A couple days ago, Haaretz published a revolting verbal attack on what was probably the most consequential moment in Palestinian history. He wrote:
It is true that the Arab population of Palestine suffered grievously during [Israel’s War of Independence]. But it is also beyond doubt that this tragedy was brought on them by the decisions taken by the Arab leadership. It is essential that this part of the history of Israel’s War of Independence, of the “Israeli narrative” if you like, be taught in our schools to Jewish and Arab children alike. And if true peace is ever to reign among Israel and its Arab neighbors, it is important that the Arabs recognize that what they call the Nakba was a self-inflicted tragedy.
Is it possible that Moshe Arens has failed to read Benny Morris’ The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, in which Morris meticulously documents with Israeli government archives, the systematic expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and villages? I don’t believe it is possible that Arens does not know this history, which suggests he is deliberately distorting the tragic history of the Nakba, an action on par with the most vile Holocaust deniers.
Just to be clear about what the Nakba was, here was Morris’ summary statement in his book:
“Above all, let me reiterate, the refugee problem was caused by attacks by Jewish forces on Arab villages and towns and by the inhabitants’ fear of such attacks, compounded by expulsions, atrocities, and rumors of atrocities—and by the crucial Israeli cabinet decision in June 1948 to bar a refugee return. . . . The policy was to prevent a refugee return at all costs…. In this sense, it may be fairly said that all 700,000 or so who ended up as refugees were compulsorily displaced or ‘expelled.’ ”
These refugees are, today, still refugees with almost no prospect for the realization of basic inalienable rights to property and citizenship that accrue to every other refugee population. Such is the state of the world that even to suggest that these rights be respected by the so-called “Jewish and democratic” state is to be considered a radical, anti-Semite, or worse.
Yet it is fine in mainstream Israeli thought (note: Arens is certainly a rightist, but his thoughts are common currency among the mainstream Israeli population) to publish (even in a supposedly center-left newspaper) not only a blanket denial of Jewish responsibility for the Nakba, but an attack on the victims of Jewish aggression, who are blamed for their own victimization. The rapist blames the short skirt, as always.
What Arens fails to mention is that by the time the so-called War of Independence started, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had already been ethnically cleansed from their homes. This cleansing campaign had begun in November 1947, and by the time Israel declared independence and the Arab armies became involved, 175,000 Palestinians from over 30 villages had either been expelled or fled from fear of Jewish violence.
For Arens to argue that each of these 175,000 victims, or the other 625,000 some odd victims of ethnic cleansing that came after May 15th, 1948, inflicted this tragedy on themselves is a form of dangerous, ahistorical denial on an intellectual par with blaming the Jewish leadership for allowing the Jews to be gassed in Hitler’s ovens.
It must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. For the sake of peace and justice.