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Nakba in Palestine: Ramallah Denounces 62 Years of Ethnic Cleansing and Occupation

13 June 2010

Unpleasant, even dangerous, qualities can be found in every nation and every individual:…”
Human, All Too Human (1878), Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.

To Shahrazad, my lovely dream from Rammallah.

I consider myself to be very lucky because I had the rare opportunity to be in Palestine in such an important occasion. May 15 will always remain on the memory of many as the disaster –An Nakba- the date when hundreds of thousands Palestinians lost their lives, homes, properties, and ultimately their dignity as human beings and a nation.

Nakba demostration on the 17 of May 2010 by Daniel F. Rivera

Nevertheless, and after 62 years of war and conflict, there is still people refusing to admit the undeniable and prefer to fabricate stories based on bias search, half truths and obscure data about what happened in 1948. Thus we find writers such as Ben Dror Yemeni that in a recent article published on Maariv this last May, and translated and published as well in El País, argues that the Palestinian people have created the myth of the An-Nakba which according to him is an absolute fraud that have endure for six decades:

The Nakba – the story of the Palestinian refugees is the greatest success story in the history of modern times – a success that is a complete fraud. There is no other group of “refugees” in the world that has gotten such broad global coverage.

The author seems to forget that the greatest and most successful story ever told was the Jewish holocaust, narration that has been tirelessly used to justified the victimization of the Jewish people, creation of Israel and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. He assures that the Palestinian population was very low during the end of the nineteenth century and the region was divided in Sanjaks or districts belonging to the greater provinces of Syria and Lebanon. In other words, there was not a State or a Nation on this land, and Palestine was an empty land where only a handful number of spare Arab settlements could be found as he has interpreted from the descriptions provided by a number of European and American orientalist such as Mark Twain who wrote in 1865:

….A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds… a silent mournful expanse… A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action. We reached Tabor safely… We never saw a human being on the whole route. Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes… desolate and unlovely… these unpeopled deserts, these rusty mounds of barrenness…that melancholy ruin of Capernaum; this stupid village of Tiberias slumbering under its six funereal plumes of palms”.

Therefore, it cannot be considered that the creation of Israel was unfair action because the Palestinians never demanded a state. They were under the Ottomans, and later under the Egyptians and Jordanians (1948-1967).

Ramallah 1948 by Daniel F. Rivera

62 years of Makba 1948-2010 by Daniel F. Rivera (May 17, Ramallah )

They lived under a cruel regimes, making every effort to emigrate to other countries due to the harsh and difficult condition under which they have to live. Moreover, as Yemeni put it, the Palestinian community has not the right to return.

Regarding this argument, there is a very important feature that needs to be mention about the Ottomans which Yemeni forgets to address. The Sublime Port never allowed the use of national distinctions among Arabs and other communities belonging to the empire, meaning “Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanian, or Iraqis” because among other things, the Ottomans were against any national movement that could jeopardize the existence of the Empire. The Ottoman census of the Arab population was based on religious affiliations which allowed great degree of autonomy to religious confession living in the Crescent Fertile.

Nakba 62 years after by Daniel F. Rivera

We need to wait until the end of the First World War to witness the emergence of a genuine independent Palestinian movement after the Arab revolt in 1916. Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals were the main precursors of Arab nationalism but in 1920, the Third Arab Congress, Palestinian notables (Muslims as well as Christians) was gaining strength and formed the so called Arab Committee that was comprised by forty-eight delegates with a permanent secretariat in Jerusalem and headed by Musa Kazim Huseyn.

Musa Kazim al-Husayni, the mayor of Jerusalem.

Musa Kazim al-Husayni, the mayor of Jerusalem.

After The Fourth Congress (May 1921), the Palestinian national movement sent a delegation to London in order to discuss the Palestinian question, and the next year Winston Churchill approved the White Paper which allowed the government to place some limitation to Jewish immigration and promote self- government in Palestine:

The tension which has prevailed from time to time in Palestine is mainly due to apprehensions, which are entertained both by sections of the Arab and by sections of the Jewish population. These apprehensions, so far as the Arabs are concerned are partly based upon exaggerated interpretations of the meaning of the Balfour Declaration favouring the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine, made on behalf of His Majesty’s Government on 2nd November, 1917.”

Churchill White Paper June 1922.

Another fact that Ben Dror seems to omit is that the whole region was occupied by Britain and France after the Ottomans formally surrounded in 1918. The secret Sykes-Picot-Sazonov agreements (1916) divided the old Ottoman provinces into spheres of influences controlled by European powers. The Arabs who helped the British to defeat the Ottomans were promised to obtain independence and sovereign nations after the First World War ended (The McMahonHussein Correspondence. July 14, 1915 – March 10, 1916 ). Soon after the war, the British and the Arabs reached an agreement that clearly stated that:

“Great Britain is prepared to recognize and uphold the independence of the Arabs in all the regions lying within the frontiers proposed by the Sherif of Mecca.

On the other hand, the British reached another agreement known as The Balfour declaration (November 1917) between Arthur James Balfour, Britain’s foreign secretary and Lord Rothschild, president of the Zionist federation, declaring that:a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.” The area consisting of today’s Israel, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jordan.”

Thus it is quite understandable the confusion created by this colonial policy which obviously angered the Arab-Palestinian population that had to suffer the entire consequences derived from it. The Palestinians regarded this agreement between the British and Zionist movement as an unacceptable, and among other things, we need to take into consideration that when the Balfour declaration was made in 1917, 90% of the population was Arab and only 2,5% of the population was Jewish. In this regards, I consider ILan Pappe description quite reveling of the situation in this land regardless of the amount or percentage of population that was living in Palestine:

Nakba demonstration Ramallah on May 17, 2010 by Daniel F. Rivera

Despite Britain’s pro-Zionist policies and the presence of the growing Jewish minority, Palestine was still very much an Arab country by the end of the Mandate. Almost all the cultivable land in Palestine was held by the indigenous population – only 5.8% was in Jewish ownership in 1947- which makes the use here of ‘mixed’ somewhat misleading, to say at least. Although the Zionist leaders had tried to persuade Jewish immigrant, ever since the movement had set foot in Palestine, to settle in the country side, they had failed to do so: Jewish newcomers overwhelmingly preferred the cities and towns. As a result, most of the Zionist settler colonies in the rural areas lat far apart from the each other; in some areas, such as the Galiliee in the north and the Naqab (Negev) in the south, they were effectively isolated islands amidst the surrounding Palestinian countryside. (Pappe 2006, p, 30)”.

Also, another misleading assessment introduced by Yemeni is that the Palestinian never demanded a state in Palestine. This is just false. The Palestinian leadership with the support of the Arab League, the regional inter-Arab Organization and Arab Higher Committee refused to accept and collaborate with a UN mission that envisioned the partition designed by the United Nation Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). These committee which was formed on May, 1947, was comprised by 11 nations that recommended the division of Palestine into two states. We could argue that the Palestinian boycott was very negative to Palestinian interest and to some extent, the Palestinian people lost an opportunity to be recognized as nation-state but it is needed to take into account the circumstances and context under which this plan was approved.

First of all, this was the first time in history that an international body had to decided the partition of a country in order to solve a conflict. None of the member belonging to this committee had neither knowledge nor previous experience in Palestinian history or solving sectarian conflicts. Under the committees’ plan, the Jewish community was granted with a bit more than 50% of the most fertile land of Palestine to a population that only constitute one third of the total population at that time. Another fact that is often forgotten is that when Resolution 181 was adopted in November 1947, several Palestinian leaders demanded that the International Court of Justice (created in 1946) would study the case but this body never accepted to do so (Pappe 2006, p, 31-33).

62 years of Nakba by Daniel F. Rivera

Following Yemeni’s hypothesis, once the partition plan was adopted, the Palestinians waged war against the Jewish people and it started what he calls the Jewish Nakba. This is just another example that shows the Israeli tendency to steal Palestinian history and culture for its own interests. When Yemeni assures that 800,000 Jewish were forced to face eviction and expulsion from several Arab countries, he fails to acknowledge that Israel had already achieved Plan Dalet which was designed by Ben-Gurion and other Zionist leaders and resulted in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. From March to September-November in 1948, a group of Jewish officer sent clear orders to different units on the ground to began an operation to expel the Palestinian population from vast areas of the territory. ILan Pappe’s the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine offers a well researched and enlightening investigation about how the Zionist leadership organized this crime against humanity:

large-scale intimidation, laying siege to and bombarding villages and population centers; setting fire to homes, properties and goods, expulsion, demolition, and finally, planning mines among the rubble to prevent any of the expelled inhabitants from returning”. The final goal of Plan Dalet was to destroy rural and urban center belonging to the Palestinian people and once the mission was terminated 800,000 Palestinian were expelled from the homes and 531 villages were destroyed, and 11 urban center neighborhoods were emptied of their dwellers” (Pappe 2006, pp, xii-xiii).

There will be not bargaining with the Right to Return, Nakba by Daniel F. Rivera

Although these facts have been proved, and I am far trying to justify the reaction of several regimes regarding the expulsion of Jewish communities, it should be noticed the huge impacted that the refugees had in the region. The Arab reaction to this event was based on a perception that the Jewish community was initiating a policy that was never seen in these lands and thus raising the fears that inaction could lead to allowance and conformism with what was happening on the ground. Arabs began to think that the definition of Greater Israel as Abraham described in the bible: “To your descendants I give this land from the River of Egypt to the Great River, the river Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18)” was becoming a reality, and this is the reason why so many ant-Israeli politicians were so successful to raise popular support among the population. Also despite the expulsion of Jews initiated by Iraq and other Arab countries, it is worth mention that precisely while these events were unfolding, the Palestinians were the only ones to denounced such a policy. Sabry Jiryis, director of the Institute of Palestine Studies in Beirut, described in 1975 how these factors propitiate the consolidation of the State of Israel:

“Participated in the reinforcement of Israel, its strengthening and fortification to the degree we see it as present. . . . There is no need to say that the problem of those Jews and their passage to Israel is not merely theoretical, at least from the viewpoint of the Palestinian problem. Clearly, Israel will raise the question in all serious negotiation that may in time be conducted over the rights of the Palestinians. . . . Israel’s arguments take approximately the following form: “It is true that we Israelis brought about the exodus of the Arabs from their land in the war of 1948 . . . and that we took control of their property. In return however you Arabs caused the expulsion of a like number of Jews from Arab countries since 1948 until today. Most of these went to Israel after you seized control of their property in one way or another. What happened, therefore, is merely a kind of ‘population and property transfer,’ the consequences of which both sides have to bear. Thus Israel gathers in the Jews from Arab countries and the Arab countries are obliged in turn to settle the Palestinians within their own borders and work towards a solution of the problem”. Israel will undoubtedly advance these claims in the first real debate over the Palestinian problem.” An-Nahar, May 15, 1975.

The Nakba in Ramallah by Daniel F. Rivera

However, since 1988, Palestinians and other Arab countries have recognized Israel’s right to exists and they has reiterated this recognition in numerous occasions, especially the Palestinian leadership (Madrid 1991, and Oslo 1993), and Egypt and Jordan that have signed peace agreements with Israel. The Arab League comprised by 22 nations forwarded a plan to recognized Israel in 2002 (Beirut Declaration). this plan envisioned the creation of a Palestinian state along Israel under within the 1967 borders which have been internationally recognized. The next day this plan was proposed, the Israeli army surrounded the Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in Rammallah as a retaliation for suicidal attack in Israel.

Panoramica Al-Manara, Nakba in Rammlah, 2010 by Daniel F. Rivera

Finally, Yemeni defends that idea that there is not history precedent to allow the Palestinians people to return to their homes and lands. In this case, he should consider that there is not a precedent in history to what has happened in Palestine, and other Arab countries specially regarding the large number of refugees who live within  the Occupied Territories, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and other areas of the Arab world, North and South America and Europe. Israelis defend the idea that it is impossible to allow millions of Palestinians abroad to come back to Palestine because the State would collapse but at the same time Israel favors the religious process of aliyahto grant any Jew with the the Jewish nationality.Yemeni should ask himself if these problem is related to Israeli fear to become a minority in their territory rather than any argument related to the possibility of hosting more population.

In this post I have tried to demonstrate that Palestine was not just a empty desert but a land with its people and well organized society. They were conscious of their identity and they have tried by all means possible to be recognized as such. They have fought to defend their rights and, when the time have come, they offered peace and understanding. Denying the Nakba is just as wrong as ignoring the Holocaust, a historic mistake that would only lead to more conflict and suffering. Jewish communities along history have found on Arab land more peace and tranquility that in many European countries,  and today we can finds Jews living in Morocco or Yemen.

Accepting what happened in 1948 is one of the most important steps that Israel need to make in order to build a sustainable peace with Palestine. There are many other issues that need to be address and peace will not be easy for both part but ignoring the Nakba is just a deliberate attempt to continue with the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, an attempt to ignore the disaster that still nowadays hundreds of millions of Palestinians have to live with, wherever they are or whatever nationality they hold.

Journalists by Daniel F. Rivera

One Comment leave one →
  1. Bashira permalink
    20 June 2010 12:48 pm

    Me ha gustado mucho el artículo y de paso he estado “bicheando” la página. Está genial así que enhorabuena y sigue ilustrándonos con tus escritos!

    Quería preguntarte si tus artículos son “libres”, y en ese caso, si podríamos
    reproducirlos en la página de, la cual se realiza también de forma voluntaria. Por otro lado, la página es en castellano, por lo que tendríamos que traducir los originales ¿supondría esto algún problema? Y, por supuesto, te animo a que escribas también en castellano, para aquellos a los que no se nos da bien los idiomas.

    Muchas gracias y un abrazo,


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