Israel’s original sin: The legacy of Yosef Weitz

Feb 18, 2024
Yosef Weitz (Hebrew: יוסף ויץ; 1890–1972).

Since 1948, Zionists have invoked the Holocaust to justify the forced expulsion of Arabs from Palestine to create a Jewish state, but the blueprint for ethnic cleansing was being drawn up years earlier by a Zionist zealot named Yosef Weitz.

In November 1940 (eight years before the forced Palestinian exodos) Weitz wrote in his diary:

“It must be clear that there is no room in the country for both peoples…There is no way but to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries…Not one village must be left, not one tribe… There is no other solution.”

Weitz was “a quintessential Zionist colonialist”, writes Israeli historian Ilan Pappé. Born in Russia in 1890 and immigrating to Palestine, Weitz would become the influential head of the Land Settlement Department of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) created to colonise Palestine by purchasing Arab land. It soon became clear, however, that purchasing small lots of property and running the tenant farmers off the land would not come close to fulfilling the Zionists’ dream of creating a Jewish majority state.

To tackle the problem, the Jewish Agency (the de facto Jewish government) set up a “Transfer Committee” in 1937 to come up with more robust plans to evict Palestinians and transfer them to neighbouring Arab countries. With his background in land settlement, Weitz was a natural choice to spearhead the effort.

Thanks to Weitz’s single minded commitment to the expulsion of Palestinians he became known as the “architect of transfer” – a euphemism for ethnic cleaning.

Invoking the Old Testament, Weitz recounts a tour of Palestinian villages in June 1941 with messianic fervour:

“. . . the only way is to cut and eradicate them [the Arabs] from the roots. . . I am beginning to understand the essence of the MIRACLE which should happen with the arrival of the Messiah; MIRACLE does not happen in evolution, but all of a sudden, in one moment.”

The project that excited Weitz most was the village files, a detailed registry of every Arab village in Palestine – their locations, roads, water access, sources of income, the ages of the men and their political affiliations.

For military planners, it was a goldmine – a roadmap for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine that would soon be implemented.

The catalyst came on 29 November 1947 when the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 181 that would divide Palestine into two vastly unequal states – one Jewish with 56% of the land and one Arab with 42% – even though there were twice as many Arabs as Jews. Predictably, the Palestinians roundly rejected the plan, but the Zionists were ecstatic – their vision of a Jewish state was coming to fruition and war was on the horizon.

Palestinian historian Nur-eldeen Masalha writes: “[Weitz] saw in the partition resolution and the coming hostilities the felicitous opportunity to set in motion long-nurtured plans. His diary is replete with injunctions not to ‘miss the opportunities offered by the war’.”

And on April 18, 1948 Weitz wrote about the list of villages to be ethnically cleansed:

“I made a summary of a list of the Arab villages which in my opinion must be cleared out in order to complete Jewish regions. I also made a summary of the places that have land disputes and must be settled by military means.”

Ilan Pappé describes what happened next:

“The orders came with a detailed description of the methods to be used to forcibly evict the people: large-scale intimidation; laying siege to and bombarding villages and population centres; setting fire to homes, properties, and goods; expelling residents; demolishing homes; and, finally, planting mines in the rubble to prevent the expelled inhabitants from returning…”

When it was over, 750,000 Arabs had been driven out of Palestine; 531 villages had been destroyed; 70 civilian massacres had taken place and 10-15,000 Palestinians were dead.

Watching the destruction of one village, Weitz noted: “I was surprised nothing moved in me at the sight…no regret and no hatred, as this is the way of the world.”

Today, as the genocidal war in Gaza unfolds, the spectre of Yosef Weitz lives on. At the start of Israel’s invasion, the Israeli Intelligence Ministry drafted a proposal to forcibly drive the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million people, now under daily bombardment and starving, into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula where they would be placed in tent cities and denied the right to return – something that may now be coming to pass unless it is stopped.

The Zionist project to ethnically cleanse Palestine is Israel’s original sin. Since the Nakba of 1948, Zionists have used the memory of the Holocaust to silence their critics and thwart the rights of Palestinians. But despite attempts to vindicate, minimise or deny their past, Israel can never erase the legacy of Yosef Weitz or their blood-soaked history. It is well past time to acknowledge the futility of the Zionist venture.


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