May 14, 2005
Encounters with "Lists of 'Famous Zionist Quotes'"
that Endorse the Displacement of the Palestinians:
from Two Letters to a Friend

James Adler

As I look up in Amazon.com the new novel you recommend, "The Yiddish Policemen's Union," at the same time an email just comes to me that evokes the main thing which can make it so hard for me to sympathize with the Israelis, however much I try, however often I write pieces bending over backwards trying...

And this "main thing" is the lists of "famous Zionist quotes," quotes that seem to (or perhaps do) endorse the "Nakba," that is, the massive displacement of the Palestinians surrounding and consequent on the Arab invasion of 1948, sums up my problems.  Here the email and that disturbing and always unsettling dilemma.  I'm sure reprinting it falls within not only "fair use" provisions but even more the intentions of the site owners, who, want these quotes (which are in the public domain anyway) to be promulgated far and wide:


"What leading Israelis have said about the Nakba"

David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister (1948-1953):

"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." (from Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians, p. 66)

"The compulsory transfer of the [Palestinian] Arabs from the valleys of the proposed Jewish state could give us something which we never had,  even when we stood on our own during the days of the first and second Temples...We are given an opportunity which we never dared to dream of in our wildest imaginings. This is more than a state, government and sovereignty, this is national consolidation in a free homeland." (from Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, p. 142)

"In many parts of the country new settlement will not be possible without transferring the [Palestinian] Arab fellahin...it is important that this plan comes from the [British Peel] Commission and not from us...Jewish power, which grows steadily, will also increase our possibilities to carry out the transfer on a large scale." (from Righteous Victims, p. 143)

"With compulsory transfer we [would] have a vast area [for settlement]...I support compulsory transfer. I don't see anything immoral in it." (from Righteous Victims, p. 144)

"Just as I do not see the proposed Jewish state as a final solution to the problems of the Jewish people, so I do not see partition as the final solution of the Palestine question. Those who reject partition are right in their claim that this country cannot be partitioned because it constitutes one unit, not only from a historical point of view but also from that of nature and economy" (from Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities, p. 22)

"After the formation of a large army in the wake of the establishment of the [Jewish] state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of the Palestine" (from The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities, p. 22)

Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first President:

"[the indigenous population was akin to] the rocks of Judea, as obstacles that had to be cleared on a difficult path." (from Expulsion of the Palestinians, p. 17)

Moshe Sharett, Israel's second Prime Minister (1953-1955):

"We have forgotten that we have not come to an empty land to inherit it, but we have come to conquer a country from people inhabiting it" (from Righteous Victims, p. 91)

On partition: "The [Palestinian] Arab reaction would be negative because they would lose everything and gain almost nothing ...They would lose the richest part of Palestine; they would lose major Arab assets, the orange plantations, the commercial and industrial centers and the most important sources of revenue for their government which would become impoverished; they would lose most of the coastal area, which would also be a loss to the hinterland Arab states...It would mean that they would be driven back to the desert." (from Expulsion of the Palestinians,  p.59)

"With regard to the refugees, we are determined to be adamant while the war lasts. Once the return tide starts, it will be impossible to stem it, and it will prove our undoing. As for the future, we are equally determined to explore all possibilities of getting rid, once and for all, of the huge [Palestinian] Arab minority [referring to the Palestinian Israeli citizens of Israel] which originally threatened us.  What can be achieved in this period of storm and stress [referring to the 1948 war] will be quite unattainable once conditions get stabilized.  (from The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities, p. 105)

Yosef Weitz, director, Jewish National Fund Land Settlement Committee (1932-1948):

"...the transfer of [Palestinian] Arab population from the area of the Jewish state does not serve only one aim--to diminish the Arab population. It also serves a second, no less important, aim which is to advocate land presently held and cultivated by the [Palestinian] Arabs and thus to release it for Jewish inhabitants." (from Expulsion Of The Palestinians, p. 94-95)

"It must be clear that there is no room in the country for both peoples...If the Arabs leave it, the country will become wide and spacious for us...The only solution is a Land of Israel...without Arabs...There is no way but to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries, to transfer all of them, save perhaps for [the Palestinian Arabs of] Bethlehem, Nazareth, and the old Jerusalem. Not one village must be left, not one tribe." (from Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, p. 27)

"Once again I come face to face with the land settlement difficulties that emanate from the existence of two people in close proximity...only population transfer and evacuating this country so it would become exclusively for us is the solution. " (from Expulsion Of The Palestinians, p. 132)

Moshe Dayan, chief of staff, Israel Defense Forces and Minister of Defense during the 1967 war:

"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 geography books no longer exist, not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either...There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab Population."  (from Ha'aretz, April 4, 1969)

"We shoot at those from among the 200,000 hungry Arabs who cross the line [to graze their flocks]...Arabs cross to collect the grain that they left in the abandoned villages and we set mines for them and they go back without an arm or a leg...[It may be that this] cannot pass review, but I know no other method of guarding the borders." (from Righteous Victims, p. 275)

At the funeral of an Israeli farmer killed by a Palestinian in April 1956:

"Let us not today fling accusation at the murderers. What cause have we to complain about their fierce hatred to us? For eight years now, they sit in their refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we turn into our homestead the land and villages in which they and their forefathers have lived...We should demand his blood not from the Arabs of Gaza but from ourselves...Let us make our reckoning today. We are a generation of settlers, and without the steel helmet and gun barrel, we shall not be able to plant a tree or build a house." (from Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall,  p. 101)

Yigal Allon, commander, Palmach (elite force of Zionist militia Haganah)  (1945-1948), Lieutenant General, Israeli army (1948-1949):

"The confidence of thousands of Arabs of the Hula [Valley] was shaken...We had only five days left...until 15 May [1948]. We regarded it as imperative to cleanse the interior of the Galilee and create Jewish territorial continuity in the whole of the Upper Galilee...I gathered the Jewish mukhtars [Kibbutz chiefs], who had ties with the different Arab villages, and I asked them to whisper in the ears of several Arabs that a giant Jewish reinforcement had reached the Galilee and were about to clean out the villages of Hula, [and] to advise them as friends, to flee while they could. And rumour spread throughout Hula that the time had come to flee. The flight encompassed tens of thousands. The stratagem fully achieved its objective." (from The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, p. 122)

Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel (1974-1977, 1992-1995)

"We walked outside, Ben-Gurion accompanying us. 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!"  (from New York Times, October 23, 1979)

Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister of Israel (2001-2006)

"It is the duty of Israeli leaders to explain to public opinion, clearly and courageously, a certain number of facts that are forgotten with time. The first of these is that there is no Zionism, colonialization,  or Jewish State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands." (from Agence France Presse, November 15, 1998)


Well.  After receiving a characteristically succinct and intelligent and lucid response from my friend, this was my (agreeing) response to him-- and to the list.  First, saying that we were indeed in basic agreement.  And yet second, that it always took me awhile to get my moral and factual bearings after the admittedly traumatic encounters with lists like this -- lists that indeed constitute their own miniscule but powerful sub-genre in all the colossal mountains of activist literature on the Middle East conflict. 


So from the second letter (a bit revised for readability):

The Zionist migration came at the tail end of the 1490s-1940s great period of Western migrations, and, coming last or near-last, just, as it were, "getting in under the wire," has made it harder.  If it had happened just after 1800 rather than just after 1900 there wouldn't have caused such a mess today....

More to be said, but that's it in a nutshell... 

A couple of the consequences of it happening within the migratory period but late, continuing the conflict, is that there's been no "settling-down" and "sorting it out" and "cooling-off" and more basically  "settling into a new reality" period...  the refugees still in the camps, the occupation after 1967, etc.  The right wing just doesn't get (the Israeli liberals do -) that the occupation perpetuates the post-migratory situation of unsettledness.

Another thought that occurs is that in a sense, early or late, it might have been different, say, from in the Americas or Australia, because the Arabs were a "civilized" people and civilization that has co-existed and interacted with, as "equals," Europe and the West for many centuries,  and that therefore doing it to them created an outrage in them, and articulate one, of betrayal, not seen in, say, the Americas.... and seen as a parallel two and later version of the Crusades and resistance to the Crusades -- same two civilizations, West and Arab, in conflict...

Another thought is that in a sense, whether early or late, it might still have been different, say, from our (actually much worse) outrage against the native Americans or Australians, because the Arabs were a civilization that for so many centuries had co-existed and interacted with  Europe and the West.  And thus in insulting them it generated certain wounded feelingsem that also occur occur in extended families, exacerbating the "family feud" sense of yet further betrayal on the part of an ancient, longstanding, adjacent and civilizational neighbor.  The insult and humiliation would be seen as a continuation of the medieval Crusades, and modern colonization, by our ancient neighbors who paralleled our culture for so long, outshone us in so many periods, and gave us mathematics and Aristotle.  Insults within families become, as is well known, heightened in intensity.

Then this was done in the name of modern still-living institutions, that liberals like us fight conservatives in thinking the hope of the future of humankind, like the United Nations (and predecessor League of Nations), and its idealism and Carter of Human Rights, etc., etc., and actually done by institutions like the UN with its liberal idealisms and charters... Maybe another reason it's different... and another consequence of it happening late...

And also relevant is the First World -Third World, North-South clash, which didn't used to exist, or precisely didn't use to have a moral dimension of First World guilt over the plight of the poor and the third world, etc., and here the migrants are on the front line of it, and it's the place where most centrally the First and Third worlds are in front-line conflict and near-conflagration, and about the displacement of the latter, and the unsettledness of it...

Then there is perhaps the sense that the migrants are there and no responsible person suggests they should leave, anymore than we have to leave where we are, but the separations have been abolished in Brazil and Argentina and Mexico and Central America like Guatemala and here in the United States, but the separation is maintained over there....

And so the counterpoint is that the problem isn't what Ben Gurion originally thought, in an earlier era,, or that the migration originally happened, an understandable and desperate escape from generations of intensifying anti-Semitism and mass pogroms and premonition of actual Holocaust, but that the separation is still maintained and enforced...

And then that inevitable US Civil Rights '60s, and South Africa analogy makes an appearance, where people say, it's fine that the Afrikaners and British are living in South Africa, and it's their home too, but why the continued separation, there when it was, and in Palestine now ? 

Also, as far as the Americas go, and terrorism, the Indians did engage in centuries of total terrorism against the white migrants, scalping and impaling and burning and crucifying on the walls of their log cabins the settlers and their children... not entirely dissimilarly from today, but few mention the resemblance...

And then all these factors get mixed together, as to why the conflict and the List has such an impact on us:  Ben-Gurion is talking against the backdrop of the UN and UN Declaration of Human Rights and saying what he does in its name and in our consciousness of it, and moreover the fact that it was to take place against a long-adjacent proud civilization, and further the opposite overwhelming demographic ratios with disease then and now with both modern medicine and immunologically connected peoples today, and, going further, the unsettledness of it still today, and the fact that the separations are not abolished as in Mexico and all the Americas...

But also against the backdrop of the Holocaust and the millennia of persecution.  Not a paranoid theory, but two millennia of worsening reality culminating in the ongoing annihilation of the Shoah.

All these factors.   And yet it's more an ethnic conflict today. And who wants to ram Yugoslavia back together ? And that Yugoslavia's the better analogy than Mexico or Guatemala or South Africa (or for that matter the interethnicity of the Untied States).... not wanting to ram back together Yugoslavia, or the Soviet Union, or even Czechoslovakia or Scotland and England, or Denmark and Norway, or Britain and Ireland.

So I am just trying to come up with some of the reasons why it's still such a conflict, and ethnic conflict, and why the mid-20th century rhetoric of the Zionist leaders does sound worse than language of centuries ago, because of when it was uttered... just like Hitler is viewed thousand times worse because it was 20th century rather than 10th.... and rightly viewed as so much worse.... 

So maybe that's why the rhetoric sounds more painful to so many of our peers' contemporary ears, it being so near-contemporary to us....

But by now it's "just" a terrible ethnic conflict, and they can't live together in peace --at least not for a few centuries to come. 

And this is because the Arabs have proved it with their violence against the actually quite peaceable migrants from the beginning...  And if the Arabs had been as peaceable, as it has been rightly said, over and over again, whatever the Zionists may have wanted, there would not be any Palestinian refugees, or even any conflict, and probably Palestinian majorities everywhere, but, because of the Arab and Palestinian peace and nonviolence, the Jews living at home in Palestine even as minorities, in peace and security... and that the Arabs ruined the Zionist liberal dream...

That's my sense from reading Herzl's Old Land/New Land, one of my favorite books.... He even envisioned a Jewish President and Arab Prime Minister....

And above all, the "Zionists" may not have said those things-- IF there hadn't already been the decades of violence against the peaceable Jewish migrants.  Because it is critical to note that the violence did not start in 1948, but against the very first peaceful migrants from the very beginning, in the 1880s and 1890s, and against their civilian innocents-- farmers, spouses, the children...

As I've written before, the Jewish migrants' rights not to have their and their children's throats all slit open forced them to circle their wagons...

And also as I've written, it was the Arab violence, or there would be (without the Arab war of would-be genocide of 1948 against the Jews, not done for the Arab refugees because there were no refugees, and without the Arab expulsion of the Jewish refugees from the Arab Middle East, then there would probably be two Palestinian-majority states in Palestine!, with the Jews living in peace and security if the whole ethos of the Arab culture had been different... unrecognizably different....  peaceful and nonviolent.... and Herzl's liberal multicultural dream was crushed...

And yet the resulting conflict and displacement and social dysfunctionalities and massive human tragedy involved (on both sides)  has been so horrible in the last century that I always have to return to  (at least some pieces of) my own "little list" of considerations about the "big list" -- return to some of the pieces of my "little list" again and again, when I am impelled to confront the moral and emotional trauma of this famous genre of Middle East agonistics --"The Lists of 'Zionists' Quotations Which Endorse the Nakba."


Comment On This Article
(Please include your name so that we may publish your remarks.)

Return to the Table of Contents

Home           Contact Us           Mailing List           Archives           Books on Sale            Links

Articles may be quoted or republished in full with attribution
to the author and harvardsquarecommentary.org.

This site is designed and managed by Neil Turner at Neil Turner Concepts