Nakba is not only destroying Palestinian villages


While the destroyed Palestinian village and its way of life often provide the imagery for the Palestinian Nakba, it is the Zionist destruction of both Palestinian cities and the attendant urbanization processes which were so crucial for the Zionist movement and its temporal success. Eli Aminov uncovers a clouded history.


Palestinian city of Majdal, ethnically cleansed by the Israelis in 1950 and on the remains of which the city of Ashkelon was built (Photo: Palestine Remembered)


This year we commemorate 65 years to the beginning of the Palestinian Nakba. In actuality it would have been appropriate to commemorate it from 29 November 1947, the day on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the partition plan (UNGA Resolution 181). The Partition Plan is an illegitimate decision that ruled for the national elimination of the Palestinian people, theft of its homeland, its dismantling into parts and transformation of the majority of its children into refuges.


Destruction of the Palestinian cities and deportation of their residents lie at the heart of this tragedy, both in everything concerning the number of deportees from the crowded urban regions and the demolition of the vibrant and growing urban culture, which totally disappeared for tens of years.


An almost absolute denial of the disaster of the Palestinian people exists throughout the world, and one of the reasons for this is the full consensus concerning the Partition Plan. The Partition Plan is the shared agreement of the powers which won WWII, primarily the United States and USSR, to give historical Palestine – by ignoring its original inhabitants – to the Jewish settlers who settled in Palestine under British imperialism. The powers attributed an important role in the insertion of the new and foreign state as a dagger in the heart of the Arab East. This strategy ensured the division of the Arab East into numerous political units, which would ease rule over the Arab masses through the cultivation of corrupt Arab regimes, weakened and dependent. This is the framework through which to examine the essence of the Jewish state responsible for everything that happened to the Palestinian people, from then and up until today.


However, in everything concerning destruction of the cities of Palestine, even the Palestinians themselves dealt with this topic for numerous years in a relatively minor way. One of the primary reasons for this is the lack of organized memory of the Palestinian city and the demolition of the Palestinian civilization by Zionism.


The focus of the Palestinian Nakba, which has gained renewed illumination in recent years, was and remains the Palestinian village, its stolen land and aesthetic romanticism of its destroyed homes. In contrast, the other central aspect of the process of dispossession and ethnic cleansing remains obscured in fog: the brutal relation of Zionism to the Palestinian city and the all-out war it waged against such cities, until their erasure from the historical territory and even from the national memory. The consistent efforts the Israeli establishment devotes to preventing the renewed growth of the Arab city are also hidden with great success.


During the period in which Zionist settlement began to be realized under the protection of its mother colony – the British empire – the Palestinian people were situated at the height of a process of crystallising as a modern people in its homeland. Palestinian society was admittedly primarily a rural society but the social differentiation, which was created following penetration of the European colonial capital, began to create a category of new social classes on the basis of capitalist relations. These classes were centred primarily in the big cities, Jaffa, Jerusalem and Haifa, and as modern middle classes they developed new attachments and new insights. The process of secularisation which they underwent was powerful, a historical fact ignored by the preponderance of historians.


Already in the beginning of the British mandate, under the patronage of which the Zionist settlement grew and developed in the area, the Palestinian cities included almost a fourth of the population. This percentage grew to some 36% at the conclusion of the mandate, i.e. some half a million(!) people. Relative to the entire Middle East, the level of urbanization of the Arab population in Palestine was particularly high.


From a technological perspective, Palestine was amongst the most advanced in the Middle East. For example, the level of motorization – the number of cars per 1,000 people – was highest in the Arab Palestinian society of all the countries in the region apart from Lebanon, and was higher than that of Bulgaria and Poland in the same period. The number of transistor radios, an expensive and new product, was higher amongst the Palestinian population by four or five times than the number in Syria or Egypt relative to the population. The cities, which functioned as intersections connecting the local society with the changes, innovations, inventions and ideas of the entire world, became the creative home for national ideas.


In Palestine, 1946, there were 11 cities whose Arab population was more than 20,000. In three of them – Jaffa, Haifa and Jerusalem – the Arab population came to some 70,000 in each city. In the big cities not only trade, banking, light industry and transportation developed, but also diverse cultural and social life: cinemas, cafes, clubs, youth and women’s associations, daily newspapers, weeklies, sports clubs, theatre and learning languages. Whilst the Palestinian working class and its organizations were most prominent in the cities, the urban cultural life was developed primarily by the petit bourgeoisie. This social layer opposed Zionism and even offered sharp criticism against the feudal-bourgeoisie Palestinian leadership, which was connected to foreign capital, the colonial regime, Arab monarchies and even to Zionism. Despite the existence of this local middle class, it never succeeded in cutting off from the same feudal-traditional leadership in a real way, and therefore did not develop independent politics. However,  this class provided ideal leadership for the national movement, both in its pan-Arab version and that of the Palestinians. The importance of this class on the Palestinian national level was high, and it is therefore no surprise that this population and its hothouse – “the city” – garnered the open hatred of the Zionist movement.


This hatred had an operative expression in the war of partition that the Jews call “independence war” or “war of liberation.” The terror sown by the Zionists around the three big cities of Jaffa, Haifa and Jerusalem already in December 1947 points to a unified strategy: in the first stage, damaging the agricultural periphery of the cities with the goal of creating a lack of food. In the second stage, a damaging of strategic points within the cities, such as the Etzel bombing and killing of Arab workers of the Haifa oil refineries, which opened a bloody cycle of slaughter and revenge; bombing of the Saria building in Jaffa’s Clock Square by the Lechi on 4 January 1948, which resulted in tens of deaths and destruction of the city’s archives; the bombing of the Semiramis Hotel in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighbourhood on 5 January 1948 by the Hagana; and bombing of the homes surrounding the three big cities. The day following these attacks, a  Hagana convoy drove through Jerusalem’s Talbiyeh neighbourhood, demanding over a loudspeaker that the Arab residents leave the neighbourhood – and some of them did indeed leave. The terrified and unorganized population was pushed aside, terrified and expelled in front of the eyes wide shut of the British army.


As of mid- March 1948, the Hagana’s acts of aggravation increased against Arabs in the framework of what was dubbed “Plan D.” The slaughter of Dir Yassin, conducted by the Etzel and Lechi with Hagana assistance in military confinement and shooting, was conducted on 9 April 1948, resulting in a mass retreat of Palestinians. The first Arab city in which ethnic cleansing of the Arab population was completely finished was in Tiberias. On 16 April the British left the city and the Hagana attacked the Nasir ad Din village, near Tiberias, an attack in which all the injured and captured prisoners were murdered. After this begins a bombing of the Arab section of Tiberias and the British, instead of defending those being attacked, offer to remove the Arab population from the city. On 18 April 1948 a convoy of those deported from the city of Tiberias left.


In Jerusalem, following the slaughter in Dir Yassin, the pressure to get rid of the remaining Arab population from the neighbourhoods of Talbiyeh, Bakaa, Abu Tor, Romema, the German Colony, Katamon and Musrara, amongst others, continued. These were amongst the most magnificient in Jerusalem. The Arab cities were mostly occupied and “cleansed” prior to 15 May 1948, the date on which the “war of independence” officially broke out with the Arab armies’ invasion of Palestine. The urban Arab populations of Haifa, Tiberias, Safed and the Arab neighbourhoods in South and West Jerusalem were mostly expelled by the month of April, under the nose of the British mandate government. In order to speed up the departure of Arab residents who remained in their Jerusalem homes, the Jewish Agency spread a rumour that the property of Arabs who left their homes because of the war would be returned to them upon conclusion of the fighting (Yedioth Ahronot, 4.5.1948). This, of course, was a fairy tale. With conclusion of the battles, less than 5% of the population remained in the Arab cities, and the numbers included refugees from neighbouring villages.


The Palestinian city, as a fomenting factor which awakens and promotes ideas from a social and national perspective, was eliminated and ceased to exist. Its absence permitted the existence of a cheap and easy military government, which controlled the leadership-less and disintegrating society.


The only cities in which a substantially large Palestinian population remained were Nazareth and Majdal. In Nazareth the Zionists feared conducting an ethnic cleansing due to the city’s importance in the Christian world. The Zionists therefore pushed refugees from the surrounding areas into Nazareth in order to water down the city’s urban foundation with a new and non-urban population.


In Majdal things were completely different. The city, a fourth of whose population remained after the war, was transformed into a type of assistance centre for those refugees who snuck over the border to plow their fields or take their things left behind. The military government brought to Majdal a hamula of Bedouin collaborators from the Jawarish family, so they would supervise the city’s residents. This succeeded only partially and the fate of Majdal’s residents was thus sealed. On 17.8.50 residents of Majdal received deportation orders and in the presence of Israeli army soldiers, were forced to sign declarations according to which they were leaving their homes of their own free will. By October of that same year all of them were transferred to the Gaza Strip. On the remains of their homes the city of Ashkelon was built.


The destruction of Palestinian cities and prevention of their redevelopment was a central goal of those responsible for “Arab affairs” in the Israeli governments. These “experts” understood perfectly well the role of the city as a centre for social development and consolidation of national awareness. The city, as opposed to the village, tribe and hamula, grows through the actions of individuals who become attached to it and create new social, human and cultural affinities. Such a development has always represented a threat to the Israeli identity, built on Zionist myths. The synthetic and hasty creation of the Jewish-Israeli nation could cope with the existence of an agricultural indigenous population, nomadic and primitive. However, the existence of urban Palestine, in the past as in the present, frightens the Zionist colonial existence again and again, grounds its narrative, shocks the myths it created and destroys all of its justifications (in parentheses it will also be said that the dynamic nature  of the secular Israeli city of Tel Aviv is perceived today as an existential threat in the eyes of those waving the flag of that same “Zionism,” who find it difficult to cope with the messages and challenges which come from such a city something which expresses the paralysis of the Zionist outlook).


It is on this backdrop that we should understand the efforts and methods which official Israel continues to devote in order to prevent at any price the process of urbanization of Palestinian society. For some 65 years this has been expressed primarily by preventing investments in industry and development; by investing the minimum in education; an intentional weakening of the population; the cultivation of hamula and patriarchal leadership of collaborators; the persecution of those with a national and/or community world view; separation, privatization and division of the Palestinian population into “sectors”, including the invention of the Druze “nationality”, segregation and dispossession. It is completely clear that the success of these methods amongst Palestinian citizens of Israel encourages their implementation in all parts of Palestine.


The process of de-urbanisation of Palestinian society continues to be the backbone of Zionist ruling strategy in Palestinian society. Zionism will never permit the creation of a new Palestinian city, nor an Arab university, which could be the kernel of a city. Its apparatuses continue to prevent urbanization. It ignores the demands of a number of Palestinian public representatives on this matter over the past decade, through cultivation and organization of a diminishment of their positions. A stubborn, all-out war exists against every attempt at change, through separating and privatizing Palestinian society, through designing the education system under supervision of the General Security Services (GSS), cultivating and strengthening of the traditional underpinnings, isolating dynamic foundations, selecting and co-opting of leadership and primarily stopping urban processes.


The de-urbanisation processes are also implemented in the territories occupied in the 1967 war, although there they are accompanied by a deep social destruction, ongoing killing of activists and civilians and the extrajudicial assassination of political activists, which are dubbed in a laundered language “targeted killings.” The spreading out of the de-urbanisation process over sixty-five years, in which Palestinian society transformed from a consolidating nation on the land of its homeland to a people of refugees. It must be clear to all that in the Zionist plan there is no room in historical Palestine for the Palestinian people – not even for part of it. The Zionist dream to “disappear” the Palestinians from the earth is coming true before our very eyes.


*This is part two in the series Zionist loathing of the Palestinian city by Eli Aminov. Part one may be read here.


Eli Aminov was a member of the former Revolutionary Communist League (Matzpen) and founded the Committee for a Secular Democratic State

Translated to English by Connie Hackbarth, Alternative Information Center (AIC)


About tahriricn

bringing together anarchist perspectives from the Middle East, North Africa and Europe

Posted on August 26, 2012, in Middle East and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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