In 1948 only 8 percent of Palestine was owned by Jewish individuals and concerns. The 1948-1949 armistice gave Israel control over 77.4 percent of all land. Since 1947, Israeli forces have destroyed 385 of the 475 Arab villages inside the “green line” — Israel’s 1948 borders. Since 1967, Israel has seized 52 percent of all land in the West Bank and 34 percent of all land in the Gaza Strip.


Between 770,000 and 780,000 Palestinians were displaced in 1948. The 1948 war dislocated over half of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine and deprived some 60 percent of their livelihoods. Only 15 percent of the 800,000 West Bank Palestinians are refugees; even fewer live in refugee camps. Refugees into the Gaza Strip outnumbered inhabitants three to one in 1948. Almost 70 percent of Gaza’s inhabitants have been living in refugee camps ever since.


There are about 65,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank. By 1985, the World Zionist Organization alone had invested $80,000 per family on Jewish settlements in the highlands of the occupied West Bank and $160,000 per family in the Jordan Valley. Per capita expenditure on social services in West Bank Jewish settlement townships is 143 percent higher than on townships in Israel There are 2,500 Jewish settlers in Gaza, 0.4 percent of the total Gaza population. These Jewish settlers consume 19 times more water per capita than their Palestinian neighbors. These settlers have on average 2.6 acres each; Gaza Palestinians have .006 acres each.

Repression and Resistance

Between 1967-1982, Israel’s military government demolished 1,338 Palestinian homes on the West Bank and detained more than 300,000 without trial. Between 1968 and 1983, according to Israeli government figures, Israeli forces killed 92 Palestinians in the West Bank, while West Bank Palestinians killed 22 Israeli soldiers and 14 Israeli civilians. Armed attacks by West Bank Palestinians killed two Israelis between April 1986 and May 1987. During that period, Israeli forces killed 22 Palestinians. The number of Palestinian protests in the territories averaged 500 per year during 1977-1982. Since 1982, protests have averaged between 3,000 and 4,400 a year. In the Occupied Territories it is illegal to: fly the Palestinian flag, read “subversive” literature or hold a press conference without permission. One Israeli military order in the West Bank makes it illegal for Palestinians to pick and sell wild thyme (to protect an Israeli family’s monopoly over the herb’s production). The term “West Bank” was introduced in a Jordanian government decree in 1950 making it illegal to use the term “Palestine” to refer to that area. Israel refuses to use the term West Bank, and refers to the area by its Biblical names, “Judea” and “Samaria.”


About 1.4 million Palestinians now live in Israeli-occupied territories. The Israeli government expects that figure to grow to 2 million within 15 years. About 525,500 people live in Gaza — an area just 28 miles long and five miles wide; population density is 3,754 people per square mile, about the same as Hong Kong, and one of the highest in the world. According to an Israeli government research paper, by the year 2000 the population of the Gaza Strip will increase by more than 50 percent, to at least 957,000 and maybe over 1 million. About 5,000 new households are added to Gaza’s population each year, but less than 40 percent of them get a housing unit. By the year 2000, an estimated 84,000 new families will have been added, but they will have to share only 27,000 housing units.

Economics of Occupation

Israel contributed $240 million in aid and investment to the Occupied Territories in 1987 but took back $393 million in taxes. In the 20 years of Israeli rule from 1967-1987, residents paid Israel a net “occupation tax” of $800 million, 2.5 times as much as the entire Israeli government investment in the territories over that period. Israel’s average income per person is ten times higher than Gaza’s and more than four times that of the West Bank. 100,000 Palestinians from the Occupied Territories work in Israel, mostly in menial and low-paying jobs. 40 percent of all construction workers and one out of six farm workers in Israel are Palestinians. Industrial production in all the Occupied Territories totals some $85 million — less than that of one medium-size Israeli firm. (Mouin Rabbani)

Sources: Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, ed., The Transformation of Palestine (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. 1971); Aaron Dehter, How Expensive Are West Bank Settlements? (Jerusalem: West Bank Data Base Project, 1987); Meron Benvenisti, The West Bank Data Base Project Report (Jerusalem, 1986); Edward Said and Christopher Hitchens, eds., Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question (New York: Verso, 1988); Don Peretz, Israel and the Palestine Arabs (Washington, DC: Middle East Institute, 1958); Zeev Schiff in Ha’aretz, December 13, 1987; Sever Plotzker in Yediot Aharonot, December 18, 1987 and January 15, 1988; Allan Nairn in Village Voice, March 1, 1988; Sara Roy, “The Gaza Strip: A Case of Economic De-Development,” Journal of Palestine Studies (Autumn 1987); Israel Shahak, “Report on Arab Villages Destroyed in Israel,” February 15, 1973, Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights; Khalil Touma, “20 Years of Confiscating Land,” al-Fajr, June 14, 1987; Time, January 25 and February 22, 1988.

The Twenty Years’ Uprising

Although the current uprising is unprecedented in scope, duration and intensity, Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation has been a constant feature of political life in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1967. Among the milestones in the development of the Palestinian struggle inside the Occupied Territories are:

The National Charter of the West Bank for the Current Phase, October 4, 1967: Document issued by 129 prominent West Bank residents rejecting the occupation, particularly the annexation of East Jerusalem, and demanding a return to Arab sovereignty.

General Strike of June 5, 1969: Held on the second anniversary of the June war and observed throughout the West Bank; Israel deported nine strike leaders.

Gaza, 1968-1971: Armed with weapons left behind by retreating Egyptian troops in 1967, Palestinian guerrilla cells attacked Israeli forces almost daily and controlled the refugee camps by night. Gen. Ariel Sharon’s pacification campaign removed thousands of suspects’ families to detention camps in the Sinai, deported additional hundreds to Jordan, imposed week-long curfews during house-to-house searches, and demolished entire sections of refugee camps to allow easy access to Israeli armored vehicles.

Gaza, September-November 1972: Riots in Shati’ (Beach) Camp spread throughout the Gaza Strip and continued sporadically throughout the fall.

Palestine National Front, 1973-1978: Formed in August 1973, this clandestine umbrella organization coordinated political activity in its role as an autonomous West Bank and Gaza affiliate of the PLO. Between the end of the 1973 October war and the 1976 West Bank and Gaza Strip municipal elections, the PNF organized a series of strikes and demonstrations, often around events such as Yasser Arafat’s 1974 UN appearance. They engulfed the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip for weeks at a time, sometimes spilling across the “green line” into Israel and acquiring many characteristics of the current uprising. Then-Prime Minister Rabin and Defense Minister Peres resorted to harsh repression: shootings (30 dead and hundreds wounded in the first six months of 1976 alone), deportations, administrative detentions, house demolitions, extended curfews and other forms of collective punishment. The PNF also led the fight against Jordanian and Israeli influence in West Bank and Gaza politics during the PLO’s bid for diplomatic recognition in the mid-1970s. By the time it was declared illegal in October of 1978, the PNF had largely been absorbed into the National Guidance Council.

Land Day, March 31, 1976: Tens of thousands of Palestinians in Israel took to the streets during a near-total general strike to protest continuing land confiscations. Israeli forces shot and killed six demonstrators. Land Day has since been commemorated annually throughout the Occupied Territories as well.

Municipal Elections, April 1976: Counting on a nationalist boycott to help install a counterweight to the PLO, Prime Minister Rabin called for municipal elections in the Occupied Territories on April 12, 1976. The PNF, though, fielded candidates in every locality and won a resounding victory. Despite widespread Israeli interference, including the deportation of some nationalist candidates, PNF slates captured 18 of the 24 city councils, most by overwhelming margins, and won in almost all the larger cities. Over the next few years the military government deposed and/or deported the nationalist mayors one after the other, put others under town arrest, and dissolved PNF-dominated city councils. On June 2, 1980, bomb attacks by Jewish extremists maimed Nablus mayor Bassam Shak‘a and Ramallah mayor Karim Khalaf.

National Guidance Committee, 1978-1982: This successor organization to the PNF grew out of a series of October 1978 public meetings to devise strategies for confronting the Camp David accords. Headed by a committee of 22 leaders of unions and professional associations and municipal officials, the NGC spearheaded Palestinian resistance to Camp David and coordinated opposition to the Village Leagues and the “Civil Administration” during the Begin years. Its role was predominantly public, supporting PLO representation in an eventual peace settlement. Israel responded with deportations, arrests and heavy press censorship. The expulsion of the mayors of Hebron and Halhoul in May 1980, along with the bomb attacks against the other mayors one month later, dealt a severe blow to the Committee. When the NGC was outlawed in May 1982, it had already lost much of its effectiveness.

Revolt Against the Civil Administration, 1981-1982: An intense round of strikes and protests broke out in November 1981 against the Begin/Sharon “civil administration.” After a brief lull, they erupted anew in the spring of 1982 with similar ferocity. Schools and university campuses were key battlegrounds; many students were killed or seriously wounded by army gunfire. This sharp repression, which included large numbers of arrests, beatings and house demolitions, partly accounts for the relative quiet in the Occupied Territories that attended the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

Resistance to the “Iron Fist,” 1985-1987: A new round of protest in late 1984 featured spontaneous individual attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers, especially in Gaza, Hebron and Nablus. Israeli mobs lynched several Palestinians on both sides of the "green line." On August 4, 1985, Rabin announced the “iron fist” policy. In the next month alone, Israeli forces put 62 Palestinians under administrative detention (imprisonment without charges or trial), deported at least a dozen more and killed five. Several newspapers were permanently closed. Over the next two years, the military regime issued hundreds of administrative detention orders, demolished well over 100 homes, and repeatedly closed schools and universities. More than 20 Palestinians were killed and many more wounded in demonstrations, which were frequent and particularly intense during late 1986 and the spring of 1987. Once again university campuses and large towns became the focus of an escalating spiral of resistance which culminated in the present uprising in December 1987. (Mouin Rabbani)


A December 1987 poll shows Israeli Jews are deeply divided — no proposed solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict garners majority support. A large majority of Palestinians finds either a binational democratic state or a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza an “acceptable” solution. In the chart below, plain-text numbers indicate that the solution is “acceptable,” while italicized numbers indicate that the solution in question is the “most desirable.”

                                                                                       Israeli Jews              Arabs in Israel            Arabs in West Bank

1a Israeli annexation of the Occupied Territories                       30
and “transfer” of Arabs to elsewhere in the Middle East             42
1b Replace Israel with Palestinian state                                                                    11                               35
and expel Jewish population
2 Palestinian-Jordanian confederation on West Bank,                38                             23                               19
with borders modified to allow for Israel’s security
3 “Greater Israel”                                                                  33      
4 Status quo                                                                         24
5 Palestinian “autonomy” plan as proposed                              19                             34                                9
by the Israeli government
6 Binational, democratic state                                                8-10                           60                               64
7 Palestinian state in West Bank and Gaza                              8-10                           78                               54
8 Palestinian state in West Bank and Gaza                              8-10                                                              45    
with borders modified for Israeli security

Source: Study by Efrayim Yucktman-Yaar of Tel Aviv University and Mikhael Inbar of Hebrew University. Reported in the Jerusalem Post, December 25, 1987. 2,000 polled, findings reflect views of urban men under age 35.

Palestinians Backdrop to the Uprising: Palestinian experiences under Israeli occupation, as reported in a September 1986 poll. Circle the item that you or any member of your immediate family have experienced:

47.5% Political arrest
50.7% Beatings, physical abuse or threats
55.7% Harassment or direct insults at Israeli military checkpoints
22.8% Property or land confiscation
34.1% Ban on travel abroad
74.2% Curfew
17.6% Demolition or sealing of homes
15.7% Deportation or town arrest
37.6% Fines by Military Courts
6.3% I have not experienced any of the above

Source: Al-Fajr, September 8, 1986.

West Bank and Gaza Palestinians on the PLO, in a September 1986 poll. Do you believe the PLO is the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people?

93.5% Yes
5.1% No
1.4% No opinion/refused

Source: Al-Fajr, September 8, 1986.

Israelis As of February 1988, a large majority of Israeli Jews fully supported their government’s military response to the Palestinian uprising.

63% Fully support government’s policy
27% Found government’s policy too soft on the Palestinians

Source: Hadashot (Israeli newspaper) poll. Quoted in Time, February 8, 1988.

US Public The majority of the US public believes a Palestinian state is needed for peace, as reported in a 1985 poll. Numbers below are percentages.

                                                         Agree   Disagree   Neither  No Opinion    Total
Palestinian state needed for peace          54.2      1.2          6.1        11.9           73.4
Palestinian state threat to Israel             26.2                                                   26.2

Source: Survey Research Center of University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, on behalf of the International Center for Research and Public Policy, 1985. Cited in Fouad Moughrabi, “Public Opinion and the Middle East Conflict,” The Link, September 1987.

At least half of the US public favors US negotiations with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, as reported in a June 1987 poll: 50% for; 39% against; 11% No Opinion Source: Los Angeles Times, June 3, 1987.

The gap between American Jewish and American non-Jewish opinion on the Israel-Palestine conflict remains large, according to a February 1988 poll.

                                                                                                                                  Jews                        Non-Jews
Should the US cut aid to Israel because of its actions against the Palestinians?        Yes (10%); No (84%)   Yes (45%); No (32%)
Do you favor a Palestinian homeland in the Occupied Territories?                           Yes (39%); No (43%)   Yes (56%); No (17%)

Source: Time, February 8, 1988.

Yitzhak Shamir

When Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir recently exhorted Israeli soldiers to “recreate the barrier of fear and once again put the fear of death” into Palestinians, he underscored his long-standing affinity for violence. Born Itzak Yzertinsky in Byelorussia, Shamir was an early convert to the pro-Mussolini Betar (Zionist brownshirts). Soon after coming to Palestine in 1935, he joined the underground Irgun Zvai Leumi, which rejected the Zionist establishment’s alliance with Great Britain as a means of achieving its territorial and demographic ambitions. Irgun openly cultivated ties with Europe’s rising fascist powers (particularly Italy) in order to remove the British obstacle to a Greater Israel comprising Palestine and Transjordan, and employed many of the tactics which Shamir now self-righteously denounces as “terrorism.”

In late 1939, the Irgun leadership called off its anti-British campaign in order to facilitate the war against the Nazis. Shamir, newly released from prison and recovering from the effects of a homemade bomb that had exploded prematurely, joined a radical splinter faction led by Avraham Stern. Lehi, the Hebrew acronym for Freedom Fighters of Israel and better known as the Stern Gang, vowed to continue to fight against the British despite the war against Germany. In 1941 Lehi delivered a document to Nazi officials, “Concerning the Solution of the Jewish Question in Europe and the Participation of [Lehi] in the War on the Side of Germany.” Noting that Lehi “is closely related to the totalitarian movements in Europe in its ideology and structure,” the document stated that “common interests could exist between the establishment of a new order in Europe…and the true national aspirations of the Jewish people,” and called for “the establishment of the historical Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis, and bound by a treaty with the German Reich.”

In 1942, Shamir became operations commander of Lehi. Under his stewardship Lehi “adopted a policy of individual acts of terror,” according to the Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel published by the Herzl Foundation. Among its more notorious acts were the assassinations of British High Commissioner Lord Moyne in Cairo in 1944 and UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte in 1949, its participation (with the Irgun) in the April 9-10, 1948 massacre of 254 Arab civilians in the village of Dayr Yasin, and, as a unit of the Haganah, the slaughter of approximately 100 Palestinians in Duwayma that same year. According to an Israeli eyewitness at Duwayma, “there was not a single house without dead…children were killed by smashing their skulls with clubs,” and houses were blown up with their residents sealed in. Lehi rejected the UN partition plan of 1947, and 30 years later Shamir himself opposed the Camp David accords.

Shamir’s record during the 1950s and 1960s remains shrouded in secrecy because he worked as a Mossad intelligence agent, although he also entered various business ventures without much success. In 1970 he joined Menachem Begin’s Tnuat ha Herut party, the main component of the future Likud coalition. He became Herut party chairman in 1975, and speaker of the Knesset after Likud’s electoral victory in 1977. He assumed the foreign ministry portfolio in 1980. After the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the Kahan Commission faulted Shamir for not acting on information he had received about the Sabra-Shatila massacres while they were in progress. (Mouin Rabbani)

Sources: Lenni Brenner, The Iron Wall (London: Zed Press, 1984); Uri Davis, Israel: An Apartheid State (London: Zed Press, 1987).

Yitzhak Rabin

Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli defense minister, has been the key official responsible for dealing with the uprising. His candid exhortations to his troops to break the hands and arms that throw the stones and quell the mass demonstrations with “force, power and blows” have shocked even those who usually justify Israeli brutality against Palestinians as necessary for combating “terrorism.” Rabin’s actions in 1988, though, are consistent with his record of the past 40 years.

In the 1948 war, Rabin was deputy commander of Operation Dani. Along with his commander, Yigal Allon, and Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, Rabin was responsible for the expulsion of some 50,000 Palestinians from the towns of Lydda and Ramie, what Israeli historian Benny Morris characterized as “the biggest expulsion operation of the 1948 war.” In July 1948, Israeli planes alternately rained bombs and leaflets on the inhabitants of the two towns “to induce civilian panic and flight.” The bulk of the population was still in place, though, when Israeli troops captured the towns on July 11-12. When a skirmish erupted following the surrender of the town’s notables, Israeli troops were ordered to shoot at “any clear target,” anyone “seen on the streets.” Less than three hours later, between 250 and 400 Palestinians were dead; Israeli fatalities were between two and four. Before the shooting had died down, Operation Dani HQ ordered that “the inhabitants of Lydda must be expelled quickly without attention to age.” The expulsion from Lydda, according to Rabin,

was one of the most difficult actions we undertook. The population of Lod (Lydda) did not leave willingly. There was no way of avoiding the use of force and warning shots in order to make the inhabitants march the 10-15 miles to the point where they met up with the [Arab] Legion. The inhabitants of Ramleh watched, and learned the lesson: Their leaders agreed to be evacuated voluntarily.

In a remark that foreshadows the mobilization of Israeli army psychologists to minister to the troops carrying out his 1988 orders to break bones, Rabin observed that “great suffering was inflicted upon the [Israeli] men taking part in the [Lydda/Ramle] eviction action.” During the 1956 Israeli invasion of the Sinai, Rabin was the military commander of Israel’s northern region. According to him, the army then expelled 3-5,000 Palestinian Israeli citizens to Syria.

When Rabin became prime minister in 1974, he declared that he “would like to create in the course of the next ten or 20 years conditions which would attract natural and voluntary migration of the refugees from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to Jordan.” As prime minister, he opposed international negotiations and rejected outright any discussion of negotiations with the PLO. Rabin refused, in fact, to negotiate with “any Palestinian element” since that might provide “a basis for the possibility of creating a third state between Israel and Jordan…. I repeat firmly, clearly, categorically: It will not be created.” During this period, Rabin obtained Washington’s commitment not to engage in any negotiations or political discussions with the PLO. Rabin vowed that Israel would never give up East Jerusalem and propounded the “right of settlement.” In April 1976 he told a group of settlers that “these settlements are here to stay for a long time…. We don’t establish new villages only to tear them down later.” During that time he promoted Ariel Sharon to be his “personal adviser” on terrorism.

Rabin was forced to step down as prime minister and leader of the Labor Party in April 1977 when it was revealed that he and his wife had retained illegal bank accounts in the US from his days as Israeli ambassador. Elections a month later brought Menachem Begin and the Likud Party to power for the first time. Rabin has served as minister of defense since 1984. In 1987, Israeli investigations of the Pollard spy scandal named Rabin as the government official responsible. (Lisa Hajjar)

Sources: Benny Morris, “Operation Dani and the Palestinian Exodus from Lydda and Ramie in 1948,” Middle East Journal 40/1 (Winter 1986); Peretz Kidron, “Truth Whereby Nations Live,” in Edward Said and Christopher Hitchens, eds., Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestine Question (New York: Verso, 1988); Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians (Boston: South End Press, 1983); Fred Khouri, The Arab-Israeli Dilemma (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1985); Washington Post, January 11, 1988.

Shimon Peres

Shimon Peres, head of Israel’s Labor Party, shares power with his Likud counterpart Yitzhak Shamir in the National Unity government and currently serves as foreign minister. Peres’ political position as compared to the hawkish Shamir has earned him the image of a peacemaker, willing to negotiate and compromise. But behind this facade Peres remains a firm supporter of the “iron fist” approach and refuses to consider any land-for-peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Peres rose to power through bureaucratic ranks, beginning as a top aide to David Ben Gurion. His most significant activities in the 1950s and 1960s were in building Israel’s military infrastructure, securing supplies from France and Germany and establishing Israel’s nuclear weapons program. He came into his own politically after the 1973 war, along with Rabin, following the departure of Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan and Abba Eban. In 1975 he led right-wing criticism of Rabin’s negotiations for a first Sinai withdrawal.

Peres’ attitude toward the Palestinians has historically been quite uncompromising. During the Camp David negotiations he criticized Begin from the right, opposing the idea of a Palestinian “self-governing authority” which might lead to autonomy in the Occupied Territories. “There is no argument in Israel about our historic rights in the land of Israel,” he said then. “The past is immutable and the Bible is the decisive document in determining the fate of our land.” The critical difference between his position and that of Likud is his willingness to return Palestinian centers of population to Jordanian control. Like Likud, though, Peres rejects negotiations with the PLO. His image belies the underlying similarities between Labor and Likud when it comes to the Palestinians: Neither is willing to consider Palestinian self-determination. (Lisa Hajjar)

How to cite this article:

Mouin Rabbani, Lisa Hajjar "Israel and the Palestinians, 1948-1988," Middle East Report 152 (May/June 1988).

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