“Israel’s Likud hopes to complete the ethnic cleansing of Jaffa” – this is the dramatic title of a recent post by Ali Abunimah at his Electronic Intifada blog. Abunimah wisely avoids telling his readers right away how the Likud intends to implement its evil plan, but once you make it through his summary of how “Zionist invaders” in 1948 mercilessly besieged what Abunimah describes as “the cultural capital of Palestine,” you’ll learn just how devious the Likud really is: as Abunimah eventually reveals, “the Tel Aviv Likud branch promises voters” in a blog post about the upcoming local elections that it will “[s]ilence the muezzin and stop the spread of Islamic movements in Jaffa.”
Naturally, a desire to have noise nuisance laws enforced and opposition to the spread of radical Islamists amounts to “ethnic cleansing” – at least in the whacky world of Ali Abunimah’s Electronic Intifada.
Needless to say, it doesn’t matter for Abunimah & Co that the noise from mosque loudspeakers has sparked efforts to curb their use and volume even in Muslim countries, including, lo and behold, in Saudi Arabia…
And of course it doesn’t bother Abunimah & Co to champion a reactionary group like the Islamic movement. Indeed, the “progressive” fans of Abunimah and his Electronic Intifada will probably feel all warm and fuzzy when they listen to the speeches of Raed Salah, the leader of the Northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, who considers Osama bin Laden a “martyr.”
One could perhaps wonder how Jaffa’s Christian residents feel about the noise from mosque loudspeakers and Islamists – but if you want to advance the ridiculous claim that the silencing of mosque loudspeakers and opposition to Islamists amount to “ethnic cleansing,” it is clearly better not to dwell on the inconvenient fact that there are Arab Christians in Jaffa and that it is a town with several impressive historic sites associated with Christianity.
Indeed, speaking about inconvenient facts, Abunimah manages to demonstrate in this post that he is a master of ignoring them.
Let’s start with the fact that Jaffa (or Yafo, in the Israeli transliteration) “is mentioned in both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles” and that it is regarded as “the site through which King Solomon imported cedars from Tyre to build the First Temple.”
Let’s then move on through the millennia to the 19th and 20th century, when Jaffa became the “major cosmopolitan center of trade and citrus-growing” mentioned by Abunimah. The area of present-day Israel was then ruled by the Ottoman Empire and, later on, by the British Mandate. As is well-known and documented, both regimes brought Arab migrant workers from all over the region to build major infrastructure projects; in addition, there were legal and illegal Arab migrants who came to take advantage of “the relative economic boom, stimulated by the annual Jewish immigration beginning in 1882.”
As the 1937 report by the British Peel Commission put it:
“The increase in the Arab population is most marked in urban areas, affected by Jewish development. A comparison of the census returns in 1922 and 1931 shows that […] the increase percent in Haifa was 86, in Jaffa 62, in Jerusalem 37, while in purely Arab towns such as Nablus and Hebron it was only 7, and at Gaza there was a decrease of 2 percent.”
That means that, due to “the substantial 1880-1947 Arab immigration […] the Arab population of Jaffa, Haifa and Ramla grew 17, 12 and 5 times respectively.”
So Jewish development brought a lot of Arabs to towns like Jaffa; indeed, as Robert F. Kennedy put it in a dispatch for the Boston Post after visiting Mandate Palestine in March 1948:
“The Jews point with pride to the fact that over 500,000 Arabs in the 12 years between 1932 and 1944, came into Palestine to take advantage of living conditions existing in no other Arab state.”
But what about 1948, when, according to Ali Abunimah, “Zionist gangs perpetrated the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian coastal city of Jaffa?”
Let’s consult an Arab eyewitness: Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, a former resident of Jaffa with impeccable anti-Zionist credentials who recalled his last months in his hometown for a 1998 Al-Ahram special * “commemorating 50 years of Arab dispossession since the creation of the State of Israel.”
As Abu-Lughod writes:
“No sooner had the UN General Assembly passed its partition resolution in November 1947, than Palestine was torn apart by a war waged between its two historically antagonistic communities — Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews. […] The first shots were exchanged between Jaffa and Tel Aviv on the eve of 30 November 1947 during a three-day general protest strike declared by the Arab Higher Committee. […] On the eve of the UN Partition Resolution, Jaffa’s Arab population numbered over 70,000. By and large they supported the traditional Palestinian leadership headed by Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti.”
Understandably, Abu-Lughod, a professor of political science, didn’t mention the fact that the man who headed the popular “traditional Palestinian leadership” in the second half of the 1940s had spent the first half of the decade in Berlin, where he lived in considerable comfort as a well-paid guest and committed ally of Nazi Germany.
Abu-Lughod then goes on to note that most Arabs in Jaffa and elsewhere seemed confident that “as the country belonged to the Arabs, they were the ones who would defend their homeland with zeal and patriotism, which the Jews – being of many scattered countries and tongues, and moreover being divided into Ashkenazi and Sephardic – would inevitably lack. In short, there was a belief that the Jews were generally cowards.”
When this belief proved mistaken, people started to leave Jaffa. According to Abu-Lughod, at first mainly the rich left, but as more and more people began to flee the fighting, the “National Committee…decided to levy a tax on every family who insisted on leaving.” Abu-Lughod volunteered to help with collecting this “tax:”
“I worked in a branch of the committee based in the headquarters of the Muslim Youth Association near the port of Jaffa. Our job consisted mainly of harassing people to dissuade them from leaving, and when they insisted, we would begin bargaining over what they should pay, according to how much luggage they were carrying with them and how many members of the family there were. At first we set the taxes high. Then as the situation deteriorated, we reduced the rates, especially when our friends and relatives began to be among those leaving.
We continued collecting this tax until 23 April, when the combined force of the Haganah and the Irgun succeeded in defeating the Arab forces stationed in the Manshiya quarter adjacent to Southern Tel-Aviv. On that day, as we realised that an attack on the centre of Jaffa was imminent, I and my family decided that they had to be evacuated temporarily. We rented a van, into which we crammed all the women and young children and sent them to Nablus.”
Compare this with Ali Abunimah’s version:
“Thrown into the sea
With no escape by land, tens of thousands of residents of Jaffa and neighboring villages fled by sea – scores drowning – leaving just 4,000 of the city’s original people behind.”
Abu-Lughod himself stayed in Jaffa until May 3, when he left by ship together with two friends to make the short trip to Beirut. By July 1948, he was already back with his family in Nablus, from where he soon made his way to the US to study and to build a successful career at Northwestern University. He left there in 1992 to become vice-president of Bir Zeit University in Ramallah.
As Abu-Lughod’s account illustrates, nobody was “thrown into the sea.” The majority of Jaffa’s Arab residents fled the fighting over a period of several weeks or even months – by land or by sea – while Jaffa’s self-proclaimed defenders tried to exploit those who wanted to leave by demanding a “tax.”
Moreover, it is also clear that many of those who fled Jaffa in the first months of 1948 were not long-time residents, but had come to the town relatively recently as either legal or illegal immigrants to look for work. There is after all a reason why UNRWA defines Palestinian refugees as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948.” And of course, somebody who lived in Jaffa since 1 June 1946 and then moved just a few dozen miles, either down the coast to Gaza or east to the West Bank, would still qualify as a refugee and be able to pass on this status to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren…
So who knows: maybe UNRWA would be willing to expand its definition of Palestinian refugees to those who would leave Jaffa because they are deprived of being woken up at dawn by blaring mosque loudspeakers or because they feel that it’s really unfair when Osama bin Laden fans are regarded as extremists.
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First published at my JPost blog on Oct. 12, 2013
* The Al-Ahram Special is no longer at this link; but it can be found here: http://issuu.com/issac2011/docs/50_years_of_arab_dispossession. The quoted piece is pp.91-93 under the title “After the matriculation.”