Day of the Long Night: A Palestinian Refugee Remembers the Nakba

“Day of the Long Night: A Palestinian Refugee Remembers the Nakba” should be read by all who seek to understand the impact of the “nakba,” the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948, on one who lived through it and who still fights for its just resolution. Palestinian author Jamil I. Toubbeh presents a powerful and moving account of its cataclysmic effect on his family in the Katamon quarter of Jerusalem, where he was born and raised. Although Toubbeh’s writing style is direct and harsh, it is at the same time engaging and well-documented. His footnotes throughout the book are designed to illuminate the history of the late 1940s and later when the personal events he records took place.

For Toubbeh’s family the world before the mid-1940s was, in his own words, a “polyglot” of different cultures, languages and peoples, all peacefully coexisting at the historical crossroads of East and West. He describes his father as conversant in “Arabic, Greek, Armenian, Turkish and Russian,” with his parents speaking often to each other in Greek, their “secret” language.

Toubbeh’s best friend during the late 1940s was a “tall, thin, bespectacled teenager” named David, who also happened to be Jewish. One of Toubbeh’s first realizations that irrevocable change was about to sweep away life as he had known it was his friend’s decision in the spring of 1946 “to live in a kibbutz and to learn to use a gun to defend my country!” For the first time in his life, Toubbeh realized that there was now a deep and uncrossable divide separating Arab from Jew, while until that point Toubbeh had considered his friend as Palestinian as were he and his family.

While Toubbeh’s account of his life as a Palestinian and later a refugee from his homeland is basically arranged chronologically, he has a slightly unconventional habit of inserting references to later events to make his points. As an example, in the second chapter he compares the lack of British assistance to the Palestinians in the months before British forces pulled out in 1948 to U.S. negligence or unwillingness to halt preparations for Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Toubbeh records not only the takeover of Palestinian lands by Israel, but also Palestinian frustrations with the actions of Jordanian forces. They came to rescue the Palestinians of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, but stayed on as an army of occupation for 19 years until their expulsion by Israeli forces during the 1967 war. He charges that “The new arrivals to the Old City quickly lost their luster, acquiring a reputation for brutality equal to that of the enemy.”

He explains the overall relationship between these bedouin from the east and the city dwellers of Jerusalem as a clash of two different cultures. While Toubbeh charges that although Transjordanian stamps which began circulating in East Jerusalem had the word “Palestine” stamped across them, to give Palestinians “the impression that their country was still on the mapéin reality, it was already in the king’s pocket and in the history books.”

Notably, throughout the book, Toubbeh never mentions Israel by name, presumably as a personal rejection of the legitimacy of the Jewish state. The circumlocutions employed, however, do not enhance the book’s appeal to many otherwise sympathetic readers, although it is well worth reading. Toubbeh notes that the manipulation of the memory of the Holocaust by Zionist forces and their success in directing United States policy for the benefit of the Jewish state was the beginning of the “long night” of the Palestinian people.

Toubbeh’s intense love and longing for his family and the homeland he has left behind are palpable throughout the narrative. One sees in his writing a passionate and compassionate individual doing his best to inform the reader of the truth which Zionist lies and mythology have attempted to erase for nearly a century.

Later chapters of his book follow the author to the United States to pursue an education and a career in audiology and speech-language pathology. Upon his arrival in the early 1950s, Toubbeh was able to assess the progressive blanketing of the United States with Zionist propaganda.

After he became a U.S. citizen, he began a U. S. government career in the 1970s with what is now the Department of Health and Human Services. Later, while serving in the Indian Health Service, he began to see a parallel between the plight of Native Americans and that of his own people.

While describing the racial attitudes of some officials he worked with, both regarding Native Americans and Palestinians, Toubbeh compares patterns of insensitivity displayed by many Americans toward both groups.

Next, Toubbeh devotes a chapter to his life as a resident of Albuquerque, New Mexico, from 1977 onward, and his sadness over the Zionist propaganda machine’s encroachment even into that remote area in the years after his arrival there. He highlights the work of the New Mexico Taxpayers for a Better America to educate the public about the enormous amount of U.S. taxpayer money being sent to Israel over the years. He shows how much antagonism was focused on the group by Zionist organizations, chief among them the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), in order to discredit them personally as well as distort their message. In this section, Toubbeh footnotes both the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and a book published by the same organization, Stealth PACs: Lobbying Congress for Control of U.S. Middle East Policy, to document AIPAC’s smear campaign against the New Mexico organization.

Finally, Toubbeh recounts his return home to introduce his son to his remaining family and the land of his birth. Attending the wedding of a nephew, Toubbeh is heartened to see the resilience and defiance of his people. Although former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir denied that Palestinians exist, he sees for himself that they are very much alive and well.

In one of the most touching parts of the book, Toubbeh returns to the spot where his childhood home once stood but which now is the site of a new house belonging to a Jewish family. Undeterred, he writes, “The visit in my mind is warm; the time is autumn, my favorite seasonéI had to make the pilgrimage to the site of my nonexistent home, there to draw a mental rectangle in the sand-a signature on a document that I would leave behind for future generations.”

Read this book and you will be moved to anger, indignation, or hope but, one way or another, you definitely will be moved.

“Day of the Long Night: A Palestinian Refugee Remembers the Nakba” can be ordered through AET.

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