How many Americans would recognize the word “Nakba”? Maybe one in a hundred, maybe less. And only because a few words on the recent Palestinian commemoration of their forced exile made it through the imposing press censorship that is strictly enforced on any reports that would shed light on brutal events that created the Palestinian Diaspora in the spring of 1948.
Invariably, the American “journalists” who bothered to report on the Nakba, the Palestinian word for Catastrophe, left the impression that there is no way to be certain about what took place. The historical record is not fuzzy. It is not a record of a single event, but a series of events that led to a sea of Palestinian refugees being forced to abandon their ancestral villages and towns. It was a catastrophe by any measure of the word; a native people on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean being displaced to make room for the birth of Israel, designed to be a “Jewish majority” State.
The Nakba was not a natural event like a volcano or an earthquake. It was a catastrophe engineered and implemented by determined men; the Zionist militants, mostly from Russia and Central Europe, who had spent a generation plotting to build a “Jewish National Home” in Palestinian space.
In the space of one generation, from 1922 to 1948, European Jewish immigrants, motivated by Zionism, created an exclusive Jewish state by deliberately destroying hundreds of Palestinian villages and towns and evicting their inhabitants. This unlikely enterprise succeeded because of American and European military and diplomatic support. From the Balfour declaration to the creation of the British Mandate under the League of Nations to the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947, the United States was deeply engaged and fully complicit in the forcible removal of the Palestinian people from their homeland.
From the start, the Zionists set out to vacate the land of its native people to make room for a country that would be as “Jewish as England is English”. They created exclusive Jewish settlements, had separate school systems, set up militant militias, traded only with other Jewish immigrants and generally shunned the local non-European people. One does not have to go far to visualize how these immigrants behaved; they conducted themselves in a manner very similar to their ideological descendants in the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. The Zionist immigrants to Palestine, which became a British Mandate in 1922, came with the full ideological intent of destroying a and dispersing the native people.
Than as now, they were completely unapologetic about imposing “their vision” on the Palestinians. It rarely occurs to an Israeli or an American Jew to step back a moment and ponder what the fate of the Palestinians could have been, absent the Zionist movement. If World War I had ended up in a few quick skirmishes and Palestine had remained a Turkish province? If Hitler and the Nazis had been taken down after a few brawls in a Munich beer hall? If the survivors of the First Great War had taken a pass on a Second World War? If an enlightened Europe had been hospitable to its countrymen who followed the Jewish faith? If Jews had been allowed to freely immigrate to the promised land in New York and Hollywood? If enough Jews around the world had simply rejected the repugnant idea of displacing another people?
Just like the future is not inevitable, the past was not inevitable. Without the Nakba, what would have become of the Palestinians, with their lovely stone villages, fertile land, historic towns, a stunning Mediterranean coastline and a rich cultural and religious heritage? Instead of commemorating the Nakba, what would Palestinians be doing on a lazy tranquil spring afternoon on the shores of Haifa or Gaza? What would Palestinian memory be like without Deir El Yassin, the refugee camps, the poverty, the wars, Qibya, Tel al Zatar, Sabra and Shatila, the uprisings, the humiliating military occupation of a racist army, the second-class citizenship of a racist state, an America whose political leaders seem to relish every opportunity to torment and insult them, a Europe that has been cruel and indifferent and an Arab world that lingers in a permanent state of stupor?
Like all major catastrophes, natural and historic, the Nakba and the assorted horrors of the last five decades have been inflicted on this innocent population, one Palestinian at a time. There is a rare Palestinian family that has emerged from the Nakba without being deeply scarred.
Let us be clear about who these people are that Israelis, with ample assistance from American taxpayers, so casually participate in tormenting. This ancient people carry the seeds of their fathers who gave the world the Abrahamic traditions, who followed the teachings of Moses and Joseph and Jesus, who where the first to bear the cross and build a church, who embraced Mohammed and Islam, who endured invasions by the ancient Egyptians, the Hebrew tribes, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Philistines, the Arab conquests, multiple Crusades, Ottoman rule and British Conspiracy. For all the wounds of their storied history, there has been no wound deeper, more wrenching, more permanent than their forced exile and the wholesale confiscation of their patrimony.
The eight million Palestinians who have endured the Nakba deserve an opportunity to salvage what is left of their ancient lands. Let them have an independent state now. The Israelis need to just shove off the occupied territories and stop the historic denial of the Nakba. No amount of ‘public relations’ campaigning is going to erase the historical record. Israelis and Jews must start teaching their children about the Nakba, how it was planned for decades, the Russian and Polish Jews who implemented it and the amount of unending sorrow it inflicted on an innocent people.
Let the Israelis have their ‘Jewish majority State’, but they need to explain to their kids that it was set up on the confiscated ruins of Palestinian towns, villages and graveyards. No one should expect Israelis to abandon their chauvinist and racist tradition over-night, but they can end the military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in forty-eight hours. And they can slam some handcuffs on that war criminal Sharon and ship him to the Hague. They can start apologizing and continue apologizing till they fully internalize the meaning of the Nakba. It is time for Israel and America to claim ownership of the Nakba. Their continued refusal to deal with historical realities will just add to the list of crimes against the Palestinians people, who show no signs of meekly disappearing into oblivion. Sharon and his goons need to understand that murdering a few hundred more Palestinians will not cover up previous war crimes.
There is precious little difference between those who deny the magnitude of the Holocaust and those who deny the five decades of Nakbas that have been deliberately and maliciously inflicted on the Palestinian people. Let those who would cheapen the memory of the Holocaust by using it as an excuse for distorting the memory of the Nakba wear a letter as scarlet as any Nazi cross. And let those who would justify the Nakba by the Holocaust realize that the Zionist blue-prints for the Nakba preceded the birth of Hitler. Finally, let the Nakba stand as a litmus test to detect and spit out racist politicians and journalists who continue to be apologists for a wicked set of atrocities that can only be embraced by vile bigots. And let the first litmus tests be administered to Sulzberger, Graham, Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch, Colin Powell and President Bush. In the unlikely event that any of them ever pass the test, it would make for a radical change in America’s attitudes towards the Palestinians and the people of the Middle East.