As time has passed, Nakba Day (lit. “Day of Catastrophe”) has become the most actively performed ritual of the Palestinian myth, a myth that has assured for itself the most essential support of the West, a ritual that provokes the hatred that has been aroused throughout the Muslim world.
Each year it revives a flurry of literature, or to put it more crudely, a lie.
Hidden behind the exodus of the Arab population of Mandatory Palestine during the 1948 war, which this ritual commemorates every year, is the effective war of extermination launched by many Arab countries against the Jews in the young state of Israel. The Palestinians were the allies of these countries, and a large number of them left to watch from afar, in safety, as the proclaimed massacre of the Jews was efficiently carried out by the Arab armies. They then expected to enjoy the chance to seize the spoils after the victory that their side anticipated.
The defeat of their armies and their political failure in opposing the partition of Mandatory Palestine are thus rewritten, with the Nakba, as a shocking, congenital injustice of which they are the victims. This injustice is affixed to the very existence of Israel, which, in order to exist, purportedly dispossessed an innocent people of their land so that it could take their place. The Palestinian aggressors became the victims. The extermination of others became self-pity and compassion.
This simplistic image, in purest ideological terms, has become the decisive framework for anti-Zionism, through which some justify the notion of “Israel’s original sin,” a quasi-theological term. This prevailing justification, objectively and morally, has contributed to turning “anti-Zionism” into a new form of anti-Semitism. The depiction of the assumed nature of the Jewish state is similar to that of Jew Süss, the film that Nazi propaganda produced to enhance the hatred of Jews and provide moral and emotional justification for the Nazis’ treatment of them.
The History of “Palestine”
It is worth examining the concrete foundations of the ideas we have mentioned. The notion of the “replacement” of Palestine by Israel, of the Palestinians by the Jews in the territory of Palestine, implies a symbolic geography. Mandatory Palestine, the framework within which this story unfolds, is a political category created by the League of Nations based on the colonial British power’s international right to the territory, which had been allocated for the creation of a “Jewish homeland.” Before the British Mandate this territory had been part of the Ottoman Empire, and “Palestine” was neither a geographical nor a political entity.1 Furthermore, the population that was there was not completely “indigenous.” At the end of the 19th century, Arabs from all of the countries within the Ottoman Empire migrated to the territory, attracted by the economic hub created by the Jews. Throughout their long history of dispersion, the Jews have returned to their ancestral land in waves. Similarly, Yasser Arafat and Edward Said, for example, were not Palestinians but rather Egyptians, though they were Arabs and Muslims (in fact, the objective definition of Palestinians). Before the Ottoman Empire, there were no “Palestinians.”
However, uniquely, the Arab Empire itself of the seventh century came into being through the invasion of lands by the jihadist armies from Arabia. Before the Arab Empire, there was a Byzantine, Christian empire, which had its origins in the Roman Empire. The Arabs were therefore the invaders, who imposed submission or conversion upon the native Christian and Jewish populations. Before the Roman, then Byzantine Empire, there was a more or less autonomous territory, a Jewish kingdom, which was that of the second Jewish state. Following the crushing of the Bar Kochba Revolt by the Roman armies, Emperor Hadrian attempted to erase the memory of the Jewish nation by renaming the country with the name of the historic enemies of the Hebrews, the Philistines. Palestine (or Falastin, in Arabic) is an Arabic-language corruption of the Roman term for Philistines. The Philistines were a people who came from the Greek islands and invaded the Mediterranean coast in the south of Israel. It is important to note that the root of the Hebrew word for Philistine means “to invade”; Palestinian is a derivation of the word Philistine….
Thus the notion of the “indigenousness” of the Palestinian people is an easy option in historical terms. It is necessary to know the date in history from which a nation is considered to be “indigenous” (i.e., native to the land). There is always someone else there first! For the Palestinians, the main thing at stake is not a matter of “national” geography, destined only to be part of the gallery opposing European colonialism, but a matter of the tenets of the Muslim religion with regard to Jews and Judaism. According to those tenets, the existence of the Jews is illegitimate if they do not submit to the domination of the Muslims (in the form of sharia law), who are the legitimate owner of all the territories that have emerged on the planet since the first person became a Muslim. The original map of the PLO, just like the plan for the constitution of a “state” of Palestine, was very clear regarding the centrality of the “Arab nation” and the umma as a basis for Palestinian legitimacy in Palestine. This is similar to the politics of the Arab-nationalist movement, which originated under the guidance of the Mufti of Jerusalem, its leader, and most notably during the Nazi era, when Germany offered support to Arab nationalists against the Allies and the colonial powers.
It is not only the failure of the Arab endeavor to exterminate the Israeli Jewish population that seems to have disappeared and become transubstantiated, sublimated, within the myth of the Nakba. The geography of Mandatory Palestine has also been reconfigured in order to define the territory in question politically and theologically. The Palestinians have been defined as a population that is eternally attached to this land, thereby creating the simplified image of an indigenous population confronting a Jewish population viewed as “foreign” (“European,” “colonial,” etc.).
The Second Stage of the Nakba Myth
This article will outline consider the political geography following the Six-Day War, a war, it should be recalled, that was provoked by the same Arab countries that started the War of Independence in 1948. This time it was accompanied by PLO terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. During this period, it was the PLO that invented modern Islamic terrorism with airplane hijackings as the most spectacular method, heralding the eventual destruction of the Twin Towers in New York. It was at this stage, after 1967, that the Arabs of Palestine were presented as “Palestinians.” We should remember that essentially, during the British Mandate, the Jews were dubbed “Palestinians.” However, after Israel’s victory against its enemies in 1967, the Jews became “Israelis” while the Arabs of Palestine – by no means a “national” entity – became “Palestinians” first. The members of the “Arab nation” (see this point in the PLO’s charter) became “Palestinians,” with history rewritten as far back as the Canaanites in the Bible (and wasn’t Jesus a “Palestinian”?).
What was produced in 1967, after the second Arab defeat, was a mutation of the Nakba myth. The Arabs of Palestine reset the scene as a nation colonized within territory occupied by Israel, which became at this precise moment “the West Bank,” a term that heretofore was completely unheard of. The “terrorists” became the “resistance,” confronted by a colonial power that had occupied their territory where they had lived from time immemorial.
This mutation is intended to serve the premises of anticolonialism by bestowing a second aspect of legitimacy on the actions of the PLO (as well as the supposed legitimacy ensuing from the Palestinian exodus). The international benefit of this approach is twofold. In this format, the PLO would therefore no longer contest the existence of Israel (which would be – in the best-case scenario! – judged as detrimental to “human rights”),2 but only its control over “the West Bank,” the only land that Israel was “occupying.” (In return, Israel would whitewash its existence within those same territories and give credence to the idea of “returning”3 that land, thereby finally obtaining recognition.)
This bluff was originally proposed and implemented by the Soviet Union, which made use of anticolonialism to move its pawns within the Third World against the free world. We should not forget the “Zionism is racism” UN resolution that it instigated in 1975, or the testimony of former communist spy Ion Mihai Pacepa regarding Soviet encouragement, via Ceauşescu’s Romania from the beginning of the 1960s, of the Palestinian cause in order to align it with the “anticolonialist” cause.
This new version of the myth was therefore effectively inscribed within the ideology of the Western Left (the “useful idiots” for social influence, as Lenin himself put it), and above all, it has overcome the Israeli Left. This has created, without any foundation, a faith in the notion of “peace” as opposed to territory (a typical Islamic formulation within the context of jihad).4 After the fall of the Soviet Union, this notion became the doctrine of the European Union, as confirmed in the international arena by its systematically pro-Palestinian votes. In the same way that the Soviet Union instigated the “Zionism is racism” vote, essentially delegitimizing Israel’s existence , Europe, led by France, voted alongside “Palestine” on a series of UNESCO resolutions promoting the systematic historical delegitimization of the state of Israel and the Jewish people in terms of the Land of Israel’s ancient history.
In line with this “anticolonialist” trend, the new version of the myth inspired a new rewriting of history. In actuality, after 1948, the “disputed territories” had undergone occupation and a double annexation – Jordanian (the West Bank) and Egyptian (Gaza). These two occupations were considered legitimate by the international system, which made nothing of them, and also by the supposed “Palestinian people,” who did not rebel and considered it normal to be occupied by Arab countries. Quite simply, this was because they did not have any “national” memory apart from being Arab-Muslim,5 which impelled them (notably the PLO) to become the standard-bearer of the “Arab nation,” and then the umma, against Western “imperialism.”
However, the most important aspect of the falsification was the notion of the “occupied territories” of the West Bank. We should first clarify the terminology and the political reality. Before Jordan entered the war in 1948, it was called Transjordan. It was an illegitimate, illegal state under international law because it was founded when it was detached from Mandatory Palestine so as to compensate the Hashemite dynasty, which was allied with the British Empire. The British, who were the Mandatory power, did not have any right to take this step. Thus, this territory was removed from Mandatory Palestine and from the partition between a “Jewish state” and an “Arab state” (in line with the UN resolution of November 29, 1947, which proposed partition but was rejected by the Arabs). In actual fact, Jordan was the Arab state that should have been created by the partition. It objectively already was, on that very day, an Arab country within the legal territory of Mandatory Palestine. The problem is that it was given to a non-Palestinian power, while the majority of its population (75 percent) is Palestinian. This reality became apparent in an episode of severe inter-Muslim violence when, in 1970-71, the Bedouins of the Hashemite dynasty ethnically distinguished themselves from the other Arabs. This culminated in “Black September,” a revolt and a Palestinian coup d’état that later led to a horrendous civil war. It reached the point that the PLO and its leaders were exiled by France (!) to Tunis, as if (Mitterrand’s) France sought to sustain the Middle East conflict.
In 1948, this predatory country of Jordan, in a war with the new Jewish state, invaded the territories that are known historically as Judea and Samaria and annexed them. As a result, a new entity was invented – “Jordan,” a unification of “the West Bank” and the former “Transjordan.” No one ever reproached Jordan for having illegally occupied the land, but one cannot accuse Israel of “occupying” a territory that was already occupied and was previously rejected, in the context of a partition of Mandatory Palestine, by the Arabs who were not yet “Palestinians.”
So this is how the “Palestinian people” came to be perceived as the indigenous people of the territory of the West Bank. The Western and Israeli Left adopted this subterfuge and reinforced it by accusing Israel of colonialism and demanding that it relinquish the “occupied territories,” ignoring the fact that the PLO considers all of Mandatory Palestine to be “occupied”6 (thereby lending credence to a position considered to be “moral” and “legal” since it implicitly assumes that pre-1967 Israel is legitimate). Meanwhile the endeavor to exterminate the Jews and destroy the state, always the same, as we have seen under the Palestinian Authority, became labeled as “resistance.”
Moreover, one may be sure that if a state were to be established one day in the West Bank, the irredentism that it would inspire would electrify Palestinians everywhere; they would overthrow the Jordanian kingdom and provoke, in the next stage, an uprising among the Israeli Arabs. These three population groups would irresistibly seek to reunite with each other. All this is aside from the case of Gaza, about which one wonders whether, because it is cut off from the West Bank by Israeli territory, it would, like Danzig in the past, become the cause of a world war. In fact, the goal of the “Palestinian people,” born from communist propaganda, is to dominate all of Mandatory Palestine.
The Third Stage of the Myth
Thus, a complex jumble of representations has grown up around the Nakba ritual. It not only manipulates the geographic and political facts, but also and above all, the emotional content that can touch the West to its core, because this myth is primarily intended for the West. The actual term, Nakba, is an evident translation of Shoah, meaning “catastrophe,” and it derives its emotional impact from accusing the victims of becoming the executioners, so that the new Palestinian “victims” have taken the place of the victims of Nazism, the holders of the memory of the Holocaust. This exactly follows the formula coined by Edward Said: “The Palestinians are the victims of the victims.”
The accusations of Israeli Nazism and racism are therefore added to the accusation of colonialism. All of these accusations are essentially one, implying a third – namely, that the Israelis (whose only legitimacy would be that they are linked to the Holocaust) are “Westerners” and therefore strangers to the region. This doubly reinforces their “colonial” aspect. Taking this lie even further, the Palestinians claim that it is the Jews (as the rightful heirs of the discriminatory status of non-Muslims under Sharia law) who are a religion but are neither a nation nor a people, and therefore have no right to a state or to self-determination. All of these elements are based on the accusation of apartheid reminiscent of South Africa, which is a crime against humanity on the same level as Nazism.
By manipulating the West’s sensitivity and feelings of guilt, the Palestinians have not only become known as victims, but they also offer Westerners a delayed reaction to the Nazi extermination of the Jews, thereby freeing themselves from blame. Westerners can now denounce the victims’ descendants by accusing them of the same atrocities as the Nazis and the Europeans of that era. In this way they accomplish two goals at once: Nazi Europe effectively becomes colonial Europe, and honoring the memory of the Holocaust becomes, through this manipulation, an occasion to condemn racism – apartheid – by the Israelis against the Palestinians and to accuse them of colonialism (of the West) of the same kind as Nazism. This makes those who were formerly colonized the inheritors of the memory of the Holocaust via their claims against the West. This trick has worked its way into the ideologies of postcolonialism and decolonization.7 When President Macron denounces colonial France’s crimes against humanity in Algeria, he is following the same trend.
This is the third stage of the myth. In effect, it is not only colonialism (the second stage) that is the target of the Left, but also human rights – and their obverse, racism. The first stage posits a historical injustice whereby the Palestinians became victims of the establishment of the Jewish state: an innocent people – whose culture, moreover, had always been hospitable to the Jews – was driven from its land by intruders who had received it from a guilty Europe as compensation for the genocide of the Jews that it had perpetrated, which was therefore being offloaded onto the Palestinians to exonerate it from its responsibility. Such was the doctrine of “original sin” on which this ideology rests.
Furthermore, alongside this manipulation that has centered on the victimization of the Palestinians, there is a more subliminal dimension of the politics of the Nakba – namely, the theological-political dimension. Indeed there are (or there were…) Christians among the Arabs of Palestine. From the outset, they have acted as the “representatives” of the Palestinians in contacts with the West. Notably, the Sabeel Institute, which is supported by the American Lutheran Church, has reformulated Pauline theology with regard to replacement in a way that entails dividing the notion of Israel into two entities: Jewish on the one hand, non-Jewish on the other (the “new” Israel). This latter concept is intended to supplant the first, rather like good supplanting evil. The clear implication is that in Palestine there are two peoples in a single land in which only one people can legitimately live – making it the new, Palestinian Israel. The affairs of the “holy family” are thus rewritten, describing “Jesus the Palestinian,” the persecutions carried out by Herod, and so on in a way that touches Christian sensitivities, without relating to the new Israeli reality. Thus the doctrine, especially among Christians who wish to be “progressive,” retains an anti-Jewish residue. The “leftist Catholics” (or “progressives”) have therefore become a favorable environment for (Pauline, modern) anti-Zionism.
Here, too, the Palestinians are giving Westerners something to “morally” soothe their conscience, at Israel’s expense, while simultaneously opposing anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, even being “pro-Semitic….” The Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land are a living illustration of this outlook. Apart from Ben-Gurion Airport upon their arrival, the groups of pilgrims never visit Israel and remain almost completely within “the occupied territories.” They do not want to know anything about the concept of modern Israel as a “Jewish state.” The only exception here is the Christians of the new world, the Evangelists.
In this complex picture a critical historical element is always missing, even though it alone is a living challenge to the Palestinian manipulation of history. If around 600,000 Palestinians underwent displacement to Arab states (which had declared war on Israel), having left or having been driven out (in time of war!), about 900,000 Jews were despoiled and driven out of 11 Muslim countries. They do not have inferior rights to the Palestinians because they are Jews. They were part of the local populations during the Islamic invasions of the seventh century and were transformed into foreigners in the countries where they lived. Their departure and the shock of their displacement does not date from the establishment of Israel but well before, since the beginning of the 19th century when the oppressed peoples of Islam (Greeks, Armenians, Christians in Lebanon, etc.) began to cultivate projects of national liberation in the declining Ottoman Empire. These ended in blood, except for the Greeks who already won independence in 1827 in the Ottoman-ruled Balkans. Zionism fit into these movements long before the creation of the state. It arose in the Sephardic world, where Rabbi Yehuda Alkalay of Sarajevo, who lived in the Balkans as they were achieving emancipation from the Turks, invented the Zionist endeavor before Herzl.
This history has remained the big secret of the Israeli narrative and, of course, the main concealment of the Palestinian narrative, since the latter cannot accurately claim that Israelis are foreigners who came from Europe because of a European genocide. No, the Sephardim, a majority of the Israeli population since the 1950s, come from the same world as the Palestinians by virtue of a persecution perpetrated by the Arab-Muslim states themselves.8 The Palestinians had been the active accomplices of these persecutions since the 1928 pogroms in Mandatory Palestine under the leadership of the Mufti of Jerusalem. Both in the Arab-Muslim world (as the leader of Arab, and not “Palestinian,” nationalism) and in the European world – as a Nazi dignitary and founder of an SS corps of Muslims in the Balkans – the Mufti actively pursued the extermination of the Jews in Europe and actively prepared for that of the Jews of the Middle East. The latter enterprise failed because of the Nazi defeat at El Alamein in Egypt; the plans to build crematoria in the Dothan Valley in Samaria had been drawn up.
This main concealment, the “repressed” of the Middle Eastern conflict, poses a question that remains without an answer: Why did the Israeli leadership ban this history from the corpus of the legitimacy of the state of Israel? What does this reveal about its relationship to its own legitimacy? The question of the Jews from Arab and Muslim countries, like that of the Jews of Europe, is a political and national question and not only one of victimhood. Why did the Israeli leadership exclude from the definition of the Israeli nation this population and this story? Was it to preserve the character of absolute victimhood that the Shoah imparted to its existence, thereby maintaining its nonpolitical character, which would imply that Israel is not a sovereign state sui generis even though that is the precondition of all sovereignty? The story of the liquidation of the Jews from the Arab-Muslim world confers a historical, political, regional, and national meaning, internal to the Arab-Muslim world, on the history of these same Jews, who have become the majority in the state of Israel and are therefore the true interlocutors of the Palestinians with respect to the controversy about the “original sin.” They too have the keys to their houses from which they were driven out; they too were despoiled, and infinitely more than the Palestinians! The Palestinians’ claims against Israel do not impress them; they reinforce all the more their own political, national, and financial claims. Those who find themselves accused of colonialism and of racism, of the “original sin,” are the very people whom the Arab-Muslim world, with the complicity of the Palestinians, discriminated against, persecuted, and drove from their homes, and who found in Israel an opportunity to recover.9
That is the fundamental question to pose to the “Left” of the Jewish world and specifically to the Israeli Left. I do not tackle here the question to be posed to the West (where the Nakba has become the certificate of victimhood and of the “morality” of Western anti-Zionism and militant Islamism, the moral Trojan horse of the Islamic political intervention in democracies) and to the Arabs themselves (though it is now starting to be asked, it seems, in the Gulf states).
The concealment of what I propose to call the “liquidation” (Hisul) of the Sephardic world – besides the Shoah and the Nakba, two original terms conserved in a foreign language to give what they are designating a mysterious and unthinkable character – is the result of a repression, a structural blindness. The story of the Hisul indeed calls into question the interpretation of the Shoah as exclusively concerning victimhood, which is the one the European Union privileges, just as it destroys the myth of the Nakba. It also undermines the moral premise of postcolonialism, a late usufruct of the two narratives combined – turned, of course, against Israel, but mainly against the postcolonial West. The Hisul shatters the presumption of the innocence of the Arab-Muslim (namely, Palestinian) world and of the ex-colonies (starting with the fact that the ethnic cleansing, i.e., the expulsion and persecution of all of their Jews, constituted the new Arab nation-states following their decolonization). It shatters the nonpolitical, victimhood-based interpretation of the Shoah, the implicit source of the accusations against Israel (racism, apartheid, Nazism) that are made in its name.
What complex universes are hidden behind these words.
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- This article is based on a presentation on Radio J on May 24, 2019, and on information at Menora.info.
- The Mandate was intended to be an “eventual Palestine,” which would not be an official “Jewish homeland” but “Palestinian.” Article 2 of the Mandate refers only to the equal rights of all of the populations in Palestine, regardless of race or religion.
- Nevertheless, the progressive (!) “human rights lobby” believes that this state should disappear, swallowed up within Palestine.
- This is, in fact, a possible characterization of these territories because they were long under the domination of Muslim and then Western empires. These empires, however, no longer exist, and furthermore there was never a Palestinian entity. Hence the notion of “returning” these territories is also a blatant lie.
- According to this tenet, vanquished populations that do not want to become Muslims lose their right to the land and become tenant farmers subject to the kharadj tax paid to the Islamic occupier.
- This can all be verified in the Palestinian National Covenant, Palestinian declarations, and in the endeavor to formulate a constitution for a future state.
- There are innumerable examples of this, up until today.
- These ideologies are promoted by the “useful idiots” of contemporary “progressivism.”
- Cf. Shmuel Trigano, La fin du judaïsme en terre d'Islam (Paris: Denoël, 2009).
- The Arab states responsible for the war and the defeat of 1948 assigned the Palestinian refugees from that war to camps instead of integrating them. The comparison between Jewish refugees (from the Arab world) and Palestinian refugees is entirely justified. The two populations originated from the same world (that of the entities that succeeded of the Ottoman Empire). There was then neither a Palestinian nor a Jewish state; the Arab states themselves had been established very recently. These two populations are therefore comparable, of the same status. The Jews of the Arab-Muslim world who took refuge in Israel were engaging in a process of self-determination in relation to new Arab states that proved incapable of providing them with citizenship and equality. The population exchange took place at a time when such exchanges were a major international phenomenon in the wake of the Nazi defeat, including the massive population exchanges between Greeks and Turks, Indians and Pakistanis, and so on. There is no “right of return” for these populations and their status of “refugees” is not heritable as in the Palestinian doctrine.