LAND OWNERSHIP IN PALESTINE AND THE UN PARTITION PLAN - PALESTINIAN DEPOPULATED AND DESTROYED VILLAGES, 1948-1949
The expulsion of the Palestinians from their homes and homeland was carried out in accordance with
operational plans drawn up by the Haganah, and in compliance with orders issued from the highest
echelons of the Zionist leadership. Thus, rather than crimes committed by individuals, the massacres,
rapes, looting and destruction, which characterized the de-population of Palestine, were components of a
designed military strategy developed and implemented by the leaders of the emerging Jewish state.
One of the systematically pursued objectives of this strategy was the eradication of all traces of the pre-
1947 Palestinian presence. Of the nearly 600 purely Palestinian villages and towns overrun by the Zionists
during the war, over 400 were subsequently completely destroyed or rendered permanently uninhabitable.
At the outset of the war, the purpose of leveling the villages was the creation of panic, fear and flight. But as
the ‘transfer’ picked up pace, the Zionists shifted their focus to the consolidation of their conquest. In early
June 1948, the ‘Transfer Committee’ prepared a memorandum entitled, “Retroactive Transfer, A Scheme
for the Solution of the Arab Question in the State of Israel.” The document, endorsed by Israel’s Prime
Minister Ben-Gurion, outlined means of “[p]reventing the Arabs from returning to their places,” and listed as
the foremost method of achieving this goal, the, “[d]estruction of villages as much as possible...” along with
“[s]ettlement of Jews in a number of villages and towns so that no ‘vacuum’ is created.”
From the summer of 1948, the ‘Transfer Committee’ set about the task of identifying villages to be
destroyed and those to be settled by Jews for strategic reasons. Only 121 sites were spared destruction.
Meanwhile, in the urban Palestinian neighborhoods, the Committee hurried to settle Jews in those
Palestinian homes which had not been destroyed. 73,000 rooms and 7,800 shops or small industries were
thus seized in what had been the ‘Arab Quarters’ of Palestine’s mixed towns.
The destruction of Palestinian villages continued unabated throughout all the war’s cease-fires and
persisted into the 1950s. During the five years that followed the end of the war, Israel recorded some 1,000
‘border infiltrations’ every month, as Palestinian refugees tried to return to their homes and sought out
missing family members. By then, Israel’s razing of remaining villages was driven by the desire to erase
from the landscape all signs of its Palestinian identity. By removing the most vivid reminders of the
Palestinian people - their homes, places of worship etc. - the Israelis hoped to counter any calls for the
implementation of the Palestinian refugees’ right to return and present their own sudden domination of the
territory as something seemingly ‘organic’ and without contradiction. They also sought to conceal evidence
of their own atrocities.
Chaim Weizmann, veteran Zionist leader and Israel’s first president, would later refer to the elimination of
the Palestinians, their communities and homes as, “a miraculous clearing of the land; the miraculous
simplification of Israel’s task.”
At the time of the UN Partition Plan (29 November 1947), there were 279 Jewish settlements in Palestine.
By August 1949, an additional 133 settlements had been established - nearly all on Palestinian land and
many upon or within the Palestinian villages the ‘Transfer Committee’ had reserved for the purpose of
Jewish settlement. By 1987, some 190 Israeli towns, kibbutzim and moshavs existed on the land of
depopulated and destroyed Palestinian villages.