Nakba Day 2012

By Rabbi Barry Leff

Today, May 15, is the day that Palestinians commemorate as “Nakba Day,” “Catastrophe Day,” a day to mark the expulsion from homes in Israel during the 1948 war.

Nakba Day provides a great example of how much lack of understanding there is in this part of the world.

On the one hand, there are Jews who will deny that there was any expulsion of Arabs, who try to claim they all left willingly. Never mind that they owned homes they weren’t allowed to come back to. In an article that was published a few years ago on the Huffington Post, Alan Dershowitz wrote “The Germans don’t celebrate the catastrophe resulting from their invasion of Poland. Japanese do not celebrate their catastrophe resulting from the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Why do Palestinians celebrate their catastrophe resulting from the Arab attack against Israel?”

Dershowitz misses several important points, that are pointed out in an article by Aziz Abu Sarah that was published on +972. First of all the Palestinians don’t “celebrate” Nakba Day any more than Jews “celebrate” Tisha b’Av, the holiday that marks many disasters that have befallen the Jewish people over the course of history. They “commemorate” the day. And Nakba Day is just as much about the injustices of the ongoing Occupation of the West Bank as it is about what happened in 1948.

On the other hand, what’s missing from Abu Sarah’s blog post — and from most of the Palestinian narrative — is the role that they (or their ancestors) had in the disaster. As Dershowitz points out, the precipitating event was largely a “self-inflicted wound.” The Arabs rejected the UN’s partition plan. They didn’t want to share with the Jews, they wanted it all. And they ended up with much less.

Of course, maybe that’s understandable. After all, some of the biggest disasters that we commemorate on Tisha b’Av — the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in the year 70, and the crushing of the Bar Kochba revolt a little over 60 years later — were also “self-inflicted wounds.” Our pipsqueak little country thought they could take on Rome. Get serious. But when we mourn on Tisha b’Av we only take responsibility in a very abstract way — the story of Kamza and Bar Kamza — we don’t talk about the geopolitical lessons we should have learned. Like don’t mess with Empires that are a hundred times more powerful than you are.

The way I look at Nakba Day is as follows:

It was, indeed, a catastrophe for the Palestinians. Hundreds of thousands of people were dispossessed of their homes in 1948. The human and financial toll was tremendous.

And yes, it was to a large degree “self-inflicted,” in that the Arabs refused to accept the idea of any Jewish state at all, and chose to go to war instead. But that does not reduce the suffering, and that does not justify the injustices that were done by the fledgling Jewish state.

Furthermore, the ongoing Israeli military occupation of the West Bank continues to exact a major toll on the lives of the Palestinians. The status quo is hugely unjust. Yes, the Arabs made a major mistake in 1948, but that does not mean that their children and grandchildren should be punished forever. It is well past time for the Palestinian and Israeli leadership, both, to get their act together and put together a just and lasting peace.

I blame both sides for the current lack of progress. Netanyahu is wrong for continuing to build settlements and confiscate more land in the West Bank, and Abbas is wrong for setting pre-conditions before negotiating. Both sides are screwed up.

But what else is new in this part of the world…

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