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The Meaning of the Nakba

by NASEER ARURI

During the middle of May, Zionists celebrate an event that they call the War of Independence.

The same occasion is observed by Palestinians, who call it al-Nakba, meaning the catastrophe, which began with the internal displacement of some 200,000 Palestinians, reaching 800,000 or two-thirds of the population by the armistice of 1949, plus the organized destruction of some 600 Palestinian villages.

Despite the Zionist propaganda of the seven Arab armies converging on Palestine to preempt the emergence of a state of Israel, there is overwhelming evidence exposing exactly the opposite including: documented massacres to encourage the population to flee; strategic Zionist planning for ethnic cleansing; and well trained and equipped Zionist militaries, which had gained experience in World War Il. The Zionists faced an ill-equipped and disorganized Palestinian resistance and had succeeded in displacing the majority of the Palestinian before the entry of the armies of the Arab states, themselves with newly independent troops lacking modern equipment and without a central command.

In this Orwellian world, Israel blames the victims, who have received neither admission of Israel’s responsibility, nor the appropriate apology; rather it is the victims who are expected to atone. Even more inexplicable is the shameful participation of Palestinian public officials and the head of a Palestinian-American organization in Israel’s celebration of the crimes perpetrated upon the indigenous Palestinians in the “War of Independence.”  The fact that Israel was ‘born in the sin’ of the dispossession of another people has never been seriously discussed in public. This failure has occurred despite an abundance of irrefutable facts from Israel’s own “revisionist historians,” some of whom refuse to accept any measure of legal or moral responsibility. In fact, such a discourse on the dispossession of the Palestinians is typically portrayed according to canonical Zionist principles since Israel fears the facts might cast doubts on its legitimacy and “right to exist.”   How, then, can restitution and/or atonement to the Palestinian people even be raised as issues if the genesis of the problem must remain outside the parameters of discussion? Additionally, the anti-Semitic label is likely to be invoked if a non-Zionist narrative of Palestinian dispossession and corresponding Israeli usurpation were to come to the fore. The undeniable fact, however, is that there would never have been Palestinian displacement, dispossession or dispersion had there been no Israel. Yet, that simple and logical connection has been expurgated from the discourse about Palestine/Israel, to be replaced by a specious and distorted historical narrative.    Despite the inextricable connection between the Palestinian Nakba and the birth of Israel in the land of Palestine, no Israeli official has ever ventured to call for atonement. Neither event would have happened without the other. Apparently Israel fears any admission of responsibility for the Nakba would be likely to give credibility to Palestinian grievances and basic rights and would thus reflect unfavourably on Israel’s own “credibility”. The less Israel appears in need of moral and legal justification, the more assured its predominance will be. Yet, trying to marshal legal and moral justification for its existence could be seen as a clear sign of weakness, vulnerability, self-doubt, and lack of moral resolve. Consequently, Israel’s leadership perceives an offensive strategy to be the best form of defence. Israel’s brutality towards the Palestinians since the 1940s plus efforts toward achieving normalization with the Palestinian Authority and Arab governments is part and parcel of this overall strategy.  Indeed, such a strategy turns history on its head: the indigenous Palestinians have been declared “non-existent;” the victims became victimisers; colonisation became “development;” resistance to occupation is “terrorism;” and the right of return for the refugees becomes a threat to Israel’s “demographic security” and its “Jewish character.” Not unexpectedly, Israel’s current offensive strategy towards Palestinians under military occupation is trumpeted as a defensive war, much like the “war against terrorism” declared by the US. The fact that it is continuing an all-out attack against a predominantly civilian population struggling to end an illegal occupation is being obscured by a pernicious public relations campaign in which the US media plays a complicit role. The fact that it is committing war crimes, in the Nuremberg sense, in the occupied territories, does not seem to merit even the most meagre media attention in the U. S.  The Palestinian people continue to resist, however, against incredible odds.  Despite the above-referenced Israeli tactics and strategy aimed at defeating the Palestinian nation, the spirit and will of the Palestinian people has never been broken. That resistance and steadfastness on their part provide hope that, in the future, the immoral celebrations in the month of May will be replaced by atonement and justice.

NASEER ARURI is Chancellor Professor (Emeritus) of Political Science at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. His latest book (with the late Samih Farsoun) is Palestine and the Palestinians: A Social and Political History.

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