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The Misleading Nakba Narrative

In recent years the international community has come to accept the Palestinians’ Nakba narrative in which Israel’s birth is treated as a “disaster” and indisputable proof of the need to pressure Israel. While it is possible to sympathize with the tale of Palestinian suffering in the wake of the creation of Israel without seeking to delegitimize Zionism, all too often those who adopt the notion that the events of 1948 were a “disaster” treat Israel’s creation as an original sin that requires the world to bow to all of the Palestinians’ demands.

But what is most troubling is that many on the Jewish left have adopted this same point of view. As Joshua Muravchick wrote in a definitive article on the subject in the June 2013 issue of COMMENTARY, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has been “Trashing Israel Daily” for years. But its editorial last week days before the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, which called for the state to not only accept the Palestinian narrative of victimization for which Israel bears sole responsibility but have it taught in its schools, was so over the top it prompted one of the country’s veteran left-wing thinkers and advocates of peace with the Palestinians to call them out.

Shlomo Avineri, a leading Israeli scholar and at one time the director general of its Foreign Ministry, was among the first in the country to advocate negotiations with the PLO in the 1970s when such dealings were illegal. As such, his credentials as an advocate of negotiations and reconciliation with the Palestinians are impeccable. But Avineri was shocked at what he read in a paper whose opinion columns often read more like Palestinian propaganda than anything else. His dissection of the editorial that was published today is must reading for anyone who cares about peace or about the truth. While acknowledging that the history of the conflict is complex, he believes those who accept the idea that Israel alone is responsible for Palestinian suffering are wrong.

He writes:

Some facts of history really ought not to be left to historians. The attempt to ignore them is morally flawed — and morality is, rightfully, the driving spirit behind the editorial. It is a fact — one that should not be “a matter for historians” — that in September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and not the other way around. It is a fact that on December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the United States and not vice versa. It is also true that what is called the Nakba is the result of a political decision by the Palestinian leadership and the Arab states to reject the United Nations partition resolution, to try to prevent its implementation by force and to attack the Jewish community in the Land of Israel before and after the state’s establishment. Of this, the editorial says nothing.

Thus, the context of the founding of the State of Israel is presented in the editorial exactly as it is presented in Palestinian and Arab political discourse — with total disregard of the political and historical reality in 1947 and 1948. Usually, Arab discourse simply never mentions the partition resolution, just as it never mentions the violent opposition to its implementation. Such denial from the Arab side might be understandable — but in Haaretz? In case anyone forgot or does not know, I suggest going to the newspaper’s archives and reading the headlines from November 30, 1947 and the daily news from the subsequent months. They are full of reports of Arab violence and the beginnings of armed Arab resistance to the establishment of the State of Israel, first by the Arab militias (the “gangs”) inside the country and later via the coordinated invasion by Arab armies when the British Mandate ended on May 15, 1948. The editorial says not a word about that, just as Arab discourse prefers simply to wipe those historical facts from memory.

Avineri also points out the hypocrisy of the effort to brand Israel has having been born as a result of original sin:

Was the Nakba an earthquake? A tornado? A tsunami? It was the tragic result of an Arab political decision to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state in the portion of the Land of Israel that had been under the British Mandate, just as the expulsion of 12 million ethnic Germans from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary after 1945 was the tragic result of German aggression in 1939 and later in 1941, when it invaded the Soviet Union. In both cases, masses of innocent civilians paid the price of their leaders’ aggression. But if anyone today tried to describe the expulsion of millions of Germans from Eastern Europe as a “disaster” that had nothing to do with the Third Reich’s aggression, he would rightly be called a neo-Nazi.

By ignoring the real reasons Palestinians suffered, those who buy into the Nakba narrative tilt the diplomatic playing field against Israel and legitimize the efforts of those who seek to promote boycotts of Israel or its destruction. Burying the truth about the Nakba makes it difficult if not impossible to understand contemporary Palestinian violence.

One can certainly understand, but not justify, the general Palestinian and Arab opposition to the Zionist enterprise. That is the nature of national conflicts, although this opposition had more aspects of murder and terrorism than other national movements did. Palestinian terrorism against Jewish civilians is not the result of the post-1967 years of occupation. It was part of the 1929 riots and the Arab uprising of 1936. It is true that on the one hand, we cannot conclude from the grand mufti’s presence in Berlin during World War II that Arab opposition to Zionism was identical to Nazism. But on the other hand, to ignore this fact and leave it to historians is a distortion of history. It is part of the concrete historical consciousness of both Jews and Arabs.

Avineri’s cri de coeur about the way Haaretz has joined the assault on Zionism should be heeded not just by those who seek to defend the Jewish state but also principally by those who are troubled by its presence in the West Bank and ardently desire a two state solution. Peace will remain impossible until the Palestinians reject a conception of national identity that is inextricably linked with the effort to destroy Israel. As long as Palestinians treat the Nakba as an excuse to delegitimize Israel, the sea change that will make peace viable won’t happen. Those Jews and Jewish institutions that seek to validate this false Nakba narrative are putting off the day when peace will come, not hastening it.



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