A new tradition has been allowed to grow in the Arab world. Once a year Arabs commemorate a period when many uprooted themselves from what had become Israel. It was at the time when Arab armies invaded the nascent state of Israel. It was this incident that created a refugee problem that is unsolved to this day. They call this event "The Nakba," or the catastrophe.
At its core they are not commemorating their upheaval. They are not celebrating their dispossession. Rather, in my belief, they are campaigning for the elimination of Israel. They are protesting over the creation of the Jewish State of Israel, an event that occurred before the personal tragedies of many local Arabs. They do not use this day to mourn the tragic events of the 1948 war. Rather it is an emotional and public outpouring of their rejection of Israel, a rejection that began decades ago, and will continue beyond the September Palestinian claim for statehood in the United Nations General Assembly. They rejected Israel in the United Nations in 1947. They will continue to do so after the United Nations 2011. The Nakba parades and slogans accuse Israel of their “calamity.” I suggest, it is a self inflicted tragedy caused by the Arabs themselves.
With the flight of so many local Arabs from the area of conflict came the flight from fact into fantasy with the development of a political myth, a rewriting of history, to be used to delegitimize Israel and accuse it of crimes it did not commit. It is a dangerous effort by the Palestinian leadership to create a history out of a lie for a malevolent agenda.
When the Jewish State of Israel was brought into being at the United Nations in 1947 it was roundly rejected by the Arab states. Arab immigration into the part of Palestine in which the Zionist enterprise was being developed dynamically by the Jews had increased the Arab population on the West Bank of the Jordan River. The other larger parts of what had been Palestine, namely Transjordan, as well as Syria, and Egypt, were still backwaters, offering little employment or development to its people. The Jews employed this immigrant source of labor despite the fact that acts of violence and murder were committed by Arabs on Jews. Jews in the land suffered decades of bloodshed and murder at the hands of the Arabs going back to the massacres in Safed and Hebron in 1929. So it continued, including murderous raids by what were called “fedayeen,” an early form of Arab terrorism.
In 1948 the fledgling Jewish state was attacked by heavily armed and trained Arab armies. The war was initiated by the Arabs for the purpose of driving the Jews they did not kill into the sea. Victory over the newly-born state seemed inevitable. Combined forces from Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, supported by arms and soldiers from Lebanon, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia, attacked the undermanned and barely armed Jewish nation. Less than three years from the horrors of the Holocaust, Jews faced yet another genocide. The outcome, however, was a resounding defeat for the Arabs that left Israel in situ over a larger territory and the local displaced Arabs in despair.
The Arab hatred of the Jews and their desire to remove the Jewish presence from the Middle East was not erased. The new narrative purported to give the lie that the Jews woke up one day and decided to execute ethnic cleansing against the indigenous Arab population. Not true. The intended ethnic cleansing of 1948 would have been of the Jews at the hands of the invading Arab armies.
Another myth is that the Palestinian refugee problem is the fault of the Jews. Not true. My book Israel- Reclaiming the Narrative lists and dates the numerous orders and statements where the Arab leadership and Arab states ordered and instructed the locals to abandon their homes and possessions. It was the Jewish leaders, and even the Hagana (the newly formed Israeli army), that implored them to remain. It was the Arab military and political leaders and the Arab states that were exclusively implicated in the mass exodus of the Arab population and for the personal tragedies suffered by them.
Nowhere is this more implicitly expressed than by Emile Ghoury, who was the Secretary of the Palestinian Arab Higher Command. In an interview with the Lebanese newspaper The Beirut Telegraph on September 6, 1948 he said:
“The fact that there are these refugees is a direct consequence of the act of the Arab states in opposing partition and the Jewish state. The Arab states agreed upon this policy unanimously and they must share in the solution of this problem.”
The Nakba, then, must point directly at the Arab leadership and not at Israel. It is a tragedy that thousands of Arabs remain in Arab refugee camps to this day. It is a tragedy perpetuated by Arab nations in conjunction with the United Nations who chose to keep them in this status for a political purpose in order to use them as pawns in their ongoing campaign against Israel.
The obscenity of the decades old Arab refugee problem is completely down to the failure of the surrounding Arab nations with the collusion of the United Nations who are both guilty of perpetuating this human tragedy.
Juxtapositioned with this Arab catastrophe was the tragedies of the Jewish populations of the neighboring Arab states. At the time that the Arab armies were attacking the newly formed Israel, Jews were being attacked, killed, and displaced in most of the Arab countries. Some statistics show that two hundred thousand more Jews were driven out of their homes in the Muslim countries than Arabs that left Israel. The big difference was that these Jews found shelter in Israel where they were welcomed, absorbed, nurtured, and made useful citizens.
No Nakba exists for Jewish refugees. Neither does the State of Israel go begging to the United Nations to keep them in victimhood and permanent sponsorship. Self pride and an independent spirit is a Jewish value that prevents this sense of self loathing and hatred of the other. What could have been a Jewish Nakba was turned into a Jewish humanitarian success story and a glorious example to the world.
Why is this Nakba relevant this year and, more significantly, next year? I argue that Nakba is a writing of Palestinian intent. If one looks at the large maps that are displayed in the Nakba parades and marches “Palestine” has replaced Israel. In the Palestinian leadership narrative to their own people Israel does not exist. Their maps, their chants, their ambition does not allow for a Jewish state living in peace alongside a state of their own. Rather, their Palestine replaces Israel.
Increasingly, Israeli Arabs identify themselves with this cause and not with the state in which they have a waning identity. The sight of Israeli Arabs waving Palestinian flags, carrying maps of Palestine that replace Israel, and chanting anti-Israel slogans is not an expression of democratic freedom but, I conclude, sedition against the state.
After a Palestinian state is voted into being, albeit illegally, at the September United Nations General Assembly, the next critical factor will be the identity and loyalty of Israeli Arabs. Will Arabs, born post 1948 consider themselves to be loyal citizens of Israel? Or will they call themselves Palestinians? Will they rally, speak, and act to defy Israel, to deny Israel, and encourage the Palestinian leadership to come and liberate them? The signs are clearly in evidence by the actions and words of several Arab members of the Knesset who identify more closely with Palestinian ambitions than with affairs of Israeli state. Some even renounce the Parliament they sit in, the legislature that they were elected to service.
The delegitimization of Israel is not merely an external strategic danger. It also has roots within Israel itself. The Nakba movement is one prominent element of this internal danger.
Barry Shaw is an Israeli board member of AXIUS (Academic Exchange Israel – United States). He is also the author of ISRAEL – RECLAIMING THE NARRATIVE.