“Transfer” in Zionist Thinking
- From the earliest days of modern political Zionism, its advocates grappled with the problem of creating a Jewish majority state in a part of the world where Palestinian Arabs were the overwhelming majority of the population. For many, the solution became known as “transfer,” a euphemism for ethnic cleansing.
- As far back as 1895, the father of modern political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, wrote: “We shall try 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… expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.”
- By August 1937, “transfer” was a major subject of discussion at the Twentieth Zionist Congress in Zurich, Switzerland. Alluding to the systematic dispossession of Palestinian peasants (fellahin) that Zionist organizations had been engaged in for years, David Ben-Gurion, who would become Israel’s first prime minister in 1948, stated:
“You are no doubt aware of the [Jewish National Fund’s] activity in this respect. Now a transfer of a completely different scope will have to be carried out. In many parts of the country new settlement will not be possible without transferring the Arab fellahin.” He concluded: “Jewish power [in Palestine], which grows steadily, will also increase our possibilities to carry out this transfer on a large scale.”
- In June 1938, Ben-Gurion told a meeting of the Jewish Agency: “I support compulsory transfer. I don’t see anything immoral in it.”
- In December 1940, Joseph Weitz, director of the Jewish National Fund’s Lands Department, which was tasked with acquiring land for the Zionist enterprise in Palestine, wrote in his diary:
There is no way besides transferring the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries, and to transfer all of them, save perhaps for [the Arabs of] Bethlehem, Nazareth and Old Jerusalem. Not one village must be left, not one [bedouin] tribe. And only after this transfer will the country be able to absorb millions of our brothers and the Jewish problem will cease to exist. There is no other solution.
Details of Plan Dalet
- On March 10, 1948, Zionist political and military leaders, including Ben-Gurion, met in Tel Aviv and formally adopted Plan Dalet (or Plan D). The operational military orders specified which Palestinian population centers should be targeted and laid out in detail a blueprint for their forcible depopulation and destruction. It called for:
Mounting operations against enemy population centers located inside or near our defensive system in order to prevent them from being used as bases by an active armed force. These operations can be divided into the following categories:
Destruction of villages (setting fire to, blowing up, and planting mines in the debris), especially those population centers which are difficult to control continuously
Mounting search and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the village and conducting a search inside it. In the event of resistance, the armed force must be destroyed and the population must be expelled outside the borders of the state.
- The Haganah (soon to be Israeli army) launched military operations under Plan Dalet at the beginning of April 1948. Although attacks by Zionist forces against Palestinian population centers actually began a few days after the UN Partition Plan was passed on November 29, 1947, with the adoption of Plan Dalet expulsions accelerated and became systematic, marking a new phase in the conflict in which Zionist and then Israeli forces went on “the offensive,” in the words of Israeli historian Benny Morris.
- Following Israel’s establishment on May 14, 1948, the new Israeli government set up an unofficial body, the “Transfer Committee,” to oversee the destruction of Palestinian towns and villages or their repopulation with Jews, and to prevent displaced Palestinians from returning to their homes. In a report presented to Ben-Gurion in June 1948, the three-man committee, which included the JNF’s Weitz, called for the “destruction of villages as much as possible during military operations.”
- By the time the state of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948, more than 200 Palestinian villages had already been emptied as people fled in fear or were forcibly expelled by Zionist forces, and approximately 175,000 Palestinians had been made refugees. By 1949, at least 750,000 Palestinians had been made refugees, losing their land, homes and other belongings in what became known as the “Nakba” (“catastrophe”). Their flight was accelerated by massacres such as the one that took place on April 9, 1948, at Deir Yassin near Jerusalem, where approximately 100 Palestinian men, women, and children were murdered by Zionist paramilitaries. Today, refugees displaced during Israel’s creation and their descendants number approximately 7.1 million people.
- Some 400 Palestinian towns and villages, including vibrant urban centers, were systematically destroyed or taken over by Israeli Jews. Most of them were demolished to prevent the return of their Palestinian residents, now refugees outside of what would become Israel’s internationally recognized borders, or internally displaced inside of them.
- Only about 150,000 Palestinians remained inside what became Israel, many of them internally displaced people. Although they were granted Israeli citizenship, they were governed by Israeli military rule until 1966, had most of their land taken from them, and continue to suffer widespread, systematic discrimination today.
Controversy Surrounding Plan Dalet
- Over the years, Plan Dalet has been the subject of controversy, with some Israelis and their supporters claiming that it was not in fact a blueprint for expulsion or ethnic cleansing.
- Benny Morris, one of the leading so-called “new historians” of Israel, wrote in his landmark work The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem: 1947-1949, that Plan Dalet was “a strategic-ideological anchor and basis for expulsions by front, district, brigade and battalion commanders” providing “post facto a formal persuasive covering note to explain their actions.” Morris, a right-wing Zionist ideologically who has at times himself denied there was a premeditated plan for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, noted that from the beginning of April 1948, there were “Clear traces of an expulsion policy on both national and local levels with respect to certain key districts and localities and a general ‘atmosphere of transfer’ are detectable in statements made by Zionist officials and officers.”
- In his memoirs, which were censored by the Israeli military but leaked to The New York Times in 1979, the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin recalled a conversation he had in July 1948 with Ben-Gurion, when Rabin was an officer in the Israeli army, regarding the fate of more than 50,000 Palestinian residents of the cities of Lydda and Ramleh. Rabin wrote:
“We walked outside, Ben-Gurion accompanying us. [Yigal] Allon repeated his question, ‘What is to be done with the Palestinian population?’ Ben-Gurion waved his hand in a gesture which said ‘Drive them out!'” Rabin added, “I agreed that it was essential to drive the inhabitants out.”
- All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948, by Walid Khalidi (1992).
- The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, by Benny Morris (2004).
- The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by Ilan Pappé (2006).
- Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948, by Nur Masalha (1992).
- War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948, edited by Avi Shlaim and Eugene Rogan (2007).