The architects behind the ethnic cleansing of Palestine

May 15, 2018

By Linah Al Saafin

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On March 10, 1948, a group of Jewish Zionist leaders, officials and commanders published an operational military order that was the blueprint for the forced transfer of the indigenous Palestinian population from their homes.

Dubbed “Plan Dalet” (or Plan D), the operation outlined several strategies for the systematic expulsion of Palestinians from their villages, such as “laying siege to and bombarding villages and population centres; setting fire to homes, properties and goods; demolishing homes; and…planting mines in the rubble to prevent the expelled inhabitants from returning”.

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According to Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, Plan Dalet was the brainchild of what he termed “the Consultancy”, an 11-member group that, starting from December 1947, had gathered on a weekly basis “solely for the purpose of plotting and designing the dispossession of Palestinians”.

This ethnic cleansing campaign, which continued until March 1949, resulted in the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians, the total eradication of 531 villages, and the removal of all Arab residents of 11 towns and cities, which were given Hebrew names.

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Who were the men responsible for plotting and executing Plan Dalet?

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David Ben-Gurion

Leader of the Yishuv (Jewish residents in Palestine before 1948)

“We must do everything to ensure they (Palestinian refugees) never do return.”

Diary, July 18, 1948.

Ben-Gurion, who was born and grew up in Poland, was the mastermind of Plan Dalet. He developed the military plans and defined which Palestinian population points to target and forcibly expel. He later became Israel’s first prime minister.

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Yigael Yadin

Acting chief of staff of the Haganah High Command

Yadin was Ben-Gurion’s right-hand man who signed off on Plan Dalet and managed most of its operations.

He became the second chief of staff of the Israeli army in November 1949. The Haganah High Command became the central component of the Israeli army.

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Yitzhak Sadeh

Chief commander for the Haganah

Before his appointment as chief commander, Sadeh was a commander of the Palmach (the Haganah’s elite military forces of volunteers) where he ordered attacks on British troops. From December 1948 to January 1949, he played a role in Operation Horev, an offensive against the Egyptian army in the western Negev.

He established the first armoured brigade in the Israeli army, which was responsible for the capture of al-Lydd (now known as Lod) Airport.

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Yigal Allon

Palmach commander

Allon was in charge of the 1st and 3rd Palmach brigades in the north of the country, mainly in the northwestern Galilee area.

He headed Operation Yiftah to take control of the strategic town of Safad in the Galilee. The campaign was launched on April 20, 1948, destroying and taking control of posts abandoned by the British. Safad fell on May 11.

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Moshe Dayan

Haganah commander

“There is not one place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.”

Speech in 1962.

Dayan was appointed to head the Haganah’s Arab Affairs department in 1947, where he was tasked with recruiting agents to gather information about the disorganised Arab forces in Palestine.

As a commander in the Haganah, he oversaw the ethnic cleansing of al-Lydd in June 1948. That same month, he became military commander of the Jewish-controlled areas in Jerusalem.

Yosef Weitz

Mastermind of the first and second Transfer Committees

“There is no way besides transferring the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries, and to transfer all of them….Not one village must be left, not one (Bedouin) tribe.”

Diary, December 1940.

Weitz, according to Pappe, was “heavily involved” in the practicalities of ethnic cleansing. He kept exhaustive records about the location and details of every Palestinian village, known as the “village files”. He lobbied other Zionist leaders to endorse and formalise his plans for transferring the Palestinian population out of areas the Jewish people wanted to occupy.

Ezra Danin

Head of the Haganah Arab affairs department

Danin was a Syrian-born citrus grove businessman who was described by Pappe as playing “a leading role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.”

Fluent in Arabic, he was invited into the intelligence corps, where he oversaw the work of Arab Jews and local Arab collaborators who spied for the Haganah.

He was also responsible for the village files, which included information such as the average amount of land per family, political affiliation of clans, details about cultivated land, etc.

Yehoshua Palmon

Ezra Danin’s second in command

Palmon directed the implementation of the procedures that followed the occupation of a Palestinian village or town. These included the separation of all males who were of military age (between 10 and 50), interrogation of villagers, and executions.

He later became Ben-Gurion’s adviser on Arab affairs from 1949 to 1955.

Eliyahu Sasson

Member of the Jewish Agency’s intelligence corps

Sasson, a Syrian Jew, was head of the Arab department of the Jewish Agency between 1933 and 1948. He was also a member of the Transfer Committees, which were set up to facilitate the removal of Palestinians from their towns and villages.

Gad Machnes

Member of the Hagana’s Arab affairs department

Machnes was closely involved with the Israeli government’s regularisation of the systematic appropriation of Abandoned Arab Property and Transfer policy.

Yohanan Ratner

Strategic military adviser to Ben-Gurion

Ratner was both an architect and a member of the Haganah High Command.