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Nakba 1948: Ethnic Cleansing of Cities, Towns and Villages
May 20 2020

II: Ethnic Cleansing of Cities, Towns and Villages

This second installment of our three-part series of Journal of Palestine Studies articles on the Nakba focuses on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian cities, towns, and villages. One of the most pointed challenges faced by Palestinians has been acquiring the “permission to narrate” their own experience, as Edward Said so eloquently framed it. As Palestinians were forced out of their home en masse in 1948, Western media presented distorted accounts that largely ignored Zionist violence against civilian populations and instead resorted to deploying Orientalist tropes about aggressive Arab militias and unreasonable demands by Palestinians.

Even decades after 1948, the scholarly historiography of Israel-Palestine in the United States and Europe heavily favored Israel and its preferred narrative. This continued until the emergence of the New Historians in the 1980s, a small group of Israeli historians with access to newly-opened Israeli archives who exposed some of the crimes committed against the Palestinian people. Although Palestinian and Arab scholars, and sources such as the Journal for Palestine Studies had been highlighting the actual nature of the Nakba for years, the fact that the New Historians were Israelis speaking out about the events of 1948 gave them legitimacy in the eyes of Western readers. All in all, the New Historians simply confirmed what Palestinians themselves already knew and experienced first-hand.   

Perhaps most prominently, Ilan Pappé’s article “The 1948 Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” revealed the preparations made by the new Israeli leaders that allowed for the systematic removal of more than half of the Arab population of Palestine from their homes and maximized the territorial control of the new state of Israel. For many readers, this was the first time they had heard of Plan D (or Plan Dalet), the ultimate culmination of “Zionism’s ideological drive for an exclusively Jewish presence in Palestine,” although Walid Khalidi had written about it many years before (several of his revelatory articles on the Nakba will feature in a subsequent cluster of JPS articles).

Mustafa Abbasi’s “The Fall of Acre in the 1948 Palestine War” draws on archival sources to trace the six months leading up to the Nakba and the preparations the people of Acre took amidst heightening tensions there. Despite Acre’s historical legacy as one of the most important Palestinian cities and its staunch past resistance to foreign invaders, it nonetheless fell to Haganah forces just a few days after the founding of the state of Israel. In a similar vein, Nafez Nazzal’s “The Zionist Occupation of Western Galilee, 1948” confronts persistent myths about the Nakba and uses interviews with residents of six Palestinian villages to further explicate the systemic methods Israeli forces used to “cleanse” entire regions of their Arab inhabitants.

“The End of Arab Tiberias: The Arabs of Tiberias and the Battle for the City in 1948” by Mustafa Abbasi, presents an interesting case from 1948 when considering the traditional positive Arab-Jewish relations there that preceded the Nakba. While the Arab leadership of the city placed an absolute premium on intercommunal relations, Tiberias fell quickly after the outbreak of the 1948 war and rapidly became almost exclusively Jewish. Spiro Munayyer’s “The Fall of Lydda,” which features an introduction by Walid Khalidi, also tells of the massive preparations the city undertook to prepare for the oncoming conflict and its inhabitants’ attempts to prevent catastrophe. Despite agreements with other Jewish localities and leaders, Lydda became overwhelmed with displaced Palestinian refugees who were forced out of surrounding areas. It was ultimately occupied and ethnically cleansed by Israeli forces in July of 1948. Soon afterwards, another 25 villages were also conquered by advancing Israeli forces, displacing some 80,000 Palestinians, the largest single deliberate expulsion of Palestine’s Arab population during the Nakba.

This is the second of three selections on the Nakba from the Journal of Palestine Studies.


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