Israel’s 60th Birthday

Israel’s 60th: The great catastrophe by Dave


The facts of the Nakba (catastrophe) are now well documented and beyond dispute. Yet Nakba denial remains widespread, and is as vile as denial of any other historic crime.

In the coming months, the same event will be commemorated by two different groups in starkly contrasting fashions.

May 15 sees the 60th anniversary of the birth of the State of Israel. In Britain, the programme of celebrations includes a gala fund-raising dinner at Windsor Castle in the presence of the Duke of Edinburgh (the Queen’s husband), a variety show at Wembley Stadium and street parades for Israel in London and Manchester.

Remembering a tragedy Meanwhile, Palestinians and their supporters will be recalling the same event in entirely different tones, and without the benefit of State support or vast sums of money. In meetings, conferences and exhibitions they will seek to remind the world of the Nakba — catastrophe in Arabic — that accompanied Israel’s birth in 1948.

In 1947, there were 12,93,000 Arabs and 6,08,000 Jews in Palestine. Though Jews made up 32 per cent of the population, the U.N. partition plan assigned them 55 per cent of the country, including the economically developed citrus growing plains. Israel’s Declaration of Independence was preceded by several months of civil war between Jewish and Palestinian forces, and followed by more months of war between the new State and its Arab neighbours. When the fighting finished in early 1949, the Jewish State had acquired 78 per cent of Palestine. 1,80,000 Palestinians found themselves a minority within the expanded borders of the Jewish State. 7,00,000 to 9,00,000 had been made refugees.

In April and May, before the expiry of the British mandate, the cities of Haifa and Jaffa fell to Jewish forces, and more than 1,00,000 Palestinians fled. To the north, in Galilee, the Haganah — the mainstream Zionist defence force — systematically conquered clusters of villages, emptying them of inhabitants and often levelling them. In June, the Israelis advanced further into territory designated for the Arab State, capturing the towns of Lydda and Ramle where they killed 250 Palestinians and expelled almost all the rest — 40,000 — at gunpoint.

In 1948, 500 Palestinian towns and villages were abandoned, evacuated or destroyed. More than 70,000 Palestinian houses were demolished. In the Jaffa area, 96 per cent of the villages were totally destroyed. As Jewish forces proceeded with the ethnic cleansing of territories both within and outside the U.N.-allotted borders of the Jewish State, a British army of 70,000 refused to intervene, despite being charged under the mandate with the protection of the civilian population.

Expansionist State At the onset of the conflict, Jews owned 1,159 sq. km. of land (6 per cent of the total). By July 1949, thanks to the Absentee Property laws passed in haste by the new Israeli parliament, they owned more than 20,000 sq. km. In 1954, more than one third of Israel’s Jewish population lived on absentee property. Of 370 new Jewish settlements established between 1948 and 1953, 350 were on absentee property.

For many years, Zionists claimed that the Palestinians had left voluntarily at the behest of Arab leaders. That myth has been repeatedly disproved: there’s no evidence of so much as a single broadcast or leaflet telling people to abandon their homes. There is, on the other hand, a great deal of evidence that the Zionists used the war to alter the demographic facts on the ground. On April 6, for example, Ben Gurion told a Zionist meeting: “We will not be able to win the war if we do not, during the war, populate upper and lower, eastern and western Galilee, the Negev and Jerusalem area, even if only in an artificial way, in a military way…. I believe that war will also bring in its wake a great change in the distribution of Arab population.”

The facts of the Nakba are now well documented and beyond serious dispute. Yet Nakba denial remains widespread, and is as vile as denial of any other historic crime. Acknowledgement of the Nakba is resisted because it undermines the moral foundations of the Israeli State. It’s a handicap in the Israelis’ global propaganda battle with the Palestinians, and a challenge to their own self-definitions, a truth that simply cannot be assimilated.

The Nakba is no mere historical controversy. It’s an unresolved issue. The Palestinian refugee population — descendants of those driven out in 1948 — now numbers more than 4 million, one half of whom live in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. One million remain Stateless, with no form of identification other than a card issued by UNWRA, the United Nations refugee agency. Each year since December 1948, the U.N. General Assembly has reconfirmed Resolution 194, which enshrines the refugees’ right of return. Any peace treaty that leaves these people out would be neither just nor lasting.

Shocking perversion As if experiencing a Nakba wasn’t enough, the Palestinians are now being threatened with a Shoah, the Hebrew word for the Holocaust. In a shocking perversion of a historical legacy, the word was used by an Israeli defence minister to describe the punishment that would be meted out to the people of Gaza — who are there because they were driven there in 1948 — in response to the Qassam rocket attacks. Already, as I write, in the past four days alone, more than 100 Palestinians, including 49 unarmed civilians, among them 25 children, have been killed. Another 250 have been injured. As the furious assault on Gaza continues, Israel’s 60th birthday celebrations look increasingly unpalatable. 


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