Sunday, 15 May 2011

Remembering the Nakba

By Hesham Zakai 
(London Student Editor) 
“We must expel the Arabs and take their place”
David Ben-Gurion, letter to his son Aron, October 5 1937

“The old will die and the young will forget”
Ben-Gurion’s diary, July 18 1948

The current period is “the second half of 1948″
Ariel Sharon’s description of the Al-Aqsa Intifada

Port City of Jaffa
 I could really have stop writing here and allowed the words of the former Israeli Prime Ministers to speak for themselves – and how candidly they do. In fact, if one were to look through the annals of history, one would discover how remarkably punctuated by frank admissions of Zionist intent it is. Just ten days ago, for example, the Commander of Operation Cast Lead, Major General Yoav Galant, openly said that Gaza was an ‘ideal training ground’ for Israel where new weapons could be tested because it lacked the capacity to inflict any serious damage in retaliation.

But the three epigraphic quotes are more than just immoral gloating. All interlinked, they represent a tripartite process which is incomplete: 1- The plan; 2- The hope; 3- The continuation. I refer, unmistakably, to the intention to diminish the number of Palestinians in historic Palestine, which is undoubtedly what the spectre of 1948 entails for a war criminal like Sharon.
In 1948, Jaffa was the most populous of the Palestinian cities, with over 70,000 inhabitants, as well as the most commercially developed. Whilst researching its history, I encountered tales of hope and tragedy; it being the eve of Yawm al-Nakba (Day of The Catastrophe), it is inevitably the latter I shall briefly rest on here. In spite of the fact that the mayor of Jaffa, Yussuf Haykal, tried to negotiate a peace deal with David Ben-Gurion, and in spite of the fact that even under the UN Partition Plan Jaffa was assigned an Arab-controlled city, the Stern Gang, Irgun and Hagana (the latter of which was the forerunner to the IDF) conspired to terrorise the city and its citizens.
Four days into 1948, a lorry was filled with explosives by the Irgun gang and left in central Jaffa, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds, many of whom were children visiting the Welfare centre of the town hall. In Abu Kabir, a village which had seen clashes between Arabs and Jews increase, the Zionist terrorist gangs blew up 15 Arab houses in a single day during a process of systematic terrorisation. The villages around Abu Kabir were also attacked and occupied by terrorist gangs, leaving Jaffa effectively under siege whilst it was indiscriminately shelled using British weapons which had been looted by the Zionist gangs from warehouses. Armies attacking besieged populations using British weapons has a sorry ring of familiarity to it.
The Hagana’s Plan Dalet meant that Palestinian villages were to be taken over and subjected to: ‘occupation, and if the Jewish forces encountered resistance, the takeover would be followed by the annihilation of the resisting force; the deportation of the population; and the destruction of the village. If there were no resistance, a defensive force would remain in the village or nearby to make it secure’ (War in Palestine, p. 88). After sustained bombardment, Jaffa was eventually ‘cleansed’ of 97% of its indigenous Arab Palestinian population. Tragically, many of those who attempted to flee by sea in the final days of the catastrophe out of sheer terror and desperation drowned and died.
Similar processes happened across Palestinian villages. But the key point is that these are not merely historical events – they continue today: forced evictions, house demolitions, agricultural destruction, apartheid walls, sailors shot at sea &c. The four words highlighted above which characterised 1948 are just as applicable today: Occupation, Annihilation, Deportation and Destruction The Nakba was not a fixed historical event, static in time that happened and is now over; it is a process of continued exclusion, expulsion and destruction. During Operation Cast Lead alone, over 4,200 homes were demolished; since Israel’s military occupation in 1967 nearly 25,000 homes have been demolished; and all whilst Israel’s illegal colonial expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territories continues, standing at over half a million settlers at present. This is what Ariel Sharon meant when he said that 1948 was not over and the second half of it was underway.
Yet from the dust of the rubble of demolished homes the International Solidarity Movement is growing bigger and bigger. Against the grain of Ben-Gurion’s hope that ‘the old will die and the young will forget’, the young are not forgetting at all; in fact, those who had forgotten have been reminded and those who did not know are learning. Whilst we must always remember and commemorate the Nakba, to be conscious of something is not enough. To actually affect change, we must translate remembrance into deeds: we must strive to ensure the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homelands. It is an inalienable human right enshrined in law and affirmed annually. ‘There is no greater sorrow on earth’, wrote the Greek tragedian Euripides, ‘than the loss of one’s native homeland’. The Nakba will be truly over when the Palestinian sorrow is ended, and Arabs and Jews can once more live together in a land they can both call home.


  1. I have one straight forward question, its a yes or a no answer:

    You speak greatly about the Palestinians that were run out of their homes and condemn it of course, so do I, I was wondering if you would condemn the 800,000 Jews that were thrown out of neighbouring arab countries?

    Yes or no?

  2. Hi Ben,

    I don't think it's always possible to reduce events in history like the one we're dealing with to simple 'yes' or 'no' answers. At your invitation, however, I will say that I completely condemn the instances where Jewish populations were forced to leave their homes in Arab countries and I fully support their right to return.

    But I do not think that that suffices as a retort to the tragedy of the Nakba and nor is it directly analogous. There are key differences:

    - Migration from Arab countries to historic Palestine had been steadily increasing over the last several decades prior to 1948, including from Arab countries.

    - Zionist leaders actively encouraged Jews to leave their homes in the Arab world and move to Israel.

    - Whereas the Nakba was a mass and forced exodus over a short space of time, Jews left Arab countries over a far longer period that spans decades. The point here is that Jewish immigration out of Arab countries related to Israel's ability to absorb them, suggesting large number did not spontaneously flee out of desperation (though of course some did) but rather migrated over time at Israel's behest - to make Aliyah a lot of the time - which they would have done regardless of what Arab countries did or did not do. Oftentimes, the Arab Jews were absorbed into Israel later than Ashkenazi Jews because the latter were considered superior, so you might want to consider Israel's own racial stratification.

    This article, which initially appeared in Haaretz (but I can't find a direct link now) makes several excellent points:

    Perhaps most importantly, this article draws on the idea that those who left often do not believe themselves to be refugees or wish to return:

    ‘The organization's claims infuriated many Mizrahi Israelis who defined themselves as Zionists. As early as 1975, at the time of WOJAC's formation, Knesset speaker Yisrael Yeshayahu declared: "We are not refugees. [Some of us] came to this country before the state was born. We had messianic aspirations."

    Shlomo Hillel, a government minister and an active Zionist in Iraq, adamantly opposed the analogy: "I don't regard the departure of Jews from Arab lands as that of refugees. They came here because they wanted to, as Zionists."

    In a Knesset hearing, Ran Cohen stated emphatically: "I have this to say: I am not a refugee." He added: "I came at the behest of Zionism, due to the pull that this land exerts, and due to the idea of redemption. Nobody is going to define me as a refugee."’

    - You might want to read Naeim Giladi's book, 'Ben-Gurion's Scandals: How the Haganah and the Mossad Eliminated Jews', to see the reprehensible means the Israeli state went to to coerce Arab Jews to emigrate to Israel to provide sources of labour.

    Finally, whereas some Arab countries have made efforts to welcome back Jews (Iraq's plea in the 1970s, Tunisia & Morocco &c.) no such efforts have been made from Israel. Rather, they continue to drive people out.

    Returning to your question, I do not wish to ameliorate Arab anti-Semitism; it happens, is deplorable, and we should combat it collectively. I also do not think, however, that the Nakba and Jewish exodus are the same and therefore to conflate the two would be erroneous.

    Sorry for the long reply and thanks for the question.