Palestine retold: Who’s afraid of the Nakba?

Ramzy Baroud
Ramzy Baroud
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A few but significant voices among Israelis and Jewish intellectuals around the world are daring to re-examine Israel’s past.

They are rightly confronting a version of history that has been accepted in Israel and the West as the uncontested truth behind Israel’s birth in 1948, the military occupation of what remained of Palestine in 1967, and every other historical juncture before, during and after these significant dates.

These intellectuals – historians, journalists and academicians – are leaving a mark on the Palestine-Israel discourse wherever they go. Their voices are particularly significant in challenging official Israeli truisms and historical myths, and need to be accorded the necessary space in which to do so.

The important question is: Is the Palestinian narrative, itself in need of a serious overhaul? Writing in the Forward, Donna Nevel refuses to accept that the discussion of the “conflict” in Palestine starts in the war and occupation of 1967.

Nevel is critical of the so-called “progressive Zionists” who insist on positioning the conversation only on the question of occupation, thus limiting any possibility of resolution to the “two-state solution.”

Not only is such a “solution” defunct and practically impossible anyway, but the very discussion precludes the Nakba, or the Catastrophe, of 1948.

This leads to a whole set of questions: Why is ethnic cleaning of Palestine nearly 70 years ago still ignored? Why is the destruction of over 500 villages and the ethnic cleansing of an entire nation seem irrelevant despite being an obvious and most consequential marker of this ongoing tragedy?

The “Nakba doesn’t enter these conversations because it is the legacy and clearest manifestation of Zionism,” Nevel wrote.

“Those who ignore the Nakba – which Zionist and Israeli institutions have consistently done – are refusing to acknowledge Zionism as illegitimate from the beginning of its implementation.”

It is important that Palestinians are freed from the stifling discourse which rendered the Nakba of 1948 extraneous and molded an alternative narrative in which only the Israeli occupation of 1967 seems to matter

Ramzy Baroud

‘March of return’

This is precisely why Israeli police has recently blocked the “March of Return”, conducted annually by Palestinians in Israel.

For years, Israel has been wary that a growing movement among Palestinians, Israelis and others around the world have been pushing for a paradigm shift in order to understand the roots of the conflict in Palestine.

That new thinking was a rational outcome of the end of the 'peace process' and the demise of the 'two-state' solution.

Incapable of sustaining its founding myths, yet unable to offer an alternative, the Israeli government is now using coercive measures to respond to the budding movement: punishing those who insist on commemorating the Nakba, fining organizations that participate in such events and even perceiving as traitors any Jewish individuals and groups that deviate from its official thinking.

“The March (of Return) has rapidly grown in size over the past few years, in defiance of increasingly repressive measures from the Israeli authorities,” wrote Jonathan Cook in Al Jazeera.

The Israeli government insists on delving further in its illusions. It continues to ignore the Nakba, and validate its ethnic cleaning of Palestinians as a triumphant, heroic war of ‘independence’.

Unrepentant, it also insists on perceiving its illicit military occupation of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza 50 years ago, as an event worthy of celebration.

“A state that celebrates 50 years of occupation is a state whose sense of direction has been lost, its ability to distinguish good from evil impaired,” wrote Israeli commentator Gideon Levy in Haaretz.

“What exactly is there to celebrate, Israelis? Fifty years of bloodshed, abuse, disinheritance and sadism? Only societies that have no conscience celebrate such anniversaries.”

Levy argues that Israel has won the war of 1967 but has “lost nearly everything else.” Since then, Israel’s arrogance, detestation of international law, “ongoing contempt for the world, the bragging and bullying” have all reached unprecedented heights.

Palestinians, meanwhile, continue to pay the price, of Israel’s belligerency and of the international community’s failure to enforce its own laws. The Palestinian leadership is anything but innocent in this regard. It has damaged the Palestinian cause through years of reckless, uncalculated “peace talks” and massive racket of corruption.

This is why the Palestinian Authority (PA) is refusing to walk away from its obsolete political role, to abandon frivolous mantras, to quit speaking an outdated language. The PA’s very existence is dependent on sustaining the old charade.

But Palestinians must find a way forward. It is important that Palestinians are freed from the stifling discourse which rendered the Nakba of 1948 extraneous and molded an alternative narrative in which only the Israeli occupation of 1967 seems to matter.

The official Palestinian discourse has been quite confusing and inconsistent for some time. Historically, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was forced to concede under American, and sometimes Arab, pressures and alter its demands throughout the years.

The Oslo Accords

The greatest of these concessions was made in 1993 when the PLO agreed to the Oslo Accords, which redefined Palestinian rights around specific UN resolutions 242 and 338. In so doing, it relegated or discarded everything else.

Not only was this a great folly, but also a strategic mistake for which Palestinians continue to bear the consequences to this day.

Existing now are several Palestinian depictions of the history of their struggle against Israel, while the truth is that there can only be one way of understanding the conflict – one that starts with Zionist settlements in Palestine and British colonialism 100 years ago, which culminated in the Nakba.

Palestinians should refuse to adhere to Israel’s own interpretation of history. Not only is much of Israel’s history a construct, precast in the early 1950s under the guidance of then Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, it is also purposely designed to deny the existence of Palestinians, thus taking no moral or legal responsibility for their suffering.

Compelled by pressures, fears and lack of vision, the Palestinian leadership has failed to grasp the need to hold onto and explain the centrality of the Nakba as part of a greater roadmap towards a solid, unified and sensible discourse.

Without the Nakba as the most consequential chapter in modern Palestinian history, there can never be true unity among Palestinians, who are divided politically as well as geographically – entrapped by protracted sieges; behind massive Israeli walls and checkpoints.

2017 represents an important opportunity for Palestinians to register this point. It is rife with significant anniversaries: 100 years of the Balfour Declaration, 70 years on the UN resolution that divided Palestine, 50 years of the Occupation, the Nakba and more ..

Even if their various Palestinian “leaderships” fail to unite politically, there is an opportunity for Palestinians to reanimate and unite the mutilated discourse around these dates.

Indeed, 2017 should offer the chance to rearticulate a unified Palestinian discourse that crosses ideological and political lines, for without honest understanding of history, one cannot redeem its many sins.

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of His books include “Searching Jenin”, “The Second Palestinian Intifada” and his latest “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story”. His website is and he tweets @RamzyBaroud.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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