Saturday, May 12

The Pain of Al Naqba (the Catastrophe)

For Israel it is joy - the celebration of Independence Day – when the Jews, after more than 2000 years of exile, have returned to their ancient homeland when Israel was established in 1948. The majority of the world had voted for the partition plan for the establishment of Israel and Palestine - two states for two peoples. After the Holocaust during the notorious Nazi Period, the world became sensitive to the needs of the Jewish People and this was responsible in no small measure to the establishment of Israel as a haven for the Jewish People in 1948.

However, out of the joy for one people, the tragedy for another people was also created. This subject has become charged emotionally that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the truth as to what happened during those years prior to 1948 and the end of World War 2 which found many Jewish survivors of Europe displaced because of the Nazi genocide against the Jews.

Many historians are raising questions about Israel’s establishment and its effect on the Palestinians. What happened to the Palestinians because of Israel’s establishment has to be re-examined objectively and truthfully. There are so many versions to what had happened and both Palestinians and Israelis view their history from a different perspective entirely. Each side justifies its actions. This has resulted in the loss of many facts, and the truth of what happened lies somewhere between both the Israeli and Palestinian version of what had actually occurred.

Events from the Palestinian side have not been fully documented. Palestinians claim that the Zionists were responsible for burying many facts and overlooking the expulsion of Palestinians from Israel. They maintain that the Palestinian refugee problem was created solely by Israel. Massive immigration of Jews resulted in displacement of the Palestinians who were driven out en masse. Many Palestinian villages were destroyed and rebuilt by the fledgling Israeli state and given new names. According to Palestinian Refugee Research Net (PRRN), estimates vary of the number of Palestinians refugees displaced from within what became the borders of Israel in 1948. In 1949, the United Nations Conciliation Commission put the number at 726,000; the newly-established United Nations Relief and Works Agency subsequently put the number at 957,000 in 1950.

The Israeli government has in the past suggested numbers as low as 520,000, while Palestinian researchers have suggested up to 850,000. Of this population, approximately one-third fled to the West Bank, another third to the Gaza Strip, and the remainder to Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon or farther a field.”

In order to solve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, emphasis must be placed on the truth of what happened prior to Israel’s establishment and the relationships between Jews and Arabs before Israel’s establishment. From the truth, a solution acceptable to both sides of the conflict is possible.

Naturally, it is desirable that Palestinian refugees and their offspring are consulted so that they can contribute to a solution to the conflict. The number of refugees and their offspring involved should not be overlooked.

At the same time, Israel should show more understanding towards Palestinian sensitivities and pain on the issue of Al Naqba. This does not mean that the attitude of the Arab leadership at that time is blameless for the Palestinian tragedy. It would be appropriate to read Professor Shlomo Avnery’s well written article “Until they accept responsibility” on this subject which appeared in Haaretz on 11th May 2007. He writes:

The Palestinians will mark the annual Nakba Day on May 15, as they have done in previous years. We must listen to their voices. As human beings and as Jews we must listen and be attentive to the other’s pain, even if the other is - at the moment - our enemy. However, we must listen critically”.

Any claims by Israel to play down the importance of this in the Palestinian psyche are unproductive and callous. In the past, Israel has shown total insensitivity to Palestinian feelings, especially since the June War of 1967 and has been more sensitive towards the colonization and well being of the illegal settlers (including the right wing religious Jewish Zealots) on the West Bank, rather than improving the socio-economic situation of the Palestinian People under occupation. Israel is responsible for the wellbeing of the Palestinian people under occupation. Failure to assume that responsibility had led to the birth of a new generation of Palestinians who grew up under occupation that provided them with no hope for the future. It had created a generation of young Palestinians, filled with hate for Israel and this resulted in the violence and suicide bombings that caused so many tragic deaths. A nation that is satisfied, strong and viable economically would not use all means at its disposal to create violence and bloodshed in order to achieve its independence. This has also exacerbated the existential problem that Israel had with the Palestinians and the wider Arab world since its establishment.

The time has arrived for a reappraisal of Israeli attitudes towards peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world which is largely dependent on that. The Saudis have suggested their peace plan and lately Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora called on Israel to adopt the Saudi peace initiative that calls for normalized ties between Israel and the Arab world in return for a full Israeli withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.

In an opinion piece, published in the New York Times on Friday 11th May 2007, Siniora said that the Arab world is “not interested in wiping Israel off the map, but in achieving legitimate goals of cease-fire, safe borders and the opportunity for all area residents to live in peace and security".
Israel must not look for reasons to disregard the Saudi Peace Initiative or any overtures towards peace coming from Arab leaders. It is imperative on Israel for the sake of peace to take note of these overtures and cease its manipulations and excuses for not wanting to negotiate. No doubt, there will be tough negotiations but the reward for true peace and recognition is a small price instead of the heavy price because of futile wars which achieve nothing but bloodshed, tragedy and death.

The Palestinian People must come to terms with Israel’s existence and Israel’s goal must be ending the occupation and returning to the borders prior to the 1967 Six Day War. Violence and bloodshed on both sides must make way for peaceful negotiations and dual recognition of each nation’s right to live in secure, recognized borders.

Despite the differences in the situations between Israel and apartheid South Africa, there are some lessons that could be learnt from the South African model of reconciliation. Archbishop Desmond Tutu had established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission whereby those responsible for injustices inflicted under apartheid were made to confess to those who suffered. This had proved a great success in starting a process of healing between black and white peoples of South Africa. The transition from apartheid minority White Rule to democratic majority Black Rule was peaceful. Perhaps a similar model could be applied to the Palestinian – Israeli Conflict where both peoples can ask forgiveness from one another for the tragedies inflicted on one another because of the conflict. The parameters are different but the principle of healing is the same. This could be the beginning of a healing process for the benefit of both Palestinians and Israelis.

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