‘Commentary’: ‘Nakba’ Is Arabic for ‘Picnic’

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Nakba-denying Commentary Magazine has chosen to expand and magnify its distortion of the Palestinian experience in its latest issue by printing Efraim Karsh's response to a critical letter pointing out that Karsh elided Arab testimony about the events of 1947-48 in his original article, where he claimed that Arabs were "driven" out of Jaffa and other Arab towns and villages by their own leaders.

Karsh's statements are so lacking in judgment and moral authority that I cannot waste the time of reading them in detail, not on this beautiful day. Though I'd note that he quotes the late scholar Ibrahim Abu-Lughod as saying he was ashamed when he boarded a Belgian ship that rescued him from Jaffa in April '48 when a sailor asked him, "Why don't you stay and fight." Karsh notes that Abu-Lughod wrote, "I have never forgotten his face and I have never had one good answer for him."

Karsh offers this as evidence that the Palestinians walked away. As if Jews who left Europe didn't have similar misgivings later about their failure to fight!

And Karsh has misrepresented Abu-Lughod. This is from his book, Resistance, Exile and Return:

In theory, we could affect Tel Aviv as they could affect Jaffa, but they were better equipped with modern weaponry and had actual fighters. The most important section of Jaffa became too dangerous to live in… It is important to remember that the expulsion of the Palestinians did not take place in May 1948, it began immediately after the outbreak of the civil war. Thereofre, just as their people, our people began the process of relocation to separate areas…The bombardments were able to reach downtown and were causing real damage. People were concerned for their safety. Stores were closing… People were panicking… Bakeries began to close. We were unable to get necessities. Everything was conspiring to make us exit… On April 25, 1948, my famly decided to leav. The Jews had taken… a thir dof the city…We were still fighting…the streets were empty of people. Thos who decided to stay hid in their homes. Bombs from Tel Aviv were hitting the city. Water pumps were hit… We had heard about Deir Yassin…

Abu-Lughod has said that the Arabs' higher committee was urging Arabs to stay, but they were leaving in fright. Abu-Lughod's daughter Lila, a distinguished anthro at Columbia who has written a book called Nakba, says that her father was "driven from" Palestine by Zionists, not by Arabs. I have cited the testimony of people who were literally forced into the sea to survive (the perpetual nightmare raised about Israelis today). Karsh claims that these people all left because Palestinian society collapsed, and there was never "a Jewish design to dispossess the Palestinian Arabs." Then why wasn't Abu-Lughod invited back? And why wasn't UN 194, passed late in '48, honored? The Zionists wanted a substantial Jewish majority in the new state, and ethnic cleansing was the answer. In The Revolt, Menachem Begin, the former leader of the terrorist organization Irgun, says that the desertion by Arabs of Jaffa was effected by two causes, both Jewish: 1, reports of Deir Yassin–"the repute which propaganda had bestowed on [the Irgun]," says Begin, who tried to deny the massacre of early April but notes with pride that the fact that the Irgun was coming to Jaffa threw the Arabs into "abject fear." 2, "the weight of our bombardment." The expulsion of Arabs from Jaffa was intentional and necessary, Begin says. For Jaffa–the heart of Palestinian civilization– was to remain Arab under U.N. partition. "Jaffa was intended to threaten Tel Aviv after the 15th of May…Jaffa was an instrument–perhaps the chief instrument–in the attempt to subjugate the Jews."

Begin's hysteria about British and Arab intentions might be comprehended if not excused: he was a Holocaust survivor. Terrorized people terrorized others. I have provided ample testimonials on this site of Arabs who fled Jaffa in pure terror. Imagine how Jews would feel if a once-prominent intellectual magazine asserted that Jews had walked away from Berlin after Kristallnacht in 1938? 

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