Transfer and the Lessons of the Holocaust

By Uri Davis, in RETURN, March 1990

Given Zionist and Israeli history, the ongoing public discussion inside Israel regarding the prospects of mass expulsion of the Palestinian people from their homeland - 'transfer' in Zionist and Israeli parlance - are justly a cause of grave concern. As of 1987, a new political party MOLEDET ('Homeland') led by General (Reserve) Rehavam Ze'evi, Director of the Ha'aretz Museum in Tel Aviv, devoted primarily to propagation and promotion of 'transfer' policies is represented in the Israeli Knesset (parliament). Public discussion of the merits or otherwise of 'transfer' - a most grievous war crime under international law - is a legitimate subject of political discourse and polite discussion. It has been so in the past. Against the backdrop of the Palestinian intifada it has acquired new dimensions.

During and in the wake of the 1948-9 war the government of the State of Israel orchestrated the mass transfer of the majority of the Palestinian Arab inhabitants out of the villages, towns and cities in the territories that came under Israeli control: Some 750,000 men, women and children, who, today, with their descendants constitute the body of approximately 2 million Palestinian Arab refugees and exiles. In subsequent years, their home villages, almost without exception, were razed to the ground in flagrant violation of repeated United Nations Resolutions affirming the right of the Palestinian Arab refugees to return or to compensation.

These are war crimes under international law.

Following the intifada, Israeli occupation policies of collective punishment against the Palestinian people have been extensively documented in the West: denial of supplies of fuel and electricity; administrative arrests of many thousands in concentration camps; demolition of homes of detainees; illegal deportation; indiscriminate beatings directed to maim and mutilate; illegal application of tear gas in confined places resulting in many deaths and hundreds of miscarriages of pregnant women; torture; killing of unarmed Palestinian protesters against the continued Israeli occupation, men and women, mostly youths and many children under fourteen, at the rate of one person every 24 hours on average (adjusted for population size the equivalent figure in the United Kingdom would be some 500 persons per month, 17 persons per day).

These too are war crimes under international law.

Given the enormity of these crimes, it is necessary to make one straight qualification: the government of Israel did not contemplate in the past, and is not contemplating at present mass murder of the Palestinian Arab people, in gas chambers or in any other way. Yet, it is also necessary to ask, and it is repeatedly asked: how is it possible for people who had gone through the experience of transfer and the mass murder of six million Jews and the Nazi Holocaust to commit war crimes against another people.

For nearly two decades following the 1948-9 war the perplexity and the incredulity represented in this question ("How is it possible...") was manipulated by the official Zionist and Israeli information offices to undermine the credibility of the historical narrative of the Palestinian people; the victims of the war.

Since it was not credible, so the official Zionist and Israeli argument went, that the remnant of a people who had gone through the Nazi Holocaust should commit, in their turn, war crimes against another people, therefore, the claims of the Palestinians to have been subject to massacres, mass murder, and orchestrated mass expulsion at the hand of the Israeli army, must be fabrication and slander; yet another case of manipulation of Arab (Muslim and Christian) anti-Jewish racism inflamed by the general Levantine propensity to unprincipled lying, and exaggerated by the essential retrograde mind of a backward people fictionalising reality to suit their vile purpose.

Thus, according to the Zionist and official Israeli version, the Palestinians were not expelled by Israel and repeated massacres did not take place except, perhaps, for the one at Deir Yassin. The Palestinians allegedly left the localities of their normal residences in response to the calls of their leaders. There are no Palestinians, anyway. There are only Arabs in Palestine, who have no claims to Palestine except as transient Bedouin residents who properly belong to the neighbouring Arab countries (Peters). The Arabs in Palestine have not been dispossessed. They got due punishment as aggressors in a unjust war. There are no Palestinian refugees. There are only Arabs who had allegedly departed from the localities of normal residences in Palestine at the behest of their leaders with the intent of returning in the wake of the victorious Arab armies (Katz). The majority of Arabs are dreaming and yearning for the day when they are masters of the state, meanwhile roaming the land seeking out Jewish women to bed, and, sometimes, to wed (Kahane). The two decades of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip which have followed the 1967 war, punctuated by the Israeli invasion of the Lebanon, the siege of Beirut and the massacres at Sabra and Shatila in 1982, and most emphatically, the Intifada, have put paid to these slanderous Zionist and official Israeli portrayals of the question of Palestine.

There is an established Hebrew adage which is apposite here: "Ha-posel be-mumo posel". He or she who unjustly slanders another reveals thereby the truth of his or her own failing.

The details of Plan Dalet have now been widely researched. The scope of the mass murder perpetrated by pre-1948 Zionist military organisations (e.g. at Deir Yassin where 250 were massacred) and by the Israeli army since May 1948 (e.g.. at Duwayma where 300 were massacred; Lydda were 250 were massacred) in order to uproot the Palestinian people from their homeland and cause the terrorised flight of the mass of the Palestinian population have now been properly documented (Sayigh; Morris; Palumbo; Kana'ana).

The extent of the official Israeli lie fabricating the alleged call by Arab leaders to the Palestinian population to depart is fully authoritatively exposed (e.g.. Flapan). The horrific destruction of Palestinian villages inside pre-1967 Israel territory is well recorded: 385 of the 500 Palestinian villages in the territories that came under Israeli sovereignty following the 1948-9 war were razed to the ground, their lands transferred to exclusive Jewish settlement, cultivation and development (Shahak, in Davis and Mezvinsky). Most of the land belonging to the remaining villages was, by racist legislation, transferred to exclusive Jewish use (Jiryis). "Between ourselves", wrote Joseph Weitz, key architect of Zionist colonisation in Palestine, in 1940, "[It] must be clear that there is no room for both peoples together in this country: We shall not achieve our goal of being an independent people with the Arabs in this small country. The only solution is Eretz Israel, at least the west part of Eretz Israel, without Arabs...And there is no other way than to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries, transfer all of them, not one village, not one tribe should be left, and the transfer must aim at Iraq, Syria and even Transjordan..." (quoted in Hirst)

How is it possible for a people who had gone through the experience of transfer and the mass murder of six million Jews and the Nazi Holocaust to commit in turn war crimes against another people?

It is possible because the Zionist solution to the problem of anti-Semitism and the anti-Semitic solution of the Jewish question, each from their respective and separate motivation and ideological point of departure, can converge into agreement on practicalities. The Zionist argument claims that Jewish communities cannot achieve freedom and equality as minorities in non-Jewish societies. The anti-Semitic argument claims that non-Jewish societies will forever be afflicted by malaise and deterioration so long as they have minority Jewish communities in their midst. Both Zionist and anti-Semite can, and do, agree that Jews have no place as minorities in non-Jewish societies; both Zionist and anti-Semite can, and do agree on the necessity, indeed the desirability, of the mass transfer of minority Jewish communities from the body of non-Jewish societies into a segregated territory.

Motivated by the ideological perspective outlined above, official collaboration between the Zionist organisation and the Nazi authorities took place against the backdrop of the mass annihilation of the Nazi Holocaust in order to promote the selective transfer of Jews from Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe to Palestine. Sections of the leadership of the Zionist organisation, those sections spearheading the struggle to establish a Zionist Jewish state in Palestine, chose to collaborate with the Nazi authorities of the Third Reich and subject all considerations to the misplaced primacy of the establishment of a Zionist Jewish state in Palestine rather than to the primacy of the mass rescue of Jews from annihilation. At the time, Yitzhak Gruenbaum, Head of the Rescue Committee of the World Zionist Organisation/Jewish Agency made the following statement:

And it this time in Eretz Israel there are comments: 'Do not put Eretz Israel in priority in this difficult time, in time of destruction of European Jewry'. I do not accept such as a saying. And when some asked me: 'Can you not give money from KEREN HAYESSOD (Zionist Foundation Fund designated to fund Jewish settlements in Palestine) to save Jews in the Diaspora?' I said: 'No'. And again I say: 'No'. I know that people wonder why I had to say it. Friends tell me that even if these things are right there is no need to reveal them in public in time of sorrow and concern. I disagree. I think we have to stand before this wave that is putting Zionist activity into the second row...And because of this people called me an anti-Semite and concluded that I am guilty, because we do not give priority to rescue actions...I think it is necessary to say here: Zionism is over everything..." (Quoted in Brenner)

Motivated by such an ideological perspective, sections of the Zionist leadership, and most emphatically sections of the Labour-Zionist leadership, resolved at least in some critical cases (e.g.. Hungary, Czechoslovakia) to pay the price of silence, demanded by the Nazi authorities for such collaboration, and consciously abandoned the mass of European Jewish communities to death and destruction (Hecht; Shonfield). A Zionist political leadership and a Zionist political organisation willing to compromise its own people in this way in order to promote its political programme of the establishment of a Zionist Jewish state in Palestine, would have no hesitation in perpetrating war crimes against another people if it was deemed necessary to achieve this aim (Allen).

This is how it is possible.

The mass expulsion of the Palestinian people from their homeland by the Israeli army ('transfer') was perpetrated in 1948-49 in an effort by the newly declared Israeli state authorities to secure Jewish demographic majority in the territories which came under their sovereignty. Through perpetrating policies of grievous war crimes the Jewish state of Israel designated by the United Nations to be a bi-national state (UN Partition Plan, Resolution 181 of 1947) was transformed through the 1948-9 orchestrated mass 'transfer' of the Palestinian people into a Zionist state of Israel with a Jewish demographic majority.

Following the 1967 war the continuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and against the backdrop of the Palestinian intifada since 1987, current renewed discussion in Israel on the subject is serious and dangerous in the extreme. Thus, a MOLEDET 1987 election information pamphlet has the following to say:;

Already in 1917 when the Arabs of the Land of Israel rejected the Balfour Declaration, Max Nordau and Israeli Zangwill, Herzl's colleagues, suggested that the one half million Arab inhabitants be transferred to Arab states and given compensation for their rehabilitation. Berl Katznelson, of the leadership of the Labour movement at the time, supported their proposal. The transfer of Arabs to an Arab state was also proposed by a British Royal Commission [the Peel Commission of 1937] which arrived in the country in the wake of the 1936-9 disturbances (the first intifada). It was due to the idea of transfer that David Ben-Gurion agreed to the partition of the country. Also the British Labour Party conference in 1945, prior to the end of World War II, passed a resolution in favour of transfer of the Arabs of the Land of Israel to Iraq. This took place effectively after the Arabs rejected the UN resolution (1947) regarding the establishment of a Jewish state. They launched a second intifada, following which our war of liberation took place. It resulted in the fleeing of the Arabs, who thereby made real the idea of transfer in practice. Since the 1967 war the idea of transfer was not taken off [the national agenda] as a possible solution to the demographic problem. Now a significant proportion of the people regard transfer as almost the only solution (MOLEDET, Homeland, Elections Manifesto, circa 1987)

This is how it is possible.

Adapted from Uri Davis, THE STATE OF PALESTINE. Forthcoming in Ithaca Press, London 1990.


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Arendt, Hannah: Eichmann in Jerusalem. A Report on the Banality of Evil, Faber and Faber, London, 1963

Brenner, Lenni: Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, A Reappraisal, Croom Helm, London, 1983

Flapan, Simha: The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities, Croom Helm, London, 1987

Hecht, Ben: Perfidy, Julian Messner, New York, 1961

Hirst, David: The Gun and the Olive Branch, Faber and Faber, 1977

Jiryis, Sabri: The Arabs in Israel, Monthly Review Press, New York, 1976

Kahane, Meir: Forty Years, in Yair Kotler, Heil Kahane, Adama Books, New York, 1986

Kana'ana, Sharif and Beer Yizhar: "Collect Every Detail - Rescue Every Remnant" Ha'aretz, 10 Jan. 1990

Katz, Shmuel: The Battleground: Facts and Fantasy in Palestine, Bantam Books, New York, 1973

Khalidi, Walid: From Haven to Conquest, Institute of Palestine Studies, Beirut/Washington, 1971

Peters, Joan: From Time Immemorial - The Origin of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine, Michael Joseph, London, 1984

Sayigh, Rosemary: Palestinians, From Peasants to Revolutionaries, Zed Books, London, 1977

Shahak, Israel: 'Arab Villages Destroyed in Israel - A Report', in Uri Davis & Norton (eds.), Documents from Israel - Readings for Critique of Zionism, Ithaca Press, London, 1975

Shonfield, Rabbi Moshe: The Holocaust Victims Accuse, Neturei Karta of USA, New York, 1977


Uri Davis is a Palestinian Jewish socialist and anti-Zionist. Academic and civil rights activist of dual Israeli and British citizenship. Author and associate author of several books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most recently Israel- an Apartheid State and the Jewish National Fund. Founder member of RETURN.