I was making a salad for dinner on Thursday (July 23) when I heard the following, on the NPR program "all things considered":
The Israeli Ministry of Education has banned reference to the Arabic the word 'nakba' from Arabic-language Israeli textbooks. The word 'nakba' means 'the catastrophe' and it resonates for millions of Palestinians; it's the word that they use to describe the creation of the state of Israel, when millions of Palestinians became refugees at the end of the 1948 war.
The anchorperson, Robert Siegel, should know better, being an alumnus of one of the best high schools in New York, Stuyvesant HS. Of course he also went to Columbia University, where — if he were a student today — he could take courses from tenured professors Joseph Massad, who decries "the renaming of 'Palestinian rural salad (now known in New York delis as Israeli salad)' as an example of Israeli 'racism'", and Nadia Abu El-Haj, who — while rejecting "a positivist commitment to scientific methods" and accepting a methodology "rooted in … post-structuralism, philosophical critiques of foundationalism, Marxism and critical theory and developed in response to specific postcolonial political movements" — still expects us to believe her contention that Israeli archeologists deliberately falsify findings to show a Jewish provenance in the land of Israel.
To get back to the story, only about 650,000 Arabs became refugees in 1948 (reasonable estimates range from 550,000 to 700,000). The millions who today claim refugee status have 'inherited' it from their parents, or simply claimed it in order to get on UNRWA's dole.
There is much to say about refugees, more than I can present in a blog post. Here are a few things for you and Robert Siegel to keep in mind when you think about Mahmoud Abbas' demand that all 4.5 million have a 'right of return' to Israel:
- The "1948 war" actually began in 1947 when the Jews accepted the UN partition resolution and the Palestinian Arabs chose to fight. It intensified in 1948 after Israel declared independence and was invaded by armies of five Arab nations. In other words, the Arabs bear responsibility for starting the war.
- Beginning in 1948 there was a corresponding exodus of Jews from Arab countries, almost 800,000 of them. Most were forced to flee and leave their wealth and property behind. They were all resettled within a few years, in Israel and other places.
- Of the Arab refugees from Israel, there were those that left in anticipation of war (many from of the upper classes of Arab society), there were those who left in response to exhortations from the leadership, there were those who fled as a result of exaggerated atrocity stories (e.g., the Deir Yassin incident in which about 110 Arabs were killed, many of them combatants, and nobody was raped), there were some that fled actual fighting, and there were some — a minority, mostly from hostile villages — who were actually expelled.
- Many of the refugees did not leave Palestine. They fled to the West Bank and Gaza — where they were forced into refugee camps by Jordanian and Egyptian soldiers. The lot of Gazans under Egyptian occupation was particularly harsh.
- No Arab government offered Palestinian refugees citizenship except Jordan, which is now acting to revoke it. Others have placed restrictions on the work, education, etc. available to refugees.
- The policy of the Arab nations and Palestinian leadership has always been to oppose any effort to resettle the refugees, or even to improve their living conditions — as Israel tried to do in the 1970's — insisting that the only acceptable solution to the problem is for them to 'return':
Israel launched a "build your own home" project in the 1970s that allotted a half dunam of land "to Palestinians who then financed the purchase of building materials and, usually with friends, erected a home. Israel provided the infrastructure: sewers, schools, etc. More than 11,000 camp dwellers were resettled… before PLO, using intimidation tactics, ended the program." Israeli authorities contended that had the program been allowed to continue apace, "within eight years every camp resident could own a single-dwelling home in a clean and uncongested neighborhood." Joel Bainerman, "Permanent Homes for Palestinian Refugees," Christian Science Monitor, May 26, 1992.
- UNRWA, the UN organization created specifically for the purpose of supporting Palestinian refugees, provides welfare services which encourage population growth and dependency without moving in the direction of providing permanent homes for refugees — precisely the most destabilizing policy imaginable.
That's just a beginning.
The 'nakba' concept is part of the Palestinian story that the situation of the refugees today is all Israel's fault, which Israel should remedy by committing suicide. You can understand why the Israeli Ministry of Education doesn't want to pay to print textbooks that promote this point of view.
The salad I was making? It was an Israeli salad.