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Understanding Nakba

Do Palestinian refugees have a right to return?

When Palestinian refugees were gunned down by Israeli soldiers upon marching towards their homeland during unarmed Nakba Day demonstrations, the floodgates of historic revisionism opened.

What is this ‘Nakba’? Where did these refugees come from? Who should be responsible for them? Readers of the mainstream news undoubtedly raised these questions when the spilled blood of demonstrators brought the discussion of the most pivotal year in Palestinian history, 1948, back into the headlines.

Often, the events of this period are recited like this in mainstream media:

After Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948, armies from neighboring Arab states attacked the new nation; during the war that followed, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes by Israeli forces.

That sequence of events, from a recent New York Times article, was repeated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his meeting with President Obama last week.

Both describe the refugees as a result of the “Arab attack” in 1948. But even a cursory look at history reveals how flawed this is. Before a single Arab soldier crossed into Palestine on May 15, 1948 more than half the total refugees were created. Arab mobilization then became a reaction to massive refugee flows and not the cause of it. When Israel declared independence, its military had already succeeded in depopulating Palestine’s largest cities of Jaffa and Haifa as well as Tiberias, Safad and Beisan. Perhaps those writing today’s New York Times should read their own reporting from this period because they’d quickly learn they are peddling distortions that are simply unfit to print.

The depopulation of Palestine was no accident. The Zionist movement schemed to create a Jewish state in a territory where Jews were a minority. On the eve of the Nakba, Jews constituted 30 percent of the population and owned 7 percent of the land. Within months, they forged a state on 78 percent of the territory where they flipped the demographic ratio from 30:70 Jews to Arabs to 90:10. To think such dramatic demographic change happens by accident—only coincidently suiting decades old Zionist aims—is dangerous naiveté. Such things happen only by design.

Thousands of declassified files in Israeli military archives speak to the intent behind depopulation operations targeting Palestinian villages and the planning of these actions which began long before the war. In 1940, for example, the pre-state Jewish government began a clandestine intelligence operation that collected sensitive data on every Palestinian village. Prior to the depopulation, the Zionists had detailed information on the villagers, including name, age, property, political affiliations, wages, occupations, relationships. They documented water resources, roads, access to media and if the village had any weapon. They kept lists of villagers in each village believed hostile to Zionism. An expose in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz revealed what historians have known for years.

In 1947, the UN General Assembly passed a plan to divide Palestine into four entities, one Arab (which was 99 percent Palestinian Arab on 43 percent of the land) one Jewish (which was 55 percent Jewish and 45 percent Palestinian Arab and on 55 percent of the land) a third entity to be internationally monitored around Jerusalem which was 51 percent Palestinian Arab and 49 percent Jewish and a fourth isolated enclave around the Palestinian city of Jaffa. For Palestinians, this partition divided their population into 4 and gave 55 percent of their territory to the 30 percent of the population which was Jewish, most of which just arrived in Palestine in the previous two decades. For the Jews, this plan would create the state they long desired. In short, the Palestinians had a great deal to lose while the Jews had a great deal to gain. That is why Palestinians justifiably rejected this deal and the Jews accepted it.

From 1919, the United States knew creating a Jewish State in Palestine meant disaster for the native Palestinian Arabs. An American fact finding team, the King-Crane commission, noted that a Jewish state could not be established without the “gravest trespass upon the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” The commission was shocked after meeting with Zionists at the time who “looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine.” Perhaps this insight led Washington to make a decision few people recall. On March 19, 1948, the United States withdrew its support for the partition plan. The Zionists knew the state they coveted was in jeopardy since the US, a global power after WWII, backed away from the plan. With the British Mandate ending in less than two months, it was time to take it by force. During this six week period the Israeli forces accelerated their attacks on Arab villages and committed massacres including at Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948. At this point, the depopulation was in full swing and masses of refugees were created either by direct force or fear for their lives before the Arab armies entered Palestine.

As a student of history and the grandchild of Nakba survivors, I find it not only inaccurate to suggest Palestinian refugees are merely the unintended consequence of war, but also offensive and disgusting. In many countries, Holocaust denial will land you in jail but in the U.S. Nakba denial may land you on the pages of major newspapers.

Some Nakba denials are particularly vile. Michael Medved denies the Nakba happened in his distorted history and argues Palestinians never had it so good and benefited from Zionist colonization of their land. Like Cecil Rhodes, who more than a century ago led the English colonization of Africa, Medved asserts proudly that the colonization of the natives by European newcomers was to their benefit. This twisted defense of colonialism is as repulsive as it is supremacist and archaic. Medved and his frankly racist approach are relics with a “heart of darkness” that are incompatible with the 21st century. They should be opposed in all their forms by people of conscience.

Until candid discussions about the events of the Nakba will be part of our discourse in the United States, we shouldn’t think we can ever be a fair mediator between Israelis and Palestinians. Sadly, as the willingness of some readers to welcome Medved’s brazen distortion proves, we are far from that point.

Yousef Munayyer is Executive Director of the Palestine Center. This post is from the Palestine Center Brief No. 214 (25 May 2011).

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34 comments on the article “Understanding Nakba”

Displaying 1 - 10 of 34

Page 1 of 4

Anonymous

"A national home for the Jewish people is not equivalent to making Palestine into a Jewish State. Nor can the erection of such a Jewish State be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.
The initial claim, often submitted by Zionists representatives, that they have a A right to Palestine, based on an occupation two thousand years ago, can hardly be seriously considered."

--Woodrow Wilson's King-Crane Commission report

--------------------------------------

"If we are going to admit claims on conquest thousands of years ago, the whole world will have to be turned upside down."

-Lord Sydenham, Hansard, House of Lords, 21 June 1922

----------------------------------------

"Spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment... Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly."

-Theodore Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organization, speaking of the Arabs of Palestine, Complete Diaries, June 12, 1895 entry.

-----------------------------------------

"There is, however, a difficulty from which the Zionist dares not avert his eyes, though he rarely likes to face it. Palestine proper has already its inhabitants."

-Israel Zangwill, The Voice of Jerusalem, London, 1920, p. 88.

------------------------------------------

"After we become a strong force as the result of the creation of the state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine. The state will only be a stage in the realization of Zionism and its task is to prepare the ground for our expansion. The state will have to preserve order - not by preaching but with machine guns."

-David Ben-Gurion, 1938.

-----------------------------------------

"We should instruct American Jewry to mobilize half a billion dollars in order that Iraq and Saudi Arabia will absorb the Palestinian Arabs. There is no choice: the Arabs must make room for the Jews in Eretz Yisrael. If it was possible to transfer the Baltic Peoples it is also possible to move the Palestinian Arabs."

-Vladimir Jabotinsky, founder of Revisionist Zionism (precursor of Likud), November 1939.

-----------------------------------------

"There are some who believe that the non-Jewish population, even in a high percentage, within our borders will be more effectively under our surveillance; and there are some who believe the contrary, i.e., that it is easier to carry out surveillance over the activities of a neighbor than over those of a tenant. [I] tend to support the latter view and have an additional argument:...the need to sustain the character of the state which will henceforth be Jewish...with a non-Jewish minority limited to 15 percent. I had already reached this fundamental position as early as 1940 [and] it is entered in my diary."

--Joseph Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency's Colonization Department. From Israel: an Apartheid State by Uri Davis, p.5.

------------------------------------------

"In our political argument abroad, we minimize Arab opposition to us, [but] let us not ignore the truth among ourselves: we are the aggressors and they defend themselves."

--Ben Gurion 1938

-----------------------------------------

"Between ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples together in this country. We shall not achieve our goal if the Arabs are in this small country. There is no other way than to transfer the Arabs from here to neighboring countries - all of them. Not one village, not one tribe should be left."

-Joseph Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency's Colonization Department in 1940. From "A Solution to the Refugee Problem" by Joseph Weitz, Davar, September 29, 1967, cited in Uri Davis and Norton Mevinsky, eds., Documents from Israel, 1967-1973, p.21.

----------------------------------------

"If I was an Arab leader I would never make [peace] with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country."

-David Ben Gurion, quoted in The Jewish Paradox, by Nahum Goldmann, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1978, p. 99.

-----------------------------------------

"It is the duty of Israeli leaders to explain to public opinion, clearly and courageously, a certain number of facts that are forgotten with time. The first of these is that there is no Zionism, colonization or Jewish State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands."

-Yoram Bar Porath, Yediot Aahronot, of 14 July 1972.

----------------------------------------

"Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushua in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not a single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population."

-Moshe Dayan, address to the Technion, Haifa, reported in Haaretz, April 4, 1969

-----------------------------------------

"Israel should have exploited the repression of the demonstrations in China, when world attention focused on that country, to carry out mass expulsions among the Arabs of the territories."

--Benyamin Netanyahu, November 24, 1989.

----------------------------------------

"Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours... Everything we don't grab will go to them."

--Ariel Sharon, November 15, 1998.

-----------------------------------------

"What is the difference between the way in which the Jewish people struggles to remain what it is in the midst of a non-Jewish population, and the way the Afrikaners try to stay what they are?"

-Henry Katzew, "South Africa: a Country Without Friends", Die Transvaler, quoted by R. Stevens in Zionism, South Africa and Apartheid.

----------------------------------------

Israel can act with impunity because Awe have the Anti-Defamation LeagueY and Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Museum.@

-Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit

-----------------------------------------

Jews would have been less than human had they eschewed any notion of superiority altogether. It is extraordinarily difficult for American Jews to expunge the sense of superiority altogether however much they may try to suppress it."

-Charles Silberman, A Certain People.

-----------------------------------------
An American Jewish child inherits no body of law, no body of learning and no language, and finally no lord but a kind of psychology: and that psychology can be translated in three words: Jews are better".

-Philip Roth

Anonymous

"A national home for the Jewish people is not equivalent to making Palestine into a Jewish State. Nor can the erection of such a Jewish State be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.
The initial claim, often submitted by Zionists representatives, that they have a A right to Palestine, based on an occupation two thousand years ago, can hardly be seriously considered."

--Woodrow Wilson's King-Crane Commission report

--------------------------------------

"If we are going to admit claims on conquest thousands of years ago, the whole world will have to be turned upside down."

-Lord Sydenham, Hansard, House of Lords, 21 June 1922

----------------------------------------

"Spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment... Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly."

-Theodore Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organization, speaking of the Arabs of Palestine, Complete Diaries, June 12, 1895 entry.

-----------------------------------------

"There is, however, a difficulty from which the Zionist dares not avert his eyes, though he rarely likes to face it. Palestine proper has already its inhabitants."

-Israel Zangwill, The Voice of Jerusalem, London, 1920, p. 88.

------------------------------------------

"After we become a strong force as the result of the creation of the state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine. The state will only be a stage in the realization of Zionism and its task is to prepare the ground for our expansion. The state will have to preserve order - not by preaching but with machine guns."

-David Ben-Gurion, 1938.

-----------------------------------------

"We should instruct American Jewry to mobilize half a billion dollars in order that Iraq and Saudi Arabia will absorb the Palestinian Arabs. There is no choice: the Arabs must make room for the Jews in Eretz Yisrael. If it was possible to transfer the Baltic Peoples it is also possible to move the Palestinian Arabs."

-Vladimir Jabotinsky, founder of Revisionist Zionism (precursor of Likud), November 1939.

-----------------------------------------

"There are some who believe that the non-Jewish population, even in a high percentage, within our borders will be more effectively under our surveillance; and there are some who believe the contrary, i.e., that it is easier to carry out surveillance over the activities of a neighbor than over those of a tenant. [I] tend to support the latter view and have an additional argument:...the need to sustain the character of the state which will henceforth be Jewish...with a non-Jewish minority limited to 15 percent. I had already reached this fundamental position as early as 1940 [and] it is entered in my diary."

--Joseph Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency's Colonization Department. From Israel: an Apartheid State by Uri Davis, p.5.

------------------------------------------

"In our political argument abroad, we minimize Arab opposition to us, [but] let us not ignore the truth among ourselves: we are the aggressors and they defend themselves."

--Ben Gurion 1938

-----------------------------------------

"Between ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples together in this country. We shall not achieve our goal if the Arabs are in this small country. There is no other way than to transfer the Arabs from here to neighboring countries - all of them. Not one village, not one tribe should be left."

-Joseph Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency's Colonization Department in 1940. From "A Solution to the Refugee Problem" by Joseph Weitz, Davar, September 29, 1967, cited in Uri Davis and Norton Mevinsky, eds., Documents from Israel, 1967-1973, p.21.

----------------------------------------

"If I was an Arab leader I would never make [peace] with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country."

-David Ben Gurion, quoted in The Jewish Paradox, by Nahum Goldmann, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1978, p. 99.

-----------------------------------------

"It is the duty of Israeli leaders to explain to public opinion, clearly and courageously, a certain number of facts that are forgotten with time. The first of these is that there is no Zionism, colonization or Jewish State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands."

-Yoram Bar Porath, Yediot Aahronot, of 14 July 1972.

----------------------------------------

"Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushua in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not a single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population."

-Moshe Dayan, address to the Technion, Haifa, reported in Haaretz, April 4, 1969

-----------------------------------------

"Israel should have exploited the repression of the demonstrations in China, when world attention focused on that country, to carry out mass expulsions among the Arabs of the territories."

--Benyamin Netanyahu, November 24, 1989.

----------------------------------------

"Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours... Everything we don't grab will go to them."

--Ariel Sharon, November 15, 1998.

-----------------------------------------

"What is the difference between the way in which the Jewish people struggles to remain what it is in the midst of a non-Jewish population, and the way the Afrikaners try to stay what they are?"

-Henry Katzew, "South Africa: a Country Without Friends", Die Transvaler, quoted by R. Stevens in Zionism, South Africa and Apartheid.

----------------------------------------

Israel can act with impunity because Awe have the Anti-Defamation LeagueY and Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Museum.@

-Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit

-----------------------------------------

Jews would have been less than human had they eschewed any notion of superiority altogether. It is extraordinarily difficult for American Jews to expunge the sense of superiority altogether however much they may try to suppress it."

-Charles Silberman, A Certain People.

-----------------------------------------
An American Jewish child inherits no body of law, no body of learning and no language, and finally no lord but a kind of psychology: and that psychology can be translated in three words: Jews are better".

-Philip Roth

Anonymous

This is a new era for Jews. They have to decide what they stand for: if it's the mantle of tyranny and supremacy and the same mentality the Nazis had or if it's to follow the better parts of this world toward justice, equality and shared humanity. This really is a time in which they will be judged by history.

Anonymous

This is a new era for Jews. They have to decide what they stand for: if it's the mantle of tyranny and supremacy and the same mentality the Nazis had or if it's to follow the better parts of this world toward justice, equality and shared humanity. This really is a time in which they will be judged by history.

Shlomo bin Shlomo

Either way "israel" is finished as we know it. 15 years ago people began talking about the Zionist colony committing "politicide" and we have seen this borne out in their current spiral downward from which there is no escape.
Most people give them 10 years at best likely even less. Naturally they will murder hundreds and hundreds of people as they rage against their own demise but they will ultimately be diluted and nullified by their own Arab population as well as the inevitable recognition of Palestine by the U.N and the massive Arab uprising that only builds as "israel" slowly dies it's timely death.

Their only option is complete and total warfare against all their enemies and this means most of the world. In the end though even this will fail and the tyrants of the Jewish Establishment will be put in their place. Locked up, eliminated a la Bin Laden and soon to be Gaddafi or forced to acquiesce to the just demands of the entire world.

And not a moment too soon. 60 years is enough of these white peoples sick colonialist experiment.

Shlomo bin Shlomo

Either way "israel" is finished as we know it. 15 years ago people began talking about the Zionist colony committing "politicide" and we have seen this borne out in their current spiral downward from which there is no escape.
Most people give them 10 years at best likely even less. Naturally they will murder hundreds and hundreds of people as they rage against their own demise but they will ultimately be diluted and nullified by their own Arab population as well as the inevitable recognition of Palestine by the U.N and the massive Arab uprising that only builds as "israel" slowly dies it's timely death.

Their only option is complete and total warfare against all their enemies and this means most of the world. In the end though even this will fail and the tyrants of the Jewish Establishment will be put in their place. Locked up, eliminated a la Bin Laden and soon to be Gaddafi or forced to acquiesce to the just demands of the entire world.

And not a moment too soon. 60 years is enough of these white peoples sick colonialist experiment.

Anonymous

Many more Jews were expelled from the Arab countries than Palestinians from Israel. Many Arab countries have laws that do not allow Jews into their country. Why don't we see anywhere in the world Jewish refugee camps? Why after so many years are the Palestinians not absorbed into the countries of their fellow Arab brothers? Arabs that expelled the Jews from their countries kept the Jewish wealth. Why isn't anyone asking for the money these Jews had to leave behind when they fled from these Arab countries because of persecution? And why do Israeli Arabs fear the day when the land they live on may no longer be considered part of Israel? Because they know the TRUTH, they are having a much higher quality of life under the hated Israeli's than they will have under their own leadership.
Ariel Sharon kicked his people out of their homes to give it back to the Palestinians. Beautiful towns and cultivated farm land. What did the Palestinians do? They ruined it all! If we are going to have a discussion on the topic, let's at least have the TRUTH. And for Americans who want Israel to give back their country, why don't you give America back to the Indian tribes who were here first?

Anonymous

Many more Jews were expelled from the Arab countries than Palestinians from Israel. Many Arab countries have laws that do not allow Jews into their country. Why don't we see anywhere in the world Jewish refugee camps? Why after so many years are the Palestinians not absorbed into the countries of their fellow Arab brothers? Arabs that expelled the Jews from their countries kept the Jewish wealth. Why isn't anyone asking for the money these Jews had to leave behind when they fled from these Arab countries because of persecution? And why do Israeli Arabs fear the day when the land they live on may no longer be considered part of Israel? Because they know the TRUTH, they are having a much higher quality of life under the hated Israeli's than they will have under their own leadership.
Ariel Sharon kicked his people out of their homes to give it back to the Palestinians. Beautiful towns and cultivated farm land. What did the Palestinians do? They ruined it all! If we are going to have a discussion on the topic, let's at least have the TRUTH. And for Americans who want Israel to give back their country, why don't you give America back to the Indian tribes who were here first?

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