Henry Norr / International Solidarity Movement – Northern California – 2008-07-29 21:15:15
Intel: Nakba Inside
KIRYAT GAT (July 2008) — Sixty years ago, there was no Kiryat Gat. Then came the Naqba, an extraordinarily brazen case of ethnic cleansing, and, a few decades later, a record-breaking series of investments from chipmaker Intel.
Today, Intel is putting the finishing touches on Israel’s biggest construction project this side of the Apartheid Wall, and Kiryat Gat has become one of the crown jewels of the country’s booming high-tech economy. But if the Shin Bet, the Israeli security service, has it right, Palestinian resistance forces could soon be capable of exacting a spectacular new price for their dispossession.
Located in south-central Israel — southwest of Jerusalem, northeast of Gaza City, at the northern edge of the Negev desert — Kiryat Gat stands on land that once belonged to two Palestinian villages, al-Faluja and ‘Iraq al-Manshiya.
While the area is well within the Green Line, Israel’s 1949-67 border, its history is in one way unique: Israeli forces never captured it during the 1948-49 war. Egyptian troops occupied it in May, 1948, and despite Israeli counter-offensives, 4,000 Egyptian soldiers managed to hold on to the two villages until the two governments signed an armistice on February 24, 1949.
_Surrounded, the Egyptians were in no position to stay in what was called the “Faluja pocket.” To their credit, however, they insisted as a condition of withdrawal that Israel guarantee the safety of the civilians in the area – some 2,000 locals and 1,100 refugees from other parts of Palestine.
On paper, Israel agreed. In an exchange of formal diplomatic letters, the two governments pledged that civilians wishing to remain in al-Faluja and ‘Iraq al-Manshiya could do so, and that “All of these civilians shall be fully secure in their persons, abodes, property and personal effects.”
Within days, however, it was clear that the agreement wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. Under the direction of Yitzhak Rabin (later Prime Minister of Israel), and probably with the direct approval of founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Israeli troops mounted what historian Benny Morris calls “a short, sharp, well-orchestrated campaign of low-key violence and psychological warfare designed to intimidate the inhabitants into flight.”
What Morris labels “low-key,” however, probably didn’t seem so to the victims. A survivor recalls that the Jews “created a situation of terror, entered the houses and beat the people with rifle butts.” An American Quaker relief team recorded details of the violence they observed, such as the case of a man brought to them with “two bloody eyes, a torn ear, and a face pounded until it was blue.”
And UN observers reporting to Ralph Bunche, the distinguished African-American diplomat then serving as UN mediator in Palestine, noted not only beatings and robberies, but also cases of attempted rape and “promiscuous firing” on civilians by Israeli soldiers.
The most unusual documentation of the ethnic cleansing comes from a source even ardent Zionists can’t easily dismiss: Israel’s own foreign minister at the time, Moshe Sharett. Worried that the behavior of its forces might jeopardize Israel’s campaign for UN membership, he fired off an angry memo to the Israeli Defense Forces, charging that their actions in al-Faluja and ‘Iraq al-Manshiya were calling into question “our sincerity as a party to an international agreement.”
Noting that Israel was denying responsibility for the Palestinian refugee problem, he wrote “From this perspective, the sincerity of our professions is tested by our behavior in these villages. … Every intentional pressure aimed at uprooting [the local population] is tantamount to a planned act of eviction on our part. … There is no doubt that here there is a calculated action aimed at increasing the number of those going to the Hebron Hills [then controlled by Jordan] as if of their own free will, and, if possible, to bring about the evacuation of the whole civilian population” of the area.
The IDF, however, was apparently undeterred, and by April 22, 1949, the last of the Palestinian residents and refugees had fled the two villages. Five days later, Rabin ordered them leveled.
In 1955 Israel established a “development town” – a settlement for new immigrants, originally mainly from North Africa, later also from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union – on the site of the two villages. Called Kiryat Gat, it was notable mainly for its poverty and high rate of unemployment.
But in the mid-1990s Intel chose the place as the site for a huge new plant it called “Fab 18” (“fab” being industry lingo for a facility where semiconductors are fabricated). The company put up $1 billion – at the time the largest foreign investment ever in Israel – and the Israeli government kicked in another $600 million. The plant opened in 1999 and was soon cranking out Pentium processors worth more than $1 billion a year.
By now, however, Fab 18 is well behind the fast-advancing state of the art in chip manufacturing. So this year Intel signed it over to Numonyx, a new joint venture with other investors, which will use it to make flash memory, a product that doesn’t require the latest technology.
Intel is now Israel’s largest private employer, with some 6,100 employees there (more than it employs in Silicon Valley), and according to an email from Intel spokesperson Chuck Malloy, this figure does not include 1,300 employees who are officially employed by Numonyx.
These figures will grow substantially when Intel completes a new and more modern facility next door. Called Fab 28, this project dwarfs the previous one in cost: Intel has again broken Israeli records by spending $3.5 billion on it, plus $450 million in government grants. Production is scheduled to begin around the middle of this year and reach full volume – with annual output of about $3 billion — in 2009.
III. Chickens coming home to roost?
So good, apparently, is Intel’s business at Kiryat Gat that a company executive recently disclosed plans for a third fab on the site. The Palestinian resistance, however, just might have something to say about that.
Kiryat Gat happens to be less than 20 miles from the northern Gaza Strip. That’s beyond the range of the standard homemade Qassam rockets Palestinian resistance forces regularly fire over the wall that imprisons them. But in recent months they have used upgraded Qassams and occasionally larger Grad or Katyusha rockets to strike Ashkelon, an Israeli city about 10 miles away.
And on May 24 of this year Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet security service, informed the Israeli cabinet that Hamas now has rockets capable of reaching Kiryat Gat.
Of course, Diskin may have been exaggerating, but even if Kiryat Gat isn’t yet within range, it’s likely that it will be soon.
Is Intel prepared? Undoubtedly – it’s inconceivable that the company would keep pouring billions into Kiryat Gat without taking precautions against this obvious danger. And for $3 or $4 billion dollars, it’s surely possible to fortify a building against any weapon Palestinians are likely to get their hands on.
Henry Norr first wrote about Intel’s fab at Kiryat Gat in 2002 in the San Francisco Chronicle.
This account is drawn mainly from Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestine Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge, 2004), p. 521-525, the latest and most detailed Western-language account of this episode.
• For additional information about the villages, including pictures and oral histories (in Arabic), see http://www.palestineremembered.com/Gaza/al-Faluja