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Nakba Day 2012

 Today, May 15, is the day that Palestinians commemorate as “Nakba Day,” “Catastrophe Day,” a day to mark the expulsion from homes in Israel during the 1948 war.

Nakba Day provides a great example of how much lack of understanding there is in this part of the world.

On the one hand, there are Jews who will deny that there was any expulsion of Arabs, who try to claim they all left willingly.  Never mind that they owned homes they weren’t allowed to come back to.  In an article that was published a few years ago on the Huffington Post, Alan Dershowitz wrote “The Germans don’t celebrate the catastrophe resulting from their invasion of Poland. Japanese do not celebrate their catastrophe resulting from the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Why do Palestinians celebrate their catastrophe resulting from the Arab attack against Israel?”

Dershowitz misses several important points, that are pointed out in an article by Aziz Abu Sarah that was published on +972.  First of all the Palestinians don’t “celebrate” Nakba Day any more than Jews “celebrate” Tisha b’Av, the holiday that marks many disasters that have befallen the Jewish people over the course of history.  They “commemorate” the day.  And Nakba Day is just as much about the injustices of the ongoing Occupation of the West Bank as it is about what happened in 1948.

On the other hand, what’s missing from Abu Sarah’s blog post — and from most of the Palestinian narrative — is the role that they (or their ancestors) had in the disaster.  As Dershowitz points out, the precipitating event was largely a “self-inflicted wound.”  The Arabs rejected the UN’s partition plan.  They didn’t want to share with the Jews, they wanted it all.  And they ended up with much less.

Of course, maybe that’s understandable.  After all, some of the biggest disasters that we commemorate on Tisha b’Av — the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in the year 70, and the crushing of the Bar Kochba revolt a little over 60 years later — were also “self-inflicted wounds.”  Our pipsqueak little country thought they could take on Rome.  Get serious.  But when we mourn on Tisha b’Av we only take responsibility in a very abstract way — the story of Kamza and Bar Kamza — we don’t talk about the geopolitical lessons we should have learned.  Like don’t mess with Empires that are a hundred times more powerful than you are.

The way I look at Nakba Day is as follows:

It was, indeed, a catastrophe for the Palestinians.  Hundreds of thousands of people were dispossessed of their homes in 1948.  The human and financial toll was tremendous.

And yes, it was to a large degree “self-inflicted,” in that the Arabs refused to accept the idea of any Jewish state at all, and chose to go to war instead.  But that does not reduce the suffering, and that does not justify the injustices that were done by the fledgling Jewish state.  

Furthermore, the ongoing Israeli military occupation of the West Bank continues to exact a major toll on the lives of the Palestinians.  The status quo is hugely unjust.  Yes, the Arabs made a major mistake in 1948, but that does not mean that their children and grandchildren should be punished forever.  It is well past time for the Palestinian and Israeli leadership, both, to get their act together and put together a just and lasting peace.

I blame both sides for the current lack of progress.  Netanyahu is wrong for continuing to build settlements and confiscate more land in the West Bank, and Abbas is wrong for setting pre-conditions before negotiating.  Both sides are screwed up.

But what else is new in this part of the world…

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

5 thoughts on “Nakba Day 2012

  • The Arabs made a huge mistake in 1947, 1948, 1967, 1973, 2000, 2008 and so on up until the present day. No one believes that Israel was totally blameless in 1948, but the Jews of the yishuv could be victorious or they could be dead- that was their choice, since they did not have thier choice of 22 countries to which they could resettle. Do you seriously think the Arabs then (or now, for that matter) would have “taken prisoners”?
    Second- your article makes no mention of the roughly 800,000 Jews that were expelled from their centuries-long homes in Arab countries. Are they sitting around in squalid refugee cities complaining about their misery?
    The Arab world needs to look deeply into their own “Neshamahs”, Rabbi Leff, and stop blaming Jews and the world for their “Nakba”.

    • Well said, I couldn’t agree more.

  • Sharron Schuff

    Reb Barry,

    Find your articles very informative and interesting, but……….
    Oh, I do agree with the above reply. We were forced out of our lands long ago and did not sit around complaining about our misery (ok, maybe we complained, but we got on with our lives — even as we were pushed out of many of the places we had to settle over & over).
    Also, they started all the above wars, wanting to push us into the sea — get rid of us.
    True, we need peace in the region, but at what cost to Israel??
    We already gave back Sinai and Gaza — and most of their sworn to kill Israelis prisoners; got nothing in return. They have to do some giving too. They should be cleaning up their act now and stop blaming us for their misfortune.
    Thank you for letting me vent.

    • Rachel Port

      Sharron – I understand your need to vent, but I want to make a correction. We did not give Gaza back. We evacuated the territory, but maintain control of its borders, airspace, imports and exports, seacoast. In other words we went from an internal occupation to an external occupation. That is not the same as giving it back to the Gazans.

      I hope this doesn’t post twice – something messed up when I was writing the comment the first time.

      • “We did not Give Gaza Back”:
        When Gaza was evacuated by Israel, the greenhouses and production facilities from what had been a thriving, lucrative flower export indutry were left intact. The hope was that Gazan Arabs would continue to use these facilities to generate jobs and income, as a first step to creating a template for a viable state. They were even given initial capital by foreign benefactors. Instead, what happened? The facilities were destroyed and Gaza became nothing more than a launching pad for terror attacks against Israel (first Fatah and later Hamas), and have continued to this day. Israel does not want to be in the border control business and would prefer instead to see Gaza as a peaceful, self-sustaining entity. Sadly, with the Hamas in charge and their charter calling for the murder of Jews (not just Israelis), don’t expect Israel to back off for a long time.


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