5. Excerpt 2: “An Introduction               to the Israel Palestine Conflict” 

Image: "I Cannot Return Home"

An Introduction to the Israel
Palestine Conflict (Updated
September 2002)
Norman Finkelstein


To resolve what was called the
"Jewish question" - i.e., the
reciprocal challenges of Gentile
repulsion or anti-Semitism and
Gentile attraction or assimilation
- the Zionist movement sought in
the late nineteenth century to
create an overwhelmingly, if not
homogeneously, Jewish state in
Palestine. (1) Once the Zionist
movement gained a foothold in
Palestine through Great Britain's
issuance of the Balfour
Declaration, (2) the main
obstacle to realizing its goal
was the indigenous Arab
population. For,
on the eve of
Zionist colonization,
Palestine was overwhelmingly
not Jewish but Muslim and
Christian Arab
. (3)

Across the mainstream Zionist
it was understood
from the outset that Palestine's
indigenous Arab population
would not acquiesce in its
. "Contrary to the
claim that is often made, Zionism
was not blind to the presence of
Arabs in Palestine," Zeev
Sternhell observes. "If Zionist
intellectuals and leaders ignored
the Arab dilemma, it was chiefly
because they knew that this 
problem had no solution within
the Zionist way of thinking . . . .
[I]n general both sides understood
each other well and knew that the
implementation of Zionism could
be only at the expense of the
Palestinian Arabs." Moshe Shertok
(later Sharett) contemptuously
dismissed the "illusive hopes" of
those who spoke about a "'mutual
misunderstanding' between us
and the Arabs, about 'common
interests' [and] about 'the
possibility of unity and peace
between the two fraternal
peoples.'" "There is no example
in history," David Ben-Gurion
declared, succinctly framing
the core problem, "that a nation
opens the gates of its country,
not because of necessity . . . but
because the nation which wants
to come in has explained its
desire to it." (4) 

"The tragedy of Zionism," Walter
Laqueur wrote in his standard
history, "was that it appeared on
the international scene when
there were no longer empty
spaces on the world map." This
is not quite right. Rather it was 
no longer politically tenable to
create such spaces:
extermination had ceased to be
an option of conquest. (5)
the Zionist movement
could only choose between two
strategic options to achieve its
goal: what Benny Morris has
labeled "the way of South Africa"
- "the establishment of an
apartheid state
, with a settler
minority lording it over a large,
exploited native majority" -
the "the way of transfer"
- "you
could create a homogenous Jewish
state or at least a state with an
overwhelming Jewish majority
by moving or transferring all or
most of the Arabs out." (6)

Image of Nakba ["The Way of Transfer"]

Round One:
"The way of transfer"

In the first round of conquest,
the Zionist movement set its
sights on "the way of transfer."
For all the public rhetoric about
wanting to "live with the Arabs
in conditions of unity and
mutual honor and together
with them to turn the common
homeland into a flourishing land"
(Twelfth Zionist Congress, 1921),
the Zionists from early on were in
fact bent on expelling them. "The
idea of transfer had accompanied
the Zionist movement from its
very beginnings," Tom Segev
reports. "'Disappearing' the Arabs
lay at the heart of the Zionist
dream, and was also a necessary
condition of its existence . . . .
With few exceptions, none of the
Zionists disputed the desirability
of forced transfer - or its morality."
The key was to get the timing right.
Ben-Gurion, reflecting on the
expulsion option in the late 1930s,
wrote: "What is inconceivable in
normal times is possible in
revolutionary times; and if at this
time the opportunity is missed
and what is possible in such great
hours is not carried out - a whole
world is lost." (7)

The goal of "disappearing" the
indigenous Arab population
points to a virtual truism buried
beneath a mountain of
apologetic Zionist literature:
what spurred Palestinians'
opposition to Zionism was not
anti-Semitism in the sense of
an irrational hatred of Jews
but rather the prospect -
very real - of their expulsion.

"The fear of territorial
displacement and
dispossession," Morris reasonably
concludes, "was to be the chief
motor of Arab antagonism to
Likewise, in his
magisterial study of Palestinian
nationalism, Yehoshua Porath
suggests that the "major factor
nourishing" Arab anti-Semitism "
was not hatred for the Jews as such
but opposition to Jewish settlement
in Palestine." He goes on to argue
that, although Arabs initially
differentiated between Jews
and Zionists, it was "inevitable"
that opposition to Zionist
settlement would turn into a
loathing of all Jews: "As
immigration increased, so did
the Jewish community's
identification with the Zionist
movement . . . . The non-Zionist
and anti-Zionist factors became
an insignificant minority, and a
large measure of sophistication
was required to make the older
distinction. It was unreasonable
to hope that the wider Arab
population, and the riotous mob
which was part of it, would
maintain this distinction." (8)

From its incipient stirrings in the
late nineteenth century through
the watershed revolt in the
1930s, Palestinian resistance
consistently focused on the twin
juggernauts of Zionist conquest:
Jewish settlers and Jewish
settlements. (9) Apologetic Zionist
writers like Anita Shapira juxtapose
benign Jewish settlement against
recourse to force. (10) In fact,
settlement was force. "From the
outset, Zionism sought to employ
force in order to realize national
aspirations," Yosef Gorny observes.
"This force consisted primarily of
the collective ability to rebuild a
national home in Palestine."
Through settlement the Zionist
movement aimed - in Ben-Gurion's
words - "to establish a great Jewish
fact in this country" that was
irreversible. (emphasis in original) (11)
Moreover, settlement and armed
force were in reality seamlessly
interwoven as Zionist settlers sought
"the ideal and perfect fusion between
the plow and rifle." Moshe Dayan later
memorialized that "We are a
generation of settlers, and without 
the combat helmet and the barrel
of a gun, we will not be able to 
plant a tree or build a house." (12)
The Zionist movement inferred
behind Palestinian resistance to
Jewish settlement a generic (and
genetic) anti-Semitism - Jewish
settlers "being murdered," as
Ben-Gurion put it, "simply because
they were Jews" - in order to 
conceal from the outside world and
itself the rational and legitimate
grievances of the indigenous
population. (13) In the ensuing
bloodshed the kith and kin of Zionist
martyrs would, like relatives of 
Palestinian martyrs today, wax proud 
at these national sacrifices. "I am 
gratified," the father of a Jewish 
casualty eulogized, "that I was a 
living witness to such a historical 
event." (14) 

It bears critical notice for what
comes later that,
from the
interwar through early postwar
years, Western public opinion
was not altogether averse to
population transfer as an
expedient (albeit extreme) for
resolving ethnic conflicts
. French
socialists and Europe's Jewish 
press supported in the mid-
1930s the transfer of Jews to
Madagascar to solve Poland's
"Jewish problem." (15) The main
forced transfer before World War
II was effected between Turkey
and Greece. Sanctioned by the
Treaty of Lausanne (1923) and 
approved and supervised by the
League of Nations, this brutal
displacement of more than 1.5
million people eventually came
to be seen by much of official
Europe as an auspicious
precedent. The British cited it
in the late 1930s as a model
for resolving the conflict in
Palestine. The right-wing
Zionist leader, Vladimir
Jabotinsky, taking heart from
Nazi demographic experiments
in conquered territories (about
1.5 million Poles and Jews were
expelled and hundreds of
thousands of Germans resettled
in their place), exclaimed: "The 
world has become accustomed
to the idea of mass migrations
and has almost become fond of
them. Hitler - as odious as he is
to us - has given this idea a
good name in the world." During
the war the Soviet Union also
carried out bloody deportations
of recalcitrant minorities such
as the Volga Germans, Chechen-
Ingush and Tatars. Labor Zionists
pointed to the "positive experience" 
of the Greek-Turkish and Soviet
expulsions in support of the transfer
idea. Recalling the "success"
(Churchill) of the Greek-Turkish
compulsory transfer, the Allies at the 
Potsdam Conference (1945)
authorized the expulsion of some
13 million Germans from Central
and Eastern Europe (around 2 million
perished in the course of this
horrendous uprooting). Even the left-
wing British Labor Party advocated in
its 1944 platform that the "Arabs be
encouraged to move out" of Palestine,
as did the humanist philosopher
Bertrand Russell, to make way for
Zionist settlement. (16) 

In fact many in the enlightened
West came to view displacement
of the indigenous population of
Palestine as an inexorable
concomitant of civilization's
. The identification of
Americans with Zionism came
easily since the "social order of
the Yishuv [Jewish community
in Palestine] was built on the
ethos of a frontier society, in
which a pioneering-settlement
model set the tone." To account
for the "almost complete 
disregard of the Arab case" by 
Americans, a prominent British
Labor MP, Richard Crossman,
explained in the mid-1940s:
"Zionism after all is merely the
attempt by the European Jew to
build his national life on the soil
of Palestine in much the same
way as the American settler 
developed the West. So the
American will give the Jewish 
settler in Palestine the benefit
of the doubt, and regard the
Arab as the aboriginal who must
go down before the march of
progress." Contrasting the
"slovenly" Arabs with enterprising
Jewish settlers who had "set going
revolutionary forces in the Middle
East," Crossman himself professed
in the name of "social progress"
support for Zionism. The left-
liberal U.S. presidential candidate
in 1948, Henry Wallace, compared
the Zionist struggle in Palestine
with "the fight the American colonies 
carried on in 1776. Just as the British
stirred up the Iroquois to fight the
colonists, so today they are stirring
up the Arabs." (17) 

Come 1948, the Zionist movement
exploited the "revolutionary times"
of the first Arab-Israeli war - much
like the Serbs did in Kosovo during
the NATO attack - to expel more
than 80 percent of the indigenous
population (750,000 Palestinians),
and thereby achieve its goal of an
overwhelmingly Jewish state
, if not
yet in the whole of Palestine. (18)
Berl Katznelson, known as the
"conscience" of the Labor Zionist
movement, had maintained that
"there has never been a colonizing
enterprise as typified by justice and
honesty toward others as our work
here in Eretz Israel." In his
multivolume paean to the American
settlers' dispossession of the native
population, The Winning of the West,
Theodore Roosevelt likewise
concluded that "no other conquering
nation has ever treated savage owners
of the soil with such generosity as
has the United States." The recipients
of this benefaction would presumably
have a different story to tell. (19)

Image of the Wall: "The way of South Africa"

Round Two:
"The way of South Africa"

The main Arab (and British) fear
before and after the 1948 war was
that the Zionist movement would
use as a springboard for further
expansion the Jewish state carved
out of Palestine. (20) In fact,

Zionists pursued from early on
a "stages" strategy of conquering
Palestine by parts - a strategy it
would later vilify the Palestinians
. "The Zionist vision could not 
be fulfilled in one fell swoop,"
Ben-Gurion's official biographer
reports, "especially the
transformation of Palestine into a
Jewish state. The stage-by-stage
approach, dictated by less than
favorable circumstances, required
the formulation of objectives that
appeared to be...concessions.'" It 
acquiesced in British and United
Nations proposals for the
partition of Palestine but only
"as a stage along the path to
greater Zionist implementation"
(Ben-Gurion). (21) Chief among
the Zionist leadership's regrets
in the aftermath of the 1948 war
was its failure to conquer the
whole of Palestine. Come 1967,
Israel exploited the "revolutionary
times" of the June war to finish the 
job. (22) Sir Martin Gilbert, in his
glowing history of Israel,
maintained that Zionist leaders from
the outset conceived the conquered
territories as an undesired "burden
that was to weigh heavily on Israel."
In a highly acclaimed new study, Six
Days of War, Michael Oren suggests
that Israel's occupation of the Sinai,
Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza
"came about largely through chance,"
"the vagaries and momentum of war."
In light of the Zionist movement's 
long-standing territorial imperatives,
Sternhell more soberly observes: "The
role of occupier, which Israel began to
play only a few months after the
lightning victory of June 1967, was
not the result of some miscalculation
on the part of the rulers of that period
or the outcome of a combination of
circumstances, but another step in the
realization of Zionism's major
ambitions." (23) 

Israel confronted the same dilemma
after occupying the West Bank and
Gaza as at the dawn of the Zionist
movement: it wanted the land but
not the people. Expulsion, however,
was no longer a viable option
. In the
aftermath of the brutal Nazi
experiments with and plans for
demographic engineering,
international public opinion 
had ceased granting any
legitimacy to forced population
transfers. The landmark Fourth
Geneva Convention, ratified in
1949, for the first time
"unequivocally prohibited
deportation" of civilians under 
occupation (Articles 49, 147). (25)
Accordingly Israel moved after the
June war to impose the second of its
two options mentioned above -
apartheid. This proved to be the
chief stumbling block to a
diplomatic settlement of the Israel-
Palestine conflict. 


[Highlighting and images added by ML; credit for '48 Nakba photo: UNRWA; credit for photo of the wall: Kareem Jubran, B'Tselem.]

1. See Norman G. Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (New York: 1995) pp. 7-12. (hereafter: I&R) The envisioned Jewish state would tolerate an Arab minority of no more than 15 percent (Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel (New York: 1987), p. 104). [Other books by Norman Finkelstein are available through his website at: http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/view-books/  -ML]

2. For the crucial political repercussions for the Zionist movement of its reliance on Great Britain, see I&R, pp. 16-20. 

3. See I&R, chapter 2. 

4. Zeev Sternhell, The Founding Myths of Israel (Princeton: 1998), pp. 43-4. Benny Morris, Righteous Victims (New York: 1999), p. 91 (Shertok). Simha Flapan, Zionism and the Palestinians (London: 1979), p. 143 (Ben-Gurion). For further discussion and documentation, see I&R, pp. 98-110. 

5. Walter Laqueur, A History of Zionism (New York: 1976), p. 597 (for discussion, see I&R, p. 198, note 13). Outright annexation of conquered territory had also ceased to be a political option - which crucially accounts for Great Britain's decision to issue the Balfour Declaration (see Isaiah Friedman, The Question of Palestine (New Brunswick, NJ: 1992), esp. pp. 175, 188-9, 288). 

6. Benny Morris, "Revisiting the Palestinian exodus of 1948," in Eugene L. Rogan and Avi Shlaim (eds), The War for Palestine (Cambridge: 2001), pp. 39-40. 

7. Yehoshua Porath, The Emergence of the Palestinian-Arab National Movement, 1918-1929 (Frank Cass: 1974), p. 147 (Congress). Tom Segev, One Palestine, Complete (New York: 2001), pp.404-5; cf. pp. 403, 406-7, 508. Morris, "Revisiting the Palestinian exodus," p. 42 (Ben-Gurion); for timing, see also Shabtei Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs (Oxford: 1985), p. 35. For further discussion and documentation of Zionist expulsion plans, see I&R, pp. 16, 103-4, and esp. Morris, Righteous Victims, pp. 139-44, 168-9. 

8. Morris, Righteous Victims, p. 37. Porath, Emergence, pp. 59, 62. 

9. Neville J. Mandel, The Arabs and Zionism (Berkeley: 1976), p. 40. Yehoshua Porath, The Palestinian National Movement: From Riots to Rebellion (London: 1970), pp. 91-2, 165-6, 297. 

10. See I&R, chap. 4. 

11. Yosef Gorny, Zionism and the Arabs, 1882-1948 (Oxford: 1987), p. 176; for detailed analysis of Gorny's study, see I&R, chap. 1. Teveth, Ben-Gurion, p. 155. 

12. Uri Ben-Eliezer, The Making of Israeli Militarism (Bloomington: 1998), p. 89 ("fusion") (cf. p. 62). Martin Gilbert, Israel: A History (New York: 1998), p. 312 (Dayan). For discussion, see I&R, p. 106.

13. David Ben-Gurion, My Talks with Arab Leaders (New York: 1973), p. 3. (For Ben-Gurion's private recognition of the real motives behind Arab attacks, see I&R, pp. 108, 110.) Norman G. Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry (New York: 2000), pp. 49-53, 62-3.


14. Segev, One Palestine, p. 182.


15. Saul Friedlander, Nazi Germany and the Jews, vol. I (New York: 1997), p. 219. On related resettlement schemes, see Michael J. Cohen, Churchill and the Jews (London: 1985), pp. 236, 249-51, and Philippe Burrin, Hitler and the Jews (New York: 1989), pp. 59-61.


16. For population transfers from interwar through postwar period, see Joseph B. Schechtman, European Population Transfers, 1939-1945 (New York: 1946), and Postwar Population Transfers in Europe, 1945-1955 (Philadelphia: 1962), Alfred M. de Zayas, Nemesis at Potsdam (London: 1977), Andrew Bell-Fialkoff, Ethnic Cleansing (New York: 1996), Norman M. Naimark, Fires of Hatred (Cambridge: 2001). Segev, One Palestine, pp. 406-7 (Jabotinsky) (see also Gorny, Zionism, pp. 270-1). See I&R, p. 103 for "positive experience." Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians (Washington: 1992), pp. 157-61 (Labor Party). Bertrand Russell, "The Role of the Jewish State in Helping to Create a Better World" (1943), reprinted in Zionism (1981).


17. Sasson Sofer, Zionism and the Foundations of Israeli Diplomacy (Cambridge: 1998), p. 367 ("social order"). Richard Crossman, Palestine Mission (London: 1947), pp. 33, 152, 167. Kenneth Ray Bain, The March to Zion (London: 1979), p. 35 (Wallace) (cf. pp. 34-6 for Americans' identification of Zionist settlement with American West). For a detailed comparison between Zionist and American conquests, see I&R, pp. 89-98, and esp. Norman Finkelstein, The Rise and Fall of Palestine (Minn.: 1996), pp.104-21. (hereafter: R&F)


18. See I&R, chap. 3; for further evidence supporting the argument in this chapter, see Laila Parsons, "The Druze and the birth of Israel," in Rogan and Shlaim, War, chap. 3, and Ben-Eliezer, Making, pp. 170-81. For comparisons recently evoked by mainstream Israelis with the Serb expulsion, see Finkelstein, Holocaust, pp. 70-1.


19. Sternhell, Founding Myths, p. 173 (Katznelson; for Katznelson's effective support of forced transfer, see p. 176). Theodore Roosevelt, The Winning of the West (New York: 1889), vol. 4, p. 54.


20. Wm. Roger Louis, The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945-1951 (Oxford: 1984), pp. 117, 448, 614. Michael J. Cohen, Palestine and the Great Powers, 1945-1948 (Princeton: 1982), pp. 197-8, 201.


21. See I&R, pp. 10-11, 15, 102-3. Teveth, Ben-Gurion, p. 101 (cf. pp. 129, 187-90). For copious evidence that, even in the absence of Arab aggression, the Zionist leadership never intended to respect the 1947 Partition Resolution borders, see Ben-Eliezer, Making, pp. 144, 150-1. 22. For the June war, see I&R, chap. 5.


23. For Zionist territorial imperatives after 1948, see I&R, p. 143. Martin Gilbert, Israel: A History (New York: 1998), p. 393. Michael Oren, Six Days of War (Oxford: 2002), p. 312. Sternhell, Founding, p. 330.


24. An influential Zionist official during the 1948 expulsion, Yosef Weitz, typically warned after the conquests of the June war of the need to preserve Israel's Jewish character by keeping the "non-Jewish minority limited to 15%" (Nur Masalha, A Land Without A People (London: 1997), p. 79).


25. M. Cherif Bassiouni, Crimes Against Humanity in International Criminal Law (Boston: 1999), pp. 312 ("unequivocally"), 322 (see pp. 312-27 for the historical development of international law regarding deportation).


~Norman Finkelstein, from "An Introduction to the Israel-Palestine Conflict (Updated: September 2002)” 

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