Of Benny Morris and Ethnic Cleansing
By Mike Odetalla 2-2004
Ever since I read Benny Morris’s op-ed piece in the LA Times last week, in which he stated that, “In 48’ Israel Did what It Had to Do”, I have spent many hours pondering his conclusion. His justification for the ethnic cleansing, rape, and murder of the Palestinian people to facilitate the founding of the Jewish state left me numb. Ethnic cleansing, rape, and murder were justified as a means to an end. Although I was born in Palestine and moved to the US at the age of 8, I was, like most Americans, had been bombarded by the Zionist accounts of the “brave and moral” Zionist under dogs fighting for survival against the “backward bloodthirsty savages”. There was never any mention of the crimes and atrocities that were visited upon the Palestinian inhabitants. The stories and narratives of the Zionists that I had read and seen had a kind of “rugged romanticism” to them that smacked of a typical Hollywood Western. The Zionists were the “cowboys” and the Palestinians were cast in the role of the “Indians”.
The Palestinian narrative and history was suppressed, and in most cases denied to the outside world. If one wanted to find anything about Israel, there was ample propaganda filled material, which never missed the chance to further the image of the Zionists and malign the “Arabs” for the word “Palestinians” did not exist as far as they were concerned.
Being a Palestinian, I, of course knew much of what had happened to my people at the hands of the Zionist founders of the state of Israel. I had heard many first hand accounts from my family members. My grandmother’s village of Lifta, located in the Jerusalem District, was ethnically cleansed of its inhabitants. In fact, members of the Jewish terrorist gang, probably from Begin’s IZL or the Stern gang had attacked the village on December 28th 1947. The terrorists jumped out of a bus and mowed down the men who were sitting down in the village coffeehouse. 9 men were killed and many were injured. My own father in law was amongst the survivors of this vicious attack. He escaped death by lying still and pretending he was dead.
Lifta was mostly destroyed with the exception of few deserted houses (including the village mosque and its club) and some houses are used by homeless and hippie Israelis. Soon after the terror act on Lifta’s coffee house, its population was terrorized repeatedly into leaving by Menachem Begin’s IZL and Yitzhak Shamir’s Stern terror gangs. By February 1948, the village was completely emptied and all of its inhabitants were trucked to East Jerusalem.
Fifty-five years after he and his fellow villagers were ethnically cleansed from their homes, my father in law, who is 87 years old, still lives in a refugee camp, having been denied the right to return to his home and property. Fifty-five years later, my father in-law sat down with his grand children (including my children who were born and raised in the US) and recounted to them his vivid memories and details that led to his life as a refugee. I wonder if Mr. Morris and his fellow advocates of war crimes such as ethnic cleansing would be willing to sit down, look them in the face, and explain to my children, who I have raised to be respectful and tolerant of all human beings, in the presence of their grandfather, that the Zionists founders were “only doing what had to be done”. That the circumstances of their grandparents suffering was just a means to an end: the creation of a “Jewish” state.
To this day, the relentless quest to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from the land between the River Jordan and the Sea is still going on. Only now, it is less “noticeable” to the outside world. Israelis leaders openly talk of the term “transfer”, a coded word for ethnic cleansing. In a world where barriers have come tumbling down, Israel is erecting them in order to imprison and torture the Palestinian people.
I remember that in 6th grade we were made to watch a movie called “Man’s Inhumanity to Man”. This was my first real exposure to the atrocities that were perpetrated against the Jews by the Nazis. The horrific pictures of the piles of corpses, shot in grainy black and white, were a shock to me. I was both saddened and angry at the treatment of humans at the hands of other humans. Later on that year, I read The Diary of Anne Frank on my own. It gave me further insight about the Jewish suffering and trauma. Then of course I watched the Holocaust mini-series, Schindler’s list, and one of my all time favorites, Life is Beautiful. While watching all of these movies and or accounts of Jewish suffering, I could not help wonder why were these same people that have suffered so much for so long, had in turn inflicted and continued to inflict much suffering on my people. I actually identified with Anne Frank and her experiences. In fact, I have made it a point that every one of my children read Anne Frank also.
How sad would it be to try to explain to my children, using Mr. Morris’s logic, that the Nazi’s were “only doing what had to be done” in order to have a “racially pure” nation?