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May 17, 2011

May 15: Remembering the Palestinian Nakba

At least 300,000 essentially defenseless Palestinians were evicted from their homes and properties by Jewish forces and forced to abandon their other assets and personal possessions during the just over five months between passage of the UN General Assembly's Partition Plan (Resolution 181, 29 November 1947) and the declaration of the state of Israel on 14 May 1948, effective May 15. (Charles D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1988, p. 145) This was accomplished through force of arms, intimidation and acts of terror, including rape and several massacres.

It is important to note that the Partition Plan was recommendatory only, i.e., no status in law.  Contrary also to the still in effect British Class A Mandate for Palestine, international law and the UN Charter, the Partition Plan was never adopted by the Security Council.

For the record: According to historian Rosemarie M. Esber, "Zionist Jewish military organizations forced more than 400,000 Palestinian Arab inhabitants from their homes in about 225 villages, towns and cities in Palestine" before 14 May 1948 (Under the Cover of War: The Zionist Expulsion of the Palestinians, Arabicus Books & Media, LLC, 2009)

The ongoing and accelerating expulsion of Palestinians necessitated military intervention in Palestine by outnumbered and outgunned Arab state armies (for a detailed comparative analysis of Israeli and Arab forces, see Harvard Professor Emeritus Walid Khalidi‘s From Haven to Conquest, Washington, The Institute for Palestine Studies, 1987, pp. 856-871).

Indeed, the capabilities of the Arab state armies were privately ridiculed by U.S. Secretary of State George Marshal and Warren Austin, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities, Pantheon, 1987, pp. 191-92)

During the ensuing war Israel defeated the Arab state armies as well as the small and poorly armed mainly Palestinian volunteer Arab Liberation Army (ALA) and the disorganized Palestinian irregulars.

By the end of 1948, Israel controlled 78% of Palestine, expelled a further 450,000-500,000 Palestinians and went on to demolish about 450 of their towns and villages.  According to Walter Eytan, then Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the “real number” of Palestinians driven out of their homeland in 1948 “was close to 800,000." (Norman Finkelstein, "Debate on the 1948 Exodus" Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XXI, number 1, Autumn, 1991, p. 86.)

For the record:  When the Partition Plan was passed, the total population of British Mandate Palestine was approximately 2,115,000 of which about 31 per cent consisted of Jews who owned only 5.67 per cent of the land area, including just over 15 per cent of its cultivable area. (Sami Hadawi, Bitter Harvest: A Modern History of Palestine, Olive Branch Press, 1991, pp. 49-50) 90 per cent of the Jewish population was comprised of foreigners (primarily from Poland, Russia and Central Europe) and their offspring born in Palestine.

The remaining ten per cent of the Jewish population consisted of native anti-Zionist Palestinian/Arab Jews.  Only one-third of the Jewish immigrants had acquired citizenship and tens of thousands were illegal immigrants. (Clifford A. Wright, Facts and Fables: The Arab-Israeli Conflict, Kegan Paul International, London and New York, 1989, p. 114, several sources cited)

Thus, despite massive Jewish immigration during the British Mandate, indigenous Palestinians still made up 69 per cent of the population and owned 94.33 per cent of the land, including state land. 

Shockingly, however, the Partition Plan recommended that 56% of Palestine be granted to the proposed Jewish state and only 42% to the proposed Arab/Palestinian state. (The remaining 2%, comprised of all of Jerusalem, i.e., Old and New Cities and environs along with Bethlehem was to be an international zone or corpus separatum under UN jurisdiction.)  As if this were not unjust enough for Palestinians, about 407,000 Palestinians lived in 400 villages within the proposed Jewish state and they owned 80% of its most cultivable areas. (As events soon revealed, their presence was not wanted.)

Significantly, given the turmoil and violence in Palestine as a consequence of the Partition Plan, when the state of Israel was declared on 14 May 1948, the UN General Assembly was in the midst of a U.S. instigated debate aimed at shelving the Partition Plan in favour of a UN Trusteeship for Palestine.  U.S. Secretary of State George Marshal was very much in favour of a trusteeship and was utterly opposed to President Truman’s ultimate decision to recognize de facto a Jewish state in Palestine.

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M. Elmasry

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