This morning crowds of Arabs stormed Israel’s borders along the Golan Heights and Lebanon. The reason for these demonstrations, and others that took place in the territories is that it is May 15. That makes it the 63rd anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence (celebrated earlier this week according to the Hebrew calendar) but for Arabs, it is Nakba or “disaster” day.
In a sense the attempts to cross Israel’s borders is a highly appropriate way to commemorate the events of May 15, 1948. On that day, the British Mandate for Palestine expired and the forces of the United Kingdom withdraw, allowing the residents of the country to sort out their own disputes. The United Nations had voted the previous fall to partition the country into two states: one Arab and one Jewish. The Jews accepted the deal. The Arabs refused, insisting that there be no Jewish state, not even one with the truncated borders of the partition resolution that didn’t even include any of Jerusalem.
When the British withdrew, the Jews declared their state. The Arabs, who had spent the past few months launching attacks on Jewish towns, villages and cities, urged the surrounding Arab nations to invade to wipe out the newborn state of Israel. Five Arab armies complied with the request, as Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan (today’s Jordan) and Iraq sent troops into the former Mandate. When the fighting stopped in 1949, Israel was still standing and parts of Palestine (including half of Jerusalem) were occupied by foreign armies and remained under the rule of Egypt and the Jordanians until 1967.
The point of this history lesson is this: From the day of Israel’s birth, the purpose of its Arab foes was not to truncate its borders but to make sure it had no territory at all. Nakba Day should illustrate that it is not the eviction of the Jews from parts of the West Bank that has inspired Palestinian Arab nationalism but the notion that Jewish sovereignty anywhere in the country is unacceptable.
This is something that Israel’s liberal critics who continue to carp that its government must give up nationalist and religious dreams and make peace don’t understand. The fact that even the current supposedly hard-right wing government has embraced the concept of a two state solution is ignored. The history of the last 18 years of peace processing which brought the Palestinians autonomy in the West Bank and a Jew-free Hamas-run state in Gaza but no peace for Israel is of no interest to those who prefer to insist that somehow the lack of peace is still somehow Israel’s fault.
Nakba Day helps remind the Arabs that their goal is the “return” of the descendants of millions of descendants of Arab refugees of the war of 1948-49. Which is to say that they have not given up their dream of wiping out Israel. It ought to remind Israel’s critics of the same thing.