As far as the Palestinians are concerned, the recent visit of Pope Francis to the Holy Land was a visit to “Palestine” that provided just another opportunity to present Israel’s creation as a “catastrophe” or “nakba” for Palestinians in general, and Palestinian Christians in particular.
The document promoted for this purpose by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Negotiations Affairs Department on Twitter has already been shown by blogger Elder of Ziyon to be “filled with lies.” One could add much more to the list of inaccuracies and distortions highlighted by Elder. To give just one example, consider this presentation of the “nakba” in Jaffa:
“Jaﬀa, after resisting days of siege and bombardment by terrorist organizations such as the Irgun, fell on May 14 th. From its 66,500 Palestinian inhabitants (including 16,000 Christians), less than 5,000 were able to stay, including less than 2,000 Christians.”
First it is noteworthy that Jewish development had attracted large numbers of Arab migrants in search of work to cities like Jaffa; indeed, it is well documented that due to “the substantial 1880-1947 Arab immigration […] the Arab population of Jaffa, Haifa and Ramla grew 17, 12 and 5 times respectively.” Secondly, the claim that “less than 5,000 [of Jaffa’s Arabs] were able to stay” is undermined by the testimony of one of Jaffa’s Arab residents, who described the exodus as motivated by the desire to avoid the fighting when the widespread “belief that the Jews were generally cowards” started to seem questionable. Thirdly, if we assume the PLO’s numbers are correct, it is interesting to note that in terms of the proportions of Jaffa’s Arab population, noticeably fewer Christians than Muslims fled the fighting.* In this context one could also point out that the current enthusiasm of the PLO for Palestinian Christians seems somewhat opportunistic given the fact that the draft constitution of Palestine defines Islam as “the official religion in Palestine” and stipulates that the “principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be the main source of legislation.”
But beyond specific inaccuracies and outright misrepresentations it is no less important to address the fundamental problems with the Palestinian use of the nakba as a major propaganda tool designed to delegitimize Israel. As Ben-Dror Yemini argues in an excellent new column on this subject, the popular notion that supporting the Palestinian “nakba” narrative is somehow conducive to peace and reconciliation is utterly misguided: “Reconciliation is not achieved through propagandist lies that turn the birth of the State of Israel into a crime. Reconciliation is only achieved when the truth wins out.”
Yemini highlights the important point that in the context of its time, the Palestinian “nakba” was a comparatively minor “catastrophe” and that during and after World War II, many millions of people suffered a similar fate:
“Tens of millions in Europe and in Asia experienced [the] same trauma in the same decade, both before and after the war’s end. This is what happened to some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs. And this is what also happened to 850,000 Jews. The Jews had a Nakba, so did the Palestinians, and so did the Germans. There was also a Polish Nakba, and a Hindu Nakba. Nakba was the cruel reality of that time. It was a global Nakba. For every nation, a Nakba.”
Moreover, Yemini rightly argues that the Palestinian “nakba” should be seen in similar terms as the German “nakba:” after Germany lost its war of aggression, “[b]etween 12 and 16 million ethnic Germans were expelled from central European states at the end of the war and in its aftermath. Between 600,000 and two million were killed during those expulsions, which included innumerable pogroms and massacres.” The Palestinians – many of whom viewed the Nazi ally Haj Amin al-Husseini as their leader (as also the previously cited eye witness report from Jaffa in 1947/48 confirms) – were likewise on the losing side of a war of aggression that had been instigated by several Arab states. Moreover, there is no reason to think that “Hitler’s mufti” had given up on his plans for a “final solution” of his “Jewish problem” – plans he had developed in the comfort and luxury provided by the Nazi leadership since he became their guest in late 1941. And it is also relevant in this context that some 30 000 of those Jews whom the followers of al-Husseini despised as “cowards” had volunteered to fight the Nazis by joining the British army.
Astonishingly enough, some of these undeniable historical facts have even been acknowledged in a recent Ha’aretz column. Responding to an editorial in a scathing column, Shlomo Avineri – a regular contributor to the paper – chastised Ha’aretz for “its stunning disregard of quite a few fundamental and indisputable historical facts.” At a time when it is often regarded as taboo to question the factual basis of “narratives,” Avineri asserted with admirable disregard for political correctness that there is such a thing as “indisputable historical truths” and that the “attempt to ignore them is morally flawed.” As he pointed out:
“It is a fact […] that in September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and not the other way around. It is a fact that on December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the United States and not vice versa. It is also true that what is called the Nakba is the result of a political decision by the Palestinian leadership and the Arab states to reject the United Nations partition resolution, to try to prevent its implementation by force and to attack the Jewish community in the Land of Israel before and after the state’s establishment.”
Avineri also criticized the editorial for claiming that it was a “fact that a national and human disaster befell the Palestinians.”
“A disaster? Was the Nakba an earthquake? A tornado? A tsunami? It was the tragic result of an Arab political decision to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state in the portion of the Land of Israel that had been under the British Mandate, just as the expulsion of 12 million ethnic Germans from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary after 1945 was the tragic result of German aggression in 1939 and later in 1941, when it invaded the Soviet Union. In both cases, masses of innocent civilians paid the price of their leaders’ aggression. But if anyone today tried to describe the expulsion of millions of Germans from Eastern Europe as a ‘disaster’ that had nothing to do with the Third Reich’s aggression, he would rightly be called a neo-Nazi.”
Needless to say, so-called “pro-Palestinian” activists are incensed when they are confronted with even the slightest hint that their nakba “narrative” may ignore some inconvenient historical facts.
As this exchange (h/t Nurit Baytch) between Rania Khalek and Alex Kane illustrates, they regard any questioning of the Palestinian view that the “nakba” was a “catastrophe” inflicted by evil Zionists on completely innocent and peaceful Palestinian civilians as comparable to minimizing the Holocaust with the argument that the Nazis felt the Jews were ruining Germany’s economy. One more reason to conclude it is justified to cite Khalek as an example for the bigotry that is so pervasive in the BDS movement; and, given the fact that Kane serves as “Assistant Editor” at Mondoweiss, one more reason to conclude that this site is indeed deeply tainted by antisemitism.
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* Many more relevant details can be found in: Itamar Radai, Jaffa, 1948: The fall of a city [pdf]. Journal of Israeli History: Politics, Society, Culture, Volume 30, Issue 1, 2011 (pp. 23-43). See e.g.:
“Jaffa experienced far-reaching changes during the British Mandate period, which brought about extensive modernization. Rapid economic development led to internal migration, particularly of Muslim Arabs, from villages to the city and migration on a more limited scale from elsewhere in the region. At the beginning of the 1920s, Jaffa had a population of 32,500, of whom 5,000 were Jews; toward the end of World War II the population stood at 102,000, of whom about 71,000 were Arabs. […] As a result of the intensified urbanization process, high-poverty areas sprang up on Jaffa’s periphery, characterized by densely populated and substandard housing […] At the end of 1946, 70% of Jaffa’s Arab residents lived in these impoverished neighborhoods and in others like them in the city’s center. For the most part internal migrants, they found work in the city as unskilled laborers and in many cases lodged in these shantytowns only temporarily. Notable among the external migrants were those from the Hawran area in southwest Syria […] Many migrants felt threatened by the disparity between the conservative way of life and traditional social structure in their mountainous regions of origin and life on the coastal plain, which was amenable to external influences and bore a more cosmopolitan character. Most concretely, the migrants’ sense of being under threat was due to the Jewish presence, and their situation was further aggravated by their chilly reception by the city’s Arabs, many of whom were Christians – a phenomenon the new arrivals had infrequently encountered in the central hills of Palestine.” […]
“The immediate reaction in Jaffa to the UN partition resolution was indifference tinged with apprehension, tension, confusion, and uncertainty about the future. The British assessment was that the majority of the Palestinian Arabs recognized the leadership of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Hajj Amin al-Husayni, but that many, particularly Christians and members of the ‘moderate circles,’ namely the upper middle class, looked askance at the bellicose policy espoused by the Husaynis.”
Radai also mentions the deployment of some 40 Bosnian Muslims in January 1948 – they were actually the veterans of the units al-Husseini had recruited to fight for the Nazis, as described in more detail in Seth Frantzman’s JPost Magazine article “Strange bedfellows.”
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This is a slightly modified cross-post from my JPost blog, where this piece was first published shortly before the pope’s visit under the title “Nakba facts.”