Nakba: The Israeli Holocaust Denial

Ilan Pappe deserves credit. He goes further than most Israelis in deconstructing the Jewish state’s historical revisionism, which he calls a “Zionist whitewash of words.” But does Pappe go far enough?

The iconoclastic Haifa University historian has written a book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oneworld Publications, 2006), destroying the “Israeli foundational myth,” which he describes as a “sheer fabrication.” Pappe sets straight the Israeli historiography. Central to Zionist historical revisionism is Nakba (catastrophe) denial. Pappe affirms the occurrence of the Nakba which he states was not a “voluntary flight” but part of a Zionist blueprint (Plan Dalet) for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. It was ethnic cleansing, but was it not also something more sinister?

Pappe identifies the perpetrators of the Nakba as the “heroes of the Jewish war of independence,” of who the best known is David Ben-Gurion, “the architect” of ethnic cleansing. Ben-Gurion is more accurately viewed as one of history’s vilest war criminals.

Pappe writes, “[C]ontrary to claims historians such as Benny Morris have made, Plan Dalet was handed down to the brigade officers not as vague guidelines, but as clear-cut operational orders for action.” The action resulted in the expulsion of almost 800,000 people and the destruction of 531 villages and 11 urban neighborhoods. Palestinian villages were literally wiped off the map by Zionists.

In addition to the ethnic cleansing and massacres, Pappe details the crimes committed by the Zionists against Palestinians: bioterror, imprisonment, abuses, ghettoization, rapes (Ben-Gurion was, perversely, informed of every case), looting, and desecration of religious sites.

The Zionists were not alone in their perfidy. There were many collaborators. The British were instrumental; Jordan’s King Abdullah I was driven by his greed for a bigger kingdom; ((Transjordan (nowadays Jordan) is a country created by Britain through splitting the Palestinian Mandate in 1921. The Hashemites who rule in Jordan are an artificial institution of the British as well — a Hejazi transplant into the artificial country.)) the Druze and also the Circassians collaborated. The Arab Legion “stood idly by.” The UN is culpable; the US plays a key role to this day abetted by the UN, Canada, and the EU. Even some Palestinians collaborated against their kinsfolk. No race, ethnicity, or group has a monopoly on morality.

The British regime levered in the Zionists, then they disarmed and disadvantaged the indigenous Palestinians. Zionist militarism and political opportunism were key to the ethnic cleansing.

The Zionists first turned on their hospitable Palestinian hosts, recruiting Palestinian informants; then, they turned on Britain after WWII.

The British scurried off, and the UN imposed a partition on Palestine. Pappe writes, “It is clear that by accepting the Partition Resolution, the UN totally ignored the ethnic composition of the country’s population, to compensate the Jews for the Nazi Holocaust in Europe.” The Palestinian majority wound up with 42 percent of the land, the Jews were gifted 56 percent of Palestinian land, and Jerusalem was designated an international city.

Pappe calls the UN procedures “unjust and illegal.” A legal challenge by Palestinians was prevented. Writes Pappe wryly, “One does not have to be a great jurist or legal mind to predict how the international court would have ruled on forcing a solution on a country to which the majority of its people were vehemently opposed.”

The UN partition map, according to Pappe, was “an assured recipe for disaster.” After hostilities broke out, the US proposed a trusteeship and ceasefire, which the Zionists rejected. It was just another instance of Zionists rejecting outside influence. ((Pappe refutes the notion propounded by some that Israeli rejectionism is, in fact, US rejectionism. See Noam Chomsky, “Rejectionism and Accommodation” in Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & The Palestinians (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1999), 39-88.))

In fact, it was the Zionists influencing the US according to Pappe: “Had it not been for the highly effective pressure by the Zionist lobby on President Truman, the course of Palestine’s history could have run differently.” ((In a pro-Israel paper, professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt describe the persisting influence of the Jewish lobby in the US: “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” Working Paper Number:RWP06-011, 13 March 2006. Noam Chomsky maintains otherwise. See “The Israel Lobby?ZNet, 26 March 2006.))

Palestinians were outgunned and outmanned by Jewish military. Zionist propaganda declared the Palestinians a fifth column (an absurd declaration given that the Palestinians were the majority and the Jews were a minority) and warned of another Holocaust.

The Consultancy (Zionist leadership) favored a “systematic campaign of intimidation” nowadays called terror. The morning after the UN Partition Resolution, the terrorizing of 75,000 Palestinians in Haifa began. In Haifa “people were literally pushed into the sea.”

Palestinians were forced to leave on foot, without food and water, many dying of thirst and hunger along the way.

“Again, the inevitable question present [sic] itself: three years after the Holocaust, what went through the minds of those Jews who watched these wretched people pass by?” Pappe gives no answer, noting that Israeli Jews dealt with the immorality of Plan Dalet by crocodile tears and dehumanizing the Palestinians.

Pappe writes that the lack of an international response abetted the ethnic cleansing, as did fear among journalists: “[I]t seems none of the foreign correspondents dared openly to criticise the actions of the Jewish nation just three years after the Holocaust.”


For all his courage debunking Zionist disinformation and forthrightness criticizing Zionist malevolence, Pappe is suspect on the definitional question of genocide.

Pappe writes, “Massacres accompany the operations [of ethnic cleansing], but where they occur they are not part of a genocidal plan: they are a key tactic to accelerate the flight of the population earmarked for expulsion. (p. 2) [italics added]

Ethnic cleansing is not genocide, but it does carry with it atrocious acts of mass killing and butchery.” (p. 197) [emphasis added] Pappe is generous with the definition of “ethnic cleansing” (e.g., “part of the essence of ethnic cleansing is the eradication, by all means available, of a region’s history”) but parsimonious with the definition of “genocide.”

Pappe considers 1948 is a “clear cut case, according to informed and scholarly definitions, of ethnic cleansing.”

Simply put, “genocide” is the killing of a group, and “ethnic cleansing” is the removal of a group. But “genocide” is not so simple. Article 2 (a,b,c, & d) of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide seems to apply well to the case of 1948 and also today:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin described “genocide” as:

[A] coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. ((Raphael Lemkin, “Genocide.” In Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation — Analysis of Government — Proposals for Redress (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1944), 79-95. Available at prevent genocide international.))

Lemkin saw genocide as two-phased:

[O]ne, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. This imposition, in turn, may be made upon the oppressed population which is allowed to remain or upon the territory alone, after removal of the population and the colonization by the oppressor’s own nationals. ((Lemkin sees “genocide” as a crime against humanity involving myriad actions intended to “destroy or cripple permanently a human group. Lemkin, “Genocide as a Crime under International Law,” American Journal of International Law (1947) Volume 41(1):145-151. Available at prevent genocide international.))

Clearly, Lemkin’s definition applies to what is happening in historical Palestine, as does the convention’s definition. Professor of law Francis Boyle concurs. ((Francis A. Boyle, “Palestine Should Sue Israel for Genocide before the International Court of Justice,” Media Monitors Network, 2 December 2000. “Palestine would be able to claim in its World Court Application against Israel that the Israeli genocide against the Palestinian People commenced with the Zionist war, conquest, ethnic cleansing, and occupation of 1948–‘the beginning of the conflict,’ to use the precise words of the World Court itself.”))

Why would Pappe skirt the label of “genocide”? This is unclear. If, however, genocide is acknowledged, it would draw a parallel with the WWII Holocaust. The Jewish state’s emergence owes much to the WWII Holocaust; it garnered world sympathy, massive reparations, and evoked an admonition to all: “Never again.” If the Nakba is defined as a genocide, it undermines any pretense to the legitimacy of Israel and its emotional underpinning by the WWII Holocaust. It accuses many Holocaust survivors of guilt in inflicting a Holocaust on another people. The term “ethnic cleansing” does not evoke the same horror in people’s minds as does “genocide,” especially when the euphemism of “transfer” is used to describe ethnic cleansing. Nonetheless, much of the text in Pappe’s book supports a charge of genocide.

Plan Dalet stated, “In the case of resistance, the armed forces must be wiped out and the population expelled outside the borders of the state.” [italics added] (p. 39) Did Palestinians have armed forces? Pappe clarifies: Yigal Allon ordered the atrocities in Sa’sa: “You have to blow up twenty houses and kill as many ‘warriors’ [read: ‘villagers’] as possible.” [italics added] (p. 77)

Pappe quotes military Zionist Yigael Yadin of the Consultancy: “[W]e should paralyse the Arab transport and their economy, harass them in their villages and the cities and demoralise them.” (p. 66)

Pappe writes that Palestinian men (that is, those between the ages 10 to 50) were executed by Zionists (p. 134)

He notes 31 confirmed massacres and another possible six. (p. 258) How many massacres do a genocide make? He describes some massacres, such as the infamous Deir Yassin massacre and the Tantura massacre (230 bodies), the latter brought back to scrutiny by Teddy Katz resulting in the post hoc disqualification of his MA thesis by Haifa University. Tantura is described as a “systematic execution of able-bodied young men” by Jews. (p. 135)

Pappe admits, “There never has been an end to Israel’s killing of Palestinians.” (p. 258) The wording is strange. A state killing a people? Obfuscation? Is it not Israeli Jews and their accomplices killing Palestinians!?

Pappe quotes an order to Israeli units: “Our mission: to attack for the sake of occupation, to kill men, destroy and set fire to Kabri, Umm al-Faraq and Nahr.” (p. 141) [italics added]

Pappe’s colleague, Haifa University geography professor Arnon Soffer admitted, “We were murderous, but it was not for the sake of malice.” (p. 223) On page 248, Soffer is quoted again: “So, if we want to remain alive, we have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.” One imagines that Haifa University faculty meetings are quite eventful.

Pappe admits that Israeli Jews who support Palestinians are “few and far between.” He faults the Zionist ideology and Zionists’ fear of a “demographic danger,” which has at least one Supreme Court candidate talking about controlling “Palestinian natural growth.” (p. 252) Even the Palestinians now in refugee camps are not safe from a future wave of ethnic cleansing warns Pappe, and those Palestinians living in Israel are in danger of “transfer.”


Colleague Gary Zatzman articulated on Pappe’s reluctance to acknowledge genocide in an e-mail:

Here’s the thing about ethnic cleansing: it’s not the same as genocide. The latter [genocide] is consciously aimed at destroying the people-hood of a people by attacking how, as well as where, they live, their ideas, their outlook, their culture etc etc. The former [ethnic cleansing] displaces people, but the question of whether there is a genocidal intention, or merely a desire to take over the land and property of others, is left moot.

Ilan Pappe is one of those who fudges this question. He says what the Zionists do today in Gaza is genocide, but what they did in Mandate Palestine since 1947 and in the West Bank since 1967 was ethnic cleansing. DISINFORMATION ALERT!

It is ALL genocide. The intention of the Haganah was to genocide the Palestinians. It’s very convenient to say, à la Golda Meir, that the Zionists didn’t think of the Palestinians as a people or nationality, just an inconvenient obstacle. The FACT is they prepared and executed genocide. It doesn’t matter, either, that the Zionists didn’t get all the Palestinians in one fell swoop, but have dragged it out over the last 58 years. It is still genocide. To suggest the survivors of the Judeocide were incapable of such a thing, which seems to be the only substance at the heart of the liberal Zionists’ argument, is utter nonsense. Were these survivors not psychically damaged by what they experienced before they were “liberated”? Such people were the ideal human material to set upon the Palestinians like wild beasts.

Ethnic cleansing can happen between two peoples of the same, or contiguous or neighboring territories, when one strives to displace the other. The cannon-fodder and bullet-stoppers with which the world imperialist system enabled the Zionists to populate a foothold in a territory coveted by the Zionists cannot be considered a people. They were an imperialist praetorian guard but, conveniently, large numbers of them were also so desperate and down-and-out and displaced several times over that they could garner sympathy. But 99% of these Zionist fodder who got there before 1945 had NOTHING to do with that part of the world except for the fact of either illegal immigration or British-imperialist-approved immigration. One hundred percent of those who got there between 1945 and 1947 were persons from various European countries who were brought there from DP camps. This conflict is not ethnic/tribal conflict, not Hutu-Tutsi, not Serb-Croat. Pappe is especially noxious on this point, as he compares what the Zionists did in the West Bank specifically to Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

It’s important to hit these people hard, especially intellectuals and academics like historian Pappe.

There are opponents of the antics of the Zionist junta in the Occupied Territories, such as Uri Avnery, Jeff Halper et al., who consider themselves part of an Israeli nationality. If they really mean it, they should defend their claim to Israeli status and lift a finger to smash the Zionist lie that citizenship in their state is “Jewish” or otherwise, and to smash along with it the idea that the citizenship conferred on those “48-Palestinians can be not Jewish, not Palestinian, but … ‘Arab’! These liberal Zionists don’t want to lift that finger. They conciliate the Jewish citizenship thing instead, and thereby become complicit specifically and explicitly in Zionist suppression and genocide of Palestinian identity.

That judgment may seem harsh, but is it not just?


Pappe does go further than most Israeli intellectuals. He tackles the Nakba and the right of refugees to return. He decries the “horrific repression” of the Palestinians and understands how it helps provoke suicide bombings.

Pappe says the Zionists have a “siege mentality” about Arabs. He admits that Israeli Jews who support Palestinians are “few and far between.” Pappe faults the Zionist ideology and Zionists’ fear of a “demographic danger.” Even the Palestinians now in refugee camps are not safe from a future wave of ethnic cleansing warns Pappe, and those Palestinians living in Israel are in danger of “transfer.”

He views Palestinians as moderate and forgiving for the most part and, therefore, believes there is a chance for reconciliation. But this requires atonement: “[U]nless Israel acknowledges the cardinal role it has played, and continues to play, in the dispossession of the Palestinian nation, and accepts the consequences this recognition of the ethnic cleansing implies, all attempts to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict are bound to fail.”

Pappe’s language sometimes betrays him. Why is it an “Israel-Palestine conflict”? It implies an equivalency between the two sides. There is no equivalency. It is a Zionist genocide perpetrated against Palestinians, abetted by much of the bystanding world. This is what it has always been and continues to be.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at Read other articles by Kim.