Home Diplomatic Pouch The Nakba before the Nakba

The Nakba before the Nakba

John Dunkelgrün

By John Dunkelgrün

On May 15th the United Nations officially commemorated the Nakba, the disaster, as the Palestinians describe the events around the formation of the State of Israel. There is good reason to think of this event as a disaster for Palestinians. Almost three-quarters of them fled on the advice of their leaders, others were actively ‘encouraged’ to flee by the new Israelis. 

But hold on a second, what caused this disaster? After several attempts by the British to find an equitable division of the land, the young United Nations had divided the former British Mandate area into three parts, a Palestinian part attached to the Transjordan Kingdom, an Arab part along the Mediterranean that became known as the Gaza Strip, and a Jewish part. The new Jewish State accepted that division, but its Arab neighbors did not.

The armies of five nations invaded the new state with the expressed aim of driving all Jews into the sea. Some 700,000 local Muslim residents fled and were confined in refugee camps. As time went on the inhabitants of these camps became known as Palestinians. It is odd to realize that before 1948 there were neither Palestinians nor Israelis. Both had been residents of the Ottoman Empire and later the British Mandate called Palestine. It is less known that after the event more than 800,000 Jews were expelled from Arab countries. They went mainly to Israel, France, and French Canada, where they adjusted, and rebuilt their lives. The Arab fugitives in the camps were unable to do so, being denied citizenship or work permits. They survived with help from the UNWRA, a UN organization that treats these people much more favorably than any other displaced people.

There is much talk about how in 1967 Israel captured the West Bank, including Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Gaza Strip. It is usually omitted that capture was the outcome of a war started by Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. It is not uncommon that if an aggressor country loses the war, it will have to cede territory. Hungary, seen as one of the culprits of WWI, was shorn of huge swathes of its land to Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. Austria, Germany, and Japan all suffered territorial losses.

The U.N. condemns only Israel for not reaching an agreement with its aggressors. There have been many peace talks and attempts at a two-state solution, but every time talks were broken off at the last minute by Palestinian leaders. Israel made peace with President Sadat and returned the Sinai to Egypt. Sadat wisely backed off the Gaza Strip but was murdered for his efforts. Until the Abraham Accords, no other Arab country was interested in peace. Hamas and Hezbollah, clients of Iran, are run from luxury hotels in Dubai by men who have no interest in peace or the well-being of the people who now identify as Palestinians.

Muslims in Israel proper have all the rights of Jewish and Christian citizens. They can and do take part in the political system, sit on even the highest courts, and get senior government jobs. In no way is Israel an apartheid state. 

But Israel has made its own serious mistakes. There is much private hate and discrimination and the government has not done nearly enough to counter that. It has also been much less forthcoming in giving Arab towns their fair share of services. It also allowed many unplanned scattered settlements on the West Bank, making the formation of a separate state very difficult. And with the political and demographic developments in Israel today, it is hard to see any positive initiatives coming from that side.

Until Iran becomes a normal country that doesn’t sponsor private armies to attack its imagined foe Israel, and until Israel gets a government of decent people, a true solution will sadly remain a chimera to the detriment of mainly the Palestinian people.

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