Thu 01 Jun 2023 10:13 am - Jerusalem Time

Nakba denial

The first thing to know about the Nakba is that it actually happened. Palestinian victims provided contemporary eyewitness accounts. The Israeli military and political archives contain detailed reports of the plan's designers and implementers. Yigal Allon indicated that it was intended to "cleanse the upper Hebron area and reach the Jewish areas." To achieve this goal, Israeli forces used forced expulsions and killed civilians to terrorize others into leaving and ultimately uprooting 700,000 Palestinians. Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, described it as a "double miracle" of creating a larger and more Jewish state. Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first president, hailed the operation as a "miraculous cleansing of the land."

The Israelis denied that massacres took place or that their forces terrorized civilians. Victims' testimonies were ignored and international entities' investigations were dismissed as biased. If this failed, the Israelis replied that the Arabs fled because their leaders ordered them to do so, to pave the way for the "invading Arab armies".

It is denial and lying and then obliteration. In 1971, I experienced my first immersion in the reality of the Nakba. Traveling to Lebanon and Jordan supported by a grant to collect stories of Palestinian refugees just 23 years after the expulsions, I interviewed many who had vivid memories of the hardships they endured. Shortly thereafter, I had my first experience of Nakba denial.

Upon my return, I wrote what I experienced. A university dean wrote a letter to the editor, denouncing my work as an example of "neo-Nazi and neo-Bolshevik anti-Semitism." When I was invited to speak about the articles, some members of the audience gave a violent refusal. The representative of the group that invited me explained the hostile reaction: “They have been conditioned to see Palestinians as objects. And by making them see the Palestinians as real people, you threatened that denial that protects them from acknowledging Israel's crime.”

This deniability mechanism still operates today. A major American Jewish organization objected, through a complaint to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, against hosting a celebration of the Nakba on May 10 at the Congressional Visitor Center, and it was planned that the celebration would include Palestinians who lived through the memory and Palestinian historians. Council President Kevin McCarthy responded that the incident "appears" to be anti-Semitic and vowed he would "never allow that to happen in this body".

The permit for the venue was withdrawn, forcing the Nakba event organizers to look for another venue. McCarthy then used the place from which he expelled the Palestinians to host a celebration of Israel's independence, apparently without the irony. In November 2022, after the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution to commemorate the Nakba, Palestinians began planning a Nakba commemoration at the United Nations Headquarters. In response, the Israeli delegation called for a boycott and pressured member states not to participate. This betrays a growing consternation as they insist that criticism of Israel is largely anti-Semitic, saying that critics "criticize Israel alone".

Indeed, these Israeli apologists insist that Israel is the only country that cannot be criticized, and in the meantime, they deny Palestinians the right to tell their own story and to recognize their humanity. This is racism and is the origin of Nakba denial.


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