Ilan Pappe’s critique of the book: Lubya was a village in Palestine. In Danish: Lubya var en landsby i Palæstina. Tiderne skifter, 2005
On March 10, 1948, the Jewish leadership in Palestine, after years of contemplation and preparations, decided to execute the ethnic cleansing of the local Arab population. Ever since its appearance in Palestine, in the late 19th century, the Zionist leadership asserted that the only way for a successful implementation of its wish to create a Jewish state in the land, depended on its ability to take over as much of Palestine as possible with as few Palestinians on it, as possible. The leadership waited for the opportune moment when the balance of power would enable it to carry out the Zionist program. The British decision to leave Palestine in February 1947 and the UN intervention in November that year as mediator provided that moment.
In front of such determination, the Palestinians were quite helpless. The local Palestinian society was almost leaderless since the Great Revolt of 1936-1939. Most of the leaders were exiled by the British and their place was taken by politicians from neighboring Arab states, whose rhetorical commitment, ever since 1945, to save the Palestinians from the impending ethnic cleansing did not match their actual policies.
Originally, the Jewish leaders planed to wait until the end of the Mandate (15 May, 1948), But, the growing global anxiety about the events on the ground raised the possibility of an international intervention that could have disrupted the Jewish plans. Hence, the leadership decided to begin the operations already in March 1948.
The country was divided to four areas and each Jewish military brigade had a list of villages or urban areas that were to be evicted. In most cases, the population was put to flight at gun point and after a heavy bombardment; in some cases a summary execution of few people was ‘needed’ to persuade the inhabitants to leave in few hours a place where they lived for hundreds of years and in more than thirty cases massacres were perpetrated in order to advance the uprooting of the population.
By the end of 1948, hundreds of Palestinian villages were emptied in such a manner. Their houses and lands expropriated by the new state of Israel. Bulldozers leveled the ground to make way for either a Jewish settlement quite often with a name resembling the destroyed Palestinian village (as was the case described in this book when Lubya became Lavi) or for the planting of a forest made out of European trees alien to the area and its natural fauna (as happened to part of the original Lubya that became the forest named the South Africa Forest).
As the years went by these details about the catastrophe were forgotten by the outside world, but memorized and safeguarded by the refugees and later by the PLO as its representative. The peace process that begun in earnest after 1967, however, ignored the Nakbah, its memory and its relevance for the future of both Israel and Palestine. The occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip brought with it more refugees, massacres and atrocities.
Although the historiographical picture of the 1948 Nakbah is far clearer today than it was ten years ago, it is still incomplete. There were three waves in the scholarly attempt to reconstruct the catastrophe. The first was in the 1960s when Palestinian historians out of their private collections and connections succeeded in drawing a picture that showed clearly that in that year the indigenous population of Palestine was uprooted by the Jewish forces during 1948. This reap had to compete with an Israeli narrative that included such mythologies as a Palestinian voluntary flight and depiction of Israel as a David fighting a Palestinian Goliath.
The second wave emerged in the 1990s. Professional academic historians both on the Israeli side (the ‘New historians’) and on the Palestinian side used the newly declassified archival material in Israel, Britain and the UN, to validate many of the claims made by the early generation of Palestinian historians and invalidate the Israeli propagandist perspective on the war. The archival documents revealed that the Palestinian community was almost leaderless and unaware of the coming catastrophe and that the Jewish leadership was systematically preparing for a vast ethnic cleansing operation.
But questions remained opened. The documents were mostly Israeli and not always reliable. The collective memory of Palestinians, carried out throughout the generations, painted a harsher reality than the one reconstructed by the professional historians. It was clear that in many cases the written documents concealed more than they revealed.
This is when in the second half of the 1990s a third wave emerged. It had two main characteristics of which this work is a fine example: first a tendency developed to go back to micro-histories as part of an overall effort to reconstruct painstakingly the big picture and secondly, oral history became an important tool in the hands of these historians. It was such a combination that enabled Teddy Katz to reveal the massacre in Tantura in 1948 and encouraged others to reveal in full details what happened in places such Al-Dawayyme, Ein Zietun, Sasa and others locations were massacres took place.
The fusion of micro history and oral history was used therefore for exposing the brutal face of the 1948 ethnic cleansing. But more importantly it enabled historians to reconstruct the kind of life that was interrupted by the catastrophe. This is for me the most powerful aspect of this book: the sense of the catastrophe is reinforced here not just by the description of the actual expulsion, but by the abrupt termination of normality that came with it. It is so clear that the Lubyans were traumtaized for life, not just by the loss, but also by the way it happened. And this is just one story out of hundreds of similar stories.
The thick description of both the rural reality and the way it was destroyed have to become public knowledge. The total denial in Israel and in the West of the catastrophe and the subsequent Israeli refusal to admit its responsibility for the ethnic cleansing had affected the history of peace making in Palestine. The denial informed the Israeli, the American and the Western positions on the most important aspect of a prospective solution: the Palestinian right of return. This right was internationally recognized in 1948 by the UN but nonetheless was ignored by the peace makers in the conflict. It is only through deep historical knowledge – on a micro historical level, as it is done here and on a macro historical level as is done elsewhere – that this right can be understood, respected and eventually validated. Without such a process there will never be peace in Israel and Palestine.
The incredible work done by Mahmoud Issa, a son of the large Lubya community of refugees, is a landmark in this third wave of historiographical reconstruction. Issa’s book is more than just a research: it is a personal journey into the past, beginning in the present for the sake of a different future. It is only with the power of those who still remember – such as his parents – and those who do not wish to forget – such as himself – that we can understand why the evil against the Palestinians has not ceased for one day ever since 1948. It is only through this insistence of knowing what happened to Lubya in 1948 and to the Lubyans ever since, that one can hope one day to advance the chance of peace and reconciliation in Palestine and Israel. By knowing what happened we provide an alternative explanation to the conflict raging in Palestine and to the successive failures to solve it. The western media and polities still accept the Israeli representation of the conflict as a process begun in 1967 and its solution as a compromise over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. While what this book makes abundantly clear that the key for understanding the conflict and its prospective solutions lie elsewhere. The root of the conflict is the Nakbah of 1948 and the key to its solution is an Israeli acknowledgment of its responsibility for the ethnic cleansing that should lead to an international recognition of the right of the Palestinians to return to their homeland and to be compensated for their loses throughout the years.