The violent roots of Israel’s Labor party

The Labor party’s glory days included the Nakba, conquering and settling the West Bank and East Jerusalem and other affairs Israeli society has yet to begin processing.

By Tom Pessah

Senior Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich (Photo by Yotam Ronen/
Senior Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich (Photo by Yotam Ronen/

Senior Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich published the following status on her personal Facebook page a few weeks ago:

“Hi this is Shelly. Spot the differences: education minister and member of the diplomatic-security cabinet Yigal Allon moves apartments.”

In an attempt to criticize Prime Minister Netanyahu’s lavish expenditures, Yachimovich, number three on the Zionist Camp list, uploaded a photo of a letter written by Yigal Allon — one of Israel’s revered military leaders and a central figure in the historic Labor Party. The letter, which was written sometime in April 1969, is a request by Allon that the furniture for his new state-owned apartment be imported from his old one, so as to not to waste too much of the budget allocated to him as minister.

Like many in her party, Yachimovich is nostalgic for the “good old days” before Likud came to power in 1977, when Israeli leaders were known for their humility. But these days weren’t exactly good for everyone.

Allon, perhaps more than any other person, can be seen as the architect of the Nakba — the expulsion and dispossession of 750,000 Palestinians during the 1948 war and the establishment of the State of Israel. As the commander of the pre-state Palmach militia, he initiated a “whisper campaign” in April 1948 to terrify Palestinians into fleeing the eastern Galilee. Here is the plan in his own words:

I gathered the Jewish mukhtars [elders from local kibbutzim and villages – T.P.] who had connections with the different Arab villages, and I asked them to whisper in the ears of several Arabs that giant Jewish reinforcements had reached the Galilee and were about to clean out the villages in the Hula, [and] to advise them, as friends, to flee while they could. And the rumor spread throughout the Hula that the time had come to flee. The flight encompassed tens of thousands. The stratagem fully achieved its objective.

But this was just the beginning. Allon served in the Galilee, where he conquered the cities of Tiberias and Bisan; in the central area, where he attacked Lydda and Ramle; and in the south, fighting the Egyptian army. And in every place he went, as his biographer writes, he did his best “not only to conquer areas of Eretz Yisrael, but also to empty them from their Arabness.”

In October, for instance, he ordered transfer of Bedouin who were considered friendly to the Zionist forces from the heart of the Negev to an area close to the Egyptian border.

Prime Minister Levy Eshkol (left) and Min. Yigal Allon (second from left) in the Negev, May 25, 1967. (Photo: GPO)
Prime Minister Levy Eshkol (left) and Min. Yigal Allon (second from left) in the Negev, May 25, 1967. (Photo: GPO)

While documents from 1948 are beginning to be revealed, state archives still limit our knowledge of another central event in early Israeli history – the tragedy of the Yemenite children. Allon’s wife admitted that she and her husband went to a hospital and took one of the children for their friends in a kibbutz. We still do not know who is responsible for taking these children away from their biological parents, falsely claiming that they were dead, and passing them on to adoptive families.

Perhaps Yachimovich is ignorant of Israeli history, and that of her own party. But she must have read the letter that she herself posted. The letter mentions that Allon’s new government-subsidized apartment is located in the Old City of Jerusalem, which was conquered during the Six-Day War just two years prior. According to the architect who built the apartment, “there was a will to put symbols of government in the Old City, in order to represent our presence there.” Allon’s modest apartment was part of the strategy of annexing large parts of the West Bank, which he himself promoted after 1967.

The historical legacy of today’s “centrist” Zionist Camp is based on the expulsion of Palestinians and the repression of Mizrahim. As MK Jamal Zahlaka of the Joint List once said: “the Ashkenazim took Palestine from us, not the Mizrahim. It’s not the ones saying “death to Arabs” who took the land from us. It’s the ones who said, ‘we come in peace’ [‘Hevenu shalom aleichem’].”

Yigal Allon’s taste in furniture may have been admirable, but in glorifying him, Yachimovich is only whitewashing his crimes.

Tom Pessah is an Israeli sociologist and activist, currently residing in Tel Aviv.

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