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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 21 - 30 of 34

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Anonymous

Silly troll "israel" is indeed finished and sadly the relevance of people like you who champion ethnic cleansing and apartheid. More and more "Jews" are distancing themselves not only from the failed project of "Israel" but from Judaism in general. This spells your end. The world has voted and you have lost.
Don't fight the inevitable.

Anonymous

Silly troll "israel" is indeed finished and sadly the relevance of people like you who champion ethnic cleansing and apartheid. More and more "Jews" are distancing themselves not only from the failed project of "Israel" but from Judaism in general. This spells your end. The world has voted and you have lost.
Don't fight the inevitable.

Anonymous

wow impressively ignorant. why not scroll down and read the long list of quotes that spell the truth about your beloved racist colony.

Anonymous

wow impressively ignorant. why not scroll down and read the long list of quotes that spell the truth about your beloved racist colony.

Tommy Payne

Uh yeah patently false.

Wikipedia is not the ruler of credible information. And yeah I'll take Chomksy over Wikipedia. Wikipedia has been know to be as thoroughly hijacked as all your other sources of mainstream information that the Jewish Establishment has worked overtime to monopolize. For a great introduction to this well documented fact start here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqfcl-o_ReU

Tommy Payne

Uh yeah patently false.

Wikipedia is not the ruler of credible information. And yeah I'll take Chomksy over Wikipedia. Wikipedia has been know to be as thoroughly hijacked as all your other sources of mainstream information that the Jewish Establishment has worked overtime to monopolize. For a great introduction to this well documented fact start here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqfcl-o_ReU

Anonymous

Right....

Chomsky is an American Jew who made his comments 20 years ago. He is a linguist and has no expertise in history. He has no Mizrahi heritage whatsoever and knows knows nothing of their history.

I guess it's pretty easy to have a generalized black and white view of things when you dismiss every piece of information that works against your view as a "jewish conspiracy".

Wikipedia is essentially a collection of randomly put together information. You should never use it as a source itself, but it can act as a great reference for actual sources.

I would also be curious to see where Chomsky says anything about the Mirzrahi Jews and their living conditions prior to the establishment of state of Israel. His expertise and experience lies entirely within that of the American Jew. Please provide a direct quote.

Anonymous

Right....

Chomsky is an American Jew who made his comments 20 years ago. He is a linguist and has no expertise in history. He has no Mizrahi heritage whatsoever and knows knows nothing of their history.

I guess it's pretty easy to have a generalized black and white view of things when you dismiss every piece of information that works against your view as a "jewish conspiracy".

Wikipedia is essentially a collection of randomly put together information. You should never use it as a source itself, but it can act as a great reference for actual sources.

I would also be curious to see where Chomsky says anything about the Mirzrahi Jews and their living conditions prior to the establishment of state of Israel. His expertise and experience lies entirely within that of the American Jew. Please provide a direct quote.

Anonymous

Agreed.

This article represents an attempt to rewrite history. The arab/muslim population expanded substantially in the 100 years before the founding of the state of Israel. It wasn't until after fighting broke out that Palestinian refugees were created in large amounts. Meanwhile the entire arab world was goign through a process of de-Jewifying there countries. Populations of Jews that had been there since before arabs or muslims had existed were totally wiped out. Ironically, if not for this Jewish nabka the state of Israel would not exist. These people now form the majority of Jews within the state of Israel. Not a single one of them is considered a refugee.

Some other major ommissions from this article. The vast majority of the British Mandate of Palestine is what is now Jordan. That land was also given entirely to muslim arabs.

Also, where are you getting this from:

"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."

The arabs declared their intention for military action long before Israel was established and the refugees had nothing to do with it. You also talk about the arab citizens of Palestine like they were all unarmed civilians. When in reality, they actively participated in violence and forceably removed ancient Jewish communities from places like Hebron. The arab forces were the initial succesful combatants in the 1947 civil war as they were backed by the muslim brotherhood, the precursers to the Arabe League, and surrounding Kurdish and arab militias. During that time the Palestinian led Army of the Holy War was able to sucessfully surround and destroy several Jewish communities.

If you can show me some genuine proof of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refuguess prior to 1947, I am all ears. Everything I have read shows a rapid expansion of the arab and muslim populations in what is now Israel during that time.

I can see how you might take a personal stake in this as your ancestors were from what is now Israel. However, some of my ancestors were Jews who were thrown from their lands by arabs during revolts in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They then moved to the British mandate of Palestine where they were once again attacked by arab armies. I don't deny that Jews commited attrocities. However, it was a war and, like in most wars, both sides commited them on large scales. To depict either side as totally innocent in starting the conflict represents a complete frabrication. Arabs wanted all the land for themselves, as well, and played an equal role in initiating the conflict.

Anonymous

Agreed.

This article represents an attempt to rewrite history. The arab/muslim population expanded substantially in the 100 years before the founding of the state of Israel. It wasn't until after fighting broke out that Palestinian refugees were created in large amounts. Meanwhile the entire arab world was goign through a process of de-Jewifying there countries. Populations of Jews that had been there since before arabs or muslims had existed were totally wiped out. Ironically, if not for this Jewish nabka the state of Israel would not exist. These people now form the majority of Jews within the state of Israel. Not a single one of them is considered a refugee.

Some other major ommissions from this article. The vast majority of the British Mandate of Palestine is what is now Jordan. That land was also given entirely to muslim arabs.

Also, where are you getting this from:

"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."

The arabs declared their intention for military action long before Israel was established and the refugees had nothing to do with it. You also talk about the arab citizens of Palestine like they were all unarmed civilians. When in reality, they actively participated in violence and forceably removed ancient Jewish communities from places like Hebron. The arab forces were the initial succesful combatants in the 1947 civil war as they were backed by the muslim brotherhood, the precursers to the Arabe League, and surrounding Kurdish and arab militias. During that time the Palestinian led Army of the Holy War was able to sucessfully surround and destroy several Jewish communities.

If you can show me some genuine proof of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refuguess prior to 1947, I am all ears. Everything I have read shows a rapid expansion of the arab and muslim populations in what is now Israel during that time.

I can see how you might take a personal stake in this as your ancestors were from what is now Israel. However, some of my ancestors were Jews who were thrown from their lands by arabs during revolts in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They then moved to the British mandate of Palestine where they were once again attacked by arab armies. I don't deny that Jews commited attrocities. However, it was a war and, like in most wars, both sides commited them on large scales. To depict either side as totally innocent in starting the conflict represents a complete frabrication. Arabs wanted all the land for themselves, as well, and played an equal role in initiating the conflict.

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