It is that time of year again. In a few days, there will be the usual spate of anti-Israel propaganda centered around the massacre at Deir Yassin, which whatever its size and circumstances, has certainly been magnified absurdly out of proportion to its real importance, and turned into an all-powerful explanatory device and "edifying" moral tale. In about a month, there will be a torrent of accusations concerning the "Nakba" (disaster) perpetrated by evil Zionists to "ethnically cleanse" Palestine, who allegedly forced the flight of anywhere from 600,000 to 800,000 Arab Palestinians in 1948.
This ritual is repeated annually, and this being the 60th anniversary of the Israel War of Independence
, the Nakba will no doubt attract unusual attention from the "peace with justice" advocates, who will insist that the Arabs of the land of Israel were minding their own business and going about their affairs when the evil and racist Zionists suddenly turned on them and implemented their diabolical plan to cleanse the land of Arabs. It will also elicit a spate of overdone denials by well meaning Zionist advocates who insist that the Jews were minding their own business entirely, when suddenly, heeding calls from their leaders or a mysterious migratory reflex, the Arabs of Palestine decided to leave for no reason at all.
Over the years, a large body of quotes and counter quotes, evidence and counter evidence, has been assembled or fabricated to "prove" or disprove each version of events. In particular, the Nakba mythology has been developed to abuse history and demand a false "justice" that consists essentially of implementing the original war aims of the Nazi Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al Husseini
: destroying Israel and ridding Palestine of the Jews.
Benny Morris has had a large role in publicizing the less savory aspects of Zionist actions in 1948. This earns him a reputation as an Israeli who is at least willing to see both sides of the issue. In a letter to the Irish Times of February 21, 2008, Morris wrote:
The Palestinian Arabs were not responsible "in some bizarre way" (David Norris, January 31st) for what befell them in 1948. Their responsibility was very direct and simple.
In defiance of the will of the international community, as embodied in the UN General Assembly Resolution of November 29th, 1947 (No. 181), they launched hostilities against the Jewish community in Palestine in the hope of aborting the emergence of the Jewish state and perhaps destroying that community. But they lost; and one of the results was the displacement of 700,000 of them from their homes.
. That is probably the fairest summary of the question available.
I have examined the historical evidence in detail here: Palestine Nakba 1948 Some of my conclusions are below. You are urged to read the entire article and judge for yourself. Corrections and comments and additional information are most welcome.
Excerpts from Palestine Nakba 1948
Nakba: Arab Palestinian Refugees
It cannot be disputed that a large number of Palestinian Arabs were displaced during the Israel war of Independence. Their suffering is real. It cannot be disputed that the Jews (and later the IDF) carried out violent acts, often targeting civilians. The Irgun rolled barrels of explosives out of the backs of trucks in the Old City of Jerusalem and elsewhere, and the Haganah and Irgun attacked villages in various reprisal raids. They did it because the Arabs were terrorizing the Jews, attacking Jewish transportation and murdering people in ambushes. Reprisals were thought to discourage further attacks, and sometimes removing a hostile population was the only way to open roads or stop repeated attacks. It is equally true that the Arab Palestinians committed atrocities against the Jews. They bombed Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, murdered people in Kfar Etzion and attacked the Jews of Tel Aviv and Haifa.
The Arabs however, were acting in defiance of a UN resolution, and their leadership announced the express aim of exterminating the Jews of Palestine. The Arabs left Palestine in large numbers, whereas, despite large massacres and a bitter siege in Jerusalem, the Jews did not leave. The fact that the Arabs left can be attributed to response to Jewish violence, poor social organization, to exaggeration of Jewish atrocities and also to the circumstance that they lost the war. However, the Arabs began leaving Palestine fairly early in the conflict, when most of them believed they would win the war, and when the capacity of the Jews to exert physical coercion was limited by the presence of the British. Exaggerated atrocity stories about Deir Yassin and other real or alleged massacres may have prompted some to leave, but the Jews had quite real atrocity stories of Arab massacres of Jews, that were documented by eye-witnesses, yet they did not flee.
The Perpetuation of the Nakba Tragedy
The Jewish refugees in Israel, and those who became refugees from Arab countries, were absorbed into Israeli society. In two or three years, Israel absorbed a population of refugees equivalent to the entire Jewish population of Palestine in 1948. By 1950, the Jewish population of Israel had approximately doubled.
By the end of the war, however, the Arab states had decided to make return of the refugees the centerpiece of their campaign against Israel, and to use it as a device for destroying Israel. They convinced Falke Bernadotte to include return of the refugees as a demand in his last report. When Bernadotte was assassinated, the Arab states and their supporters attempted to pass a UN resolution that would mandate both return of the refugees and removal of the Negev from Israel, as Bernadotte had recommended. The US scuttled the demand for detaching the Negev from Israel. By this time, the Israelis had dislodged the Egyptians from the northern Negev and opened the road south. But UN Resolution 194 did call for return of refugees who wished to "live in peace with their neighbors." The resolution did not specify Arab refugees only, and it did not specify that to "live in peace with their neighbors" included acceptance of UN resolution 181, which had called for creation of Jewish and Arab states.
The birth of the Palestine Refugee Nakba mythology
The Arab states and the supporters of the Palestinian Arabs gradually developed the myth that the Jews had conspired to expel the Arabs of Palestine, and that this expulsion had been the plan of the Jewish leadership in 1948, and even a plan of the Zionists beginning with Theodor Herzl. After visiting Turkish ruled Jerusalem, Herzl had written the novel Altneuland, which envisioned a mulipluralistic Jewish state in which Arabs and Jews had equal rights. Early Zionists had insisted on safeguarding the rights of the Arabs of Palestine. But reality did not interfere with such fantasies.
Right of Return and Abuse of the Nakba
The issue of how the Arabs of Palestine came to refugees is not directly relevant to the claimed "right of return" to Israel, though it has been abused by both sides for this purpose. UN General Assembly resolution 194 is not binding in international law. The right of return, wherever it has been exercised, is not granted to enemy belligerents in an aggressive war. It is granted to persons who want to return to their homeland and live there as loyal citizens. However the overriding concern is self determination. The partition resolution called for two states for two peoples, and that the League of Nations mandate had already recognized the right of the Jewish people to self determination. Self-Determination is Jus Cogens, that takes precedence over other claims in international law. Return of the Arab Palestinian refugees, or rather, return of their numerous descendants to Israel, would make the Jews a minority in Israel and void the Jewish right to self determination (see Right of Return of Palestinian Refugees in International Law ).
The real Palestinian Arab Nakba
A Palestinian Arab state could have absorbed the refugees of 1948, just as Israel absorbed refugees from Europe and the Arab world, but the Arab states made no serious moves to implement a Palestinian Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza, though rival Palestinian governments were set up briefly by Jordan in the West Bank and by Egypt in Gaza.
Instead, the Arabs of Palestine were kept in camps. The Arabs sought to use the issue as a lever for the destruction of Israel, but had no intention of allowing an independent Palestinian Arab state. Rather, "Palestine" was always part of the general cause of Arab nationalism. The issue at stake was never the "loss" of self-determination of the Palestinian Arabs, since the Arabs had never had self rule and did not want self rule until the Zionists had come to the land.
The UN set up a special mechanism, the UNRWA, to provide emergency services for the refugees. The "emergency" has lasted about 60 years. The refugee population, swelled by a prodigious birth rate as well as fraud, has reached many millions. If 100,000 refugees were repatriated each year forever, the population of Arab Palestinian refugees would still keep growing, yet Arab opposition to a humane solution is so stalwart that nobody dares to suggest seriously that the UNRWA should be dissolved or that alternative solutions should be sought for the Arab Palestinian refugees. The perpetuation of the refugee problem for political reasons is the real and enduring Nakba, the disastrous tragedy of the Arabs of Palestine.
The Palestinian Nakba, Peace and Justice for Palestine
There is no way of ever obtaining total and complete justice in the real world. Those who insist on "Peace with Justice" should take care of what they wish for. The Nazi Grand Mufti of Jerusalem escaped punishment at Nuremberg because he was freed by the French, apparently in order to interfere with British policy in Palestine. He died in his bed. The tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of Jews who were killed by the Nazis because of the Mufti are never going to get justice. The Jewish refugees from Arab lands are probably never going to be compensated for the properties they lost, or for centuries of humiliation under Muslim rule. The Jews of Jerusalem who died in the siege of hunger, disease or enemy bombs and bullets will not get justice. The innocent Arabs, and there were undoubtedly innocents, who died or were expelled in 1948 are not going to get justice. The Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Turks and British who invaded and held the land of Israel are never going to face justice either. The great injustice that is being done to the Jews of Israel and the Arabs of Palestine is perpetuation of the conflict and the hatred in the name of impossible and reprehensible goals.
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