

If these two attacks don’t knock you down, at the minimum it will have you consumed a decent chunk of your energy trying to defend your positions. 

But you can pad yourself in the back. You can start discussing the narrative. Or so you think. 

If you are an outsider, they will invite you to go play somewhere else. The problem is too complex for your little brain to understand. 

You might argue that it’s pretty straightforward actually.  

There was a land and people were living on it. You took over the land by force and kicked out as many people as you could. And for the remaining ones, you made and you keep making their lives hell. 

They will respond to you to not trust what you see; that your lack of knowledge makes you feel for the Palestinians who are, in fact, evil creatures. 

The Truth 

To correct your point of view, you need to read history right. Palestinians voluntarily left. 

You: Really? Half the population left all their belongings behind to do some indefinite camping in neighboring countries. I didn’t know Palestinians love camping that much!

Them: Yes, they do. 

You: What about the Nakba (the catastrophe)? 

Them: Hmmm. It doesn’t ring any bell. 

You: But it happens only 70 years ago. 

Them: Nobody knows what happens 70 years ago. But we can tell you precisely what happened 2000 years ago. God gave this land to us alone and forever. And we have a document to prove it.  

You: Now that I see this, you are absolutely right. How can I support you get rid of these Palestinian invaders? 

Them: Finally, you’re back to reason. 

Let’s Talk About Peace  

Palestine and 'Peace Talk'
Photo by Amir Hanna on Unsplash

If the short dialogue didn’t make any sense to you, imagine the Palestinians during a ‘peace talk’ where there is only Israel version on the table! 

Ilan Pappe’s book is a good remedy for the collective amnesia about the Nakba—the uprooting of Palestinians in 1948. 

Pappe belongs to this new wave of Israeli historians who challenge the conventional view of Israel’s creation. 

As you can imagine, his work is heavily criticized, especially his mention of rape cases and experiment on animals that turn them blind. 

For the rest—the description of the expulsion of Palestinians, the killings of harmless civilians including women and children—I don’t find it any different from what’s happening right now. 

There’s a certain consistency in the treatment of Palestinians that it’s hard to justify, especially coming from the same who experienced the Holocaust. 

While many Western countries want to criminalize Holocaust denial, mentioning Nakba is taboo. 

But no peace is possible without tackling this foundational event. 

The Book in 3 Sentences  

1- The Zionists took advantage of a unique historical opportunity. 

2- The ethnic cleansing of Palestine was well planned and skillfully executed. 

3- Odds were stacked against Palestinians. 

Some of My Notes from the Book 


The orders came with a detailed description of the methods to be employed to forcibly evict the people: large-scale intimidation; laying siege to and bombarding villages and population centers; setting fire to homes, properties and goods; expulsion; demolition; and finally, planting mines among the rubble to prevent any of the expelled inhabitants from returning. 

Once the decision was taken, it took six months to complete the mission. When it was over, more than half of Palestine’s native population, close to 800,000 people, had been uprooted, 531 villages had been destroyed, and eleven urban neighborhoods emptied of their inhabitants. 

One such crime has been erased almost totally from the global public memory: the dispossession of the Palestinians in 1948 by Israel. This, the most formative event in the modern history of the land of Palestine, has ever since been systematically denied, and is still today not recognized as a historical fact, let alone acknowledge as a crime that needs to be confronted politically as well as morally. 

Chapter 1: An ‘Alleged’ Ethnic Cleansing?  

Ethnic cleansing is an effort to render an ethnically mixed country homogenous by expelling a particular group of people and turning them into refugees while demolishing the homes they were driven out from. 

From the founder of the Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl, to the main leaders of the Zionist enterprise in Palestine, cleansing the land was a valid option. As one of the movement’s most liberal thinkers, Leo Motzkin, put it in 1917:
“Our thought is that the colonization of Palestine has to go in two directions: Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel and the resettlement of the Arabs of Eretz Israel in areas outside the country. The transfer of so many Arabs may seem at first unacceptable economically, but it is nonetheless practical. It does not require too much money to resettle a Palestinian village on another land.” 

The fact that the expellers were newcomers to the country, and part of a colonization project, relates the case of Palestine to the colonialist history of ethnic cleansing in North and South America, Africa, Australia, where white settlers routinely committed such crimes. 

Chapter 2: The Drive for an Exclusive Jewish State  

Zionism emerged in the late 1880s in central and eastern Europe as a national revival movement, prompted by the growing pressure on Jews in those regions either to assimilate totally or risk continuing persecution. 

Yigael Yadin recalled that it was this minute and the detailed knowledge of what was happening in each Palestinian village that enable Zionist military command in November 1947 to conclude ‘that the Palestine Arabs had nobody to organize them properly.’ 

A crucial factor in this was that the British had already destroyed the Palestinian leadership and its defense capabilities when they suppressed the 1936 Revolt, thus allowing the Zionist leadership ample time and space to set out their next moves. 

Ben-Gurion himself, writing to his son in 1937, appeared convinced that this was the only course of action open to Zionism: “The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war.” 

By the end of the mandate, as we have already seen, the Zionist movement had only been able to purchase around six percent of the land. 

Chapter 3: Partition and Destruction — UN Resolution 181 and its Impact  

Had the UN decided to make the territory the Jews had settled on in Palestine corresponding with the size of their future state, they would have entitled them to no more than ten percent of the land. But the UN accepted the nationalist claims the Zionist movement was making for Palestine and, furthermore, sought to compensate the Jews for the Nazi Holocaust in Europe. 

The Zionist movement so quickly dominated the diplomatic game in 1947 that the leadership of the Jewish community felt confident enough to demand UNSCOP allocate them a state comprising over eighty percent of the land. 

The injustice was as striking then as it appears now, and yet it was hardly commented on at the time by any leading Western newspapers then covering Palestine: the Jews, who owned less than six percent of the total land area of Palestine and constituted no more than one third of the population, were handed more than half of its overall territory. 

Chapter 4: Finalizing a Master Plan 

On 10 March 1948, Plan Dalet was adopted. The first target were the urban centers of Palestine, which had all been occupied by the end of April. About 250,000 Palestinians were uprooted in this phase, which was accompanied by several massacres, most notable of which was the Deir Yassin massacre. 

A few weeks into the war, the Israeli recruitment was so efficient that by the end of the summer their army stood at 80,000 troops. The Arab regular force never crossed the 50,000 threshold, and in addition had stopped receiving arms from Britain, which was its main arms supplier. 

In public, the leaders of the Jewish community portrayed doomsday scenarios and warned audiences of an imminent ‘second holocaust’. In private, however, they never used this discourse. They were fully aware that the Arab war rhetoric was in no way matched by any serious preparation on the ground. 

In his diary, he laconically summarized the meeting by repeating Allon’s words:
There is a need now for strong and brutal reaction. We need to be accurate about timing, place, and those we hit. If we accuse a family — we need to harm them without mercy, women and children included. Otherwise, this is not an effective reaction. During the operation, there is no need to distinguish between guilty and not guilty. 

The meeting spelled out the wish to prepare for an all-out operation. All of those present, without exception, reported that rural Palestine showed no desire to fight or attack, and was defenseless. 

Chapter 5: The Blueprint for Ethnic Cleansing: Plan Dalet  

[…] the Arab arms were not arriving, and the Arab governments did little beyond airing their inflammatory war rhetoric in all directions so as to hide their inaction and unwillingness to intervene on behalf of the Palestinians. 

Their troops were consequently present in great numbers and they still had the legal and, one could argue, the moral authority to impose law and order in the city [Haifa]. Their conduct, as many British politicians were later to admit, forms one of the most shameful chapters in the history of the British Empire in the Middle East. 

Al-Qawqji’s appearance was accompanied by the arrival in the southern coastal plain of Muslim Brotherhood volunteers from Egypt. They were full of enthusiasm, but totally ineffective as soldiers or troops, as was quickly proven when the villages they were supposed to defend were occupied emptied, and destroyed in quick succession. 

The Jordanians were to annex most of the areas allocated to the Arabs in the partition resolution, and in return would not join the military operations against the Jewish state. The British gave the scheme their blessing. The Arab legion, the Jordanian army, was the best trained in the whole Arab world. It matched, and in some areas was even superior to, the Jewish troops.  

Had it not been for highly effective pressure by the Zionist lobby on President Harry Truman, the course of Palestine’s history could have run differently. Instead, the Zionist sections of the American Jewish community learned an important lesson about their ability to impact American policy in Palestine (and later beyond, in the Middle East as a whole). 

Chapter 6: The Phony War and the Real War Over Palestine — May 1948  

Weapons were scarce since the Arab armies’ main suppliers were Britain and France who had declared an arms embargo on Palestine. This crippled the Arab armies but hardly affected the Jewish forces, who found a willing furnisher in the Soviet Union and its new Eastern bloc. 

There had been ethnic cleansing on the day before 15 May 1948, and the same ethnic cleansing operations took place the day after. Israel had enough troops both to handle the Arab armies and to continue cleansing the land. 

It should be clear by now that the Israeli foundational myth about a voluntary Palestinian flight the moment the war started — in response to a call by Arab leaders to make way for invading armies — holds no water. It is a sheer fabrication that there were Jewish attempts, as Israeli textbooks still insist today, to persuade Palestinian to stay. As we have seen, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had already been expelled by force before the war began, and tens of thousands more would be expelled in the first week of the war. 

This is how a Jewish officer described the executions at Tantura:
Prisoners were led in groups to a distance of 200 meters aside and there they were shot. Soldiers would come to the commander-in-chief and say, ‘My cousin was killed in the war.’ His commander heard and instructed the troops to take a group of five to seven people aside and execute them. Then a soldier came and said his brother had died in one of the battles. For one brother the retribution was higher. The commander ordered the troops to take a larger group and they were shot, and so on. 

Chapter 7: The Escalation of the Cleansing Operations: June—September 1948  

One United Nations emissary was different. Count Folke Bernadotte had arrived in Palestine on 20 May and stayed there until Jewish terrorists murdered him in September for having ‘dared’ to put forward a proposal to re-divide the country in half, and to demand the unconditional return of all the refugees. 

One might wonder why newspaper reports of a massacre on this scale did not provoke an outcry in the United States…Like Bilby’s description (‘ruthlessly brilliant’), Wheeler’s account of the Israeli army’s campaign sadly neglected to provide a similarly probing report on the number of Palestinians killed, wounded, or expelled from their villages. The correspondents’ reports were totally one-sided. 

Rabin estimated that a total of 50,000 people had been ‘transferred’ in this inhuman way. Again, the inevitable question presents itself: three years after the Holocaust, what went through the minds of those Jews who watched these wretched people pass by? 

Ben-Gurion did not wish the city of Nazareth to be depopulated for the simple reason that he knew the eyes of the Christian world were fixed on the city.  

Chapter 8: Completing the Job — October 1948 – January 1949  

The destruction was part of an ongoing Israeli battle against the ‘Arabization’ of the Galilee, as Israel sees it. In 1976, the highest official in the Ministry of Interior, Israel Koening, called the Palestinians in Galilee a ‘cancer in the state’s body’ and the Israel Chief of Staff, Raphael Eitan, openly spoke of them as ‘cockroaches’. 

The major activities towards the end of the 1948 ethnic cleansing operation now focused on implementing Israel’s anti-repatriation policy on two levels. The first level was national, introduced in August 1948 by an Israeli government decision to destroy all the evicted villages and transform them into new Jewish settlements or ‘natural forests’. The second level was diplomatic, whereby strenuous efforts were made to avert the growing international pressure on Israel to allow the return of the refugee. 

The massacre in Dawaymeh

The UN report from 14 June 1949 (accessible today on the Internet by simply searching for the village name) says the following:
“The reason why so little is known about this massacre which, in many respects, was more brutal than the Deir Yassin massacre, is because the Arab Legion (the Army in control of that area) feared that if the news was allowed to spread, it would have the same effect on the moral of the peasantry that Deir Yassin had, namely to cause another flow of Arab refugees.”  

Chapter 9: Occupation and its Ugly Face  

“The order is to take captive any suspicious Arab of military age, between the ages of 10 to 50.”
IDF Orders, IDF Archives, 5943/49/114, 13 April 1948 General Orders for how to treat POWs. 

By putting all private and collective possessions of the expelled Palestinians under its custody, the government could, and in effect did, sell these properties to public and private Jewish groups and individuals later under the spurious pretext that no claimant had come forward. 

The primary objective of this legislation was to prevent Palestinians in Israel from regaining ownership, through purchase, of their own land or that of their people. This is why Israel never allowed the Palestinian minority to build even one new rural settlement or village, let alone a new town or city. 

The Palestinian minority in Israel, seventeen per cent of the total population after ethnic cleansing has been forced to make do with just three percent of the land. They are allowed to build and live on only two percent of the land; the remaining one per cent was defined as agricultural land which cannot be built upon. In other words, today 1.3 million people live on that two percent. 

Chapter 11: Nakba Denial and ‘Peace Process’ 

The third Israel axiom is that nothing that occurred prior to 1967, including the Nakba and the ethnic cleansing, will ever be negotiable. The implications here are clear: it totally removes the refugee issue from the peace agenda and sidelines the Palestinian Right of Return as a ‘non-starter’. 

Recognizing Palestinian victimhood ties in with deeply rooted psychological fears because it demands that Israelis question their self-perceptions of what ‘went on’ in 1948. As most Israelis see it — and as mainstream and popular Israeli historiography keeps telling them — in 1948 Israel was able to establish itself as an independent nation-state on part of Mandate Palestine because early Zionists had succeeded in ‘settling an empty land’ and ‘making the desert bloom’. 

Of course, they had completely misread the tone of the US peace scheme: only Israel was allowed to set the items of a peace agenda, including those for a permanent settlement. 

Chapter 12: Fortress Israel  

“The significance of the disengagement plan [from Gaza] is the freezing of the peace process. And when you freeze the process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, the whole package called Palestinian state with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. All with [US] presidential blessings and the ratification of both houses of Congress.”  
Don Weissglas, spokesperson for Ariel Sharon, Ha’aretz, 6 October 2004 

In December 2003, Binyamin Netanyahu recycled Ben-Gurion’s ‘alarming’ statistics: ‘If the Arabs in Israel form 40 percent of the population,’ Netanyahu said, ‘this is the end of the Jewish state.’ ‘But 20 percent is also a problem,’ he added. ‘If the relationship with these 20 percent becomes problematic, the state is entitled to employ extreme measures.’ 

In other words, the Zionist response seeks to solve the problem of the ‘demographic balance’ either by giving up territory (that Israel holds illegally under international law) or by ‘shrinking’ the ‘problematic’ population group. 

At the heart of the refusal to allow Palestinians the Right to Return is the fear of Jewish Israelis that they will eventually be outnumbered by Arabs.