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by Steven Plaut
Israel’s critics have increasingly adopted the term Naqba (or Nakba), which means "catastrophe" in Arabic, to refer to the Jewish state’s creation and existence. The idea is that if "Palestinian Arabs" are thought to have suffered as a result of Israel’s creation and gaining of independence, then Israel’s very existence must be a disaster, a tragedy, one that must be "corrected" and cured through Israel’s annihilation.
The far Left has taken the Orwellian rhetoric one step further. Not only is Israel’s very existence a "Naqba" or catastrophe, but anyone denying that it is so must be guilty of "Naqba Denial," a new sin discovered by the Left that is on the same par with Holocaust Denial. Indeed, since very few Jews anywhere outside the Left consider Israel’s very existence to be a "Naqba," their collective "guilt" in perpetrating "Naqba Denial" is an easy form of exoneration for Holocaust Deniers. After all, why should people be so upset by Holocaust Deniers when the Jews themselves engage in "Naqba Denial"?
It is not only the Left that repeats this libel. Right-wing journalist Arnaud De Borchgrave has recently joined the campaign as well. Under the title "Embarrassing History", De Borchgrave – UPI’s Editor at Large – embarrasses his own reputation by endorsing the "Naqba" pseudo-history of a Stalinist anti-Semite renowned for his academic fraud and fabrication (see below). De Borchgrave, who has a long history of Israel-bashing, in the past claimed that a cabal of "Likudniks" controls Washington.
A quick web search on yahoo.com shows that there are over 46,000 web sites now writing about "Naqba Denial" (often spelled Nakba), with a slightly lower count on Google. Counterpunch, the radical magazine that defended Noam Chomsky’s denial of the Khmer Rouge genocide, has been among the leading proponents of the term. 1017 pages at Counterpunch use the Nakba term and 196 use "Nakba denial."
So what are we to make of all this?
First of all, Israel gained its independence in a war of liberation during 1948 and 1949, in which – despite being poorly equipped and enormously outgunned – Israel defeated the combined military forces of the Palestinians militias and the organized armies of the independent Arab states. As in any war, some "Palestinian" Arabs suffered during it. In that war thousands of Jews (often civilians) were murdered by those same Arabs. It was a war that could have been avoided altogether had the Arabs made their peace with the UN Partition Resolution of 1947, which proposed splitting Western Palestine into two states – one Jewish and one Arab – with roughly equal territory. The Jews accepted that Partition Resolution, including its proposal for an Arab Palestinian state; the "Palestinian" Arabs and the Arab states rejected it. The Arab armies then invaded Western Palestine and illegally annexed most of the territories that had been earmarked to form a Palestinian Arab state. They held those territories illegally until they lost them to Israel in six days, when they launched yet another war of aggression in 1967. Israel liberated those territories from their illegal occupiers in 1967 and has held most of them since, while expressing willingness for a territorial compromise in exchange for peace.
Characterizing any suffering by "Palestinian" Arabs during and subsequent to the 1948-9 war of Israeli independence as a "Naqba" is as mind-numbingly stupid as characterizing the existence of the United States as a catastrophe because of the tragic suffering of the 100,000 or so Tory loyalists forcibly evicted by the United States during its War of Independence. Those Tory refugees from the colonies were absorbed by the countries to which they fled, mainly Maritime British Canada. They forfeited all their property left behind in the United States. The American Patriot leaders opposed any sort of compensation or settlement for them, including Benjamin Franklin. They would never be granted any "right of return" to the territories they had left.
Since most nations gain independence in armed struggle of one sort or another, armed struggle in which some civilians inevitably suffer, then by the "logic" of the ranteurs about "Naqba Denial" the existence of all those states should also be deemed catastrophes. But Israel alone is singled out for condemnation.
In Israel’s War of Independence, some 400,000 or so "Palestinian" Arabs ended up as refugees. The bulk of these "Palestinians" were Arabs whose families had migrated into Western Palestine during the previous 70 years from neighboring Arab territories, during the same era in which the Zionist immigrations took place, and largely motivated by the improving conditions being generated in "Palestine" by the influx of Zionist migrants and capital. As "refugees" they fled back to those same neighboring Arab lands. Their "refugee plight" is supposedly what users of the "Naqba" term mean when they apply it.
There is some controversy over how exactly those "Palestinian" Arabs became "refugees." In many cases they were ordered to abandon the war zone by their own leaders, in order to clear the way for invading Arab armies. This has been scrupulously documented by many historians, and most recently skillfully so by Efraim Karsh from the University of London. Arab historians themselves have conceded the point:
"Arab residents of Palestine in 1948 were not expelled by Israeli officials or military forces, as many claim, but were actually ordered to leave by local Arab leaders, says Palestinian journalist Mahmud Al-Habbash who writes for the official Palestinian Authority newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida.
Al-Habbash writes in his column, "The Pulse of Life," that Arab residents were explicitly instructed by their local Arab leaders to leave their homes when the ‘Catastrophe’ (the establishment of the State of Israel) occurred in 1948."
Other Arab sources report the same thing:
"The Arab states encouraged the Palestine Arabs to leave their homes temporarily in order to be out of the way of the Arab invasion armies." – Falastin (Jordanian newspaper), February 19, 1949.
Granting a right to these "refugees" to return to Israel would have made about as much sense as establishing a right to return to America for ethnic Japanese who left the US in 1941 in order to participate in Imperial Japan’s wars. In some cases Arabs were evicted by Israel from villages where strategic considerations required this, although generally were moved to other areas inside Israel. In some cases Arab civilians panicked because of the lurid lies being broadcast by Arab propaganda radio stations about the demonic Jews conducting imaginary massacres. And probably the most important factor of all was the simple and understandable desire of many Arabs to get out of the way of the battle zones. Israel’s War of Independence was a battle against Arab aggressors attempting to conduct ethnic cleansing of Jews inside the territories assigned by the UN to Israel. Had they succeeded, a genocidal massacre of those Jews would have taken place. Many of the Jews in question had escaped from or survived the Nazi Holocaust and were themselves refugees. More Jews died in that 1948-49 war for survival than in any of the subsequent Arab-Israeli armed confrontations.
Given the size of the Israeli state that emerged, smaller than New Jersey, the "Palestinian refugees" from that war only had to relocate a few miles away from their previous homes, into Arab states in which they spoke the language and enjoyed a common culture, Arab states who together controlled a land mass nearly twice the size of the United States (including Alaska). These Arab refugees were but a tiny drop in the sea of population relocations that occurred all over the world in the late 1940s, amounting to tens of millions of humans, ranging from the huge population relocations in the Indian subcontinent, to the repatriation of millions of ethnic Germans from countries in which they had lived for a thousand years "back" to Germany, to the mass expulsion of Japanese from mainland Asia. In every other case of refugee populations, the refugees were quickly resettled, rehabilitated, and absorbed, usually inside countries of their ethnic kinsmen, within a short period. The Arab world, awash in petrodollars, preferred to keep as many "refugees" on display as possible inside "refugee camps" funded by the United Nations and many gullible others.
Meanwhile, away from the headlines and media, Israel quietly allowed about 184,000 "Palestinian refugees" or their families to return to Israel proper (Jerusalem Post, January 2, 2001; see also Haaretz 28 December 28, 2000). This was in spite of the fact that they became refugees in the first place as a direct result of the Arab invasion and war of annihilation against Israel in 1948-9, a war in which "Palestinian" Arabs participated en masse. These were in addition to about 57,000 Palestinians from Jordan illegally in Israel, toward whom the Israeli authorities have turned a blind eye (Haaretz, April 4, 2001). All of these were resettled within Israel’s pre-1967 "Green Line" borders. Meanwhile, the handing out of free food and money in the UN "refugee camps" to "Palestinian refugees" produced an enormous influx of non-Palestinian Arabs eager to share in the largesse, creating an astronomical and largely illusionary demographic increase in the numbers of "Palestinian Arabs." The bulk of those "Palestinian refugees" never lived in the territories that became Israel.
Now if the "Palestinian Arabs" experienced a small-scale outflow of refugees as a direct result of the attempted genocide against Jews conducted by the Arab armies in 1948-49, this hardly constitutes a historic "Naqba," a word implying something on the same order of magnitude as the Mongol invasions.
Israel’s creation did however trigger an actual "Naqba," although it was one that hardly interests Islamofascists and their leftist amen choruses. It was the mass wholesale expulsion of around a million Jews from Arab and Moslem countries and the theft of their property. This "Naqba" of Jews living in the Moslem world produced twice as many refugees as the number of Arab refugees who fled after Israel’s independence in 1948-49. Jews had been living in those lands for thousands of years. The Arab regimes responded to Israel’s victory in 1948-49 by conducting ethnic cleansing of their own Jewish populations, expelling them and seizing all their property without compensation. Jewish quarters were sacked and looted, cemeteries were desecrated, while synagogues, Jewish shops, schools and houses were ransacked, burned and destroyed. Hundreds of Jews were murdered in anti-Semitic riots and pogroms.
Most of those Jewish refugees were resettled in Israel. The Jews from Arab countries left behind property worth many times more than anything left behind by "Palestinian refugees." Israel has expressed willingness to discuss compensation for property lost by Arab "refugees" as part of any peace accord, provided that compensation for Jewish refugees from Arab lands is also part of the package. The Arabs have always dismissed that idea out of hand.
Among those promoting the complaint about a "Naqba" inflicted upon "Palestinians" by the Jews are a handful of Israeli pseudo-academics. The most notorious of these Israeli "academics," and the one who has done more than any other anti-Israel Israeli to promote the moral equivalence of "Naqba Denial" with Holocaust Denial, is "New Historian" Ilan Pappe. Nearly all those beating the "Naqba" drum today cite Pappe and his "books" about the supposed "ethnic cleansing" of Arabs by Israel in its war of independence. Pappe was until recently a lecturer in political science at the University of Haifa, and has now moved to an academic propagandist position at the University of Exeter in the UK. The chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews recently said: "After taking full advantage of all the freedoms accorded to him in Israel, a country he has so shamelessly attacked, Pappe has decided to set up shop here. Whilst this provides the opportunity for academics here to challenge him on his revisionist agenda, the uncomfortable fact is that in the lecture theaters and seminar rooms at Exeter, many impressionable young minds will be exposed to his partial and biased views."
Pappe is a notorious fabricator, someone who claims proudly that facts and truth are of no importance. "Indeed the struggle is about ideology, not about facts, Who knows what facts are? We try to convince as many people as we can that our interpretation of the facts is the correct one, and we do it because of ideological reasons, not because we are truthseekers," the French newspaper Le Soir, has cited Pappe as saying. Even other anti-Zionists have repudiated Pappe as a liar and fabricator. He openly calls for Israel to be exterminated and endorses Hamas. He dedicated one of his "books" to the hope that his children can group up in a world in which there is no Israel. He openly endorses Arab terrorism. He considers Noam Chomsky insufficiently anti-Israel.
Pappe, who ran for the parliament in Israel on the slate of the Stalinist communist party and played a central role in fomenting boycotts of Israel in the UK and elsewhere, was the central figure in the now infamous "Tantura Affair." In it, Pappe coached a graduate student of his into inventing a non-existent "massacre" of Arabs by the Hagana Jewish militia (Alexandroni Brigade) in Tantura, south of Haifa, a "massacre" that Pappe claims took place in 1948. Not a shred of evidence for any such "massacre" exists. Arab and other journalists who were present at the time of the battle that took place in Tantura reported no massacre. Arabs living in the town at the time confirmed that a battle occurred, but that after the battle the Jewish militiamen aided and assisted the townspeople, not massacring anyone. The graduate student, sued for libel by the veterans of the Hagana militia, later admitted in court with his lawyer present that the entire massacre was an invention. No matter – Pappe roams the world and continues to spread the lie about the Tantura "massacre," a lie that has found its way into nearly every anti-Semitic web site on earth and even Neo-Nazi magazines, although even a handful of respectable mainstream journalists rely on him. Pappe has also lied about just about everything else, including about being "persecuted" by his own university. In fact, Pappe was never fired for his fraud and fabrication by the University of Haifa, although he should have been. (Some wags even suggested the University should be boycotted for NOT firing Pappe!) That did not stop Pappe from waving his stigmata as "victim of Zionism" before the European anti-Semites promoting "divestment" from Israel. His recruitment by the University of Exeter proves how indifferent that school is to scholarly standards. The fact that so many of the people shouting about "Naqba Denial" rely upon such a notorious liar states volumes about their real agenda.
Meanwhile, Israel’s own daffy Minister of Education, Yuli Tamir (from the Israeli socialist Labor Party and herself a longtime Moonbette member of the Tenured Left at Tel Aviv University), recently issued a ruling under which textbooks in Israeli Arab schools will start referring to Israel’s creation as "The Naqba." This is just in case those Arab students are not picking up enough hatred of Jews and Israel on their own at home. The numbers of Israeli Arabs blowing themselves up inside buses to murder Jews will no doubt increase in the future thanks to her. If Israel ever surrenders to terror and capitulates to Arab fascism, future historians may consider that decision a watershed.
"Naqba Denial" is now the leading term of choice being tossed about by those seeking Israel’s extermination. Some of those using the term also openly endorse Holocaust Denial. The others would have no problem at all with the Arab world conducting an ethnic cleansing of Israeli Jews of the sort they failed to perpetrate in 1948.
"Naqba Denial" is openly being used as a propaganda ploy to trivialize the Jewish Holocaust in World War II. After all, if the Jews are "denying" the "Naqba" they "inflicted" on the poor "Palestinians" in 1948-9, then why should the world owe the Jews any sympathy for their plight in World War II? (And why stop there – why not declare that those who deny that Ward Churchill is an Indian or that Norman Finkelstein is a scholar are also the moral equivalents of Holocaust Deniers?) And if Israelis deny they inflicted any "Naqba," why should anyone question the right of Holocaust Deniers to peddle their snake oil on campuses? Israel bashers demand that Israel be pressured into atoning for its "role" in the Naqba the same way Germany atoned for the Holocaust, but unlike Germany Israel must do so by forfeiting its national existence.
In sum, those who use the terms "Naqba" and "Naqba Denial" ignore the fact that Arabs living under Israeli rule are treated a thousand times better than are Arabs living under the rule of Arab regimes. These are the same people for whom the only Middle East regime that is not an apartheid state must be demolished and purged for its practicing "apartheid." For them, the only country in the Middle East practicing democracy and respecting human rights must be annihilated.
Steven Plaut is a professor at the Graduate School of the Business Administration at the University of Haifa and is a columnist for the Jewish Press. A collection of his commentaries on the current events in Israel can be found on his "blog" at www.stevenplaut.blogspot.com.
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