Commentary

Palestinians and Israelis Reflect on Nakba Day

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Views from the Region

On Nakba Day (May 15th), Palestinians remember their exile from their ancestral homeland as well as their suffering in refugee camps and the subsequent occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. For many regional commentators, the day becomes a time to reflect on the frustrating lack of a peaceful solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Meanwhile, the Israeli press took the opportunity to debate the merits of the various peace proposals that have been suggested at one time or another, with many of them commenting disapprovingly on them.

In an op-ed for the Palestinian news site Ma’an News, Ramzy Baroud draws a line between Nakba Day, the ongoing Palestinian suffering, and a divided Arab world: “The ethnic cleansing of Palestine to make room for a ‘Jewish homeland’ came at a price of unrelenting violence and perpetual suffering. Palestinians refer to that enduring experience as ‘Nakba’, or ‘Catastrophe.’ However, the ‘Nakba’ is not merely a Palestinian experience; it is also an Arab wound that never ceases from bleeding....The Sykes-Picot map might have been a crude vision drawn hastily during a global war but, since then, it has become the main frame of reference that the West uses to redraw the Arab world, and to “control (it) as they desire and as they may see fit. ‘The Palestinian ‘Nakba,’ therefore, must be understood as part and parcel of the larger western designs in the Middle East dating back a century, when the Arabs were (and remain) divided and Palestine was (and remains) conquered.”

Interestingly, very few Arab dailies discussed or opined on Nakba Day. The Gulf Today editorial team does so in passing, in an attempt to highlight the continuing occupation and suffering of Palestinian people: “Israeli atrocities have been increasing by the day and it is a matter of deep distress that the international community is not giving the matter the attention it deserves. A cursory glance at the happenings on the ground would reveal the scale of horrors heaped by Israel on harmless Palestinians. UN children’s agency, Unicef, has revealed that 25 Palestinian children were killed in just the last three months of 2015 and the number of children detained was the highest in seven years....The world community should have made Israel accountable for such brutal killings, but nothing of that sort happened....Palestinians commemorate the Nakba day, 15 May 1948, every year, as it is the date when over 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes .The best way out for the Palestinian factions is to close ranks and maintain national unity. The only option left for Israel is to end the disgraceful occupation without any more delay.”

Of the regional dailies that noted the day, the Jordan Times editorial expresses the most vocal and explicit support for Palestinian demand for statehood and justice: “Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian, who were a majority in their homeland before the start of the waves of Jewish immigration from Europe in the wake of the holocaust, were surprised to see another state declared on their ancestral land. By that act, Jewish survivors of the holocaust, aided by Western powers triumphant against Nazi Germany in World War II, started another racist war against the non-Jewish population of Palestine, forcing 700,000 indigenous people out of their homeland, taking their homes, lands and other property, depopulating and destroying many villages, massacring many people in the process. Through this ethnic cleansing, they simply turned from victims into victimizers, in the process dehumanizing their unwitting victims, the Palestinian people....No matter how much time passes, no matter how many foreigners come and go, how much political hypocrisy is shown by world capitals, Palestinians know that what is theirs will be returned to them and that justice will eventually prevail.”

In an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, Michael Sfard, an Israeli human rights lawyer and the legal adviser to the Israeli NGO Yesh Din, writes that: “We at Yesh Din believe that the moral and proper thing to do today is to continue to urge and remind the government and the people of Israel that the occupation must end – and that millions of people denied civil rights for decades must be allowed to exercise their natural rights; that settlements are illegal and a source of massive and widespread human rights abuses of their neighboring Palestinian communities, and that all settlement activity must stop; that Israel as the occupying power has a legal obligation to prevent assaults on Palestinians, bring attackers to justice and protect Palestinian property....that Israelis and Palestinians are destined to live together. Palestinians will not evaporate into thin air; Israelis will not disappear.”

Some within Israel have also expressed concern about Netanyahu’s continuing emphasis and reliance on military solutions, rather than political ones. That is the message of a recent editorial by Haaretz news, which takes aim at “one of the Independence Day events this year, [where] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed the nostalgic desire that parades by the Israel Defense Forces, which were halted following the Yom Kippur War, be revived...Netanyahu glorifies words and symbols at the expense of purpose and substance. In his view, an IDF parade would be the military equivalent of a speech in Congress: He doesn’t care so much if it does more harm than good. The display’s the thing, and Netanyahu should be in the middle of it....If Netanyahu so wishes a military parade, so be it. Let him do his job and seek peace, after which the IDF will march out of the territories.”

But it remains an undeniable fact that many Israelis continue to oppose peace initiatives, regardless of their origin. Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ben-Dror Yemini has this to say regarding a recent French peace proposal: “The French peace initiative was born in sin. It did not begin as an initiative, it began as a threat: If Israel doesn’t accept the diktat to recognize a Palestinian state, without negotiations and without the Palestinians having to recognize Israel, France will support Palestinian demands....The Israeli anger—which is entirely justified—led to a certain change in tone. The French are no longer promising the Palestinians that they would recognize a Palestinian state if the talks fail, and they've ambiguously dropped their other preconditions....The French resolution will fail, and it's a shame if it fails because of Israel. That would only aid the Palestinian campaign against Israel. And in any case, the French initiative came to be because of the freeze in talks. Instead of a French initiative, we should've had an Israeli initiative—both regarding the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.”

Another voice against accommodation of Palestinian demands comes from the Times of Israel blogger Stephen Flatow who takes aim at a S. Daniel Abraham Center ad in The New York Times demanding “Israel would be trapped with a rapidly remilitarizing Palestinian state next door. The Israelis would be completely dependent on the mercy of the United Nations and the U.S. State Department. That is exactly the opposite of independence. It is not what the founders of modern Zionism, or the founding fathers of the State of Israel, had in mind when they set out to put an end to 2,000 years of Jewish statelessness, weakness, and dependence on others.”

The Israeli voices against peace come from different segments of the population, including religious ones. Seeing God’s hand in the creation of the state of Israel, Arutz Sheva’s Shifra Hoffman warns against accommodating Palestinian demands: “In today's world, the search to end global conflicts and violent confrontations between nations has, ostensibly, become an urgent priority. Ironically, Israel the Jewish homeland that was reborn with G-D's help after the unspeakable Holocaust and which for more than six decades has endeavored to negotiate a peaceful solution to the Arab Israeli conflict...is now being singled out as the "obstacle to peace"....By relying on the 'peace plans' of nations that are at best indifferent to of our fate, and at worst, want to see Israel altogether eliminated, the Jewish State is courting unparalleled disaster!...Therefore , Israel should cease its foolish and non-productive attempts to curry favor with the world that for generations has persecuted Jews.”

Ben-Dror Yemini, writing for Ynet, argues that Arab pogroms against Jewish populations following the creation of Israel negate any Palestinian right of return: “Sunday was the day the Arab world commemorated the Nakba. One can and should participate in the sorrow of those who became refugees and remained so to this very day. They lost their homes and property.... The Jewish minority in the Arab countries, which numbered one million people, was mostly forced to flee. It was the Jewish Nakba. ... [The Palestinian] insistence on their ‘right of return,’ the code name for the destruction of Israel and refusal of any agreement, suppresses any desire for empathy.”


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