David Ben-Gurion (Photo: Arnold Newman)
A peek at the archives of Mapai, the Israeli Labor Party whose current leaders can’t decide if their strategy is to outflank Netanyahu on the left or on the right, helps confirm my reservations about its founders and early political figures: They prepared the ground for Israel’s current slide into fascism.
An op-ed article in Haaretz quotes directly some of those leaders’ statements in the first two decades of Israel’s existence as they formally debated the issue of what to do with us, the Palestinians who remained within Israel’s indeterminate borders. The striking absence of any Palestinian from all these deliberations must have permitted the participating Jewish leaders to speak their opinions frankly, perhaps to a fault. But, again and again, they broached the subject without reaching a clear and actionable decision.
Their inaction on the matter became policy and their indecision emerged as the final decision that coalesced into the practice and strategy of Israel’s consecutive governments regardless of which party ran the show. One could cut the atmosphere of ill will that the archives document with a knife. It provided the springboard for all manner of state legislative and administrative maneuvers that were to follow to disempower and pauperize us, the subjects of their reported debates.
Such steps have gained in number and extent under the current administration. Under the current administration, settler colonialist aggression in the Palestinian Occupied Territories spills back across the erased Green Line to find us still our old Palestinian selves. Even if we don’t declare it, most members of our community are in full sympathy with the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign. Little has really changed since those archived discussions. Except that the venom is now spewed openly from public forums and official media instead of the secretive discussions behind closed doors.
The archives document the clear split in the views of the Labor Party’s founding leadership on the matter of how to deal with us, the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Mind you, we were not called that but rather “Israel’s Arabs.” In a way, that was an indication of fairness: Calling us ‘Palestinians’ would have prejudiced the discussion beyond repair. Still, no one is reported to have questioned the expulsion of the absolute majority of the original population of what became Israel across the borders. That issue was closed for good. Any member of that group, the majority of the Palestinian nation at the time, who dared cross back to his home was an infiltrator who should be shot on sight.
The word ‘Infiltrator’ at the time was as inclusive of all expelled Palestinians and as threatening as the word ‘terrorist’ is today in referring to Palestinians. All Israelis and their leaders took that for granted. Surviving liberal Israelis from that era, such as the lead peacenik, Uri Avnery, to this day, draw a line after 1948. They see the problem starting only in 1967 with the occupation of West Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank.
Repeatedly, the Labor Party leaders returned to debating our future: we the Palestinian minority citizens of Israel. The dominant stream in the Labor Party, led by David Ben-Gurion, vacillated between relating to us as dogs or as donkeys. Levi Eshkol saw clearly where such the discriminatory views of his party were leading:
“It would not surprise me if something new suddenly emerges: that people will not want to rent a stable – or a room – to an Arab in some locale, which is the [logical] continuation of this situation. Will we be able to bear that?”
The present-day answer to this question– hypothetical and unbelievable in the 1960s– is in the affirmative: Scores of official Rabbis living on government salaries do order their followers to practice such racism.
Another minority view at the time was expressed by Moshe Sharett, a minister in the Ben-Gurion government (and the second prime minister of Israel), who wanted Jews to accept that “Arabs are not dogs but human beings.” Others in this minority faction had even more forthright objections. Pinhas Lavon, for example, in 1955 summed up his objection to the way Israel treated its Arab citizens by stating bluntly that “Nazism is Nazism, even if carried out by Jews.”
The dominant faction led by Ben-Gurion took a dim view of the presence of any Palestinians in Israel despite the honeyed language about guarantees of equality for all citizens in the country’s 1948 declaration of independence. Obviously, the father of the country never trusted Arabs. He kept them at an arm’s distance even when he politically accepted them as allies in the mini-parties that Mapai created, financed and managed, to the point that their parliamentary representatives were known to vote without knowing what subject the vote was about. They didn’t have the language facility, and their bosses didn’t provide translators. But the bosses would signal to them when to raise their hands.
Now, finally it all comes out. Ben-Gurion knew his clientele. As late as 1962, he declared: “We view them like donkeys. They don’t care. They accept it with love…”
I remember well some of those donkeys. I can still hear them bray.
Ben-Gurion’s three best known protégés had to deal with the existential threat any remaining Arabs would constitute for the emerging state. The one who had it easiest was Yitzhak Rabin, not quoted in the current article. In his memoirs, he reports that when he asked his mentor what to do with the civilian population of Lydda when he conquered it in 1948, the answer was eloquently simple: a flick of the boss’s hand. They were efficiently expelled. The debate to which we are finally privy relates to the 15% or so minority that remained in Israel, not to those expelled.
Moshe Dayan, the West’s beloved poster boy of Israel’s violent birth, shines again with his unapologetic aggressive style as recorded in the archival documents. He does not mince words:
“I want to say that in my opinion, the policy of this party should be geared to regard this public, of 170,000 Arabs, as though their fate has not yet been sealed. I hope that in the years to come there will perhaps be another possibility to implement a transfer of these Arabs from the Land of Israel, and as long as a possibility of this sort is feasible, we should not do anything that conflicts with this.”
Contingency plans—‘drawer plans,’ they are called in Hebrew military parlance—continue to exist in Israel for driving us out to a neighboring Arab country under cover of a media blackout in case of war. ‘Another possibility’ Dayan called it. Perhaps one day, a war could be started to finally implement such a vision of racial purity in Israel.
Absent such opportunity, Israel’s current leaders continue to formulate laws to achieve our virtual transfer, fully neutralizing any influence that the country’s Palestinian citizens may have had so far while delaying the contentious physical dislocation part for the time being.
What I find objectionable, perhaps even more than these war-crime scenarios, is the flippant cleverness of Shimon Peres, the third understudy of Ben-Gurion and Israel’s famed international peace advocate who introduced nuclear armament to the Middle East. His view of the 15% of the native Palestinian population who stayed in their homes against Israel’s wishes would be entertaining if it were not so sad; he is reported to have been unimpressed by humanitarian and international responses to our suffering under military rule (from 1948-1966). In his view not only was that military government “not a strain on the Arabs,” but it was effectively created by the Arabs– “who endanger Israel and as long as that danger exists, we must meet it with understanding.”
That sounds like a mere explanatory footnote to Ben-Gurion’s statement at the same Mapai Secretariat meeting on January 5, 1962:
“The moment that the difference between Jews and Arabs is eliminated, and they are at the same level … Israel will be eradicated and no trace will remain of the Jewish people.”
Hold your horses, man! How does that add up? Where is the logic in what you say? Even though you were my enemy I held your IQ in high regard. But let me translate what you just said for Americans:
“If the difference between the white settlers and native Americans is eliminated, and they are at the same level, … America will be eradicated and no trace will remain of the white race.”
Or even, “no trace will remain of followers of the Christian faith.”
Aren’t you saying the Jewish people = Israel=Zionism=Apartheid?