Yesterday National Public Radio’s Robert Siegel did an imaginative piece about how history would have worked out differently in the 20th century if there had been no World War I. And of course, before long he came to Palestine, an Ottoman holding:
SIEGEL: In this counter-historical world, there is no Holocaust. The small Jewish settlement in Palestine continues, but without a flood of refugees it remains a minority community there.
So Siegel is saying that Palestine became majority Jewish because of the flood of Jewish refugees from Europe. This is false. According to Rashid Khalidi’s book, The Iron Cage, even with the flood of Jewish refugees from Europe in the 1930s, “Arabs constituted an absolute majority of the population of Palestine” in 1948. The Jewish population of Palestine was somewhere above 30 percent of the whole, he says.
That changed in 1948. Jewish militias and then the Israeli army carried out ethnic cleansing operations that sent 750,000 Palestinian refugees packing from the new state of Israel. But it is clear from Siegel’s wording that he was not referring to those refugees. After those Palestinians fled or were pushed off their lands, Israel had an overwhelming Jewish majority. It is unclear to me from Khalidi’s book whether Jews also constituted a majority within historical Palestine, though I believe they did.
But to the extent that Jews were the majority inside either set of borders, this was achieved by what Palestinians call the “Nakba”: the catastrophe, the reduction of the great urban populations of Palestinians in Jaffa, Haifa, and Jerusalem, and the destruction of 400-some Palestinian villages. The Palestinian refugee crisis, which is with us to this day.
It is dismaying that NPR continues to echo a false history that, while valorizing the experience of Jewish refugees, obliterates the Palestinian experience.
Thanks to Alex Kane for supplying research.