In his essay “Jewish Israelis should stop being afraid of the Nakba,” (Haaretz, May 1), Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn suggests that Israeli society “must not run from its past, even when it’s not pleasant to deal with and it raises difficult moral questions,” and to start dealing with the Nakba, “the dark part of the War of Independence.”
He even explains why: “I understood that the 1948 story isn’t summarized by the argument of ‘fled or were expelled,’ but with the decision to prevent the refugees’ return and to confiscate their land for Jewish towns and villages. … This is the heart of the matter.”
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That is, Benn is adopting the determination of researcher Walid Khalidi, that the Arab Higher Committee’s order to flee in 1948 “was invented by a Jewish American supporter of the right-wing Revisionists, as fuel for the young country’s propaganda,” and also assigns blame for the prevention of the Arabs’ return after the war solely to the Zionist establishment.
In this Benn is twice inaccurate. First, because historical sources show that the invention was actually Khalidi’s. A reporter for the Economist in Palestine, for example, reported in his publication (October 2, 1948) that in Haifa, “There is but little doubt that the most potent of the factors were the announcements made over the air by the Higher Arab Executive, urging the Arabs to quit,” and that it was made clear to them that after the British withdrew their troops, all the Arab armies would invade Eretz Israel and throw the Jews into the sea.
Benn is also inaccurate when he ignores the ban on the refugees returning – that is, the ban that was imposed by Arab leaders, led by the Mufti himself, on grounds it would be considered an admission of defeat.
But despite the sprains in both legs of Benn’s argument, I largely agree with it.
Israeli society is indeed afraid to deal with the Nakba, and that’s too bad, but this is only due to the lack of familiarity with the details of the events of 1947 through 1949, and the false fear that if they are revealed it would portray us in a bad light. But we have nothing to hide or to be ashamed of. I will explain why.
- My people know our past
- Sabras, cemeteries and sovereignty: 73 years of the country with two histories
- Jewish Israelis should stop being afraid of the Nakba
The War of Independence was a war of life and death. We recall the declaration on the eve of the war by Azzam Pasha, the secretary of the Arab League, that the land was to be washed with the blood of Jews. And they didn’t just talk, they acted: In the half year following their rejection of the UN Partition Plan, until the British left and the Arab armies invaded, they massacred Jews mercilessly by shooting at buses and cars, random killings in the streets of the mixed cities, the firing of mortars at residential neighborhoods are so on – all this without even mentioning the shocking war crimes committed in Gush Etzion.
Moreover, in the years before the war and afterward, the forced transfer of populations was a common solution to ethnic and religious conflicts, and often had the support of the great powers. Journalist Ben-Dror Yemini, in his book “Industry of Lies: Media, Academia and the Israeli-Arab Conflict,” counts tens of millions of people who were “expelled” from their countries during those years, in the context of disputes that were far less bloody and dangerous than our conflict with the Arabs.
The Jewish Yishuv, which responded to a neutral compromise proposal, fought for its life against an enemy that refused to compromise, declared in both word and deed its intent to commit genocide, established a military alliance of four countries and launched a war. Taking these details into account, forcing some of the Arabs who remained to join their brethren’s mass flight, and then blocking their return, is not a “dark chapter” in our history but actually a ray of light, and the moral questions that arise are not difficult, but simple. We did the right thing. This is indeed what we must teach the younger generations.
Dr. Avi Shilon once described on these pages how astonished his Chinese university students were about how the Palestinians are not ashamed to continue whining about the results of a war that they started and then lost. It’s so true and so simple. Their Nakba was not of our choice, and was even our salvation. The Chinese are right, and so is Aluf Benn. Let’s stop being afraid of it.
Hanan Amiur is the editor of the media criticism website Presspectiva.