Characterizing any suffering by “Palestinian” Arabs during and subsequent to the 1948-9 war of Israeli independence as a “Naqba” is as mind-numbingly stupid as characterizing the existence of the United States as a catastrophe because of the tragic suffering of the 100,000 or so Tory loyalists forcibly evicted by the United States during its War of Independence.
Those Tory refugees from the colonies were absorbed by the countries to which they fled, mainly Maritime British Canada. They forfeited all their property left behind in the United States. The American Patriot leaders opposed any sort of compensation or settlement for them, including Benjamin Franklin. They would never be granted any “right of return” to the territories they had left.
Since most nations gain independence in armed struggle of one sort or another, armed struggle in which some civilians inevitably suffer, then by the “logic” of the ranteurs about “Naqba Denial” the existence of all those states should also be deemed catastrophes. But Israel alone is singled out for condemnation.
The term was not invented in 1948 but rather in 1920. And it was coined not because of Palestinians suddenly getting nationalistic but because Arabs living in Palestine regarded themselves as Syrian and were enraged at being cut off from their Syrian homeland.
Before World War I, the entire Levant – including what is now Israel, the “occupied territories,” Jordan, Lebanon and Syria – was comprised of Ottoman Turkish colonies. When Allied forces drove the Turks out of the Levant, the two main powers, Britain and France, divided the spoils between them. Britain got Palestine, including what is now Jordan, while France got Lebanon and Syria.
The problem was that the Palestinian Arabs saw themselves as Syrians and were seen as such by other Syrians. The Palestinian Arabs were enraged that an artificial barrier was being erected within their Syrian homeland by the infidel colonial powers – one that would divide northern Syrian Arabs from southern Syrian Arabs, the latter being those who were later misnamed “Palestinians.”
The bulk of the Palestinian Arabs had in fact migrated to Palestine from Syria and Lebanon during the previous two generations, largely to benefit from the improving conditions and job opportunities afforded by Zionist immigration and capital flowing into the area. In 1920, both sets of Syrian Arabs, those in Syria and those in Palestine, rioted violently and murderously.
On page 312 of The Arab Awakening, Antonius writes, “The year 1920 has an evil name in Arab annals: it is referred to as the Year of the Catastrophe (Am al–Nakba). It saw the first armed risings that occurred in protest against the post-War settlement imposed by the Allies on the Arab countries. In that year, serious outbreaks took place in Syria, Palestine, and Iraq.”
Sixty years after its establishment by an internationally recognized act of self-determination, Israel remains the only state in the world that is subjected to a constant outpouring of the most outlandish conspiracy theories and blood libels; whose policies and actions are obsessively condemned by the international community; and whose right to exist is constantly debated and challenged not only by its Arab enemies but by segments of advanced opinion in the West.
During the past decade or so, the actual elimination of the Jewish state has become a cause célèbre among many of these educated Westerners. The “one-state solution,” as it is called, is a euphemistic formula proposing the replacement of Israel by a state, theoretically comprising the whole of historic Palestine, in which Jews will be reduced to the status of a permanent minority. Only this, it is said, can expiate the “original sin” of Israel’s founding, an act built (in the words of one critic) “on the ruins of Arab Palestine” and achieved through the deliberate and aggressive dispossession of its native population.
This claim of premeditated dispossession and the consequent creation of the longstanding Palestinian “refugee problem” forms, indeed, the central plank in the bill of particulars pressed by Israel’s alleged victims and their Western supporters. It is a charge that has hardly gone undisputed. As early as the mid-1950’s, the eminent American historian J.C. Hurewitz undertook a systematic refutation, and his findings were abundantly confirmed by later generations of scholars and writers. Even Benny Morris, the most influential of Israel’s revisionist “new historians,” and one who went out of his way to establish the case for Israel’s “original sin,” grudgingly stipulated that there was no “design” to displace the Palestinian Arabs.
The recent declassification of millions of documents from the period of the British Mandate (1920-1948) and Israel’s early days, documents untapped by earlier generations of writers and ignored or distorted by the “new historians,” paint a much more definitive picture of the historical record. They reveal that the claim of dispossession is not only completely unfounded but the inverse of the truth. What follows is based on fresh research into these documents, which contain many facts and data hitherto unreported.