Israel's Treatment of the Arabs in the Occupied Territories

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VOL. 6


No. 2
P. 19
Israel's Treatment of the Arabs in the Occupied Territories



Chaim Weizmann, later to become the first president of Israel, once remarked-long before the establishment of the Jewish state-that the world would judge the Zionists by the way they treated the Arabs of Palestine.

It was a wise utterance, and a prophetic one. For a variety of reasons, half a century was to pass before the outside world gained a clear picture of the relationship between Jews and Arabs in Israeli-occupied Palestine. (Indeed, even today the world remains woefully ignorant about the situation of the Palestinians living under occupation.) But the increased awareness of the injustice suffered by the Palestinians, and of its results in terms of discrimination and spiritual and material hardship, has been one important factor in bringing about a reappraisal of international attitudes towards the Arab-Israeli conflict and the proper solution to it.

The basic problem which the early Zionists largely ignored, and whose importance their successors have consistently tried to belittle, was and remains the Arab problem. When they conceived their ambition of establishing in Palestine a Jewish homeland or commonwealth, all but the most perceptive among them left out of account the fact that Palestine already had a population -a population of Arabs, who could not be expected to share the enthusiasm of the Zionists for their wholly Jewish vision.

From the beginning there were among the Zionists those who were aware of the facts, and who tried to warn their colleagues against the dangers of implanting a Jewish national entity on Arab soil. One such was Asher Ginzberg, a Russian Jew who became interested in Zionism towards the end of the 19th century and who visited Palestine in 1891 to assess for himself the prospects for Jewish settlement. Finding that the country already had a settled Arab population and that it was "difficult, except on sand dunes or stony hills, to find untilled soil in Palestine," he warned his fellow-Zionists in an article entitled "Truth from Palestine" (signed with his pen-name of Ahad Ha'Am) that Jewish settlers must be very careful to win the goodwill of the local Arabs. If they wanted to find a secure foothold in this Arab land, he said, they must treat the Arabs with friendliness and respect.

Yet what do our brethren do in Palestine? Just the very opposite! Serfs they were in the lands of the Diaspora and suddenly they find themselves in unrestricted freedom and this change has awakened in them an inclination to despotism. They treat the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, deprive them of their rights, offend them without cause and even boast of these deeds; and nobody among us opposes this despicable and dangerous inclination. [1]

Unhappily, the warning of Asher Ginzberg went unheeded, as did the warnings of those in the next generation of Zionists who shared his humanity and his realism, men like Martin Buber and Judah Magnes. To such men, no action could be justified which failed to take account of the principle that you should "do nothing to your neighbour that you would not have him do unto you." But it was not they who were to control the destiny of the Zionist movement. Instead, a group of men gained the upper hand who either knew nothing of the Arab presence in Palestine or believed that it could be elbowed aside by force. This was a tragedy both for the Palestinians and for the future Israelis; and it was all the more tragic because these activists were successful - in the short run. For reasons which do not concern us here (but of which it is worth singling out the powerful support they received from sympathizers in the Western world), they were able to overcome the formidable obstacles con- fronting the Zionist movement and to establish a Jewish state.

To Zionist eyes, their success was even greater than they had expected. Few of them considered the price that had been paid by the Palestinian Arabs; and those who did tended to dismiss it as one of those inevitable historical tragedies whose victims had no option but to learn to live with their fate. But this was a short-sighted view which the Palestinians were to disprove. In over- coming Arab resistance to the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, the Zionists had not solved the Arab problem; they had merely complicated it. Whether or not it had been a mistake in the first place to try to establish a Jewish presence in Palestine, there can be no doubt that it was a mistake to do so by force and without Arab consent-and the success of the undertaking only made matters worse. It was that same Asher Ginzberg who observed that "a mistake that succeeds is still a mistake." The modern Israelis are still living with the consequences of the mistake made by their founding fathers.

A Continuing Dilemma

It is important to be clear about the nature of that mistake on the part of the early Zionists, for it has dictated the policy of their successors towards the Arab world-and it lies at the root of the failure of the Israelis so far to achieve their goal of a secure national existence.

In the Balfour Declaration, the British government had expressed its support for the idea of establishing in Palestine a Jewish "national home" and this idea was also written into the terms of the Mandate by which the League of Nations authorized Britain to rule Palestine. But both before and after accepting the Mandate, the British government expressly ruled out the suggestion that a national home meant a Jewish state. The condition stated in the Balfour Declaration, that "nothing shall be done to prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine," should have ruled out such a suggestion in any case. But because there were doubts (well- founded doubts, as we now know) about the true intention, the British government published in 1922 a policy statement which contained the following categorical assurance:

His Majesty's Government therefore now declare unequivocally that it is not part of their policy that Palestine should become a Jewish State. They would indeed regard it as contrary to their obligations to the Arabs under the Mandate, as well as to the assurances which have been given to the Arab people in the past, that the Arab population of Palestine should be made the subjects of a Jewish State against their will.

This was clear as far as the British government was concerned. But the British could not speak for the Zionists and it is also clear now (and should have been clear then) that the Zionists were aiming at the establishment of a Jewish state. It was also clear from the beginning that such a state could only be achieved by violating the rights of the Palestinian Arabs.

It is this that needs to be clearly recognized if we are to understand the attitude of the Zionists towards the Palestinians, both in this early stage of the Zionist enterprise and at every subsequent stage of its development. The Zionists had set their sights on a goal which necessarily involved the violation of the rights of the Palestinians. They were prepared to use every means, including force, to achieve that goal. It is not surprising, therefore, that once they had gained control in 1948 of most of Palestine (or when they went on in 1967 to gain control of all of it), they felt no compunction about infringing still further what few rights were left to the Palestinians. Indeed, it can be argued that by starting out on the wrong foot, using violence and political manipulation to gain their ends, they left themselves no alternative, once they were in control of the situation in Palestine, but to continue on the same course. This does much to explain the otherwise inexplicable heartlessness with which the Israeli government has continued to persecute a people to which it had already done such irreparable injury.

No amount of sophistry can disguise the extent of that original injury. It found its full expression in the dispersion of the Palestinian people in 1948 and the forcible seizure of their lands and property. But long before that it was implicit in several aspects of Zionist policy during the period of the British Mandate. In particular, the creation of the Jewish Agency and of other specifically Jewish organizations (the embryonic infrastructure of the future state), of which the Histadrut is an outstanding example, established a form of apartheid, involving the exclusion of the native Palestinians from participation in important areas of social, economic and political life in their own homeland.

The policies adopted by the Israelis towards the Palestinian Arabs after the establishment of the Jewish state followed logically- and, indeed, inevitably- from the attitudes of the Zionist "pioneers" in the pre-state period. Zionism as it developed in the 1930s and 1940s was an essentially undemocratic movement, because it favoured one section of the community in Palestine at the expense of another. Those Zionists who pointed out this failing and the dangers that followed from it were disregarded by the majority, who refused to face the fact that there was a basic conflict between Zionism and democracy. Forty years later, their successors are still plagued by the dilemma of how to resolve this conflict.


The conflict made itself felt the moment the Jewish state came into being. Those who signed Israel's Declaration of Independence, dated May 14, 1948, described themselves as the representatives of "the Jewish people in the Land of Israel and the Zionist Movement." They proclaimed "the establishment of a Jewish state" and declared that the new state would be "open to Jewish immigration and the ingathering of exiles." Yet, despite this insistence on the Jewish character of the state and its institutions, the Declaration went on to say that it would maintain "complete equality of social and political rights for all its citizens, without distinction of creed, race or sex"; and it called on "the sons of the Arab people dwelling in Israel to keep the peace and to play their part in building the state on the basis of full and equal citizenship."

The hollowness of the promise to maintain "complete equality for all its citizens" was soon exposed, when the question arose of who was entitled to live in the new state. Its boundaries had been extended far beyond those envisaged in the UN partition plan; but the great majority of the Arabs whose homes were in the area now under Israeli control had fled into exile, some out of a simple instinct for self-preservation, others because they had been forcibly expelled by the Israelis. The United Nations General Assembly, in one of its earliest attempts to limit the scope of the tragedy that had overtaken Pales- tine, called for their return, but without avail. The General Assembly was acting on the advice of the UN Chief Mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte, who had urged in the report he submitted in September 1948 that

It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine, and indeed offer at least the threat of permanent replacement of the Arab refugees who have been rooted in the land for centuries.

This recommendation, which touched the heart of the Palestine conflict, aroused grave apprehension in the minds of the Israelis, who had seen their task of taking over Palestine "miraculously" simplified by the flight of so much of the indigenous population. Faced with the possibility that the United Nations would insist on their return, Israel's new Prime Minister, David Ben- Gurion, had said, "We must do everything to ensure they never do return." [2] Nor, to their shame, did the influential Israelis raise their voices in support of Bernadotte's principle of "elemental justice" for the refugees. Indeed, it was probably Bernadotte's insistence on the right of the refugees to return which contributed as much as anything to the hostility he aroused among the Israelis. The day after completing his report, Bernadotte was murdered by Jewish terrorists in Jerusalem; and the danger he foresaw, that the refugees would be replaced in their ancestral homeland by Jewish immigrants from other countries, became a fact, with terrible consequences for both sides. The consequences were most immediate and most devastating for the Palestinian refugees themselves, dispossessed as they were and condemned to a life of exile and misery. In the end, however, the consequences of the decision not to allow the refugees to return may prove even more far-reaching for the Israelis and their supporters; for the Arab refugees were to become, as the Jewish- American journalist I.F. Stone was later to remark, "the moral millstone about the neck of world Jewry." By throwing Israel open to unlimited Jewish immigration while excluding from it several hundred thousand Palestinians whose homes lay within its de facto boundaries, the Zionists gave the lie to their own claim that Arabs and Jews would be treated with "complete equality" in the new state. They also stored up for themselves a fearful reservoir of bitter and justified resentment.

Discrimination Against the Arabs in Israel

The Arab refugees who lost their homes in 1948 numbered about three quarters of a million. There remained within the area of Palestine under Israeli control some 140,000 Palestinian Arabs, according to official Israeli statistics. [3] Under the terms of the Declaration of Independence, these "Israeli Arabs" should have enjoyed exactly the same rights and privileges as the Jewish citizens of Israel. In fact they were subjected to a strict regime of discrimination which governed every aspect of their daily lives.

In a sense, this discrimination was automatic and inevitable. As Arabs in an avowedly Jewish state, they could not hope to share on equal terms the benefits of a state structure which was consciously and explicitly designed to further the interests of the Jewish population. But the inequality and the material and spiritual disadvantages which they suffered, simply because they found them- selves, through no fault of their own, aliens in a society whose hopes and ambitions they could not share, were reinforced by a series of discriminatory laws expressly designed to limit their participation in the activities of that society.

The laws in question were inherited by the state of Israel from the British Mandatory Government which had ruled Palestine between 1922 and 1948. Entitled the Defense Laws (State of Emergency) 1945, they were originally designed by the British administration to control the activities of both Jewish and Arab organizations and individuals opposed to British rule. They incorporated emergency regulations which the British had used to subdue the Arab rebellion between 1936 and 1939; in their revised form they were used after 1945 against the Jewish terrorist organizations Etzel (the Irgun Zvai Leumi) and Lehi (generally known as the Stern Gang).

When they were introduced, the Defense Laws had been violently criticized by representatives of the Jewish community in Palestine. A conference of the Jewish Lawyers' Association held in Tel Aviv in February 1946 heard a future Justice of the Supreme Court in Israel say of them:

These laws. . . contradict the most fundamental principles of law, justice and jurisprudence. They give the administrative and military authorities the power to impose penalties which, even had they been ratified by a legislative body, could only be regarded as anarchical and irregular. The Defense Laws abolish the rights of the individual and grant unlimited power to the administration.

The representative of the Jewish Agency, Dr. Bernard Joseph, who was later to become Israel's Minister of Justice, went even further:

With regard to the Defense Laws themselves, the question is: Are we all to become the victims of officially licensed terrorism, or will the freedom of the individual prevail? Is the administration to be allowed to interfere in the life of each individual without any safeguards for us? There is nothing to prevent a citizen from being imprisoned all his life without trial. There is no safeguard for the rights of the individual. There is no possibility of appeal against the decision of the Military Commander, no possibility of resort to the Supreme Court, and the administration has unrestricted freedom to banish any citizen at any moment.

Even more emphatic was a future Attorney-General of Israel, Mr, Ya'acov Shimshon Shapiro, who later succeeded Dr. Joseph as Minister of Justice:

The system established in Palestine since the issue of the Defense Laws is unparalleled in any civilized country; there were no such laws even in Nazi Germany. . . They try to pacify us by saying that these laws are only directed against malefactors, not against honest citizens. But the Nazi Governor of occupied Oslo also announced that no harm would come to citizens who minded their own business. It is our duty to tell the whole world that the Defense Laws passed by the British Mandatory Government of Palestine destroy the very foundations of justice in this land. [4]

The conference of Jewish lawyers adopted a number of resolutions which stated, among other things, that the Defense Laws "deprive the Palestinian citizen (in the Land of Israel) of the fundamental rights of man" and that they "establish a rule of violence without any judicial control." It might have been expected that as soon as the state of Israel achieved its independence two years later, these same eminent Jewish lawyers would have clamored for the repeal of laws so brutal and so unjustified. Instead, in their new roles as legal officers and judges in the state of Israel, they forgot their criticisms and turned these same laws against the Palestinian Arab minority. The Declaration of Independence might promise that in the Jewish state there would be ''complete equality of social and political rights for all its citizens . . . but the reality was very different

The Legal Structure of Discrimination [5]

The Defense Laws (State of Emergency) 1945 constituted a complex body of legislation. One hundred and seventy articles, divided into fifteen sections, described an elaborate network of detailed regulations whereby the movements and activities of the Arab population in Israel could be controlled. There were restrictions on freedom of speech and of the press and restrictions on freedom of movement, both from one area of the country to an- other and within each area. The Minister of Defense was empowered to appoint Military Governors in any area, and the Military Governors were then authorized to enforce, at their own discretion, all the regulations contained in the Defense Laws. They could restrict movement into and out of the areas they controlled, or close those areas to movement altogether. They could, by simple administrative order, subject an individual to police supervision, refuse him access to his own property, control his professional life (this power was used especially against journalists and writers) and his contacts with other people, detain him without explanation for any length of time, deport him from the country, and in certain circumstances confiscate or destroy his property (if the Military Governor suspected that a shot had been fired or a bomb thrown from it).

The powers of the Military Governors were, in short, absolute, being subject to no administrative control of any kind and to no judicial control except the formal right of appeal to the Supreme Court. Even this right was virtually meaningless, since the Military Governor could always invoke the justification of "security reasons" for any decision, however arbitrary. An English writer, himself Jewish, who published a study on the situation of the Arab minority ten years after the establishment of the Israeli state, summed up the impotence and frustration experienced by the victims of this comprehensive system of repression when he quoted an Arab from Galilee as saying:

They take our land. Why? For security reasons! They take our jobs. Why? For security reasons! And when we ask them how it happens that we, our lands and our jobs threaten the security of the state, they do not tell us. Why? For security reasons! [6]

Theoretically speaking, the Defense Laws were applicable to the Jewish as well as the Arab citizens of Israel. In practice, they were only enforced against the Arabs; indeed, they were only maintained in the statute book of the new state as a means of exercising strict control over the Arab population. In 1959, when the legitimacy of the Defense Laws -and in particular of Article 125, which restricted freedom of movement-was challenged, the State Controller examined the position and published a report which contained the following passage:

If an area is declared closed by the Military Governor, this order is, in theory, applicable to all citizens, whether male or female, without exception, whether they live inside or outside those areas. Thus anyone who enters or leaves a closed area without a written permit from the Military Governor is, in fact, committing a criminal offence. In practice, Jews are not expected to have such permits and, in general, criminal actions are not brought against Jews when they offend against the provisions of Article 125. There is something improper about this law, which was drafted with the intention of its being applicable to all the inhabitants of the country, whereas in fact it is only enforced against some of them. [7]

Expropriation of Arab Land

The Defense Laws constituted a formalized system of legal discrimination, whose victims were the indigenous Palestinian Arabs. But an additional series of laws, which were enforced in conjunction with the Defense Laws, had an even more far-reaching effect on the lives of the Arab minority inside Israel. These were the various laws passed between 1948 and 1958 with the express aim of taking land away from its Arab owners and cultivators and transferring it to Jewish control.

The acquisition of land in Palestine had always been a central objective of the Zionist movement. During the period of the British Mandate, land had been acquired wherever possible by purchase, mainly from absentee landlords. The area of land involved was small, but even so the process aroused widespread resentment, especially because the new Jewish owners at once dis- possessed the Arab tenant farmers who were actually working the land and who thereby lost their livelihood. The Mandatory Government, aware of the injustices that resulted from these transfers of land, tried to control them and finally put a stop to them in some areas and severely restricted them in others under the terms of the White Paper of 1939.

In 1948, their success on the battlefield left the Zionists in control of wide areas of Palestine which were Arab-owned and situated for the most part in the territory allocated under the UN Partition Plan for an Arab state. Where the Arab population had fled before or during the fighting of 1948, these areas were simply seized by the Israeli authorities in accordance with a plan of action drawn up by the significantly-named "Transfer Committee" in the strictest secrecy and with the approval of Ben-Gurion and his colleagues in the new Israeli government. [8] Where the Arab inhabitants had not fled, the Zionists faced a dilemma, which they resolved in a number of cases by themselves expelling the Arabs, either to other areas under Israeli control or across the armistice lines into the neighbouring Arab countries. But such summary methods ran the risk of alienating international opinion, which was already concerned over the injustice to which the Arab population of Palestine had been subjected, and the government of Israel saw the need to give some legal cover to the process of expropriation by which the Arabs were to be stripped of as much as possible of the land which remained in their hands.

Again, the subject is an intricate one, of which Sabri Jiryis has given a detailed account. [9] Briefly, a series of laws were promulgated during the first decade of Israel's existence, whose combined effect was to strip the Palestinian Arabs inside Israel of an estimated one million dunams of land. [10] This result was achieved by invoking two principles: that of "security," which the Israeli authorities interpreted in this context to mean that Arabs should not be left in possession of lands in areas close to the de facto borders of the new state, and that of the need to cultivate all available land. Arabs living in what were designated by the authorities as "security areas" were ordered to leave them and forbidden to return without permission (which of course was not granted). Since their lands were left uncultivated, they were then expropriated under the terms of the "Emergency Articles for the Exploitation of Uncultivated Lands" published in the Official Gazette in October 1948. There were numerous other Laws and Articles designed to close any possible loopholes in the system, such as the "Law for the Requisitioning of Land in Times of Emergency" published in November 1949, and the "Law of Prescription" published as late as April 1958 and stipulating that anyone (in practice this meant ''any Arab") claiming ownership of a piece of land must prove that he had controlled and cultivated this land for fifteen years-something which many cultivators were unable to prove because the ownership of the land had not been registered in the days of the British Mandate

But these are details; what is important is that, in open disregard of the promise in the Declaration of Independence that the state of Israel would maintain "complete equality of social and political rights for all its citizens," the authorities of that same state embarked at once in 1948 on a programme of legalized spoliation of its Arab citizens. What was in effect the straight- forward theft of vast areas of land, whose true ownership was not in doubt, was given a spurious legal cover by means of legislation expressly aimed against one section of the population. It was a shameful process; its harmful effect on the structure of Israeli society is most evident today. The rioting which took place on the "Day of the Land" in parts of Israel in March 1976, after the announcement that further land expropriations were to be carried out, demonstrated the depth of feeling after nearly thirty years among the Arab victims of this process of legally authorized land theft. What was most shameful of all about the original process was the lack of public protest against it on the part of a community-the Jewish community of Israel- ostensibly devoted to the principles of justice and non-discrimination.

To their credit, there were Israelis who did raise their voices in protest against what was done in their name, though they were very few. One such was Azriel Karlibach, who wrote an article published in the Israeli newspaper Maariv on December 25, 1953. In the article, an Israeli is describing to his nine-year old daughter the stratagems by which so many of the Arabs in Galilee were dispossessed of their lands. He observes sadly that the Jews, who have known so much persecution at the hands of others who were stronger than themselves, must also expect to be judged by the way they behave towards a weaker minority in their midst. If the Zionists, he says, are called before "the throne of History" to account for their behaviour towards the Arab world, they will be able to offer some sort of justification for some of the things they have done. But he goes on to say that if they are asked, "Did you have to desecrate all law and all justice-in order to steal a few thousand dunams from a handful of miserable Arab villagers..?" then they will have nothing to say and will not be able to hold up their heads before "the throne of History.” [11]

Results of Israeli Policy Towards the Palestinians Before 1967

By refusing to allow the return of the Palestinian refugees and by expropriating, in addition to their lands, much of the land belonging to the Arabs who remained in Israel after 1948, the Zionists confirmed the pattern of their relationship with the Palestinian people. They set no bounds to their own ambitions, accepted no restraints on their freedom of action, showed no mercy towards those whom they had injured. Instead, when any Palestinian tried to recover even a portion of what he had lost, the Zionist authorities in Israel treated him as an outlaw, a criminal. If they could catch him, they killed him; if not, they practiced a policy of retaliation by which others were made to pay the penalty for his offence. A special unit of the Israeli army was formed, Unit 101, to mount reprisal raids against villages on the borders of Israel from which any attempt at infiltration might be made by the dispossessed Palestinians.

The brutality with which this unit conducted its operations brought down on the Israeli government repeated condemnations, as in the case of the raid on the Jordanian village of Qibya in October 1953, when a uniformed Israeli task force attacked without warning and blew up thirty houses over the heads of their inhabitants, killing more than fifty men, women and children. The Israelis justified such actions by arguing that only a demonstration of force could deter Palestinian attempts to undermine Israel's security. No such excuse could be used to explain the relentless repression practiced against the Arabs inside Israel, a small and impotent minority which had lived in a state of shock since 1948 and which was in any case rigorously controlled by the pattern of military government and emergency legislation which we have just considered. Yet in 1956, on the eve of the Israeli attack on Egypt, Israeli security forces carried out at the village of Kafr Qassem a punitive action which vividly illustrates the attitude of mind of the Zionist authorities towards the Arab community in Israel. This time 49 Palestinian villagers, citizens of Israel, were shot in cold blood by Israeli border guards, who were enforcing a curfew of which the villagers had been given no previous warning. A public enquiry, which was held after the Israeli press had uncovered the story, failed to discover who had authorized the atrocity; but for Jewish and Arab Israelis alike, its message was clear. The Arabs in Israel were a community apart, who could in no circumstances expect to be treated on a basis of equality with their Jewish compatriots. They must be held in subjection, their every movement supervised and controlled, and now and then, to remind them of their situation, they must be taught a bloody lesson. The underlying contradiction between Zionism and democracy remained as sharp and as clear-cut as ever.


Thus by 1967 the Zionist attitude towards the Palestinians had been decisively shaped. The chain of events by which the early Zionists had first gained a foothold in Palestine, had then taken advantage of their relationship with the British Mandatory authorities to transform the concept of a "national home" into an embryonic Jewish state, and had finally achieved statehood by a combination of violence and political manipulation -all at the expense of the indigenous Arab population of Palestine-had confirmed the worst fears of the Palestinians. It had revealed Zionism as a straightforward movement of colonialism and settlement, whose objective of transforming Arab Palestine into a Jewish state could only be achieved by destroying the concept of Palestinian nationhood and, if possible, physically dispersing the Arab population of Palestine.

This objective had been partially achieved in 1948, when some four-fifths of the land of Palestine had been occupied and approximately half of the Palestinian Arab population had been displaced. During the nineteen years from 1948 to 1967, the Zionist authorities, now represented by the government of Israel, consolidated these gains by settling Jewish immigrants on the lands vacated by the Arabs and by subjecting those Arabs who remained in the areas under Israeli control to the most rigorous controls. The fiction that Israel was a democratic society in which Arabs and Jews enjoyed equality before the law was maintained; but in practice the Arab citizens of the Jewish state were subjected at every turn to an elaborate pattern of officially sponsored discrimination. Above all, it was necessary for the Zionists to deny categorically the claim that there was a Palestinian nation with national rights, including the right to exist as a nation on the soil of Palestine. Acceptance of this claim would call into question what the Zionists had already achieved and would render impossible the further expansion to which they aspired.

The opportunity for that further expansion came in 1967, when, in a swift and meticulously prepared military operation, the Israelis occupied the remainder of Palestine, as well as large areas of Egyptian and Syrian territory. Theoretically, the victory in June 1967 also provided an opportunity for the Israeli government to propose a comprehensive settlement of the Palestine problem, one which would take account of the claims of both sides and attempt to resolve on the basis of justice and humanity a dispute which had already caused so much bitterness and bloodshed. But to do this would have involved facing the fact that the Palestinians had rights, both as individuals and as a people, which were incompatible with the full achievement of the Zionist goal. It was probably inevitable, in the light of their past policies and attitudes, that the Israeli authorities should turn away from such a course and should seize instead what seemed to them a golden opportunity to establish their dominion over the whole of Palestine and to dispose once and for all of the Palestinian claim to nationhood.

The Israelis were motivated, at this crucial turning-point in the Arab- Israeli conflict, by two considerations, both of them inherent in the history of the Zionist struggle to gain possession of Palestine. One was the appetite for land on which to extend and consolidate their physical presence in Palestine; the second was a preoccupation with their national security. The two, of course, were closely linked; the more they could extend their territorial occupation, the more the Zionists believed they would be able to make them- selves secure against a possible counter-attack. And since every further extension of their occupation of Palestine also sharpened Palestinian resentment and desire for revenge, the Israeli preoccupation with security was a real one. Precisely because they knew they had deeply injured the Palestinians, the Israelis knew also that they must face the danger of Palestinian counter- action; and the more the injury was compounded, as it was in 1967, the greater that danger would become-unless the Israelis could destroy the Palestinian sense of nationhood and tear out at the roots any incipient movement of Palestinian resistance. It was on this dual aim that the Israelis based their policy towards the occupied territories after June 1967.

In the initial stage of the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israeli methods of dealing with the Arab population followed closely the precedents established in 1948. By psychological pressures, intimidation and straightforward expulsion, Palestinians living in these areas were encouraged to leave and to cross the borders into the neighbouring Arab countries. Those remaining were subjected to a strict regime of military government which enforced rigorous penalties against anyone showing the slightest sign of insubordination. In particular areas along the old armistice lines (e.g. in the neighbourhood of Latrun and Qalqilya) Arab villages were destroyed and their inhabitants forcibly expelled. It should be noted that these measures were not taken in response to military necessities and that they contravened specific provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention, of which Israel was signatory.

Establishment of Jewish Settlements in the Occupied Territories

Apart from East Jerusalem, which the Israeli government incorporated into the state of Israel by special legislation at the end of June 1967, the territories occupied in the June War were not annexed by Israel. But official Israeli intentions concerning these territories were indicated by the establishment in July 1967 of the first of a series of Jewish settlements. Within a programme of colonization which was rapidly extended during the next six years, more than forty such settlements were established before the next Arab-Israeli war in October 1973 gave a check to Israel's self-confident territorial expansion throughout the occupied territories. Once the shock of that war had been digested, the colonization programme was resumed and even accelerated, until the total number of settlements in the occupied territories today amounts to 70, of which more than half are in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In almost all cases they were established initially under the auspices of the Israeli army, as paramilitary outposts; later, most of them were turned over to civilian occupation, making it clear that the underlying intention is to plant Jewish communities in all parts of the occupied Arab lands, with a view to incorporating these areas in a "Greater Israel" when the time is ripe.

In East Jerusalem, which under international law constituted occupied territory just like any of the other areas occupied in 1967, but which the Israeli government now claimed as part of the state of Israel, essentially the same technique of settlement and colonization was followed by the Israeli authorities, although here it provoked more international criticism. Starting in January 1968, the Israeli authorities expropriated substantial areas of Arab-owned land within the municipal boundaries and constructed on them housing projects for Jewish settlers. By their location, these housing estates, part of multi-story apartment blocks (many of them clearly designed for military use in emergency), were distributed in such a way as to form a ring of Jewish settlement around the remaining areas of Arab habitation. Their importance as an element in the Israeli attempt to make of the annexation of Jerusalem a fait accompli, in defiance of a succession of United Nations resolutions condemning the annexation as illegal and invalid, can hardly be exaggerated. Nor could there be any clearer symbol of the official Israeli policy of racial discrimination than this concrete ring of buildings, set on Arab land in "united Jerusalem" but open to occupation only by Jews.

Israel's Use of Arab Labour from the Occupied Territories

The Israeli victory in 1967 attracted a huge amount of financial support from Jewish communities throughout the world and especially from the United States of America. During the succeeding years until 1973, an economic boom in Israel, with the construction industry playing a leading part, brought about a shortage of labour. In the newly occupied territories, on the other hand, there was a surplus of unemployed or under-employed labour among the Arab population. The Israeli authorities perceived a double ad- vantage in offering employment inside Israel to Arab labourers from the occupied territories: they reckoned in this way to resolve their own labour shortage and at the same time to offer to workers from the occupied territories material benefits (in the shape of regular employment with relatively high wages) which would distract their attention from the spiritual and psychological dis- advantages of life under occupation and ultimately reconcile them to Israeli rule.

Until 1973 these expectations were largely realized. The population of the occupied territories met the needs of the Israeli labour market (Arab labour was largely responsible for building the Jewish settlements in and around Jerusalem and Hebron) and the wages they brought home enabled these Arab workers to enjoy a higher standard of living than they had previously known. But the cost to both sides of the bargain was considerable. Among the Arabs, the knowledge that by their labour they were helping the Zionists to reach their objective caused recriminations and a sense of humiliation, although it was argued that the Arab labourers had no alternative if they were to avoid destitution. Among the Israelis, especially those of them who remembered the early Zionist ideals of socialism and self-help, it was painful to see their society evolving into a form of capitalism with racist overtones, in that the managerial class consisted of Jews while the manual work was performed by a captive labour force of Arabs.

Despite these objections, the system was maintained, even after the October War in 1973 had brought the boom to an end and had prompted widespread misgivings among Israelis about their government's policy concerning the occupied territories. Again it was probably inevitable that the relationship between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs should continue to be based on discrimination and prejudice. After half a century in which the Jewish citizens of the Zionist state had been conditioned to think of the Palestinians as human obstacles in the way of the Zionist objective, to be pushed aside if possible and otherwise simply held in subjection, it was not easy suddenly to adopt a different attitude. So long as the Arabs remained submissive and served their purpose in the Israeli economy, there was little incentive to change the prevailing attitude, which remained at best patronizing and at worst openly racist.

The Penalties for the Arabs of Non-cooperation

By this combination of the stick and the carrot -repressive military government and the offer of relatively well-paid employment, though in degrading conditions-the Israelis maintained their grip on the occupied territories without much difficulty until the October War in 1973. (After that, the economic crisis in Israel, together with the growing international recognition of the rights of the Palestinians, brought about a significant change in the relationship, with the Arabs in the occupied territories openly expressing their dissatisfaction and their support for the Palestinian resistance movement.)

The system depended for its success, however, on two factors. First, the Arab population must remain submissive and without hope of liberation from outside. Second, the Israelis must succeed in persuading the outside world that the subject population in the occupied territories was content with its lot under the generally benevolent rule of the occupation authorities. Before 1973, the first condition was satisfied: Israel's military supremacy was apparently so overwhelming that there seemed to be no hope of salvation from outside, either from the armies of the Arab states or from the divided factions of the PLO. But as for the second condition, Israeli success, even before 1973, was only qualified. By means of intensive propaganda, which was un- critically accepted by much (though not all) of the Western press and information media, Zionist agencies managed to disseminate the legend of the "benevolent occupation" and to disguise from all but the most persistent enquirers the nature and scale of the repressive measures by which Israeli rule was maintained in the occupied territories. But enough gaps appeared in this curtain of misinformation for the outside world gradually to acquire a more realistic picture of the Israeli occupation regime. Zionist pressures, taking ad- vantage of the extreme sensitivity of public figures in the Western world to the charge of anti-Semitism, ensured that the resulting criticisms of Israeli policies and actions would be carefully restrained, especially so long as the Arab governments appeared to be without political or economic influence. As soon as the events of October 1973 demonstrated that, on the contrary, the Arabs possessed a collective influence-when they chose to exercise it in unison-which the world could not afford to neglect, the international community suddenly showed itself aware of the rights of the Palestinians and of the grave infringements of these rights which were being regularly practiced by the Israeli authorities, both inside Israel and on the international level.

The Specifics of Israeli Repression in the Occupied Territories

As far as the occupied territories were concerned, the techniques of Israeli repression after 1967 followed broadly the same pattern used against the Palestinians inside Israel after 1948 -but with one significant difference. The occupied territories did not form part of the state of Israel, so that not even in theory were their inhabitants considered as being the equals of Israeli citizens in the eyes of the law. As a result, Palestinians in the occupied territories have enjoyed since 1967 no rights and no representative institutions. There is no authority to which they can appeal, no protection which they can invoke. Their every movement and action is subject to the arbitrary authority of the Israeli Military Governor. They can be detained, imprisoned, deported, without the intervention of any tribunal. Their houses and property may be destroyed, their lands confiscated, their crops burned and their trees cut down.

This has been the state of affairs in the occupied territories now for almost ten years, despite attempts of one kind or another to find a remedy. These attempts, whether they have been made by Amnesty International or by the International Red Cross, by private organizations or individuals, or even by the formally constituted United Nations Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices in the Occupied Territories, have met with no cooperation from the Israeli government. The Israeli government has actually refused admission to the UN Special Committee and has then slandered the witnesses whom the Special Committee has invited to testify before it. The Israeli government has also refused, despite representations from the International Committee of the Red Cross, to acknowledge that the Fourth Geneva Convention (for the Protection of Civilians in Time of War) is applicable to the inhabitants of the occupied territories.

The evidence of Israeli ill-treatment of the inhabitants of the occupied territories has therefore been unusually difficult to gather, especially because the great majority of the journalists working in Israel as correspondents for the international press are themselves Jewish (and frequently Israeli) and there- fore feel a sense of loyalty to the Jewish state, whose actions they are reluctant to criticize. Nevertheless, thanks to the investigations of a number of journalists not subject to such inhibitions and of other individuals and organizations which have devoted themselves to making public the truth about the Israeli occupation, a comprehensive picture has emerged over nearly ten years of the various ways in which the occupation authorities have discriminated against and ill-treated the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In summarizing the details of this pattern of official- ly sponsored repression, it is appropriate to draw attention to the outstanding work of Israeli individuals and organizations in uncovering and giving publicity to some of the worst excesses of the occupation authorities. Such individuals and organizations have inevitably drawn down on their own heads the particular animosity of the Israeli authorities and public opinion. Their courage and humanity deserve the most widespread recognition.

Techniques of Repression

a. Detention without trial

Any individual inhabitant of the occupied territories is liable to detention without trial and without explanation. This detention may last indefinitely. As an example, Tayseer Arouri of Ramallah, employed as a teacher of physics at Bir Zeit College, who served a three year prison sentence for a "security offence," was released in 1974 but immediately re-arrested and has been under administrative detention ever since. In another case reported by the Jerusalem Post on May 26, 1976, Zuhair Amira from Nablus, who also served a three-year sentence for a "security offence" between 1971 and 1974, was re- arrested after his release from prison and detained for a further year without charge. When this year was over, he was again detained and was still in prison in May 1976. [12]

b. Destruction of houses

Any individual in the occupied territories who is suspected by the Israeli authorities of having committed a "security offence" is liable, in addition to other penalties, to have his house destroyed by the authorities, even before a preliminary enquiry is carried out. When this happens, the other persons living in the house will be evicted, whether or not they are suspected of complicity in the offence. Moreover, the house may be destroyed even if it is not the property of the suspect, who may merely have been lodging there for the night, without the owner's knowledge. Upwards of 15,000 houses have been destroyed in this way since June 1967.

c. Punitive curfews

A favourite method of intimidation much used by the Israeli army in the occupied territories is the punitive curfew, whereby a village or refugee camp, or the whole of a major town, is kept under curfew for a period of days as a punishment for some offence committed by an individual or group of individuals, or else as a warning against some particular course of action. Examples: In the Gaza Strip, in January 1968, the author of this article witnessed curfews of this kind which were imposed on refugee camps after minor "security offences" by individuals. One such curfew, at the Shati camp, lasted for five days and nights and caused severe suffering to the inmates, who were without adequate supplies of food or water. The same method of collective punishment was still being employed in the summer of 1976, when the author again witnessed curfews lasting several days at Nablus and Ramallah. Again, inmates of refugee camps in the curfew area suffered particular hardship and officials of UNRWA were prevented by the Israeli authorities from carrying out relief work among the refugees.

d. Deportations

Among the cruellest measures by which the Israeli authorities have consistently tried to stifle even the most peaceful political activity in the occupied territories has been the practice of arbitrary deportation. It has been employed especially against those who provided leadership in their communities. Deportations are normally carried out by the Israelis during the night, without warning and without even the semblance of legal action or pretext. They have also been carried out in brutal circumstances, the victims being taken blindfold to the border and turned loose, often in very difficult country (e.g. in the Wadi Araba) and without food or means of transport, sometimes with shots fired over their heads. Examples of which the author has personal knowledge: Dr. Walid Kamhawi of Nablus, Mr. Abdel-Jawad Saleh, Mayor of El Bireh, Dr. Hanna Nasir, President of Bir Zeit College. (No offence was alleged, let alone proved, against any of these, but all were outstanding figures in their local communities.)

e. Expropriation of land

Mention has been made of the Jewish settlements established by the Israelis in the occupied territories. For the most part, these have been established on uninhabited land, but where the land has been inhabited, its Arab population has been dispossessed, often violently and sometimes brutally. A case in point is the area of north-eastern Sinai adjoining the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli authorities have created a complex of settlements including the nucleus of the future city of Yamit. The area had a substantial population of bedouin, and the Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk reported in Le Monde on May 15, 1975, that three years earlier Israeli soldiers "drove off some ten thousand farmers and bedouin, bulldozed or dynamited their houses, pulled down their tents, destroyed their crops and filled in their wells."

It cannot be too strongly emphasized that in employing these methods, and in denying the Palestinian refugees the right to return, the Israeli government is in breach of its obligations as a member of the United Nations and as a signatory of the Geneva Conventions.

Israel was admitted to membership of the UN in 1949 after giving a specific assurance that it would abide by the terms of the General Assembly's Resolution 194 (iii) of December 1948 which called for the return of the Palestinian refugees.

The Fourth Geneva Convention (relating to the treatment of civilians in occupied territory) outlaws collective punishments in general. Article 49 of the same Convention states that:

Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive. . . The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

Article 53 of the same Convention states that:

Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited.

It should be added that the use of these practices by the Israeli Government and of measures of intimidation including the torture of suspects, have been repeatedly denounced by individuals and organizations in Israel, notably by the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights and the Committee for Peace and Justice in the Middle East.


Israel's treatment of the Palestinian Arabs after the establishment of the Jewish State in 1948, and after the occupation of the rest of Palestine in 1967, followed logically from the attitude adopted towards the Arab population by the early Zionist settlers.

This attitude was challenged by a minority among the early Zionists; but the moderates, for whom the Zionist objective could only be achieved in a spirit of good will towards the Arab population, were overridden by the more militant Zionists. The moderates have their counterparts in present day Israel, who constitute a small but courageous minority of groups and individuals loosely united in the Israeli "Peace Movement." Their efforts to achieve co- existence with the Palestinians based on mutual acceptance can only succeed if they meet with a response from the Arab side.

Israel's decision not to allow the return of the refugees in and after 1948 was a grave mistake. It exposed the insincerity of the promise in Israel's Declaration of Independence that Jews and Arabs would enjoy equal rights. World Jewry has remained uneasy and embarrassed about the fate of the refugees.

Discrimination, legally enforced against the Arabs in Israel between 1948 and 1967, set the tone of a relationship marked on the Jewish side by suspicion and hostility and on the Arab side by resentment masked by resignation.

Discrimination was enforced by the same body of laws which the Zionists themselves had denounced, in the time of the British Mandate, as inhuman and unjust. To these laws the Zionists added legislation of their own expressly designed to dispossess the Palestinians of their land, which was then used for Jewish settlement.

The same pattern of discrimination and dispossession was repeated after 1967 in the newly occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, but without the pretense that the Palestinian inhabitants of these territories enjoyed equal status with the Jewish citizens of Israel.

The establishment of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, which started in July 1967, initiated the policy of "creeping annexation" which characterized the years between the wars of 1967 and 1973, and which still continues.

Any manifestation of opposition to the policies of the Israeli occupation regime was repressed with a severity which took no account of Israel's obligations as a member of the United Nations or as a signatory of the Geneva Conventions.

Specific measures of repression which contravened these obligations were:

a) Administrative detention (detention without trial).

b) Destruction of houses and property.

c) Collective punishments (e.g. punitive curfews).

d) Deportations.

e) Expropriation of land and population transfers.


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Michael Adams is the editor of Middle East International.

1 See Hans Kohn's essay"Zion and the Jewish National Idea,' reprinted in Zionism Reconsidered, New York 1970.

2 Michael Bar-Zohar, The Unarmed Prophet, London 1967.

3 Israeli Year Book 1952.

4 See Sabri Jiryis, The Arabs in Israel, 1948-1966, Institute for Palestine Studies, Beirut 1969.

5 There is space here only to indicate the principal ways in which the Israeli legal system based on the Defence Laws infringed the rights of the Palestinians living under Israeli rule during the first two decades of the Israeli state. Anyone wishing to make a closer study should turn to the work of the outstanding authority on the subject, and on every aspect of the status of the Arab minority in Israel, Sabri Jiryis. His book, The Arabs in Israel, first published in Hebrew, in 1966, has since been translated into Arabic and English and published by the Palestine Research Center and the Institute for Palestine Studies. I am indebted to him for the information summarized in this section.


6 Walter Schwartz, The Arabs in Israel, London 1958.


7 The Defence Laws remained in force until 1966.


8 See Yossef Weitz, My Diary and Letter to the Children, Tel Aviv 1965. See also Michael Adams and Christopher Mayhew, Publish it not. . ., London 1975, pp. 153-6.


9 SabriJiryis, The Arabs in Israel.


10 Dr. Amnon Kapeliouk, Jerusalem correspondent of Le Monde, puts the figure at 150,000 hectares. See Middle East International, July 1976, page 11. Four dunams equal one acre.


11 The article was reprinted in full in Middle East International, December 1973.


12 A leading authority on the treatment by the occupation authorities of Palestinian political prisoners is Israeli lawyer Felicia Langer. Her book With My Own Eyes was published in Hebrew in Tel Aviv in 1974. An English translation was published by Ithaca Press, London, in 1975.