Even Ben-Gurion, first PM of Israel, Thought ‘Most Jews Are Thieves’
The quote in the headline wasn’t uttered by an antisemitic leader, a Jew hater or a neo-Nazi. The words are those of the founder of the State of Israel, two months after it was founded. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was furious, or at least pretended to be, at a meeting of his political party Mapai, in light of the wave of looting of Arab property by the new Israelis throughout the nascent state.
The concept of a state born in sin had never been so concrete: “Like locusts, the residents of Tiberias swarmed into the houses…”; “total and complete robbery…not a thread was left in [any house]”; and “soldiers wrapped in Persian rugs in the streets,” are a few of the descriptions of what happened in front of everyone, and was never told as it really was.
Now the historian Adam Raz wrote about it: “Looting of Arab Property in the War of Independence,” and Haaretz’s Ofer Aderet reported on it in a shocking article in Haaretz on Friday. It should weigh on what is left of the conscience of any proper Zionist, and flood us with feelings of deep shame and guilt even after 72 years.
The authorities turned a blind eye and thus encouraged the looting, despite all the denunciations, the pretense and a few ridiculous trials. The looting served a national purpose: to quickly complete the ethnic cleansing of most of the country of its Arabs, and to see to it that 700,000 refugees would never even imagine returning to their homes.
Even before Israel managed to destroy most of the houses, and wipe from the face of the earth more than 400 villages, came this mass looting to empty them out, so that the refugees would have no reason to return.
The looters therefore were motivated not only by ugly greed to possess stolen property right after the war was over, property belonging in some cases to people who were their neighbors just the day before, and not only by the desire to get rich quick by looting household items and ornaments, some of them very costly. The looters also served, consciously or unconsciously, the ethnic purification project that Israel has tried in vain to deny all through the years. The looters were a cog in the large machine of the expulsion of the Arabs.
This looting, in which almost everyone took part, was the small looting, the one that proved if only for a moment that “most of the Jews are thieves,” as the founding father said. But that was mini-looting compared to the institutionalized looting of property, houses, villages and cities – the looting of the land.
And so, the intentions of the heads of the Jewish community who allowed the looting are more infuriating than the individual descriptions of it. It is amazing that it was never talked about, another one of the apparatuses of denial and repression by Israel society.
Thirst for revenge and drunkenness with victory after the difficult war might perhaps explain, even partially, the participation of so many. War is an ugly thing, and so is the day after. But when the looting reflects not only momentary human weakness but is intended to serve a clear strategic goal – purifying the country of its inhabitants – words fail.
Anyone who believes that a solution will ever be found to the conflict without proper atonement and compensation for these acts, is living in an illusion. Now think about the feelings of the descendants, the Arabs of Israel and the Palestinian refugees, who are living with us and alongside us. They see the pictures and read these things – what crosses their minds?
Perhaps a few of them once came across a Persian rug that belonged to their parents, or a glass display case that was their grandmother’s, a memory from their childhood, resting in the home of a Jew whose house they cleaned. Perhaps they see their grandmother’s coffeepot or their grandfather’s ancient sword on display in some Jewish home they were renovating.
They will never be able to see the villages of their ancestors: Israel demolished most of them, to leave not a shred. But one small stolen souvenir from the home that was lost might cause a tear to fall. Just ask the Jews enraged over any stolen Jewish property.
The writer is a distinguished Israeli journalist