In the eighties, the State of Israel revealed some documents from the state archives which were from the period of the British Mandate in Palestine, during the Nakba and the early years that followed the foundation of the state. This was a valuable opportunity for a number of those who became known as the “New Historians” in Israel, such as Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe, Shlomo Sand and others. Since this enabled them to research the Nakba of the Palestinian people and what accompanied it, namely massacres, the policy of deportation, displacement and ethnic cleansing that took place in 1948. This disclosure triggered debate among various historians, and some started questioning the official Zionist narrative about what happened in 1948. Later, this limited step helped the launch of other activities of Israeli NGOs such as Zochrot, a Jewish civil society organization focusing on the Palestinian historical narrative. This helped to launch new historical work as an alternative to the central Israeli approach, which still rejects the Palestinian narrative of the Nakba. The opposing trends of the “New Historians” findings led the leaders of the State of Israel to reinstate obfuscation and secrecy on the archives of the state, as they were accused of slaughtering the holy cow.
On the Palestinian side, it must be recognized as we commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Nakba of the Palestinian people, which coincided with the establishment of the State of Israel, that we have failed to confront the Israeli narrative about the Nakba and have not presented our own version of it as it actually happened.
It is clear that the Nakba has two narratives: an Israeli one, which from a Palestinian perspective adopted lying and falsification of facts as a methodology, and the second is Palestinian, whose events, beginnings and repercussions, were actually ignored. It was also absent from world public opinion due to multiple considerations, one of which is that the world had just emerged from the horrors of World War II and the crimes committed by the Nazi monster, which later it cast a heavy shadow on the crimes that were done by the victims of Hitler’s Nazism.
Some Elements in the Israeli Narrative
Israel based its narrative on biblical historical claims that adopted myths and adhered to the legitimacy of the Zionist project, which calls for a return to the Promised Land after an alleged forced absence that lasted for thousands of years. It asserted that the Zionist project came to save the Jews from anti-Semitism and from persecution and extermination that took place in Europe, especially at the hands of the Nazi monster. An official disregarding and exclusion of all monuments indicating the existence of Palestine before 1948 was carried out, and instead Israel adopted the names of ancient Canaanite mountains, hills, plains, cities, and villages. To influence public awareness, Israel has also used multiple images in archaeology, botany, food, education, architecture, and tourism that focus on the central goal of obscuring Palestinian history in the country and erasing images of the Nakba from the consciousness of the average Israeli citizen.
The Zionist movement used to deny the mere fact that the Nakba had taken place and claim that the aim of talking about it was to delegitimize Israel. It continued to deny responsibility for the Nakba, and it attributed the responsibility for the mass immigration of Palestinians to the Arab countries, claiming that the Arab leaders were the ones who invited them to do so while waiting for the declaration of victory over the Jewish organizations conducting the fight at that time.
Israel, along with the Zionist movement and the Jewish Agency, continued to refuse to even see Palestinians as victims of its practices and crimes, and worked hard to strip the Palestinian ability to present themselves as victims.
At best, Israel related to the refugee problem as a humanitarian problem for which Palestinian and Arab leaders are responsible. At the same time, it worked hard to erase memory through textbooks that ignore the human dimension of the consequences of the 1948 war, and used its political, security and media machine to delegitimize the literature of “New Historians” that contradicted the Zionist narrative on war and the refugees. It recently enacted the Nakba Law, which aims to empower the Ministry of Education to impose penalties on educational institutions commemorating the Nakba.
We Failed to Present Our Palestinian Narrative
As Palestinians, we have failed to present our narrative as it has happened since the Balfour Declaration and during the British Mandate, which fused the denial of political rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to self-determination. The Balfour Declaration referred indirectly to the Palestinians as non-Jews in Palestine with civil and religious rights only, and denied their national aspirations or political rights. This took place many years before the Holocaust, and the rise of fascism and Nazism in Europe. By the end of the First World War, this became the context for dividing and re-dividing the world among the victorious colonial countries, and the Zionist movement emerged as one of the tools of colonialism and a natural and logical result of the development of its control mechanisms over the countries of the region after the end of the war.
The Plans for Ethnic Cleansing
Another equally important aspect is that during the British Mandate the Zionist movement carried out silent ethnic cleansing as Palestinians were displaced for the construction of the first Jewish settlements. In the first Jewish settlements they implemented the policy of Hebrew labor and carried out the construction of a closed society in Palestine and were organizing, training, and planning to practice ethnic cleansing on a large scale when the right moment come. They established military and paramilitary organizations, including Jewish terrorist organizations, and these were in full swing under the watchful eye of the British Mandate government. When the right moment came with the withdrawal of British troops from Palestine, the country was the scene of combat operations by trained, armed and equipped Jewish forces that outnumbered the Palestinian groups, which participated in the 1948 war.
The plan known as ‘Plan Dalet’ for ‘Mass Ethnic Cleansing’ was approved by the leadership of the Zionist movement and the Jewish Agency and was ready in March 1948, and the Zionist military groups were directed in detail on how to carry it out with the direct assistance of the British Mandate rule. Ethnic cleansing was a central goal, with strict and detailed directives, called for killing without mercy, spreading terror, besieging Palestinian cities and villages, burning homes and properties, and planting mines in rubble to prevent the people from returning to their homes.
The plan which was disclosed by the “New Historians” also revealed how the Haganah (which became the nucleus of the Israeli army after the establishment of the State), and other Jewish organizations committed 28 massacres, the most horrific of which was in Deir Yassin. In addition, more than 530 towns and villages were demolished, displacing about 800,000 Palestinians, and turning them into refugees.
This abstract narrative is presented without clarifying its nature and political context, and does not include what Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and other leaders of Jewish terrorist organizations said about the Deir Yassin massacre.
Menachem Begin said that without Deir Yassin Israel would not have existed, while Yitzhak Shamir described the massacre as a humanitarian duty, and later both became prime ministers of Israeli governments.
Jacques René, then Director of Red Cross Operations in Palestine, visited the village and witnessed the horrific crime on the ground. He submitted a chilling report on it to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and expressed his outrage at the barbaric practices of the Jewish forces that attacked children and women in the village.
Menachem Begin, head of the Irgun terrorist group at the time, who later became prime minister in 1977, described the massacre as a “heseg gadol” (great achievement) - while his deputy, Haim Landau, congratulated the Jewish militants who committed the massacre with:
“The occupation of Deir Yassin is a wonderful achievement. Accept
our congratulations on this amazing victory, convey to everyone,
individuals and leaders, that we shake hands with them and are proud
of their invading fighting spirit that made history in the Land of Israel,
and to victory as in Deir Yassin as well as in other places, we will storm
and exterminate the enemy, our Lord, have chosen us for conquest.”1
Landau spoke in the name of God, who had chosen the Irgun for that barbaric mission. Perhaps he thought he was the heir of Joshua bin Nun from the Old Testament, who (with the help of the Lord) conquered the city of Jericho in the thirteenth century BC and exterminated the men, women and children in it except for the adulteress Rahab, and followed it with the Canaanite city of Ai next to Bethlehem where he not only exterminated the population of men, women and children, but also all the animals in the city. Although historians and archaeologists agree that such an invasion did not take place at all, and that the city of Jericho was destroyed a century and a half before the appearance of Joshua bin Nun on its borders, and that Ai was also destroyed four centuries before the appearance of Ben Nun.
Nonetheless, we were late in presenting our Palestinian narrative to the world as a bridge between facts and lies, or in providing conclusive evidence of the crimes committed by the Zionist movement against our people. This allowed for the popularity of the Israeli claim that the inhabitants of Palestine left their homes in response to calls from abroad. Therefore, the world was as late to hear our narrative as we were late to put it forward.
The Nakba Narrative Should Not Stop at 1948
In addition to all this, the Palestinian narrative about the Nakba should not stop at what happened in 1948 but should evolve around what happened over the years, because the Nakba has been going on since its first year. Who can ignore what happened in 1967 after Israel occupied the West Bank, including Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip? In the early days of the occupation Israel carried out ethnic cleansing acts, brutally demolishing the villages of the Latrun area (Emmwas, Yalu and Beit
Nuba) near Jerusalem, displacing the people and turning the area into a recreational park called “Canada Park” while transferring the ownership of their lands to the Jewish National Fund, turning them into a vital area for its economic activities.
What Israel did with the villages of Latrun was done also in the Old City of Jerusalem. It destroyed the Al-Magariba quarter and displaced its residents and also displaced another four thousand Palestinians from Haret Al-Sharaf, the Jewish Quarter, which was nearby. This should be added as another chapter to our narrative about the Nakba so that the same scene is not repeated in Jerusalem, as the occupation still threatens to displace its people in Sheikh Jarrah, Batn al-Hawa in Silwan, al-Mukabber, and other places.
The chapters of demolition of Palestinian villages and towns, displacement and ethnic cleansing did not stop at the borders of what happened in 1948 and 1967. They continued with scenarios, images, and brutal means through the theft of Palestinian land and property, turning it into an area for settlement activities that in themselves laid the foundation for building a cruel system of discrimination, apartheid and silent ethnic cleansing.
One of the cruel examples of the policy of ethnic cleansing is the Jordan Valley, where its population in 1967 exceeded 125,000 people, but today the number barely reaches 60,000 due to systematic expulsion of the population from that area and replacing them with Jewish settlers, which is a clear and unmistakable war crime. This constitutes, along with other facts, an appropriate legal basis for the work of the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice on the consequences of Israel’s continuous acts of changing the demographic situation of the population in the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem, and its policy of ethnic cleansing.
The Situation Has Begun to Change
Today, as we enter a new year of the Palestinian Nakba, we notice a shift in the attitude of world public opinion. The situation has begun to change, and one of the indicators of this is the recent UN resolution in early December 2022 to designate the fifteenth of next May as a day in which the United Nations General Assembly commemorates at a high level the 75th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba. This transformation was a natural result of the steadfastness of our people in the 1948 areas in the face of aggression and Israelization attempts. They remained in their lands and preserved their identity as a national minority. Secondly, this is due to the continuous clash between the Palestinian people in the occupied territories with the Israeli occupation and its war crimes, discrimination, and apartheid that is fueled by the continuous Israeli settlement policy. And thirdly, there is the restoration of the role of refugee camps and the Palestinians in the diaspora as a leverage for the restoration of Palestinian refugees’ rights under the banner of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the PLO, which kept the refugee issue alive and their right to return. This right does not fall by a statute of limitations as Israel and the American administration wish.
The task of preserving the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and enabling it to play its role as a provider of services in various health, educational, social and humanitarian fields remains as a witness to a national, individual and collective right that must be upheld, and as a firm national position in the face of attempts to liquidate the most just cause in the history of mankind. Whoever thought that the old Palestinian generation will die and the new generation will forget, can easily find after 75 years of Nakba and struggle, that he was living in an illusion. The young generation is much more committed to the national struggle, and is stubbornly insisting that the Palestinian cause will not die, and one day they will achieve their rights and raise their flag on the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, on the mosques and the churches.
1. Walid Khalidi (1999) Dayr Yasin: al-Jum'a, 9 April 1948. Dayr Yasin: Friday, 9 April 1948. Institute for Palestine Studies, Beirut. (Arabic) – page 94., Walid Khalidi took this quote from the book by the Israeli historian Amos Perlmutter: “The Life and Times of Menachem Begin” (Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1987).