Last week’s annual “Nakba Day” events in Ramallah, Gaza and around the world purported to lament the birth of Israel in 1948.
But in reality, Nakba Day simply recharges a mythical history of victimhood in which “Palestinian Arab land” was ripped from its people’s hands by bloodthirsty Jews. In actual fact, the catastrophe was of the Palestinians’ own making, characterized then as now by a steadfast refusal to accept a Jewish state or any of the many offers of land and a nation in exchange for peace.
Not only does Nakba Day fetishize hateful vengeance against Israel and Jews, but it also condemns the Palestinians to a past, present and future of indelible victim identity. The combination leaves them with little to show for the last 74 years—since Israel’s birth—except bitterness and diminished opportunity.
Nakba Day’s fundamental premise is fiction. It blames Israel for Palestinians’ losing their chance for land and nationhood, which was in fact caused by Arab states’ rejection of the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan dividing the territory into two states, one Arab, one Jewish. Unlike the Palestinians, Israel’s founders grudgingly, but wholeheartedly, embraced the offer.
Thus, Palestinians’ casting of blame for their stateless dispersion should not rest on Israel, but elsewhere; on their allies—the defiant (and inept) Arab armies—and on the Palestinians’ own underestimation of Israel’s passionate will to survive, and on the United Nations itself.
Despite the specious Palestinian narrative, Israel’s War of Independence was not to seize private or public Arab land. After all, there was never an Arab state in Palestine, and Israel had methodically purchased and negotiated possession of most of the land in its future country. Rather, its War of Independence was defensive—against the armies of five invading Arab nations and the fifth column of local Palestinian Arab resistance.
In fact, the Palestinian state could have been established on the original date of the “Nakba.” But Jordan, Egypt, Syria and other Arab states invaded Israel—with a bogus claim of “fraternal support for the Arab cause,” as Jordan’s King Abdullah put it.
Instead of deciding the disposition of land on the battlefield, if the Arab League and the Palestinian Arabs had just said “yes” to the U.N. plan, Palestinian Arabs would now be looking forward to the 75th anniversary of their State of Palestine.
But their answer was a resounding “no!” Local Palestinian Arabs launched a bloody guerrilla campaign against pre-state Jewish communities. Palestinian Arabs were reassured by the Arab invaders that Israel’s death would follow in a few weeks.
In the fog of guerrilla war and real war that accompanied Israel’s establishment, many Palestinians fled. Some were no doubt displaced by Israeli army actions. Arab armies lost the war to destroy Israel, but they drove out or killed any and all Jews residing in the areas they retained—now known as “the West Bank” and “Gaza Strip.” (Later, the Arab states expelled almost all of their Jewish citizens—not in “the fog of war” but in the anti-Semitic deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews.)
Once the U.N.’s post-war armistice lines were drawn, the true Palestinian nakba—the catastrophic betrayal—arrived.
King Abdullah of Trans-Jordan and King Farouk of Egypt double-crossed the Palestinian Arabs, and their armies swallowed up what was to have been the Palestinian state.
Abdullah also abrogated the United Nations’ plan to establish Jerusalem as an “international city” and annexed it to Jordan.
In short, the failure to create what would have been the world’s first-ever “Palestinian state” in 1948-49 was not Israel’s fault—that state was stolen by Jordanian and Egyptian monarchs.
What followed made the catastrophe a long-term problem, because the despicable Arab League had even worse plans for the many Palestinian Arab exiles.
It shoved them into horrific refugee camps to cultivate perpetual zealotry for Israel’s destruction and add bitter suffering to the nakba myth. No other World War II-era refugees suffered this fate of continuous homelessness and despair.
The United Nations established the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to serve the Palestinian Arab camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Gaza. With the exception of Jordan, no Arab state offered naturalized citizenship and resettlement to the Palestinian refugees. Equally ironic, no national movement of Palestinians ever arose against their Arab oppressors—only against the Jews.
Arabs remaining in Israel, on the other hand, were given full Israeli citizenship, and today serve in the ruling coalition in the Knesset, sit on the Supreme Court, and prosper in business, academia and all phases of Israeli life.
It was in 1998 that Yasser Arafat, the master terrorist who headed the PLO and the Palestinian Authority until his 2004 death, declared the first “official” Nakba Day.
At the time, it seemed like a strange provocation—coming as it did just a few years into the 1995 Oslo Accords peace process. But it was clearly a harbinger of Arafat’s strategy for the coming years: Shortly after Arafat’s third Nakba Day, he launched the blood-drenched Second Intifada.
Arafat wasn’t commemorating anything; he was creating an Orwellian hate-fest to propagate his terrorist vision into the 21st century.
Instead of affirming the truth of Israel’s founding and the craven betrayal of the Palestinian Arabs by their brethren, world governments, the United Nations and the media seem cruelly committed to reinforcing—and often paying for—the obsessive and self-destructive actions and myths of the Palestinians and their inept, woebegone leadership.
Tragically for both Israeli and Palestinian alike, Nakba Day tells most Israelis that no peace with Palestinians is possible through a land-for-peace treaty.
As long as Nakba Day is central to Palestinians, Israel knows that its Six-Day War victory, and its borders, are not the key issues.
For Palestinians, the war whose results must be undone is the 1948 War of Independence. The rejectionist ideology of Nakba Day won’t go away without 1948 Israel also going away. The core of the Palestinian problem isn’t Ramallah, Gaza and Jenin: It’s Tel Aviv, Haifa, Eilat, and yes, Jerusalem.
It is the Palestinians’ responsibility to sue for peace—unconditionally renouncing their resentful myths and their hateful, delusional dreams of a Middle East without Israel.
Once Palestinians accept Israel as a permanent Jewish neighbor (and even partner!), they are likely to be surprised and satisfied by Israel’s generosity of spirit in sharing a peaceful Middle East.
Ken Cohen is co-editor of the Hotline published by Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which offers educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.