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Why the inconvenient truths of the Nakba must be recognized

By Tom Pessah

Limor Livnat was furious. The minister of culture was speaking at a Knesset discussion about the Independence Day arrests in Tel Aviv, following an attempt by a small non-profit called Zochrot to commemorate the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948. The Israeli police surrounded the Zochrot office in central Tel Aviv, preventing the activists from exiting. One person spent a night in jail for reading aloud the names of destroyed Palestinian villages from a history book. But Livnat’s anger wasn’t directed at the police, but rather at those arrested:

I went in with my iPhone to the Zochrot association [website], and there it was. There are some details there, including places. What are the Arab villages that the Zochrot association is talking about, that it tries to present to the public? The public should know what this is about. They present a map, and the map has dots. Dots, dots, dots […] from the north of the country to its south, south of Be’er Sheva. And these dots, which are the villages we’re talking about, the points are in all the State of Israel! Not in Judea and Samaria, not in the Gaza region, not in what you call the Occupied Territories […] Here, inside Tel Aviv! I found some like that in the Tel Aviv area, dozens of dots.

During and around the 1948 war, over 400 Palestinian villages and towns were destroyed by Israeli forces. Over 80 percent of the Arab population of what became the State of Israel was either expelled or banned from returning. Many of those who managed to stay were internally displaced, their village lands were given to Jewish communities or turned into parks. These are all documented historical facts, yet their discussion is considered so outrageous that the minister of culture didn’t need to explain what was wrong: for her, it was self-evident that a website mentioning destroyed Palestinian villages inside Israel (even inside Tel Aviv!) is an abomination.

Israelis, especially younger generations, approach the history of 1948 through a number of well-trodden formulas: the UN decided on a partition creating a Jewish and Arab state, the Arabs refused, neighboring Arab countries intervened, and at the end of a bloody war, some Palestinians found themselves on the other side of the border. These things, we are told, happen in wars.

I remember hearing for the first time about the expulsion of Majdal, today Ashkelon. The town had been known as the “Arab Manchester,” and several of its textile workers were affiliated with the Histadrut labor union. Despite protests from the Histadrut, the town’s inhabitants were loaded onto trucks and dumped in the nearby Gaza Strip. But this didn’t “happen in war.” It happened in 1950, after the ceasefire. When I heard this for the first time, I thought it must be a mistake: how could this have happened after the war? What was the security reason?

Israeli historian Benny Morris found a communique from the previous year by Yigal Allon, one of the senior commanders, who urged the army to transfer the town’s Arabs. For him, the Palestinian population was too close to the Egyptian front lines, and their presence could serve as a base for enemy infiltration. In June 1948, Allon thought the Arabs of Ramle would also be a threat, and gave orders to expel them. In April of that year, according to his own testimony, he used threats to push the Palestinians of the eastern Galilee to flee: their villages could have served as bases for the Syrian army. And, according to a letter he wrote to Ben-Gurion, he would also have liked to have conquered the West Bank to eliminate the security risk posed by the Jordanian army. This letter mentions a potential problem, the presence of a civilian population, but Allon reassures Ben-Gurion that “a large part, especially the refugees, will retreat eastwards as a result of the military operations… The plan for the offensive must take into account leaving an opening for the retreat of the enemy army, and the refugees following it.”  Had Ben-Gurion resumed the offensive, the West Bank could have been emptied too.

When you dive into the history of 1948, certain features become familiar. Some Palestinians used violence against Jews; some generals stretched the definition of security risk to its widest possible interpretation. There were Israelis who protested: Ben Dunkelman, the commander who conquered Nazareth refused to expel its inhabitants; Rabin recalls how soldiers instructed to drive out Lydda’s population had to undergo “extensive propaganda activities.” But most Israelis didn’t object: they trusted their security forces that had successfully repelled the incoming Arab armies, and they often benefited from the vast properties the refugees left behind.

Remaining unaware of this history is a form of illiteracy: it has deeply influenced anyone living in the country or connected to it in any way. The simplistic formulas that most Israelis believe leave them incapable of understanding Palestinian experiences and expectations, and are a major barrier to reconciliation. And ignorance of the systematic expulsions enable them to continue in different forms – see, for example,  current plans to displace tens of thousands of Bedouins in the Negev.

Jewish Israeli history will remain intertwined with the fate of Palestinians. Genuine awareness of our shared history is essential. Zochrot is holding another event to commemorate the Nakba: this time they invited Livnat. Perhaps one day she, or another minister of culture, will attend.

Tom Pessah is an Israeli sociology student, currently studying the Nakba as part of his PhD

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    COMMENTS

    1. Rafael

      “One person spent a night in jail for reading aloud the names of destroyed Palestinian villages from a history book.”

      Yep, and it’s Islam which is fascist.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn9

      Indeed. The truth of the Nakba is that there was a civil war where Arabs attacked Jews wherever they could find them which led the Jews to create defensible lines by forcing out the Arab population where it hadn’t run away already because it was afraid that it would be treated in the same way that it would have treated the Jews had it won. That is the pure unadulterated truth of the Nakba.

      Reply to Comment
    3. palestinian

      The indigenous population vs well-armed invaders isnt a civil war .

      Reply to Comment
    4. sh

      The pure unadulterated truth of the Nakba is that not bundling Arab armies and the Palestinians together and understanding a) that the latter had much more to lose than the former and b) that the former had interests that rendered the fate of the Palestinians as a group (not to mention as individuals) of secondary importance to them, would give those willing to learn much more insight than they now have. People who do bundle them together wish to hide the pure unadulterated truth.
      .
      We’ll have to come to terms with those truths. For the moment we’re behaving like overgrown babies.
      .
      “Remaining unaware of this history is a form of illiteracy”
      Yep. Zochrot is condemned by Livnat and her ilk for just remembering what and where something that happened happened. What happened is known and documented, yet we can’t bear to hear it.
      .
      Here’s another aspect of the Nakba that can’t be disputed and that came up recently.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myvobIkwkNM&feature=player_embedded

      Reply to Comment
    5. aristeides

      K9 says these things with no apparent shame.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Kolumn9

      I say things without shame because they are true. The argument that the local Arabs were unarmed or innocent is complete bunk. The Arabs attacked within mixed cities, cut off transportation and movement between Jewish villages, ambushed both civilian and military convoys, and attacked Jewish civilians where they were able to. You can justify these things if you want, but don’t pretend they didn’t happen.

      Reply to Comment
    7. caden

      the Arabs start a war, lose, then bitch about it for the last 64 years and then play the victim. That’s all this is.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Rafael

      KOLUMN9

      Your view of Nakba is marred by some of the easy formulas the article denounces.

      If the Arabs hadn’t started the 1948 war, then Israel would. Zionists never truly accepted the 1948 borders. They pretended they did because that was the clever thing to do: they left it for the Arabs to contest the partition, so later on they could garner international support in a future war against their opponents by shifting all of the blame for the conflict on them.
      According to “The Iron Wall”, a book by Israeli historian Avi Shlaim, prior to Israel’s foundation and the subsequent war, Zionist officials were already scheming with King Abdullah of Jordan to sabotage a future Palestinian state. The King was interested in creating a Great Jordan by taking lands from neighboring countries, so the Zionists promised him that, after gobbling up more Arab land following the “independence” war, they’d support his annexation of what’d be left of the proposed Palestinian state.

      And even if the Zionists were the good citizens they pretended to be, even if they had accepted the UN partition with no further attempt to expand their territory at the expense of Palestinians, it’d still be right for Palestinians to fight back against Israel’s creation. Terrorism, confiscation of goods and land annexation were all part of the making of the state of Israel. Said David Ben Gurion:
      “We must see the situation for what it is. On the security front, we are those attacked and who are on the defensive. But in the political field we are the attackers and the Arabs are those defending themselves. They are living in the country and own the land, the village. We live in the Diaspora and want only to immigrate [to Palestine] and gain possession of [lirkosh] from them.”

      How could peace be desirable for those who were kicked out of their homes and lost relatives to Zionist thuggery? To keep humble silence after experiencing abuse, apart from cowardly, isn’t something to be expected from any human group in a position to fight back.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Rafael

      KOLUMN9
      .
      Your view of Nakba is marred by some of the easy formulas the article denounces.
      .
      If the Arabs hadn’t started the 1948 war, then Israel would. Zionists never truly accepted the 1948 borders. They pretended they did because that was the clever thing to do: they left it for the Arabs to contest the partition, so later on they could garner international support in a future war against their opponents by shifting all of the blame for the conflict on them.
      According to “The Iron Wall”, a book by Israeli historian Avi Shlaim, prior to Israel’s foundation and the subsequent war, Zionist officials were already scheming with King Abdullah of Jordan to sabotage a future Palestinian state. The King was interested in creating a Great Jordan by taking lands from neighboring countries, so the Zionists promised him that, after gobbling up more Arab land following the “independence” war, they’d support his annexation of what’d be left of the proposed Palestinian state.
      .
      And even if the Zionists were the good citizens they pretended to be, even if they had accepted the UN partition with no further attempt to expand their territory at the expense of Palestinians, it’d still be right for Palestinians to fight back against Israel’s creation. Terrorism, confiscation of goods and land annexation were all part of the making of the state of Israel. Said David Ben Gurion:
      .
      “We must see the situation for what it is. On the security front, we are those attacked and who are on the defensive. But in the political field we are the attackers and the Arabs are those defending themselves. They are living in the country and own the land, the village. We live in the Diaspora and want only to immigrate [to Palestine] and gain possession of [lirkosh] from them.”
      .
      How could peace be desirable for those who were kicked out of their homes and lost relatives to Zionist thuggery? To keep humble silence after experiencing abuse, apart from cowardly, isn’t something to be expected from any human group in a position to fight back.

      (To moderators: Feel free to remove the post above.)

      Reply to Comment
    10. From the piece: “Jewish Israeli history will remain intertwined with the fate of Palestinians. Genuine awareness of our shared history is essential.”
      .
      Racial relations began to change in the US when acts of the present, not past, were faced in the courts. The first sentence quoted, above, speaks directly to acts in the now in Israel proper. I think that is where the best fight is. The second sentence quoted is in my view true–but every day on 972 you see historical arguments passing each other blindly. Israeli discourse is addicted to history. In fact, I think history is used to cover over wrongs of the moment. One cannot justify wrongs of the moment by appeal to wrongs of the past; for both sides have the latter.
      .
      The reality is that many injustices in Israel will never be corrected. Should there not be talk over what justices can, with some probablity, be corrected? The most straightforward would be violations of civil rights along racial faults. Rights violations, at first blush, are in the now, ahistorical. That is how, ultimately, the US made progress in its own divide originating in slavery.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Arieh O'Sullivan

      We should absolutely accept the realities that my friend Benny Morris exposed. I am even very much in favor of learning about the Nakba, even putting up signs in the sites of the former villages.
      This in no way means that the Palestinians today can move into these places. As my friend and fellow farmer in the Elah Valley Ya’ir Tzoran says; “It’s true they once lived here. We don’t have to hide that, just show why they left. If we are embarrassed by this, then we should be equally embarrassed to be Israelis. That’s the irony of this.”

      Read more: http://forward.com/articles/155304/love-of-zion-among-the-palestinian-ruins/?p=all#ixzz1uuyFP0Ec

      Reply to Comment
    12. palestinian

      @Arieh we will move back , whatevers it takes

      Reply to Comment
    13. Elisabeth

      That is the painful thing: It IS embarassing to be Israeli, because of the way Israel was founded. Even people born after 1948 are affected by it and have to find a way of dealing with it. Kolumn9, Caden and Arieh each fail to do so, and as long as too many Israeli’s are like them, there is no way out.

      Reply to Comment
    14. caden

      What would you like Jews to do Elizabeth. Put the nakba into Tisha Ba Av. I’ll stipulate for the sake of argument that the nakba was the worst atrocity that has ever happenened to anybody, anywhere, anytime. The Jews, satanic. What would make you feel better. What can we do to alleviate your depression.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Elisabeth

      “I’ll stipulate for the sake of argument that the nakba was the worst atrocity that has ever happenened to anybody, anywhere, anytime.” You gave the exact same childish response before in another thread. Your box of tricks is quite shallow. You are apparently only capable of ‘acknowledging’ the Nakba when you have first exaggerated it to the point where you can ‘safely’ do so, because no-one sees the Nakba as “the worst atrocity that has ever happenened to anybody, anywhere, anytime”.
      You sound really scared behind all your agression, and to a certain point I can understand that. It must feel as if the ground on which you stand is being swept away from under your feet when you acknowledge what the founding of Israel was based on. But it is possible to be honest (this is the first step towards reconciliation) without agreeing to have your throat slit or be chased out of the country.

      (I wonder what is next: Will you whine again that you “do not feel the love”?)

      Reply to Comment
    16. Tamar

      @Greg Pollack: I agree with your statements.

      Reply to Comment
    17. cadenj

      I’m not scared, just asking what you want me to say. The Arabs start a war, lose, complain about losing. That’s not good enough. Obviously the evil nefarious Jews came in with their plan to genocide the Arabs. ( did a lousy job btw) Ok, fine, what do you want me to do here.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Anonymous

      The summary of every Jewish holiday:
      “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.”
      .
      The summary of every Arab holiday:
      “We tried to kill them, we failed, let’s sit around and cry about it for 60 years.”

      Reply to Comment
    19. Arieh

      @ Palestinian… better hurry. time’s working against you and I’m busy scooping up the stones from those villages for secondary use.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Elisabeth

      Anonymous, it seems you do not know much about Jewish tradition. How would you like it if I defined Tisha B’Av as:”We tried to kill the Romans, we failed and now we sit around and cry about the destruction of the temple for 2000 years.”

      Like it? No I didn’t think so.
      So don’t speak in such a demeaning way about what happend to “the Arabs”.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Elisabeth

      “The Jews, satanic”…”the evil nefarious Jews came in with their plan to genocide the Arabs”…

      This is your old trick: Exaggerating so as to deflect measured criticism.

      I will tell you again what I want you to do: Acknowledge that the founding of Israel was a tragic event for the people that lived in the region before you, as the founding of Israel depended on ethnic cleansing of an important part of this population. Whether this was planned or not, or -if it was planned – in how far etc., is a matter of debate, but by joking and sneering about other people’s misery you are not exactly winning a stable place in the region for the Jewish people.

      Reply to Comment
    22. aristeides

      Exactly – Naqba Day should become an official Day of Shame for Israelis. It should be an embarrassment, and those who aren’t ashamed, even more so those who defend it, only compound their shame.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Kolumn9

      Rafael, let’s see. The Jews accepted the partition. This is a fact that you don’t even bother to dispute. The Arabs started the war. Once again, you are not disputing this fact. Zionists were meeting with King Abdullah with the knowledge that Jordan was likely to invade. Seems rather prudent given the fact that the Arab states did attack, though the part you don’t mention is that no agreement was reached between the Zionists and Abdullah. Feel free to look that up in the book you quote. I know its there as I read it too.
      .

      Then you go on to justify the terrorism and aggression on the part of the Arabs against the Jews which, both before and after the declaration of Israel took the form of attacking Jews whereever they were to be found, including outside of the Land of Israel.
      .

      I’ll repeat my original description of what happened since you haven’t actually argued against any of the facts. The truth of the Nakba is that there was a civil war where Arabs attacked Jews wherever they could find them which led the Jews to create defensible lines by forcing out the Arab population where it hadn’t run away already because it was afraid that it would be treated in the same way that it would have treated the Jews had it won. That is the pure unadulterated truth of the Nakba.

      Reply to Comment
    24. caden

      Ok, Liz, it was tragic, horrible, the worst thing ever. The founding of Israel three years after the holocaust. Are we good now?

      Reply to Comment
    25. Kolumn9

      Greg, you speak like you have discovered the holy grail. The various anti-Israel NGOs operating in Israel are way ahead of you in using the language of ‘civil rights’ as part of the struggle against Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    26. Elisabeth

      “the worst thing ever”…

      This is your old trick, so I will just copy and paste from my earlier replies: You are exaggerating so as to deflect measured criticism, you are only capable of ‘acknowledging’ the Nakba when you have first exaggerated it to the point where you can ‘safely’ do so, because no-one sees the Nakba as “the worst thing ever.”

      Don’t you ever get tired of yourself?

      Reply to Comment
    27. aristeides

      Lies, K9. Unfacts.

      Reply to Comment
    28. Palestinian

      Arieh are you threatened by those stones ? Maybe they always remind you of your terrorism or ..,,,the indigenous population ! 64 years and we have palestinians like Tibi ,Zoabi,Barakeh,Zahalka,Nafa’a….it seems your governments have failed in deleting our memory and you are scooping up stones ….your new enemy maybe, stones

      Reply to Comment
    29. David T.

      @ Kolumn9

      “The Jews accepted the partition. … The Arabs started the war.”

      The majority of the citizens of Palestine rejected the partition of their homeland. A tiny minority of Palestinian Jewish separatists wanted a state of their own and to become a majority in it. They were even a minority within partition borders and 2/3 of them weren’t even citizens of Palestine and had no political rights. Ben Gurion declared that partition was only a step to Greater Israel.

      Now! How could they achieve their goals without war and expulsion? Who needed the war to conquer the territory for a state? Who needed to become a majority and how? Defenetely not the Arab Palestinians.

      The Security Council rejected the partition recommendation on 14. April 1948:

      “1. Calls upon all persons and organizations in Palestine, and especially Upon the Arab Higher Committee and the Jewish Agency, to take immediately, without prejudice to their rights, claims, or positions, cad as a contribution to the well-being and permanent interests of Palestine, the following measures:

      (d) Refrain, pending further consideration of the future government of Palestine by the General Assembly, from any political activity which might prejudice the rights, claims, or position of either community;”
      http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/un/scres046.htm

      Now read carefully: “future goverment of Palestine”, not “future goverments in Palestine”!

      Before 15 of May the Jewish paramilitary groups and their terrorists had allready conquered places outside partition borders, expelled about 300000 Palestininians and raized hundreds of villages to prevent their return.

      In clear violation of the security council resolution and against the will of the majority of citizens of Palestine they proclaimed a state.

      Only then the Arab armies intervened to restore order and law, the unity of Palestine and to stop Jewish terrorist atrocities against Palestinians and the illegal, antidemocratic and violent partition of Palestine.

      Reply to Comment
    30. Kolumn9

      @David, The UN offered partition because the situation under the British mandate was unsustainable. There were two communities the offer was made to. One accepted, the other didn’t. The war was launched against the Jews by Arabs in 1947 within the borders of Israel as per the partition plan. Was war avoidable? Certainly. Was Israel capable of surviving even with a large Arab population without a war? Within five years another million Jews arrived in Israel, so who knows, but that again isn’t relevant. The Arab states intervened because Israel was born in order to wipe it out. Whatever order you think they came to reestablish it was one where the state of Israel was going to be eliminated and it is entirely unclear what would have happened to the Jews. The Arab states failed in their attempt and now people like you claim that they never wanted to destroy Israel in the first place. Given the rhetoric coming out of the Arab states that was certainly their stated goal.
      .

      The UNSC resolution you pointed out calls for a cease fire between the Jewish Agency and the Arab Higher Committee and calls on Britain to enforce it. Notice that the article talks about the cease-fire not prejudicing rights, claims and positions, where the JA claim was to a state. You are obviously misreading the quote ‘government of Palestine’ to mean more than it does which is ‘governing of Palestine’. There is also no rejection of the UNGA partition resolution. This point you are just making up.

      Reply to Comment
    31. David T.

      @ Kolumn9

      “The UN offered partition because the situation under the British mandate was unsustainable.”

      Thanks to Jewish terrorism.

      “There were two communities the offer was made to. One accepted, the other didn’t.”

      Jewish-Palestinian separatists accepted, the majority of the citizens of Palestine rejected. Would Israel allow partition because (max.) 20% of it citizens want a 55% of it’s territory?! You know the answer.

      “The war was launched against the Jews by Arabs in 1947 within the borders of Israel as per the partition plan.”

      You don’t count Jewish terrorist attacks in 1947 after partition vote and before?

      “Was war avoidable? Certainly.”

      Oh really? The Jewish separatists would accepted the majority’s decistion not to split up their homeland?

      “Was Israel capable of surviving even with a large Arab population without a war? Within five years another million Jews arrived in Israel, so who knows, but that again isn’t relevant.”

      Again, majority rule would have not accepted more Jewish immigration. 2/3 of the Jews were not citizens of Palestine and the Jewish separatists didn’t even have all the Jewish Palestinians on their side.

      “The Arab states intervened because Israel was born in order to wipe it out. Whatever order you think they came to reestablish it was one where the state of Israel was going to be eliminated and it is entirely unclear what would have happened to the Jews.”

      Using your rhetorics I could say they intervened to stop Israel from “wiping out” and “eliminating” Palestine which was allready an infant state since mandate times. And it is perfectly clear what happened to 750000 Arab Palestinians.

      “The Arab states failed in their attempt and now people like you claim that they never wanted to destroy Israel in the first place.”

      I never claimed that. People like you want do obscure the fact that Israel on the 15 May 1948 was only a proclamation in clear violation of a security council resolution in April. The Arab armies

      “The UNSC resolution you pointed out calls for a cease fire between the Jewish Agency and the Arab Higher Committee and calls on Britain to enforce it. Notice that the article talks about the cease-fire not prejudicing rights, claims and positions, where the JA claim was to a state.”

      It clearly says: “(d) Refrain, pending further consideration of the future government of Palestine by the General Assembly, FROM ANY POLITICAL ACTIVITY which might prejudice the rights, claims, or position of either community; ”

      Don’t you consider the proclamation of a state to be a political activity which might might prejudice the rights, claims, or position of the other community?

      “You are obviously misreading the quote ‘government of Palestine’ to mean more than it does which is ‘governing of Palestine’. There is also no rejection of the UNGA partition resolution. This point you are just making up.”

      It says “future government of Palestine”, not “future governing of Palestine”.

      At this point they (led by the USA) were debating about putting Palestine under UN trusteeship. Even the UN peace mediator Folke Bernadotte made clear in a letter to the provisional GOI that he was not bound by partition resolution.

      Reply to Comment
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