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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Palestine: An expulsion day, 1949 - Part 1

From  A World to Win News Service:

 The Israeli historical novel Khirbet Khizeh has just  been printed for the first time by a high-powered publishing house and in an American edition, and thus has become more widely available and prominently reviewed. On this occasion we are reissuing the review of this book that originally appeared in the AWTWNS packet for 17 December 2012. For a brief description of the infamous mass execution and rape of Palestinians in the village of Deir Yassin in 1948 and further discussion of the Israeli planning and carrying out of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, see AWTWNS080512.

S. Yizhar's Khirbet Khizeh is about the expulsion of Palestinians from their village in the last months of the 1948-49 war. The novella (short novel) skilfully juxtaposes beautiful images of the landscape of Palestine with the brutality of Israeli soldiers. You feel their boredom, indifference, rage, their thrill at killing intermingled with the view that they have a right to own this already inhabited land, and their occasional pangs of conscience as they force the villagers into exile. What unfolds in Yizhar’s description is a single day in the implementation of "Plan D" adopted in March 1948 by the Zionist leader and first Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion (the ideological and political architect of various schemes to rid the land of its Palestinian inhabitants) and his group. An aggressive plan to dislodge the Palestinians, Plan D gave military commanders license to use any methods to achieve its goals.

This was one of the first novels written in Hebrew. Acknowledged as a literary masterpiece soon after it was first published in 1949, it has been compared to the writing of American novelist William Faulkner who wrote about the Deep South and the complex relationship between bigoted whites and the descendants of slaves.

The appearance of Khirbet Khizeh in the newly created state of Israel caused a swirl of controversy. Its literary quality only made the dispute more bitter. Some people praised it for its honesty, while others condemned it for throwing dirt on Zionism's so-called rightful and noble aims. They hated it because, based on his own experience as an Israeli soldier, Yizar's book gave the lie to the foundational Israeli narrative, that Palestinians left their lands willingly or did what the regional Arab heads of state told them. That "flight" narrative was largely undisputed in Israel for almost three decades until some of the ''New Historians'' like Ilan Pappe and others challenged this thesis with new archival evidence that became available.Khirbet Khizeh was not translated into English until 2008, and not published outside of Israel until 2011, by Granta Books in London.

S. Yizar was a pseudonym for Yizar Silanksy. Despite his Zionist family background and political connections (he was a close friend of David Ben-Gurion), he was aware of the moral dilemma embodied in the Zionist vision of a state ''for Jews only''.

The narrator's turmoil draws the reader in immediately: ''True, it all happened a long time ago, but it has haunted me ever since. I sought to drown it out with the din of passing time, to diminish its value, to blunt its edge with the rush of daily life, and I even occasionally managed a sober shrug, managed to see that the whole thing had not been so bad after all, congratulating myself on my patience, which is, of course, the brother of true wisdom. But sometimes I would shake myself again, astonished at how easy it had been to be seduced, to be knowingly led astray and join the great general mass of liars – that mass compounded of crass ignorance, utilitarian indifference and shameless self-interest...''

Then the author recounts the day in question: ''the purpose of that entire day from the start, 'operational order' number such and such… the noteworthy clause entitled 'information' which immediately warned of the mounting danger of 'infiltrators', 'terrorist cells', and (in a wonderful turn of phrase) 'operatives dispatched on hostile missions', but also the subsequent and even more noteworthy clause, which explicitly stated, 'assemble the inhabitants of the area extending from point X (see attached map) to point Y (see same map) – load them onto transports, and convey them across our lines; blow up the stone houses, and burn the huts; detain the youths and the suspects, and clear the area of 'hostile forces.'''

"... Moishe, the company commander… briefed us about the situation, the lay of the land, and the objective. From which it transpired that the few houses on the lower slope of another hill were some Khirbet Khizeh or other, and all the surrounding crops and fields belonged to that village, whose abundant water, good soil, and celebrated husbandry had gained a reputation almost equal to that of its inhabitants, who were, they said, a band of ruffians, who gave succour to the enemy, and were ready for any mischief should the opportunity only arise; or, for example, should they happen to encounter any Jews you could be sure they would wipe them out, at once – such was their nature, and such were their ways. ''

Informed that the soldiers would have to wait, they sing songs, tell tales, nod off to sleep or discuss their mission and the ''Ayrabs'':

      ''The devil take them,'' said Gaby, '' what beautiful places they have.''
      ''Had,'' answered the operator. ''It's already ours.''
      ''Our boys,'' said Gaby, ''for a place like this, we would fight like I don't know what, and   they're running away, they don't even put up a fight!''
      ''Forget these Arabs – they're not even human,'' answered the operator.

To be continued.

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