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The Arabs Who Stayed Behind After 1948; Kafr Qasem Massacre

By David Hirst, Excerpts from his book: The Gun and the Olive Branch, 1977, Futura Publications

Keeping out the outsiders was almost exclusively punitive; keeping down the insiders was both punitive and purposive. Forthe Palestinians who stayed behind were not merely a security problem; their very presence stood in the way of Zionism's historic mission. The military governed the lives of Israel's Arab minority. Outright armed violence, though by no means absent, was not Its characteristic method; force and coercion sufficed. Nevertheless, there was a grave difficulty. Israel described itself as an out post of the 'free world' on which it so heavily depended, a 'bastion of democracy' in an area which lacked such a thing It was a nation ostentatiously founded on law, justice and humanity. Racial and religious persecution, the bitter cup from which the Jews had drunk so deep, could have no place in the Jewish State. In the Declaration of Independence it promised 'complete equality of social and political rights for all its citizens, without distinction of creed, race or sex'. So it looked on the surface. In practice, however, some citizens were more equal than others. The words Arab and Jew never actually appeared in the statute books, but in the enforcement of the law there was one set of principles for one kind of Israeli and another set of principles for the other. Among those who looked beneath the surface and then defended what they saw it generated a 'double-speak' and 'double-think' which an Israeli civil rights campaigner has called 'the Orwellian tax that Israel pays to the concept of democracy's The legal foundations of the military rule under which the insiders fell were the Defence Regulations of 1945- It was the British who introduced them and the Jewish community, then in revolt against the Mandate, which first bore the brunt of them. Their introduction had raised a storm of protest. Dr Yaacov Shimson Shapira, a future Israeli Minister of Justice, described them as 'unparalleled in any civilized country; there were no such laws even in Nazi Germany .... There is indeed only one form of government which resembles the system in force herenow - the case of an occupied country. They " to pacify us by saying that these laws are only Directed against malefactors, not against honest citizens. But the Nazi Governor of Occupied Oslo also announced that no harm would come to citizens who minded their own business. It is our duty to tell the whole world that the Defence Laws passed by the British Mandatory Government of Palestine destroy the very foundations of justice in this land."19After 1948 Israel did not abolish this system of 'officially licensed terrorism', as another future Justice Minister called the Defence Regulations. It enforced them with greater severity - against the Arabs. Under these laws, the army could uproot whole communities at will, deporting them or transferring them from one place to another; it could impose indefinite curfews and establish security zones which no Arab could enter without permission; seize land and destroy or requisition property; enter and search any place; imprison a man without trial or confine him to his home, quarter or village; prohibit or restrict his movement inside or outside Israel, or expel him without explanation from his native land. The only means of redress, through a military court, was wholly futile. Armed with such Draconian powers, the military authorities lost no time in exploiting them. Outright violence, entirely punitive in intent, may not have been their characteristic method, but there is no more revealing example of the Arabs' plight than one notorious occasion when they did use it. The Arabs remember Kafr Qasem as the Deir Yassin of the established State. Less revealing, perhaps, than the event itself was the reaction it generated. On 29 October 1956, on the eve of Israel's invasion of Egypt, a detachment of Frontier Guards imposed a curfew on villages near the Jordanian frontier. Among them was Kafr Qasem. The Mukhtar was informed of the curfew just half an hour before it was due to go into effect. It was therefore quite impossible forhim to pass the message on to the villagers who would be returning, as dusk fell, from their various places of work. Major Shmuel Melinki, the detachment commander, had foreseen this eventuality, and he asked his superior, Brigadier Yshishkhar Shadmi, what should be done about anyone coming home in ignorance ofthe curfew. The Brigadier had replied: 'I don't want any sentimentality ... that's just too bad for him."O And there was no sentimentality. In the first hour of the curfew, between five and six o'clock, the Frontier Guards killed forty-seven villagers. They had returned home individually or in batches. A few came on foot, but most travelled by bicycle, mule cart or lorry. They included women and children. But all the Frontier Guards wanted to know was whether they were from Kafr Qasem. For if they were, they were curfew-breakers, and once they had ascertained that they were, they shot them down at close range with automatic weapons. 'Of every group of returning workers, somewere killed and others wounded; very few succeeded in escaping unhurt. The proportion of those killed increased, until, of the last group, which consisted of 14 women, a boy and 4 men, allwere killed except one girl, who was seriously wounded.'s' The slaughter @ight have gone on like this had not Lieutenant Gavriel Dahan, the officer on the spot ... informed the command several times over the radio apparatus in the jeep of the number killed. Opinions differ as to the figure he gave in his reports, but all are agreed that in his first report he said: 'one less', and . in the next two reports: 'fifteen less' and.many less - it is difficult to count them'. The last two reports, which followed each other in quick succession, were picked up, by Captain Levy, who passed them on to Melinki. When he was informed that there were 'fifteen less' in Kafr Qasem, Melinki gave orders which he was unable to transmit to Dahan before the report arrived of 'many less - it is difficult to count them', for the firing to stop and for a more moderate procedure to be adopted in the whole area.... This order finally ended the bloodshed at Kafr Qasem.311

All this was established in the trial which, as the scandal slowly leaked out, the government was obliged to hold. The trail was a pro forma affair. There was little moral outrage in the courtroom, and, apart from a few lone voices, very little outside it. During the proceedings the leading newspaper Haaretz reported that 'the eleven officers and soldiers who are on trial for tile massacre in Kafr Qasem have all received a fifty per cent increase in their salaries. A special messenger' was sent to Jerusalem to bring the cheques to the accused in time for Passover. A number of the accused had been given a vacation for the holiday.. . . The accused mingle freely with the spectators; the officers smile at them and pat them on the back; some of them shake hands with them. It is obvious, that these people, whether they will be found innocent or guilty, are not treated as criminals, but as heroes.'311 One Private David Goldfield reportedly resigned from the Security Police in protest against the trial. According to the Yewish Newsletter, his testimony merely reflected what most Israelis thought: 'I feel that the Arabs are the enemies of our State.... When I went to Kafr Qasem, I felt that I went against the enemy and I made no distinction between the Arabs in Israel and those outside its frontiers.' Asked what he would do if he met an Arab woman, in no sense a security threat, who was trying to reach her home, he replied: 'I would shoot her down, I would harbour no sentiments, because I received an order and I had to carry it out.134 The sentences were pro forma too. Melinki and Dahan got gaol terms of seventeen and fifteen years respectively, but it was a foregone conclusion that they would only serve a fraction of them. In response to appeals for a pardon, the Supreme Military Court decided to reduce the 'harsh' sentence; and, following this generous example, the Chief of Staff, then the Head of State, and finally a Committee for the Release of Prisoners all made contributions, so that within a year of their sentence Melinki and Dahan were free men. As for Brigadier Shadmi - the 'no sentimentality' senior officer - a Special Military Court found him guilty of a 'merely technical' error, reprimanded him and fined him one piastre. But the twist in the tail was yet to come. Nine months after his release from prison, Dahan, convicted of killing forty-three Arabs in an hour, was appointed 'officer responsible for Arab affairs' in the town of Ramleh.111 And the last that has been heard of Major Melinki was that, through his influential connections in the army, he had secured a coveted permit, sought after by many an entrepreneur, to set up a tourist centre in southern Israel.311

LLet us now turn to those other, more characteristic, uses to which the military authorities - aided and abetted by the civil administration - put their Draconian powers. Zionism's basic impulse has always been to take possession of the land. It goes without saying that the new state appropriated all the land which the outsiders left behind; but it also appropriated the insiders' land too - about a million dunums of it.31 In 1948 perhaps 5 per cent of Israeli-controlled territory was still in Arab hands. By 1967 - and the war which brought the remaining 20 percent of Palestine under Israeli control - it had fallen to about 1 per cent.38 It was here, perhaps, in the systematic harassment of the hapless vestige of a community they had destroyed and dispersed that the Zionists showed how far, in serving their own people, they could harden their hearts against others '. In the early years, with wartime techniques still fresh in their memories, the authorities would frequently 'cleanse' the land in the quick and my way. They would send in the army to drive the inhabitants out---over the frontier or to other parts of Israel. Thus, as late as the summer of 1950, the village of Ashkelon was still Arab - at least it was until one morning when the soldiers arrived, put the inhabitants on trucks, took them to the- Gaza frontier and, with the help of some shooting in the air, told them to go and join the refugees who had passed that way two years before.119 Under the Defence Regulations this kind of procedure was legal. However, it was not good for Israel's reputation; the world was sensitive about the refugee problem, and the Arab states were exploiting it. So, being a country where the rule of law prevoed, Israel enacted legislation to furnish a sound juridical basis for expropriations which had already taken place and for those which were still to come. The first of a series of enactments - the 1950 Law for the Acquisition of Absentee Property - was a very ingenious, retroactive devi--e. The absentees in question were for the most part the outsiders who could not return. Their property was acquired by a Custodian of Absentee Property, whose ostensible task was to look after it pending asolution of the whole refugee problem, his real one being to handit over to the appropriate authorities for Jewish settlement in perpetuity. But insiders could become absentees too. They are known as 'absent-presents'; the precise number of these Orwellian beings is a well-kept military secret, but they run into tens ofthousands,"O It was very easy for the Custodian to classify a man as 'absent-present'. For under the new law any person who left his usual place of residence between 29 November 1947 and 1 September 1948 for any place outside Palestine, or any place inside Palestine but outside Jewish control, was considered to be an absentee - and never mind if he was actually present in Israel,a fully-fledged citizen of this 'bastion of democracy'. The simple villager of Galilee had not been vouchsafed the power to tell the future, and little did he realize that for this 'offence' committed two years before it actually became one, all his worldly possessions - his homes and fields - could be taken away from him and given to somebody else, a total stranger who came from across the seas. It did not matter how long he had been away; it could have been for one day only. No matter where he had gone; it could have been to the next village. No matter why he left; perhaps it war, to buy some sheep. Moreover it was so much easier for the Custodian in that he was not expected to furnish proof of absence. His own investigations sufficed. When, on the strength of them, he 'declared' a man an absentee, he became an absentee and no one could gainsay him; for 'he may not be questioned about the information sources which led him to issue a decision by virtue of this law'. And just in case the Custodian, by his own admission, did make a mistake, the law took care of that too: 'No deal concluded spontaneously between the Custodian and another person in connection with property which the Custodian believes to be absentee property at the moment the deal is concluded may, be invalidated, but shall remain in force even if it is later proved that such property was not absentee property at that time.'411Thus it came about that whole communities of insiders, citizens of Israel, were no less refugees than their brethren beyond the borders. For during the nine months in question - an arbitrary time-span, dating from the UN Partition recommendation, well suited to Israel's purposes - a great many Palestinians had indeed left their normal places of residence, not simply for business or pleasure, but because they thought it was dangerous to remain where they were. They planned to return home when the fightingended. But their new masters had other ideas. If they ever saw their homes again, it was with strangers living in them; if they ever tilled their fields again, it was in the service of those strangers. Townspeople were no better off. A frightened family might have moved for a few days to another quarter, or just across the Street.411 The Custodian declared them 'absent-presents' none the less. He was a man of principle. What was the difference betweent own and country, between ten metres or ten miles? It might seem hard, and he was sorry. But what could he do about it? The law, after all, was the law. Another typical enactment - the Emergency Articles for the Exploitation of Uncultivated Areas - was particularly useful because it dovetailed so nicely with the Defence Regulations-. a happy blend of the purposive and the punitive. On the face of it, this law had an entirely laudable purpose. It empowered the Minister of Agriculture to take possession of uncultivated land to ensure that it is cultivated when he 'is not satisfied that the owner of the land has begun, or is about to begin, to cultivate it,or is going to continue to cultivate it'.43 However, it could also be turned to another purpose. The procedure was quite simple. The Minister of Defence, with laws of his own to draw upon, would declare some choice farmland a 'closed area', thereby making ita grave offence to enter the area without written permission from the Military Governor. The Military Governor finds himself unable, for security reasons, to grant such permits to farmers. Their fields quickly become 'uncultivated land'. Noting this, the Minister of Agriculture takes prompt action 'to ensure that it is cultivated'. He has this done either 'by tabouters engaged by him' or by 'handing it over to another party to cultivate it'. This other party, of course, is always the neighbouring Jewish colony. Clearly, in the enforcement of Israeli law, some people were more equal than others. Indeed, some people seemed to be above it altogether. At least that is what the inhabitants of Ghabisiya, Kafr Bar'am and lqrit - to name only three villages - could legitimately conclude after they appealed to the Supreme Court. The Military Government had declared Ghabisiya a 'closed area' and expelled its inhabitants. The Supreme Court ruled that the Military Governor had been entitled to take this step, but that his decision was invalid because it had not been published in the Official Gazette. The Military Government found this ruling very hard to accept, and a few days later, while continuing to keep the villagers out, the necessary order was published in the gazette. The villagers went back to the Supreme Court. This tii-neit ruled that since they had failed to return before publication ofthe order they could not do so after it. The inhabitants of the Christian, and notably docile, village of Kafr Bar'am which had become a 'Closed area' too, applied to the Supreme Court in their turn. It ruled in their favour: they should be permitted to return. The authorities were extremely angry. Aircraft of the Israeli Defence Forces attacked the village, The bombardment went on until Kafr Bar'am was reduced to rubble, whereupon the aircraftre turned safely to their bases.,,' In July 1951 the Supreme Courtruled in favour of another Christian village, lqrit, whose inhabitants had been ordered, three years earlier, to leave their homes 'for two weeks' until 'military operations in the area were concluded'. After this judgement the Military Government found another justification to prevent them from returning. The villagers once more appealed to the Supreme Court, which decided to consider the case on 6 February 1952. But a month and a half before that date, on Christmas Day to be precise, the Israeli, Defence Forces took the Mukhtar of this Christian community to the top of a nearby hill and forced him to watch the show - the blowing up of every house in the village - which they had laid on for his benefit.16 ' It hardly needs to be demonstrated that, however democratic Israel was for the Jews, it was in every sense a tyranny for the Arabs. Tyranny, like freedom, is indivisible, and it was not to be expected that a government which could so persecute its citizensin one way - by plundering their land and property -- should treat them any better in others. Israel has always claimed that it cares for its Arab as much as its Jewish citizens, indeed that the yare far better off than they would have been under Arab rule. But the fact that Israel made this claim -and above all the fact that none but a 'lunatic fringe' of its freedom-loving Jewish citizens ever challenged it - merely confirmed a natural law: Orwellian 'double-think' will always be as pervasive as the evil it seeks to hide. Just what did happen, for example, to those dispossessed Arab farmers? Merely to ask the question is to open a Pandora's Box of ramifying iniquities, for the truth is that the Arabs were deliberately reduced to the lumpen proletariat of Israeli society or - in the biblical parlance which Zionists' so often affect - they became the 'hewers of wood and the drawers of water'. If the Arabs continued to work what little land was left to them, they did so in the face of a whole series of obstructionist measures, designed to consolidate Jewish agriculture at their expense, which forced them to sell their produce at uneconomic prices and starved them of financial assistance, modern machinery and the benefits of irrigation projects. If they gave 'up the struggle and worked for Jewish masters, they had to offer their services on a black market which grossly exploited them. And even that was eventually denied them. For by the sixties thousands of Arab farmers found themselves working what was once their own land on behalf of a new class of Jewish effendis whom time, and the weakening of the Zionist ideal, had brought into being. So in 1967, parliament passed a law which in reality - though not, God forbid, in appearance - was designed to prevent Israel's Arab citizens from working the 'Land of the Nation' - even if they worked it for Jews.,"' Not until 1962, and even then on a small scale, would the trade union federation accept Arabs in its ranks. The exclusivist dogmas of Hebrew Labour-or 'organized labour' as Orwellian 'double-think' renamed it --- still held sway. Arab unemployment was rife. But Arabs who did find work were liable, not being 'organized', to dismissal at any time. They were usually reserved for the most menial and dirty jobs. Where they managed to rise above that, there was no such thing as equal payfor equal work. If, as an increasing number did, they found jobs in the cities, they could not - thanks to the Defence Regulations - live there. They became itinerant labourers, forced to travel huge distances every day to and from their villages - although, as a special favour, construction workers would be permitted tospend the night in unfinished buildings or makeshift accommodation of the kind. The Arab minority could not seek collective redress through Israel's democratic system, because there was no place in the system for representative Arab political parties, no opportunity for Arabs to achieve positions of real influence in government and administration; the 'Arab Department' of every institution was headed by a Jew. The Arabs could only vote as appendages of Jewish parties, and what the Israelis paraded inthe outside world as the proof of their own enlightenment they occasionally admitted to themselves was a farce, 'a struggle in the name of the Arabs between the Jews themselves, for the sake ofthe Jews'.,"' Arab writers, intellectuals or community leaders who showed the least independence of spirit would be placed in 'administrative detention', confined to their place of residence, or exited to some remote corner of the country. Nor could parents, miserable though' their own plight might be, look forward to a brighter future for their children. The deliberate stunting of Arab education meant that there were about nine Jewish university graduates, per capita, for every one Arab.

Zionist apartheid, whatever one might think of its original motivation, quickly proved itself as harsh as South Africa's. It was rather strange therefore that whereas enlightened Western opinion condemned racial discrimination in one place it was aptto condone or even praise it in another. One key reason, of course, was the extraordinary built-in favour which the Zionist movement had always enjoyed. Another was that while South Africa's apartheid was open, even flaunted, Israel's was disguised. More-over, Israel's was much easier to disguise; for the citizens it persecuted were a small minority, not a large majority. That in turn was because, in 1948 and after, the Arab-fighters simply drove the Arabs out. Ironically, therefore, it was the very extremism ofthat original and massive act of violence which subsequently helped Israel seem less extreme, less oppressive, in its treatment of the few who stayed behind. The Arab-fighters' most dazzling triumph still lay ahead - but this time it was destined to make Israeli apartheid much harder to hide.




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