Source: Middle East Eye
Here is a puzzle. What did Israel Katz, an Israeli legislator and until recently a senior government minister, mean when he threatened Palestinian students last month with another “Nakba” if they continued to wave the Palestinian flag? He urged them to “remember 1948” and speak to their “grandfathers and grandmothers”.
“If you don’t calm down,” he told the Israeli parliament, “we’ll teach you a lesson that won’t be forgotten.”
Nakba denial was the Israeli state’s default position
And similarly, what was in the mind of Uzi Dayan, a former army general who is also a member of the Israeli parliament, when he warned Palestinians two months earlier “to be careful”? They would face “a situation you know, which is Nakba”, if they refused to passively submit to Israel’s dictates.
Both threats – and similar ones from senior Israeli politicians over the years – fly in the face of long-held claims by successive Israeli governments that the Palestinian narrative of the Nakba, the Arabic word for “catastrophe”, constitutes a vile distortion of the region’s history.
According to Israeli officials, Palestinian accusations that they were violently and willfully expelled from their homeland in 1948 are a slur against Israel’s character and its army, supposedly “the most moral in the world”. It is even suggested that commemorating the Nakba equates to antisemitism.
And yet paradoxically, Israeli politicians seem only too ready to echo these supposed calumnies against the founding of the self-declared “Jewish state”. In 2017, Tzachi Hanegbi, while serving as a senior cabinet minister, warned Palestinians that they faced a “third Nakba” – after the mass expulsions of 1948 and 1967 – if they resisted the occupation.
“You’ve already paid that crazy price twice for your leaders,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “Don’t try us again, because the result won’t be any different. You have been warned!”
According to Palestinians and a growing number of scholars researching Israel’s archives, Zionist leaders and their militias waged a violent, premeditated campaign of ethnic cleansing in 1948 in which four-fifths of all Palestinians were driven off their lands and into exile. As a consequence, the Zionist movement was able to declare a Jewish state on most of their homeland.
Today, many millions of Palestinian refugees are dispersed across the Middle East and much of the rest of the world, unable to return. Israeli officials have been so adamant that this narrative is a lie to demonise Israel that back in 2011 the government of Benjamin Netanyahu passed a law to erase from the public space any commemoration of the Nakba.
The so-called Nakba Law threatens to strip Israeli institutions – including schools, universities, libraries and municipalities – of state funding if they allow any such commemoration. In its original form, the law would have led to a three-year jail term for anyone taking part in such an event.
But even before the legislation, Nakba denial was the Israeli state’s default position.
In contrast to the Palestinian narrative, Israel denies any premeditation or malicious violence by its leaders and soldiers, and instead blames the Palestinian exodus in 1948 on other factors.
It claims that most Palestinians left on the orders of Arab leaders, rather than that they were ethnically cleansed by the new Israeli state’s army. Officials argue too that the Israeli army attacked Palestinian communities largely in response to violence from Palestinian fighters and units of Arab soldiers from neighbouring countries that came to their aid.
Noted Israeli historians like Benny Morris continue to argue that “at no stage of the 1948 war was there a decision by the leadership of the Yishuv [pre-state Jewish community] or the state to ‘expel the Arabs’.” On this official view, most Palestinians either chose to leave or were responsible for provoking the violence that led to them being forced out. Israel’s hands are supposedly clean.
But if Israelis really believe this to be the case, why are veteran politicians such as Katz, Dayan and Hanegbi using the Palestinian terminology of Nakba themselves – and threatening that Israel will carry out a second or third time what officials insist never happened in the first place?
Israel’s narrative is so dominant that until recently most Israeli Jews believed that their state’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, urged the Palestinian population fleeing the large port city of Haifa to return in 1948. Palestinians supposedly preferred to wait out the fighting until the Zionist forces were defeated.
According to this account, Ben-Gurion sent Golda Meir, later prime minister herself, on a mission to reassure fleeing Palestinians. In her autobiography, Meir recounts: “I sat on the beach there [in Haifa] and begged them to return home… I pleaded with them until I was exhausted but it didn’t work.”
But a letter written in early June 1948 by Ben-Gurion came to light seven years ago that undermines Israel’s propaganda. In it, he responded angrily to reports that the British consul was “working to return the Arabs to Haifa”. Ben-Gurion demanded that Haifa’s Jewish leaders actively stymie these British efforts.
In fact, an Israeli scholar who was handed an archive file in error disclosed nearly a decade ago that the story of Arab leaders insisting Palestinians flee their homeland in 1948 was a nonsense. It was concocted by Israeli officials as a way to end US pressure on Israel to allow Palestinian refugees to return.
Beginning in the 1980s, a new generation of Israeli historians started trawling through Israel’s archives as sections of it were briefly opened. They unearthed documentary evidence of an entirely different set of events that accorded with the Palestinian narrative.
Military operations had suggestive titles like “Operation Broom” and commanders received orders to “clean” areas. Many hundreds of Palestinian villages were destroyed as soon as their populations had been driven out by Zionist soldiers, with the clear intent never to let them return.
And despite Israel’s best efforts to keep it under wraps, archival evidence has kept emerging of Israeli massacres of Palestinian civilians, making explicit why the vast majority of Palestinians fled in 1948.