Palestinians Observe Nakbah or Catastrophe Day, raise Hopes of Unity

Thousands of Palestinians rallied in Gaza on Saturday to commemorate the Nakbah or national catastrophe of 1948, when European Jewish settlers brought into the Mandate of Palestine by imperial British policy expelled 700,000 Palestinians from what is now Israel and then sealed the border, confiscating all their property without compensation. These actions turned the bulk of the Palestinians into poverty-stricken camp dwellers and/or stateless persons living under the rule of others, and prevented the rise of an independent Palestinian state such as was envisaged by the League of Nations and the British government just a decade before.

Aljazeera English has video (click link).

See also video from the Palestine News Network:

Keeping the memory of their national catastrophe alive is especially important to Palestinians since the rest of the world has forgotten it and wealthy and powerful elements of the rightwing Israel lobbies in the US monitor and intimidate media figures and academics who dare depart from the fantasyland Leon Uris “Exodus” narrative of 1948. (Israelis have the right to their narrative, but not to erase the national narratives of others).

1947-48 in Palestine was a civil war of sorts between the two major populations under British rule there. But most of the 700,000 Palestinians made homeless were not politicized nor were they fighters, and permanently depriving them of their property with no compensation is illegal (not to mention immoral). And although a subcommittee of the UN had proposed a partition of Palestine, the UN Security Council never voted on the plan and it was openly rejected by the Palestinians and privately rejected by Zionist leaders like Ben Gurion (who wanted a ‘Greater Israel’ than was on offer from the UN).

The major political vehicles of the displaced and homeless Palestinians in the 1970s had been the secular, nationalist Fateh [victory] and its allies in the Palestine Liberation Organization. From the late 1980s Israeli intelligence promoted the Muslim fundamentalist movement Hamas, an offshoot in the Gaza strip of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, both in hopes of offsetting leftist and Soviet influence and in hopes of being better able to divide and rule the Palestinians. Especially after the Palestine Authority was established in the 1990s, the corruption and inability to achieve Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967, the PLO gained a reputation for corruption, censorship and political heavy-handedness as well as for an inability to stand up to what Rashid Khalidi has called the “settler-industrial complex.” (Israeli colonies on the Palestinian West Bank doubled in population during the 1990s when Israel was supposedly negotiating in good faith a trade of land for peace with the Palestinians). Hamas’s extreme positions resonated with a youthful, unemployed, desperate Palestinian population that witnessed more and Israeli expropriation of their land and resources.

Hamas won the January 2006 Palestine Authority elections, an outcome unacceptable to the US and Israel, which promptly cut off aid to the PA, hurting ordinary Palestinians. Gradually a PLO coup was orchestrated on the West Bank, which confined Hamas to the Gaza Strip, which was then put under economic blockade by the Israelis. (This blockade is a war crime since it targets civilians; indeed, half of Gazans are children, so it is depriving children of food, electricity and other needs.) Israeli actions were intended to dislodge Hamas from Gaza just as it had been overthrown in the West Bank, but the Israelis failed to achieve this goal.

The US and Israel had however succeeded in contributing to a deep division of the Palestinians, which allows Israel to move thousands of new colonists into Palestinian territory annually to to use Palestinian resources for economic gain. Unfortunately the Palestinian leadership, both of the PLO and Hamas, has not shown the moral character and fiber to resist this divide and rule strategy, and sometimes PLO and Hamas fighters have fought skirmishes with one another, which reminds one of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

Saturday’s rally was jointly sponsored by the PLO and Hamas, and raised hopes that the two would resume talks toward presenting a common front in proximity talks with the Israelis.

Another sign of new determination on the Palestinian side is an effective Palestinian boycott of the Israeli setter-industrial complex and its products.

At a small demonstration in East Jerusalem, , Palestinians called the process whereby they are discriminated against in East Jerusalem and a concerted attempt is being made to encompass the city with Israeli colonies that cut it off from the West Bank a “second Nakbah.”

Millions of Palestinians remain stateless, and citizenship was defined by Warren Burger as ‘the right to have rights.’ As long as so many Palestinians do not have the right to have rights, there will be no end of trouble in the Mideast, and Israel cannot itself be a normal country. Although the current situation is often called Apartheid by analogy, it is worse, since most South Africans had citizenship, whereas the Palestinians of Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, etc. lack that basic guarantee of a decent life. And they are being actively deprived of it by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud-Shas-Yisrael Beitenu rightwing coalition.

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PS We who study Arabic for a living have developed notations or transliteration systems for putting Arabic letters over into Latin scripts. The Encyclopedia of Islam, the Library of Congress and others have such systems. Most modern such transliteration schemes distinguish between a k and a q (the Arabic ‘q’ or qaf does not exist in English– it is a back-throated deep clicking k, though in daily life even most Arabs drop it the way Cockneys drop their t’s). The word for catastrophe is therefore Nakbah, not “Naqbah.”

I’m a little mystified as to why even Arab journalists insist on transliterating Arabic weirdly. Thus, there is no short ‘e’ or long ‘o’ sound in Arabic. Therefore, the Lebanese political party should be Hizbullah. American journalists write it the way a Persian-speaking Iranian would, not the way an Arab would, even though Lebanon is an Arab country. And the NYT delivered itself of ‘Moktada’ as the way to spell Muqtada al-Sadr’s name, making two mistakes– since there is no ‘o’ in Arabic and it is a qaf, not a ‘k’ in the original. I mean, don’t they know how to google ‘Library of Congress Arabic transliteration’?

So *please* folks, it is al-Nakbah with a ‘k’.

22 Responses

  1. 1947-48 in Palestine was a civil war of sorts between the two major populations under British rule there. But most of the 700,000 Palestinians made homeless were not politicized nor were they fighters, and permanently depriving them of their property with no compensation is illegal (not to mention immoral).

    Under what law? I presume that when you say “illegal”, you are referring to the Geneva Convention – but the Fourth Geneva Convention, which dealt with issues of protecting civilians and preventing population transfers, wasn’t adopted until 1949 (and Israel was not party to its rules until 1951).

    And although a subcommittee of the UN had proposed a partition of Palestine, the UN Security Council never voted on the plan and it was openly rejected by the Palestinians and privately rejected by Zionist leaders like Ben Gurion (who wanted a ‘Greater Israel’ than was on offer from the UN).

    Of course. That’s why the UN discussion on Partition is mostly interesting as a historical note, seeing as how Israel was truly created by a combination of facts on the ground established in conflict and widespread recognition in the international arena (although not including its neighbors).

    This blockade is a war crime since it targets civilians; indeed, half of Gazans are children, so it is depriving children of food, electricity and other needs.

    Under what law that Israel is bound to observe is the blockade illegal? If you are citing the Geneva Convention, then remember that Israel is only party to the 1949 Convention Treaty, and has not ratified Protocols I and II.

    Israeli actions were intended to dislodge Hamas from Gaza just as it had been overthrown in the West Bank, but the Israelis failed to achieve this goal.

    They did, however, manage to successfully reduce the frequency of Hamas attacks, just as the 2006 conflict greatly reduced the number of attacks coming from Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

    Unfortunately the Palestinian leadership, both of the PLO and Hamas, has not shown the moral character and fiber to resist this divide and rule strategy, and sometimes PLO and Hamas fighters have fought skirmishes with one another, which reminds one of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

    This is why the Palestinians have repeatedly lost in the conflicts they’ve been involved in, from 1947 onwards. Even with the potential loss of much of what remains of Palestinian land in the West Bank to Israeli squatters and settlers, their leadership can’t even come up with a lasting unified front to die under ever since Arafat died.

    Which makes me wonder why so many of us outsiders think they’ll pose a threat to Israel as is, whether through violent or non-violent resistance. They’re divided and mostly ineffective even with the latter, to a far greater degree than with more successful movements like the African National Congress in apartheid- and post-apartheid South Africa.

    Saturday’s rally was jointly sponsored by the PLO and Hamas, and raised hopes that the two would resume talks toward presenting a common front in proximity talks with the Israelis.

    Yes, they’ll probably have talks to present a common front, and everybody will get their hopes up about it. Just like in 2009. And 2008. And 2007. There have been multiple attempts on the part of the two organizations to create a unified front, and they’ve all fallen to pieces (and since they’ve mostly annihilated each other’s presence in their respective territories – the PLO in the West Bank, and Hamas in Gaza – it has become even harder).

    Another sign of new determination on the Palestinian side is an effective Palestinian boycott of the Israeli setter-industrial complex and its products.

    That’s nice, but settlement goods sales to Palestinians are relatively minor in the economic scheme of things. I’d be much more inclined to see it as a strategy that could affect Israel if it was a boycott of all Israeli goods, but that will probably never happen unless they somehow manage to wean themselves off both that and employment in either Israel or Israeli businesses in the Occupied Territories.

    • International law did not begin in 1949! The 1907 Hague Convention and the 1945 UN Charter, e.g. made what was done to the Palestinians illegal.

      • Really? Which parts? I just read through both and found nothing touching on either of the points I criticized.

        • No matter how one spins it Israel’s politics in Palestine is wrong, and morally reprehensible. Those legal justifications and supposed loopholes convince no one but the perpetrators. Hitler Germany’s Endloesung for Jews was based on and consistent with their own laws.

          The Israel/Palestine conflict is not about religion – it is all about modern day colonialism and apartheid.

        • No matter how one spins it Israel’s politics in Palestine is wrong, and morally reprehensible. Those legal justifications and supposed loopholes convince no one but the perpetrators.

          The problem with that is that critics of Israel frequently raise the issue of “war crimes”, either in reference to Israel’s current actions or past ones. “War Crimes” has a specific set of legal definitions, and if an action doesn’t meet that definition (or the state in question is not party to the agreement), then it’s not technically a “war crime” regardless of how morally reprehensible it is.

    • What is happening to the Palestinians has been and is still illegal from a jurisprudence point of view. More importantly to me is that the Israelis treatment of the Palestinians is morally reprehensible.

      Those who share in or defend the Israelis evil and reprehensible treatment of the Palestinians are morally decrepit. I am not interested in their justifications any more than I am interested in the serial killers justifications of his horrifically indefensible crimes.

      Why don’t you tell me how the Nazis treatment of Jews and others was justified by their circumstances? The reasoning is exactly the same.

    • “They did, however, manage to successfully reduce the frequency of Hamas attacks”

      The number of attacks decreased beforehand due to a ceasefire and according to Yuval Diskin who was the head of the Israeli security service Shin Bet, hamas was willing to renew this ceasefire, so the the war in gaza and the deaths that it caused was not necessary.

      • so the the war in gaza and the deaths that it caused was not necessary.

        The problem, of course, was that Israel broke the ceasefire, and it returned to the usual pattern for a couple of months before the Gaza War. Perhaps they figured that getting a second truce without extensive military action against Hamas in Gaza was unlikely.

        • Perhaps they figured that getting a second truce without extensive military action against Hamas in Gaza was unlikely.

          Why would they have thought that, as i said before Israels own intelligence apparatus was saying the exact opposite, according to shin bet a hamas ceasefire option was available.

  2. Nice brief history on 1948 to date. How about something similar from Herzl to 1948?

  3. I cannot understand how you refer to the Holocaust survivors who moved to Palestine after World War II as “European Jewish settlers” as if they were some pernicious combination of traditional European imperialists and fundamentalist West Bank-style settlers. This phrase is deeply tendentious, and you sound like that “ostrich with his head in the sand” that you like to complain about. As an acclaimed historian, you certainly know all too well that Truman was in favor of accepting only minimal numbers of survivors into the U.S. and that the survivors could not stay in a post-war Germany or Poland. As an avid reader, I think you are better than that.

    • A) About 200,000 European Jewish settlers were already in the British Mandate of Palestine by 1933. B) That figure roughly doubled in the rest of the 1930s, but it seems to me anachronistic to call people (wisely) fleeing from the abominable Nuremberg laws or the horrific shadow Hitler was casting in Eastern Europe before the invasion of Poland ‘Holocaust survivors.’ Moreover, they weren’t required to treat the Palestinians as they have, whatever their original motives in moving there. In fact, one would have thought that the victims of persecution would go out of their way to avoid half-starving other people’s children as the Israeli blockade in Gaza is doing.

    • From a Palestinian perspective, the Europeans arrivals, before during and after the WWII, look something like the French in Algiers: Europeans moving in but not as immigrants who will accept the existing social order. From an Israeli perspective, these are survivors returning to their ancestral homeland, a land which is theirs by right. Israelis want Palestinians to stop looking at them as colonists. Palestinians want Israelis to realize that the land is not, in fact, their ancestral homeland. In the end, the Palestinians are more right than the Israelis. Still, Israeli is not the only country in the world to be based on a myth. What makes the Israeli national myth unique, among other things, is that it is still the ongoing basis for policy, such as the right of return for Jewish immigrants but not others. The US is not still promoting the idea of Manifest Destiny, expanding the borders still further. The US does not now have a quota system to maintain the racial character of the country as it did in 1950. These myth-based policies have atrophied. Israel is still a myth-based country. Perhaps a few decades after a solid, lasting and comprehensive peace, Israel will feel comfortable moving away from these myths and become a normal nation.

      The last effective Palestinian political response was the first Intifada in the 1980s. The images of Israeli armored vehicles and stone-throwing Palestinians was more effective than any petition, suicide bomber, UN resolution, academic paper, peace agreement, or handshake.

  4. Since the creation of Israel, things have changed quite a bit. The blind faith & support for Israel is not good either for USA or for Israel itself. Israel will fail in subjugating Palestinians as others have failed e.g. South Africans apartheid regime for blacks or king Leopold in Angola and many others.

    Once Reverend Desmond Tutu remarked after his of west bank, South Africans did not do to us this bad as Israel doing to Palestinians.

    Watch Dr Norman Finkelstein utube clip on the blind faith of Israel. It is eye opening video for those who have their heads buried in sand.

    link to youtube.com

  5. Where was European Jewry expected to go once Hitler took power? Where were the remnants of European Jewry supposed to go after World War II? The U.S. (and the rest of the world) were effectively closed. The British were not so interested in opening Palestine to Jewish victims of Nazi terror at any time. We both know that the 200,000 or 400,000 “European Jewish settlers” who were in the area in the 1930’s are a pittance. (Why do you emphasize these Jews’ Europeanness? Would it make a difference if they were Sephardic?) I’ll leave it to historians such as Tom Segev and yourself to evaluate Israeli and Arab conduct in the late 1940’s and what it all means.

    I am your loyal reader and am grateful for your daily columns. I have learned a tremendous amount from them and am proud that you teach at my beloved alma mater. But the tremendous insight you bring about the Muslim world can be undermined on the difficult subject of the Arab-Israeli conflict by a striking callousness to Jewish history. Sympathize and advocate for the Palestinians all you wish. You certainly have no obligation to objectivity on your blog. I just think the pieces would be stronger (and perhaps more persuasive though probably less provocative) if history’s great complicatedness were acknowledged. (I apologize if this comment is condescending — that’s not my intent. And yes, I am of the J-Street sort.)

    • Hi, Steve. I haven’t said anything about where Jews should have gone in the 1930s, and have dear friends whose parents had to flee, with whose plight I deeply sympathize.

      All I have said is that European Jewish settlers once in Palestine ethnically cleansed most Palestinians in what became Israel and left them homeless, propertyless and stateless, which is an absolute wrong not excused by events in Europe and not inevitable or irreparable even to this day.

    • How can two wrongs make it right?

      No question Hilter/Germany/Europeans (some say with some support from the catholic church) did a heinous crime against the Jews. So, as a result (some) Jews have the right to make the Palestinians homeless and stateless, commit ethnic cleansing and subjugate them in an apartheid state? Is this the logic? Did I miss something? Did the Palestinians kill the Jews in Europe?

  6. Thanks for your response. I am in agreement with your second paragraph, except of course with your terminology. My only comments would be that the misdeeds of Jews fleeing or surviving the Nazis should be viewed within the context of their beleaguered predicament. Also, these misdeeds should not undermine the legitimacy of Israel.

    As to the first paragraph, my point was that Palestine was one of the only refuges that could have been available to European Jewry, as the rest of the world looked the other way while Hitler implemented the Final Solution. So the people to whom you refer as “European Jewish settlers” are refugees, displaced persons, etc. (The term “settler,” with its imperialistic connotations, is needlessly incendiary in light of the Netanyahu policy of allowing religious fanatics to “settle” the West Bank and East Jerusalem.)

    Also, I did not accuse you of anti-Semitism so there’s no need to bring out the dreaded “I have Jewish friends” defense. I assume you have Jewish friends; you live in Ann Arbor and work at the University of Michigan. On that subject, and for me, on your next visit to Zingerman’s, have one of the guys make you the old Good Golly, Miss Molly–corned beef sandwiched between two latkes. I believe it was taken off the menu, but it’s so good.

    Best,
    Steve

    • Well, we just have to disagree. At least half the Yishuv as of the mid 1940s had come as colonial settlers before the rise of Hitler, mainly under British imperial auspices, or were their children. And the people who led the charge to establish a separate state and to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians in order to do so came disproportionately from that group, though transplanted anti-Nazi resistance groups (some having become, grotesquely, seedy terrorists and baby-killers in Palestine) were part of the mix.

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