The Palestinians call Israel's 1948 war of independence their nakba, or catastrophic ethnic cleansing, or forced exile. The Israelis, for their part, have steadfastly rejected any suggestion of ethnic cleansing as calumny in all its anti-Semitic horror.
Historic revisionism is now under way. Without fanfare, just below the media radar screen, the Israeli Education Ministry has approved a textbook for Arab third-graders in Israel that concedes the war that gave birth to Israel was a "nakba" for the Palestinians. The textbook refers to the "expulsion" of some of the Palestinians and the "confiscation of many Arab-owned lands."
Textbooks for Jewish Israelis in the same grade make no such verbal concession. But Israel's "new wave" historians have been combing through fresh material now available from the British mandate period and Israeli archives that document the history of Israel before and after it became a state. Long-lasting myths are being debunked.
Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian and Haifa University lecturer, whose ninth book is titled "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine," documents how Israel was born with lands forcibly seized from its Palestinian inhabitants who had lived there for hundreds of years.
During the British mandate (1920-1948), Zionist leaders concluded Palestinians, who owned 90 percent of the land (with 5.8 percent owned by Jews), would have to be forcibly expelled to make a Jewish state possible. Pappe quotes David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, addressing the Jewish Agency Executive in June 1938, as saying, "I am for compulsory transfer. I do not see anything immoral in it."
Pappe outlines Plan D (Dalet in Hebrew), which followed earlier plans A, B and C, and included forcible expulsion of some 800,000 Palestinians from both urban and rural areas with the objective of creating by any means necessary an exclusive Jewish state without an Arab presence. The methods ranged from a campaign of disinformation -- "get out immediately because the Jews are on their way to kill you" -- to Jewish militia attacks to terrorize the Palestinians.
The first Jewish militia attacks, says Pappe, began before the May 1948 end of the British mandate. In December 1947 two villages in the central plain -- Deir Ayyub and Beit Affa -- were raided, and their panicked Palestinian inhabitants fled. Jewish leaders gave the order to drive out as many Palestinians as possible on March 10, 1948. The terror campaign ended six months later. Pappe writes 531 Palestinian villages were destroyed, and 11 urban neighborhoods in cities were emptied of their Palestinian inhabitants.
There is no doubt in Pappe's mind that Plan D "was a clear-cut case of an ethnic cleansing operation, regarded under international law today as a crime against humanity."