Thursday, May 30, 2013

BDS in Australia: Future Liberal government to attack free speech and academic freedom

Dear friends,
as you may be aware, the Federal Coalition has announced that should they win the upcoming Federal election in September, they will seek to cut any funding to any individual or organisation that supports BDS.  The Coalition has made it clear that this was including cutting ALL funding to individuals and organisations not only for BDS related activities but for any research, educational or other purposes.

This is an unvanished attack on free speech and academic freedom and must be rejected outright.  Please find below my latest article on the Federal Coalition attacks.  Please feel free to share with your social media networks.

In solidarity, Kim 

Socialist Alternative Magazine: 28 May, 2013

Kim Bullimore

The federal opposition has announced that it will support sweeping attacks on academic freedom and the free speech of any individual or organisation supporting the pro-Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

According to the 25 May Weekend Australian, a “Coalition government would block all federal funds to individuals and institutions who speak out in favour of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel”. Julie Bishop, the opposition deputy leader and foreign affairs spokesperson, who has previously labelled the BDS campaign “anti-Semitic”, told the newspaper: “The Coalition will institute a policy across government that ensures no grants of taxpayers’ funds are provided to individuals or organisations which actively support the BDS campaign”. Funds would be cut not only for BDS-related activities, but also for any research, educational or other purpose.

The BDS campaign was initiated in 2005 by 171 Palestinian organisations and is inspired by the struggle of South Africans against apartheid. It is conducted in the framework of international solidarity and resistance to injustice and oppression and calls for non-violent punitive measures to be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognise the Palestinian people's right to self-determination and fully complies with international law. Far from being “anti-Semitic”, it opposes all racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

In 2011, when similar charges were made against Australian BDS campaigners, the Palestinian BDS National Committee issued a statement saying such claims were “a cynical attempt to smear BDS activism in Australia”. It noted that politicians in Australia and elsewhere were “going to great lengths to curtail freedom of expression and shield the state of Israel from any criticism”, but the real problem lay “with staunch supporters of Israel who refuse to admit that universally recognised standards of international law and social justice apply as much to Israel as they do to any other state”.

Not unique
The attempt to paint pro-BDS campaigners as anti-Semitic isn’t unique to Australia. In March, pro-Israel pressure groups in the UK suffered a major defeat when they attempted to repress Palestine solidarity activism, accusing the University and College Union of anti-Semitism. On 22 March, the UK Employment Tribunal dismissed a case brought by Academic Friends of Israel director Ronnie Fraser, who claimed that BDS was anti-Semitic and he had suffered anti-Semitic harassment as a result of the union’s pro-BDS policy. The tribunal dismissed Fraser’s complaint as “without substance” and “devoid of merit”, saying it was troubled by the claim’s “worrying disregard for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression”. Similarly, on 15 December 2011, a French court dismissed charges brought against 12 BDS activists for supposedly “inciting discrimination and racial hatred towards a group or nation”. The ruling reinforced a July French court ruling acquitting another BDS activist of similar charges.

In the wake of Israel’s Knesset (parliament) passing a law in July 2011 making it an offence to call for a boycott against Israel or its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, Amnesty International noted that such laws have “a chilling effect on freedom of expression”. Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, called the anti-BDS law “a blatant attempt to stifle peaceful dissent and campaigning by attacking the right to freedom of speech”.

Bipartisan support for Israel
The Coalition’s attack on academic freedom comes after weeks of non-stop reports, editorials and op-eds in the Australian that have explicitly sought to equate support for BDS with anti-Semitism. While the Australian, Labor and the Coalition have been making reckless and unfounded accusations against BDS, they’ve had little to say about Israel’s ongoing occupation and human rights abuses against the Palestinians.

Bishop, writing for the Australian Jewish News on 24 January, all but ignored Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies. Rather than calling for Israel to cease its illegal settlement building and blockade of Gaza, Bishop placed blame for the failed “peace” negotiations on the Palestinians.

Federal Coalition leader Tony Abbot has similarly failed to hold Israel accountable. Last December, Abbott attended the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Dialogue forum in London, along with Israel’s deputy PM and other Israeli government officials. In a speech read by Senator George Brandis on behalf of Abbott at the forum dinner, Abbott praised Israel as a “bastion of Western civilisation in a part of the world where human rights, including the value of respectful dissent, are not well appreciated”. But Israel isn’t a bastion of human rights.

According to the Israeli human rights group Adalah, more than 30 Israeli laws discriminate against Israel’s non-Jewish citizens. In June 2011, Adalah noted “a further escalation in the legislation and enactment of discriminatory and anti-democratic laws by the Israeli Knesset between January and April 2011”, including laws that “threaten the rights and harm the legitimate interests of Arab citizens of Israel on the basis of their national belonging”. Adalah stated: “The laws concern a broad range of rights including land rights, citizenship rights, the right to political participation, the rights to freedom of expression and association and the rights to a fair trial and freedom from torture and ill-treatment”.

Bipartisan support for Israel, however, is a hallmark of Australian parliamentary politics. Labor prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have given Israel unequivocal support. Just days before the 2007 federal election, Rudd announced his undying support for Israel at an event organised by the Australian Israel Cultural Exchange, saying “Israel is in my DNA”.

In 2009, when Israel began its three-week assault on Gaza, resulting in the death of more than 1400 Palestinians, including more than 300 children, Gillard defended the bombing.

Who is attacking free speech and academic freedom?
Many of Israel’s advocates who’ve sought to paint the Palestinian BDS campaign as anti-Semitic and an attack on academic freedom are now supporting the Coalition’s sweeping attack on free speech and academic freedom.

Colin Rubenstein, the executive director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, is quoted in the 25 May Australian welcoming the Coalition policy. Rubenstein, who had previously signed on to a 2011 pro-Zionist statement denouncing BDS as “antithetical to principles of academic freedom and discourag[ing] freedom of speech” is apparently happy to support suppression of academic and democratic rights in the service of Israel.

The accusation that BDS is an attack on free speech or academic freedom is of course false. The campaign focuses on institutions, not individuals, and doesn’t prevent any student or academic from carrying out research, authoring papers or participating in conferences simply because they are Jewish or Israeli. In Australia, pro-BDS groups have hosted a range of Israeli and Jewish academics and activists, including the renowned Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, who was the keynote speaker at the 2012 Australian BDS conference.

However, the double standard of Rubenstein and other pro-Israel advocates comes as no surprise. Rarely do pro-Israel advocates who denounce BDS acknowledge the right of Palestinians to academic freedom. Under Israel’s occupation, Palestinian education is severely restricted. During the 1987-1993 intifada, Israel closed most Palestinian universities, schools and kindergartens, making it illegal for Palestinians to get an education.

During the first intifada, Birzeit University was closed by Israeli military order 15 times, the longest closure lasting four and a half years. Today, Palestinians are regularly prevented from getting an education by Israel’s occupation – campuses often being raided by the Israeli military and teachers and students regularly arrested, tortured and killed. It is still exceedingly common for Palestinian teachers to conduct classes at checkpoints because they and their students can’t get to their educational institutions because of the apartheid wall and checkpoints.

Attempts to cut federal funding to individuals or organisations that support BDS should be rejected by anyone who supports free speech and academic freedom. Bipartisan attacks and dishonest reporting by the Australian will not deter BDS campaigners. We will continue to campaign against Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies and demand human rights, justice and freedom for the Palestinian people. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

1967: Israel's razing and ethnic cleansing of the Mughrabi Quarter in Occupied East Jerusalem

Dear friends,
Please find below the very good article by Ben Lynefield which appeared in the American Jewish Forward. The article examines the razing and ethnic cleansing of the Mughrabi neighbourhood in Occupied East Jerusalem in 1967.  Today, it is quite difficult to find a lot of information easily available on the razing of the neighbourhood. 

As Lynefield notes in his article: "Its destruction is an event either unknown or repressed by most Israelis and Jews who visit the Kotel. It is deleted from public discourse about the Old City".  

Despite the fact that the Israeli state has attempted to erase what happened to the Mughrabi Quarter and its residents from public discourse, Palestinians have not forgotten.

Lynefield's article offers some valuable information on the razing of the neighbourhood within days of Israel seizing and occuping East Jerusalem and the ethnic cleansing of up to 1000 or more Palestinians from their homes.

In solidarity,

Palestinians Mourn Neighborhood Razed by Israel in Shadow of Western Wall

'Unification' of Jerusalem Forced Our Arabs From Mughrabi

By Ben Lynfield: May 19, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.

Forced Removal: Hours after conquering East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, Israeli authorities demolished the Arab Mughrabi neighborhood in the shadow of the Western Wall. Those who once lived there still mourn the loss of their homes.
Forced Removal: Hours after conquering East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, Israeli authorities demolished the Arab Mughrabi neighborhood in the shadow of the Western Wall. Those who once lived there still mourn the loss of their homes.

JERUSALEM — Many Israelis marked the 46th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification, as they see it, with the fanfare that has become a staple of Jerusalem Day, the holiday first declared by the government in 1968 to mark the historic event.

The May 8 celebration, which Israel’s chief rabbinate has also declared a religious holiday, was punctuated by performances, including the annual “march of the flags,” a large procession by nationalist Jewish youth through the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

“We are celebrating the reunification of Jerusalem, the nullification of the border,” Jerusalem Deputy Mayor David Hadari told the Forward. “It was previously impossible to reach the Western Wall, but it was liberated and the Temple Mount is in our hands.”

In his comments, Hadari recalled the divided city that existed before the June 1967 Six Day War, when Israel took control of the city’s Eastern sector, ruled until then by Jordan and populated exclusively by Arabs. Today, Hadari noted, Jewish neighborhoods are expanding all over this sector.

But not everyone thinks there is cause to rejoice. The festivities cut out the Palestinians, who make up 39% of Jerusalem’s population. Unlike the city’s Jewish residents, Arab Jerusalemites are not allowed to move to the city’s other, Jewish sector. And many cannot find housing in their own sector of the city due to planning policies that have been labeled discriminatory by civil rights groups.

“They celebrate and we cry,“ said Mohammed Ibrahim Mawalid, 85, a resident of the Old City. “They celebrate the liberation of Jerusalem as they view it. But we remember the disasters.”

One of the disasters that still haunts Mawalid is a mass demolition that eradicated his old Palestinian neighborhood. It was carried out at Judaism’s holiest site on the last day of the Six Day War and the first day of the ceasefire. It was just a few days after David Rubinger shot his iconic picture of young awestruck Israeli soldiers standing before the ancient stones at the Western Wall just after having taken over the area.

The soldiers then were standing in the Mughrabi Quarter, which encompassed most of what is today the long, wide plaza in front of the Western Wall. Its destruction is an event either unknown or repressed by most Israelis and Jews who visit the Kotel. It is deleted from public discourse about the Old City. But for some Palestinians it is still a sore wound.

Mawalid’s home once stood in this area, along with 135 other buildings, including three mosques and two zawiyas, or pilgrim hospices. Palestinian historians say that some of the Mughrabi Quarter buildings were more than seven centuries old, dating back to the time of Saladin’s son, al-Afdal. But Israeli bulldozers erased them June 10 and June 11, on the orders of Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan, to enable large numbers of worshippers to come to the Western Wall for Shavuot prayers the following week. Now, not even a plaque marks the site. It is as if the Mughrabi Quarter never existed.
“We still feel the pain,” Mawalid said.

Today, Mawalid is a frail man whose son works in employee recruitment for the California state government in Sacramento. He has other children in Oman and Morocco. But in 1967, Mawalid held the post of mutawalli, the Jordanian government official responsible for the Islamic properties in the quarter. This provided modest earnings. He also supervised a cafeteria at the offices of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

Mawalid moved to the Mughrabi Quarter in 1949 after fleeing the village of Bir Ma’in (on the site of what is now the Israeli town of Modi’in) during the Arab-Israeli war a year earlier. He says he had to leave the village because of Israeli artillery bombardments.

In the Mughrabi Quarter, Mawalid’s seven-room house, about 100 meters from the Western Wall, was home to 15 people, including his mother, brothers, wife and children. The house was white stone and about 250 years old, he said.

According to Mawalid, some 1,500 people lived in the Mughrabi Quarter, though other estimates put the total at around 600. Many, like Mawalid, were originally of Moroccan ancestry. After the demolition, the refugees dispersed to other locales in the Jerusalem area and to Jordan and Morocco.

On the night of June 10,1967 — just as Israel was consolidating its seemingly miraculous victory over Egypt, Jordan, Syria and other Arab armies — Israeli bulldozers began demolishing the Palestinian houses closest to the Western Wall. “We thought they were going to make a road, to broaden a road to the Western Wall,“ Mawalid said. He did not at first imagine that his entire neighborhood would be razed.

One person died during the demolition. Rasmiya Abu Aghayl, a woman in her 50s, was killed when a bulldozer demolished her house while she was still in it.

Lieutenant Col. Ya’akov Salman, the deputy military governor who commanded the demolition, told the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz that Palestinian residents initially refused to depart. Salman ordered an officer to begin the demolitions nevertheless

“The order to evacuate the neighborhood was one of the hardest in my life,” he said, according to the book “Accidental Empire,” by Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg, which cites the May 1999 interview by Salman. “When you order, ‘Fire!’ [in battle], you’re an automaton. Here you had to give an order knowing you are likely to hurt innocent people.”

In a letter dated March 5, 1968 to the secretary-general of the United Nations, Israel’s U.N. representative, Yosef Tekoah said Israel destroyed the Mughrabi Quarter because it was a “slum.” Responding to a complaint from Jordan about the quarter’s leveling, Tekoah assured the UN that the “unfortunate inhabitants” of the quarter had been resettled in “respectable conditions.”

Mawalid recalled that the quarter’s population included both wealthy and poor people.

Mawalid and his brothers, mother, wife and children fled to the Bab Al-Silsila (Chain Gate) area of the old city. “My wife, Halima, carried makluba she had cooked with us,” he recalled, referring to a Palestinian dish of meat, rice and fried vegetables. “It was the only thing we were able to take.

“At Bab Al-Silsila I met a friend, Ibrahim Habib, who asked me, ‘Where are you going to go?’ He said, ‘Come to me,’ and he gave us two rooms.”

Mawalid said the refugee families were offered $200 to $300 in compensation by Israeli authorities for their losses.

Mawalid believes that transforming what was his house and the Mughrabi neighborhood into an expanded plaza for Jewish prayer at the Western Wall was “unjust” and a “usurpation.”

But, he is not seeking to turn back the clock. Mawalid says he does not dream of the reconstruction of the Mughrabi neighborhood. “This is impossible,” he said. “It’s a holy place for the Jews, and they are dreaming of it for hundreds of years and they achieved their dream.”

Rather, he would like to see the Jerusalem municipality build housing for the refugees of the quarter. According to Mawalid, during the early 1970s the municipality offered to build housing for those from the quarter, but the designated location was on land that had been expropriated from other Palestinians. “There is no way we could take land that was taken from other Palestinians,” he said.

Amir Cheshin, who served as adviser on East Jerusalem to Mayor Teddy Kollek during the 1980s, says he knows of no such housing offer. The Mughrabi Quarter residents, he said, “certainly should be given alternative housing as was done for residents of Yamit [in the Sinai Peninsula] and Gush Katif [in Gaza]”

But Cheshin backed the decision to demolish the quarter. “In retrospect, it was a smart act. Otherwise, the Kotel would have remained a miserable alley. If they didn’t do it [in the war’s immediate aftermath], they wouldn’t have been able to do it later.”

Hadari, the deputy mayor, flatly rejected Mawalid’s idea of providing housing. “Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish people,” he said. “We won’t accept any claim of this sort. Just as my parents, who left Morocco in 1948, didn’t get anything for their house, they won’t get anything, either.”

In fact, while Jewish residents of several Arab countries were expelled and lost their property without compensation after Israel’s founding, this was not the case in Morocco, which is still home to an estimated 5,000 Jews. Michael Fischbach’s book, “Jewish Property Claims against Arab Countries,” notes that Jews in Morocco largely did not suffer large scale property loss upon emigration and adds that those who left after the 1948 war were free to dispose of their property.

Nazmi Jubeh, a historian at Birzeit University, in the West Bank, considers the demolition “an absolute act of violence against people and their houses and habitat. These are people who in a few hours lost everything. We lost an eight-centuries-long tradition of North Africans and Andalusians in Jerusalem that was an important element of historic Jerusalem.”

Friday, May 17, 2013

Israel's rewriting of the history of the Nakba

Dear friends,
an important article in Haaretz from Shay Hazkani on how David Ben-Gurion, Israeli academia and government officials sought to fabricate and rewrite history in relation to the Palestinian Nakba.  

Please find the article in full below.
In solidarity, Kim 


Catastrophic thinking: Did Ben-Gurion try to rewrite history?

The file in the state archives contains clear evidence that the researchers at the time did not paint the full picture of Israel's role in creating the Palestinian refugee problem.

By Shay Hazkani May.16, 2013 | Haaretz 

Arab refugees from villages near Tulkarm
Arab refugees from villages near Tulkarm. Most historians say Ben-Gurion knew in real time about the expulsion of Palestinians. Photo by Bettmann/CORBIS
Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion during the playing of the 'Hatikva' national anthem, marking the Knesset's first session in Jerusalem.Photo by GPO
Ori Stendel
Ori Stendel. 'No [organized] expulsion activity.'
Palestinian refugees returning to their village after its surrender during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.Photo by AFP

The Israeli censor’s observant eye had missed file number GL-18/17028 in the State Archives. Most files relating to the 1948 Palestinian exodus remain sealed in the Israeli archives, despite the fact that their period as classified files − according to Israeli law − expired long ago. Even files that were previously declassified are no longer available to researchers. In the past two decades, following the powerful reverberations triggered by the publication of books written by those dubbed the “New Historians,” the Israeli archives revoked access to much of the explosive material. Archived Israeli documents that reported the expulsion of Palestinians, massacres or rapes perpetrated by Israeli soldiers, along with other events considered embarrassing by the establishment, were reclassified as “top secret.” Researchers who sought to track down the files cited in books by Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim or Tom Segev often hit a dead end. Hence the surprise that file GL-18/17028, titled “The Flight in 1948” is still available today.

The documents in the file, which date from 1960 to 1964, describe the evolution of the Israeli version of the Palestinian Nakba ‏(“The Catastrophe”‏) of 1948. Under the leadership of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, top Middle East scholars in the Civil Service were assigned the task of providing evidence supporting Israel’s position − which was that, rather than being expelled in 1948, the Palestinians had fled of their own volition.

Ben-Gurion probably never heard the word “Nakba,” but early on, at the end of the 1950s, Israel’s first prime minister grasped the importance of the historical narrative. Just as Zionism had forged a new narrative for the Jewish people within a few decades, he understood that the other nation that had resided in the country before the advent of Zionism would also strive to formulate a narrative of its own. For the Palestinians, the national narrative grew to revolve around the Nakba, the calamity that befell them following Israel’s establishment in 1948, when about 700,000 Palestinians became refugees.

By the end of the 1950s, Ben-Gurion had reached the conclusion that the events of 1948 would be at the forefront of Israel’s diplomatic struggle, in particular the struggle against the Palestinian national movement. If the Palestinians had been expelled from their land, as they had maintained already in 1948, the international community would view their claim to return to their homeland as justified. However, Ben-Gurion believed, if it turned out that they had left “by choice,” having been persuaded by their leaders that it was best to depart temporarily and return after the Arab victory, the world community would be less supportive of their claim.

Most historians today − Zionists, post-Zionists and non-Zionists − agree that in at least 120 of 530 villages, the Palestinian inhabitants were expelled by Jewish military forces, and that in half the villages the inhabitants fled because of the battles and were not allowed to return. Only in a handful of cases did villagers leave at the instructions of their leaders or mukhtars‏(headmen‏).

Ben-Gurion appeared to have known the facts well. Even though much material about the Palestinian refugees in Israeli archives is still classified, what has been uncovered provides enough information to establish that in many cases senior commanders of the Israel Defense Forces ordered Palestinians to be expelled and their homes blown up. The Israeli military not only updated Ben-Gurion about these events but also apparently received his prior authorization, in written or oral form, notably in Lod and Ramle, and in several villages in the north. Documents available for perusal on the Israeli side do not provide an unequivocal answer to the question of whether an orderly plan to expel Palestinians existed. In fact, fierce debate on the issue continues to this day. For example, in an interview with Haaretz the historian Benny Morris argued that Ben-Gurion delineated a plan to transfer the Palestinians forcibly out of Israel, though there is no documentation that proves this incontrovertibly.
Even before the war of 1948 ended, Israeli public diplomacy sought to hide the cases in which Palestinians were expelled from their villages. In his study of the early historiography of the 1948 war, “Memory in a Book”‏(Hebrew‏), Mordechai Bar-On quotes Aharon Zisling, who would become an MK on behalf of Ahdut Ha’avoda and was the agriculture minister in Ben-Gurion’s provisional government in 1948. At the height of the expulsion of the Arabs from Lod and Ramle, Zisling wrote in the left-wing newspaper Al Hamishmar, “We did not expel Arabs from the Land of Israel ... After they remained in our area of control, not one Arab was expelled by us.” In Davar, the newspaper of the ruling Mapai party, the journalist A. Ophir went one step further, explaining, “In vain did we cry out to the Arabs who were streaming across the borders: Stay here with us!”

Contemporaries who had ties to the government or the armed forces obviously knew that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had been expelled and their return was blocked already during the war. They understood that this must be kept a closely guarded secret. In 1961, after John F. Kennedy assumed office as president of the United States, calls for the return of some of the Palestinian refugees increased. Under the guidance of the new president, the U.S. State Department tried to force Israel to allow several hundred thousand refugees to return. In 1949, Israel had agreed to consider allowing about 100,000 refugees to return, in exchange for a comprehensive peace agreement with the Arab states, but by the early 1960s that was no longer on the agenda as far as Israel was concerned. Israel was willing to discuss the return of some 20,000-30,000 refugees at most.

Under increasing pressure from Kennedy and amid preparations at the United Nations General Assembly to address the Palestinian refugee issue, Ben-Gurion convened a special meeting on the subject. Held in his office in the Kirya, the defense establishment compound in Tel Aviv, the meeting was attended by the top ranks of Mapai, including Foreign Minister Golda Meir, Agriculture Minister Moshe Dayan and Jewish Agency Chairman Moshe Sharett. Ben-Gurion was convinced that the refugee problem was primarily one of public image ‏(hasbara‏). Israel, he believed, would be able to persuade the international community that the refugees had not been expelled, but had fled. “First of all, we need to tell facts, how they escaped,” he said in the meeting. “As far as I know, most of them fled before the state’s establishment, of their own free will, and contrary to what the Haganah [the pre-independence army of Palestine’s Jews] told them when it defeated them, that they could stay. After the state’s establishment [on May 15, 1948], as far as I know, only the Arabs of Ramle and Lod left their places, or were pressured to leave.”
Ben-Gurion thereby set the frame of reference for the discussion, even though some of the participants knew that his presentation was inaccurate, to say the least. Dayan, who as GOC Southern Command after 1949 ordered the expulsion of the Negev Bedouin, was not in a position to take issue with the prime minister’s statement that the Arabs had left “of their own free will,” despite being well aware of the facts. Ben-Gurion went on to explain what Israel must tell the world: “All of these facts are not known. There is also material which the Foreign Ministry prepared from the documents of the Arab institutions, of the Mufti, Jamal al-Husseini [He probably meant Haj Amin al-Husseini; Jamal al-Husseini was the Palestinians’ unofficial representative at the United Nations − S.H.], concerning the flight, [showing] that this was of their own free will, because they were told the country would soon be conquered and you will return to be its lord and masters and not just return to your homes.”
In 1961, against the backdrop of what Ben-Gurion described as the need for “a serious operation, both in written form and in oral hasbara,” the Shiloah Institute was asked to collect material for the government about “the flight of the Arabs from the Land of Israel in 1948.”

Nakba between the lines
The Shiloah Institute was an odd bird in Israel of the 1950s and 1960s. The idea of establishing a research institute akin to an Israeli version of Britain’s Chatham House was conceived by Reuven Shiloah, a Foreign Ministry official and former Mossad man. Shiloah died shortly after he finished planning the new institute. At the ceremony marking the 30th day after his death, the director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Teddy Kollek, announced that the institute would bear Shiloah’s name and explained, “The institute’s purpose will be to study current problems at a scientific level ... The institute will also make known to the world at large Israel’s views concerning the region.” The institute was established in conjunction with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense and the Israel Oriental Society ‏(the umbrella organization of the Middle East scholars‏). It was managed by Yitzhak Oron, a major in the Intelligence Corps. A study by Prof. Gil Eyal of Columbia University, proved that the institute worked closely with the IDF’s Intelligence Corps, which regularly provided it with intelligence documents. As a result, most of the papers written in the Shiloah Institute’s first years were classified and not accessible to the general public. Researchers who worked in the institute in the 1950s described their activities as largely secret and considered themselves civil servants in every respect. The institute’s studies had a reputation for thoroughness and quasi-academic quality. In 1965, the institute came under the auspices of Tel Aviv University, though its clandestine ties with the intelligence community continued for many years thereafter, ending in recent decades. In 1983, the institute changed its name to the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies.

For Ben-Gurion, the Shiloah Institute was the perfect place to conduct the type of study he wished to arm himself with. Still, his request to the institute to collect material about “the flight of the Arabs” seemed a bit unusual. Since the end of the 1948 War, Israel had dealt with the issue of the Palestinian refugees almost exclusively as part of the diplomatic struggle in the international arena; hardly any attempt had been made to investigate this aspect of the war. But there was at least one person in the Shiloah Institute who knew something about the Palestinian exodus of 1948.

Rony Gabbay immigrated to Israel from Iraq in 1950. After four years in a transit camp he obtained a B.A. and subsequently earned a doctoral degree in political science in Switzerland, completing his dissertation on the Arab refugee issue in 1959. However, on his return to Israel he found himself involved in a fierce controversy with the Ashkenazi academic establishment after he accused a well-known political science professor of racism.

“At that time, many like me, of Mizrahi origin, who were ambitious, saw that the door was almost closed to us, so many left for Canada and America,” he says in an interview from his home in Perth, Australia, where he has lived for more than 40 years. “I ended up here and I do not regret it in the least.” Before leaving Israel, Gabbay spent a few years at the Shiloah Institute as deputy director. He was there at the time Ben-Gurion’s request had arrived.

It is quite unlikely that Ben-Gurion knew the topic of Gabbay’s doctoral dissertation, since it had not gained much publicity in Israel. Had he known, he might have looked for an alternative candidate to write this study, which was to serve as the linchpin of Israeli public diplomacy. A perusal of the book Gabbay published based on his dissertation shows that, three decades before Benny Morris published his groundbreaking book, “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949,” Gabbay’s study confirmed what Palestinian refugees had been claiming since 1948. “In many cases,” Gabbay wrote, “such as during the battle to open the road to Jerusalem, Jewish forces took Arab villages, expelled the inhabitants and blew up places which they did not want to occupy themselves, so that they could not be reoccupied by their enemies and used as strongholds against them.”

Writing in the late 1950s, Gabbay drew on British statistics, UN documents, the Arab press and a number of Israeli documents he was able to obtain. He had no access to official IDF documents or to the minutes of cabinet meetings, of which Morris availed himself in the 1980s. Gabbay became convinced that there had not been a policy of systematic expulsion of Palestinians coming from the top, but rather that Palestinians were evacuated at the direction of local commanders ‏(such as Yigal Allon and Yitzhak Rabin‏), although this occurred in “many cases.”

Fifty-four years later, Gabbay is astonished to find that he was able to depict the events accurately with so few Israeli documents. “To this day I am still amazed that a researcher who was very methodical and very objective was able to read between the lines of open sources,” he says.
Ben-Gurion’s unusual request to the Shiloah Institute was accompanied by rare authorization to examine Israeli archives that were closed to the public. The institute’s researchers were allowed to peruse captured documents that had been collected by the Intelligence Corps and, more important material compiled on the subject by the Shin Bet security service, some of which had been transferred from the Haganah after 1948. Gabbay: “We were told, ‘We don’t know what to do with all this material, with this crate.’ So I went to Shin Bet headquarters for three or four days and went through all the material. After that they burned it, of course they didn’t give it to us.”

But there was one stack of documents that not even the Shiloah Institute team was allowed to read through. It consisted of the transcripts of the cabinet sessions during the war, in which the ministers discussed the Palestinians’ flight and, in some cases, their expulsion by IDF units.

‘Pure research’
The file in the State Archives contains a letter Gabbay had written on his research project after he completed the work, dated August 26, 1961, and addressed to the director general of the Foreign Ministry. Gabbay writes: “With the exception of isolated cases, the flight of the Arabs was due to the cumulative effect of a number of elements in the political, military, economic, social and psychological realms ... Chapters 1-6 present documents, quotations and other material which prove the ‘contribution’ of this or that cause among the causes of the flight and underscore the blame of the Arabs. Thus, for example, there is a clear proof that the Arab states encouraged [Palestine’s] Arabs to flee, that the leaders fled [first], that atrocity stories were made up, and that Arab military leaders pressured to have villages evacuated from their inhabitants etc. The seventh and last chapter cites the documents which prove the efforts of the Jews to stop the flight.” Gabbay concludes the letter by expressing “my hope that this booklet will faithfully serve Israeli foreign policy.”

More than half a century later, Gabbay recalls the conclusions differently. As part of his research, Gabbay read Intelligence Corps transcripts of local radio broadcasts of propaganda aimed at the local population by the Arab armies that operated in Palestine. The broadcasts, Gabbay says, did not support the Israeli claim about the part played by the Arab and Palestinian leaders in the flight. “There was no mention of the local Arab leaders urging the Arabs to flee, that they ‘pushed them,’ as we claimed in our hasbara. I saw nothing like that.” It is noteworthy that Benny Morris, who researched the subject 20 years later, also found no directives by Palestinian leaders or Arab rulers calling on the villagers to leave.

In the conversation from Australia, Gabbay finds it difficult to explain the disparity between his letter of 1961 stating that the Arabs were to blame, and his account today. Only in Haifa, he says, did the local leadership urge the Palestinians to leave, even though the Jewish leaders there urged them to stay. That, though, was a singular case and even there, the calls to stay were undercut by the Haganah’s shelling of the Arab market, in which civilians were killed. Gabbay denies that his work at the Shiloah Institute prompted him to change the opinion he arrived at when he wrote his doctoral dissertation.
He insists that he and the others on the research team ‏(Yitzhak Oron and Aryeh Shmuelevich‏) were asked only to collect and summarize material.

“What we did at the Shiloah Institute was pure research. In other words, what we submitted, what we got our hands on and examined was what we wrote. There was no fear. We didn’t know, we didn’t think about public opinion, we didn’t consider anything like that.”
Prof. Gil Eyal, who has studied the connection between Israeli Middle East experts and the intelligence community, explained in a phone interview from New York that the research study on the refugees could in no way be viewed as an academic text. “Without going into the motives of those who were involved, it is clear to me that this study falls into the general category of public diplomacy ‏(hasbara‏). Public diplomacy, even when academics engage in it and make use of documents according to the research methods of historians, is still very different from academic research or from other forms of objective research. That is because in public diplomacy, what to look for in the files and what to prove is set forth in advance. Naturally, then, if there are other things in the file [that do not concur with the goals], they are simply not inserted into the study, because that is not what the authors wanted to find.”

Second try
Ben-Gurion, though, was not pleased with Gabbay’s report. Immediately after its completion he ordered his Arab affairs adviser, Uri Lubrani, to write a new study. Lubrani assigned the project to Moshe Ma’oz, now a professor of history specializing in Syria, then a student at the Hebrew University and an employee of the adviser’s unit. “I went into Middle East studies with the mind-set of ‘Know the enemy.’ It wasn’t until I did a Ph.D. at Oxford that things changed for me and I started to discover the Arab side, too,” Ma’oz says by telephone.

Ma’oz was assigned a number of researchers to assist him with the study, and received a budget. He started to collect dozens of documents, in Israel and from around the world. He interviewed Israeli and British officers as well as Palestinians who remained in Israel. The 150 documents and interview transcripts were cataloged meticulously and prepared as a file of evidence. Ma’oz notes that his findings were very similar to those of Benny Morris and pointed clearly to cases of expulsion, particularly in Lod and Ramle. “I don’t think I was biased or influenced by the boss,” he says, “but it is possible that I over-emphasized the issue of the flight. The dosage was different, because I was still under the influence of the nationalist conception in which we were educated at school and in the army.”

In fact, the documents in the file of the State Archives demonstrate the exact opposite. According to Ma’oz’s own telling of the documents, they ostensibly prove, without exception, that the Arabs fled of their own volition at their leaders’ orders. In December 1961, before embarking on the project, Ma’oz wrote to David Kimche, a senior Mossad official ‏(and years later director general of the Foreign Ministry‏), to ask for help in compiling the documents. “Our intention is to prove that the flight was caused at the encouragement of the local Arab leaders and the Arab governments and was abetted by the British and by the pressure of the Arab armies ‏(the Iraqi army and the Arab Liberation Army‏) on the local Arab population.”

In a letter of summation dated September 1962, which Ma’oz wrote to Lubrani after he had completed the task of collecting the documents, he noted that he had fulfilled the assignment, and proved what he had been asked to prove: “You assigned me to gather material on the flight of Palestine’s Arabs in 1948 which attests to and proves that: “A. Arab leaders and institutions in Palestine and elsewhere encouraged Palestine’s Arabs to flee, and the local notables, by being the first to flee, prompted the people to flee.

“B. The foreign Arab armies and the ‘volunteers’ abetted the flight both by evacuating villages and by their harsh attitude toward the local population.

“C. In a number of places, the British Army assisted the Arabs to flee.

“D. Jewish institutions and organizations made an effort to prevent the flight.”

Immediately after submitting the summary report, Ma’oz left the office of the Arab affairs adviser and went to Oxford to begin his Ph.D. studies. He was replaced by another M.A. student, Ori Stendel, who continued to write the study of the Palestinian exodus. Shortly after taking over from Ma’oz, Stendel met with Ben-Gurion, who described the project as a “White Paper,” referring to the reports by British commissions of inquiry in Palestine and elsewhere in the empire. “I remember Ben-Gurion saying something like, ‘We need this White Paper, because people are saying that the Arabs were expelled and did not flee,” Stendel recalls. “As far as I remember, Ben-Gurion said, ‘They did flee, but the truth has to be told. Write the truth.’ That’s what he said.”

Stendel continued to collect material for a short time. He is convinced that the study he and Ma’oz wrote is a scientific work that proves Arab leaders called on the Palestinians to leave, though it does not avoid uncovering the cases in which expulsion occurred. After all the material had been collected, Stendel was again summoned to a meeting with Ben-Gurion, who wanted a summary of the findings. “I told him that it is impossible to speak in terms of uniformity. There was no [organized] expulsion activity, on the one hand, but on the other hand it is impossible to say that we tried to prevent the Arabs from fleeing in all parts of the country. I told him that I had no doubt, for example, that there was an expulsion in Lod and Ramle, pure and simple. He asked me, and I remember being surprised by this, ‘Are you sure?’ I replied, ‘I wasn’t there, I can’t tell you, but according to everything we read and collected, an expulsion took place there.”

As we saw, the documents in the archive make no mention of Stendel’s assertion that the research project included documents attesting to expulsion. Stendel does not rule out the possibility that an attempt was made to play down such documents, but rejects the possibility that they were deliberately hidden. “There was no guideline to the effect that this would be a propaganda study, that things would be filtered in order to help with hasbara. In practice, that might be what happened ... Obviously, we worked in the Prime Minister’s Office and we wanted to help Israel in its struggle, so it was natural that we would look for the truth to prove that we did not expel people. It’s definitely possible that that was the motive, but I don’t remember that Ben-Gurion or Lubrani said, ‘You should do this and that.’”

Stendel remains convinced that Ben-Gurion really did not know how the refugee problem of 1948 was caused, because he was busy with strategic affairs and did not take the time to deal with the refugees. The proof of this, he says, is that he asked a number of organizations to research the subject, so he would get a full picture. “If Ben-Gurion had decided on a policy, then there would have been a policy, and then also, let’s put it like this: I think the Arab minority in Israel today would be a lot smaller. That is why I think that Ben-Gurion did not exactly know. It’s possible that he authorized an expulsion in one case or another, when he was told it was important for security reasons; but my conclusion is that Ben-Gurion did not authorize a policy of expulsion, and so he wanted to know exactly what had happened.”
Most historians who have researched the subject paint a radically different picture. They present evidence that Ben-Gurion knew in real time about the expulsion of Palestinians and apparently authorized expulsions in a number of cases. In the absence of reliable information from the period, it is difficult to determine with certainty whether Ben-Gurion had actually persuaded himself that the majority of Palestine’s Arabs had left of their own volition, or did not even believe this himself but wanted history to believe it.

In the meeting about the refugees at the end of 1961, Moshe Sharett, then the chairman of the Jewish Agency, suggested a modern spin: to leak the material that would be collected to foreign correspondents so that they would publish it as “objective” investigative reports without revealing their sources. “We need to see to it that articles appear in the major newspapers,” Sharett said. “That means we need to draw up a plan for each [foreign] capital, decide on a ‘victim,’ who the man will be, provide him with all the required information and all the arguments, and ensure that extensive articles appear ahead of the General Assembly session, because this issue is again becoming one of the more urgent ones.”

Ben-Gurion apparently adopted this idea. In the office of the Arab affairs adviser, Stendel did as he was asked and approached Aviad Yafeh, who headed the Foreign Ministry’s information ‏(hasbara‏) unit. According to a letter from May 1964, the two agreed to make available the material that had been collected to a correspondent of one of the major foreign magazines, so he could write a series of articles about the “flight.” According to Stendel, the plan was never implemented.

Rose-tinted history
Even though the Ma’oz-Stendel report on “the flight of the Arabs” appears to be lost for all time, the file in the State Archives contains clear evidence that the researchers at the time did not paint a full picture of Israel’s role in creating the refugee problem. The story of how the study came to be written, juxtaposed to the way the authors see it today, reflects the evolution of Israeli society’s relationship with the Palestinian narrative of the Nakba. In the 1960s, no one dared to admit publicly that Israel had expelled Palestinians, whereas today, in the post-Oslo period and following the research by the “new historians,” the subject of Israel’s culpability is no longer taboo.

After rereading the file in the State Archives, containing summaries he himself wrote in the 1960s, Moshe Ma’oz sent me the following email: “At that juncture I basically shared the views of most Israeli Jews, and that of the establishment, that most Arabs fled because their leaders escaped first and that other Arab leaders instructed them to do so. On the other hand, I did mention that Jewish organizations requested Arabs to stay and not to leave, but I did not mention that many Arabs fled for [reasons of] panic, war, massacres, etc. and that in certain places they were deported by the army. Perhaps these facts did not appear in the materials or were not known or appreciated.”

Ma’oz, then, underwent a conceptual shift at Oxford. After returning to Israel he worked for the military government in the occupied territories, but says he identified more closely with the Palestinians than with the Israeli government. Finally, he was booted out of the military government by the chief of staff, Rafael Eitan, after stating in a television interview in the early 1980s that Israel should hold talks with West Bank leaders affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Most historians in Israel and abroad no longer dispute the fact that IDF soldiers expelled large numbers of Palestinians from their homes during the 1948 war, and banned their return after the war. However, the debate over whether this was a preconceived plan authorized by Ben-Gurion continues. File GL-18/17028 shows that throughout Israel’s 65 years of existence, the answer to the question of “What really happened?” varied according to who was responding. Still, it is unlikely that Gabbay, Ma’oz, Stendel and Lubrani lied knowingly. More likely, they wanted to deceive themselves and create a slightly rosier picture of 1948, a formative year that changed the history of both the Jewish people and of the Arab Middle East for all time.

Shay Hazkani is a doctoral student in history at the Taub Center for Israel Studies at New York University.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A short note on Stephen Hawking, BDS and the Palestinian Right to Education

Video Documentary:
A caged bird's song:  Palestinian education under Israeli military occupation (27 min)

by Kim Bullimore
In the last few days there has been article after article on renown scientist, Stephen Hawking's withdraw from the President's Conference in Israel.  Hawking has been praised by Palestinian and pro-Palestine solidarity campaigners and, unsurprisingly, he has been denounced by Israel and its supporters.  Those decrying Stephen Hawking's actions and the Palestinian academic boycott of Israel claim that it is an attack on academic freedom.  This is, of course, not true.  The Palestinian academic boycott campaign is an institutional boycott, not an individual boycott, so academics are not prevented from carrying ot their research or from writing papers etc. 

Where the real double standard resides in relation to the cry of academic freedom is in relation to Palestinian academic freedom. Rarely do you hear any of the Zionists or supporters of Israel who denounce the Palestinian academic boycott say a word about the right of Palestinians to academic freedom. Under Israel’s occupation, the right to education for Palestinians is severely restricted and limited. 

During the first intifada, Israel closed down most Palestinian universities, as well as just about all Palestinian schools and kindergartens making it illegal for Palestinians to get an education.  During the first intifada, Birzeit University was closed by Israeli military order 15 times, with the longest closure bing 4.5 years from 1988 to 1992. 

I have many Palestinian friends who recount how in order to finish their degrees they had to take their classes clandestinely – sometimes in fields, sometimes in hidden back rooms and other places.  They constantly lived in fear of being caught by the Israeli Occupation Forces.  Their only "crime" was wanting to get an education.  Similarly since the beginning of the second intifada, Israel has regularly closed down Palestinian education institutions.

Today, Palestinians are regularly prevent from getting an education, from attending their schools and universities by not only by Israel's occupation forces (IOF) but also by the apartheid wall. Their education institutes are often forced to close, their campuses are often raided by the IOF, their classes disrupted and teachers and students regularly arrested, tortured and killed. It is still an exceeding common occurrence for Palestinian teachers to conduct classes at checkpoints because they and their students can’t get to their education institutes.  As one Palestinian teacher has stated:  
“I teach at the Qurduba School in Hebron. To get to school we have to pass though an area around Israeli settlers that the military controls. After protesting the delays, a special “teachers-only” line was introduced that allowed us to pass freely to and from the school. Recently, however, the IDF shut that line down. What used to take five minutes can now be an hour-long process. While we are planning ways to protest against these measures, we must endure this humiliation daily, just to teach our classes.” 
There are also numerous instances of where the apartheid wall cuts students and teachers off from their education institutions and prevents them from getting an education or results in students and teachers having to travel extended distances for long periods of time to get to school or university.

 Palestinian teacher teaching students at a checkpoint in the Occupied West Bank

So if we are going to talk about “academic freedom” and its curtailing, lets talk about this.This is where there is a really attack on academic freedom is happening, this where the real restriction on the right to students to get an education and a real undermining of the rights of teachers and academics is taking place in the Palestine-Israel context.

For more information on this, please check out the Palestinian Right to Education campaign (click here)

See also: The Daily Ordeal of getting to School in Hebron, published on Electronic Intifada (click here)