The time is the last week of July 1948. The journey of the forcible state of Israel in the Palestinian territories has just begun. David Ben-Gurion is the prime minister of the interim government. He angrily criticized the Israeli people at a meeting, saying, “It turns out that most Jews are thieves … I’m saying this openly. Because, unfortunately, this is true. … the people of Jezreel Valley are stealing … the people of Nahala are stealing. … it’s very scary, because it means there’s a lot of chaos at the beginning. Theft and robbery — where did these come from? Why would the people of this land, who are its creators, creators and pioneers, do these things? What happened to them? ‘
These words of David Ben Gurion are recorded in the archives of the Labor Party of Israel. Why did he say that? If you want to know the answer, you have to go first on May 14, 1948. On that day, the emergence of Israel as an independent state in the Palestinian territories was announced. Israel though celebrates the day according to the Hebrew calendar. As such, it is celebrated on April 15 this year by the relentless oppression, persecution, looting and forcible occupation of millions of Palestinians. Jewish armed groups and armies started killing, raping, looting and arson to drive Palestinians out of their homes. Fearing for their lives, millions of Palestinians fled their homes and property. They took refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria in groups. The conspiracies and plots of the European Asheknaji Jews succeeded by capitalizing on the cruel fresh memory of the Holocaust. The Palestinians embarked on a journey of forcible occupation of the land through the “return to the Promised Land” in the name of the Israel-Hebrew Bible. Since then, the Palestinians have fallen into an endless uncertainty that continues to this day. And so every year May 15 is celebrated by the Palestinians as Nakba Day.
This year’s Nakba Day also coincides with the 63rd birth anniversary of the Zionist or extremist Zionist state of Israel. It came through Israeli airstrikes and massacres in Gaza and torture of Palestinians in the Haram al-Sharif compound in Jerusalem. The Palestinians have been oppressed since the birth of the state of Israel, and their property has been stolen, robbed and looted.
In mid-May 1948, combined forces from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq launched an offensive to prevent the establishment of an Israeli state. But it was not their job to cope with the European and Russian modern weapons and trained Jewish forces. Due to this, the Arab forces retreated within a few days. In 1949, Israel signed a ceasefire agreement with other countries.
But in the midst of the ongoing conflict, Palestinian Arabs’ abandoned homes and property were indiscriminately looted. The Israeli army and ordinary Jews looted in whatever way they could. It started on May 14, 1948 and lasted for several months. What was not looted at this time? Thousands of Palestinian homes, shops, warehouses and factories left behind. From there, machinery, agricultural products, food grains, cattle, clothes, ornaments, furniture, pianos, electric appliances, cars — everything that was found was looted by the Jews. For this he went to 30 archives in Israel and searched for documents and contemporary newspapers and other written documents. Standing on them, he wrote the book in Hebrew, entitled The Looting of Arab Assets during the War of Independence. A long article on this was published in the Israeli daily Haaretz in October last year.
Not only David Ben-Gurion, but also his one-time colleague and second-in-command of Israel, Isaac Ben-Xavi, has acknowledged the looting. In a letter to Ben Gurion on June 2, 1948, he said that what was happening in Jerusalem was “terribly detrimental” to the dignity of the Jewish people and combatants. He added that all the Jews involved in the looting were “polite Jews” who considered such robberies normal and permissible. The Jewish Armed Forces Haganah’s Strike Force was in Palmakh. The written testimony of Haim Kramer, a soldier in the Negev Brigade, is preserved in an Israeli archive. In it, he says, “like locusts, the inhabitants of Tiberias (Jews) jump into the houses (abandoned by the Arabs) … we have to kick and punch them in order to beat them away and leave the looted things behind.” A few places were sent to prevent such looting. Nahum Ave, a Haganah commander himself, said many soldiers had joined the looting. However, Kramer elaborated, “There was fierce competition between the various units in Hagana … they came in cars and boats and came back with loads of refrigerators, bedding and much more.”
Nativa Ben-Yehuda, a female soldier from Palmakh, joined the fight for control of Tiberias. Adam Raj also quotes from his written commentary in the book. Ben-Judah says, “We know the picture of such incidents. Such activities have been done with us all the time. During the Holocaust, during World War II. There have been well-organized killings of Jews and looting of their property at various times. And here we are
During World War II, Polish citizens also looted the property of neighboring Jews. Responding to such criticism, Adam Raj said, “Even though the looting has been going on for thousands of years during the war, the way the Jews have looted the goods and property of the Palestinian Arabs cannot be included in this section.” Because, here the civilian Jews, many of whom have lived as neighbors to the Arabs, have taken part in the looting. These Jews did not plunder the homes of any unknown enemy. (Many years before the establishment of the state of Israel, Jews from Europe and Russia came in droves to settle in Palestine. There were also some Jewish families who had lived with Arabs for more than a hundred years.) Yet they did not stop. Most Palestinians have not been involved in any armed conflict.
The book also mentions that some Jews were punished for these lootings. Hundreds of cases were filed against the looters. However, the punishment was very light. Imprisonment for a maximum of six months from a small fine.
Support of Jewish leaders
Raj thinks that this looting had the support of the political and military Jewish leaders of the time. As a result, it has played a political role in shaping Israeli society. The purpose of supporting the looting was to implement the policy of expelling the Arabs from the land. The robbers became criminals. They played an active role in formulating various policies and rules to prevent the Arabs from returning to their homeland.
Asked what should have been done with the houses, belongings and farms left behind by the Arabs, Raj said, “There is no point in recommending what to do 60 years after the incident.” The big thing is, many assumed that Ben Gurion was supporting the looting. He added that some policymakers and ministers had criticized the looting and called for the formation of a government authority to seize the property left by the Arabs and then distribute it.
However, the remarks made by Israeli writer and social activist Odeh Bishrat in the Israeli daily Haaretz about Ben Gurion’s outrageous remarks are noteworthy. He writes, ‘When that man (Ben Gurion) himself was in charge of expelling eight million Arabs, how did he expect his subordinates to be comfortable? Will they guard the furniture left behind by the deportees, the wheat on the farm, the goats in the barn, and the gold in the ark until the deportees return? In fact, all these things will embarrass the crocodile tears of the father of the nation and his double standards will also embarrass the crocodile. An ancient Arab poet once said, “If the master of the house starts playing the drums, do not blame the boys of the house for dancing.”
Bishrat further writes, ‘With the generous cooperation of Ben Gurion (Israel) the founding generation became the looters generation. And we will not waste time talking about the plunder of Arab lands, what happened, with a formal decision! After all, taking possession of this land was a glorious patriotic instruction! ‘
Asjadul Kibria is a writer and journalist.