Explainer: Plan Dalet & The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

March 08, 2023

What was Plan Dalet?

  • Plan Dalet (also known as Plan D) was the blueprint used by the new Israeli army and its militia forerunner to expel indigenous Palestinians from their homeland during Israel’s establishment in 1948. As right-wing Israeli historian Benny Morris noted in his landmark book on the events of 1948, Plan Dalet was "a strategic-ideological anchor and basis for expulsions by front, district, brigade and battalion commanders" providing "post facto a formal persuasive covering note to explain their actions." Today, this act of mass expulsion would be called ethnic cleansing.
  • Officially adopted on March 10, 1948, Plan Dalet specified which Palestinian cities and towns would be targeted and gave instructions for how to drive out their inhabitants and destroy their communities. It called for:

“Destruction of villages (setting fire to, blowing up, and planting mines in the debris), especially those population centers which are difficult to control continuously...

“Mounting search and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the village and conducting a search inside it. In the event of resistance, the armed force must be destroyed and the population must be expelled outside the borders of the state.”

  • Three quarters of all Palestinians, about 750,000 people, were forced from their homes and made refugees during Israel’s establishment. Their homes, land, and other belongings were systematically destroyed or taken over by Israelis, while they were denied the right to return or any sort of compensation. More than 400 Palestinian towns and villages, including vibrant urban centers, were destroyed or repopulated with Jewish Israelis.

Why does Plan Dalet matter today?

  • The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians during Israel’s establishment, known to Palestinians as the Nakba (“catastrophe”), turned most Palestinians into stateless refugees and marked the start of Israel’s apartheid system on 78% of the land of Palestine.
  • Ever since, Israel has continued to violently expel Palestinians from their homes and steal Palestinian land for the use of Jewish Israelis, both inside Israel’s internationally recognized borders and in the Palestinian territories occupied by the Israeli military since 1967 (the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza). This is known to Palestinians as the Ongoing Nakba.
  • Many Israelis, including senior Israeli political and religious leaders, believe the ethnic cleansing carried out during Plan Dalet didn’t go far enough and openly call for further expulsions of Palestinians and the destruction of Palestinian communities. These threats and incitement fuel the fears of Palestinians rooted in the memory of the mass expulsions of 1948 and the knowledge that it could happen again.
  • In March 2023, after a Palestinian man was killed by an Israeli soldier or settler and settlers torched hundreds of Palestinian homes and cars during a violent rampage in the town of Huwara in the occupied West Bank, Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s finance minister and a senior member of the government told an interviewer: “I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the State of Israel should do it.” In 2021, Smotrich said that Israel’s first prime minister made a mistake by not expelling all Palestinians during Israel’s establishment, telling Palestinian members of Israel’s parliament: “You’re here by mistake, it’s a mistake that Ben-Gurion didn’t finish the job and didn’t throw you out in 1948.”

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