Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Ben Gurion ’48 letter barred return to Haifa

Over many decades, Israel’s self-serving deceptions about the Nakba in 1948 have been exposed for the lies Palestinians already knew them to be.

It was long accepted in the west that, as Israel claimed, Palestinians left their homes because they had been ordered to do so by neighbouring Arab leaders. The lie usefully distracted diplomats and scholars from the much more pertinent question of why Israel had refused to allow 750,000 Palestinian refugees to return to their homes after the war finished, as international law demanded.

The myth about the Arab leaders’ order, which had been steadily undermined by the work of the "new historians" of the late 1980s, was decisively punctured two years ago by an Israeli scholar who was given the wrong file by Israeli army archivists. It showed the story of the Arab leaders’ order was concocted by Israeli officials.

The same files should also have ended an equally diverting and lengthy debate about how many Palestinian villages Israel ethnically cleansed in 1948. Most Palestinian scholars were agreed it was well over 500; Israeli experts variously claimed it was between 300 and 400. Not that hundreds of ethnically cleansed villages was not bad enough, but Israel was happy to engage in a debate designed to make Palestinians look like inveterate exaggerators. Again, Israel’s archives confirmed the Palestinian account, with 530 villages razed.

Now another, related deception has been exposed. For decades Israel’s supporters have been arguing that Haifa, one of Palestine’s most important cities, was not ethnically cleansed of its population. The tens of thousands of Palestinians who fled under Israeli attack in April 1948 were later urged to return, according to Israel’s supporters, but they chose not to. Further proof, it seemed, that the Palestinians had only themselves to blame for losing their homeland. They chose to stay away.

Strangely, none of Israel’s propagandists ever seriously tried to suggest that the other 700,00 or so Palestinian refugees had been invited back home. It seemed as if the welcome supposedly extended in Haifa was reason enough for all Palestinians in exile to put aside their fears of Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy at its new borders and make the journey home.

But now a letter signed by David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister and the engineer of its ethnic cleansing policy in 1948, shows that, far from Haifa’s doors being thrown open, Ben Gurion ordered that the refugees be barred from returning.

Written on 2 June 1948, the letter was sent to Abba Khoushy, soon to become Haifa’s mayor. It states: "I hear that Mr. Marriot [Cyril Marriot, the British consul in Haifa] is working to return the Arabs to Haifa. I don’t know how it is his business, but until the war is over we don’t want a return of the enemy. And all institutions should act accordingly."

Of course, that policy was not reversed after the war, as Ben Gurion hinted it might be. And one can wonder how much more specific his orders were to his army commanders if this was what he was telling civilian administrators.

The myth about Haifa was encouraged by Golda Meir, who wrote in her autobiography that Ben Gurion told her: "I want you to immediately go to Haifa and see to it that the Arabs who remain in Haifa are treated appropriately. I also want you to try and persuade the Arabs who are already on the beach to return home. You have to get it into their heads that they have nothing to fear."

Meir added: "I went immediately. I sat on the beach there and begged them to return home… I pleaded with them until I was exhausted but it didn’t work."

Heartbreaking – if only it were true.

How much longer must we wait to explode all the other myths associated with the Nakba, and much of Israel’s history ever since? More



Al Jazeera journalist responds to U.S, labeling him Al Qaeda

Earlier this month, The Intercept reported that the U.S. government secretly labeled a prominent Al Jazeera journalist a member of Al Qaeda and placed him on a terror watch list.

The basis for the designation was unclear, but the reporter, Islamabad bureau chief Ahmad Zaidan, denies ever having been a member of the group. Reached last week in Doha, Qatar — where the state-funded Al Jazeera network is based — Zaidan spoke to The Intercept about the reaction to his work and the implications of being tracked by the U.S. government. “To monitor and bug journalists is absolutely immoral and unethical,” he said.

Zaidan was known for interviewing senior Al Qaeda figures, including Osama bin Laden, and he covered the wedding of bin Laden’s son in 2001. If it was those contacts that caused U.S. suspicions, Zaidan says, that runs counter to the purpose of journalism.

“Our job as journalists is to reach out to everybody. We are some sort of go-between in cases where the two parties are not talking to each other,” Zaidan said. “I was thinking that when I was interviewing bin Laden and interviewing these militants, that maybe at least [they can] hear each other, and maybe it can help humanity to reach some sort of middle way.”

Zaidan also sees discrimination behind the surveillance. “If Peter Bergen is meeting Osama bin Laden, or Robert Fisk is meeting Osama bin Laden, no problem,” he said. “But if a non-Westerner is meeting some wanted people, he should be doubted?”

Zaidan’s picture and watch list number appear in a 2012 National Security Agency presentation, which shows that analysts tracked his cell phone contacts and location data — or metadata — as part of a program that looked for people who moved like Al Qaeda couriers. The presentation and other NSA documents revealed that the U.S. was obtaining bulk call data records from Pakistani telecoms, and analyzing the metadata of tens of millions of Pakistani cell phones.

“Faisalabad, Lahore — these main cities are the residence of millions and millions of people,” Zaidan said. “They are following and surveilling every one of us. Who has made them the god of this globe?”

Zaidan says he has had good relations with the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and has not had run-ins with U.S. authorities.

“I did not hide myself. Whenever I made an interview, I published it. If you have any objection to me, I am living in Islamabad, you can come ask for me anytime,” he said.

He noted that the United States is not the only country to have labeled him as Al Qaeda. Zaidan, who is Syrian, returned to his country for the first time in almost 35 years in early 2012, after the uprising began against President Bashar al-Assad. Zaidan reported from inside a stronghold of the Free Syrian Army, and soon after, he says Syrian state television aired a report claiming that he was a member of Al Qaeda and had been sent to Syria by the group’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The allegations make him fear for his security. “If you are Al Qaeda, it means they can eliminate you. And I am afraid if somebody else might do something against me and he will put the blame on America now,” Zaidan said.

But when I asked if he regretted The Intercept publishing the story, Zaidan said: “My take, as a journalist, is that you have done your job. I can’t say, ‘Ok, if I have some information about Osama bin Laden, I have to publish it, but if you have something against Ahmad Zaidan or Al Jazeera, you should not publish it.’”

“This is the right of our audience,” he said. “We should not keep our audience in the dark otherwise we are like, in fact, the National Security Agency.” More