It is absolutely wrong to say that Arab residents of Mandated Palestine did not suffer a NAKBA (catastrophe) in 1948. History shows that from their perspective, whatever the truth of the conflict itself, the end result was a catastrophe for them. But is accepting they suffered a catastrophe the same as accepting that the Palestinian NAKBA narrative is true? No, it most certainly is not.
This is not about where you sit on the issue of settlements, Gaza, the PA or a Palestinian state. This isn’t about what you think of Tzipi Hotovely either. The position here is one of historical truth.
Oral v Written history
The Jews were a state within a state and meticulous record keepers. The Arabs had been virtually leaderless since the brutal British crackdown during the uprisings in the 1930s. The Jews were a community – a people, the Arabs were a clan based, disconnected society.
When the dust settled, the Jews had it all written down. The Arabs had virtually nothing. The two situations naturally create completely different dynamics. One side has a written history, the other almost totally dependent on an oral one:
Written – Over time the chest-beating myths give way to a more balanced view of events. With the periodic publication of sealed historical records, adjustments are made allowing for further introspection. As generations fade into history, a far more critical approach begins to take place. The graph is an over-simplification, but in general, the narrative should begin to reflect more of a balanced truth.
Oral – People are terrible witnesses, they personalise everything, are the heroes of their own stories, exaggerate, hide their own crimes and demonise their enemy. This gets worse over time and narratives become further twisted according to fading memories or necessity. Handed down to the children and removed from facts and context, oral history often turns into a quicksand of self-glorifying – or self-victimising, myth making.
The Nakba Narrative
The current Nakba narrative is based on oral history, with the added ability of being able to selectively use Jewish written history where convenient. Rather than help, this further distances the tale from truth. One part of a written source will be used because it helps the cause, the other parts ignored as ‘Zionist propaganda’. Effectively cherry-picking what suits them. It creates a non-critical dynamic that grabs at archives, building a narrative dynamic that only pushes in one direction.
There is no intention to suggest written history is perfect, merely to state the obvious – that providing the written documents were never intended to deceive, written history is far superior to an oral one. The lack of a counter-balance, that is a self-critical Palestinian Nakba narrative, creates a peculiar dynamic. The Zionist written history can become distorted by those who place ‘oral history’ on top of established facts. Simply put, when you add lots of falsehoods to a story that is trying to be true, it does not make a better story. Further, in order to combine these two incompatible narratives, you can end up building conspiracy theories to plug the gaps. This is what happened to academic activists such as Illan Pappe.
The two stories cannot be combined. One is fundamentally true, the other fundamentally false.
What we know of the 1947-1949 events
- We know that the Arab side rejected partition
- Arabs began to violently attack Jews almost immediately
- Threats to commit Genocide against Jews were published in Arab capitals
- There were reprisals and counter reprisals in civil fighting
- Arab irregular forces entered the area from January 1948
- Full civil conflict started
- Many Arabs fled because they could (approx 70-100k), before the fighting intensified
- The first part of the Haganah’s battle was almost exclusively defensive
- The Haganah suffered unsustainable losses which led to a rethink in strategy
- There were Arab villages which were hostile and some that remained passive
- Casualty figures between the two sides were roughly even throughout the civil conflict
- By April the Jews urgently needed to prepare for the full invasion of the Arab armies
- Most of the Arabs fled voluntarily as people always do in civil conflict
- Some strategic hostile villages would undoubtedly have needed to be emptied
- There were probably a few ‘massacres’ on both sides
- The stated Arab intention was to eradicate the Jewish state and in areas they won- Jews were completely ethnically cleansed
- The Arabs eventually lost, leaving 100,000s of Arab refugees who had left, unable to return
- Efforts during armistice talks to repatriate some of the refugees failed
From the above, it is clear that the Arabs suffered a catastrophe – but this is not the Nakba narrative, not even close.
The Nakba narrative
- The European Jews should not have been there in the first place
- The international community had no right to partition the land
- Arabs and Jews lived in peace before Zionism
- Israel is European reparation for the Holocaust
- Zionism is racism
- Zionist intention was always to get rid of the Arabs
- Jewish acceptance of the partition was bogus
- Once partition was announced, Jewish militia began to clean out Arab towns
- The Jews had a plan to ethnically cleanse all of Palestine
- Jewish forces were well armed and met almost no resistance
- The massacres were deliberate, numerous and one-sided
- The Jews did to Arabs what Nazis did to the Jews
- The Arabs did not want conflict
- Arab states came to help the Arabs in the mandate area by sending armies
- The Jews took this opportunity to carry on with the ethnic cleansing
- Because of international military and financial support, the Jews won
- Most of the Arabs were expelled and 500-700 towns were emptied and destroyed
Two vitally important details
There are a few vitally important details in the Nakba narrative, such as Zionism is a racist endeavour built by European Jews, and that European Jews had no place in Palestine. These elements are fundamental pillars upon which the rest of the tale is built. The pure Nakba narrative is an ahistorical, hard-core anti-Zionist position. It is not possible to build a bridge between a Jewish state and those pushing the Nakba narrative. It can be well argued that this was always the intent – just as with the refugees, to create an environment of perpetual conflict.
Hotovely and the Nakba narrative
Why am I bringing all this up? At a recent Board of Deputies event, the current Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely said this:
I think the importance of bringing this story up is also to fight a very, very strong and very popular Arab lie. And the lie is the Nakba. We just mentioned this week the UN resolution, the partition plan, the fact that the Palestinians, the Arab neighbours had the chance to have, again, I think throughout history this is the most shameful moment where they choose to deny the right of the Jewish state to exist, they choose to fight and then they made up a story that is called the Nakba.
Hotovely is 100% correct.
The Rabbi responds, the Jewish news publishes
Anti-Zionist Na’amod (the group born out of an event where Jews said prayers for Hamas terrorists) posted about Hotovely. This outrageously equated rejecting Palestinian lies to racism.
Then Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner used Na’amod’s tweet as a platform and posted that these views ‘negate those of the majority of British Jews‘ disgracefully linking it with the argument for or against the Palestinian state. What you believe happened in 1948 does not dictate your political position today – it only suggests how well you read history. One would hope the majority of British Jews do not believe the Nakba myth.
The Jewish News, which is becoming a frequent mouthpiece for the views of fringe anti-Zionist Na’amod publicised Klausner’s message, spreading it further. JN also misinforms readers by describing Na’amod as an ‘anti-occupation group’. The history of Na’amod clearly shows many of its roots are in anti-Zionism and sympathy for terrorists. You may as well call North Korea a democracy because that is how NK describes itself.
These are Jewish outlets telling us that we must believe in lies.
Questions for the Rabbi and Jewish News
I ask the Rabbi and Jewish News a simple question: Can you point me to the Nakba narrative that you consider to be true? If Hotovely cannot call it a lie, what is it specifically that she cannot question?
Is it the Nakba narrative of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign? The Nakba narrative of the BDS Central Committee? Or the one promoted by Fatah or the PFLP? Is it perhaps the Nakba narrative of Hamas? Ilan Pappe’s conspiracy theory? I’ve read the books and have seen the story told to students on campus. It is an antisemitic pack of lies. Is it this narrative you want us to believe?
Which one? Don’t just tell us we cannot question it – point specifically to the one you categorically believe to be true. Until you can do this – and I won’t hold my breath, nobody has a right to tell us not to call it out for what it is – a pack of lies.
The Nakba narrative and Holocaust equation
The Nakba narrative was designed to equate itself to the Holocaust. You can visibly see the Holocaust denying discourse surrounding those who question the historicity of the Nakba narrative events. See these two images:
There is nothing accidental about this equation. The Nakba is as bad as the Holocaust which makes it an untouchable historical event and Zionists are therefore as bad as the Nazis. Na’amod who won’t tell us what the Nakba even is, ethically compare questioning the event to Holocaust denial. The paper above it was the online TRT outlet – a Turkish state-owned channel. The false narrative is designed to self-protect and we are told that if we question their lies, then we are as bad as Holocaust deniers. This strategy is dangerous and sickening.
Anti Board of Deputies punchbag and the survival of the diaspora
Some of this is the Jewish hard-left picking up anything to throw at the BOD. Hotovely provides a convenient punchbag and they can and will attack any community body that platforms her. It is something we will see frequently during her time of service in the UK. Hotovely is the Israeli Ambassador. Her role is to represent Israel. It is absolutely vital that the lies of the Nakba are confronted. As certain left wing groups are spreading such a false narrative within the Jewish community, it was right and proper for Hotovely to use the platform of the Board of Deputies to address this.
When I talk about the Nakba in this fashion – some in the community feel real discomfort – but there is no denial here that the Arabs suffered loss. This conflation is part of a politically correct cultural conditioning and we have to break through these walls. These ahistorical lies MUST be opposed. Zionism cannot exist within the Nakba narrative. It is a simple equation. If secular diaspora Jewry swallows the false narrative of our enemies , then secular diaspora is burning the only ship holding itself afloat. This ahistorical hard-left poison must not be allowed to filter into the mainstream.
David Collier Blogs at BEYOND THE GREAT DIVIDE