mai abdul rahman May 2015
Although the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) has been substantiated and carefully documented by Israeli and Palestinian historians, to date most Israelis and Jews either deny it ever took place, or dismiss and ignore its relevance. Regardless, the Palestinian Nakba is directly connected to Israel’s history. The creation of Israel was made possible through the joint efforts of European colonial Jewish militants, Jewish agencies, and international Zionist organizations that planned, funded, and unleashed a deliberate campaign of terror on defenseless Palestinians. The Jewish funded campaign aimed to disconnect and displace Palestinians from their ancestral lands, homes, businesses, churches, mosques, and institutions. Dismissing the Nakba will not erase the mountain of evidence proving the nature and scale of this tragic Palestinian national calamity.
Jews world-wide have understood the necessity of correcting wrongs of the past whether by individuals, institutions, nations or others who may have committed them against innocent Jews. Diligently, Jews have called friend and foe to accept the Jewish history of suffering, loss, and pain committed against Jews. Since 1948, Jews have used every available means and venue to relentlessly press for the right of the Jewish Holocaust victims to be heard, their suffering acknowledged, and losses compensated. Jews have also asked the world to come to terms with the hardships endured by the European Jews who were forced out of their homes into the Jewish ghettos of Germany, Poland, Hungry, and Italy. Meanwhile, Palestinians were forced poor and homeless refugees to house European Jewish immigrants who have enjoyed and savored the fruit of Palestinian labor, groves, and trees.
In 1948, the Jewish Zionists were a small minority of European immigrants who settled in Palestine to escape the wrath of Europe’s anti Semitism and the horrors of the German Holocaust. Israel’s independence was established on 95% of the lands that the Palestinians owned. In a nutshell, Israel’s independence disenfranchised and displaced the Palestinians who were the majority owners of the lands, homes, and institutions that Jews acquired and claimed their own.
For sixty-seven Mays, Palestinians have commemorated their Nakba, and Israelis and Jews have celebrated the creation of the state of Israel. The end of the 1948 British Mandate of Palestine was supposed to fulfill two irreconcilable promises. The termination of the 1948 British Mandate of Palestine was meant to liberate and free the Palestinians. In fact, thousands of Palestinians fought alongside the British Allies in return for Britain’s promise to help usher Palestinian independence. Instead, the end of the British Mandate of Palestine was the impetus for Israel’s Declaration of Independence that promised equality and rights for all inhabitants regardless of faith or ethnicity-a pledge that remains unfulfilled.
Israelis and Jews who continue to deny the Palestinian Nakba are distorting historical evidence, which has far reaching implications for both Israelis and Palestinians. Today, Israel’s extreme right wing government may be assumed to be an isolated case and an aberration, but the evolution of Israel’s political landscape may be better understood when considering its early history. For example, Israel’s Declaration of Independence vowed that the state of Israel “will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew Prophets; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens; without distinction of race, creed, or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the shrines of Holy Places of all religions, and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” Sixty- seven years and counting, Israel’s Declaration of Independence remains an abstract ideal and a suspended promise. In fact, Israel’s Declaration of Independence first signer and Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion asserted a unique concept that has allowed Israel to suspend the civil rights of citizens and non-citizens. So, for those who are concerned about Israel’s fraying democracy, the genuine appraisal of historical facts rather than mythical assumptions could offer the opportunity to mend and correct Israel’s political far right bent.
Today, Palestinian refugees are dispersed in refugee camps (58) across the Middle East- including Israel. Many have endured the ravages of conflict and wars in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Meanwhile. most Israeli and Jews continue to deny the harm inflicted on millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants. The vast majority of Jews continue to claim that the Arab countries should shoulder the hardships experienced by generations of Palestinian refugees. They conveniently disregard the millions of Palestinians who were forced out of their homes and villages to nearby towns in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza that Israel continues to occupy, militarily control, and besiege. They also ignore addressing the significant number of Palestinians and their descendant who live in refugee camps and villages stone’s throw away from their ancestral homes and lands that are occupied and relished by Jews from far away lands. Avoiding responsibility and shifting blame will not refute historical evidence.
Israelis and Jews must face their history with genuine honesty, just as they have rightfully demanded others in every corner of the world to recognize and atone for their ill deeds towards innocent Jews. Many among Israel’s early Zionist leaders were directly responsible for the planning and execution of a brutal campaign that expelled Palestinian from their ancestral lands and properties to make room for the eventual influx of Jewish immigrants. The opposition of Israel’s leaders and government of any mention of the Palestinian Nakba or discussion of its historical significance to Israelis and Palestinians is understandable. Also understandable, is the general resistance to admit the large role that Israel’s past IDF soldiers, politicians, and generals who are honored as its protective leaders have played in this unfolding tragedy. While these truths are difficult and hard to come to terms with, nonetheless, many people have acknowledged the actions of their leaders who were once assumed to be beyond reproach- because it was morally correct and historically accurate.
Palestinians’ straightforward call for Jews to step up to the plate and acknowledge their role in this tragic and painful Palestinian history is not unique or novel. Countless of people and nations have recognized their historical role in the painful experiences of a host of ethnic groups, faith communities, and populations. There is no escaping the truth, Jews and Israelis will have to reckon with their entire past- the good and the bad. So why not sooner than later- such a simple dignified act of humane recognition of the immense suffering that the Palestinians have endured will help change the social attitudes held by the Israeli society at large and affect the attitudes of the Palestinians that Israel has displaced. Embracing the Nakba will also help spur the good work of Palestinians and Israelis who aim to liberate both people from their hurtful past.
Without embracing Israel’s entire history supporters of Israel will continue to fail to understand the cause and consequences of Israel’s past actions that have influenced Israel’s national character and the Palestinian perspective. In short, as long as Jews, Israelis, and their supporters deny the Nakba, they will continue to deny the core reasons that shaped Israel’s right wing extremists.
Recognizing the Nakba will also help shed light on the Palestinian perspective, which once fully understood could help encourage sincere dialogue based on truth and humility. More importantly, accepting the Palestinian Nakba will generate the necessary trust among Israelis and Palestinians, which is necessary to bring about the peace that both people desire and long for.