Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Remembering the Nakba



Palestinian families leaving behind their homes, olive trees and planted fields in Al-Faluja Village, 1948. Picture courtesy of SHAML

Sandy Tolan writes a powerful and important account of the fall of Palestine:

The Arab-Israeli war of 1948, known in Israel as the War of Independence, is called al-Nakba or the Catastrophe by Palestinians. For generations of Americans raised on the heroic story of Israel's birth, especially as written by Leon Uris in "Exodus," there is no place for al-Nakba. Yet this fundamental Palestinian wound, and the power of its memory today, cannot simply be wished away.

The obscure anniversary in question, July 11-15, is little known outside of Palestinian memory. Yet it helped forge the fury, militancy and Palestinian longing for land in exile that helps drive the conflict today. In fact, it's not possible to understand today's firefights without first understanding the Nakba, and especially what transpired under the brutal sun just east of Tel Aviv in the midsummer of 1948.

On July 11, 1948, a convoy of halftracks and jeeps from Israeli Commando Battalion 89 approached the Arab city of Lydda on the coastal plain of Palestine. The 150 soldiers were part of a large fighting force made up of Holocaust survivors, literally just off the boats and themselves the dispossessed of a European catastrophe, as well as Jews born in Palestine who had sharpened their fighting skills in World War II with the British army. Their jeeps were mounted with Czech and German-made machine guns, each capable of firing at least 800 rounds per minute. The battalion leader, a young colonel named Moshe Dayan, had passed along orders for a lightning assault that relied on firepower and total surprise.

The war had officially begun in May, following months of hostilities between Arabs and Jews. In November 1947, the United Nations had voted to partition Palestine into two states, one for the Arabs and one for the Jews. For the Zionist movement, as for many people around the world, this represented a guarantee of a safe haven for Jews in the wake of the Holocaust. The Arab majority in Palestine, however, wondered why they should be the solution to the Jewish tragedy in Europe. They owned the vast majority of the land, including 80 percent of its citrus groves and grain fields, and the Arab population that fell on the Jewish side of the partition had no desire to become a minority on their own land. They wanted an Arab-majority state for all the people of Palestine, and they appealed for help from neighboring Arab states to prevent the Jews from establishing the state of Israel.

Fighting intensified in the early months of 1948. In April, a massacre by the Jewish militia Irgun in the Arab village of Deir Yassin shot waves of fear through Arab Palestine; this provoked a reprisal massacre by Arabs of Jewish doctors and nurses on the road to Hadassah hospital near Jerusalem. In the meantime, in the wake of Deir Yassin many thousands of Arab villagers fled for safe haven, intending to come back once the hostilities ceased.

On May 13, the Arab coastal town of Jaffa fell, and refugees began filling the streets of Lydda and the neighboring town, al-Ramla. The next day, in a speech to the Jewish provisional council, David Ben-Gurion declared Israel's independence, and on May 15, Arab armies crossed the borders to launch attacks on the new Jewish state.
The Arab and Jewish fighting forces on the ground, contrary to subsequent narratives much-repeated in the West, were relatively equal as the war began. For a time the Arabs appeared to have a slight edge, but during a four-week truce that began on June 11, Israel was able to break a U.N. arms embargo, and as the war resumed in early July, Israel had a decided advantage.

In the late afternoon of July 11, the convoy of Battalion 89 turned left off a dirt track and roared toward Lydda. At the edge of town they began shooting from the convoy's mounted machine guns -- tens of thousands of bullets in a few minutes. "Everything in their way died," wrote the correspondent for the Chicago Sun Times, in an article headlined "Blitz Tactics Won Lydda." The commandos were followed by Israel's regular army, which occupied Lydda and brutally put down a brief local uprising: 250 people died, including at most four Israeli soldiers as well as up to 80 unarmed civilians in a local mosque. In the meantime, Israeli planes had strafed the two towns and dropped fliers demanding the Palestinians take flight to the east, toward the kingdom of Transjordan. Local Palestinian doctors worked feverishly, without electricity, using strips of bed sheets for bandages as they struggled to save the wounded.

The next day, Maj. Yitzhak Rabin ordered the expulsion of the Arab civilian population of Lydda and of the neighboring town of al-Ramla.


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You can read the rest of the article here at Salon.com but you'll have to watch a short ad first...

8 Comments:

Blogger David Young said...

And at around the same time an equal number of jews living in Arab countries from Morocco right across to Iraq and Yemen were forced out of their homes and villages where they had been for centuries. In most cases they left with nothing. History doesn't record whether the Palestinians objected to that with any 'not in my name' marches, but I wouldn't bet on it.

This half million jews mostly went to Israel, where they were accepted as citizens and in time they blended in. They weren't put in camps for five decades and they don't claim any right of return. They just get on with life.

Debt cancelled.

DY

12:57 PM  
Blogger David Young said...

I stopped reading the article when I got to this bit:

"That the world sees the life of an Arab as infinitely less valuable than that of an Israeli"

LOL. No, it's the arab terrorists who see it that way. They have captured one man, Gilad Shalit, and demanded the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in return for freeing him. It's THEY who have measured the life of an Arab as 'infinitely' [actually 0.1 per cent] less valuable than the life of one Israeli.

Got that Roger? It's not Leon Uris, Alan Dershowitz, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld or any of the other boogymen of your site who value arab life so low. It's the arab terrorists themselves. And since it's unlikely that whoever dug a tunnel underground in order to snatch Shalit did so without the knowledge of Hamas, the people of Gaza should now reflect on the fact that the government they elected values jewish life more highly than theirs.

DY

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilad_Shalit

1:15 PM  
Blogger roGER said...

"It's not Leon Uris, Alan Dershowitz, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld or any of the other boogymen of your site who value arab life so low."

Nice joke, David - thanks for making me smile.

5:13 PM  
Blogger David Young said...

Can you cite somewhere where any of the people I mentioned have said that one jew is worth a thousand Palestinians?

DY

ps - characters from Uris's fiction don't count.

6:08 PM  
Blogger roGER said...

They actually set the bar pretty low.

There is currently one Israeli held prisoner by the Palestinians, while 9,599 Palestinians are in Israeli jails.

So it would sem the ratio is in fact 9,599 to 1.

9:58 PM  
Blogger roGER said...

There is of course this infamous quote:

"One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail."

Rabbi Yaacov Perrin, Feb. 27, 1994

10:05 PM  
Blogger roGER said...

"And at around the same time an equal number of jews living in Arab countries from Morocco right across to Iraq and Yemen were forced out of their homes and villages where they had been for centuries."

"And at around" is the key phrase here. How strange you didn't tell the truth and state "AFTER" the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians!

Actually the early Israelis did everything they could to encourage this process (called "ingathering") uncomfortably aware of how they'd artificially created their majority in Palestine and how slim that majority might become in a generation or two.

So Israel showed a cavalier disregard for the fortunes of Jewish minorities in neighbouring Arab countries - the most infamous example of this is the "Lavon Affair" cock-up of 1954 which cast a stain on Israeli politics and "Saint" Ben Gurion for years afterwards.

10:40 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

"Can you cite somewhere where any of the people I mentioned have said that one jew is worth a thousand Palestinians?"

Rather a safe challenge given that it is traditional for all YOUR sources to claim that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people that is separate and distinct from Arabs - so they would hardly have said something like that now, would they? .. they would have used the word “Arab” instead and Roger has shown where exactly such language has been used by the arse-end of the Zionist propaganda machine.

10:41 PM  

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