Ethnic Cleansing

The central place of ethnic cleansing in the dominant strains of Zionist thought and Israeli state policy, sometimes referred to euphemistically as “transfer,” has been thoroughly documented.

Below, in chronological order, is a sampling. Works cited are listed at bottom.



Theodor Herzl:

“We shall have to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country.”

“… Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.” (Cited in Morris, 1999, 21-22.)

“Redeeming the land”:

From Ilan Pappe:

“Founded in 1901, the Jewish National Fund was the principal Zionist tool for the colonization of Palestine. It served as the agency the Zionist movement used to buy Palestinian land upon which it then settled Jewish immigrants. . . . [Yossef] Weitz [the head of the settlement department], was the quintessential Zionist colonialist. His main priority at the time was facilitating the eviction of Palestinian tenants from land bought from absentee landlords who were likely to live at some distance from their land or even outside the country, the [British-run] Mandate system having created borders where before there were none. Traditionally, when ownership of a plot of land, or even a whole village, changed hands, this did not mean that the farmers or villagers themselves had to move; Palestine was an agricultural society, and the new landlord would need to tenants to continue cultivating his lands. But with the advent of Zionism all this changed. Weitz personally visited the newly purchased plot of land often accompanied by his closest aides, and encouraged the new Jewish owners to throw out the local tenants, even if the owner had no use of the entire piece of land.” (Pappe, 2006, 18.)

Hagana intelligence files

According to Ilan Pappe, the Hagana compiled extremely detailed intelligence reports on the native residents, noting especially what resources would be worth taking over and which nationalist activists or groups should be executed.

Pappe describes the files thus:

“By the late 1930s, this ‘archive’ was almost complete. Precise details were recorded about the topographic location of each [Arab] village, its access roads, quality of land, water springs . . . An important category was an index of ‘hostility’ (to the Zionist project. . .) decided by the level of the village’s participation in the revolt of 1936. There was a list of everyone who had been involved in the revolt and the families of those who had lost someone in the fight against the British.”

“. . . The final update of the village files took place in 1947. It focused on creating lists of ‘wanted’ persons in each village. In 1948 Jewish troops used these lists for the search-and-arrest operations they carried out as soon as they had occupied a village. . . . The men who were picked out were often shot on the spot.” (Pappe, 2006, 19.)

Ben Gurion:

Ben Gurion was quite clear about his position on the “transfer” of native Arabs out of the territory he sought to claim for a future Israeli state:

“I support compulsory transfer. I do not see in it anything immoral.” (1938). (Morris, 253.)

“The transfer of population has already taken place in the Jezreel Valley, in the Sharon Plain, and in other places. You are aware of the work of the Jewish National Fund in this respect. Now a transfer of wholly different dimensions will have to be carried out.” (Gelvin, 2005, 137.)
The compulsory transfer of the Arabs from the valleys of the proposed Jewish state could give us something which we never had … a Galilee free from Arab population …. We must uproot from our hearts the assumption that the thing is not possible.” (Diary entry, July 12. Cited in Shlaim, 2009, 58.)
We must expel Arabs and take their places … and, if we have to use force–not to dispossess the Arabs of the Negev and Transjordan, but to guarantee our own right to settle in those places–then we have force at our disposal.” (Oct. 5 letter to his son, Amos. cited in Shlaim, 2009, 58. Available online here, and in original Hebrew here.)

Ejection of Palestinians from former Palestinian territory:

From Smith:

“During the war with the Arab states, the Israelis embarked on a deliberate policy of ousting Arabs from the territories they took over and forcing them across the lines into Arab-held territory.” (Smith, 207.)

“The significance of [the massacre of] Dayr Yasin went far beyond its immediate fate. The killings and disposal of the bodies became a staple of Irgun and Hagana propaganda proclaimed from mobile loudspeaker units that beamed their messages into the Arab areas of major cities such as Haifa and Jaffa. . . . In Haifa, the Arab military command and city officials left on April 21-22 in the face of Irgun assaults coupled with a precipitate British withdrawal of their troops and open Irgun threats of another Dayr Yasin if the Arabs remained. Fifty thousand fled in three days. In short, Zionist psychological warfare and terror tactics, which included the destruction of villages and the ousting of their populations, combined to produce a state of panic that resulted in the flight of over 300,000 Arabs by May 15.”

“. . . High officials, including the head of land acquisitions for the Jewish National Fund, argued from February onward that the Zionists should undertake a policy “promoting measures designed to encourage the Arab flight” and forbidding the return of those who left.” (Smith, 203.)

Plan Dalet

According to Pappe and Morris, Plan Dalet was the plan that Ben-Gurion and other leading Zionists established prior to the 1948 war, and consequently these were the battlefield instructions given to fighting units.

An excerpt from Plan D documents, cited by Pappe:

These operations can be carried out in the following manner: either by destroying villages, (by setting fire to them, by blowing them up, and by planting mines in their debris) and especially of those population centers which are difficult to control continuously; or by mounting combing and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the villages, conducting a search inside them. In case of resistance, the armed forces must be wiped out and the population expelled outside the borders of the state. (Cited in Pappe, 2006, 39.)

Deir Yassin massacre

From Benny Morris:

“The IZL men . . . [informed the Haganah that they were] interested in mounting a separate, independent operation. Deir Yassin was targeted. In the planning meetings between IZL and LHI officers, they agreed to expel the inhabitants. The LHI men proposed that villages who did not run away should be killed in order to terrify the country’s Arabs.

“[. . .] Deir Yassin is remembered not as a military operation, but rather for the atrocities committed by the IZL and LHI troops during and immediately after the drawn0out battle: Whole families were riddled with bullets and grenade fragments and buried when houses were blown up on top of them; men, women, and children were mowed down as they emerged from houses; individuals were taken aside and shot. At the end of the battle, groups of old men, women, and children were trucked through West Jerusalem’s streets in a kind of “victory parade” and then dumped in (Arab) East Jerusalem.”

“According to Jerusalem Shai commander Levy (reporting on April 12), “the conquest of the village was carried out with great cruelty. Whole families–women, old people, children–were killed, and there were piles of dead. . . . Some of the prisoners moved to places of incarceration, including women and children, were murdered viciously by their captors.” In a report the following day, he added: “LHI members tell of the barbaric behavior of the IZL toward the prisoners and the dead. They also relate that the IZL men raped a number of Arab girls and murdered them afterward . . . .”

“. . . [T]he news of what had happened . . . had a profoundly demoralizing effect on the Palestinian Arabs and was a major factor in their massive flight during the following weeks and months. The IDF Intelligence Service called Deir Yassin “a decisive accelerating factor” in the general Arab exodus.” (Morris, 1999, 207-209.)

From Chomsky:

“The Irgun-LEHI Deir Yassin massacre in April had already taken place, one major factor in causing the flight of much of the Arab population. This fact was reported with much enthusiasm in official statements of Irgun and LEHI, specifically, by the terrorist commander Menachem Begin, who took pride in the operations in which some 250 defenseless people were slaughtered, including more than 100 women and children, with 4 killed among the attacking forces. . . . The Irgun command sent an internal message of congratulations on the “wonderful operation of conquest,” saying “As in DY, so everywhere. . . Oh Lord, Oh Lord, you have chosen us for conquest.” . . . An official government military history accords the incident 3 lines . . . . An additional paragraph then explains how Arab propaganda over what it called “the DY massacre” backfired; “there is no doubt” that the affair contributed effectively to the collapse of the Arab forces because of the fear induced concerning “the cruelty of the Jews.” By May, about 300,000 Arabs had fled . . . .” (Chomsky, 1983, 96.)

Mass flight and expulsion of Palestinians

From Benny Morris:

“On April 8 the Haganah forces . . . in six days took and leveled all ten surrounding villages [in the vicinity of Kibbutz Mishmar Ha ‘Emek]. The inhabitants either fled or were expelled. The Haganah’s measures were approved, in principle, by Ben-Gurion on April 8 or 9. By April 15 the area around  Mishmar Ha ‘Emek had been cleared of Arabs . . . .”

“. . . Haganah troops . . . on April 16 captured the villages of Khirbet Kasayir and Hosha. The inhabitants fled. Nine Druze attempts to retake the two villages –they advanced “with large knives sparkling between their teeth int eh sunlight”–were beaten off, and the Haganah then razed the two villages to the ground.

“The Arab neighborhoods of Tiberias dominated the road linking the Jewish settlements in the Upper Galilee and the Jordan and Jezreel Valleys. In March 1948, in large measure as a result of Haganah provocations, relations between the town’s communities rapidly deteriorated . . . . On April 12 Haganah units raided the hilltop village of Khirbet Nasir ad Din . . . . Atrocities were apparently committed, and the villages fled to Arab Tiberias, sowing panic. On the night of April 16 the Haganah attacked the Arab part of the town with mortars . . . . Within twenty-four hours resistance collapsed, and after the Haganah rejected a truce, the notables decided on evacuation. . . . [T]he Arab population was trucked out to Jordan and Nazareth. The Jews looted the abandoned quarters.”

“Haifa was the next to fall. In late 1947 Haifa had about seventy thousand Jews and an equal number of Arabs, making it, along with Jaffa, the largest Arab concentration in Palestine. The Jews and Arabs had lived there in relative harmony for decades. . . .”

“. . . Arab resistance gradually evaporated . . . most of the population fleeing. Repeated pleas by Arab leaders for reinforcements from outside the city went unanswered; at one point British troops turned back a column that tried to reach the city from the village of Tira, to the south. A number of prominent Arab military leaders left Haifa just before or during the battle, ostensibly to seek aid. Throughout, the Haganah had the advantages of the initiative and topography (they dominated the high ground). . . .”

 “Arab efforts on April 22 to obtain a truce were turned down by the Haganah . . . . During the following week, all but three or four thousand of the Arabs left . . . .”

“To the south, the IZL . . . on April 25 launched an offensive . . . with the aim of taking the northern, Manshiya, neighborhood of Jaffa . . . precipitating a mass exodus of its inhabitants. IZL gunners let loose for seventy-two hours on downtown Jaffa with a hail of three-inch mortar bombs. The panic and flight unleashed by this incessant barrage served as background to the IZL’s ground thrust toward the sea . . . .”

“. . . A Haganah offensive on April 27-28, in which a string of Arab villages east of Jaffa fell to the Jewish forces, boosted the exodus. . . . By the time the remaining city notables surrendered to the Haganah, on May 13, only four or five thousand of the eighty thousand inhabitants remained. . . .”

“The conquest of Tiberias and Haifa was quickly followed by two major Haganah offensives in the countryside, also in line with Plan D: the occupation of the Arab villages of eastern Galilee and the Arab quarters of safad (Operation Yiftah) , and the conquest of western Galilee (operation Ben-Ami). . . . Palmah units took the villages of Biriya and ‘Ein az Zeitun . . . demolished the villages . . .  On May 4, the Palmah First Battalion . . . cleared the whole area as far as the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee of its Bedouin inhabitants, who fled eastward, to Syria. This suboperation, code-named Operation Broom, had “a tremendous psychological impact” on the Arabs of Safad and the Hula Valley. . .”

“. . . The Arab irregulars [of the town of Safad] collapsed and fled, and by the early hours of May 12 . . . almost all the Arab inhabitants [were] fleeing eastward across the Jordan.”

“The fall of Safad and the flight of its inhabitants shocked the Arab villagers of the Hula Valley, to the north. [Palmah commander Yigal] Allon launched a psychological warfare campaign (“If you don’t flee immediately, you will all be slaughtered, your daughters will be raped,” and the like), and almost all the villagers fled to Lebanon and Syria.” (Morris, 1999, 210-213.)

From Edward Said:

“According to the most precise calculation yet made, approximately 780,000 Palestinians were dispossessed and displaced in 1948 […]. These are the Palestinian refugees, who now number well over two million.”(Said, 1979, 14.)

From Chomsky:

“About 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled in the 1948 conflict. . . . For many years, it was claimed that the Palestinians fled in 1948 on the orders of Arab leaders. The basis for this claim [has been] undermined . . . . In fact, it seems that the Arab leadership tried to prevent the flight . . . .” (Chomsky, 1983, 96.)


Expulsion of native residents

From Chomsky:

“thousands of Arabs–citizens of Israel, in this case–were expelled from Israel’s Galilee region during the attack on Egypt in 1956, and hundreds of thousands more fled or were expelled from the conquered territories during and after the 1967 war. In a detailed investigation of the refugee flight, WW Harris estimates that of a pre-war population of about 1.4 million, approximately 430,000 left heir homes from June to December 1967 (most of them in June), with considerable variation among regions (over 90% of the 100,000 people in the Golan Heights fled, but less than 20% of the 400,000 residents of the Gaza Strip.” (Chomsky, 1983, 97.)


From Morris:

“[Moshe] Dayan was also an annexationist. He was a prime mover in the annexation of Arab East Jerusalem . . . [H]e believed Israel should retain control of the West Bank. . . . The West Bank and Gaza economies were rapidly fused with Israel’s in a binding, colonial relationship: Tens of thousands of Palestinians, rising to somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 . . . by the mid-1980s, provided cheap labor . . .”

“Alongside “creeping annexation” Dayan from the start instituted a policy of creeping transfer. In the course of the war he and the IDF to some extent pushed along the process by which 200,000 to 300,000 of the inhabitants of the Palestinian territories, most of them refugee families from 1948, fled to Transjordan. . . .”

“In the war’s immediate wake and during the years that followed, the defense minister and his military government staff made serious efforts to bring about the emigration of as many of the territories’ remaining inhabitants as possible. The government always denied that there was such a policy. . . But evidence has recently surfaced that points in the opposite direction. In September 1967 Dayan told a meeting of the IDF’s senior staff that some 200,000 Arabs had left the Palestinian territories and “we must understand the motives and causes . . . because after all, we want to create a new map.” In November he was quoted as saying: “We want emigration. . . we want to encourage emigration.” On July 14, 1968, at a meeting in his office, he said: “The proposed policy [of raising the level of public services in the territories] may clash with our intention to encourage emigration . . . Anyone who has practical ideals or proposals to encourage emigration–let him speak up.”

“Dayan’s mode of thinking was shared by his subordinates. A meeting of IDF governors int eh West Bank . . . concluded with a decision “to seek ways to increase Arab emigration from the West Bank.” . . . General Narkiss, on a visit to Bethlehem, is quoted as saying: “We are talking about emigration of the Arabs. Everything must be done–even paying them money–to get them to leave.” (Morris, 1999, 339.)

Moshe Dayan:

Moshe Dayan was clear about the historical realities of ethnic cleansing in Israel:

We came to their country which was already populated by Arabs, and we are establishing a Hebrew, that is a Jewish state here. […] Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you, because these geography books no longer exist; not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. […] There is not one place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population. (Ha’aretz, April 4, 1969. Cited in Said, 1979, 14.)


From Israel Shahak:

“[The nearly four hundred villages were] destroyed completely, with their houses, garden-walls, and even cemeteries and tombstones, so that literally a stone does not remain standing, and visitors are passing and being told that ‘it was all a desert.’ “([Davis, Uri and Mezvinsky, Norton, ed., Documents from Israel, 1967-1973. Readings for a critique of Zionism. 1975] Cited in Said, 1979, 14.)


Prime Minister Rabin:

“[Israel should] create in teh course of the next 10 or 20 years conditions which would attract natural and voluntary migration of the refugees from the Gaza Strip and teh West Bank to Jordan. To achieve this we have to come to agreement with King Hussein and not with Yasser Arafat.” (Cited in Chomsky, 116.)


Works Cited

Chomsky, Noam. 1983 (1999). Fateful Triangle. The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians.

Gelvin, James. 2005. The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War.

Morris, Benny. 1999. Righteous Victims.

Pappe, Ilan. 2006. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.

Said, Edward. 1979 (1992). The Question of Palestine.

Shlaim, Avi. 2009. Israel and Palestine.

Smith, Charles. Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents. 2007.

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