The Nakba at Harvard

Already last week, Palestinian activists were gearing up to mark the Nakba by intensifying their efforts to prolong it: Sa’ed Atshan, a Harvard Ph.D. candidate who is a proponent of the so-called “one-state solution” that aims at Israel’s abolition in favor of a bi-national state, drew up a petition to organize “Palestinian-Americans, Palestinians living, working, and studying in the United States, and Americans in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle” in support of a demand for the resignation of Ziad Asali,  the widely respected president of the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP). In Atshan’s view, Asali had betrayed the Palestinian cause by accepting an invitation to an event hosted by Israel’s US Ambassador Michael Oren to mark Israel’s Independence Day.

I have already devoted a post to this incident and quoted at length from Asali’s impressive response. But Atshan’s pathetic petition is also worth looking at in detail, because it provides such a good example of the kind of pompous and dishonest Nakba rhetoric that is designed to prolong the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the hope that this will lead to Israel’s delegitimization and its eventual absorption in a bi-national state.

In this context it is crucial to emphasize that, while Atshan likes to present himself as a Quaker-educated humanist and progressive, he is utterly opposed to Jewish self-determination in a Jewish state and has therefore no interest in Palestinian self-determination in a state that would exist alongside Israel. As a Harvard Ph.D. candidate with several prestigious fellowships and a lecturer in Peace and Justice Studies at Tufts University, he can be expected to know full well that the Nakba narrative he presents in his petition is nothing but crude propaganda designed to instill a Palestinian sense of grievance that cannot be assuaged unless the world’s only Jewish state is abolished:

“More than 800,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their historic homeland during the Nakba in 1947-48. These were our grandparents, our parents and their grandparents. Everything was stolen from them – from all of us. Our hearts have been carved out by this monumental crime that has never really ceased. The Nakba continues to this day with daily expulsions, home demolitions, and the constant death that rains on our people without mercy by a state with the most powerful military machine in the Middle East, the same state that Asali celebrated!

We are all baffled, stunned, and left feeling betrayed by the images of Asali posing with smiles in a suit next to Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. in what amounts to a celebration of the greatest wound in the Palestinian psyche – a boundless collective pain that we pass on from one generation to another in hope of redemption, of justice, and the restoration of our dignity as native sons and daughters of Palestine. […]

During this month of May, […] we grieve and remember the ongoing Israeli campaigns to extricate our roots from our homeland and erase our Palestinian Christian and Muslim heritage from the land; […] we renew our commitment to continue the good fight for justice and freedom; and […] we once again lift our hearts with hope and dreams of being at last acknowledged as human beings with entitlement to the full range of human rights accorded to the rest of humanity […]”

When Atshan addressed the One-State Conference at Harvard in early March, he emphasized that academics were able to draw on broad knowledge in their analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, Atshan of course knows full well that in its historic context, the Palestinian Nakba was a very minor “catastrophe” occurring at a time when many millions of refugees all over the world were displaced and dispossessed by war and the drawing of new borders. Atshan also knows full well that, except for the Palestinians, all these refugees found themselves thwarted if they attempted, like the Palestinians, to demand that the clock be turned back; and of course he also knows that while most refugees were eager to get on with their lives, Palestinian and Arab leaders rejected the opportunity to create a state for the Nakba refugees and cynically chose to maintain them as pawns that would play a useful part in the long-term efforts to undo the establishment of Israel.

Likewise, Atshan knows full well that the Arab League and its member states demonstrated that it was not just the Jews of Europe who needed a refuge, but also the Jews who had lived throughout the Middle East for some two millennia.  And while the Jews living in Arab countries were forced to flee their ancient communities decades ago, Atshan of course knows that up to this day, the fate of other minorities in the Arab Middle East is similarly precarious – as this unsettling account of the situation of Christians in the Muslim Middle East illustrates all too well. Atshan therefore must know that by advocating a “one-state solution”, he is advocating returning the Jews to the status of a vulnerable persecuted minority.

Given his quest to turn back the clock,  Atshan obviously perceives a committed proponent of a negotiated two-state solution like ATFP president Ziad Asali as a political opponent – and in true McCarthyist fashion, Atshan calls not just for Asali’s resignation from the ATFP, but for the “severance of all ties to Ziad Asali by ATFP and all Palestinian organizations.” [Emphasis original!]

Right, get the guy blacklisted, and if you succeed, call it a great (Harvard-style) progressive victory for the Nakba…

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.


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