Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Never-Ending Nakbah

Today, millions of people around the world observed Nakbah Day, which commemorates the loss of much of Arab Palestine to the Zionists in 1947-1948, and the attendant catastrophes. The responsibility for the loss of Palestine is shared by almost all the players of the day; the UN, which decided on partition, the Zionists, who pursued statehood at the cost of perpetual war, the big powers, which still called the shots, the Arab states, which insufficiently prepared for a war that they were to lose, and the, last and least, the Arab population of Palestine, which, divided among itself, underestimated the strength of its opponents and was outmaneuvered and outflanked.

Later Zionist spin would hold the "Arabs" collectively responsible for the Nakbah – because their leaders refused to recognize the rights of the Zionists to a state in Palestine, or because a small minority of Palestinians (according to Moshe Shertok/Sharret at the time, a minority that did not speak for the Palestinian Arab masses) committed acts of mob violence against Jew (acts that were repaid in full by Jews against Arabs), or because four Arab armies crossed the borders of Palestine in order to protect the interests of the indigenous Arabs, despite the fact that the intervention was never singled out for condemnation by the United Nations.

Yet, in my opinion, it is wrong to limit the Nakbah to the events of the 1947-1948. Some will wish to date its beginnings from the Balfour Declaration, or from the San Remo conference, or even from the First Zionist Conference. There are obviously arguments in favor of those dates.

But I would date the Nakbah from the time that the Zionist movement – or the central power behind the Zionist movement, namely, David Ben-Gurion -- decided on Jewish statehood at any cost. I have written elsewhere that the Zionist desire to carve out a state for the Jews in Palestine could itself be understood as a declaration of war against the indigenous peoples. But, in fairness to many Zionists, the project of building a homeland for the Jews was often justified as good for the indigenous Arabs, and I have no doubt that some Zionist leaders genuinely thought that their efforts would help the natives. Some of these same leaders, when faced with the fact of Arab nationalism, tried to put the breaks on the headlong rush to Jewish statehood, and to think of some method of power-sharing. Had the Zionist movement conditioned the establishment of a Jewish homeland on the consent of the majority within Palestine, the Nakbah, I believe, could have been avoided. But such measures of accommodation and compromise were rejected by the leadership of both sides, polarized between militant Zionists on the one hand, and militant Arab nationalists, on the other (not to mention the terrorists on both sides.) Still, it was the aggressive push towards partition and Jewish statehood that plunged Palestine into the chaos. Had the Zionists accepted UN Trusteeship, as advocated by the United States president, Harry Truman, an Arab-Israeli war could possibly have been avoided. But the Zionists were interested in only one thing – a state at all costs, even the costs of tens of thousands of Jewish lives.

It is important to emphasize that even the attaining of Jewish independence did not require the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem, however. The Jewish state did not have to reject the return of the Palestinian natives; for a short period of time, fearful that the United States would not support its admission into the UN, Ben-Gurion offered to repatriate 100,000, with all sorts of strings attached. The offer was subsequently withdrawn. Magnes and Rawidowicz argued for their return. That the State of Israel did not allow them to return, and in many instances, shot returning villages and farmers as "infiltrators," is the real reason why Israel stands accused of ethnic cleansing – i.e., getting rid of as many Palestinians as they were able to, and keeping the rest under military administration, pitting them against each other, infiltrating them with security forces, banning any expressions of national solidarity, etc.

The Nakbah continued for the Palestinian Arabs who were refugees, and for those who stayed – as lands belonging to the latter were transferred to Jewish ownership, as villages were wiped off the map, and forests and Jewish settlements were created on the ruins of the Palestine. And since 1967, Palestine "from the sea to the river" has been under the control (and effective occupation) of Israel, making decisions for the Palestinians under occupation, and expropriating their national and private land.

That nakbah will continue until the maximum amount of justice for both sides is done – and until the 1948 ethnic regime evolves democratically into something that is better for both Jew and Arab living within it.

Bi-meherah be-yameinu, omen.

For very good articles on Nakbah Day from the Israeli perspective, see the 972magazine here

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