Opinion

Abbas and Levy issue calls to end Nakba denial

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Yesterday, coincidentally, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli columnist Gideon Levy both spoke of the burden of the Nakba on their societies, and the world. Excerpts below. The only reflection on reading these commentaries is, Why are these thoughts not being published in our mainstream American journals?

For as Levy says, the Nakba cannot be compared to the Holocaust, but their denials can, and: “Nakba denial beats denial of the Holocaust.”

Abbas at the UN General Assembly:

Realization of a historic reconciliation between the Palestinian and Israeli peoples requires that Israel acknowledge its responsibility for the Nakba inflicted on our people to this very day. This will open a new era of coexistence and will serve to build bridges rather than walls…

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

By the end of this coming year, 100 years will have passed since the Balfour Declaration, and 70 years since Al-Nakba of the Palestinian people, and 50 years since Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

Yes, 100 years have passed since the notorious Balfour Declaration, by which Britain gave, without any right, authority or consent from anyone, the land of Palestine to another people. This paved the road for the Nakba of Palestinian people and their dispossession and displacement from their land. As if this were not enough, the British Mandate interpreted this Declaration into policies and measures that contributed to the perpetration of the most heinous crimes against a peaceful people in their own land, a people that never attacked anyone or partook in a war against anyone.

Therefore, we ask Britain, as we approach 100 years since this notorious Declaration, to draw the necessary lessons and to bear its historic, legal, political, material and moral responsibilities for the consequences of this Declaration, including an apology to the Palestinian people for the catastrophes, miseries and injustices that it created, and to act to rectify this historic catastrophe and remedy its consequences, including by recognition of the State of Palestine.

In addition, Israel, since 1948, has persisted with its contempt for international legitimacy by violating United Nations General Assembly resolution 181 (II), the partition resolution, which called for the establishment of two States on the historic land of Palestine according to a specific partition plan…

In this 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly, I call on you to declare 2017 as the international year to end the Israeli occupation of our land and our people, as we approach in June 2017 a half century of this abhorrent Israeli occupation…. the international community is called upon to exert all efforts, more than any other time in the past, to bring an end to the Israeli occupation of the land of the State of Palestine, which, as you all know, is the longest and last occupation in contemporary history.

Gideon Levy in Haaretz:

Peace is not going to come before the Israelis know about and understand how it all began. Peace is not going to come before Israel accepts responsibility, apologizes and compensates. There is no peace without this.

Perhaps there could be truth and reconciliation commissions like in South Africa, or a bended knee and reparations like in Germany. This could be the expression of an apology to the Palestinian people, partial return and partial compensation for the property stolen in 1948 and ever since. Just not denial and shirking of responsibility.

Peace is not going to be prevented because the Palestinians are insisting on the right of return. It will be prevented mainly because Israel is not prepared to internalize the historical starting point: A people without a country came to a country with a people, and that people experienced a terrible tragedy that continues to this day.

That people does not forget. And Israel will not be able to make them forget. Israel despises Holocaust deniers – and rightly so. In many countries it is a crime. In Israel people are angry at Poland, which has prohibited by law mention of its part in the eradication of its Jews. Austria, which has never properly confronted its past, is also deserving of condemnation.

And has Israel confronted its past? Never. The Jewish world demands compensation for the property it left behind in Eastern Europe and the Arab countries. Jews are allowed to return to Jewish property in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Confronting our past is just not something we do.

Different laws apply to us, laws of the chosen people and the double standard. From the hump on our back – the one that is hidden in archives and rises high from every refugee camp and ruined village – we look away.

It is possible in advance to dispense with the ire at the comparison to the Holocaust: There is no comparison. But there are national disasters that aren’t a holocaust and nevertheless are disasters. A terrible disaster happened to the Palestinian people and Israel denies that disaster and its responsibility for it. Its extent is far from that of the Holocaust, but it is a terrible disaster. The denials can be compared: Nakba denial beats denial of the Holocaust.

What happened to the Palestinian people in 1948 and continued after the establishment of the state, cannot be repressed forever. If Israel is certain it is right, open the archives and prove it. Indeed, one of the documents Israel is concealing is a study David Ben-Gurion commissioned aimed at proving that the Arabs fled. If everything was moral, just and legal, why aren’t they publishing it?

It is enough to look at the photograph that accompanied the report in Haaretz in Hebrew to refute the Zionist propaganda: Two Arabs push a cart filled with bits of possessions, rugs and household goods, an old man with a cane lags behind them and three Haganah men accompany them with threatening rifles. Haifa, May 12, 1948. This is the appearance of the “voluntary flight” of which the Arabs are guilty of having chosen. And this of course is not the most shocking picture of the expulsion.

The guilt lies heavy. It will not ease.

Remember that this knowledge has long been available to Americans, but our media has suppressed it. We have known about the Nakba forever and chosen to deny it. Our country was a party to the Nakba because our leaders knew about the Nakba but chose not to do anything about it or anything meaningful about the refugees, and because many American Jews supported the expulsion, materially and personally.

Remember that 43 years ago, the late Rev. Daniel Berrigan gave a speech in Washington and said, “the classic refugee people is now creating huge numbers of refugees.” Berrigan was shamed at the time for uttering such statements; he died this year without seeing his words honored. Today Mahmoud Abbas is 81, Gideon Levy is 63– they’re not young firebrands. Will they die too without the Nakba being acknowledged?

When will we hear such commentary on network television? When will there be documentaries about the American complicity in the Nakba on public television? When will Maya Lin be called on to make a US memorial to the Nakba?

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The Haganists in the picture look bored. Obviously for them and their fellow travellers in the Stern Gang,Lehi and Irgun ( lots of them being Prime Ministerial quality and all of them “resistance” fighters mark you and not in any shape or form “terrorists” ) routine ethnic cleansing was nowhere… Read more »

Mr Weiss, as someone who’s taken a great deal of interest in the conflict and it’s almost 69 year old history and as someone who appreciates your work and advocacy on behalf of the Palestinian cause for freedom and equality, let me say that your rhetorical questions sound more than… Read more »

Those who do not allow the truth to be spoken have something to hide. They operate behind closed minds and fantasist views of themselves.

I was shocked a couple of years ago when Haaretz actually published a piece of outright Nakba denial. Doing the same thing with the Holocaust would get you charged in some countries.

Gideon Levy is a great and honorable man (the same cannot be said about Abbas — I don’t know why Philip chose to associate them in any way). The Jews in Israel know very well about Nakba; very many of them are the perpetrators or direct descendants of the perpetrators.… Read more »