100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration: Palestine – Ethnic cleansing and dispossession (Excerpt)


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It was the second of November 1917 when Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary, issued his infamous declaration in the form of a letter written to Lord Rothschild. It read:

“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people…, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

It is interesting to note that the four-letter word “Arab” occurs not once in this document. To refer to the Arabs who constituted, at the time, 92 per cent of the population of Palestine and owned 98 per cent of its land, as the non-Jewish communities is not merely preposterous but deliberately fraudulent. I do not need to tell you that this letter has no shred of legality, as Palestine did not belong to Balfour to assume such acts of generosity. Dr. Arnold Toynbee described the British role, in issuing this document, accurately:

“We were taking it upon ourselves to give away something that was not ours to give. We were promising rights of some kind in the Palestinian Arabs’ country to a third party.”

Similarly, the well-known Jewish writer, Arthur Koestler, summed it up aptly when he described the Balfour Declaration as a document in which “one nation promised a second the country of a third.”

On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly passed its Resolution No. 181, recommending the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state, in 56 per cent of the land; an Arab state in 42 per cent of the land; and an International Zone in Jerusalem. At the time, the Jews, a large proportion of them recent or illegal immigrants, constituted one-third of the population of Palestine and owned 5.6 per cent of its land. In the area that was apportioned to the Jewish state, half of the population was Arab (Muslims and Christians) and half was Jewish.

It is interesting to note that times have not changed since 1947 when the United States got the General Assembly to delay a vote “to gain time to bring, by coercion, certain Latin American, Asian and African countries into line with its own views.” Under-Secretary of State Sumner Welles stated:

By direct order of the White House, every form of pressure, direct and indirect, was used to make sure that the necessary majority would be gained.

Subsequently, fighting erupted between Arabs and Jews and by the end of the fighting in early 1949, Israel had occupied 78 per cent of Palestine and approximately 750,000 Palestinians were driven out or fled in terror from their homes.

The genesis of this exodus emanates from the inherent concept of the Zionist ideology of creating a pure Jewish state in Palestine, free of Arabs. The current powerful political agenda that exists in Israel today, as the policy of “transfer of Palestinians” from Israel and the occupied territories, is not a new one. Theodor Herzl wrote in his diaries in 1897, on the occasion of the First World Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, where he presented his plans to create a Jewish state in Palestine, that:

“We shall try to spirit the penniless (Arab) population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country… Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discretely and circumspectly.”[1]

Ben-Gurion, in a speech to the 20th Zionist Congress plenum in Zurich on August 7, 1937, stated:

“Transfer of (Arab) inhabitants happened in the past, in the (Jerzeel) Valley, in the Sharon (i.e. the Coastal Plain) and in other places. We know of the Jewish National Fund’s actions in this regard. Now the transfer will have to be carried out on a different scale altogether. In many parts of the country new Jewish settlement will not be possible unless there is transfer of the Arab peasantry… The transfer of the population is what makes possible a comprehensive (Jewish) settlement plan. Thankfully, the Arab people have large, empty areas (outside Palestine). Jewish power in the country, which is continuously growing, will also increase our possibilities to carry out the transfer on a large scale. You must remember, that this method contains an important humane and Zionist idea, to shift parts of a people (i.e., the Palestine Arabs) to their own country and to settle empty lands [in Syria, Transjordan and Iraq].”[2]

Here we go again! Expelling people from their homeland, we are now told, is a “humane Zionist idea.” Professor Israel Shahak said it all:

You cannot have humane Zionism; it is a contradiction in terms.

In a letter in 1937 to his son, Amos, Ben-Gurion confided that when the Jewish state comes into being, “We will expel the Arabs and take their places.” And while visiting the newly-conquered Nazareth in July 1948, Ben-Gurion exclaimed: “Why are there so many Arabs left here? Why didn’t you expel them?

Joseph Weitz, who was the Jewish Agency chief representative, reported in the September 29, 1967 issue of Davar, organ of the Histadrut, that he and other Zionist leaders concluded, in 1940, that there was “no room for both peoples together in this country.” The achievement of Zionist objectives, he realized, required “a Palestine, or at least Western Palestine (west of the Jordan River) without Arabs.” He wrote that it was necessary “to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries. To transfer all of them and only after such transfer would the country be able to absorb millions of our brethren.” This, in essence, is the foundation for the policy of “ethnic cleansing” that the Zionist forces adopted in 1948 to remove, by massacre, or the threat of massacre, and by psychological warfare, virtually the entire Arab population in the area of the Palestinian territory that they conquered by military means, 78 per cent of Palestine.

The 1948 Nakba – the forcible mass expulsion of the Palestinians by the Zionists

The massacre on April 9, 1948 of the village of Deir Yassin near Jerusalem, where 250 men, women and children were butchered and massacred in cold blood by the Irgun Zwei Leumi terrorist gang, with the approval of the Jerusalem commander of the official Zionist forces; the Haganah, David Shaltiel, as recently documented by Yitzhak Levi, a veteran Israeli intelligence officer, was instrumental in this expulsion. Ironically, the village of Deir Yassin had made a peace agreement with their Jewish neighbours of Givat Shaul. This massacre was not unique and numerous similar massacres were carried out by Zionist forces and Israeli forces during that war. A recent article in the Tel Aviv newspaper, Hair, of May 6, 1992, by Guy Erlich, documents evidence collected by the American Jewish journalist Dan Kortzman, author of Genesis 1948, and the history researcher Ariyeh Yitzhaki, of at least twenty large massacres of Arabs and about a hundred more massacres committed by Israeli forces. Yitzhaki states:

“For many Israelis it was easy to cling to the false claim that the Arabs left the country because that was what their leaders ordered. That is a total lie. The fundamental cause for the flight of the Arabs was their fear of Israelis’ violence, and that fear had a basis in reality.”

History researcher Uri Milstein, celebrated in Israel as the dispeller of myths, confirms Yitzhaki’s evaluation regarding the volume of the massacres and even goes further:

“If Yitzhaki claims that there were murders in almost every village, then I say that up to the inception of Israel every event of fighting ended in a massacre of Arabs. There were massacres of Arabs in all of Israel’s wars, but I have no doubt that the War of Independence was the dirtiest.

In the village of Duweima, an Arab village near Hebron, occupied without a battle by Battalion 89 of the 8th Brigade, some 80-100 civilians were murdered in cold blood by the occupiers. Later more civilians were murdered. In the village of Safsaf:

“Fifty-two men were tied with a rope. Lowered into a pit and shot. Ten were killed. Women begged for mercy. Three cases of rape. A 14-year-old raped and four others killed.”

The policy of massacre was complemented by a campaign of psychological warfare, initiating terror to force the Palestinians to flee. Leo Heiman, Israeli Army Reserve officer who fought in 1948, wrote in Marine Corp Gazette in June 1964:

“As uncontrolled panic spread through all Arab quarters, the Israelis brought up jeeps with loudspeakers which broadcast recorded ‘horror sounds.’ These included shrieks, wails and anguished moans of Arab women, the wail of sirens and the clang of fire alarm bells, interrupted by a sepulchral voice calling out in Arabic. ‘Save your souls all ye faithful: the Jews are using poison gas and atomic weapons. Run for your lives in the name of Allah.’“

More subtle methods of psychological warfare were used by Yigal Allon, the Commander of the Palmach, an elite Haganah force, who later became Israeli Foreign Minister. He wrote in Ha Sepher Ha Palmach in 1948:

“I gathered all of the Jewish mukhtars (headmen), who have contact with Arabs in different villages, and asked them to whisper in the ears of some Arabs that a great Jewish reinforcement has arrived in Galilee and that it is going to burn all of the villages of Huleh. They should suggest to these Arabs, as their friends, to escape while there is still time. The rumour spread in all the areas of the Huleh. The tactic reached its goal completely.”

When the Arabs failed to flee, as required, a combination of terror and physical expulsion was used, as in the case of the cities of Lydda and Ramleh, which were occupied July 10, 1948. Yitzhak Rabin, recorded in his memoirs, published in the New York Times (October 23, 1979):

“While the fighting was still in progress we had to grapple with the problem dealing with the fate of the civilian population, numbering some 50,000. We walked outside, Ben Gurion accompanying us. Allon repeated his question. “What is to be done with the population?” B.G. waved his hand in a gesture which said, ‘Drive them out!’“

One of the Israeli war crimes is relevant here. After the surrender of Lydda, a group of Palestinian men took refuge in the small Dahmash mosque. The commander of the Palmach’s Third Battalion, Moshe Kalman, gave an order to fire several missiles at the mosque. The force that attacked the mosque was surprised at the lack of resistance. It found the remains of the Arab fighters stuck to the mosque walls. A group of 20 to 50 of the city’s residents was then brought to clean the mosque and to bury the remains. When they finished their work, they were also shot, and thrown into the graves they themselves had dug. American Jewish journalist Dan Kortzman learned of the event from Moshe Kalman while working on his book, Genesis 1948, describing the War of Independence:

Rabin and his officers proceeded to drive these 50-60,000 civilians away from their homes in terror, with low-flying airplanes over their heads shooting the occasional person and forcing them to run. The sight of the terror-stricken men, women and children fleeing in horror in the midday sun of the hot summer, having run approximately 25 km to the village of Beit Nuba, where I saw them with my own eyes, is a sight not to be forgotten. …

It is perhaps relevant to note that this piece of Zionist propaganda [that the Palestinians left their homes voluntarily and in response to broadcasts by their leaders] was first demolished by Dr. Erskine Childers who examined the American and British monitoring records of all Middle East broadcasts throughout 1948. He reported in the Spectator 1961:

“There was not a single order or appeal or suggestion about evacuation from Palestine from any Arab radio station, inside or outside Palestine, in 1948. There is repeated monitored record of Arab appeals even flat orders, to civilians of Palestine to stay put.”

The historical record clearly demonstrates that the Palestine refugee problem was created in response to a clear Zionist policy of cleansing the land of Palestine from its own people. Chaim Weizmann, the first President of Israel, described this process with a great deal of satisfaction as the “miraculous clearing of the land.” However, the UN mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden, stated in a report to the UN:

It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine, and, indeed, at least offer the threat of permanent replacement of the Arab refugees who have been rooted in the land for centuries.”

Count Bernadotte paid heavily for stating this obvious principle and was assassinated by the Stern terrorist gang, on direct orders of Yitzhak Shamir, on September 17, 1948 in Jerusalem. The United Nations General Assembly proceeded, however, to resolve on December 11, 1948, in its Resolution No. 194:

“Refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date and those wishing not to return should be compensated for their property.”

The implementation of this Resolution, together with Resolution No. 181 of November 29, 1947, were reaffirmed and were made conditions for the admittance of Israel to UN membership in Resolution No. 273 of May 11, 1949.

Despite this and despite repeated UN General Assembly and Security Council Resolutions demanding the implementation of Resolution No. 194 for the return of the refugees, Israel continues to defy this international will and in essence, it can be argued that its membership in the United Nations is illegitimate, in view of its refusal to comply with the conditions that were imposed upon it. Not only that, Israel proceeded in 1967 after the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, to expel over 300,000 more Palestinian refugees from their homes or refugee camps. Many of them were in essence expelled a second time. Security Council Resolution No. 237 of June 14, 1967, called upon the government of Israel to facilitate the return of these refugees, and similar UN General Assembly resolutions to that effect remain unimplemented.

It is clear, for anybody, who has witnessed the history of that area, to see that the Palestinians remain determined to return to their homeland and their struggle continues despite repeated massacres and an orchestrated policy of genocide denying them their national existence. Their sacrifices have been documented and continue, despite the Israeli policy of state terrorism and continuing bombardment of their refugee camps in Lebanon and the oppressive practices that are employed against them under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. The late Dr. Frank Epp, described the tragedy of the Palestinian people in these terms:

“Rarely has a people suffered so much injustice so passively for so long, waiting for the powers that be to redress the inflicted wrong.”

Similarly, it was the distinguished philosopher, Lord Bertrand Russell who stated, addressing an international conference in 1970, the following:

“The tragedy of the people of Palestine is that their country was “given” by a foreign power to another people for the creation of a new state. The result was that many hundreds of thousands of innocent people were made permanently homeless. With every new conflict their numbers increased. How much longer is the world willing to endure this spectacle of wanton cruelty? It is abundantly clear that the refugees have every right to the homeland from which they were driven, and the denial of this right is at the heart of the continuing conflict. No people anywhere in the world would accept being expelled en masse from their country; how can anyone require the people of Palestine to accept a punishment which nobody else would tolerate? A permanent just settlement of the refugees in their homeland is an essential ingredient of any genuine settlement in the Middle East.”


This essay, reprinted from the Dossier on Palestine (Halifax: Shunpiking Magazine/New Media Publications, 2002), was originally presented as a lecture at the Conference on Palestine, Vancouver, May 23, 1998.

*Dr Zayid, a resident of Halifax, is the president of Canada Palestine Association, which he formed in 1978, and the author of two books on Zionism.


  1. From R. Patai, ed., The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, Vol I.
  2. Benny Morris, “Looking Back: A personal assessment of the Zionist Experience,” Tikkun. 13: 40-49,1998.

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