Imagine yourself as an Arab Palestinian at the beginning of 1948, living in rural Palestine. Your friends and relatives would have lived in the same village, or a closely neighboring one. Your ancestors would have lived and died in the same region, worshiped in nearby mosques or churches, lived in houses that you know, and seen the same vistas that you see. They would probably be buried close by. Everything you owned or loved would have been right there - family, home, children, traditions.

What would it take to make you leave ...?

The abandoned town of Lifta
© Photo Courtesy of Palestine Remembered Posted by Hussam Siam

The remains of the town of Lifta.

The violent uprooting of large parts of the Arab Palestinian community is called Al Nakba - النكبة - The Catastrophe, by the Palestinians, but there's probably not a word in any language that adequately describes the horror and squalor of this story, as the Jewish military, fully prepared with tanks, machine guns, mines, and shells, killed ordinary Arabs often indiscriminately, and drove the survivors out of the villages and cities of Palestine. According to the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, when it was finished, almost 800,000 people had been uprooted, 531 villages had been obliterated, and eleven urban neighborhoods emptied of their Arab inhabitants.1

How was it done? Rosemarie Esber describes the typical tactics used by the Zionist forces: days of mortaring and psychological warfare followed by a multi-pronged assault, usually leaving an "exit chute" open, through which the Jewish military drove the fleeing civilians away from their homes.2 Those who couldn't flee - the old and the handicapped - were often killed outright. Esber cites the Israeli historian, Aryeh Yitzhaki, who says that in almost every conquered village, Zionist forces committed atrocities including indiscriminate killings and rapes.3

In his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Ilan Pappe wonders what anyone, who knows about the Nakba, must wonder: how could a crime of such a scale, that took place in the middle of the twentieth century, have been so ignored, to the point where it was almost completely eradicated from the world's consciousness?4

Pappe points out that for many years, the prevailing Israeli history of the ethnic transfer of the Palestinian Arabs was a concocted story in which the Palestinians voluntarily fled their homes in order to make way for the invading Arab armies, and it was only in the 1970's that Palestinian historians, led by Walid Khalidi, collected the stories of ordinary people and documents that would allow the truth of this terrible passage to be at least partially retrieved.5

There can't be any doubt that there, in 1948, is the origin of what we call "The War on Terror." Hundreds of thousands of Arabs were robbed of their homes and land by the Zionists, who had been enabled again and again by the United States, Europe, and even the Soviet Union. The Arab world was implicitly told, "we can take your land and do what we like with it, and what happens to your people isn't important." Obviously most Americans had little idea of the true nature of what was happening, but the entire Arab world knew, and it isn't something that they, or anyone else who knew , would forget.

Even before the Nakba was finished, while Palestinians were still being driven out of their towns and villages, both the United States and the Soviet Union, for various reasons, had recognized Israel as a sovereign state, effectively putting their stamp of approval on what had happened. Others would soon follow suit, leaving those Palestinians who had fled Palestine, as well as their descendants, in a stateless no man's land that continues to the present day; and leaving those Palestinians who had remained, in the unenviable position of an unwanted minority in the new sovereign state of Israel.

1 Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine , (Oxford: OneWorld, Paperback, 2010), xiii
2 Rosemarie M. Esber, Under the Cover of War , (Alexandria, VA: Arabicus Books & Media, 2008), 378-379
3 Esber, 356
4 Pappe, 9