Israeli gangs have rampaged through the streets of Palestinian towns and cities chanting, “Death to Arabs.”
Some of the most vicious violence by Israelis—and the fiercest protests by Palestinians—has been in the cities of Lydd and Ramle, known as Lod and Ramla by Israel.
Meanwhile, media reports and politicians have called Palestinian protesters “Arab mobs”. Lydd’s mayor described the Palestinian protests as a “pogrom".
In fact it is Palestinians in Lydd and Ramle who have faced decades of racist violence designed to drive them out and keep them a minority.
Lydd and Ramle were the sites of two of the largest mass expulsions of Palestinians when Israel was created in 1948.
In the original partition plan that split Palestine in two, Lydd and Ramle were supposed to be part of a new Palestinian state. But when Britain, which occupied Palestine, left in 1948, Israel’s founders waged a campaign to take Palestinian land by force—and drive Palestinians out.
Israel’s founder David Ben Gurion had written that Israel’s borders would be determined by force and not by the partition resolution”.
But he also wanted to make sure that Palestinians were a clear minority in any land that Israel occupied—“Only a state with at least 80 percent Jews is a viable and stable state.”
Yitzhak Rabin, who years later became Israel’s prime minister, was appointed by Ben Gurion as one of the commanders in charge of invading Lydd and Ramle.
In a diary entry revealed by the New York Times, he wrote of how he asked Ben Gurion what to do with the 50,000 surrendering Palestinians. “Ben Gurion waved his hand in a gesture that said: ‘Drive them out!’”
Israeli soldiers entering Lydd massacred 426 Palestinians—men, women and children—on the first day of the assault. The following day they marched house to house and marched tens of thousands of Palestinians out of the city and towards the West Bank.
Journalists from the Chicago Sun-Times and the New York Herald Tribune—apparently invited to watch by Israeli forces—described the killing.
“Practically everything in their way died. Riddled corpses lay by the roadside,” wrote one. The other reported seeing “the corpses of Arab men, women and even children strewn about in the wake of the ruthlessly brilliant charge.”
Spiro Munayaer, who lived in Lydd at the time, remembered, “During the night the soldiers began going into houses in the areas they had occupied, rounding up the population and expelling them from the city.
“The streets were filled with people going to indeterminate destinations.”
News of the massacre in Lydd encouraged Palestinians in nearby Ramle to surrender. They were also driven out and made to march without food or water towards the West Bank.
Israel has never allowed those refugees to return. The Palestinians who live there today are the descendants of the few hundred who escaped expulsion. Although Israel gives them citizenship, it has made sure they remain an impoverished, segregated minority.
As the proportion of Palestinians in the Lydd grew slowly in recent years, the Israeli state has backed efforts to keep them a minority. Israeli settlers—whose focus is normally on building towns in the occupied West Bank—moved into the centre of Lydd.
The Israeli government sold them the settlers the land on the cheap in 2003, and backed them in building a well-developed neighbourhood.
Nearby Arab neighbourhoods have been kept impoverished, their residents denied chances to move out. The government built walls designed to keep Israeli and Palestinian neighbourhoods separate.
Now, right wing Israelis have again launched house to house attacks on Palestinians, in an echo of the army’s ethnic cleansing methods of 1948. Meanwhile, politicians and commentators wring their hands at the breakdown of “co-existence” in the “mixed cities.”
The reality is Palestinians have lived for decades under an apartheid regime. The attacks on them are part of that system—and the Palestinian protests are the resistance.