Reham Alhelsi – This is how a Nakba is carried out


by Reham Alhelsi • Jun 5th, 2009 at 15:13 • Category: Analysis, Culture and Heritage, Israel, Newswire, Palestine, Resistance, Somoud: Arab Voices of Resistance, War, Zionism

The On-going Nakba of the Palestinians: Mission Ethnic Cleansing – Part II

“The acceptance of partition does not commit us to renounce Transjordan; one does not demand from anybody to give up his vision. We shall accept a state in the boundaries fixed today. But the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factor will be able to limit them.“ Davis Ben-Gurion, in 1936, quoted in Noam Chomsky, “The Fateful Triangle.”[1]

“Israel must see the sword as the main, if not the only, instrument with which to keep its morale high and to retain its moral tension. Towards this end it may, no – it must – invent dangers, and to do this it must adopt the method of provocation-and-revenge … and above all – let us hope for a new war with the Arab countries, so that we may finally get rid of our troubles and acquire our space.” Quoted in Livia Rokach, “Israel’s Sacred Terrorism.”[2]

“The thesis that the danger of genocide was hanging over us in June 1967 and that Israel was fighting for its physical existence is only bluff, which was born and developed after the war.” Israeli General Matityahu Peled, Ha’aretz, 19 March 1972.[3]

As she looked from the kitchen window, Miriam could see the children playing in the narrow ally outside her tiny UNRWA accommodation. She could hear the women talking as they came to collect water from the water pump built by the UNRWA for the camp residents. “They say there will be a war soon. Their army is prepared and is moving closer,” said one woman. Another answered comfortingly: “the Arab armies will protect us. Didn’t you hear what they were saying on the radio? They have strong armies and they will defeat the Zionists. This time it will be different.” She added in a stronger voice, maybe trying to convince herself of it. “The other day I saw the Jordanian National Guard make its way to Battir”. Miriam thought of her husband, who was sent to Battir to defend them of any Zionist attacks. He had fought in 1948 to protect their little home and Jrash from the Zionist terrorists, but in the end they didn’t have any ammunition more and despite hoping for support from Arab armies, the help didn’t come and they were forced to leave, leaving everything behind. They had been married only a couple of years before the Nakba, had been happy, living in a peaceful village, working in their fields, surrounded by family and friends. “The Arab armies betrayed us in 1948. They were weak and had already decided who gets what out of Palestine. It was our men, our fathers and our grandfathers who fought the Zionists. Many of them paid with their lives defending Palestine, while the Arabs refused even to pay for bullets to rescue the besieged men, women and children. Many died and many were expelled from Palestine while still waiting for the Arab troops to come,” said a woman in an angry voice, snatching Miriam away from her most cherished memories of Jrash and brining her back into the brutal reality being discussed outside. “Maybe it is because of that, that this time they will fight like men and protect us,” replied another. “Did you see the troops on Jabal Anton? Or those around Bethlehem? They are armed and ready for the enemy.” The camp residents have been watching the movements in the area, a Jordanian unit had set camp on Jabal Anton near Dheisheh, and other units were spread around the area. There was much talk of the coming war. The radio kept talking about the victory that is coming, how well-equipped and trained the armies are, that this time they will be marching back to Haifa, Yaffa and will march to Tel Aviv. But these people watched and listened with little hope and much distrust. The scars of the Nakba were still visible and they still hurt as if the Nakba had happened yesterday and not some 20 years ago. They had lost not only loved ones, but their homes, their fields and their whole existence, and were living as refugees in little rooms and depending on the food rations given to them by the UNRWA, as if they were beggars. Miriam remembered how on their way to Dheisheh, they had passed Palestinian villages, seeking refugee, and how sometimes they were told by villagers that they were cowards, leaving their homes and their villages to the Zionists. They were not cowards, nor did they leave by their free will. How can anyone willingly leave their homes, lands, belongings and choose the life of a refugee? And now, it seems they are destined to seek a new refuge yet again and in another place. “They forced us out of our homes one time. We won’t allow them to do this a second time.” One woman said, and everyone, including Miriam in her kitchen, agreed.

The camp residents had decided that this time they were not to be forced away. They would stay put and not leave. For they knew, a second exodus would bring them yet farther away from their original homes and villages, from which they were expelled in 1948. They were still determined to go back home. Some camp residents had dug a sort of basement or pit under their houses or close by, a place to keep their families safe during the war. Others, like Miriam, found refugee in one of the caves in nearby Artas, where she and her children stayed the first couple of days of the war. And then the war was over. As Miriam and her children made their way back home, she realized baby Ghassan was left back in the cave. He was only a couple of months old. She had depended on one of her daughters to carry him, while she hurried back home to make sure the house was safe for the children to come back to it. When the children arrived and no one had the baby, Miriam ran all the way back to the cave to get him. Years later, they often joked about it, reminding Ghassan that he’d almost ended up like Ghassan Kanafani’s forgotten baby in “Returning to Haifa”. Losing a child is the worst nightmare of any parent, but worse yet is losing the child to a brutal enemy, for that child to be brought up to kill his/her own people. Because the mere idea of it is such a painful idea, one prefers to think of “Returning to Haifa” as a product of Kanafani’s imagination, and hope that no parent would have to go through what the family of “Abu Khaled” went through. For Miriam and her family, Kanafani’s story is a true reflection of the harsh realities of wartime.

Her daughter, who was working at the hospital in Bethlehem at the time, had told her of the air raids, and how they would all, workers and patients, find refuge in the hospital’s basement. Every time a bomb fell nearby, the whole building would shake and she would wonder how long it would take this time before it was over. When it was over, they would go back upstairs to their work, thinking of the next raid and if they would survive that one as well. “There was little or no fighting going on. Sometimes we could hear machine guns firing in the distance, but that was not often and it didn’t last long. We only saw Israeli airplanes, and then the air raids would start and Israeli bombs would fall on Bethlehem. The troops sitting on Jabal Anton were also under attack. The whole mountain and the area surrounding it was the target of air raids. And then one day, all of a sudden, the Jordanian soldiers were gone. They had packed and left, leaving the people to their destiny and to the Zionist troops marching towards Bethlehem. In the refugee camp it was said that when the unit was given the orders to withdraw, the commander in charge committed suicide. People said the man couldn’t take the humiliation anymore; first told their duty was to defend Palestine and then when the fighting started they were told to withdraw.

The 6 day war was in fact over the first 3 hours of the first day. The Arab air forces were completely destroyed within the first hours of the 5th of June, 1967, while the Arab armies were having breakfast. “It was said that it took the Zionists 3 hours to destroy the Egyptian air forces, 2 hours to destroy the Syrian and 9 minutes to destroy the Jordanian air forces.” They were handicapped without their air forces and thus the war was decided. “The Israelis couldn’t have had it easier. “The victory of an “invincible army” indeed! They didn’t need to fight at all! It was as if all was prepared for them. It felt like being figures in a very nasty play.” The Palestinians were not allowed to own guns or any sort of weapons, thus cleaned of any form of armed resistance and the armies that were “supposedly” there to protect and defend them didn’t participate in any real fighting, only some clashes here and there before they withdrew. The reality on the ground in the Palestinian Territories was that the Israeli army was actually “fighting” a war against an unarmed civilian population that had the protection of no army whatsoever. Days before the war started, Arab radios talked about the preparations and readiness of the Arab armies to defend Arab land and defend Palestine. The Arabs have had encountered Zionist terrorism during the Nakba, less than 20 years earlier, and knew that these Zionists respected neither God-made nor human-made laws, but only their own laws of terror and destruction. One dreads to think of what would have happened had the Arab armies “not been prepared”! As their armies were being destroyed, their official radios were talking about the victory achieved, about their armies marching to Tel Aviv. During the Nakba, the Palestinians were not as well equipped as the Zionists but at least they had some means to fight and defend themselves, and many fought till the last bullet and the last breath, waiting for their Arab brothers to come to the rescue. This time, there were no guns, only few clashes here and there, some who managed to hide some weapon, or Palestinians who were serving in the Jordanian National Guard, or some soldiers who just couldn’t stand still. In some areas, there were fierce clashes, like in Jerusalem. It was said that Jordanian troops fought the night long, but in the early morning gave up. “They sent people who didn’t have any military training to defend Jerusalem. A friend said that her fiance, who was a ceremonial employee, was handed a gun and sent to the truce Line to fight the Israeli army. Did they expect him to survive beyond the first half hour of fighting? Many died on the barbed wire at the Truce Line. They were sent to fight against a well-trained and well-prepared army, one that was known for its brutality!” And when they were ordered to withdraw, those who had survived ran all the way to the Bridge. The areas to the east of Jerusalem witnessed the clashes between the Jordanian and the Israeli armies. “We could hear the sound of machine guns firing bullets consecutively, and then we would hear the single shots. We were no military experts, but the sounds and the state in which the Jordanian soldiers were in as they withdrew told us that the Israelis were the ones with the machine guns, and that the Jordanian soldiers most probably were using antique guns. We saw the Jordanian soldiers making their way in a group towards the Bridge. Their uniforms were shredded and some didn’t have any weapons at all. They looked as if they had no idea what had hit them.” Many residents of these villages found refuge in the nearby caves and fields. And when they returned to their homes at the end of the war, they found Palestinian refugee from other areas of the West Bank hiding in their homes. They had been expelled from their homes, and were ordered to go to the Bridge, but some had hid in the empty houses on the way to Jericho.

Then, after the Arab armies had done their “duty” and left, days before the official end of the war was announced, the Israelis concentrated their efforts on mission “ethnic cleansing – part II”. The Palestinians were determined not to leave, even under the threat of guns, for there was no place for a second Nakba. There was a general pattern similar to that of the Nakba, and for the second time, the Zionists used various tactics to directly and indirectly force people out of their homes. People in many areas were gathered up and put on buses and sent to the Bridge. On the morning of June 7th, the Israeli army, accompanied with tanks, entered the 3 Latroun villages; Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba and began the process of ethnically cleansing them. They were emptied of their 10,000 inhabitants before being completely destroyed. Responsible for the ethnic cleansing of the Latroun villages was the “Nobel peace prize” holder Yitzhak Rabin. Armoured military jeeps controlled the roads and with loudspeakers the villagers were ordered to gather their belongings and leave. Then, the soldiers entered the houses, one by one, threatened the villagers and forced them to leave. Some were beaten and tortured. After the villagers had left, the bulldozing of the houses began. Several eyewitnesses, including priests from the nearby monastery, testify to the fact that decomposed bodies were both seen and smelled in the villages, indicating that some houses were bombed or bulldozed over the head of their inhabitants. Amos Keinan, a former IOF soldier participating in the expulsion of the Latroun villages testified in a report of June 10th that: “We took positions at the entrance to the village in order to prevent people who were trying to return to their village from re-entering, and we shot bullets above their heads in order to move them away… with the blow of one bulldozer, the cypress and olive trees were uprooted. Within 10 minutes the house was in ruins, on top of the small number of items and property that were inside. After three houses were destroyed the first procession of refugees arrived from the direction of Ramallah, we didn’t shoot in the air and the Arab speakers approached them to inform them of the orders. There were old people who could barely walk, old women, mumbling, babies in their mothers’ arms, young children. The children cried and pleaded for water, the procession raised white flags. We told them to go to Beit Sira. They said every place they went they were turned away, and they are not allowed to enter anywhere. That they had been walking for four days, without food, without water, and that a few of them had died. They asked to return to the village and said it would be better if we killed them”.4 Many villagers crossed the Bridge to Amman, others went to Ramallah, where they spent the first week in the bus station. Some 12 and 15 villagers returned to the villages, but until today their destiny is unknown. To continue the work of the IOF and cover up the war-crime, the Jewish National Fund built a park in their place; Canada Recreational Park. The fact that this park, built on the ruins of Palestinians lives and villages, is one of Israel’s favourite parks says volumes about Zionist “humanity”.

Stories of massacres, houses being bombed with their owners inside, destruction and looting, spread like fire. These stories and news of people from Hebron, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Qalqylia and other areas in Palestine expelled from their homes and making their way to the Bridge reached the camp, but the residents were determined not to be forced away again. One day, thousands of men in army uniform marched into the main street between Jerusalem and Hebron. Dheisheh residents didn’t know what army this was. They didn’t have flags, any tanks or anything to betray their nationality. “The Arabs were saying in the radio they are winning, so, a number of people went to the street to greet the marching soldiers. A few asked them what army they were. They told us they were the Iraqi army. To them it was a big joke, a victory that came so easy: a war against a people that had an imaginary army fighting an imaginary war. I don’t know if this can be called a war. A war is fought between 2 armies, and we had no army to protect us. They was no fighting, there were only Israeli air raids, bombs and destruction. They were not fighting an army, they were fighting us: unarmed civilians. When we realized that these were the Israelis, we waited for the worst. But for a few days, nothing happened and we thought that was it, and that at least this time we were spared a second expulsion. Later it turned out that even the Egyptian soldiers who had capitulated in Sinai, were mercilessly massacred by the Zionist troops. Then, some days later, the Israeli soldiers began their inhuman game. They came back to the refugee camp and started with the first row of houses. They would enter the houses and beat almost to death everyone inside. They didn’t want huge massacres in residential areas as in the Nakba, for massacres won’t fit in their war propaganda and their claim they were “the ones under attack” and they were “only defending themselves”. When the soldiers had done their work and left, we went to see the houses. Blood was everywhere, on the walls, the doors, everywhere. There was nothing left that was not broken or destroyed, from mixing the flour with the sugar in the kitchen to breaking people’s bones in the living rooms. Everywhere we saw people crying, moaning, others just sat in a corner soaked in blood staring at some point in the wall in front of them, others lay faint in their own blood. They had beaten them almost to death, and stopped just before that. For some it looked as if it would have been more merciful if these Zionists had killed them, but no, they left them as a warning to the rest.” They had beaten them brutally and ordered them to leave or the next time they won’t be spared. That day, a row of trucks stood in front of the refugee camp, and people were uploading their families and their properties. That day, half the residents of Dheisheh made their way to the Bridge. They had lost their home for the second time, and for the second time the world watched and didn’t move a finger. They had sworn not to be forced away again, and were determined to go back to their original villages. And for their children to be able to return to the original homes of their parents and grandparents, their children were to be kept alive, saved from the Zionists, who knew no mercy for a child or otherwise. None wanted to leave. “It is easy now to hear young people asking: why did you leave? We didn’t think about our own lives, we wanted to spare our children. We survived the air raids and the bombing and refused to leave, but when they came and forced us out under threat of gun, we had to think of our children. We wanted only to save our children.”

The war was officially over on the eve of 10th of June. And on the night of 10/11th of June, Israel began the process of Judaizing East Jerusalem. The residents of the Mughrabi Quarter and Al-Sharaf neighbourhood were expelled, houses, shops and other buildings were bulldozed and the whole Mughrabi Quarter erased to expand the Jewish Quarter and make place for a Plaza for the Western Wall. Ethnic cleansing was underway in other Jerusalem neighbourhoods. “My friend from an East Jerusalem neighbourhood said that the Israeli soldiers would shoot at anyone looking from the window or anyone standing at the balcony. Then one day, they came and demanded over loudspeakers that all residents leave their houses and come to the main street. They all came down, men, women, children, the elderly. The stories of what happened during the Nakba were still fresh and people thought of Deir Yassin, Qafir Qasem and Qibia. Some were in their pyjamas, others were barefoot and the children clung to their parents. They were all made to stand in lines and told to walk all the way to the Allenby Bridge. The soldiers warned them of looking back. They walked all the way to the Bridge, not daring to look back. In other areas, people were put in buses by Israeli soldiers under the threat of guns and the drivers were ordered to drive directly to the Bridge and not turn back or go anywhere else. It was like the Nakba, exactly like the Nakba. They forced the residents under the threat of their weapons to leave their homes, leave their properties and leave the whole country.” Groups of people from other areas were also making their way to the Bridge.

An Israeli military order was given for the total destruction of Qalqylia and the expulsion of its residents, but the order was stopped on the 18th of July because of public pressure after the operation became known. But not before half of Qalqylia was destroyed: some 850 of the 2000 houses were destroyed and their residents expelled to Jordan. “In her Jerusalem Diary, Sister Marie-Therese wrote: At Nablus we saw hundreds of families under olive trees; they slept in the open. They told us they were from Qalkilya (sic) and were not allowed to go back. We went to Qalkilya to see what was happening; we received a sinister impression. The city was being blown up by dynamite.”[5] Beit Marsam, Habla, Al Burj, Jiftlik, Beit Awwa and others were also destroyed and their inhabitants expelled. “The village of Jiftlik on the Occupied West Bank of Jordan, with about 6,000 refugee inhabitants, has been completely destroyed by the Israeli army. During the last two weeks, army bulldozers have razed about 800 buildings there …..”[6] Jericho was a ghost city, and the 50,000 residents of the three large refugee camps: Aqbat Jabir, Ain Sultan and Nu’aimeh were either expelled or fled the Israeli terror. Expulsions were also carried out in Gaza. “The New York Times of 26 August 1967 reported that each day for the last weeks some 500 residents had left the Gaza Strip, adding that “Any reduction in Gaza area’s populations is a benefit to everyone in Israel’s view” … ”the Observer of 28 January 1968 also reported:” It is estimated that between 30,000 and 35,000 people have left the (Gaza) Strip as a result of the measures taken by the Israeli authorities.”[7]

Elsewhere, the same or similar scenarios were repeated. Military planes were shelling residential areas and roads, leaving dead and injured. They would fly low, hit and go up again, as group after group were expelled from their homes and made their way towards Amman. Napalm bombs were excessively used. One witness reported how the bodies that were hit with the bombs had melted, and some turned into a sort of gummy liquid. “We passed burning bodies, some had practically melted and little was left of them. We were so scared and tried to run and reach the Bridge before the planes came back”. Then, the Israeli army bombed the Bridge, so that the refugees were forced to leave the buses and cross the Bridge on foot. “They forced people to leave and then bombed the Bridge. People were on foot trying to escape the soldiers who were shooting at them and the planes roaming above them. They didn’t want those expelled to take their properties with them, and they didn’t want them to come back”. Many tried to return, but were faced with Israeli army patrols on the Jordan River, who didn’t hesitate to shoot at those trying to return to their homes. Some people paid money to pass the Jordan and get home, others swam, many were shot at and many disappeared without a trace. One Israeli soldier stated that: “We fired such shots every night on men, women and children. Even during moonlit nights when we could identify the people, that is… distinguish between men, women and children. In the mornings we searched the area and, by explicit order from the officer on the spot, shot the living including those who hid, or were wounded (again: including women and children).”[8]

Disappointed that no large-scale exodus took place like in 1948, and that the majority of the Palestinians were still steadfast in their lands, the Israeli government discussed ways to solve the problem of the population of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The answer was a “voluntary transfer”. Haim Hertzog, Israel’s former president proudly admitted that he “as the first Military Governor of the West Bank, efficiently organized and carried out, in cooperation with Shlomo Lahat, the Commander of Jerusalem, the operation of transferring 200,000 Palestinians from the West Bank in the immediate aftermath of the war.”[9] “This transfer operation had resulted in the total ”transfer of 100,00” (Palestinians to Jordan) without anybody saying a single word. A former Israeli soldier described the “voluntary” and “humane” aspects of this operation in a November 1991 interview with Kol Ha’ir: “My job was to take their (each Palestinian’s) thumb and immerse its edge in ink and fingerprint them on the departure statement … Every day tens of buses arrived. There were days on which it seemed to me that thousands were departing … although there were days those departees who were leaving voluntarily, but there were also not a few people who were simply expelled … We forced them to sign … When someone refused to give me his hand (for fingerprinting) they came and beat him badly. Then I was forcibly taking his thumb, immersing it in ink and finger printing him. This way the refuseniks were removed… I have no doubt that that tens of thousands of men were removed against their will”.[10] Even weeks after the war was over, the attacks on civilians continued. In many areas curfew was imposed, often for weeks, to be lifted only 4 hours a day. Men would be gathered, forced to sit under the sun the whole day, and several would be arrested. Thousands of houses were destroyed, and towns, village and refugee camps were besieged for weeks. The Palestinians were terrorized so they leave the Occupied Territories. In September 1967 Israel conducted a census in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and only those residing there at the time of the census were considered legal residents. “It is estimated that 60,000 West Bank Palestinians were abroad at the time of the war and so were not included in the census nor were up to 30,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem”.[11] These were prevented from returning home and their property was confiscated and made into state property. Jews were allowed to “reclaim lost property” in East Jerusalem, but Palestinians living in East Jerusalem who lost property in West Jerusalem in 1948 were not allowed to reclaim their property, which was still considered absentee property, although the owners lived in East Jerusalem. Some of the refugees were able to return after the war ended, but not the majority. Most ended up in Jordan and a few in Lebanon and Syria, many becoming refugees for the second time.

Israel claimed, and still claims that the war of 1967 was a “defensive war”, and that the “existence of Israel was threatened”, despite ample proof contrary to this claim and the many testimonies of some of those responsible for giving orders at the time and some of who participated. Speaking about the “Egyptian threat”, Menachim Begin admitted that: “In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.” [12] As for the Syrian threat: “Moshe Dayan, the celebrated commander who, as Defence Minister in 1967, gave the order to conquer the Golan …(said) many of the fire fights with the Syrians were deliberately provoked by Israel, and the kibbutz residents who pressed the Government to take the Golan Heights did so less for security than for the farmland …. (Dayan stated) “They didn’t even try to hide their greed for the land…. We would send a tractor to plow some area where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractors to advance further, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was … The Syrians on the fourth day of the war, were not a threat to us.”[13] During this so-called “defensive war” of 1967, Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and Sinai. Of the 1.4 million Palestinians living in the Palestinian Territories before June 1967, some 400,000 were displaced during this second Nakba. Half of those displaced were refugees displaced in the Nakba of 1948. Similar to 1948, there were attacks on civilians, massacres, expulsion, destruction and looting and other atrocities and war crimes. Several villages in the West Bank (including Imwas, Yalu, Beit Niuba, Beit Marsam, Beit Awwa, Jiftlik and Al Burj), several refugee camps in the Jericho area, half of the city of Qalqilya and the whole of the Moghrabi Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem were depopulated and destroyed. In September 1967, Dayan suggested in a meeting that his colleagues tell the Palestinians: “you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever prefers – may leave ….”[14] Today, Palestinians are still facing “voluntary” and “silent” transfer. Every day, the Zionist state comes up with new laws, orders and plans that aim at expelling Palestinians from their homes; directly as is the case with East Jerusalem and the area surrounding it, and indirectly through strangling Palestinians in their own homes and forcing them to leave. Not only are Palestinians steadfast in Palestine, but also the refugees among them, and those refugees scattered all over the world, still hold the keys to their homes in Palestine. I often heard Miriam talking about her village, and one day I heard her say: “I have only one home.” She was expelled from Jrash in 1948, and in 1967 she hid her kids in a cave and refused to leave with those who left to Jordan. Today, she lies in the graveyard near Rachel’s tomb. She did not return to her home, not yet, but her children and her grandchildren will one day return and rebuild her house in Jrash and hang her photo on its wall, so she might once again be at home.


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Reham Alhelsi is a Jerusalem-born Palestinian. She has worked extensively in the Palestinian Broadcasting Company and since 2000, when she moved to Germany, has trained at various radio and TV networks including Deutsche Welle, SWR and WDR. She is currently writing her PhD in Regional Planning with a focus on Palestinian Land Management and local government.
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