Peter Beinart’s new book, The Crisis of Zionism, tries hard—really, really hard—to distinguish between what he calls “non-democratic Israel”, i.e. the occupation and settlements, and “democratic Israel”, which seems somehow in his and other liberal Zionists’ brains as immune from the theft, murder, and grinding ethnic cleansing of the big-o Occupation.

It’s a charming but silly, ahistorical attitude. The fiction of “democratic Israel”, based on a solid Jewish demographic majority, was artificially constructed via violent as well as legalistic ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Consider this story, as recounted by a Jewish soldier present at the time of the massacres in al-Duwayima, Palestine, 1948:

“I wish to submit to you an eyewitness report given to me by a soldier who was in al-Duwayma on the day following its occupation… The man is one of us [member of the United Workers’ Party (MAPAM)]…

“He opened his heart to me because there are not many hearts these days that are willing to listen. He arrived in al-Duwayma immediately after its occupation. The conquering army was the 89th battalion… They killed some 80–100 Arabs, women and children. The children were killed by smashing their skulls with clubs. There was not a single house without dead. The second wave of the army consisted of the battalion of the soldier who gave this eyewitness report… In the village there remained Arab women and men who were put in houses without food or drink. Then the sappers came to blow up the houses. One officer order a sapper to put the two old women into the house he was about to blow up. The sapper refused, and said that he would obey only such orders as were handed down to him by his immediate commander. So the officer ordered his own soldiers to put the women in, and the atrocity was carried out. Another soldier boasted he had raped an Arab women and then shot her. Another Arab woman with a day-old baby was employed in cleaning jobs in the yard… She worked for one or two days in the service, and then she was shot, together with her baby…

Cultured and well-mannered commanders who are considered good fellows… have turned into low murderers, and this happened not on the storm of the battle and blind passion, but because of a system of expulsion and annihilation. The fewer Arabs that remain the better.”

Quoted by Eyal Kafkafi, ‘A Ghetto Attitude in the Jewish State’, Davar, 6 September 1979, as cited by Uri Davis in Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for the Struggle Within.

This is why when Israeli right-wingers flyer Jerusalem with ads saying “All of Israel is a settlement”, they are way more precise and honest than is Beinart about the brutal history of Zionism. The difference between the land-obsessed colonialism, ethnic cleansing and violence of “democratic” and “non-democratic” Israel is merely the pace at which the crime is committed.

This is why the artificial distinction between “democratic” and “nondemocratic” Israel can only exist through a historical amnesia that “liberal Zionists” seem far more willing to make—surprise!—than Palestinians.

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Aafter an overly long hiatus from Hybrid States due to extreme time pressure in other fields of my life, I read Gershom Gorenberg’s excerpt from his new book The Unmaking of Israel, which deals, ironically enough, with the making of Israel via the removal of 80 percent of the non-Jewish, indigenous population. A response to his rather odd arguments was to be a perfect re-introduction to Hybrid States activity.

But then Noam Sheizaf wrote the piece for me. Sheizaf highlights the weak and frankly silly assertion, made by Gorenberg, that early 20th century Zionists could not have been ethnic cleansers because of the existence of a little committee known as the Situation Committee. This group outlined plans for running the country-to-be, and these plans included provision of education and health services to Arab communities. In Gorenberg’s strangely uncritical reading, this constitutes “strong evidence” against ethnic cleansing.

Sheizaf writes:

Gorenberg goes on to quote plans made by the Situation Committee for civil services in the new state of Israel which include the Arab population; this is the “strong evidence to the opposite” he is referring to. Yet the reason “evidence [for plans of transfer] is missing,” is because Israel has never released these bits in the archives, like it did with most documents from that time. So the public papers reveal what’s necessary to be revealed and conceal the rest – and I have a feeling Gorenberg is falling for this trap. More importantly, by concentrating on the debate in the Jewish leadership before the war, Gorenberg omits the decisions on this issues that were made during the war.


These paragraphs create the impression that in some cases, local initiatives by commanders led to forced evacuations, but it wasn’t policy. Yet we know for example that by early July 1948, Ben-Gurion had ordered the army to expel the entire populations of the Palestinian towns Ramle and Lod. The orders were given to Yigal Alon, and carried out by Yitzhak Rabin. Many of the refugees were looted by IDF soldiers as they were leaving their homes (see for reference Benny Morris, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli war, p.317 of the Hebrew edition; in a footnote Morris states that there is a censored part in the government’s meeting protocols dealing with the evacuation). This is the most famous case; there were others.

But Sheizaf lets Gorenberg off the hook too easily. Although many of the most sensitive records remain classified, we do know that the Haganah had conducted detailed cartographic work on Palestinian villages and had precise estimates of the Palestinian population across regions, as well as where there were real or imagined pockets of “resistance” to Zionist plans. We also know of the infamous Plan Dalet, which instructed military commanders to preemptively destroy (via “setting fire to, blowing up, and planting mines in the debris”) population centers “difficult to control continuously”. Plan Dalet specifically targets not only sites that might field “regular and semi-regular forces”, but even those that might be used by irregular, “small forces”, which can mean just about anything, as the liberal interpretation by military commanders demonstrates.

The most shocking omission from Gorenberg’s account of 1948, given that his entire argument rests on the existence of the Situation Committee, is his non-discussion of the Transfer Committee. I asked Gorenberg via Twitter whether his book discusses the Transfer Committee, but he failed to respond. This group, established days after Israel was founded, was comprised of leading Zionists such as Yosef Weitz (of the JNF), and was tasked with overseeing the permanent removal of Palestinians from their former villages. And as we know, they were extraordinarily successful in eliminating more than 400 Palestinian villages from the Zionist map, either through outright destruction or by renaming them and passing them and their material possessions on to Jews. What on earth could be considered ethnic cleansing if not this?

If Gorenberg hadn’t relied on such a puny measure of “strong evidence”, he could have found ample evidence that Zionists perpetrated an ethnic cleansing that was imagined and fantasized about for 50 years, implemented under remarkably clear military orders (even based on the limited evidence we currently know), institutionalized through an ethnic cleansing committee by another (euphemistic) name, and which created the foundational legal framework for excluding one ethnic group from civic and political life (i.e. established Israeli apartheid).

That he failed to do so says much about the ability of Gorenberg, and so-called “liberal Zionists” more generally, to confront the essential crimes of Zionism.

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Facing the biggest domestic political crisis since he took office (in the form of of the #j14 protests), Netanyahu responds in the following, all-too-predictable ways:

Colonize Palestine and spark violence, the essential political survival strategy of Israeli governments.

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Arabs live better in Israel than anywhere else, except not really

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Obsessive demography, racism, and a history of apartheid thought

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Incitement: the second most meaningless and manipulated word

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