Nakba: The Catastrophe of Lost Opportunities

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi, an Anglo-Israeli writer

While Israel celebrated its 64th birthday, several Israeli Arab Knesset members joined a rapidly growing international chorus in chanting “Nakba”, the “catastrophe”, which the Palestinian Authority recognizes as a national holiday – a day commemorating the displacement of Palestinians sixty-four years ago.

The story contains all the elements of an ancient Greek tragedy, including human suffering on a grand scale. This widely accepted but little-examined narrative begins in 1948, when hundreds of thousands of fleeing Arabs overnight had their assets stolen and lands expropriated by a fearsome imperial interloper.

Unfortunately, bone-dry facts belie the popular notions of imminent genocide and state-sanctioned swindling that speak to the very souls of good-natured activists who unwittingly do the bidding of those who seek to dismantle the state of Israel and its Jewish majority.

First, a bit of background. It was only in the 1990s that Nakba went chic. With Palestinian statehood suddenly looming as a realistic possibility, interest in the holiday surged out of fear that the ‘right of return’ might be negotiated away as the bill for peaceful coexistence alongside Israel. By reimagining “Nakba”, a blunt, unmistakable communiqué was effectively wired to the international community: the ‘right of return’ is non-negotiable.

Now, no one can deny that a colonizing power once confiscated vast stretches of a land labeled ‘Palestine’.  Yet, it’s those pesky green shoots of historic proof that must be acknowledged and analyzed. 

Mandatory Palestine, under British rule, was to give way to a severely truncated Israel that the Jewish residents acquiesced to in return for independence. Settling for approximately one-quarter of the land mass that had been promised by the original partition plan, Jewish leaders made strenuous efforts to encourage their Arab neighbors to stay on and help build up the new state of Israel. Subsequently, three-quarters of the land that had once been slated to become a Jewish national home was newly minted as ‘Trans-Jordan’, with Amman as its capital.

A large majority of local Arabs responded to the call for coexistence by violently rejecting it.  Egged on by a bellicose leadership that darkly warned that its bullets wouldn’t distinguish between Arabs and Jews, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs summarily packed up and took off, having been reassured that they would be able to return once the foreign Zionist entity had been snuffed out.

What followed was an invasion by seven Arab countries of Palestine and Israel. It is also worth noting that until 1967 Egypt and Jordan occupied land that the world community, by way of the United Nations, had decided to turn into a Palestinian Arab state.

Had the Arabs accepted the two-state solution, as formulated by the U.N. in 1947, it is quite likely that war would have been avoided and a separate Palestinian country would have come into existence.

Yet, assuming the role of victim requires that the historical record be edited a smidge, and the facts concerning the displacement of Palestinians have subsequently been overlooked or, at the very least, seriously downplayed.

That a refugee problem arose as a result of Israel’s defensive war is an irrefutable fact. Yet, has any sovereign nation’s birth not resulted in mass displacement and other social upheavals? Unique to the saga of the Palestinian refugee, however, is the phenomenon of the magically multiplying refugees. From close to 750,000 in 1948, today Palestinian refugees number over 5 million.  Is there any other displaced group on earth that passes their refugee status on genetically?

Jordan tops the list with its 2.6 million Palestinian exiles, a large number of whom have been denied Jordanian citizenship. In fact, since 1948 Arab governments around the Muslim world have actively excluded their local Palestinian populations from jobs, housing, land and other benefits. Sadly, the Arab world has cynically used Palestinian refugees as a political pawn by which to destabilize and delegitimize the Jewish state.

Fear not, gentle reader, for the Muslim brotherhood’s impotence on the issue of Palestinian refugees has been addressed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). Persecuted Palestinians are in fact the only displaced group in the world that has that its very own UN agency.

The international organization whose legal raison d’être was to “bring an international claim against a government regarding injuries that the organization alleged had been caused by that state…” addresses violence afflicted against displaced persons in Sudan, Mali, eastern Congo, Liberia and many other hells on earth with a wretched sense of blasé via the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Evidently, the combined moral outrage that the good United Nations can muster up in response to a long, bloody litany of refugee crises around world over is outweighed by orphaned Palestinians.

The David versus Goliath chronicle that now passes for the history of Palestinian refugees shall itself pass into shadowy oblivion, consigned to the same fate as celestial immutability, bloodletting, a geocentric universe and other intellectual blind alleys. In the interim, Israel need only remain committed to upholding and strengthening its foundational principles: republican ideas, civic rights and freedom of conscience.

With Nakba Day 2012 now in our collective rear-view mirror, it’s time to decompress and gear up for the next spasm of piping hot spewage aimed at befouling Israel’s legitimacy…Naksa Day, 2012!

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