This week commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, when 750,000 indigenous Palestinians were violently expelled from their homes and exiled to camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Gaza. It is darkly ironic that Nakba Day shadows Israel’s Independence Day, which also marks 75 years of existence. The two events exist together, but apart. One marking a people’s tragedy and the other mirroring the birth of another people’s nation.
Nakba has always been shrouded in controversy, especially in Israel and among pro-Israel circles globally. There is practically a cottage industry in promoting lies about it. American Jews are practically raised on these false tropes.
In many cases, Israelis have endorsed its historical truth, if only to asssert that Israel, as anti-Semites assert about the Nazis, should have “finished the job.” During Jerusalem “Flag Day,” in which hundreds of thousands of Judeo-Nazis march through Palestinian East Jerusalem terrorizing its residents, one of the most striking slogans called for a “second Nakba.”
Haaretz has published a helpful primer, which not only establishes the historical facts surrounding the Nakba, but also serves as a refutation of the most common lies and misconceptions.
Global attitudes toward Nakba have shifted markedly over time. From complete ignorance, much of the world now knows about and recognizes it as a catastrophic tragedy for the Palestinian people. For example, the United Nations held its first-ever commemoration of the event this month. Two nations were notable for their absence: Israel and the US. Palestinians will never forget, while Israel and its US enablers will never remember.
The US Congress also held its first Nakba program hosted by its first Palestinian-American representative, Rashida Tlaib. There was the typical backlash provoked by the far-right Washington Free Beacon, which accused Tlaib of being an anti-Semite. It also falsely claimed that her event highlighted the creation of the State of Israel as being a catastrophe (rather than the expulsion of the Palestinians). In truth, both events are inextricably tied because (and Ben Gurion understood this) there could be no “Jewish state” without expelling the the Palestinians.
The Free Beacon then recruited House Speaker, Kevin McCarthy who promptly cancelled Tlaib’s event. The Israel Lobby celebrated another victory against Palestinians…until Sen. Bernie Sanders stepped in and offered his Senate committee meeting room to host Tlaib. In a sense the media outlet and McCarthy did Tlaib a huge favor. Her event was enormously popular and the room was filled to the rafters.
New York Times’ erasure of Nakba
The anti-Nakba campaign even uses language as a tool to repress speech on the subject. While most global media outlets, including Israeli ones, use the term in their pages, the New York Times does not. In fact, the initial headline (see right screenshot) of the report on Tlaib’s event referred to a “Capitol Hill gathering by a Palestinian group to commemorate what it calls the nakba [sic], or disaster of Palestinian displacement…”
Subsequently, an editor erased the term and called the event (see left screenshot) a commemoration of the “mass displacement of Palestinians when the state of Israel was created.”
In subsequent Times stories the same word, displacement, is used as a euphemism. Language in this case is employed to obscure or erase the historical event. It protects Israel from blame for a crime for which it should be held accountable.
What is “displacement?” Why use such a Latinate European term, when there is a perfectly good and clear one rooted in the language of the victims? In this sense, even language steals their suffering from them.
Though Nabka is rooted in a historical event, it is no relic preserved in amber. It exists to this day. Every time an 8 year-old Palestinian boy is arrested for throwing a rock, every Palestinian family whose home is bulldozed to the ground, every teenaged boy murdered by IDF snipers who invade a West Bank village–all of them are an ongoing Nakba. Nakba is not just the expulsion of those 750,000 Palestinians in 1948. There is an ongoing Nakba today and every day.
This is another reason why Israel fears Nakba. It knows that it’s Original Sin is exposed, that what it is today will also be exposed.
Israel, like most fascist regimes, has a bureaucracy which imposes its will. Unlike western states, in which justice is based on the rule law, Israeli “law” exists to legitimate the oppression. Take that family whose home was bulldozed. They needed a new home for their growing family. But they couldn’t just hire a contractor to build it for them. They needed a permit. So they went to the local government office and filed for one. They waited and waited. Finally, they received their answer: a rejection. No Palestinian can get a building permit. But if you are an Israeli Jew, they practically give them away.
So what do you do? You build the house without a permit. Until a right-wing NGO like Regavim comes sniffing around and discovers you have no permit. They report you to the municipality or, if you live in the West Bank, they report you to COGAT, the IDF civil authority. The next thing you know you get an order declaring your home an illegal dwelling. You can pay them to tear it down or you do it yourself, stone by stone. Sometimes, a Caterpillar bulldozer arrives and tears asunder what you worked and scrimped to save for years–in a few minutes. That’s Nakba too.
Those settler pogromists screaming at Palestinians during Flag Day, calling them “Arabs sons of whores,” threatening to burn their village, or warning them of a second Nakba. They’re another part of the ongoing Nakba. The tragedy that never ends.
As a Jew, I cannot permit injustice to triumph. I cannot permit Israel to trample over Palestinians and erase their suffering, just as I refuse to permit anti-Semites to erase Jewish suffering during the Holocaust.