The Nakba Isn’t Over

There are many  in the Jewish community who view the Nakba as simply a historical fait accomplis. The attitude goes something like this: “Yes, during the creation of the state of Israel, Palestinians were displaced. That’s how nations get created. Today the state of Israel is just a fact – it’s time to get over it.”

The problem with this attitude – beyond the sheer injustice of it – is that the Nakba isn’t actually over.  In truth, government-sponsored displacement of Palestinians from their land has been continuing apace for the past 63 years.

One recent example: Ha’aretz recently revealed that Israel used a covert procedure to banish Palestinians from the West Bank by stripping them of their residency rights between 1967 and 1994:

(The) procedure, enforced on Palestinian West Bank residents who traveled abroad, led to the stripping of 140,000 of them of their residency rights. Israel registered these people as NLRs − no longer residents − a special status that does not allow them to return to their homes…

The sweeping denial of residency status from tens of thousands of Palestinians and deporting them from their homeland in this way cannot be anything but an illegitimate demographic policy and a grave violation of international law. It’s a policy whose sole purpose is to thin out the Palestinian population in the territories.

The ongoing Nakba was also evident in news last month of a new military order that will enable the military to summarily deport tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank:

The order’s vague language will allow army officers to exploit it arbitrarily to carry out mass expulsions, in accordance with military orders which were issued under unclear circumstances. The first candidates for expulsion will be people whose ID cards bear addresses in the Gaza Strip, including children born in the West Bank and Palestinians living in the West Bank who have lost their residency status for various reasons.

Israel’s founders understood full well that the Arab population of Palestine was the most significant barrier to the creation of a Jewish state. At the beginning of the 20th century, the population of Palestine was around 4% Jewish and 96% Arab. Although the events of 1948 tipped that scale significantly, it’s common parlance in Israel to view the growing presence of Palestinians as a “demographic threat.” So it’s not difficult at all to understand why Israel continues to institute these kinds of “thinning out” policies.

In a lengthy (but highly recommended) +972 post entitled “Why Jews need to talk about the Nakba,” Israeli blogger Noam Sheizaf writes:

The Palestinians won’t forget the Nakba. In many ways, it seems that with each year, the memory is just getting stronger.

It’s an interesting, counter-intuitive phenomenon: one would expect that the the memory of displacement would fade as the event itself recedes into the past and new facts in the ground take hold. In fact, the exact opposite seems to be happening. There are doubtless many explanations for this, but primary among them must be the fact that displacement continues to be the very real experience of succeeding generations of Palestinians.

This fact was very much on my mind as I read news reports that thousands of Palestinian refugees crossed Israel’s borders during Nakba Day demonstrations last Sunday.  As I watched scores of unarmed Palestinians willing to face live ammunition as they jumped the border fences, it was clear to me that they weren’t simply commemorating a “long-past” event.

For them, as for Israel, the Nakba isn’t over yet.

28 thoughts on “The Nakba Isn’t Over

  1. I find it ironic that anyone might think the Nakba could be forgotten. Have the Jews forgotten the implications of the Holocaust? There is a slight difference though in that the Holocaust has never been allowed to be forgotten while the Nakba somehow should be treated as if it is but a vague fragment of memory from times past.

    • For starters, the article you linked to states that “Israel was invaded along its border with Syria. More than 100 Syrians successfully infiltrated the country and rioted violently in Majdal Shams for several hours.

      This is, of course, an utterly false statement. Majdal Shams is not in Israel, it is part of sovereign Syrian territory that is occupied and has been illegally colonized by Israel since 1967, at which time Israel ethnically cleansed it of some 98% of its indigenous Syrian population.

      The rest of the article is filled with equally mendacious and misleading statements, stories, and claims, not the least of which is the extremely tired discredited nonsense about “the Arab armies that invaded the infant State of Israel on May 15, 1948 [having as their goal] to throw every Jewish man, woman and child in the country into the sea.

      You guys have been bombarding us with this same old helpless-sounding “infant state of Israel” and “throw the Jews into the sea” canard for decades. No one but you buys it any more. Learn a new song, or at least just sing it to each other, please. It got boring a long time ago.

      • Shirin,

        Syria lost the Golan Heights in a war  that Syria engaged in against Israel and lost.  Prior to the 6 day war shelling was continually occurring from Golan into Israel.  This is why Syria lost the Golan Heights.  So, Ms. Caroline Glick is correct about the infiltration.

        So, are you saying that there were no Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese, Iraqi, Saudi Arabian, Yemeni, Trans Jordanian, and Fedayeen invading and fighting the Haganah in the 1948 war?  If you are saying this you don’t know what happened.  I will be glad to introduce you to a few combatants who could clear this up for you.

        The “throw the Jews into the sea” is not a canard.  Those threats came often and ferociously in the Arab media in those days.  Are you saying that Haj Amin Husseini a great ally of Nazi Germany and a great friend of Heinrich Himmler did nothing to flame the fire of hatred in a Nazi kind of way towards the Jews?

        I apologize if you find the truth boring.   

      • Steve, everyone is entitled to his opinion, but no one is entitled to make up his own facts. As you have done here in spades.

        Syria did not “lose” the Golan Heights in 1967. The fact are these:

        – Israel invaded the Golan Heights, systematically and selectively ethnically cleansed it of 98% of its Syrian inhabitants, demolished approximately 98% of its villages and towns (not to mention, years later, Quneitra, a major city), and proceeded to colonize it and exploit its resources for the profit of Israel and Israelis, depriving its legal inhabitants of the resources of their land.
        – It is forbidden under international law to acquire territory by war, period. Doesn’t matter who claims who started the war, or why the war started, it is not allowed to colonize or annex territory occupied in war.
        – It is also forbidden under international law for an occupying power to move its citizens into occupied territory, and that is just for starters on the list of Israel’s violations in the Golan Heights and of course the other territories it has occupied and colonized.
        – Of course, it should be unnecessary to point out that ethnic cleansing is a really big no-no.
        – Israel’s colonization and “annexation” of the Golan Heights is, if anything, more illegitimate than its colonization of the Occupied Palestinian Territories because the Golan Heights is beyond question sovereign Syrian territory and is recognized as such to this day.

        As for your comment on the pre-1967 history of “continual shelling”, etc., please learn another song. That is yet another part of Israel’s self-serving mythology that has been quite well debunked, including by none other than Moshe Dayan himself.

        What I am saying is that “tiny, newborn Israel” was not invaded by Arab hordes determined to “throw every last Jewish man, woman, and child into the sea”. On the contrary, it was the Zionists who threw Palestinians into the sea, as is documented in word and photograph in places like Haifa and Jaffa.

        In fact, Israel was not invaded. On the contrary, it was Israel that invaded, sacked, looted, systematically ethnically cleansed, and took over much of what UNGA 181 had left to the majority population, the Palestinians.

        The relatively small, poorly equipped, and barely-trained force the Arab states mostly-half-heartedly sent did not in fact invade Israel, and the constant claims that they did is yet another example of Israeli historical mendacity. As for Transjordan, the only country with a decent army, King Abdullah had made an agreement with the Yishuv that he would not be a threat to them. All this is well documented, including by a number of Israeli historians.

        To the best of my knowledge there are no documented instances of threats to “throw the Jews into the sea”, let alone “every Jewish man, woman, and child”, let alone “constant threats”. In fact, the whole “throw the Jews into the sea” sea canard did not become part of Israeli propaganda until about two decades later when Gamal `Abdul Nasser allegedly uttered it. The problem is that no one has been able to substantiate that allegation, and until someone can, it remains a canard.

        I’m sorry that the facts inconveniently fail to support your opinion, but they are what they are, and by now are thoroughly documented and are becoming increasingly well-known and understood.

    • Oh – I should have mentioned that those Syrians who “invaded” the Golan Heights were in fact “invading” their own country. The majority among them were probably offspring of Syrians who were among those who were ethnically cleansed in 1967.

  2. Rabbi, as I read your excellent post, one thing keeps popping out at me again and again. Never mind the fact that Jews will not forget or allow anyone else to forget a horrible period that ended more than six decades ago. If Jews can justify clinging to the notion of a 2000-year exile from a land most cannot even demonstrate an ancestral connection to how can can they possibly expect Palestinians to “just get over” the Nakba when they know exactly the spot, and may even still have the deed and the key to the houses from which they, their parents, or their grandparents were exiled?

    • There’s a difference between telling Palestinians to “get over” the Nakba and telling Palestinians that in order to achieve peace, they will have to give up on some of their property. I don’t expect Palestinians to ditch their national narrative, but I do hope that they will be able to recognize the concessions that need to be made.

      • There’s a difference between telling Palestinians to “get over” the Nakba and telling Palestinians that in order to achieve peace, they will have to give up on some of their property. I don’t expect Palestinians to ditch their national narrative, but I do hope that they will be able to recognize the concessions that need to be made.

        At the risk of hogging this thread – which I fear I have already done – this really does need a response. This one short paragraph is so filled with problems that it is difficult to know where to begin.

        So, you are OK with the Palestinians not getting over the Nakba as long as they quietly accept its consequences and let Israelis get on with enjoying the spoils.

        And you expect Palestinian families who have been forcibly evicted en masse from their homes, their businesses, their villages, towns, and cities in 1948 and since to forget about their right of return, which is written into international law, in favor of your right to “return” and take possession of that land based on a historically relatively brief period of Hebrew domination of that land that ended more than 2,000 years ago. Interesting logic.

        And I do love the way you reduce the thoroughly-documented facts of what has happened to the Palestinians and their land in the last century to merely the Palestinians’ “national narrative”.

        And finally, one wonders what “concessions” the Palestinians can reasonably be expected to make beyond relinquishing their claim on the 78% of their homeland that was taken from them prior to 1967. What further areas of their homeland should they concede? Of course, one also wonders when the Israelis will be required to make concessions such as, for example, returning the lands they have illegally colonized since 1967.

    • Also, if you have no respect for the Jewish national narrative, how can you expect Jews to have respect for your national narrative? You try to minimize the Jewish connection to the land, but it is clearly part of our narrative, and I wish you would respect that, because it’s not going away. You’re not going to succeed by telling people with 2000 years of intense national sentiment (well-documented in liturgy and literature) that they can’t demonstrate ancestral connection.

      • I am not referring to “national narratives”, known in more realistic circles as collective mythology, I am referring to historical and present-day facts. Facts are often very inconvenient for those who rely on “national narratives” to justify their attitudes and behavior.

      • Why is ancestral connection any more valid than national narrative? Just because your great-grandparents were kicked out of a house does not logically mean that you have a right to that house. “Facts” won’t get us anywhere here: you know as well as I do that they are disputed by historians. And in any event, I really don’t understand what you hope to get from an “objective” investigation into history. Even if all of your historical claims are valid, that has no necessary connection to what we should do today.
        For that reason, I advocate a more sophisticated philosophy of history, one rooted in collective memory, or collective mythology. Call it whatever you want. What people believe happened is often much more important than what actually happened, because it is people we’re dealing with, not numbers.
        You are likely to persuade with present-day facts. I don’t dispute that at all. You are unlikely to persuade with calls to history. Collective mythology is much more fundamental to the human experience than objective history. You can yell all you want that the “facts are inconvenient” for Jews, but you won’t solve the conflict that way.

      • Unfortunately, Richard Kahn, I am not as sophisticated a thinker as you are, probably as a result of my mind having been badly corrupted in early childhood by my passion for math and science, and a rational, logical way of viewing the world.

        Sadly, my simple-minded, unsophisticated approach to history (and to just about everything else) consists of gathering as much information as I can, doing my best to sort out what is demonstrated to be fact, what is not demonstrated to be fact, but can be proven, what is plausible but not demonstrable, what is implausible, and what is clearly false, and forming conclusions, and opinions on that basis.

        Peoples’ (and people’s) collective and personal mythologies are fascinating, and useful for learning many things about those individuals and societies who hold onto them, but they tell us little or nothing about historical reality.

        I would also point out that the collective mythology you are so fond of presenting as more important than reality serves your case whereas the facts do not. Not that I am suggesting that your advocacy for a “more sophisticated” approach to history is self-serving at all.

      • Go for it. Gather all of your facts. Figure out exactly what happened. I’m sure you’ll be able to do it with absolutely no bias whatsoever. If that’s actually how you form opinions and beliefs, you’re probably the only one in the world. Congratulations.

        I’m sure a competent Israel advocate (I’m not one) could argue with you about the facts. They might claim the exact same thing as you, that they have carefully inspected what happened and is happening and have determined that the Jews are right. They probably believe with just as much certainty as you have that they are forming their beliefs based on fact, whereas the other side (you) is devoted to myths. In fact, didn’t Dershowitz organize his book around the Myth/Fact theme?

        I’m not saying that collective mythology can tell us anything about historical reality. I’m saying that collective mythology is far more relevant to real-life policy decisions than historical reality. You have done nothing to demonstrate otherwise. Your dedication to the “facts” does not serve your case at all, for the simple reason that you’re not convincing anybody. Even if you are a supremely rational being, not everybody can be so lucky. It doesn’t matter if you, by your crisp methodology, have concluded that the Jews are in the wrong, because there are a lot of other people involved in the conflict who aren’t you and don’t form beliefs in the same unbiased manner. For these people, the best hope we have is to respect their narratives and try to fulfill their human needs as much as possible.

        And for the record, one of my main academic concentrations is formal logic. (Remember the debate we had a while back about whether a certain argument was “valid”? I little training in logic might have helped you there.)

      • Why is ancestral connection any more valid than national narrative?

        Would you be asking that question if the situation were reversed, and you were the one who had been ethnically cleansed, and had your property taken from you using someone else’s “national narrative” as an excuse? Somehow I doubt it.

        Just because your great-grandparents were kicked out of a house does not logically mean that you have a right to that house.

        And yet you firmly believe that all YOU need is some “national” mythology to be entitled to “return” to a place you have never set foot it, and cannot establish any ancestral connection to. You believe your “national” myths entitle you to forcibly remove the inhabitants of that place you have never set foot in and cannot establish any ancestral connection to, send them into permanent exile, and take their houses and other property from them. Not very consistent.

        And by the way, Palestinians – and Syrians – who are displaced from their families’ property and homeland as a result of Israeli ethnic cleansing most certainly are entitled to one of two things; their property back, or fair compensation for the loss of their property, the loss of its use, the expense and inconvenience of having been displaced, and for their pain and suffering as a result of being displaced.

        “Facts” won’t get us anywhere here: you know as well as I do that they are disputed by historians.

        The critical facts are sufficiently thoroughly documented as to not be subject to any kind of serious dispute.

        I really don’t understand what you hope to get from an “objective” investigation into history.

        Oh, I think you do, I think it makes you very nervous, and I think that is why you are so resistant to it.

      • I’m sure a competent Israel advocate (I’m not one) could argue with you about the facts.

        I have been involved in literally hundreds of arguments with Israel advocates of greater or lesser competency. When faced with too many fact-based, reasoned arguments somehow they all always revert to national mythology and emotion-based arguments in one way or another. And then there are those who resort to dishonest debate tactics, or more desperate yet, drag out the “you’re an anti-Semite” card – a sure sign they know they have lost.

      • You have given me more to think about here than before. Thank you.

        Were you ethnically cleansed (in 1948)? I honestly don’t know. I guess it’s possible. I don’t want to assume anything about you.

        I agree that someone who was kicked out of the property is entitled to it back. No national narrative can justify kicking someone out of their house. (Of course, there may be valid reasons for not returning it to them. In any event, I wish you wouldn’t assume things about what I believe. Respond to what I say, not to what you think a stereotypical Israel supporter would say.) However, what about their children? I guess it seems reasonable. Their grandchildren? Less so. There has to be some sort of statute of limitations. And bear in mind that you’re then forcing some perfectly innocent Israeli family (they exist) who purchased this house a few years ago to give something back that they didn’t take.
        Reparations get sticky when we are 60+ years removed from the incident.

        One thing you do need to do is to stop minimizing Jews’ connection to the land. No, we can’t display ancestral connection, although it would be relatively trivial to assume that I have an ancestor who lived in Israel 2000 years ago. Once you go back that far, everybody is everybody’s ancestor.
        But we have been yearning for the land for 2000 years. No, that doesn’t entitle us to ethnically cleanse. But it does entitle us to feel Jew about returning to our homeland. Please respect that. You don’t have to show utter disrespect for Jews and our narrative in order to assert your entitlement. Please stop saying that the Jews have no connection to the land. We do.

        I’m not nervous at all about the facts. I’m nervous about people like you (there are parallels on the other side, of course, who are no less dangerous) who make peace impossible with your fixation on them. I repeat, concessions must be made to live in peace. Live in the now.

      • I agree that someone who was kicked out of the property is entitled to it back. No national narrative can justify kicking someone out of their house. (Of course, there may be valid reasons for not returning it to them.)

        There are indeed valid reasons. In most cases, the villages from which Palestinians were cleansed do not exist – they were destroyed by Israel. I agree that reparations are sticky, but we’re far from even getting to that point. Israel has never (and shows no signs of ever) taking responsibility for its role in the dislodging Palestinians from their homes and refusing to let them return.

        (We) have been yearning for the land for 2000 years. No, that doesn’t entitle us to ethnically cleanse. But it does entitle us to feel Jew about returning to our homeland. Please respect that. You don’t have to show utter disrespect for Jews and our narrative in order to assert your entitlement. Please stop saying that the Jews have no connection to the land. We do.

        Your point is well taken. Many Palestinians do dismiss Jewish connections to the land. Considering their experience of the Zionist enterprise, I understand why this is so.

        It’s also a bit misleading to say that “we have been yearning for the land for 2000 years.” I think it is more accurate to say that for 2000 years, our yearning for return to Zion was expressed in largely religious terms, with the understanding that it would occur in tandem with the coming of the Messiah. The idea of creating a Jewish nation-state called the State of Israel is a relatively new, largely 20th century phenomenon. To say that Jews have a connection to this land is one thing. To say that this connection must necessarily = exclusive political control over it is quite another.

      • However, what about their children? I guess it seems reasonable. Their grandchildren? Less so. There has to be some sort of statute of limitations.

        Is your proposed statute of limitations less than 2000 years?

      • Thanks R. Brant. I agree with almost everything you said in that comment. Although, I would add that while yearning for the land was never political until fairly recently (unless you count Spinoza!), it was also not wholly messianic. Many actually tried to make the pilgrimage to Israel and wrote and dreamed about moving to Israel in this world.

        Shirin, my statute of limitations is, indeed, less than 2000 years. I don’t believe that pre-1948 inhabitants of Palestine were legally required to give up their houses to welcome back the descendants of Jews kicked out by the Romans, nor do I believe that Jews everywhere should have UN-recognized permanent refugee status for something that happened thousands of years ago.

      • But, Richard–correct me if I’m wrong–it seems to me that you ARE saying that the “descendents” of those kicked out by the Romans 2000 years ago, not literal but intellectual, spiritual, ideological (i.e., the Jews) have the right to return, in perpetuity, to the land that their holy book says belongs to them, while the Palestinians lose that right after X number of years or generations. The Jews’ right to return and set up a state of their own trumps the right of Palestinians to live in the same territory. And the right of a Jew with no biological connection to that piece of land–say, one of my Christian relatives who converts to Judaism–trumps the right of someone whose ancestors had lived there for hundreds or even thousands of years.

        I just don’t see how that’s fair.

      • I’m sorry if it seems like that because I never said that, nor do I think that, as I said very clearly in my latest comment. In practice, right now, the Jews do have a right to return to their land. That’s because the Israeli government has vested that right in them. It’s not any sort of natural right.
        Pre-1948, I don’t really know in what sense you could have said that Jews had the “right” to return to the land of their ideological ancestors. Certainly not in the sense that the UN should have safeguarded this human right to return. Certainly not in the sense that they could have knocked on Arab doors and demanded their land back.
        What I have argued is that Palestinians should recognize that the Jews do have a longstanding tie to the land. I don’t really think this translates into any sort of natural right. All I’m asking for is that Palestinians be sympathetic to the Jewish narrative (or mythology, whatever you want to call it). Is cross-cultural understanding too much to ask?
        Is that clear enough?

      • Thank you, Richard–that does clarify your position, and I’m sorry if I was putting words in your mouth. I’m new to this discussion, and it’s easy to hear things that you expect to hear, because you’ve heard them before (from other people) rather than what’s actually being said.

        Stepping back to listen some more, and more closely–

      • KM,

        Don’t let Richard bully you (he has a habit of getting snarky with his comments here.) You respectfully wrote “correct me if I’m wrong.” You have nothing to apologize for.

        And please don’t let his words inhibit you or cause you to “step back” from sharing your questions and opinions. For the record, I think there is a big, big difference between a “mythic” relationship to an ancient homeland and the relationship of the people who are actually living on it. For one thing, human rights and international law recognize the latter and not the former. In the real world we simply cannot grant rights every people who stake a “mythic” claim to a particular piece of land.

        I look forward to your continued participation on my blog, KM!

      • Not feeling bullied! When I said I’d step back and listen, it just meant that I wasn’t going to push forward with this particular discussion. I also want to be sure that I’m not responding to that “stereotypical Israel advocate” when I read one of his posts–or a “stereotypical Palestine advocate” when I read someone else’s.

        A “longstanding tie to the land that doesn’t translate into any natural right” makes sense to me. It’s just very, very far from what I see and hear from the Israeli government, and Jewish settlers, and a lot of their American supporters. And it’s quite different, to me, from the much more recent and immediate tie to the land of those forbidden to return since 1948.

      • Thanks, Kraj. That’s all I ask. If my response was rude or hurtful, which it may well have been, I apologize.

  3. very intresting arguments…back and forth…leads me to believe that arafat should hjave taken that camp david deal

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