Commentary Magazine


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Nakba Narratives

Take note of what will surely become a regular feature of observances of Israel’s 60th anniversary: manipulative media coverage of the nakba, or “catastrophe,” the Arab word for Israel’s birth in 1948. Here are the opening paragraphs of one such report from the AFP:

Palestinian officials said on Sunday they are preparing events to mark the 60th anniversary next month of the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Arabs during the 1948 Middle East war.

The National Committee for the Anniversary of the Nakba — the Arabic word for “catastrophe” used to denote the expulsion of some 700,000 Arabs during Israel’s war for independence — will stage several events in the coming weeks.

In case the AFP’s repetition didn’t make it clear: 700,000 Arabs were “expelled” during Israel’s war for independence. Except that they actually weren’t. Israel did not wage a “war for independence” — independence was peacefully declared on the eve of Britain’s withdrawal from Mandatory Palestine, several months after the UN had approved a partition plan for the territory. The next day, in the culmination of months of violence, Israel was invaded, as promised, by the armies of Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, and Iraq.

During the violence of 1947-1948, approximately 700,000 Arabs were displaced. Many fled preemptively and — they believed — temporarily, assuming an Arab victory. Many did so later, to escape the violence that was being waged in their names, in their villages. Some were expelled — although the historic evidence for this being motivated by ethnic, as opposed to military, concerns is slight.

These events are complicated and sometimes ambiguous, and the manner in which they are portrayed can serve to retroactively bestow victim and oppressor status on either Arab or Jew. The AFP has chosen to present an Arab war of annihilation against Israel as a Jewish war of expulsion against the Arabs. That should tell us a lot.