Gerald Honigman is a Florida educator who has done extensive doctoral work in Middle East studies, has lectured on numerous university and other platforms. He has debated many of the best Arab and pro-Arab academics in public debates and on television. Mr. Honigman is widely published in academic journals, magazines, newspapers and other publications.
The lunar Hebrew calendar date for Israel Independence Day (May 14, 1948) falls on May 8th this year. The resurrected nation of Christianity’s alleged Deicide People, the “Wandering Jews,” and the Arabs’ kilab yahud (“Jew dogs”) and myself both turn sixty, G_d willing, on the exact same day.
Shortly after the festivities, the world will face another “celebration” of sorts…the Arabs’ “Nakba” day, on May 15th of each year. That’s what the Arabs call their catastrophe…Israel’s rebirth, placing a guilt trip for their own post-'48 predicament on Jews.
They’ll demonstrate all over--including in Israel itself--and assorted media will give them as much if not more coverage than they did for Israel Independence Day.
While I don’t deny Arabs attention, would the same protests of scores of millions of black Africans (in the Sudan and elsewhere), Copts, Imazighen (Berbers), Kurds, Assyrians, Jewish refugees from Arab/Muslim lands (and the few Jews still remaining there), and other non-Arab victims of Arab imperial conquest, forced Arabization, murder, expulsion, and so forth over years get the same media publicity?
Of course not.
None of the Arabs’ multitudes of victims dare to even demonstrate without placing their own lives on the line. And when they rarely do, few--if any--people elsewhere in the world usually get to see or hear about such things anyway. It takes Arab mass murder of such folks as in the Anfal campaign in Iraq or in the Sudan before anyone even notices. So forget about what Arabs are doing to Kurds in Arab Syria right now without anyone saying a word. The murdered aren’t numerous enough yet, I guess…forget about their on-going subjugation.
All right…but, still, didn’t Arabs also suffer because of the Jews’ insistence on casting off their perpetual victim and statelessness condition?
Yes, some did, but here’s the main point…
The Arab nakba was a catastrophe which didn’t have to be.
Arabs were mainly victims of self-inflicted wounds which occurred due to their own subjugating, racist attitudes towards all others daring to stake a claim, no matter how small, after the break up of the four century-old Ottoman Turkish Empire in what Arabs proclaimed to be--as a result of their own earlier imperial conquests--purely Arab patrimony.
While no one is squeaky clean once hostilities erupt, the post-‘48 Arab predicament was sired overwhelmingly by themselves.
When bullets and bombs start to fly and comrades start to fall, too often all Hell breaks loose.
But if Arabs had not repeatedly attacked Jews and invaded a reborn Israel in 1948, the Arab nakba would not have come to pass. Massive non-Zionist contemporary evidence (including from Arabs) testifies to this. And some Arabs (most new-comers themselves into the Palestine Mandate) would have come to live (as many now do) in one Jewish State--which made Arabic a second official language and where Arabs who side with Hamas sit in Israel’s Parliament--as millions of non-Arabs (including many Jews) have lived in almost two dozen “Arab” states. Contrast the Israeli Arab example with many non-Arabs who had their own languages and cultures outlawed in "Arab" lands.
In the State Department's current darling, Mahmoud Abbas’s, own words, as quoted in March 1976...
The Arab armies entered Palestine to protect the Palestinians...but instead they abandoned them, forced them to leave...and threw them into prisons (refugee camps) similar to the ghettoes in which Jews were earlier forced to live ( Falastin a-Thaura ).
So, then, when is a catastrophe not so?
When it is--or was--totally avoidable and brought about primarily by oppressive attitudes and actions of the alleged victims themselves.
While tragedy occurred, it was born of subjugating, racist attitudes and mindset which declared that none besides Arabs were worthy of political rights in the region. For Arabs, colonialism and imperialism are nasty only when someone besides themselves are the perpetrators.
Unlike Arabs, who were offered repeated compromises over the land, no such accommodations were ever offered to the Arabs’ national competitors. Think hundreds of thousands of murdered and gassed Kurds, even greater genocide in the Sudan, burned down Egyptian Coptic churches, what the real struggle is largely about in pre-Arab Lebanon (King Solomon built the Temple of the Jews in Jerusalem from his Phoenician ally, King Hiram’s, famed cedars in Lebanon), and so forth.
In 1922, Arabs were handed over three quarters of the original 1920 Mandate of Palestine when they received all of the east bank of the Jordan River from the Brits. In 1947, they were offered about half of what was left in a second partition.
Arabs rejected the above because dhimmi Jews --as “People of the Book,” one of the protected peoples who, after paying Mafia-style “protection money” via a special poll tax (the jizyah), were at least usually not massacred and forcibly converted en masse like others were with the spread of the Dar ul-Islam--were entitled to no political rights whatsoever in Arab eyes.
Had Arabs accepted the ‘47 partition, they would have wound up with two Arab states covering about 90% of the original territory of "Palestine." Thirty-five million truly stateless Kurds are still struggling to have the world recognize their own plight, with America’s State Department Arabists--key proponents of Arab State # 22--leading the opposition.
The very name “Palestine” came to be only after the Roman Emperor, Hadrian, got so fed up with the Jews after their second major revolt for freedom and independence that he renamed Judaea “Syria Palaestina” after the Jews’ already well-known, historic enemies, the non-Semitic “Sea People” originally from the area around Crete, the Philistines, in order to pour salt onto the wound. Rome’s own contemporary historians wrote much about this themselves--Tacitus, Dio Cassius, etc.
Check out Dio…
580,000 men were slain, nearly the whole of Judaea made desolate. Many Romans, moreover, perished in this war ( 133-135 C. E., the Bar Kochba Revolt). Therefore Hadrian in writing to the senate did not employ the opening phrase commonly affected by the emperors, ' I and the legions are in health.'
Hadrian was so enraged that, in the words of the esteemed modern historian, Bernard Lewis, Hadrian made a determined attempt to stamp out the embers not only of the revolt but also of Jewish nationhood and statehood... obliterating its Jewish identity.
Despite all the whitewash, Arabs--Abbas’ Fatah Arafatians, Hamas, etc.-- still insist that their new State (again, second, not first, in “Palestine”) will arise in place of Israel -- not along side of it -- as a quick look at any of their maps, websites, and such shows. Or try listening to or reading a sermon given by one of “moderate” Abbas' imams. He simply plays the Jew-baiting game better…i.e., with more dishonesty. Say one thing to the West, and another thing to your own folks in Arabic…although nowadays, much if not most of dhimmi Europe usually doesn’t even expect that.
Would that Jews possessed some two dozen other states like Arabs have, perhaps, one could argue, there would have been no need for the rebirth of Israel.
But the Jew did not possess even one state, let alone two dozen. And, unlike Arabs, the plight of the Jew prior to 1948 was a nakba not of his own making--despite the unfortunate “theological” claims of some.
The sad reality is that the Arabs’ misfortunes occurred because they insisted that the millennial nightmare of the Jews should continue into perpetuity. No compromise was feasible with "their" dhimmi Jew dogs in the Dar ul-Islam. And this goes beyond “merely” religious stuff…as fellow Muslim--but non-Arab--Kurds, black Africans in Darfur, Berbers, and others know only too well.
Summing it up, had Arabs been willing to grant Jews a miniscule slice of the same human dignity and justice that they so forcefully demand for themselves, the Arab nakba could have been resolved decades ago.
The day Arabs confess their own much greater original sin for all the above is the day they gain the right to protest others’ imperfect struggles to obtain a modicum of justice for themselves.
Until then, regardless of how politically incorrect it sounds...
There is an obvious mystery about the Palestine Nakba - the situation of the Arab refugees of the 1948 Israel War of Independence. It is one of those things that is so obvious that nobody mentions it, like an elephant in the room, but why it is not mentioned by anyone at all is not obvious.
Since 1948, many of the refugees have been living in a sort of legal noman's land. As distinguished from all other refugees in the world, their needs are handled by a special United Nations Agency. The rights of Palestinian refugees are also defined differently from those of all other refugees. Their situation varies from country to country. Contrary to the stereotyped picture, most of the refugees do not live in camps.
In Jordan, there are about 1.9 million "refugees," all of whom have Jordanian citizenship. Only about 300,000 live in camps. In the Gaza strip, there are slightly under a million refugees, all of whom are citizens of the Palestinian authority. About half of them live in the infamous refugee camps. In the West Bank there are 700,000 refugees, of whom about 175,000 live in camps. They too are citizens of the Palestinian Authority. In Syria, there are about 430,000 refugees, with about 250,000 living in official or unofficial camps. Palestinian refugees in Syria can work and travel, but they are not citizens and cannot vote, in order to "preserve their identity." In Lebanon, there are about 400,000 Palestinian refugees, of whom about half live in camps. In addition to registered refugees, another 10% are not registered, and about 10,000 are "non-ID" Palestinians, Palestinians who escaped from Jordan in September 1970, and never bothered to register with authorities. In theory, Lebanon, like Syria, ratified the 1965 Casablanca protocol on treatment of Palestinian refugees. In practice, rights of Palestinians in Lebanon are severely curtailed, as they have no access to Lebanese schools or health facilities.
Numerous organizations with the words "Justice" and "Humanitarian" in their titles bewail the plight of the Arab Palestinian refugees and the injustice that was supposedly done to them by Israel in 1948. They all demand "right of return." Nobody demands "right of eating" "right of education" or "right of decent housing" for the refugees. Only the dubious "right of return" is important to these "humanitarians." But what about the poor kid in the ubiquitous photos of Palestinian refugees that are supposed to tear at the heart-strings of humanity. Doesn't he or she have a right to eat, to grow, to learn, to have a future, to get on with their life? Aren't those rights more urgent and more cogent than the right to return to a non-existent village where their ancestors lived 60 years ago?
Everyone, regardless of their stand regarding the Israel-Arab conflict is agreed that there can be no solution to the conflict without a solution of the refugee problem, and that the camps, poverty and hopelessness are breeding grounds for violence born of despair. All of the leaders of the great powers, East and West, and all of the leaders of the Arab states agree that it is urgent to find a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as do all the United States Presidential candidates. And everyone agrees that the refugee problem is at the heart of that solution.
So what is the mystery? The mystery is that nobody wants to actually do anything, or tries to do anything, to solve the refugee problem. Even more mysterious is the fact that nobody even talks about this amazing and cruel policy quirk. It is not just a matter of legal definitions and speechifying. It should be possible to quietly improve the appalling conditions in the worst camps in Lebanon, where there is often no proper sanitation and inevitably, streets are not paved. Yet nothing is done. Flush toilets and paved streets would not endanger the rights of the Palestinian Arab refugees. Mahmoud Abbas is an Arab Palestinian refugee. His rights are not curtailed in any way by the fact that he doesn't live in a camp, and enjoys flush toilets and paved streets. Since it took over Gaza and the West Bank in 1994, the Palestinian Authority did nothing to ameliorate conditions in any of the refugee camps, and made no move whatever to break up the camps and find decent housing for the inmates. After the Israeli incursion into the Jenin refugee camp, the camp itself, in all its miserable glory, was reconstructed to provide precisely the same miserable level of existence as it did before. Whose doing was that? The UN? Israel?
Even Israeli representatives are more or less silent about the misery of the Arab Palestinian refugees in the camps, and the aberrant perpetuation of the refugee "problem." Moreover, we did not hear any US presidential candidate advocating a humanitarian solution to the Palestinian Arab refugee problem, nor does the Secretary General of the UN speak of such a solution, except in the framework of a hypothetical peace agreement. The Arab states do not concern themselves with this need very much either - quite the opposite. Everyone has invented the fiction that the Palestinian refugee problem is incapable of solution until and unless the Israeli-Arab conflict is solved.
Along with about 700,000 Arab Palestinian refugees, the war instigated by the Arab states in 1948 eventually created about a million Jewish refugees. A few were Palestinian refugees thrown out of Jerusalem and Hebron and Kfar Etzion. The others were Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim countries. Yet there is no Jewish refugee problem, because all those refugees were absorbed into Israel or the United States or other countries. They did not wait for a solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict, the coming of the Messiah, the perfection of the unified field theory, the demonstration of the Higgs boson or any other such wished-for but unlikely event.
Likewise, there is no problem of Indian or Pakistani refugees any more, though the creation of India and Pakistan in 1947 generated millions of refugees. In fact, there is no conflict that has generated permanent refugees. The reluctance of the Arab states to seek a humanitarian solution for the Palestinian Arab refugee problem is understandable. They want to use the problem, and the misery of the refugees, as a weapon in the war against Israel. That does not explain the silence of everyone else, from Israeli government spokespersons, to those with genuine humanitarian concerns for the refugees, to peace groups like the J Street lobby, to US presidential hopefuls. All of the economic aid that the quartet is showering on the Palestinian Authority will avail nothing, as long as the horrendous pockets of misery in the camps are sustained.
The practical solution to the Palestinian refugee problem must proceed in several stages, addressing the most urgent problems first. There is no way that any Palestinian Arab politico who lives in luxury in Ramallah or Beirut or New Haven Connecticut can justify forcing other Palestinians to live in the miserable refugee camps of Lebanon or Gaza. The first step must therefore be to eliminate all the camps, and to integrate the refugees into the economic and political life of different host countries. The UNRWA must be dismantled and the refugee problem must be given to other agencies that deal with all the rest of the refugees in the world, with precisely the same rights as any other refugees.
Anyone who wants "justice" or "rights" or "welfare" or peace for the Arabs of Palestine must recognize that eliminating the refugee camps is priority number one for improving the lot of the Arabs and for bringing the hope of peace and a normal life to the peoples of the Levant. This is true whether one is a Zionist or a member of the PLO, a Democrat or a Republican. And yet we know that mysteriously, almost nobody is going to advocate the one thing that must be done, and that ought to be done.
Fri May 09, 2008 5:26 am Israel at 60 in the Daily Mail.UK
For once, I tried to be tactful and this is the comment I left on the Mail Online comments section (I know Max Hastings has always been anti-Israel) - I don't know if they'll allow it:
Some glaring omissions from the usually brilliant Max Hastings:
1. The British White Paper of 1922 which created TransJordan took about 88% of Palestine, even though that land was promised to the Jews in the Balfour Declaration.
2. In 1947 the UN offered the Arab leaders the West Bank and Gaza to form another Arab state. The Arab League REFUSED, and those lands were considered disputed even before Israel's creation in 1948.
3. The British media NEVER seem to mention the nearly one million Jewish refugees who were expelled from Arab countries. They'd been living as dhimmis for centuries, but in 1947 they were persecuted, dispossessed of all their wealth, lands and homes, and many made it to Israel on foot.
The Jewish refugees were absorbed by Israel, and were 50% of the population of the nascent state.
Unlike the Palestinian refugees, they were not used as pawns in a never ending political game.
On May 14, 1948, just 60 years ago, a few dozen Jewish politicians and officials took the afternoon off from fighting a civil war to gather in a hall at Tel Aviv museum.
A few minutes before 4pm, a car drew up, from which emerged David Ben Gurion.
The leader of Palestine's Jews was 62 years old. He had landed from Poland in 1906, carried ashore at Haifa on the shoulders of an Arab stevedore.
A fierce, brilliant, dedicated little man - only 5ft 3in - he had devoted his life to achieving this moment.
At 4pm, all those in the hall rose and sang Hatikva - The Dream - the new national anthem.
Then Ben Gurion read a declaration, the Scroll of The Establishment of the State of Israel.
This was the historic birthplace of the Jewish people, he said, where they had lived for centuries until driven into exile.
The UN had decreed borders for a new Jewish state, partitioning Palestine between Arabs and settlers.
In accordance with this resolution, Israel was proclaimed. The hall rose to its feet, cheering and clapping. In the words of one participant: "All were seized by ineffable joy."
Ben Gurion and other leaders signed the declaration. Then, after just 32 minutes, the meeting was adjourned.
Men and women, politicians and fighters, sabras (native-born Israeli Jews) along with survivors of the Holocaust barely three years free from Hitler's concentration camps left the museum to resume a struggle for existence which had already soaked the land in blood, and would cost much more in the months and years ahead.
To a host of people around the world, Gentiles as well as Jews, Israel's creation was profoundly moving.
For centuries, these people had suffered mistrust, exclusion, persecution.
Even the U.S., home to the largest Jewish community in the world, had repulsed from its shores desperate refugees fleeing death.
At the end of World War II, Americans and Europeans were stunned by the revelation of Hitler's death camps, the attempted destruction of the Jewish race and murder of six million innocent people.
For almost 80 years, Zionists had campaigned for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
The Holocaust lent their movement an irresistible impetus. Amid the Western world's guilt at the slaughter of the Jewish people, which the democracies had failed to prevent, the struggle for Zion was won.
There was, of course, just one problem, still as intractable on this 60th anniversary as it was in 1948.
The parts of Palestine endowed to Israel by the UN were not empty. They had been inhabited by Arabs for centuries.
In 1881, Palestine contained 450,000 Arabs and just 25,000 Jews. In 1948, while the Jewish population had risen to 630,000, there were 1.3 million Arabs.
Then as now, the old residents bitterly resented the interlopers thrust upon them.
In the words of a modern Israeli historian, Benny Morris: "They saw no reason why they should host Europe's expellees or pay any price for the plight of Europe's Jews.
"And they failed to acknowledge the Jews' historic ties to the land."
For centuries, Palestine had been part of the Ottoman empire. In 1920, following Turkey's defeat in World War I, it was placed under Britain's control by a League of Nations mandate.
If the British at first fooled themselves that they had gained an addition to their empire, they were soon disillusioned.
As Jewish settlements in Palestine grew between the wars, the British Army was drawn into an increasingly bloody struggle to arbitrate between Arabs and Jews.
Between 1945 and 1948, scores of British soldiers died, most at the hands of the Jewish terrorists of Irgun and the Stern gang.
Bankrupt Britain found itself spending hundreds of millions of pounds in a vain effort to keep the peace and restrict Jewish immigration.
These efforts incurred only the world's disdain. The American Jewish playwright Ben Hecht proclaimed: "Every time a British soldier dies, there's a song in my heart."
On July 22, 1946, a huge bomb planted by Irgun terrorists exploded at the King David hotel in Jerusalem, a British HQ, killing 91 people.
By the time Britain evacuated Palestine in May 1948, its government and people were heartily relieved to be free of their burden.
For months before the handover, Jews and Palestinians fought local battles to secure territory.
The Arab world, in its rage, adopted a disastrous policy, which persists to this day.
It sought to undo Israel by force. And having chosen trial by combat, it paid the price of defeat.
If the Arabs had acquiesced in the partition plan, the Jews would have had little choice but to accept the UN frontiers, which left Jerusalem to international trusteeship.
As it was, once battle was joined, the Israelis were able to conquer extra space, seize east Jerusalem and drive hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes in Israeli territory.
In May 1948, four armies from Arab states - Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq - invaded Palestine.
The fighting which followed was the bloodiest in Israel's history, costing 5,800 Jewish lives, far more than in any later war.
By epic feats of determination and heroism, the infant Israeli army conquered each of its foes in turn.
There were no safe areas for civilians. Families in Jewish settlements and kibbutzes huddled for cover while their men - and many women - fought.
A mother described the scene she found in a shelter, when she briefly left the front line during a battle with the Syrian army: "The children were wet with sweat. Inside, it was crowded, all the non-combatant inhabitants were inside - girls, members' parents, pregnant women, it was impossible to reach and see my girl."
On a hundred rocky hillsides and amid scores of towns and villages, Jewish settlers armed with rifles, sten-guns and a few mortars - they had almost no artillery - fought day after day against Arab units.
With the key town of Tiberias threatened, Ben Gurion told the cabinet: "The situation is very grave. There aren't enough rifles. There are no heavy weapons."
Men including Moshe Dayan and Ezer Weizmann, a former RAF pilot flying a Messerschmitt for Israel, made their names in those days.
The defenders were heartened to discover their foes might be better armed, but were much less motivated and organised.
After the first day's fighting with the Egyptians, Haim Bar Lev, who later became head of the Israeli army, said: "The outcome of the war had been settled, because if 45 defenders had withstood about 1,000 Egyptians, who were aided by fighter aircraft, artillery and armour, and beat them - then the whole Yishuv [the Jewish community] would hold out in the war."
So it did. Jordan's Arab Legion, led by British officers, proved by far the most effective fighting force.
King Abdullah did not seek to impose outright defeat on Israel, but merely to hold the West Bank and east Jerusalem, in which he was successful.
The other Arab armies were beaten back in a series of Israeli offensives which continued through the winter of 1948.
Both sides were guilty of atrocities, and some Israeli historians suggest the Jewish record was worse.
Israel's leaders wanted as few Arabs as possible in their territory and adopted draconian policies to ensure this was achieved.
Palestinians in their tens of thousands, and finally in their hundreds of thousands, fled their homes.
By the war's end, 750,000 dispossessed people were in refugee camps in Gaza and on the West Bank - where they have remained to this day.
The Arabs, their bitterness compounded by military humiliation, refused to make peace.
In the course of 1949, they signed temporary armistices with their hated Jewish foes, but rejected any permanent settlement.
The history of the Middle East in the ensuing 59 years has been dominated by Arab attempts to reverse the verdict of 1948 - and Israeli exploitation of their inability to do so.
In 1956, Israel colluded with Britain and France at the time of their ill-fated assault on the Suez Canal, seizing the opportunity to inflict a second defeat on President Nasser's Egyptian forces.
In 1967, in the Six Day War, the Israeli army proved itself one of the greatest fighting forces the world has ever seen, destroying successively the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, seizing east Jerusalem, the West Bank, Golan Heights and Sinai.
In October 1973, the Egyptian and Syrian armies launched surprise assaults against Israel in massive force.
The nation's existence hung in the balance.
Then, after bitter fighting in Sinai and on the Golan, the Yom Kippur War ended in yet another overwhelming Israeli victory.
I was among the awed eyewitnesses of that struggle: awed, because it was so moving to stand amid the smoke, flames and destruction of the battlefield, and watch the Israeli people striving for survival.
For anyone who has seen Israel in arms, who knows the history and tragedy of the Jewish people in the ghettoes of Europe, finds it hard to withhold admiration for what they have made of themselves since 1948.
And yet, in the intervening decades, they have also been obliged to confront the limitations of military power.
The occupation of Gaza and the West Bank has been a disaster for Israelis as well as Palestinians. Arab hatred and intransigence have denied Israel peace.
But Israel's counter-terrorism policies, together with the relentless expansion of its settlements on the West Bank, have imposed a high moral and political price.
Much of the world, which was inspired by the saga of Israel's birth, is today dismayed by the spectacle of the victim-state become an oppressor.
There is no "solution" to the Palestinian issue - only possible palliatives.
It would be naive to suggest that many Arabs would be satisfied with the creation of a Palestinian mini-state on the West Bank, though this must surely come.
Much of the Muslim world, including Iran with its nuclear ambitions, continues to cherish a dream of entirely extinguishing the infidel trespassers.
Thus Israel, supported by the U.S. its super-power protector, sustains a fortress state beside the eastern Mediterranean, which strikes out savagely at any foe who raises its head.
Six decades after the creation of Israel, the Western world remains deeply confused about its claims and rights.
An act of historic justice towards the Jews involved a matching injustice to the Palestinians.
Israel's right of existence seems indisputable. Yet where should its rightful frontiers be? And how can the Arab nations be persuaded to acknowledge its legitimacy?
We are no nearer resolving these issues than in 1948. Indeed, our relationship with the Islamic world is worse.
Israel's existence provides an immediate grievance, amid much deeper Muslim economic, cultural and political resentments towards the West.
On this 60th anniversary, respect is surely due to the Israeli nation for its achievement.
But it is hard to speak of celebration while the old Palestine remains tortured by so much suffering, and while so much blood is still spilt, Arab and Jewish alike.