Now we see the '48 war as a step in the colonizing enterprise of Zionism

March 8, 2013
Sarah Benton

“Peace, Peace, When There Is No Peace” can be read online at, or downloaded from here.

A rare, German,  image illustrating Israeli involvement in the Suez war; note that only Israeli forces were dispatched down the length of the Sinai peninsula. Most photo collections show no Israeli involvement  at all.

Peace, Peace, When There Is No Peace (Israel and the Arabs: 1948–1961)

By ‘N. Israeli’ (Akiva Orr and Moshe Machover)
Translated from Hebrew by Mark Marshall

Second introduction, after an interval of thirty-eight years

This book was written in the years 1957-1961 and was first published in 1961. We were mathematics students at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and we wrote it in our spare time. We decided to republish it now as a historical document – with no changes, apart from corrections of typographical errors and the addition of the appendices – even though today our views on some subjects are different from those reflected in the book.

At the end of 1962 we participated in the founding of the Israeli Socialist Organization (“Matzpen”). In the framework of this organization we developed, together with our comrades, a principled critique of Zionism that was far more extensive than the one we had formulated in the book. We no longer see the 1948 war as an Israeli liberation struggle against British imperialism, as the book suggests, but as a continuation of the colonizing enterprise of Zionism. Our position on the Soviet Union also became, after 1962, much more critical than the one reflected in the book, but the roots and basic direction of our critical position on Israeli policies and Zionism are clearly discernable in this volume.

Our original plan was to show that Israel’s participation in the British and French invasion of Egypt in 1956 was not a “war of no choice”, as the Israeli government – and most of the public in Israel – insisted, but rather a contrived war and an integral part of Ben- Gurion’s policy: he preferred alliances with colonial powers over compromise with the Arabs. As we gathered material for the book, additional facts became clearer, especially in relation to the importance of the secret accord between Ben-Gurion and Abdullah in 1948. This accord violated the UN’s Partition Resolution of 29 November 1947, which had called for establishing two states in Palestine – one for Jews and one for Palestinians – and which led to the creation of the State of Israel.

King Abdullah 1 of Jordan (formerly TransJordan, a British protectorate). With Ben Gurion’s connivance in 1948, Abdullah’s troops (with British help) occupied the West Bank, Israeli forces drove Palestinians out of the new Israel and Egypt took control of Gaza, leaving the Palestinians with no option for self-determination.

By signing that accord, Ben-Gurion robbed the Palestinians of half of the area allocated to them by the Partition Resolution. Abdullah robbed them of the other half. The Palestinians were left with nothing. The Ben-Gurion–Abdullah accord was intended to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. Israel was in violation of the UN Partition Resolution, and with this accord became a direct dispossessor of Palestinian lands and Palestinian independence.

The Israeli-Arab conflict did not begin in 1967, or even in 1948. It started in 1897, at the moment when Zionism claimed Jewish sovereignty over a land in which the majority of inhabitants had been – for more than a thousand years – Arabs.

This is not a conflict between Jews and Arabs; nor is it a conflict between Judaism and Islam. For hundreds of years Jews lived in Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias, without any serious friction with the Muslim Arab majority in the country. It is a conflict between a political movement – political Zionism – and Arab nationalism. Ahad Ha‘am (Asher Ginsberg) in his article “Truth from the Land of Israel” (1891) had foreseen this conflict even before Herzl established political Zionism.

Ze’ev Jabotinsky, in his article “The Iron Wall” (1923), remarked that the Arabs in Palestine were reacting to Zionism as would any people in the same circumstances. The Zionists immigrated to a country inhabited by a majority of Arabs with the goal of setting up a state for the Jews. Were the Palestinians (who in 1920 numbered 600,000 as opposed to 60,000 Jews) supposed to accept with cheers of joy a movement that openly aspired to create in Palestine a state for the Jews, in which the Palestinians would be relegated at best to the status of a tolerated minority, and at worst to that of refugees evicted from their lands and their country? What people would agree to such a thing? Even though the conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians was inevitable, there were a number of opportunities for compromise. One opportunity came in 1956, following Egypt’s decision to nationalize the Suez Canal. The British and French governments responded with plans to invade Egypt and re-occupy the Canal by military force. World public opinion opposed such an invasion. The governments of Britain and France, however, colluded to deceive the public. They signed a secret agreement with Ben-Gurion, according to which Israel would invade Egypt and provide a pretext for French and British armies to invade the Suez Canal, supposedly in order to separate Israeli and Egyptian forces and to guarantee freedom of navigation in the Canal.

Nasser feared that possibility and was prepared to reach a peace accord with Israel. He was the first Arab leader who proposed peace with Israel (at the Bandung conference in 1955) – provided Israel complied with the UN Partition Resolution of 29 November 1947 and restored to Palestinians the territory allocated to them by the UN.

Ben-Gurion rejected Nasser’s peace proposal and labelled it a “sanctimonious accusation”. Nasser was held in high esteem in the Arab world, and an accord with him could have led to a resolution of the conflict. But Ben-Gurion preferred military collaboration with France and Britain and rejected Nasser’s peace proposal. Ben-Gurion continually denied that he had signed an accord for Israeli-French-British military collaboration, even though it was an open secret that French armour was unloaded at the port of Haifa and French warplanes landed at the Lydda airfield a full week before Israel invaded Egypt, on 29 October 1956.

Originally the aim of this book was to explain why in 1956 Ben-Gurion preferred an invasion of Egypt in alliance with France and Britain over peace with Nasser. The intention was to provide an explanation without recourse to secret information; our sole source would be material published in the Israeli press between 1948 and 1956. The reader will judge to what extent we were successful.

The majority of the Jewish Israeli public continued to deny the existence of an Israeli-French-British collaboration, even after the publication of the memoirs of French and British generals and politicians, who reported that on 23 October 1956 Ben-Gurion went to Sèvres, near Paris, and there concluded a secret accord for Israeli-French-British collaboration according to which Israel would launch a war (which in Israel was dubbed “Operation Qadesh”) against Egypt on 29 October 1956 and afterwards the armies of France and Britain would invade Egypt, depose Nasser, and return the Suez Canal to British/French ownership. In return Israel received from France aircraft, tanks, artillery, and air defences for Tel Aviv.

Ben-Gurion also planned to annex the Sinai Peninsula to Israel; he claimed that Sinai was not part of Egypt. This was also the view of most Israelis after the military victories of the wars of 1956 and 1967. When our book was published in 1961 it was greeted with silence. Journalists, academics and historians all refrained from reviewing it.

Most Israelis responded to the book according to the principle, “facts won’t change my mind”. They insisted that “Operation Qadesh” was a war of “no-choice” that was imposed on them because of Nasser’s ambition to destroy Israel. Ben-Gurion denied to his dying day that he had visited France on the eve of the war and signed an accord for military collaboration with France and Britain. Even Shimon Peres, who served in 1956 as Ben-Gurion’s envoy for his contacts with France, continued to deny the collaboration for 30 years. But in October 1986, on the 30th anniversary of the Israeli invasion of Egypt, at a public ceremony at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheva, and accompanied by his French comrades from 1956, Peres celebrated the collaboration that he had been denying for 30 years.

In order to explain Israel’s invasion of Egypt in 1956 we had to explain the background to the invasion, the Israeli “reprisal operations” in the 1950s, as well as the 1948 war. In the course of gathering the material, it became clear to us that the root of the Israeli–Arab conflict lay not in a conflict between Israel and Arab states, but in a conflict between the Zionist settlement movement and the Palestinians over the lands and independence of Palestine. This basic fact was vigorously denied from 1950 up to the Intifada of 1987 by nearly all the leaders, teachers, journalists, historians and academics of the Israeli establishment, as well as by the majority of the Jewish public in Israel, including many of those who fought in 1948.

It took six years of Intifada and a great many fatalities before the majority of Israelis were ready to acknowledge the existence of the Palestinian people and the justice of their demands. For 40 years the majority of Israelis insisted that “there is no Palestinian people”, and thus no political cause for the Israeli-Arab conflict. Because of this assertion, many concluded that the “cause of the Israeli-Arab conflict is Arab hatred of the Jews.” This led to the conclusion that Israel had no choice but to continue to defend itself against destruction. Many Israeli youths were ready to sacrifice – and did sacrifice – their lives, in their belief that they were protecting themselves from annihilation because there was “no choice”. The truth is that from 1936- 1939 there was the choice of supporting the Arab Revolt against the British and forging an alliance with the Palestinians. In 1948 there was the choice of remaining within the UN partition lines and not grabbing the part of Palestine that the UN had allocated to the Palestinians. In 1956 there was the choice of signing a peace accord with Nasser and not invading Egypt alongside France and Britain. In 1967 there was the choice not to attack Egypt, Jordan and Syria. In 1971 there was the choice of giving back Sinai in return for a peace accord with Egypt and thereby preventing the Yom Kippur war of 1973. In 1982 there was the choice not to invade Lebanon, and there was the choice after the outbreak of the Intifada of 1987 to discuss with the Palestinians a compromise arrangement and not to “break their arms and legs”, as Rabin ordered.

But from the 1930s on, Zionism preferred the use of force against the Palestinians rather than compromise. The compromises that Zionism made with the Arabs did not come on its own initiative; rather, they were imposed on it by foreign powers. The withdrawal from Sinai in 1956 and the peace with Egypt in 1978 were imposed on Israel by the USA. The Oslo Accord was an Israeli response to American pressure to continue the Madrid talks. The implementation of the Oslo Accord is being carried out as a result of American pressure on Israel. A fair agreement with the Palestinians is possible, but it requires concessions that Zionism is not prepared to make.

As long as Israeli policy is based on the principles of Zionism, genuine peace with the Palestinians will remain impossible. A necessary condition for a peace accord – one that the two sides are not coerced into accepting but rather support willingly – is that Israel change from being the state of the Jews of the world to being the state of its inhabitants, both Arabs and Jews. Anyone who is opposed to this concept cannot complain about the continuation of the conflict.

The Oslo Accord is not real peace but an “apartheid” solution, a fraud intended to enclose the Palestinians in a political Bantustan-like corral in order to bypass a just solution to the conflict. Sooner or later this experiment will end, as did the Bantustan experiment in South Africa. In South Africa a prolonged and bloody conflict was resolved with the establishment of a shared state. This demonstrates that here too there is a reasonable chance for a shared life under equality.

Appendices have been added to this edition, which include information that was concealed at the time we wrote the book and was revealed only decades later.

We felt then that our analysis would eventually be confirmed. And indeed, the facts that have been revealed since then, some of which surprised even us, back up our analysis. This does not mean that all the concealed information from that period has been disclosed.

A. Orr, M. Machover, 1999

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