Al Nakba, an endless tragedy



No people want to have to look back and recognize the horrors of their own history

The Arabic term “al nakba”, translated as “the catastrophe”, carries the connotation of profound misery and refers to the expulsion of 750 Palestinians from the territory where the State of Israel was created in May 1948.

More recently, studies in the area began to use the term “Nakba continuous”, to refer to the fact that the expulsion process, which peaked in 1948, continues to this day. In 1967, another 350 Palestinians were displaced from the West Bank. Outside of periods of war, forced displacement occurs by other means, whether through discriminatory laws and provisions, or through the invasion and robbery of Palestinian homes by radical settlers – a recurring event in East Jerusalem.

The first to draw attention to the continuous character of Nakba was not a historian, but the Lebanese writer, former freedom fighter, or fida'i in Arabic, Elias Khoury. Wounded around the age of twenty, he traded the rifle for the pen, and began to collect fragments of Palestinian stories and weave narratives that record the long, uninterrupted suffering and resilience of this people.

If the year 1948 marked the peak of Nakba, also meant the creation of the State of Israel. The concomitance and intrinsic relationship between the two events generated enormous historiographical disputes. The version of the so-called “old” Israeli historians was portrayed by the image of an Israeli David against an Arab Goliath. The young State of Israel, born from the ashes of the European Holocaust, would have faced a terrible Arab force, whose desire would be to eliminate the country and throw the Jews into the sea. The 1948 war, according to this narrative, would be a war of defense. The Palestinians would have fled at the behest of their leaders, to make way for the entry of Arab armies.

One of the first Palestinian historians, 'Arif al-'Arif, was then the assistant commissioner of the Ramallah district and was tasked with receiving the UN negotiator, Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte, in the third week of July 1948, shortly after the fall and massacre of Lydd and Ramla. Sixty thousand inhabitants of these two cities had been forced on a death march in which hundreds of them would perish from dehydration and exhaustion before reaching Ramallah. Count Bernadotte had been informed by Israeli officials that the Palestinians had fled at the behest of their leaders.

'Arif al-'Arif says that he promptly took Count Bernadotte to meet some of these leaders in the caves where they had taken refuge, to hear their reports. It was meetings like this that certainly made Bernadotte report to the UN that “no agreement will be fair and complete if the recognition of the right of Arab refugees to return to their homes from where they were displaced is not guaranteed”. Count Bernadotte was murdered a few months later by the extremist group Lehi, led at the time by Yitzhak Shamir, who would go from being a “wanted terrorist” by the English authorities to becoming Prime Minister of Israel in 1983.

The myth of the voluntary exodus of the Palestinians persisted for three decades, despite Folke Bernadote, 'Arif al-'Arif, and the historian Walid Khalidi, who in the 1950s was the first to prove its falsehood with archival research. As the allegation was that senior Arab leaders had issued orders over the radio for the Palestinians to flee, Walid Khalidi searched the collection of Arab radio recordings from 1948, kept at the National Museum in London, where he found no record of any order to that effect. .

The character Adam, from Elias Khoury's most recent novel published in Brazil (My name is Adam, Editora Tabla) asks, quite the opposite, why didn't they run away?! An estimated 15 Palestinians died in Nakba 1948. More than 30 massacres were recorded, such as that of Deir Yassin, which occurred on April 9, 1948, or Tantura, a case investigated by Teddy Katz, a student of the Israeli historian Ilan Pappé at the University of Haifa who, after defending his thesis with maximum grade, he was subsequently pressured by the college management to change his conclusions.

In the 1980s, a wave of academic publications emerged, from the so-called “new Israeli historians” who, more than two decades after the Palestinian historians to whom no one listened, also refuted the old Zionist narrative of the “voluntary exodus”. They did so mainly from Israeli national and military archives opened 30 years after 1948. A new understanding was produced by the research of Israeli historian Benny Morris, around 1987, proving that the approximately 750 thousand Palestinians who became refugees in 1948, they had, in fact, been expelled.

The version of voluntary exodus definitely fell apart. But the discussion began to revolve around the reasons behind the expulsion. Benny Morris, after hesitating, would come to the conclusion that the expulsion was the ineluctable consequence of the 1948 war, which is why he was harshly criticized by the American Jewish political scientist, Norman Finkelstein, who called Benny Morris' thesis “the happy medium.” ”, as he acknowledged the expulsion, but denied the motivation.

Several authors, Palestinian and Israeli, from Nur Masalha to Avi Shlaim, then made important contributions to the historiographical debate and the process of deconstruction of Zionist mythology. However, the next major historiographical advance would come as a result of the publication, in 2006, of Ilan Pappé's main book, Palestine's ethnic cleansing (Sundermann Publishing House).

In it, the author demonstrated how in the 1940s, the Jewish National Fund financed a secret project to map the territory of Palestine, still under the British Mandate. The survey included the names and location of the villages, the quality of the land in each village, its agricultural production, the number of orchards, the number of trees in each orchard, and even the number of fruits on each tree, water sources, cars and carts, the adult male population, the names of anyone suspected of being a combatant of the camp's resistance movement, names of the leaders and description of the interior of the houses of the mukhtars (leaders/mayors), indicating that Jewish spies were received with typical Arab hospitality, inside the houses.

The village archives, constructed completely clandestinely throughout the 1940s by Jewish National Fund investigators, recorded extremely detailed and increasingly detailed data on the military and resistance capabilities of Arab residents.

According to Ilan Pappé, this information was used, first, to understand which lands would be most coveted for the formation of the Jewish state when the time came; second, what kind of resistance force could they find in each region and in each village. The “village archives” would have provided the database for the preparation of Plan D (dalet, in Hebrew), the war plan of the Israeli army in 1948, or, in Ilan Pappé's view, the plan for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

The term can be understood as a deliberate policy of removing civilian populations from their territories, through violence and terror, to enable occupation by their perpetrators. Thus, it differs from the idea of ​​genocide, an action where there is a proven intention to eliminate ethnic-racial, national or religious groups.

The attacks on the villages would initially be carried out by the Zionist militias, Haganá, Irgun, and Lehi, better known as the Stern Band, and would begin as soon as the partition of Palestine was approved, in a vote by the UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947. The Haganah's action in Wadi Rushmiyya, an Arab neighborhood of Haifa, in December 1947, was considered the beginning of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. The Haganah terrorized the city's 75 Arab inhabitants, urged them to flee, and blew up their homes so they had nowhere to return.

According to Ilan Pappé, the first phase of ethnic cleansing was carried out from December 1947 to March 1948, a period marked by still sporadic attacks by Zionist militias and episodes of resistance, ambushes and counter Palestinian offensives. In March, the aforementioned Plan was finalized dalet, changing and intensifying the characteristics of the conflict.

This plan was drawn up based on data gathered in village archives, and outlined the regions that the Zionist movement should try to conquer beyond the borders designated by the UN. It also determined the methods to be used. According to Pappé, surround and bomb villages and population centers; setting fire to houses, properties and goods; expel residents; demolish the houses; and finally, planting mines in the wreckage to prevent the return of expelled residents. Each paramilitary unit received a specific list of villages and neighborhoods that would be their target.

The Dalet Plan was the fourth and final version of previous plans that had only vaguely described how the Zionist leadership intended to deal with the presence of so many Palestinians in the land the Jewish national movement claimed. In the words of Ilan Pappé, “the fourth and final line said clearly and unmistakably: the Palestinians must leave”.

For Walid Khalidi, the objective of the plan was both to break Palestinian resistance and to create a fait accompli that neither the UN, nor the United States, nor the Arab countries would be able to reverse. This explains, according to Walid Khalidi, the speed and virulence of the attacks on Arab population centers. As the military plan was carried out, tens of thousands of Palestinians would be forced to march, taking only the clothes on their backs, forming rivers of refugees that flooded the Arab border countries, hoping to soon return.

One of the main and most charismatic leaders of the Palestinian resistance, Abd al-Qadr al-Husayni, was killed in the battle of al-Qastal on April 9, 1948. The second leader, Hassan Salamah, who led the peasant resistance al-jihad al-muqaddas, fell in the battle of Ras al-Ein, on June 2, 1948. The Palestinian defeat was sealed regardless of the subsequent entry of Arab countries into the war.

Arab countries voted against resolution AG/UN 181, which determined the partition of Palestine. They never agreed with the establishment of the British Mandate for Palestine (1917-1948) and, like the Palestinians themselves, they did not accept that a portion of the Arab territories were handed over to the Zionist movement. As soon as the founding of the State of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948, they entered the war. The objective was, allegedly, to prevent the creation of the Zionist state. In practice, a large part of the troops sent were irregular, poorly armed and poorly trained volunteers, whose objective was to respond to the call of the Palestinian brothers.

The exception was Jordan, with intentions of annexing the fertile lands on the west bank of the Jordan River. The Hashemite monarchy had the largest Arab army at the time and, in the opinion expressed by Walid Khalidi, if it were not for it, and for the participation of Egypt to the south, the Palestinians would have lost all their lands in 1948.

Israel was created on 78% of the territory of historic Palestine, not on the 52% designated by the UN. In this majority portion of the territory of historic Palestine, only around 150 Palestinians remained. The Gaza Strip received 200 refugees, whose descendants represent 70% of the current population. Another 550 Palestinians fled mainly to the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Salman Abu Sitta, expelled from Beer Sheba at the age of ten, took refuge with his family in Gaza and then went to London, where he trained as a civil engineer.

Abu Sitta mapped the 530 Palestinian villages emptied, destroyed and eliminated by the invasions of the Zionist militias and the Israeli army, from the end of 1947 until the armistices of 1949, and demonstrated that the argument that there is no room for the return of the Palestinians is false. Palestinian refugees to their homelands and cities.

Given that Palestinian historians have been largely ignored, it was based on the research presented by Ilan Pappé in his book The ethnic cleansing of Palestine, that a new understanding of the Nakba was formed. It would no longer be the case to say that the expulsion of the Palestinians existed, but was a consequence of the war, nor that it was an objective systematically pursued during the war, but rather that the war was started the day after the UN approved the partition of Palestine. , to carry out a plan that envisaged their eviction for the creation of an ethnic and majority Jewish state.

Needless to say, Ilan Pappé's thesis deeply displeased the establishment Zionist. The historian left the University of Haifa for that of Exeter, in England, but he was still a huge success among Israelis who fight to achieve Palestinian rights and believe that they must find less segregationist and more shared ways of living together, from the river to the sea .

As Edward Said said, no people want to have to look back and recognize the horrors of their own history. At the same time, he said, only the recognition of mutual suffering – of Jews in the Holocaust and of Palestinians in Nakba – could generate reparation and the necessary links for a life in common. While the Nakba continues and worsens, the recognition of the catastrophe has just begun.

*Arlene Clemesha is a professor of contemporary Arab history at the University of São Paulo (DLO-USP). She is the author, among other books, of Marxism and Judaism: history of a difficult relationship (Boitempo). []

Originally published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paul.

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