Sunday 15 May 2011

Nakba Day - The Real Catastrophe

The Palestinians are preparing themselves today for the commemoration of the day in the Gregorian calendar on which the British Mandate in Palestine ended, and the State of Israel came into being in 1948. This is the day that they call the "nakba", which means the catastrophe. I find this day to be somewhat strange as far as commemoration days is concerned, and I believe that it is without parallel elsewhere in the world.

Over the 63 years of Israel's existence, the Palestinians have used this day as a rallying point to demonstrate against the existence of the State of Israel. There are some who claim that the commemoration is really against the expulsion of the Arabs from their homes, which became part of the new State of Israel. To me, however, the Nakba is mainly about commemorating and lamenting the existence of the Jewish state. I have always seen it as a way of focusing Arab attention on opposing the existence of Israel. There is, of course, a personal and human side to the event, with millions of Arabs choosing to go into exile and become refugees. The Arab world, however, has always seemed less concerned about the human element, and more intent upon using this issue to exploit the conscience of western countries who do genuinely care about the plight of individual people, even when their own leaders do not show the same level of concern.

The fact that so many "Palestinian" refugees were created in 1948, arose purely out of the actions and advice of the Arab leaders. Despite the fact that they would wish the world to believe that Israel created this problem, the facts do not support this assertion. It is on record that the leaders of the newly created State of Israel requested the Arab residents to remain in their homes, and invited them to live alongside the Jews in Israel. The Arab leaders, however, could not accept this invitation and instructed their people to leave their homes and properties. The reason for the instruction was because they knew that the wrath of the Arab world was about to descend on Israel in the form of attacks from all surrounding Arab countries. They believed that this war would simply destroy the new Jewish state, and would allow the Arabs to return to their homes within weeks or months. History shows that Israel succeeded in repelling the onslaught in the War of Independence, and left the Arabs with a problem regarding a strategy for reclaiming their properties.

If they allowed their people to return to their homes after the War of Independence, the Arab leaders realised that this would entail some level of recognition of Israel. Instead, they instructed their hapless people to remain in refugee camps in the countries surrounding Israel. This was designed to be a pressure point on the world community to somehow go back on its support for Israel's independence. Unfortunately for the millions of men, women and children who have been forced to live in refugee camps for the past 63 years, the plan backfired. Now, when there are few people around who remember the exact events at that time, it is convenient for the Palestinians to claim that they were expelled from their homes by the Jews. This story is one which is more likely to earn them the support and sympathy of the international community in their attempts to paint Israel in the darkest possible light, and do all that is possible to undermine her continued right to exist in peace and security. It is also supports their claim that Israel is an "apartheid state", something which cannot be further from the truth.

The real nakba in all of these events, is the failure by the Arab world to create an alternative solution for the people that are now called Palestinians. Because the Arabs were so focused on finding ways to destroy Israel, they had no time or inclination to consider how to take care of their own people. During the period from 1948 until 1967, the West Bank was under Jordanian rule and the Gaza Strip under Egyptian control. There was no attempt to create a Palestinian state at that time. In fact, there were not even Palestinian people as this identity was only adopted by the Arabs after the Six Day War in 1967. Efforts were focused on destroying Israel, and there was little time for anything else. When, after the 1967 war, they realised that they were losing ground rather than strengthening their position, the Arabs changed tactics to try to eat at the Jewish state little-by-little instead of hoping to destroy Israel all at once. It is for this reason that the concept of returning to the pre-1967 borders has gained popularity in recent years. It is for this same reason that many Israelis are opposed to the idea of the creation of a Palestinian state on Israel's borders, particularly one which openly refuses to recognise Israel's right to exist. This looks very much a tactic to gain a foothold, from which a more serious attack on Israel can take place.

For many Arabs whose families were formerly residents of areas which are today part of Israel, the creation of Israel was indeed a nakba for them. But the source of their catastrophe was not the State of Israel. Instead, they should be looking to their leaders who created this nakba of their own doing. By choosing to focus their efforts on finding ways to destroy Israel, the Arab leaders have failed to fulfil their responsibilities to their own people. They have allowed them to live in abysmal conditions, and without any real hope of improving their circumstances. The time has now come to accept that Israel cannot, and will not be destroyed. The choices are clear - perpetuate the nakba, or begin the important task of building a future of hope and optimism for your children. If they choose the second option in good faith, they will find Israel to be a neighbour that will help and support these objectives. If, however, they continue to choose the option of firing missiles at civilians in a belief that this will weaken Israeli resolve, the future for their own people looks extremely bleak.

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