(All 3 Parts are in this posting)
The year 2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, and should be the occasion for a serious re-evaluation of international policy towards the conflict that has ensued. Political Zionism, and after 1948 the Israeli state, has consistently drawn crucial political, economic and military support from Europe and North America. With this support comes a heavy burden of responsibility for its consequences.
These consequences are much too severe to be ignored or tolerated. In Gaza today, 1.5 million people - mostly refugees from 1948 - are being collectively punished and starved in line with a policy of what Israeli officials call "economic warfare," approved by Israel's Supreme Court and accompanied by continuous air strikes, artillery attacks and ground incursions. When Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrated in solidarity with Gaza this March following a series of Israeli attacks that left 269 Palestinians wounded and 120 dead, a member of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) Foreign Affairs and Defense Committees heckled them with threats of expulsion from the country. Neither Israeli legal structures nor Jewish Israeli public opinion seem to pose any serious obstacle to Israel's intensifying war against the Palestinians. Western policy, meanwhile, continues to help prevent constructive international intervention.
While there is much guilt to go around, Canada is operating in particularly crude alignment with Israel against the Palestinians. Within the framework of the "war on terror," the Canadian government has criminalized nearly all major Palestinian political parties by designating them as "terrorist groups" (under Bill C-36), even as it cultivates ever more intimate trade, security and diplomatic relations with the Israeli state. On the United Nations Human Rights Council, Canada has emerged as the staunchest opponent of meaningful criticism of Israeli human rights violations and war crimes.
Under these circumstances, many in Canada could find it tempting to fall into a kind of nostalgia - for an Israel that was more liberal and democratic, or for a Canadian foreign policy that was more even-handed. To be sure, Israeli political culture has, in important respects, shifted to the right in recent decades, and Israeli regional ambitions have expanded and taken on new significance. In recent Canadian history, the policy shifts initiated under the Paul Martin Liberals (from late 2004), and extended by the Stephen Harper Conservatives, have sharpened Canadian alignment with Israel against the Palestinians.
But the Israeli war against indigenous Palestinians is not novel. Nor is Canadian rejection of Palestinian rights to political self-representation, or official indifference to the well-being and very survival of the Palestinian people. A broad, vigorous challenge to these policies is imperative. Such a challenge can only be weakened by a refusal to own up to the history from which these policies extend, or by an under-estimation of how rooted they are in longstanding Canadian perceptions and practices.
The 60th anniversary of the war of 1948, which was perhaps the defining moment of the Israel-Palestine conflict, affords us the opportunity to explore this track-record of Canadian complicity and strengthen the challenge to its continuation. This article aims to contribute to this process. It falls considerably short of a comprehensive exploration of the Canadian record on this issue. Instead, it reviews some basic historical aspects of Canadian interaction with Israel/Palestine, focusing on the landmark event that is at the centre of a series of upcoming celebrations: the mass ethnic cleansing of 1948.
Early Zionist Colonization, Canada, and the ‘Transfer' of Palestinians:
Wadi al-Hawarith and Beyond
The history of Canadian interaction with Israel/Palestine can be understood in relation to two conflicts. The first of these is the specific clash between the political Zionist movement and indigenous Palestinian Arabs. The second is broader, between the imperial ambitions of Western powers (including Canada, Britain, and the United States) and the aspirations of people in the Middle East for genuine independence and decolonization - this as connected to the wider international struggle between the major world powers and regional liberation movements. While this article focuses on the first of these conflicts, it bears emphasis that the two are in fact inseparable.
This article centres on the events of 1948, but the processes which led up to these events - and which we still live with today - did not emerge overnight. It may be useful, then, to review the roots of the conflict that culminated in 1948, and the nature of early Canadian interaction with it. The first part of this article is devoted to this task.
Roots of the Conflict, Early Canadian Orientations
These roots can be traced to late 19th century Europe. The intensification of anti-Semitism during this period - notably, the sustained outburst of violence in Russia following the assassination of Czar Alexander the II in 1881 - provoked a process of widespread Jewish migration which, in addition to laying the basis for much of the contemporary Canadian Jewish community, also produced the first wave of modern Jewish immigration to Palestine. In the coming years, these circumstances combined with the upsurge of nationalism across Europe to strengthen calls for a specifically Jewish nation-building project. In an era of massive European imperial expansion, the option of concentrated Jewish settlement overseas as a means of pursuing this project and as a purported solution to Europe's "Jewish problem" became a topic of serious consideration. In 1897, the World Zionist Organization (WZO) was established as an instrument to carry it out.*
The European colonial campaigns which marked this period, most infamously including the colonization of much of Africa, directly encroached upon what we now know as the Middle East: in 1882, for example, British troops occupied Egypt. It was the extension of this process to Palestine which determined both the fortunes of the political Zionist movement, and the terms of Canadian interaction with it.
The critical moment came with the First World War. In 1918, Allied forces operating under the British General Edmund Allenby conquered Palestine from the Ottoman Turks and subjected it to an Occupied Enemy Territory Administration (OETA). The previous year, British foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour had declared his government's support for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." This declaration was prompted by an odd mixture of imperial geopolitics, Christian Zionism, and misperceptions of international Jewish political clout - those interested can refer to Maxime Rodinson's Israel and the Arabs, Roger Adelson's London and the Invention of the Middle East, and Sabeel's recent volume, Challenging Christian Zionism: Theology, Politics and the Israel-Palestine Conflict. In any event, as of 1918, the Zionist movement enjoyed considerable support from the major world power (Britain) in effective control over Palestine - a power, moreover, under whose flag the Canadian government had long operated.
The impact on Canadian Zionism was considerable. The WZO's inaugural conference in 1897 had committed the movement to "[t]he organization and binding together of the whole of Jewry by means of appropriate institutions, local and international, in accordance with the laws of each country"; in Canada, a Federation of Zionist Societies (precursor to the Zionist Organization of Canada, ZOC) had been duly established in 1899. Canadian Zionist activities had long received official encouragement, with Prime Ministers and other prominent supporters even attending the occasional Zionist conference from as early as 1906. Bolstered by the prestige of British imperial endorsement, Canadian Zionism now operated within a still friendlier atmosphere.
The Canadian Zionist movement had long focused on fundraising. This was coordinated by the World Zionist Organization, and directed in large part towards the WZO's land-acquisition and colonization arm, the Jewish National Fund (JNF), established by the 5th Zionist Congress in 1901. Following WWI and the British occupation of Palestine, the Zionist movement as a whole expanded and was restructured. As part of this process, its fundraising activities in Canada were reorganized, and escalated considerably.
The British Mandate's "Appropriate Jewish Agency"
Even with the British occupation of Palestine in 1918, Britain's declaration of support for a Jewish "national home" in Palestine was just that: a unilateral government declaration. The post-war diplomatic settlement and establishment of the League of Nations, however, involved the creation of a mandates system as "a means of lawfully incorporating the former colonial peoples of the losing side in World War I into the colonial empires of the victorious allies without explicitly extending colonialism as such."(Falk, 40) This was viewed as a betrayal across the Arab east, where resistance to Ottoman rule had been mounted in relation to the Allies' wartime promises of post-war independence. The situation was particularly dramatic in Palestine, where the League of Nations conferred a sort of legal and diplomatic legitimacy upon Zionist colonization by formally incorporating the Balfour declaration into the terms of the British mandate.
Additionally, Article 4 of the British mandate stated that "[a]n appropriate Jewish agency shall be recognized as a public body for the purpose of advising and cooperating with the Administration of Palestine," and that the WZO, "so long as its organization and constitution are in the opinion of the Mandatory appropriate, shall be recognized as such agency."(Shaw, 5)
As its new official status was setting in, the WZO was busy restructuring its fundraising institutions. A new organization was established, called the Keren Hayesod (Foundation Fund), to function - in the words of the relevant WZO resolution - "as the central fund of the Zionist Organization under the control of the Zionist Congress." When a distinct "Jewish Agency" constitution was ratified in 1929, it affirmed that "unless and until otherwise determined ..., the Palestine Foundation Fund shall be the main financial instrument of the Agency for the purpose of covering its budget."(Stock, 27 & 88)
In North America, financial support for the Keren Hayesod (to be used at the discretion of the WZO/Jewish Agency executive) and for the Jewish National Fund specifically (which was also ultimately under WZO direction) was organized in close coordination under the umbrella of a combined fundraising campaign, the United Palestine Appeal (UPA).
And so, in association with a revamped fundraising apparatus - and in an atmosphere of British imperial endorsement - Canadian support for political Zionist colonization efforts intensified.
Perceptions of Pre-Colonization Palestine: "A Land Without a People"
Before exploring some of the noteworthy aspects of direct Canadian interaction with Zionist colonization in Palestine, the basic political Zionist orientation towards Palestine's indigenous population deserves attention. Here, a convenient starting point is offered by the memoirs of an individual whose name will come up repeatedly below: Ben Dunkelman (1913-1997). His father David was the founder of the retail giant Tip Top Tailors; his mother Rose the Ontario leader of the women's Zionist organization Hadassah. A veteran of the Second World War, Ben Dunkelman is today a much-revered figure amongst Canada's Israel-linked Jewish community leadership. He was also a notable Canadian culprit in the ethnic cleansing of 1948.
Visitors to Toronto's Lipa Green Building, headquarters of the United Israel Appeal Federations Canada (UIAFC) - the umbrella operation for the Canadian Jewish Congress and Canada-Israel Committee, and successor to the United Palestine Appeal - can today view Dunkelman's autobiography, Dual Allegiance, cased in a glass display as a monument to the author and the history he represents. The text is a credible reference-point in exploring the outlook of the Canadian Zionist establishment.
Dunkelman describes the circumstances prevailing at the time of the British occupation of 1918 as follows: "At the time, the total population of Palestine was about one million, and the Jews were a small minority, numbering no more than 160,000. But Jewish settlements were springing up all over the country - small and isolated, but veritable oases in a landscape which was otherwise largely barren wilderness."(19)
Dunkelman's population figures are a bit off. In a detailed study published by Columbia University Press, Justin McCarthy puts Palestine's total population in 1918 at approximately 750,000, including a Jewish community of slightly less than 60,000 people. About 8% of the population was Jewish, then - up from approximately 3% before the immigration of 1882 onwards, but in any event, as Dunkelman puts it, "a small minority." His approach to the non-Jewish indigenous majority is both representative and highly revealing.
In describing this populated territory as "largely barren wilderness," Dunkelman is essentially echoing the classic Zionist slogan: "A land without a people for a people without a land." This slogan is sometimes taken to suggest that Palestine was literally uninhabited, but this was obviously not the understanding. As the detailed work of the Palestinian scholar Nur Masalha shows, the slogan was, instead, part of a conscious effort to undermine indigenous rights to the land. Consider the blunt words of Israel Zangwill, who coined and popularized this classic slogan. Zangwill also declared: "[We] must be prepared either to drive out by the sword the [Arab] tribes in possession as our forefathers did or to grapple with the problem of a large alien population, mostly Mohammedan and accustomed for centuries to despise us."(Masalha '92, 10) It was not that Palestine did not have inhabitants, but that it did not have a people worthy of the land; that "there is at best an Arab encampment," as Zangwill put it. (Masalha '97, 62)
And so it was for Dunkelman: "The [Jewish] colonies were well tended and green, standing out in contrast to the wasteland all around. The Arab villagers also tilled their land, of course, but they were terribly exploited by absentee landlords, disease-ridden, and tied to agricultural methods that were primitive and ineffective."(19)
Dunkelman, who briefly settled in Palestine in 1931-32, thus depicts his efforts to rid Palestinians of their traditional existence as almost humanitarian. At the same time, he points to what it was about Zionist land ownership and settlement that would come to produce such anger amongst Palestinians. He relates an anecdote from his work as part of a Zionist settlement on absentee-owned land in Palestine. This involved confrontation with Palestinians trying to drink water and otherwise make use of land which had not previously been subjected to such exclusive control. "Till that time," Dunkelman writes, "there had been a kind of unwritten agreement whereby the Arabs were permitted to come into our groves and cut the grass growing between the trees. But I thought we should hold on to that grass, for use as fertilizer, or to sell for fodder."(40) This provoked a physical confrontation - but despite being "a hell of a long way from Upper Canada College," Dunkelman "could punch, wrestle, kick, butt, and gouge as well as any man," and laid down the new rules.(4)
One may infer from Dunkelman's writing that he simply tended to be somewhat of a thug. But such acts of aggressive exclusion were not restricted to a few overzealous settlers. Regarding the mainstream Zionist policy, and sticking to instances of prominent Canadian involvement, the case of Wadi al-Hawarith is instructive.
Canada's Patch of "Uninhabited Sand and Swamp"
Formally, significant portions of Palestine were owned by absentee landlords. This was a fact that the Zionist movement, with the support of British legislative reforms, leveraged to its advantage. Purchase of absentee-owned land, combined with efforts to displace its inhabitants, was a major preoccupation of the Zionist movement through the 1920s and 1930s. Naturally, this was an approach which relied upon the heavy participation of international fundraising networks.
It was in accord with this model that the WZO acquired title to the lands of Wadi al-Hawarith, a stretch of coastal territory located at about equal distances south of Haifa, and north of Jaffa and Tel Aviv. Spanning some 30,000 dunams (one dunam is roughly one fourth of an acre) Wadi al-Hawarith was home to a Bedouin community with a population estimated by the British at 1,000 to 1,200 people, with livestock of 3,200.(Adler, 204) In 1928, legal title to the land was acquired by the JNF with the support of Canadian Zionist fundraisers.
This purchase was a major focal point for Canadian Zionist activity, and often comes up in histories of the movement. Its implications, however, are rarely discussed. Take the work of Gerald Tulchinsky, whose book Branching Out: The Transformation of the Canadian Jewish Community provides a lively account of many workers' struggles, campaigns against immigration restrictions, and other important chapters of the history at issue. Unfortunately, on issues of Zionism and Palestine, he succumbs to the familiar dogma. Of the push to secure title to Wadi al-Hawarith, he writes: "JNF officials were anxious to acquire this large tract of uninhabited sand and swamp when it became available in the mid-1920s."(165) In fact, not only was Wadi al-Hawarith inhabited, but the struggle over the fate of its tenants became a significant issue for the Zionist leadership, the British authorities, and the Palestinian national movement alike.
The designation "tenants" requires some clarification. Technically, according to the Ottoman land registry inherited and reformed by the British, the people of Wadi al-Hawarith did not themselves have title to the land which they worked. But this had previously had very little impact on their lives. Tenancy was permanent, and could be inherited. The nominal owners - in this case, originally a Lebanese Maronite who had lived in Jaffa, and mortgaged the land to an individual in France - were entitled to rent; but as in Wadi al-Hawarith, many owners collected rarely if at all.(Adler, 204)
In this instance, the owner's heirs, spread across a number of continents, had failed to meet the original owner's debts. The JNF applied a combination of pressure and bribery to ensure that the land was put to public auction. And so, as leading JNF official Yosef Weitz would later write, "the President of the Jewish National Fund, M[enachem] Ussishkin, packed his bags and sailed off to Canada to arouse the dispersed Jews and encourage them to contribute to the redemption of this valley". Canadian Zionists committed to raising $1,000,000 for the effort, and worked for the better part of the next decade paying it off. (Adler, 200; Kimmerling, 70; Tulchinsky, 166)
For four years following the issuance by British authorities of the first eviction notice in 1929, the tenants of Wadi al-Hawarith maintained an impressively unified struggle to preserve their community from displacement. The first attempt to physically evict them was resisted with sticks and stones. As Walid Khalidi explains: "The insistence of the people of Wadi al-Hawarith to remain on their land came from their conviction that the land belonged to them by virtue of their having lived on it for 350 years. For them, ownership of the land was an abstraction that at most signified the landlords' right to a share of the crop."(Khalidi '92, 564)
This insistence collided head-on with the political Zionist position, as crudely expressed in 1930 by JNF president Ussishkin (the main broker of this deal, but referring to the issue in Palestine as a whole): "If there are other inhabitants there, they must be transferred to some other place. We must take over the land. We have a great and nobler ideal than preserving several hundred thousands of fellahin." (Masalha '92, 27)
The British rejected a proposal from the Jewish Agency to transfer the tenants to Jordan. However, they continued to try and remove them from this coastal territory and to transfer them elsewhere in Palestine: "in my opinion," the Assistant District Commissioner in Nablus explained, "this pocket of primitive Semi-negroid Beduin ... is a nuisance and only serves to impede the proper development of a very valuable area." (Altran, 734)
The struggle peaked in 1933. In Nablus, a general strike was organized in solidarity with the tenants of Wadi al-Hawarith. On the anniversary of the Balfour declaration, the tenants themselves marched to join demonstrations in Tulkarem, and were prevented from doing so only by coordination between police units and low-flying RAF planes which dispersed the demonstrators. (Adler, 215)
As Raya Adler (Cohen) writes: "The convergence of the tenants' resistance against their displacement with the general political struggle briefly turned the Wadi Hawarith affair into an event of national important that resonated beyond the borders of Palestine." Eventually, most tenants were evicted and dispersed; some managed to stay on small patches of the land until 1948; and popular anger around the case "merged into the general wave of discontent." (215 & 213)
Adler (Cohen) continues: "Had the JNF compromised with the tenants and allowed them to cultivate part of the land as they demanded (and as was proposed by a Jewish peasant journal), the affair might have ended differently. But the JNF's goals were national rather than economic: it could not content itself with legal ownership; Jewish settlers had to replace the Arab tenants. The displacement of the Bedouin violated the customs of Arab society and united the community in protest against this blatant injustice."(216)
In Canada, meanwhile, Zionist fundraising for this project continued, receiving a prominent official rubber-stamp just as the struggle over this case was at its height. Zionist Organization of Canada president A.J. Freiman - interlocutor with Ussishkin on the Wadi al-Hawarith case - was joined in a radio broadcast for the United Palestine Appeal 1933 by Prime Minister R.B. Bennett. Referring to "the promises of God, speaking through His prophets," the Prime Minister declared: "Scriptural prophecy is being fulfilled. The restoration of Zion has begun."(Gottesman, 91)
Building on Precedent: "Transfer the Arabs"
Political Zionist ambitions of ethnically cleansing Palestine were not restricted to incremental land acquisition, enclosure, and settlement from abroad. Already in 1919, Winston Churchill had noted that the Zionists "take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience."(Masalha '92, 15) For the mainstream political Zionist leadership, this remained a core objective.
Throughout the 1920s and the early '30s, the relative weakness of the Zionist movement, and the overall isolation of indigenous Palestinian resistance by the British authorities, kept concrete discussion of how to pursue this objective fairly broad and abstract. But in 1936, the eruption of a large-scale Palestinian Arab rebellion prompted a detailed consideration of this issue in mainstream Zionist bodies.
On the one hand, the eviction of tenants and the displacement of peasants during the course of Zionist settlement was a central cause of the indigenous rebellion. On the other, it was recognized by Zionist strategists as a positive precedent for "compulsory transfer." In 1937, for example, JNF National Committee member Eliahu (Lulu) Hacarmeli argued that if the Zionist movement were to engage in widespread "transfer, even if it were to be carried out through compulsion - all moral enterprises are carried through compulsion - we will be justified in all senses. And if we negate all right to transfer, we would need to negate everything we have done until now: the transfer from Emek Hefer [Wadi al-Hawarith] to Beit Shean, from the Sharon to Ephraem Mountains etc." (Masalha '92, 73)
The establishment by the Jewish Agency in late 1937 of a Population Transfer Committee is notable not simply because, alongside JNF heavyweight Yosef Weitz and others, it included Dov Yosef - the former head of Canadian Young Judea, one of the Canadian groupings that advocated direct settlement - but because it indicates how formally mainstream Zionist institutions were coming to grapple with this question.
A detailed exploration of these discussions is provided by Nur Masalha (Expulsion of the Palestinians: the concept of "transfer" in Zionist political thought, 1882-1948), and need not detain us here. But a diary entry by Yosef Weitz from 1940 does outline the severe conclusion which key Zionist leaders reached:
"The Zionist work so far, in terms of preparation and paving the way for the creation of the Hebrew state in the Land of Israel, has been good and was able to satisfy itself with land-purchasing but this will not bring about the state; that must come about simultaneously in the manner of redemption (here is the meaning of the Messianic idea). The only way is to transfer the Arabs from here to neighbouring countries, all of them, except perhaps Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Old Jerusalem. Not a single village or a single tribe must be left." (Masalha '92, 131-132)
A Dose of British Civilization for Palestine
What followed the eruption of the Palestinian Arab rebellion in 1936 was not only a detailed discussion of political Zionist strategies for dealing with Palestine's indigenous majority; there also occurred a shift in power which helped set the stage for their successful pursuit in 1948. British policy was central in effecting this shift.
The British responded to the revolt with the advanced military means at their disposal.
20,000 British troops, operating with considerable air power, were deployed to crush the rebellion. The leading institutions of the Palestinian Arab national movement - eg., the Arab Higher Committee and the National Committee - were declared to be illegal and forcibly dismantled. Waves of British military operations, executions and deportations left Palestinian Arab society thoroughly weakened. (See for example Hirst, Nachmani & Shaw, cited below.)
At the same time, not only did the Jewish Agency and associated institutions continue to operate, but their military capabilities were given a tremendous boost. Technically, the Jewish Agency's military arm, the Hagana, was illegal. In practice, the Hagana received regular financing - and not only thanks to international fundraising anchored by the Keren Hayesod. The British government itself helped to arm, pay, and train forces selected by the Jewish Agency (mostly Hagana units), with which they then coordinated in repressing the uprising. (Shaw, 590-1)
In an article titled "Britain's Contribution to Arming the Hagana," David Ben-Gurion, executive of the Jewish Agency from 1935 to 1948 (and then Israeli Prime Minister), explained: "The appearance of thousands of Jewish young men with legalized arms immediately improved our defence position."(372) The article continues: "The most successful and complete co-operations between the Jews and the British was achieved with the establishment of the Special Night Squads by a distinguished British Officer, Captain Charles Orde Wingate. This was a practical step towards the establishment of a Jewish military force within the framework of the British Army." (375)
British journalist Leonard Mosley gives the following account of the first Special Night Squads raid on an Arab village. Wingate apparently fired into the village, drawing the local militia out into a trap which saw 5 militia members killed and 4 captured:
"Wingate came back, carrying a Turkish rifle over his shoulder. He looked calm and serene. ‘Good work. You are fine boys and will make good soldiers,' he said.
He went up to the four Arab prisoners. He said in Arabic: ‘You have arms in this village. Where have you hidden them?'
The Arabs shook their heads, and protested ignorance. Wingate reached down and took sand and grit form the ground; he thrust it into the mouth of the first Arab and pushed it down his throat until he choked and puked.
‘Now,' he said, ‘where have you hidden the arms?'
Still they shook their heads.
Wingate turned to one of the Jews and, pointing to the coughing and spluttering Arab, said, ‘Shoot this man.'
The Jew looked at him questioningly and hesitated.
Wingate said, in a tense voice, ‘Did you hear? Shoot him.'
The Jew shot the Arab. The others stared for a moment, in stupefaction, at the dead boy at their feet. The boys from Hanita were watching in silence.
‘Now speak,' said Wingate. They spoke." (Hirst, 105)
While British-Hagana military coordination did not last, Ben-Gurion explains that "Wingate's work was not in vain. The Hagana's best officers were trained in the special Night Squads, and Wingate's doctrines were taken over by the Israel Defence Forces, which were established twelve days after the birth of the Jewish State."(387)
It was in this spirit - in line with an increasingly resolute commitment to deal with indigenous Palestinians not by means of political agreement, but by means of force - that the political Zionist leadership approached the lead-up to 1948. The point was put rather bluntly by Michael Comay, a former South African intelligence officer and the leading Zionist diplomat to Canada in '48, when asked whether the Zionist movement could not have pursued some form of serious negotiations with indigenous Palestinians rather than merely seeking international support in the fight against them. "No," Comay replied simply: "the only way we can succeed is to ram our state down the throats of the Arabs. Then they'll accept it." (Bercuson '85, 195)
Massacres, Expropriation, and Canadian Participation in 1948: Ben Dunkelman and his "Anglo-Saxon Brigade"
When Ben Dunkelman, only recently returned from the European battlefields of WWII, hosted the JNF-Canada's first annual "Negev Dinner," he had already been approached by Lorna Wingate, widow of the late British Captain, to participate in the looming fight in Palestine. Soon, Dunkelman was juggling management responsibilities at Tip Top Tailors with his tasks as head of the Canadian branch of the Hagana. These included fundraising for weaponry, direct arms procurement, and recruitment for Hagana forces. By the summer of 1948, he was in command of a Brigade actively depopulating Palestinian villages by force - a unit so heavily comprised of recruits from Canada, the United States and South Africa that it came to be known as the "Anglo-Saxon Brigade."
Dunkelman and what was formally known as the Seventh (Sheva) Brigade did, indeed, treat the people of Palestine to that Anglo-Saxon "purity of arms" which so much of the world has come to appreciate, from the Philippines to Kenya, from Vietnam to Iraq. A review of the operations they carried out provides a convenient window into the grim reality of 1948. But before turning to these specific operations, it is necessary to outline the general context within which these operations were executed, and the North American Zionist activities which brought the likes of Dunkelman to Palestine.
The Slide Towards "Brutal Compulsion"
Prior to the 1940s, the political Zionist leadership had been relatively careful in its public declarations. Explicit calls for Jewish statehood in Palestine were generally foregone in favor of the open-ended phrase "Jewish National Home." The demand for Jewish statehood was typically associated with the Revisionist movement, a right-wing splinter from the Jewish Agency/World Zionist Organization founded under the leadership of Ze'ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky - "our own D'Annunzio," WZO president Chaim Weizmann once called him, comparing him to the Italian fascist icon.(Hirst, 36)
The 1940s, however, witnessed what Hannah Arendt aptly described as a "Revisionist landslide in the Zionist Organization."(134) Beginning in 1942, mainstream Zionist bodies began openly proclaiming their call for Zionist statehood over Palestine. It is worth quoting Arendt, describing these developments in 1944, at some length:
"This is a turning-point in Zionist history; for it means that the Revisionist program, so long bitterly repudiated, has proved finally victorious. The Atlantic City Resolution [of the Zionist Organization of America in 1944] goes even a step further than the Biltmore program (1942), in which the Jewish minority had granted minority rights to the Arab majority. This time the Arabs were simply not mentioned in the resolution, which obviously leaves them the choice between voluntary emigration or second-class citizenship. It seems to admit that only opportunist reasons had previously prevented that Zionist movement from stating its final aims. These aims now appear to be completely identical with those of the extremists as far as the future constitution of Palestine is concerned."(131)
Arendt was on the mark, except in describing the prospect of widespread Palestinian Arab emigration as "voluntary." David Ben-Gurion, the ascendant leader at the helm of the new policy approach, had no illusions that the issue would so easily resolve itself: "It is impossible to imagine general evacuation without compulsion," he remarked in 1941, "and brutal compulsion."
Ben-Gurion's commitment to extreme measures was fed by events in wartime Europe, but not always in predictable ways. For example, he made a counter-intuitive (and somewhat chilling) point of taking inspiration from certain of these developments: "In the present war," he noted, "the idea of transferring a population is gaining more sympathy as a practical and the most secure means of solving the dangerous and painful problem of national minorities."(Masalha, 128)
In Palestine, in any event, the Arab "minority" was in fact still a two-thirds majority. And so Ben-Gurion stepped up preparations for the sort of organized compulsion without which it would be nearly impossible to substantially change this.
The International Cover of "Partition"
The role of Canadian diplomacy in helping to set the international diplomatic context for the disaster which swept Palestine in 1948 will be addressed in Section 3 of this article. Here, suffice it to outline in extremely broad terms the international setting for the country's violent transformation.
By the end of the 1930s, British policy-makers had moved significantly out of alignment with the Zionist movement, convinced that the costs of sponsoring Zionist ambitions - in terms of local resistance, as well as regional hostility in an area where Britain was keen on maintaining a strong imperial presence - were prohibitively high. Additional wartime calculations were certainly at work for a time. Emerging from WWII, Britain came into tense conflict with a Zionist movement from which it hoped to disassociate itself, and which was fighting to supplant British authorities as the governing force in Palestine.
The British position was weakened considerably by the increasing support for Zionist ambitions provided by the United States. This support, which by October 1946 involved open endorsement by President Truman of the call for Jewish statehood, posed real difficulties for British planners. The British meanwhile faced direct attacks by Revisionist forces, including the assassination in 1944 of Lord Moyne (British resident minister in Cairo and, incidentally, owner of Guinness beverages) and the bombing in 1946 of British headquarters in Palestine. In February 1947, the British turned the question of Palestine to the United Nations and announced their intention to withdraw.
In November 1947, with many of its members under considerable U.S. pressure, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 181, the Plan of Partition with Economic Union. According to this resolution, Palestine was to be partitioned between a Jewish and an Arab state, with an international regime controlling an area around Jerusalem which also encompassed Bethlehem.
The Jewish state was to consist of approximately 15,000,000 dunams - including the most valuable land: most of the coast, the interior plains - of which no more than 1,678,000 dunams (11.2 percent) was under Jewish ownership. Living in this proposed territory were 499,000 Jews and 438,000 Palestinians, a Jewish majority existing only if the boundaries were strictly observed. The proposed Arab state spanned 12,000,000 dunams (with 1,364,000 Palestinian and 608,000 Jewish inhabitants). Jewish owners had title to about 130,000 dunams, or 1 percent, of this territory. (Khalidi '07, 103 & 106)
There was certainly no legal authorization by the United Nations for anything like compulsory transfer of residents of either state; the residency and citizenship rights of all inhabitants were to be respected: "No discrimination of any kind shall be made between the inhabitants on the ground of race, religion, language or sex," the resolution declared. On the other hand, neither did this UN resolution provide for the enforcement of these supposed safeguards. Britain was unwilling to play any enforcement role, and announced a withdrawal date of May 15, 1948.
The decision to effectively leave the issue of enforcement to be determined by the local balance of forces must be considered in light of the massive weakening of Palestinian Arab society, and empowerment of political Zionists, under the British mandate. The resulting balance of forces was well understood. In 1946, Lieutenant General J.C. D'Arcy, Britain's General Officer Commanding (GOC) in Palestine, had been interviewed by an Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry regarding this balance. Israeli scholar Amicam Nachmani relates the following exchange between D'Arcy and British Committee representative Sir Frederick Leggett: "In the event of a future Arab-Jewish confrontation, asked Leggett, ‘would that mean a considerable slaughter of the Arabs?' D'Arcy's answer was clear: ‘Yes, indeed.'"(171)
For their part, the Arab delegations to the United Nations rejected Resolution 181. Their political demands were significantly in accord with those of many other peoples calling for decolonization and independence after WWII in areas of longstanding European domination and settlement (at least outside of the Western hemisphere, where the historical depth of colonization and settlement produced different circumstances). The demand for Palestine was a unitary state with up to one third of the legislature comprised of Jewish representatives. Facing UN-sponsored partition, Arab delegations argued that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) should be given the opportunity to consider whether such a political settlement could legally be imposed against the wishes of a majority population. (Bercuson '85, 55; Khalidi '07, 102)
In the diplomatic context set in part by this rejection, the political Zionist movement responded tactically. In internal meetings, the movement's leadership rejected the Partition Plan, while publicly, the Jewish Agency accepted it. The formula that emerged, and is in persistent use to this day, was more or less as follows: Resolution 181 was taken to represent diplomatic authorization for the creation of a Jewish state; but, at the same time, rejection of the resolution by Arab parties to the conflict was said to render its specific proposals - regarding boundaries, for example, and the residency and citizenship rights of non-Jews - null and void. The geographic scope and the character of the state would be determined by force and unilateral political decree.
So it was, as Walid Khalidi explains, that even as Ben-Gurion's forces "were poised to pounce on fields they had not tilled and orchards they had not planted and towns and villages they had not built or lived in, the Zionists, by accepting the 1947 UN partition according to their own lights, also wrapped themselves in the sanctimonious garb of moral superiority as adherents, in a posture of self-defense, to the impartial will of the international community."('07, 110)
Meanwhile, practical preparations to fill the military vacuum opened by Britain's pending withdrawal were well underway.
North America and the Hagana's Military Supply Networks
Broadly speaking, there were three distinct Zionist paramilitary groupings in Palestine as 1948 approached. The most important of these was the Hagana, the quasi-official military arm of the Jewish Agency. The others were the Revisionist Irgun (Etzel) and Stern Gang (Lehi). These briefly amalgamated after the Second World War into a "Jewish Resistance Movement," and forces drawn from all three (anchored by the Hagana) would later form the basis of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The Revisionist militias were most public about drawing recruits and other support from North America, but it was the Hagana that was most important.
In exploring the history of Canadian interaction with Israel/Palestine during this period, two books by David Bercuson - The Secret Army and Canada and the Birth of Israel - provide much useful information. In his work, Bercuson adopts the all-too-familiar Canadian approach of expressing barely-veiled contempt for Palestinians from a posture of ostensible diplomatic, journalistic or (in his case) scholarly moderation. But one need not adopt his value judgments to draw from his research, which does provide perhaps the most detailed account of Canadian Zionist activity and government policy towards Palestine during this period.
The Jewish Agency leadership leaned heavily on its international affiliates to bolster its military capabilities. "By the end of World War II," Bercuson explains, "the Hagana had developed a sophisticated structure with branches that reached into Europe and North America."('83, 9-10) In 1945, Ben-Gurion visited the United States for a meeting in New York which set these structures into real motion. The meeting was presided over by the American Zionist Rudolf Sonneborn, and had in attendance Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, president of the Zionist Organization of America and chairman of the American Section of the Jewish Agency; Henry Montor, the head of the United Palestine Appeal; and, among others, Sam Zacks, the president of the Zionist Organization of Canada. (Calhoun, 24; Stock, 11; Bercuson '83, 44) This meeting resulted in the establishment of what was called the Sonneborn Institute.
Up until this time, the tax-exempt Keren Hayesod/United Palestine Appeal campaigns had overseen fundraising for the Jewish Agency, for military expenditures as for other purposes. Such fundraising did continue, and even escalated. In 1945/6, the UPA-funded Jewish Agency programs grouped under the heading "National Organization and Security" amounted to slightly over $3.8 million. By 1948, as a leading figure in U.S. Zionist fundraising activities would later explain, this "had grown to $28,000,000, including $3,000,000 for the Political Department of the Agency and $25,000,000 for security needs."(Stock, 127) However, more discrete channels were also required, and this is where the Sonneborn Institute factored in.
The need for discretion was long understood, and was shown to be very real when the issue of "security" expenditures with U.S. charitable dollars "was brought to the attention of the IRS by Jewish anti-Zionist leader Lessing Rosenwald" in 1948. The IRS responded by briefly revoking the tax-exempt charitable status of the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) campaign within which the UPA had come to operate.(Stock, 127)
This possibility was long anticipated, and it was to minimize the likelihood of such costs that arms procurement and fundraising for military purposes were often directed through the Sonneborn Institute. "Although some cash came from overseas," Bercuson writes, "most was raised locally at small private meetings. Donors contributed directly to the Jewish Agency. No questions were asked; no receipts were given. This fund-raising was done without any direct contact with either established Zionist or non-Zionist Jewish organizations or such Jewish charitable institutions as the United Palestine Appeal."('83, 36)
Over time, this arrangement formalized. Dummy corporations were established, with the New York-based Materials for Palestine as the principal hub. In Canada, a separate set of companies functioned in association with the operation, the most blatantly contraband products being channeled through Victory Equipment and Supply Limited. These activities were distanced from public Zionist advocacy and fundraising structures. Practically, they were nonetheless organized under the direct auspices of the umbrella Canadian Zionist coalition, the United Zionist Council (UZC). (Bercuson '83, 37 & 45)
By various means, Canadians smuggled military equipment, including machine gun parts, to Hagana forces in Palestine; sometimes this simply involved misnaming cargo shipments: "Flame throwers became ‘insecticide sprayers,'" as Bercuson explains. While Canadian Zionists "may have contributed only a handful of planes and guns," Bercuson asserts, "Canadian radio sets and other radio equipment became the backbone of Israel's military communication network."('83, 48)
From Flame Throwers to Recruits
By the spring of 1947, Ben-Gurion had decided that in addition to supplies, military advisors and recruits from abroad would prove helpful. His practical search for such international participants "began in the United States in December 1947. At that time, Moshe Shertok, head of the Jewish Agency's Political Department and unofficial foreign minister, approached General John Hilldring, Assistant Secretary of State. Shertok was looking for help in obtaining military equipment and in enlisting the services of ‘two or three competent American officers who would be prepared to proceed to Palestine and advise on defense arrangements.'"(Bercuson '83, 52) Hilldring put Shertok in contact with former U.S. Army Colonel David Marcus, a West Point graduate with WWII experience.
By the time direct recruitment was set in motion, Ben Dunkelman was already accustomed to his duties as head of the Canadian branch of the Hagana. Dunkelman was suited to the job: he was well-connected, had access to substantial resources, and had fought in WWII with the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada. In the course of his military experience, he had been sent to Britain to receive intensive officer's combat training in the use of mortars, and put these lessons to notable use on the battlefield. Initially, Canadian Hagana activities centered on low-profile fundraising, arms procurement and smuggling. Then, according to Dunkelman's memoirs, Colonel Marcus visited to inform him "that the Hagana command had decided to recruit experienced combat soldiers to serve in the Jewish forces. They wanted me to get to work on recruiting an infantry brigade of English-speaking volunteers, which I would lead in action."(157)
This was part of a broad international recruitment drive focused on the U.S., Canada, and South Africa. A recent document on the effort produced by the Israeli Ministry of Education explains: "In Canada, recruitment began in early 1948, and yielded excellent results within a very short time when some 100 infantry and armored corps veterans of World War II enlisted in the service of the Hagana."(15) This document estimates the number of Canadian recruits who served with Hagana forces in 1948 at 232.
Obviously, these recruits were a small component of a much broader political Zionist military force which operated during this period. Still, the operations in which they participated changed many lives, and terminated the traditional existence of many Palestinian communities. Their history is well worth reviewing.
Canadian Arrivals: From Nachson to Barak
Following the passage of United Nations Resolution 181 in November 1947, and the decision of the British to leave in May, things started to move forward decisively. Palestinian Arab strikes and demonstrations, including sporadic acts of violence, ensued; political Zionist paramilitary operations were initiated in earnest.
This article does not intend to provide a military history of the crucial phase of the Israel-Palestine conflict which followed. Rather, it seeks to review some of the obvious aspects of Canadian participation in the violent transformation of Palestine in 1948, particularly the forced depopulation of many Palestinian communities, and to locate this participation within the context of the broader fight for a Jewish state in the political Zionist sense of the term - that is to say, a state with a commanding Jewish majority.
Ilan Pappé's recent book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine does an excellent job of describing how events of 1948, particularly the displacement from their homes of several hundred thousand indigenous Palestinian Arabs, extended from political Zionist efforts to demographically transform the country. This book builds upon a history of compelling work on these events produced over the decades by many dedicated researchers, the Palestinian scholar Walid Khalidi prominent among them.
From as early as December 1947, Pappé explains, Zionist paramilitary operations were resulting in the displacement of tens of thousands of Palestinians, but were carried out in line with a loose doctrine of "retaliation." It was not until early 1948 that an institutional and policy framework was instituted which could facilitate systematic ethnic cleansing.
Pappé traces the crucial decisions which brought about this shift to a consultative committee established by Ben-Gurion in late 1947, and comprised of such Zionist officials as the JNF's Yosef Weitz, high-ranking Hagana commanders and other trusted Zionist leaders. It was under the direction of this body, Pappé asserts, that a policy involving unprovoked expulsion orders was put into effect. "The first targets were three villages around the ancient Roman city of Caesarea," he recounts. "Qisarya was the first village to be expelled in its entirety, on 15 February 1948. The expulsion took only a few hours and was carried out so systematically that the Jewish troops were able to evacuate and destroy another four villages on the same day, all under the watchful eyes of the British troops stationed in police stations nearby."(75) At the same time, Hagana forces underwent a significant overhaul, and numerous new Brigades were established.
While it did not mark such a major landmark in the conflict as a whole, soon after this, paramilitary attacks (particularly by the elite Hagana units of what was known as the Palmach) on those tenants of Wadi al-Hawarith who remained in the vicinity of their original lands resulted in their displacement, finally completing their eviction and dissolution as a community; the homes they had constructed for themselves were subsequently destroyed.(Khalidi '92, 565)
A major documentary landmark in the political Zionist turn towards widespread expulsions at this time was the issuance - at the decision of Ben-Gurion's consultative committee, Pappé argues - of Plan D (Dalet). Produced in March 1948, the text of Plan D is available in English translation, and includes, for example, calls for: "Destruction of villages (setting fire to, blowing up, and planting mines in the debris), especially those population centers which are difficult to control continuously." Its guidelines were to be implemented in the course of thirteen planned operations, eight of which were outside the area earmarked by the United Nations for "Jewish statehood" (in the restricted sense specified by Resolution 181).(Khalidi '88, 29 & 17)
It was the inauguration of Plan D with the initiation of Operation Nachson that defined the context into which Canadian recruits began arriving in April. The most infamous action carried out in the course of Operation Nachson was the massacre of upwards of 100 Palestinian civilians, including children and babies, perpetrated by the Irgun and Stern Gang on April 9 at the village of Deir Yassin. But it was Hagana forces which anchored the operation, carrying out numerous expulsions and home demolitions in the process. (eg. Pappé, 87-91)
Arriving in April, Dunkelman was first attached to the Harel Brigade, a Palmach unit participating in Operation Nachson under the command of Israel's ethnic cleansing bone-breaker-cum-"dove," Yitzhak Rabin. An experienced mortar man, Dunkelman was unhappy with the state of Hagana artillery capacities and approached Ben-Gurion with his critique. Dunkelman recounts the exchange as follows:
"When [Ben-Gurion] asked me if I could take the necessary steps to get the mortars into action as quickly as possible, I agreed - but only on condition that I was given full and complete authority over all phases of the operation: production, distribution, and training of crews. ... Grudgingly, he gave in, asking me to go outside and dictate the letter to his secretary."(224-225)
Whether or not one takes Dunkelman's claim to exclusive authority over the development of Hagana mortar capacities at face value, the claim must be understood in relation to the fact that it was not just against Palestinian militias or other armed forces that such mortars were brought to bear, but also (and quite consistently) against Palestinian civilian centres in order to bring about their depopulation.
Mostly, Canadian recruits were not clumped together. International recruits were distributed throughout the Hagana structure in order to fill roles for which the specific experience of veterans was required. However, one platoon-sized group of Canadian infantrymen was kept together and incorporated into the Givati Brigade.
These recruits arrived at their post just as the Givati Brigade attacked the village of ‘Aqir on May 4. According to a New York Times report on the assault, some 3,000 Palestinians left the village in the first several hours of the attack; a few weeks later, the remaining villagers were also expelled. (Khalidi '92, 360) The Givati Brigade then prepared for its major offensive in May, Operation Barak, which was launched on the 9th.
David Bercuson describes the prominent involvement of the "Canadian platoon" in the May 12 occupation of Bashshit, a village of more than 1,600 people which was subsequently destroyed.(Bercuson '83, 102) Like many of the offensives carried out under Plan D, Operation Barak also involved the occupation of villages well within the territory designated by the UN for Arab statehood: Bayt Daras, for example, a village of nearly 3,000 people, located in the Gaza district, which was depopulated on May 10 under the pressure of mortar attacks and a ground invasion by Givati troops; or the twin villages of al-Batani al-Sharqi and al-Batani al-Gharbi, also in the Gaza district, located within the proposed Arab state yet occupied and depopulated by Givati on May 13 and May 18, respectively.(Khalidi '92, 363, 87, 85 & 84)
Until the formal termination of the British mandate on May 15, resistance to Hagana operations was mounted by Palestinian militias and irregular volunteer forces drawing support from neighbouring countries. The intervention of Arab states after May 15 did not shake the confidence of the Zionist leadership in its capacity to simultaneously engage hostile forces and aggressively depopulate Palestinian communities: "the mass evictions were not affected by the end of the Mandate," Pappé explains, "but went ahead uninterrupted. There had been ethnic cleansing on the day before 15 May 1948, and the same ethnic cleansing operations took place after. Israel had enough troops both to handle the Arab armies and to continue cleansing the land. ... For most Palestinians, the date of 15 May 1948 was of no special significance at the time: it was just one more day in the horrific calendar of ethnic cleansing that had started more than five months earlier."(130-131) Nonetheless, it was on this day that Israeli statehood was formally declared.
One village conquered on May 15 itself was al-Maghar, occupied by Givati. The fate of al-Maghar points to the spirit with which the Jewish National Fund would approach its activities in the era of Zionist statehood. By mid-June, the JNF was working to thoroughly level the village. Exactly one month after its initial occupation, Yosef Weitz visited the site to view the work in progress. "‘Three tractors are completing its destruction,' he later wrote. ‘I was surprised that nothing moved me at the sight. ... Not regret and not hatred, as this is the way of the world.'"(Khalidi '92, 395)
The "Anglo-Saxon Brigade" and Operation Dekel
Perhaps the most glaring examples of Canadian culpability in the ethnic cleansing of 1948 are provided by the Seventh Brigade operations carried out in the summer and the fall under the command of Ben Dunkelman. During the summer, the Brigade had 170 English-speaking volunteers, including almost the entirety of one of its infantry companies. By October, the number of English-speaking recruits from abroad was up to about 300 - hence the designation of the Seventh as "the Anglo-Saxon Brigade." (Markovitzky, 31)
Dunkelman was given command of the Seventh Brigade by David Ben-Gurion in early July. At the time, the Brigade was dealing with morale problems resulting from its participation in failed efforts to conquer the Latrun area from its inhabitants and the forces of the Transjordan Legion. (Incidentally, among the communities whose existence was thus preserved for a time were the villages of Beit Nuba, Imwas and Yalu. In 1967, these villages were captured by Israel along with the whole of the West Bank, their inhabitants expelled, their lands de facto annexed. In the early '70s, Canada's tax-exempt Jewish National Fund sponsored the establishment on their lands of the infamous "Canada Park": today, plaques honoring contributors ranging from the Montreal student association Hillel to the Metropolitan Toronto Police Department are proudly affixed to the stone ruins of village homes.)
In short order after Dunkelman's assumption of command, the Seventh Brigade initiated a large-scale offensive termed Operation Dekel. This entailed engagement with local militias and forces of the all-volunteer Arab Liberation Army (ALA), the occupation of much of the lower Galilee, and the depopulation of numerous villages.
In his memoirs, Dunkelman claims to have learned in the course of his 1931-2 settlement activities that "the Arabs ... dislike the darkness, and I could always use that fact to my advantage. Sixteen years later, when I was a combat commander, I was to remember this weakness."(44) As the name of Wingate's Special Night Squads suggests, Dunkelman was not significantly breaking from Hagana ranks in adopting this approach. In any event, it is with this lesson that he sought to raise his troops' morale.
He chose as a first target an ALA position at Tel Kissan. There was, he told the attacking commander, every reason for optimism: "If you come from the rear, under cover of darkness, you'll be able to take the place with a single platoon - and the Arabs will run for their lives!" His advice was taken, and he relays the outcome with pride: "The operation was a complete success!"(244)
The same night, the Seventh joined the Carmeli Brigade in subjecting Kuwaykat, a village of more than 1,000 people, to heavy mortar fire. One villager recalled: "We were awakened by the loudest noise we had ever heard, shells exploding and artillery fire ... the whole village was in a panic ... women were screaming, children were crying ... Most of the villagers began to flee with their pajamas on." Two people were killed and two wounded during the bombardment. "I don't know whether the artillery softening up of the village caused casualties," a company commander from the 21st Battalion later said, "but the psychological effect was achieved and the village's non-combatants fled before we began the assault."(Nazzal, 72-3; Khalidi '92, 22)
That was the night of July 9-10, and opened Operation Dekel. The operation then turned towards additional Arab population centres. Again with support from the Carmeli Brigade, the Seventh assaulted ‘Amqa on July 10-11. The attack began with mortar bombardment of the village, which seems to have caused most of the villagers to leave. The population of ‘Amqa was predominantly Druze, a minority which sometimes collaborated with Israeli forces. ‘Amqa is reported to be "the only Druze village in western Galilee to be shelled and evacuated."(Khalidi '92, 4)
Then, on July 13, the Seventh began a major push towards Nazareth. This included an assault on Shafa Amr in the night of July 14-15, marking the height of Hagana-Druze collaboration in 1948. Referring in particular to the role of his subordinate Joe Weiner - "a former permanent force sergeant-major in the Canadian artillery who had been with me in the mortars" - Dunkelman describes his tactical reliance on collaboration with the Druze: "Everything went according to plan. While the Moslem section was being shelled, the assault force - the 79th Armoured Battalion under Joe Weiner, with two companies from Arele Yariv's 21st Battalion - approached the walls. They and the Druze defenders fired harmlessly over each other's heads. The attackers quietly passed through the Druze lines, entering the village and taking the Moslems from the rear. Within a short time, the whole village was securely in our hands ...". (247 & 261)
From Shafa Amr, the Seventh pushed southeast to Nazareth, which it finally conquered on July 16. As head of the Seventh and as overall commander for Operation Dekel, Dunkelman was responsible for extending over Nazareth a regime of Israeli military governance which would last until 1966, and a system of discrimination against Arab inhabitants which persists (albeit in a less crude form) right up to the present. Nonetheless, his supposed moderation in carrying out this conquest is often emphasized.
At issue is Dunkelman's reluctance to ethnically cleanse the city. According to Ben-Gurion, Moshe Carmel, commander of the northern front, gave an order "to uproot all the inhabitants at Nazareth," which was relayed to Dunkelman. But even Yosef Weitz, in his grand fantasies of mass expulsions, exempted Nazareth from such a policy. Dunkelman - mulling the fate of "one of the most sanctified shrines of the Christian world," and wary of the "severe international repercussions" of rash action - asked for higher authorization. Dunkelman's immediate superior thus asked IDF General Staff for a ruling: "Tell me immediately, urgently, whether to expel the inhabitants from the city of Nazareth. In my view all, save for clerics, should be expelled." Ben-Gurion vetoed any such expulsion, and the inhabitants remained. (Morris '04, 419; Dunkelman, 266)
The notion that Dunkelman thus merits appreciation as a humanitarian of a sort is somewhat preposterous. One may consider, even sticking to the assault on Nazareth, the violent depopulation of the village of Saffuriya, a predominantly Muslim community of more than 4,000 (swelled by some 2,500 refugees from Shafa Amr), which was the immediate prelude to the capture of Nazareth. The historian Nafez Nazzal quotes Salih Muhammad Nassir, a farmer and the quartermaster for the village militia, describing the nighttime assault of July 15-16:
"...planes flew over the village and dropped barrels filled with explosives, metal fragments, nails and glass. They were very loud and disrupting... They shook the whole village, broke windows, doors, killed or wounded some of the villagers and many of the village livestock. We expected a war but not an air and tank war.'
"The shelling and artillery bombardment of the village continued sporadically throughout the night as the Israelis advanced."(75)
Today, the lands of Saffuriya host the Jewish agricultural settlement of Tzippori, founded in 1949, and a JNF pine forest. (Khalidi '92, 352-3) Many former inhabitants of the village live in Nazareth - citizens of Israel, now, but forbidden from returning to their nearby homes - their lands, located within eyesight, expropriated as "absentee property," a status unchanged by the close proximity and nominal citizenship rights of the owners.
No, far from having clean hands, Dunkelman and the forces under his command were directly culpable for the war crimes that defined the extension of Israeli state authority over the Galilee. If anything, they distinguished themselves only by means of particularly severe brutality. Ilan Pappé writes: "In many of the Palestinian oral histories that have now come to the fore, few brigade names appear. However, Brigade Seven is mentioned again and again, together with such adjectives as ‘terrorists' and ‘barbarous.'"(159)
Operation Dekel was hardly pretty. But to understand how this reputation was earned, it is necessary to turn to Seventh Brigade operations in the fall, conducted as part of the offensive named Operation Hiram.
Competent Research and Twisted Morality, Courtesy of Benny Morris
First, a brief sidebar on sourcing is called for. Looking back at the history of 1948, it is difficult to avoid the research of the Israeli historian Benny Morris. Still, it is inappropriate to draw from this research without a quick note on the researcher. Just as David Bercuson's posture of moderate contempt for Palestinians represents a time-honored Canadian tradition, so Morris represents a startling trend in Israeli political culture. This is the combination of a recognition that massive ethnic cleansing was carried out against Palestinians in 1948, with the judgment that it represented a positive project which should continue to guide state policy.
In his recent book Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State, Nazareth-based journalist Jonathan Cook locates this disturbing combination within the strategic debates that dominate elite policy discussions in contemporary Israel. Cook draws our attention to a series interviews with Morris that have been published over the last several years in the Israeli press. Morris is quoted stating, for example, the following -
Regarding the limitations of the operations which established the Israeli state:
"I think [Ben-Gurion] made a serious historical mistake in 1948. Even though he understood the demographic issue and the need to establish a Jewish state without a large Arab minority, he got cold feet during the war. In the end, he faltered. ... I know that this stuns the Arabs and the liberals and the politically correct types. But my feeling is that this place would be quieter and know less suffering if the matter had been resolved once and for all ... If the end of the story turns out to be a gloomy one for the Jews, it will be because Ben-Gurion did not complete the transfer in 1948. Because he left a large and volatile demographic reserve in the West Bank and Gaza and within Israel itself."
Regarding the "volatile demographic reserve in the West Bank and Gaza":
"Something like a cage needs to be built for them. I know that sounds terrible. But there is no choice. There is a wild animal there that has to be locked away one way or another."
On possible next steps, and how these might apply to Palestinian citizens of Israel:
"If you are asking me whether I support the transfer and expulsion of the Arabs from the West Bank, Gaza and perhaps even from Galilee and the Triangle, I say not at this moment ... But I am ready to tell you that in other circumstances, apocalyptic ones, which are liable to be realized in five or ten years, I can see expulsions."
(From interviews conducted by Ha'aretz in 2004, cited in Cook, 107-108)
This article will not explore the significance of these recent comments or the debates of which they form a part in any detail. However, it is only appropriate to note their existence before using Morris's research.
"An Awe-Inspiring Sight"
Returning to Operation Hiram, there is no question that in the course of this offensive, conducted in the autumn of 1948, Seventh Brigade forces under Dunkelman's command carried out serious atrocities. The testimony of Palestinian survivors, the reports of United Nations observers, and since-declassified Israeli records show this beyond and possible doubt. These atrocities included expulsion of whole villages, massacre of unarmed civilians, and rape.
There has been some controversy regarding whether these atrocities were carried out in line with orders issued by Moshe Carmel, the IDF officer in overall command of Operation Hiram, or on the initiative of lower-order commanders.(eg. Morris '99) But whether Dunkelman ordered such atrocities in line with commands from above, on his own initiative, or left the matter to be decided by subordinate officers (no disciplinary action was taken), the issue of culpability remains unavoidable.
Dunkelman, for his part, writes in his memoirs about the operations in question without a hint of repentance. For example, he recalls: "Jish was not heavily defended, and its capture would make it a base for the first phase: the capture of Sasa, which was undefended. After completing the three-phase plan with the capture of Sasa, we intended to move on to Tarshiha and Tarbiha, taking the forces there in the rear, and then to advance northeast and retake Malkiya." He expresses satisfaction with this phase of the assault: "It was an awe-inspiring sight to see them hurtling recklessly up the hill towards the enemy with all guns blazing into the night, while the other units poured effective supporting fire into Jish and the neighbouring village of Safsaf. The assault was spectacular and daring. The armoured cars rushed the defence positions, overwhelming the Arabs before they had time to get organized."(291 & 294)
The assaults being described involved substantial atrocities. Drawing from Israeli records, Benny Morris writes: "It emerges that the main massacres [during Operation Hiram] occurred in Saliha, Safsaf, Jish and the (Lebanese) village of Hule, between 30 October and 2 November. In the first three villages, Seventh Brigade troops were responsible. At Saliha it appears that troops blew up a house, possibly the village mosque, killing 60-94 persons who had been crowded into it. In Safsaf, troops shot and then dumped into a well 50-70 villagers and POWs. In Jish, the troops apparently murdered about 10 Moroccan POWs (who had served with the Syrian Army) and a number of civilians, including, apparently, four Maronite Christians, and a woman and her baby. In Hule ... a company commander and a sergeant of the Carmeli Brigade's 22nd Battalion shot some three dozen captured Lebanese soldiers and peasants and then demolished a house on top of them, killing them all. Civilians appear to have been murdered at Sa'sa as well."('04, 481)
Of the five villages mentioned here, only Hule, in Lebanon, was not taken by the Seventh. It is not as if the Seventh avoided incursions into Lebanon: "In flagrant defiance of the law," Dunkelman explains proudly, "we undertook many trips across the Lebanese border ...," where they had Lebanese villagers prepare them food.(311) But it was in the cases of Saliha, Safsaf, Jish, and Sa'sa that the Seventh Brigade carried out some of its worst atrocities.
In Saliha, the lower end of Morris's estimate of 60-94 people killed by bombing draws from the diary of JNF official Yosef Nahmani, who "refers to ‘60-70' men and women murdered after they ‘had raised a white flag'." In Jish, one local politician reported, "the army surrounded the village and carried out searches. In the course of the search soldiers robbed several of the houses and stole 605 pounds, jewelry and other valuables. When the people who were robbed insisted on being given receipts for their property, they were taken to a remote place and shot dead."(Morris '04, 500; Segev, 72)
There are also numerous testimonies of rape during these operations. Regarding the aftermath of the overnight shelling and occupation of Safsaf (October 29-30), Nafez Nazzal relays one Palestinian's testimony:
"Umm Shahadah al-Dalih, among those present, recalled that tragic morning: ‘As we lined up, a few Jewish soldiers ordered four girls to accompany them to carry water for the soldiers. Instead, they took them to our empty houses and raped them. About 70 of our men were blindfolded and shot to death, one after the other, in front of us. The soldiers took their bodies and threw them on the cement covering of the village's spring and dumped sand on them.'"(94-95)
As for the occupation of Sa'sa, Ilan Pappé draws from the testimony of Palestinian refugees - most of whom today live in Lebanon in the Nahr al-Barid refugee camp - to construct the following account:
"After it had been occupied, the soldiers of Brigade Seven ran amok, firing randomly at anyone in the houses and on the streets. Besides the fifteen villagers killed, they left behind them a large number of wounded. The troops then demolished all the houses, apart from a few that the members of Kibbutz Sasa, built on the ruins of the village, took over for themselves after the forced eviction of their original owners."(183)
Predictably, such actions helped to clear the lands of Palestinians. "These atrocities, mostly committed against Muslims, no doubt precipitated the flight of communities on the path of the IDF advance," writes Morris. "What happened at Safsaf and Jish no doubt reached the villagers of Ras al Ahmar, ‘Alma, Deishum and al Malikiya hours before the Seventh Brigade's columns. These villages, apart from ‘Alma, seem to have been completely or largely empty when the IDF arrived." Drawing from Morris's earlier work, Walid Khalidi outlines the fate of ‘Alma: "Although the Israeli Minority Affairs Ministry later listed ‘Alma among the villages that had surrendered during the operation and were therefore not ‘punished,' Morris states that its residents were ‘uprooted and expelled.' He does not give the circumstances of expulsion, but it was either carried out by units of the Seventh Brigade during the attack itself, or was implemented following an official decision taken in subsequent weeks." (Morris '04, 482; Khalidi '92, 433)
And so it was that the Anglo-Saxon Brigade earned its reputation.
From Ethnic Cleansing to Expropriation: The Making of Canadian Hero
The title of the late Israeli dissident Tanya Reinhart's 2003 book - Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948 - expresses the widespread impression that the conflict that then erupted was just one phase of an ongoing process. Indeed, Reinhart's title draws from a November 2000 statement by IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon to the effect that Israeli policy was working towards "the second half of 1948." In 2002, discussing what he considered the appropriate strategy for dealing with "the Palestinian threat," Ya'alon elaborated: "I maintain that it is cancer ... There are all kinds of solutions to cancerous manifestations. Some will say it is necessary to amputate organs. But at the moment, I am applying chemotherapy."
Notwithstanding this, 1948 was a defining moment in the history of Israel/Palestine. By 1949, when large-scale military operations subsided and a series of armistice agreements established a cessation of major hostilities with the neighboring states, Palestine had been transformed. The Israeli state exercised control over 78% of the former mandate, within which only about a quarter of a million indigenous Palestinians remained. The extension of Israeli state authority had involved not only what Weizmann called "the miraculous simplification of Israel's tasks" (McDonald, 176) - namely, the expulsion of most of the land's native population - but also a massive expropriation of Palestinian property.
Ian Lustick and Tom Segev have explored in detail the mechanisms of "wholesale robbery in legal guise," as the Arab-affairs editor of the Israeli daily Ha'aretz then described it, by which Palestinian land and property was stolen. As Segev writes, "tens of thousands of Israelis, soldiers and civilians, helped themselves to the spoils." The process was complex, and not uniformly organized: "A good many of the transactions fell into that gray area between what the law permitted and what was considered illegal, between outright robbery and official expropriation."(Lustick, 175; Segev, 79)
For a time, the process provoked heated debate even within the Israeli cabinet. Minister of Agriculture Aharon Cizling stated: "It's been said that there were cases of rape in Ramlah. I can forgive rape, but I will never forgive other acts which seem to me much worse. When they enter a town and forcibly remove rings from the fingers and jewelry from someone's neck, that's a very grave matter . . . ". Writing to Ben-Gurion, Cizling added: "up to now we have dealt with individual looters, both soldiers and civilians. Now, however, there are more and more reports about acts which, judging by their nature and extent, could only have been carried out by (government) order. ... Meanwhile, private plundering still goes on, too."(Segev, 72-3)
Ben-Gurion could hardly have been disturbed by the practice of expropriation itself, which he was central in orchestrating. He had for some time come to actively discourage JNF purchase of territory, insisting that "[t]he war will give us the land. The concepts of ‘ours' and ‘not ours' are peace concepts only, and in war they lose their whole meaning."(Masalha '92, 180) But he was dedicated to pursuing its redistribution through the official, centralized mechanisms.
As for Ben Dunkelman and the Seventh, they joined other Hagana forces in "that gray area" to which Segev refers. Regarding the conclusion of Operation Hiram, Dunkelman boasts: "our booty also included large numbers of cattle, abandoned by their fleeing owners. At a loss what to do with them, I turned the beasts over to the local kibbutzim, for which I later received a stern reprimand from Ben-Gurion. He told me I should have held on to them until they could be turned over to the ‘appropriate authorities' ... He might have been even more indignant if he had been able to attend our wedding reception, where hundreds of men of the brigade appeared, carrying trays of meat."(296)
After the fighting, Dunkelman briefly tried out life as an Israeli businessman. He entered the housing and textile production markets, and secured the franchise to bottle Coca-Cola. But before long, he returned to Canada and the family business.
At no point do Dunkelman or other Canadian participants in the ethnic cleansing and expropriation operations of 1948 appear to have been held to account for their crimes. Even decades later, with the full effects of these events well-documented and Dunkelman's account of his participation published and circulating, he retained a prestigious public profile.
Dunkelman "cleared the whole of Galilee," one Toronto Star article explained in 1992; he "helped in the liberation of northern Israel," the Star added in '97. "An energetic non- conformist from his school days," the Globe and Mail read in 1984 - just when Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, most of them from the Galilee, were suffering from the aftermath of a renewed Israeli assault - "Dunkelman alternated work in the family business (Tip Top Tailors) with distinguished military service that took him to Europe for the Second World War and to Israel in 1948." In 1999, in fact, the Globe deemed his record consistent with status as "a Canadian and Israeli war hero."
It is customary to honor veterans. But uncritical praise for a prominent culprit in a campaign of ethnic cleansing that is still ongoing is extremely unhealthy for a culture, especially one with its own record of colonization and ethnic cleansing of indigenous people. At this moment, the United Jewish Appeal Federation (UJA) of Greater Toronto is putting the finishing touches on a "Party Like It's 1948" festival in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the events described above. Meanwhile, the building in which it is headquartered (along with other UIAFC affiliates) maintains a virtual shrine to the ethnic cleanser of Kuwaykat and Saffuriya, the commanding officer who oversaw massacres from Jish to Safsaf. This situation and the limited criticism it evokes are symptomatic of a refusal to come to grips with the reality of 1948, or with its echoes into the present.
A challenge to this continued failure of Canada's corporate press, dominant Jewish community organizations, and mainstream political scene as a whole needs to be factored into a broader effort to push this country's Israel/Palestine policy in a more sane and constructive direction.
Canada and the "Advanced Nations of the World":
In an essay published in 1984, the late Eqbal Ahmad described why it is that "the Palestinian experience, like the South African, affects a majority of mankind" at such a deep level. After the First World War, British policy in Palestine epitomized the massive Anglo-French betrayal of wartime guarantees for the region's independence. The events of 1948 resonated even more broadly. For much of humanity, Ahmad wrote,
"Our painful colonial past, neocolonial present, and the dangerous perspective for our future converge on the question of Palestine.
"August 1947 marked the beginning of decolonization, when British rule in India ended with a last spasmodic human carnage. In January 1948 Burma became independent, in February Ceylon; October 1949 witnessed the exhilarating final liberation of China. It was in those days of hopes and fulfillments that the colonization of Palestine occurred. ... Thus, at the dawn of decolonization, we were returned to the earliest, most intense form of colonial menace - the exclusivist settler colonialism which had dealt genocidal blows to the great civilizations and peoples of the Americas. ... The tragedy occurred as a counterpoint to contemporary history, a reminder that all was not well with the era of decolonization."(301)
In Canada, of course, the prevailing perspective was considerably different. The Canadian state - eager heir to the colonization of the Americas - remained firmly situated within a Western alliance that was reluctant, to say the least, to see its hold on much of the world undercut by processes of genuine decolonization. Under these circumstances, the specific relationships between leading Western states, the Zionist movement and the question of Palestine were not entirely straightforward. But it is the context set by these relationships which shaped official Canadian interaction with the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The first parts of this article focused on the role of the Canadian Zionist movement itself, as a way of illustrating the direct means by which Palestine was colonized. This account concludes by turning attention to the broader reality of Canadian Israel/Palestine policy, situated in relation to Canada's overall approach to international affairs.
From One Empire to Another: The Canadian State's International Orientation
There is no use in pretending that Canada's complicity in Israeli colonization and human rights abuses is a sort of anomaly, a stain on an otherwise relatively clean policy record. Canadian support for colonization practices in Palestine has certainly not been restricted to political Zionist organizations. But the complicity of Canadian society at large is not exceptional. Rather, it extends naturally from Canada's longstanding place in world order. Some brief reflections on this history are in order to set the context within which Canadian policy on Palestine developed.
Historically, of course, Canadian foreign policy was determined in the first instance by the British imperial sponsorship that guided the very formation of the Canadian state. In his recent work on the British Empire, John Newsinger begins by quoting an appropriate observation (of the 19th-century British dissident Ernest Jones) on the Empire's scope and character: "On its colonies the sun never sets, but the blood never dries." During the peak period of British imperialism, the Empire's loyal North American Dominion did its modest part to ensure that this remained the case.
For Canadian foreign policy, the 19th century opened with participation in British campaigns against the slave rebellions in the Caribbean, for which Upper and Lower Canada, as well as the Maritimes, provided resources, troops and commanding officers. It closed with the dispatch of Canadian troops to South Africa to join the fight for British imperial interests there. Meanwhile, colonization of the indigenous land base which forms the very basis for Canadian statehood proceeded apace. This drew from cross-continental colonial experience: when faced with the indigenous/Métis North-West rebellion of 1885, for example, the troops dispatched by Ottawa to repress the resistance fought under the command of General Frederick Middleton, a participant in the repression of India's landmark anti-colonial rebellion of 1857. It was without breaking from this history in the slightest that Canada entered the 20th century. (Evans; Naylor, 405 & 473)
By the early 20th century, the United States had aggressively asserted its predominance in the Western hemisphere, and Canadian officials approached international affairs highly attuned to relations of Anglo-American power. So it was with the British push into the Middle East. Canadian contributions to the Empire's defense gained officials at least a token measure of decision-making, and Prime Minister Borden even participated in one of the 1918 British Imperial War Cabinet meetings at which the fate of Palestine was discussed. But aside from a desire to achieve some measure of independence for its own sake, the only real limit to reflexive Canadian alignment with Britain was a commitment to maintaining good relations with the United States. On Palestine, the British had consulted U.S. officials and received approval before finalizing all major decisions. (Riddell, 13; Shaw, 1, 4 & 11) Thus in Canada - even setting aside Christian interpretations of scripture and other ideological factors - official alignment with Imperial policy on Palestine came naturally.
In the early years of the British mandate in Palestine, then, arms-length Canadian endorsement of British policy was simple enough. By the 1940s, things became a good deal more complicated.
As Britain, from the end of the '30s, sharply reduced its support for political Zionist aims, the Palestine policies of Britain and the United States began to diverge. Until this time, the Middle East was understood to be an area of predominant British influence, and in Palestine as elsewhere, the U.S. mostly deferred to British decision-makers. But towards the middle of the century, U.S. power grew to unprecedented proportions, and the ambitions of U.S. planners accordingly expanded eastward. This cleared the way for the U.S. to make decisions on Palestine which ran against British imperial preferences.
The wide-ranging change in U.S. perceptions at this time is described by Mark Curtis in his work on Anglo-American Power and World Order. Curtis explains that following World War II, Anglo-American relations shifted as the United States adopted a "policy of supporting British colonialism but also one of gradually replacing British power with its own and securing British dependence on US power. This had been a longstanding intention," Curtis continues. "As early as 1942, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, an academic think-tank that, especially during the war years, was responsible for helping develop the broad contours of U.S. foreign policy, stated that ‘the British empire as it existed in the past will never reappear and ... the United States will have to take its place.'" As the war came to a close and this intention was translated into policy, the British ambassador to Washington observed that the U.S. "expected [Britain] to take her place as junior partner in an orbit of power predominantly under U.S. aegis." (Curtis, 25-26)
The Canadian state had a strong interest in seeing this post-war relationship shift without producing excessive competitive tension between Britain and the United States. The U.S. was certainly not looking towards a post-war order in which former spheres of European imperial influence would be replaced by independent regional systems, or by an inclusive model of international governance. Such a "universalistic approach" was strategically bankrupt, State Department policy planning director George Kennan explained, as it would force the U.S. to "make decisions on the lofty but simple plane of moral principle and under the protecting cover of majority decision." The U.S. would instead enforce the new order in concert with a select group of states: "if alliance is to be effective it must be based upon real community of interest and outlook, which is to be found only among limited groups of governments, and not upon the abstract formalism of universal international law or international organization."
True, the international system sought by Kennan and his colleagues would involve the downgrading of Britain's predominance in regions it had formerly held in dependence. But whether or not the U.S. would decisively act "to take Britain into our own U.S.-Canadian orbit," as Kennan described the prospect in 1948, "the cultivation of a closer association with the UK and Canada" was conceived as integral to the reconstitution of the chosen international alliance. In the new order, Canada could thus aspire to a very privileged position (from which the formerly colonized world would naturally be excluded): "For a truly stable world order can proceed, within our lifetime, only from the older, mellower and more advanced nations of the world - nations for which the concept of order, as opposed to power, has value and meaning."(Kennan, 528 & 510)
It was in relation to this emerging system of U.S.-orchestrated power, and particularly as an appendage to the Anglo-American alliance which would form such a prominent part of it, that the Canadian state pursued its post-war development. And it was as a point of friction within the envisioned alliance that Canadian officials approached the question of Palestine.
Anglo-American Relations on Palestine
The post-WWII divergence of U.S. policy on Palestine with that of Britain can be briefly summarized as follows. In the summer of 1945, President Truman made the first step towards ending the decades-long U.S. practice of deferring to British policy-makers on Palestine when he called for the admission to Palestine of 100,000 Jewish refugees from the displaced persons (DP) camps of Europe. This terminated the 1943 agreement whereby "Britain agreed not to question U.S. immigration quotas, in return for which the Americans would not challenge Britain's immigration policy in Palestine." In early 1946, an Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry was established to bridge the growing policy gap. U.S.-British divergence nevertheless continued, and in October of that year, Truman endorsed the demand for Jewish statehood over British objections. (Nachmani, 2 & 256)
A complicated set of factors contributed to shaping British and U.S. policy on Palestine during this period. British planners, for their part, understood that the Middle East was "a vital prize for any power interested in world influence or domination," and were committed to maintaining a quasi-colonial presence in the countries they had effectively cheated of independence following World War I. (Curtis, 20) But throughout the region, movements for independence and social reform were threatening to destabilize the established political order. Under these circumstances, Britain sought to disassociate itself from a political Zionist movement which had proved to be a thoroughly unreliable client, and which provoked hostility across the region.
Predictably, British policy-makers held that this policy extended from their commitment to democratic principles. So it was that foreign minister Ernest Bevin, speaking in 1945, explained his government's opposition to Jewish statehood as follows:
"I do not believe in absolutely exclusive racial states ... you might as well try to do that in England with the Welshmen and the Scotsmen or, what is worse, try to make Glasgow completely Scotch and see how you get on, or Cardiff completely Welsh. It is impossible."(Nachmani, 47)
Possible or not, British support for political Zionism would have made it even more difficult for Arab client regimes to associate themselves with British power. In either event, as Prime Minister Atlee observed, British Middle East policy "shall constantly appear to be supporting vested interests and reaction against reform and revolution in the interests of the poor."(Curtis, 19) In order to defend its influence and investments, this was, after all, exactly what Britain was doing. To meanwhile help to rip a whole country away from its indigenous population did not seem prudent for a major power hoping to embark on a more sustained, strategic squeeze of the region's wealth. Britain therefore hoped to produce some kind of negotiated settlement.
Some U.S. planners shared this strategic perspective. When the U.S. broke with Britain to endorse the partition of Palestine, George Kennan lamented U.S. support for "the extreme objectives of political Zionism," as a result of which he asserted "U.S. prestige in the Moslem world has suffered a severe blow and U.S. strategic interests in the Mediterranean and Near East have been seriously prejudiced."(552-3) Indeed, it is along much the same lines (and with reference to Kennan's early concerns) that the U.S. scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have recently made public criticisms of U.S. Israel/Palestine policy.
Notwithstanding this, there are many possible reasons for the trend towards U.S. support for political Zionist objectives. Some of these were removed from the specific Middle Eastern context. In Europe, notably, the aftermath of World War II had left many Jewish survivors of the Nazi holocaust torn from their homes, living in terrible conditions in various DP camps. Countries like the United States and Canada had prohibited any significant Jewish immigration during the period of escalating European anti-Semitism and systematic slaughter. A return of Jewish refugees to their countries of origin, the sites of wartime trauma and pervasive anti-Semitism, was not always practical. With Western states still reluctant to absorb prospective immigrants into their own societies, resettlement in Palestine seemed to offer a possible alternative.
Domestic political factors were also at work. In the United States, a well-organized Zionist movement was pressing hard for admission of Jews to Palestine, while maintaining an (at best) ambivalent attitude towards U.S. immigration quotas. The Truman administration faced additional pressure from military authorities in Europe and from the U.S. Treasury, which were eager to somehow reduce the costs of maintaining the many DP camps in areas of Europe under U.S. control. (Elazar, 54; Chomsky, 93; Nachmani, 258)
However, strategic calculations regarding the Middle East could not have been brushed aside entirely. At the time, the United States was embarking on an extremely forceful push into the Middle East. By 1946, this campaign even involved threats to deploy nuclear weapons against Iran as a demonstration of the U.S. commitment to exclude Soviet influence from the region - see Daniel Axelrod and Michio Kaku's To Win a Nuclear War (South End Press, 1987) for details. Under these circumstances, Kennan may have considered alignment with Zionist aims to be a serious political liability. It is true that U.S. policy on Palestine was not entirely shaped by regionally-focused strategy; the factors described above, and the additional force of U.S. ideological affinity with the fight for Israel, were also at work. But it is also the case that not all U.S. planners agreed that the strategic costs of limited alignment with the political Zionist movement outweighed the benefits.
For its part, the political Zionist leadership, well-acquainted with the intricacies of imperial sponsorship, did its best to influence U.S. geopolitical thinking to its advantage. It was likely with this over-riding aim that the "Jewish Resistance Movement" - a short-lived alliance of the Zionist paramilitary Irgun, Stern Gang and Hagana - approached the 1946 Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry. The memorandum they submitted "discussed the future security of the country and adjacent states, and stressed that a Jewish state, equipped with appropriate weaponry, could militarily and politically ‘contribute our humble share' to the strategic interests of the Anglo-Americans in the Middle East and defend Christian and other minorities while policing the area. This could be done without the help of a ‘single American soldier.'"(Nachmani, 114)
The Israeli analyst Amicam Nachmani argues that this proposal was not taken very seriously at first, but that the circumstances of Anglo-American tension eventually raised its profile within U.S. strategic discussions. Nachmani summarizes "the overall aims and aspirations" of the United States in the Middle East as "the improvement of American commercial and strategic interests which, ipso facto, implied the undermining of British supremacy in the area, and the achievement of this through a form of ‘remote control,' that is, not getting involved militarily." Nachmani continues: "At first the Americans assumed that the British would continue to police the area, and that Britain could be ‘trained' to operate in Palestine in accordance with American interests." However, when faced with "Britain's reluctance to police the Middle East for America, ... a willing Zionist client replaced a reluctant Britain as America's policeman, and from the autumn of 1946, the United States gave its support to Jewish statehood."(40-41 & 273)
Whatever accounts for the divergence between U.S. and British policy regarding the conflict over Palestine, it was an unavoidable fact. It was under these circumstances that, in February 1947, Britain turned the issue over to the United Nations. Thereafter, Canada became directly involved in the diplomatic component of the conflict. And it was in connection with the alliance politics outlined above, with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) just in formation, that Canadian policy was determined.
Strengthening the Diplomatic Alibi: Canada and UN Partition
"In a book he wrote in the early 1950s on the establishment of the state of Israel, David Horowitz, the first director-general of Israel's ministry of finance and the founder and first governor of the Bank of Israel, stated: ‘It may be said that Canada, more than any other country, played a decisive part in all stages of the U.N.O. discussions on Palestine.'" It is with this passage that Eliezer Tauber, Chair of the Department of Middle East History at Bar Ilan University, begins his own work regarding the significance of Canadian diplomacy during the decisive period of the struggle for Zionist statehood. There is good reason to suspect that Tauber's work tends to overstate the case. But Canadian diplomats were no doubt heavily involved in the process which was widely interpreted (if inaccurately) as authorizing the creation of a Zionist state.
From the beginning of UN deliberations regarding the Palestine question, Canadian diplomats participated in the proceedings. Shortly after the British brought the issue to the UN for discussion in early 1947, the General Assembly met in Special Session. The head of the Canadian delegation, Lester B. Pearson - then under-secretary of state for External Affairs, having just concluded a term as Canadian ambassador to the United States - was elected to chair the First Committee on Palestine, charged with developing the terms of reference for a Special Committee that would develop proposals for a political settlement. Canada was then one of the eleven countries on what became the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), represented by Supreme Court Justice Ivan Rand. (Rand was appointed to deliberate on this issue without detailed instructions from the Canadian government, so that his decision would not formally bind government policy.)
Tauber credits Rand with decisive influence over UNSCOP, wielded when possible towards the expansion of the proposed borders for a Jewish state, and carrying the prestige of Commonwealth association. "It was precisely Rand," Tauber argues, "representing a British dominion and not publicly identified as a pro-Zionist, although he definitely was, who was in a position to consolidate UNSCOP's majority in favour of partition."(115) As mentioned, Tauber's insistence on Canadian significance during this period sometimes drifts towards hyperbole. But the essential points made here - that Rand helped to formulate and then endorsed the majority UNSCOP proposal calling for partition, and that his Commonwealth affiliation gave this added diplomatic significance given Britain's opposition to the plan - are beyond any real controversy.
David Bercuson has convincingly argued that, in contrast to the situation in the United States, public advocacy and lobbying by Canadian Zionists had little impact on government policy during this period. Still, in late 1946, Zionist advocates did approach the government to argue that Canada should fulfill "the traditional role of interpreter between the two countries," and try to "secure fuller sympathy in the United Kingdom for the proposals made by President Truman". By themselves, these appeals had little impact. But the essential argument upon which they relied - summarized by David Bercuson as the "suggestion that Canada was tailor made to play ‘honest broker' over Palestine, not between Arab and Jew, but between the United States and the United Kingdom" - did anticipate the Canadian role in the events that followed. ('85, 36 & 51; and Bercuson's focused article of 1989)
Once finalized, the UNSCOP proposals were turned to the General Assembly, which established a somewhat broader Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question to discuss, consider and rework them. Once again, Canada was represented. In this Committee, Walid Khalidi explains, the very terms of debate regarding partition were hotly contested: "The Arab delegations requested that before a decision be taken, the International Court of Justice be asked for its opinion on the following subjects: (a) whether or not Palestine was included in the Arab territories that had been promised independence by Britain at the end of World War I; (b) whether partition was consistent with the objectives and provisions of the [British] mandate; (c) whether partition was consistent with the principles of the UN Charter; (d) whether its adoption and forcible execution were within the competence or jurisdiction of the UN; and (e) whether it lay within the power of any UN member or group of members to implement partition without the consent of the majority of the people living within the country. The voting on the issue of UN competence to partition Palestine - a combination of (d) and (e) - is particularly instructive. The draft counter resolution that said that the UN did have the authority was carried by only 21 votes to 20 in the Ad Hoc Committee." The Jewish Agency delegation was "horrified by the idea" of such ICJ involvement, Tauber writes, and Canada joined in opposing consideration of these questions by the international court. (Khalidi '07, 102; Tauber, 29 & 54)
The Canadian delegation to the United Nations did not operate without misgivings. When Canadian Justice Minister James Ilsley was presented with the first declaration of Canada's support for partition to be put forward in the Ad Hoc Committee, he expressed concern that it did not sufficiently answer "the very strong moral and political claims" of indigenous Palestinians, "in spite of the fact that we are making a decision essentially against their interests."(Tauber, 89-90) But in the final count, Canadian policy stayed on this course.
When the General Assembly met in plenary session to debate what became Resolution 181, Canadian policy came up for direct criticism. Tauber recounts: "Zafrullah Khan of Pakistan delivered an impassioned speech questioning the sincerity of the humanitarian motives of the partition supporters. ‘Those who talk of humanitarian principles, and can afford to do most, have done the least at their own expense to alleviate [the European Jewish refugee crisis]. But they are ready - indeed they are anxious - to be most generous at the expense of the Arab.' Australia, Canada and the United States were opposed to returning the Jewish displaced persons to their countries of origin. But were they ready to absorb them themselves? ‘Australia, an over-populated small country with congested areas, says no, no, no; Canada, equally congested and over-populated, says no; the United States, a great humanitarian country, a small country, with small resources, says no.' This was their contribution to the humanitarian principle, while stating at the same time: ‘let them go to Palestine, where there are vast areas, a large economy and no trouble; they can easily be taken in there.'"(60)
Canada subsequently voted for the motion. It passed by the necessary two-thirds majority with the help of a campaign of U.S. pressure on UN member states which has since remained the subject of heated controversy.(eg. Kennan, 548; Bercuson '85, 31)
One could justifiably argue that UN Resolution 181 was never implemented; that the Plan of Partition with Economic Union did not authorize forced population transfer, expropriation of lands or property, or expansion of proposed borders by means of force. This is correct. But it did provide a diplomatic alibi which the political Zionist leadership relied upon in pursuing this set of policies.
Had Canadian diplomats wished to disassociate themselves from the twisted meaning which was projected upon a plan they had helped to formulate and then endorsed, they would have had ample opportunity. For two years beginning in January 1948, Canada was represented as a non-permanent member of the Security Council.
Instead, with the disaster facing indigenous Palestinians clear to anyone watching, Canadian representatives argued for UN recognition of Israel in its expanded borders, and helped to sustain this state of affairs by presenting it as a fait accompli. Canada's leading allies were at odds. "Since there was no chance at all that the United States would be won over to Britain," as David Bercuson puts it, "it was clear that the British would have to be dragged over to the United States and that Canada had a definite national interest in helping to do the dragging." (217)
By carrying out this function, Canada gained for itself an added measure of responsibility for the conflict that has ensued.
Traditional Allies and Destructive Policies: Canada's Interaction with the Ongoing Conflict in Israel/Palestine
In the 1984 essay cited above, Eqbal Ahmad goes on to stress the enduring, if not growing, importance of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the Middle East:
"To anyone who is willing to see, it should be clear that Israel and the United States are together engaged in shaping the future of the region from Pakistan to Morocco ... Thus the question of Palestine, to which has now been added the question of Lebanon, transcends the question of Palestinians' right to peace and self-determination, fundamentally important as it is." (302)
In the six decades since 1948, the Israeli state has indeed successfully established itself not only as the governing force in all of historic Palestine, but also as a cornerstone of Western opposition to the genuine decolonization of the Middle East more generally. Where its actions and international relations have produced tensions amongst Canada's main allies, the Canadian state has sought to mediate within and work to stabilize the U.S.-led alliance. This was particularly relevant in the early years, most of all in the aftermath of the clumsy (yet still quite destructive) assault on Egypt mounted by Israel, France and Britain in 1956. At the same time, Canadian-Israeli trade and diplomatic ties multiplied and tightened.
But things have shifted since 1956, and especially since the Israeli conquests of 1967 - a major blow to regional independence movements which brought neocolonial occupation to the remainder of mandate Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza), as well as to the Syrian Golan Heights and Egyptian Sinai. In subsequent years, serious tension between U.S. power and an Israeli state ever-more heavily armed and financed by it has been rare. Britain, for its part, had to evacuate its military bases from the region in 1971, and solidly resigned itself to "junior partner" status. In the coming decades, with U.S. dominance increasingly unchallenged, Western states undertook few policy initiatives in the region independently of the United States. The role of "broker" no longer counted for much.
In pursuing its determined effort to dominate the Middle East, U.S. policy has since put massive resources into a deep and wide-ranging alliance with the Israeli state. Noam Chomsky's The Fateful Triangle and Jonathan Cook's Israel and the Clash of Civilizations provide highly complementary accounts of this subject. Though the role of inter-imperial interlocutor was mostly obsolete, the Canadian establishment worked to maintain the friendliest possible relations with the evolving U.S.-led alliance.
The Canadian government, willing to endorse U.S.-run massacres from Vietnam to East Timor (see Justin's Podur's "Canada for Anti-Imperialists"), therefore approached Israeli atrocities with patience and understanding. The growing international prominence of the Palestinian national movement, and the broad diplomatic support it received at the United Nations (thanks mostly to the former colonies of Africa and Asia), left Canadian decision-makers unfazed. In 1973 the Canadian government finally, for the first time, recognized the existence of a distinct Palestinian Arab social grouping. Still, Canada didn't even keep up with the poor record of the European Community. By 1980, the EC at least nominally endorsed the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. As late as September 1987, the Canadian delegation to the Francophonie declined to do so, alone among 41 member states in its stubborn refusal.(Kirton & Lyon, 191)
Dominant Canadian Jewish organizations meanwhile established a poor record of their own.
Thanks in part to the post-1948 intervention of David Ben-Gurion in North American Jewish politics, the fundraiser-dominated Federation system embraced and came to dominate Israel advocacy work, taking over from traditional Zionist parties. It thereafter managed to impose Israel advocacy politics on the organized community at large. The leading Canadian Jewish organizations thus struck a formal association with the Israeli state. In 1965, the Detroit industrialist Max Fisher informed the annual meeting of the North American Council of Jewish Federations (CJF) in Montreal of ongoing negotiations with the Jewish Agency. In the next few years, a formula was established for the direct participation of Keren Hayesod bodies and the CJF in Jewish Agency structures. Shamelessly, the upbeat 10-year review of this process took place in the first area of Palestine subject to proactive expulsions in 1948. The progress review then bore this region's name: Caesarea. (Canadians have since been directly represented in the JA structure through those organizations presently constituted as the UIAFC).
The international setting of the Israel-Palestine conflict has since brought Canada into even deeper alliance with Israel. In 1991, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq accelerated the reversal of decolonization processes in the Middle East, a trend already apparent for many years. This cleared the way for what Mark Curtis rightly described as the open "rehabilitation of colonialism and imperialism."(205) Among the results of the disastrous Middle-Eastern power imbalance that followed was the Oslo process, which evolved into a complete farce in which Canada dutifully played its part. Over the course of the 1990s, the half-promises of eventual Palestinian autonomy in a truncated West Bank/Gaza state were exposed as outright fraud. The Canadian government, happy to consolidate the deteriorating situation, then established a free trade pact with Israel, refusing even a token agreement with the Palestinian Authority amidst concerns that it might lend it "the aura of statehood."
For a time, though, certain international hopes in some sort of peace deal were staked in the Oslo process. If reality had ever supported even limited hopes, it ceased to as the 1990s wore on. Then, in 2000, a new uprising was initiated by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza fed up with unending Israeli military occupation and expanding settlement. Observing the massive Israeli violence employed to repress the rebellion, Canadian diplomats at first expressed mixed reactions. But before long, Israel-Palestine came to be viewed as a central theatre of the "war on terror," a campaign which would guide the U.S.-led alliance, with Israel positioned at its forefront. Canadian alignment with Israel again sharpened.
It is under these circumstances that we have witnessed the regression of Canadian policy in recent years towards outright rejection of Palestinian rights to political self-representation, perhaps even survival. When Prime Minister Stephen Harper was engaged in providing crude support for the Israeli massacre of Palestinians and Lebanese in the summer of 2006, he situated his government's policies in precisely this context.
For the Harper Conservatives, Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson then explained, Canadian foreign policy must be guided by an overriding commitment to "strong solidarity with our traditional allies - not just the United States, but Britain and Australia, NATO and Israel." Harper made the point clearly himself when, on his way to the July G-8 meeting in St. Petersburg (with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in full swing), he "stopped in London to visit with the Queen, Tony Blair and Lady Thatcher." There, he gave a solid indication of why his government might endorse colonial wars. Ibbitson reported:
"It is unfashionable, Mr. Harper acknowledged, to speak of colonial legacies as anything other than oppressive. ‘But in the Canadian context, the actions of the British Empire were largely benign and occasionally brilliant.' British magnanimity, he argued, ensured the survival of French culture. British approaches to the aboriginal population, ‘while far from perfect, were some of the fairest and most generous of the period.'"
Today, he continued, "the English-speaking peoples are on the front lines in the global war against terror," which is therefore Canada's fight. This might come off as a retrograde approach to international affairs. "But for Stephen Harper," Ibbitson explained, "Canada's interests today are fundamentally no different than they were in 1960, or 1940 or 1920."
"‘Canada's new national government is absolutely determined, once again, to stand shoulder to shoulder with our British allies,' the Prime Minister affirmed, ‘to stay the course and to win the fight.' And he ended his speech: ‘God bless Canada, and God save the Queen.'" (Ibbitson, July 27 & Aug. 18/'06)
As many of us commemorate the events of 1948 with sadness or anger, it will hardly be surprising if Canadian officials such as these join in celebrating them. True, the crimes then committed were a great injustice. But those who today celebrate this injustice are direct successors to those who helped to carry it out in the first place, and they are, moreover, the same people who provide support for the continuing assault on the Palestinian people up to the present.
There is good reason to try and change this ugly record. Canadian complicity in the colonization of Palestine is, as UIAFC affiliates so often argue (in their own way), connected to a much broader Canadian history. The need for a serious, sustained effort to overcome this history is paramount - to halt the ongoing regression of Canadian society towards traditional colonial patterns, and to challenge the state's destructive international role.
On the 60th anniversary of the ethnic cleansing of 1948, the question of Palestine requires special attention as part of this fight.
Dan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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