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A UN ‘nakba’ exhibit goes beyond the war of words

The narrative pushed by the exhibit appears to be less about the Palestinians than the U.N. itself.

A panel from an exhibit on the Palestinian "nakba" at United Nations headquarters in New York City. Photo: courtesy
A panel from an exhibit on the Palestinian "nakba" at United Nations headquarters in New York City. Photo: courtesy
Charles O. Kaufman
Charles O. Kaufman
Charles Kaufman is immediate past president of B’nai B’rith International.

Walk into the U.N.’s New York headquarters, graced with impressive sculptures, tapestries and an uplifting Marc Chagall stained glass, and one has a palpable sense of the U.N.’s mission to limit conflicts to wars of words. That is, until one witnesses an exhibition in the lobby marking the nakba—Arabic for “catastrophe”—the Palestinians’ name for a defamatory narrative of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

With Hamas’s Oct. 7 atrocities still raw, the timing of the exhibit—which opened on Nov. 29—could not be worse.  Nov. 29, 1947 was the day the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Partition Plan for then-Mandatory Palestine. In 1977, the UNGA desecrated this date by calling for Nov. 29 to be transformed into an annual observance of an “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.”

The current 24-panel exhibit concentrates entirely on what it portrays as a vibrant Palestinian Arab society in pre-Israel “Palestine,” ignoring the fact that Jews lived there vibrantly as well. The exhibition begins with “Life Before the Nakba,” mostly consisting of images from Jaffa, and continues with “Life Upended,” “Longing: Life Uprooted,” “Belonging: Struggle for Life” and “Life: Against All Odds.” The pathos is so over-the-top as to verge on camp.

The “Palestine: A Land With a People” narrative begins with the premise that in 1948 “more than half of the Palestinians became refugees, tens of thousands were killed, and 500 villages and communities destroyed.” This tendentious narrative is not exactly how the Palestinians “became” refugees.

In fact, the Arab League made the Palestinians into refugees when it told them to leave the land, to which they could return after the Arab states had slaughtered the Jews of the Land of Israel and installed the Palestinian Arabs as supreme rulers.

As instructed, the Arabs left, but the Arab armies were defeated and their genocidal plans thwarted. The Arabs who defied orders and stayed in the new State of Israel became full citizens with equal rights. They are represented in all walks of Israeli life, serving as members of Knesset, mayors, judges and even in the army.

But multiple wars and intifadas later, the nakba narrative continues to underpin and justify the desire to destroy Israel “from the river to the sea.”

Indeed, the current exhibit’s narrative invokes a “mandate” given to the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat in support of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. It calls for an end to the “Israeli occupation that began in 1967 and of the two-state solution on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, with an independent, sovereign and viable State of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security with Israel.”

The exhibit, of course, ignores the fact that the Palestinian leadership has consistently rejected such a state numerous times. The PLO and Hamas “covenants” calling for the destruction of Israel are still in place. Tens of thousands of missiles from Gaza and attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah and other jihadists prove that this ambition remains the same, culminating in the horrific Oct. 7 massacre.

In the end, one feels that the purpose of the exhibit is not to commemorate the nakba. It is intended to reemphasize and reinforce the U.N.’s obsessive dedication to hardline Palestinian nationalism.

This obsession regularly results in two-thirds approval of any anti-Israel resolution brought before the UNGA, which has occurred a stunning 79 times since 2010. It has also resulted in the corruption and politicization of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva and UNESCO in Paris and enables the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA to collaborate with terrorists and poison the minds of the next generation of Palestinians with murderous hatred of Jews.

The U.N. has even granted “Palestine” a bizarre “quasi-nation” status, even though there is no “Palestine” and even the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas have no identifiable borders beyond Area A of Judea and Samaria—a failed remnant of the Oslo Accords that the Palestinians themselves destroyed with a campaign of terrorism. “Palestine” might speak and act like a state, but it is not a state.

In the end, the purpose of this exhibit seems to be only somewhat about the Palestinian Arabs. First and foremost, it is about the U.N. It is an attempt to validate a jumble of words that justify a growing number of expensive and biased U.N. committees and investigations.

Future U.N. exhibits should refrain from self-serving and tendentious narratives. As the world contemplates “day after” scenarios to the Israel-Hamas war, perhaps the U.N. should consider a blank canvas.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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