Let’s talk about the ‘nakba’ and who’s really responsible for Palestinian suffering

Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s proposed resolution reminds us that anti-Zionist extremism and the denial of Jewish rights is what has left descendants of 1948 refugees in limbo and made peace impossible.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) delivering a speech at the American Muslims for Palestine convention in Chicago on Nov. 30, 2019. Credit: American Muslims for Palestine.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) delivering a speech at the American Muslims for Palestine convention in Chicago on Nov. 30, 2019. Credit: American Muslims for Palestine.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Resolutions proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives mean nothing. They give members an opportunity to pay lip service to various causes favored by their constituents but don’t commit the government to action. They are almost always not worth noticing. But every once in a while, a resolution is put forward that demands attention. This week that is exactly what happened when Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) proposed House Resolution 1123, “Recognizing the Nakba and Palestinian Refugee Rights.”

The word nakba means “disaster” or “catastrophe,” and that is how Palestinian Arabs and their supporters refer to the events of 1948 and the birth of the State of Israel. The text is a thumbnail guide to Palestinian propaganda about their suffering and the events that led to approximately 750,000 Arabs to flee their homes during Israel’s War of Independence. What happened to them is a tragedy deserving of sympathy, but the story told in the resolution provides not even half of the truth about the conflict or why nearly 10 times the number of Arabs who fled the war now claim to be Palestinian refugees.

As an attempt at telling this history, the resolution is a despicable farce that deserves little notice. But it’s important because it represents the way the left-wing of the Democratic Party led by the so-called “Squad”—of which Tlaib, who is of Palestinian descent, is a charter member—has fully embraced intersectional ideology. Other “Squad” members are co-sponsors, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.). This attempt to treat the war on Israel’s existence as analogous to the struggle for civil rights in the United States and an integral part of the progressive political agenda represents a sea change in American politics.

So, while the resolution itself is contemptible, it merits a full debate and vote in the House rather than to be tabled and forgotten.

The pro-Israel community has generally ignored the Palestinian narrative about 1948. The story of Israel is one that stands on its own and is widely accepted by the overwhelming majority of Americans. It is the one Jewish state on the planet and represents the 2,000-year-old dream of Jews for a return to their ancient homeland. Israel has not known a single day of peace in the 74 years since its modern-day establishment on May 14, 1948. Few thought it would survive being invaded by five Arab armies immediately after its birth, or the subsequent wars and terrorist campaigns aimed at destroying it. It is the only democracy in the Middle East and one where all people, including its Arab minority, have equal rights under the law. And it has grown from a poor and tiny country into a regional economic and military superpower.

But seen through the funhouse mirror of the nakba rhetoric in Tlaib’s resolution, which mimics the rhetoric of the anti-Semitic BDS movement that she and co-sponsor Omar support, Israel is an “apartheid state” whose creation was an injustice. Moreover, the resolution also demands recognition of the Palestinian “right of return” in which the 7 million descendants of the 1948 refugees would have the right to reclaim the homes of those who left and essentially eliminate Israel as a Jewish state.

While Tlaib and the other Progressive Caucus members who co-sponsored the resolution want to frame their gesture as a matter of support for human rights and recognition of the suffering of Palestinians, it is actually nothing of the kind. Its purpose is to place on the record, congressional support for the elimination of Israel.

The text does recognize that the Arabs then living in the Mandate for Palestine (who would not take up the label “Palestinians” until years later since at that time, only Jews called themselves Palestinians while the Arabs called themselves Arabs), rejected the compromise offered by the 1947 U.N. Partition Resolution that called for the creation of two states—one Jewish and one Arab—in the country once the British governing authorities withdrew. If, as the resolution states, the majority of the mandate’s population rejected partition, it was only because a British government that sought to appease both the Arabs and the Nazis locked the gates of Palestine. That ensured that the Jews of Europe who wanted to go there were instead slaughtered in the Holocaust.

The Arabs were not prepared to accept any Jewish state, even one far smaller than the one that emerged from the 1948 War of Independence. That rejection led to a war that was certainly a disaster for the Palestinian Arabs who started it. In some cases, though not the majority, the Jews had told the Arabs to leave places from which they had either joined in the attacks on them or served as a launching point for foreign forces. Arab leaders called for the Jews to be “thrown into the sea,” and for their people to leave and then return after their Jewish neighbors were killed or made to flee. Instead, it was the Jews who, despite suffering 1 percent of their population being killed in the fighting, triumphed.

That created a population of several hundred thousand Arab refugees. But rather than resetting them in the surrounding countries or elsewhere, the Arabs insisted that they remain stateless and kept in refugee camps, where they would serve as props in an ongoing campaign to eliminate Israel. This was just one group among tens of millions of refugees that were created by conflicts and border changes in Europe, India and elsewhere. All other refugees were served by a single U.N. refugee agency that aimed to resettle them in new homes. But supported by the Soviet bloc, non-aligned nations, and the Muslim and Arab world, the Palestinians got their own refugee agency, the U.N. Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) that kept them in place as politicized charity cases.

In roughly the same period, an even greater number of Jews were thrown out or forced out of their homes in the Middle East and North Africa, where they had lived for centuries. Those refugees were resettled in Israel and in the West. Today, these Mizrachi Jews—“people of color,” according to the intersectional movement—now comprise the majority of the population of the Jewish state.

In the years between 1949 and 1967, the clamor for the end of the “occupation” referred to cleansing Israel (without the Gaza Strip, the West Bank or the Old City of Jerusalem) of its Jews. In the decades since, the Palestinian leadership—first under veteran PLO terrorist Yasser Arafat and then his successor Mahmoud Abbas—has rejected peace and even several Israeli/American offers of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinian Authority still talks of a “right of return” that is synonymous with the destruction of Israel and funds terrorism. Its Hamas rivals who rule Gaza demand Israel’s extinction.

All of this means that any discussion of the nakba ought to be on the way the Palestinian leadership and the political culture they created are the reason for the original disaster that befell their people and their current plight. Rather than addressing this problem, the Tlaib resolution and its supporters are simply trying to fuel the conflict. Their goal of a world without Israel could only be achieved by genocide. The resolution’s supporters are thus opponents of any idea of peace other than one built on a new Holocaust.

Any sympathy for the nakba narrative is not merely built on ignoring the truth about the Palestinians and their wars. It’s also inherently anti-Semitic since it is built on a foundation of denial of Jewish rights and the Jewish victims that were created by the Arabs’ anti-Zionist hate.

So rather than ignore Tlaib and the Progressive Democrats’ willingness to mainstream anti-Semitism, mainstream Democrats and Republicans should eagerly take up the chance to debate this resolution. It would be an opportunity for centrist Democrats to demonstrate their rejection of the intersectional myths that a considerable portion of their base has embraced. Sadly, all too many Democrats, especially younger ones, pay lip service to critical race theory, which similarly brands Jews and Israel as beneficiaries of “white privilege” and part of the oppressor class while the Palestinians enjoy the status of victims and indigenous people.

If both parties don’t place their rejection of this manifesto on the record, then rather than an isolated incident, the Tlaib resolution will be a signpost on the way towards the Democrats’ embrace of the lies being spewed by those who support the nakba narrative. That would be a disaster for them, as well as for Palestinians who remain locked in a mindset in which their identity is inextricably linked to a war they started and lost.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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