Livia Rokach - Israel's sacred terrorism
CHAPTER 9 Disperse the Palestinian Refugees ....
One important reason for the insistence with which Israel pursued its retaliation policy was the desire of the Zionist ruling establishment to exert permanent pressure on the Arab states to remove the Palestinian refugees of the 1949 war from the proximity of the armistice lines, and to disperse them through the Arab world. This was not due, in the early fifties, to military considerations: as we have seen, and as Dayan's above quotation clearly demonstrates, the Israeli government was more interested in the heightening of border tensions than in their elimination. Furthermore, its lack of concern for the security of the Jewish border population was as cynical as its own promotion of a sensation of danger among the settlers through provocation and false propaganda. Moreover, in those years no organized Palestinian resistance movement existed. It was all too obvious that the low level of guerrilla-type activities permitted by the Arab regimes was intended more to reduce the tensions created inside their countries by the presence of the refugees, and to keep the issue on the agenda in the international arena, than to prepare for a war of liberation in Palestine.20 But the presence of the Palestinian refugees along the armistice lines in Gaza and the West Bank was not only a constant reminder of the illegitimacy of lsrael's territorial conquests in 1948-49 and of its violation of UN resolutions calling for repatriation, it was also a living, physical landmark along borders which Israel had no intention of accepting as definite limits to its territorial expansion. In other words, as long as masses of Palestinians were still concentrated on Palestinian soil, the Israeli rulers argued, there was both the risk of international pressure in support of their claim to return to their homes, and little likelihood for international permission for Israel to cancel the geopolitical concept of' Palestine entirely, substituting it with that of "Eretz-lsrael."
It must be underlined at this point that Sharett's position on the Palestinian question did not differ, except regarding the use of military methods to disperse them, from that of the "activists." He had totally rejected Count Bernadotte's repeated pleas in 1948 for a return of tile refugees to their homes (Folke Bernadotte To Jerusalem, London, 1951). A year later, he ridiculed the position of the General Zionist Party in favor of a Palestinian independent state in the West Bank and against an agreement with King Abdullah on the division of the West Bank between Israel and Jordan (Divrei, Haknesset, Jerusalem, 1949). In his Diary, there are numerous references to negotiations attempted by his senior aides at the foreign ministry with Arab representatives or exiles aimed at resettling the Palestinians in countries such as Libya, Syria or Iraq. (Among others, Mustafa Abdul Mun'im, Deputy Secretary General of the Arab League is quoted by Sharett on May 23, 1954, as having affirmed that "the refugees should be settled in the neighboring countries, or, if capital is available, in Sinai.") On June 30, 1954, Sharett met with two representatives of a Union of Palestinian Refugees, Aziz Shehadeh from Jaffa and Mahmud Yahia from Tantura, in regard to the payment of compensation. Finally, on May 28, 1955, Sharett's ideas on the question of the Palestinian refugees were unequivocally expressed in his instructions to lsrael's ambassadors in connection with the Security Pact offered to Israel by the U.S., which the foreign minister suspected might include some conditions: "There may be an attempt to reach peace by pressuring us to make concessions on the question of territory and the refugees. I warned [the ambassadors] against any thought of the possibility of returning a few tens of thousands of refugees, even at the price of peace." And this was the "liberal" Zionist leader who claimed to be an expert on Arab affairs because he had lived for two years, during his adolescence, in an Arab village in the West Bank; because he knew Arabic-, because he had lived in Syria during his military service in the Turkish army. On the whole, his attitude toward the Palestinians is well illustrated by a note in his Diary on November 15, 1953. It refers to a report made that day to the cabinet meeting by Colonel Yitzhak Shani, then chief military governor of the Arab minority in Israel. (As is obvious, those whom Sharett calls infiltrators were forcefully expelled Palestinian Arabs trying to return to their home villages or to reestablish contacts with their families who remained under Israeli rule.)
In the last three years [Shani reported] 20,000 infiltrators settled in Israel, in addition to 30,000 who returned immediately after the war.... Only because these 20,000 have not been given permanent documents has the brake been put on the flow of infiltration directed toward settlement. To abolish the military government would mean to open the border areas to undisturbed infiltration and to increasing penetration toward the interior of the country. Even as things are, around 19,000 Arabs in Galilee are in possession of permanent permits to move freely around but only to the West and the South and not toward the North and the East.... it is true that the troublesome problem of the evacuees must be liquidated through a permanent resettlement, but the evacuees firmly refuse to settle on land belonging to refugees who are on the other side of the border.... Even when stone houses are built for them, they refuse to settle in them if they are built on absentee land.... The Arabs who continue to live on their land enjoy advantages, since their production costs are much lower than those of the Jews. In addition they are exempt from spending money and engaging manpower for vigilance, as the infiltrators don't touch their property .... It may be assumed that after this lecture the "General Zionists" demand that the military government be abolished would finally be silenced. (15 November 1953, 150)
Throughout 1953-54 Sharett periodically referred in his diary to proposals made by Ben Gurion, Dayan, Lavon and others to present Egypt with an ultimatum: either it evacuates all the Palestinian refugees from Gaza and disperses them inside Egypt, or else. The description of the Cabinet discussion in the last week of March 1955 on Ben Gurion's demand for the occupation of Gaza, offers more details:
The Defense Minister's proposal is that Israel declare invalid the armistice agreement with Egypt, and thus resume its "right" to renew the (1948-49) war .... I have condemned the twisted logic in Ben Gurion's reliance on the violation of the armistice agreement by Egypt, in order to justify the declaration on our part that this agreement does not exist any move and thus we are allowed to resume the war.... Let us assume that there are 200,000 Arabs [in the Gaza Strip]. Let us assume that half of them will run or will be made to run to the Hebron Hills. Obviously they will run away without anything and shortly after they establish for themselves some stable environment, they will become again a riotous and homeless mob. It is easy to imagine the outrage and hate and bitterness and the desire for revenge that will animate them.... And we shall still have I 00,000 of them in the Strip, and it is easy to imagine what means we shall resort to in order to repress them and what waves of hatred we shall create again and what kind of headlines we shall receive in the international press. The first round would be: Israel aggressively invades the Gaza Strip. The second: Israel causes again the terrified flight of masses of Arab refugees. (27 March 1955, 865)
In yet another six-hour cabinet meeting Sharett continues his arguments:
What we succeeded in achieving in 1948, cannot be repeated whenever we desire it. Today we must accept our existing frontiers and try to relax the tensions with our neighbors to prepare the ground for peace and strengthen our relations with the Powers.... Finally I proved that the occupation of the Gaza Strip will not resolve any security problem, as the refugees will continue to constitute the same trouble, and even more so, as their hate will be rekindled by the atrocities that we shall cause them to suffer during the occupation. (29 March 1955, 873)
Ben Gurion's speech was full of anger against those who disagree with him and who are in his opinion incapable of seeing the fatal forecast and cannot understand that we can only be delivered by daring action, if it will be performed in time, before the opportunity is missed. . . . The problem of the refugees is indeed a pain in the neck, but nevertheless we shall chase them to Jordan. (ibid., 874-875)