Nabil Shaath is a Palestinian politician. He wrote an article for Spanish daily El País under the title La 'Nakba' palestina (The Palestinian 'Nakba'), about the 1948 Palestinian exodus from those places which currently are part of Israel. The article was published on Saturday, May 15, 2010. Content of the article below (translated as accurate as possible, between quotation marks):
"Today Israel celebrates 62 years since its creation, on May 15, 1948. For the Palestinians, the 62 years of the Nakba -our national and personal catastrophe, the lose of our ancestral fatherland and the dispersion in the exile of the three fourths of our people- are commemorated today. The Palestinian people still waits for Israel's recognition of its responsibility in that catastrophe and an accord to solve the conflict which is based on the International Law, including U.N.'s resolutions.
I experienced the exile in first person. On May 13, 1948, the day before the declaration of the State of Israel, my own city, Jaffa, was captured by Zionist forces. Seventy thousand christian and muslim Palestinians were forced to leave the city, the majority of them by sea, towards Gaza, Egypt and Lebanon. The majority of Jaffa's population was literally thrown into the sea and never was allowed to return. I was 10 years old.
This same reality was lived by more than 726,000 christian and muslim Palestinians who in 1948 abandoned their homes terrorized, or were expelled by force, in what was a part of the then British Mandate of Palestine, while hundreds of their compatriots were being murdered.
This pain was experienced by me, as well as I heard many other stories about pain and fight while I was growing up. During that time, and many more years, it was intended to deny our history. But today nobody can do it. Even Israeli historians like Benny Morris and Ilan Pappé have confirmed what we knew since so much time ago.
Along with the expulsion of people, 418 Palestinian villages were destroyed. Almost all of the Palestinians' properties, including those which pertained to Palestinians who managed to stay in areas which remained under exclusive Israeli control, were confiscated by the nascent State of Israel, on exclusive behalf of the Jews.
In 1952, when the Israeli Parliament passed his nationality law, Palestinian refugees were denied the option to become citizens of the new State. And aditional measures were taken to prohibit the return to our country and to our homes.
Both the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948 and the following measures intended to make the displacement permament were taken contravening international law.
This situation has worsened due to the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967. Again, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had to leave their homes, and Israel expanded its control to the remaining 22% of our historical fatherland.
Today, the complete besiege of the Gaza Strip, the continuation of the settlements and the presence of the wall in the West Bank, East Jerusalem's isolation from its historical environment, are provoking a major Palestinian fragmentation and despossession. Clearly, the Nakba continues.
Currently there are more than seven million Palestinian refugees. They constitute the largest population of refugees in the world and the most prolonged in the time. Palestinian refugees' vulnerability, as a result of their long exile and the lack of a State, contributed to the instability in the Near East and to its insecurity, from Iraq to Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
As a Palestinian, I can't forget my nation's uprooting, which has made up my history and which has supposed a hard reality for my people. At the same time, we the Palestinians have expressed our desire to achieve a conciliation and to advance on the base of a new accord in order to recognize and to implement our rights in a just form.
In the course of the 62 years of the Palestinian Nakba, Israel's responsibility for the Palestinian people's forced displacement and despossession has been clearly recognized by many historians and International Law academicians. Palestinians' individual right to return to their homes and to decide their own destiny is proclaimed by the international community through the United Nations General Assembly's Resolution 194. But in practice the Palestinians are denied the most elemental human rights.
I deeply regret that Israel continues to ignore the Arab Peace Initiative (API) adopted by the Arab League in Beirut in March 2002. The API asks for an independent Palestinian State in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with the pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a just solution to the question of the Palestinian refugees accorded between the two parties, based on the U.N.'s Resolution 194, in exchange of the normalization of the relations with Israel and a lasting peace.
The Arab Peace Initiative has been repeatedly supported by the Arab countries. And aditionally, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which represents 57 muslim countries, has added itself to it in order to end the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This means, in practice, achieving peace between Israel and more than 1,200 million Arabs and muslims worldwide.
Peace is achieved between equals, respecting each side of the other's history and identity, as well as understanding the other's discourse. As history demonstrates, the States commit errors, yes, but they strengthen themselves when they recognize them and they apologize. The first thing is achieving the accord proposed by the Arab Peace Initiative. In the same way, it's necessary for the Palestinians to be recognized as human beings who receive the same treatment and the application of the same laws as other refugees and victims of conflicts, including their right of return and to have the freedom of choosing their future.
To achieve a lasting peace it's necessary for Israel to recognize its responsibility in the creation and prolongation of the Palestinian refugees' tragedy. This recognition is not a threat against its existence. To the contrary, when doing it, Israel, unavoidably, would prepare our respective leaders and citizens to establish peace through a political accord. In the 62nd commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba, I invite Israel to assume its responsibilities, to recognize our sufferings and our rights and to work with us in the search for peace, for the historical reconciliation and for the end of the conflict."
Firstly, Israel's creation occured on Friday, May 14, 1948 (according to the Gregorian calendar) or Iyar 5, 5708 (according to the Hebrew calendar).
Secondly, could the Nakba be interpreted as a "national" catastrophe? Until Israel's War of Independence was ended in 1949, the Palestinian Arabs didn't even consider themselves a nation. Arab Palestinian nationalism is just the result of Israel's implementation and nothing else. This has been fully demonstrated by the Palestinian Arabs themselves, who carried out the 1947 to 1948 Palestinian Civil War against the Jews as Arabs, not as Palestinians. In fact, the term "Palestinian" was used referring to the Jews and by the Jews to refer to themselves, as explained by journalist Martin Sieff in his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East; furthermore, Shaath fails to specify that their "ancestral fatherland", according to Sieff's book, was part of the Ottoman Empire during centuries, and that during this period there wasn't a widespread sense of Arab Palestinian nationhood.
Martin Sieff is editor-in-chief of United Press International's international section. He covered the Middle East during four decades, and he worked for The Washington Times, National Review, The Belfast Telegraph and The Times. He was nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting.
Thirdly, the 1948 Palestinian exodus was not only the result of Israel's policies. In this U.N.'s report, reasons for the Palestinian exodus are summarized as follows: "The exodus of Palestinian Arabs resulted from panic created by fighting in their communities, by rumours concerning real or alleged acts of terrorism, or expulsion."
Furthermore, not only Israel's, but also Arabs' responsibility for the Nakba must be taken into account. Time reported on Monday, May 3, 1948, about Haifa's Arabs:
"Of the 60,000 Arabs who lived there, many had fled to safety even before the attack started. As the panicky evacuation began during the Jewish assault, the remaining thousands gathered what few belongings they could carry. Lashed on by the mortar barrage, more than a thousand men, women & children hammered at the No. 3 gate of the British-controlled port area to seek safety. Royal Marine guards finally let them on to the docks."
Also, in the same article by Time:
"The mass evacuation, prompted partly by fear, partly by orders of Arab leaders, left the Arab quarter of Haifa a ghost city. More than pride and defiance was behind . the Arab orders. By withdrawing Arab workers, their leaders hoped to paralyze Haifa. Jewish leaders said wishfully: 'They'll be back in a few days. Already some are returning.'"
Benny Morris is the most prominent figure in the study of the Palestinian exodus. He distinguished four main waves of Palestinian Arab refugees during the 1947 to 1948 Palestinian Civil War and 1948 to 1949 Israel's War of Independence: December, 1947 to March, 1948; April to June, 1948; July to October, 1948; and October to November, 1948. He argues that the Palestinian exodus derived from expulsion orders, military attacks and intimidation by Jewish as well as Arab troops, and from Arab fear of being victims of massacres committed by radical Jews (such as the Deir Yassin one) and dying during the clashes.
Arabs' partial responsibility for the Palestinian exodus was confirmed even by Arab sources. Khalid al-Azm, former Syrian Prime Minister, wrote in his memoirs: "We brought disaster upon one million Arab refugees, by inviting them and bringing pressure to bear upon them to leave their land, their homes, their work and their industry." This position was also shared by Salah Mesbah Khalaf, also known as Abu Iyad, former member of Arafat-led al-Fatah. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Pasha al-Said declared: "We will smash the country with our guns and obliterate every place the Jews shelter in. The Arabs should conduct their wives and children to safe areas until the fighting has died down."
Current Arab leaders also expressed this position. In Mahmoud Abbas' words: "The Arab armies entered Palestine to protect the Palestinians from the Zionist tyranny but, instead, they abandoned them, forced them to emigrate and to leave their homeland, and threw them into prisons similar to the ghettos in which the Jews used to live."
All of this demonstrates that not only Jewish and Arab expulsion orders were the main factor of the Palestinian exodus, but also the fear of the refugees, and that the resposibility for the exodus itself must be shared by both of the parties in conflict; but Shaath puts all the responsibility on Israel solely. Does it make sense when reading his own words about reconciliation through recognition of historical errors? Why doesn't he demand the respective Arabs' recognition for their involvement in the Palestinian Nakba? Furthermore, he fails to remember the treatment which Arab countries gave to the Palestinians, regarding to their national aspirations and the status of most of them as refugees, as explained here (at point #7).
Shaath writes about the Arab Peace Initiative and how Israel has ignored it. But he doesn't cite one fact: during the vote of the A.P.I., then Palestinian Prime Minister (and terrorist leader) Ismail Haniyeh didn't vote in favour of it, choosing to abstain.
Shaath also wrote about the Palestinian refugees' right of return, ignoring those Jews who were expelled or fled from their homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem prior to and during Israel's War of Independence. According to his own point of view, shouldn't be those Jews and their descendants allowed to relocate in the West Bank and East Jerusalem? He also failed to specify that after Israel's independence about 800,000 Jews were expelled or fled from their homes in Arab and muslim countries and had to seek refuge in the Jewish State.
In 1967, as he wrote, Israel fought the Six-Day War and a new wave of Palestinian refugees emerged. What he contradicts is the main cause of this wave of refugees, who fled voluntarily, as Michael B. Oren told in his book Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East.
The most prominent proof against the theory of Israeli intention to expel all the Arabs in 1948 and 1967 is the fact that there are Arabs both in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
About Israeli administration of East Jerusalem, read here (at point #4).
Israel has also allowed humanitarian aid to be sent into the Gaza Strip through its border.
Shaath counts more than 7,000,000 Palestinian refugees, adding that they're the largest population of refugees. Firstly, the U.N.R.W.A. counts 4,700,000 refugees, and not more than 7,000,000. And secondly, they're not the largest population of refugees worldwide. The partition of India in 1947 provoked the displacement of about 15,000,000 people, while more than 10,000,000 people were subjected to displacement due to the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. The number of Palestinian refugees since 1947 has been equaled by the number of Iraqi refugees since 2003 only.
It's interesting to see that only the Palestinian refugees have an agency of their own inside the United Nations...