Al-Nakba – The Catastrophe
May 14, 2018 marked the 70th anniversary of the declaration of Israel to become a state. Israel becoming a state is seen by many as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. I used to think so too. Or should I say I assumed it was. I hadn’t considered the fulfillment may still be thousands of years in the future and the current state of Israel has nothing to do with it.
For Palestinians, and Christians who support their cause, May 15, 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of Al-Nakba – The Catastrophe – the displacement of 750,000 who as a result of the Israeli declaration got kicked off their land and have to this day been refugees in neighboring countries or since 1967 refugees in the Palestinian Occupied Territories (Gaza and the West Bank).
Israel becoming a state is seen as a miraculous event: God fulfilling prophecy. It is romanticized as a victory against all odds, especially their military victory against four neighboring countries that attacked a greatly outnumbered Israel. God was with them, as he was with David against Goliath, is a common way to view the history of it.
Israel simply outmaneuvered their Arab attackers. Lesser armies have outmaneuvered greater armies and won thousands of times in world history. There is nothing miraculous about that. Romantic maybe, but not miraculous. Us Christians want so badly to see God move in our day and age like we see in the Bible that we declare a miracle where no miracle exists.
But was Israel really outnumbered or outgunned to begin with? That depends on who you ask and the debate still goes on. The evidence seems to point in the direction of Israel having been a better equipped army. One thing everyone agrees to is that the four Arab armies lacked central coordination and the will to fight. They were beset by internal squabbles while Israel was unified under one commander and their soldiers were highly motivated as soldiers tend to be who are in a fight for their lives, and that made all the difference in the world. Again, there is nothing miraculous about that.
Israel Created The Catastrophe
Many will ignore the plight of the Palestinians saying that if the Arab nations hadn’t attacked Israel Al-Nakba would not have happened and everything would be hunky dory for the Palestinians. Many will also say that the Arabs had no reason to attack other than, well, that’s just what Muslims do. Or they too wanted more real estate. The Arabs invaded, got their butts kicked, and the Palestinians got caught in the middle. Too bad, so sad. The spoils go to the victors. Might makes right. We can blame it on the Arab nations. Deal with it.
This ignores the fact that Palestinians were already losing their land to Israeli aggression.
Never mind the fact such victors-are-always-right thinking has no place in the 20th Century with people who want peace. In humane societies, especially ones who sense an obligation toward God and/or human rights, the citizens of conquered nations get treated like human beings, not like cattle. Yes, I know, in the Bible and in the Quran they were sometimes wiped out, but an argument can be made for the necessity of that for survival in those tribal days.
No such argument can be made in the 20th Century. The Palestinians were not uprooted from their land for the sake of Israel’s survival. If anything it has been counterproductive. Israel proved they really didn’t have much to worry about from the rag-tag Arab armies. In reality, Israel was taking advantage of a military victory to take way more real estate than what was being offered by any partition plan on the table. A UN resolution that passed a few months earlier gave the Jews, who comprised one third of the people of Palestine with control of only 5.5 percent of it – 55 percent of the land. Ten times more than what they had actually come to control through peaceful means. After defeating the Arab invasion and taking more land, the Israelis ended up with two thirds of the land while the Palestinians, having two thirds of the people, ended up with one third of the land.
That was the unfortunate result of a war. Israel’s gain was their loss. Hundreds of thousands of people were uprooted and sent packing due to no fault of their own.
What was happening to Palestinians prior to Al-Nakba? Did their Arab neighbors have any cause to invade other than a Quran-fed hatred of Jews, as some believe?
Did Israel’s Arab Neighbors Have Cause to Invade?
Let’s back up a bit and get some context to the situation. Up until the end of WW1 in 1918 Palestine had been under the control of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire was a Turkish, non-Arab previously Muslim caliphate then more a secular kingdom after the Young Turk revolution. It ruled the Middle East but as a world power it had been in decline for centuries and due to that sought alliances with various European nations. They happened to be among the losing parties to WW1 and thus lost control of the Middle East. This of course created a power vacuum in the region which was addressed by the League of Nations in 1923 in granting the British control over a portion which included Palestine and what is now Jordan and Iraq. The French Mandate included what is now Syria and Lebanon. The purpose of these mandates was to ensure law and order but only for as long as necessary to aid the locals in being able to stand on their own. The Europeans could have just taken those lands as the spoils of war but the fact they didn’t is a testament to a more civil mindset in the modern era, something the Israelis would not emulate as we shall see.
Prior to and during this British Mandate for Palestine many Israelis fled pogroms in Russia and settled in their ancient homeland. Returning to a homeland after 2000 years of not having a homeland does not automatically give anyone a right to displace whoever is occupying the land. The Jews were happy to offer cash, with the help of the Rothschild’s fortune, at very inflated values, to any Palestinians willing to sell and relocate. That worked fine for everyone involved since no one was forced to do anything.
God promising a land to someone’s ancestors thousands of years ago does not automatically give them a right to march in and kick people off their land. If God wants to bless a people with land in fulfillment of a promise made long ago he can do it without the people taking matters into their own hands and stealing the land. Trusting in God instead of one’s own abilities is the mark of a people of God. Many Old Testament scriptures such as “not by might, not by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts” speak of not accomplishing God’s purposes through carnal means. Or criminal means.
A United Nations taking up a vote to partition a land between two ethnic groups does not give anyone a right to kick any current occupants off the land. The United Nations is not God and God didn’t make it his Vice Regent. I find the whole partition vote rather ironic considering the purpose of the newly formed United Nations was to foster world peace. It certainly didn’t.
Zionism Demands What Few Ethnic Groups Get
Let’s get back to Israeli aggression against Palestinians before Al-Nakba. To understand that, we need to understand Zionism which was the political movement to create a Jewish National Homeland within their ancient homeland.
Everyone wants a people without a land to have their own country and be able to govern themselves, especially when a people have been the object of persecution and attempts at extermination like the Jews. Today for example we have the Kurds who live in one big area, but that area is divided up between three countries that are often hostile to the Kurds. Saddam Hussein killed thousands of them with nerve gas attacks. That sort of thing gets people thinking about a way for the Kurds to have their own nation.
There have been and still are numerous peoples who do not now have or never have had their own country. In fact, a small fraction of the world’s national groups have associated nation-states. Only 3% by some estimates. The other 97% of the world’s national groups are part of multi-ethnic states like India where if each national group were given its own nation then India would be 2000 nations. Of the 192 member states of the United Nations in 2006, fewer than 20 are a people who have their own nation such as Albania which is 98.6% Albanian or Poland which had become 97.8% Polish after the Germans killed the Jews and the Poles sent the Germans packing after WW2.
The vast majority of ethnic groups on the earth today do not enjoy the status of a nation state. They live as part of multi-ethnic states and for many that works just fine while for others such as the Tibetans in China, the Scots in the UK, and the Chechens in Russia, autonomy has been a hot issue for generations. There have been numerous independence votes which normally aren’t accepted by the host countries, at times causing civil wars like we had in the United States. In some of those cases the reason for rejecting independence either by the host nation or the international community at large is because of fears of persecution against those who are not a part of that ethnic group seeking independence. In the case of the Israelites, there was concern for the rights and the welfare of the Palestinians who would end up within the new borders of Israel. Arab leaders who after the demise of the Ottoman Empire naturally “adopted” the Palestinians due to close ethnic and religious ties had warned the United Nations that no partition plan would be accepted by the Palestinian people. They weren’t interested in having their homes and their rights negotiated away by Western powers. Who can blame them?
Palestinians Demanded to Give Up What No One Else Would
A lot of people blame the Palestinians – and vilify them.
Were those fears of persecution founded? Did the Palestinians even really need to abandon their homes and farms and flee to safer land or was that just an excuse for not going along with the program?
Aljazeera ran a documentary that should give Christian Zionists reason for pause:
“Under the UN proposal, they were allocated 55 percent of the land. The Palestinians and their Arab allies rejected the proposal. The Zionist movement accepted it however, on the grounds that it legitimised the idea of a Jewish state on Arab land. But they did not agree to the proposed borders, and campaigned to conquer even more of historic Palestine. By early 1948, Zionist forces had captured dozens of villages and cities, displacing thousands of Palestinians, even while the British Mandate was still in effect. In many cases, they carried out organised massacres. The Zionist movement’s message was simple: Palestinians must leave their land or be killed.”
Dear Palestinians: Leave or Die!
As the date of May 14, 1948 approached, selected by the British for their Palestine Mandate to expire, Zionist forces hastened their efforts to seize Palestinian land, all the while under the supposedly protective tutelage of the Brits. In April 1948, the Zionists captured Haifa, one of the biggest Palestinian cities, and subsequently set their eyes on Jaffa. Then the British Palestinian Mandate expired at midnight on May 14, British forces formerly withdrew, and Israel declared themselves to be a nation the same day. Four Arab nations attacked within days.
Sympathy for the Jews who had suffered the Holocaust had caused the international community to turn a blind eye to any wrongdoing by Israel. Their neighbors on the other hand had pleaded with the Western powers to intervene on behalf of their Arab kinsmen to prevent a genocide by the Israelis. The Western powers ignored their pleas so they took matters into their own hands.
If I were Paul Harvey I would end with “And now you know — the rest of the story. Paul Harvey … Good Day!”
I’m not Paul Harvey so I’ll have to add a bit more.
The fear of ethnic cleansing if Israel were allowed to be a state was not only justified, it was part of the Zionist agenda and it was already happening. According to the Aljazeera documentary:
“The Zionist strategy of expelling Palestinians from their land was a slow and deliberate process. According to Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, Zionist leaders and military commanders met regularly from March 1947 to March 1948, when they finalized plans to ethnically cleanse Palestine.”
“As the Zionists continued their ethnic cleansing campaign against the Palestinians, war broke out between neighbouring Arab countries and the new Zionist state. The UN appointed Swedish diplomat, Folke Bernadotte, as its mediator to Palestine. He recognized the plight of the Palestinians and attempted to address their suffering. His efforts to bring about a peaceful solution and halt to the ongoing ethnic cleansing campaign ended when he was assassinated by the Zionists in September 1948.
By 1949, over 700,000 Palestinians had been made refugees and more than 13,000 had been killed by the Israeli military. The UN continued to push for an armistice deal between Israel and those Arab countries with whom it was at war.
Bernadotte was replaced by his American deputy, Ralph Bunche. Negotiations led by Bunche between Israel and the Arab states resulted in the latter conceding even more Palestinian land to the newly founded Zionist state. In May 1949, Israel was admitted to the UN and its grip over 78 percent of historic Palestine was consolidated. The remaining 22 percent became known as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees remained in refugee camps, waiting to return home.
While the Zionist movement sought first and foremost to remove Palestinians from their land, it also tried to erase Palestinian heritage and culture. The overall objective was nothing short of an attempt to wipe Palestine off the world map.
The Palestinian Nakba did not end in 1948. The ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine is still happening, and so too is Palestinian resistance.”
How Should This Have Been Handled Differently?
British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour should never have made any promises to assist in the Zionist cause without committing the UK to safeguarding the Palestinians. Britain should never have vacated the area knowing the Zionist intentions and actions toward genocide. Leaving a power vacuum before any plan for succession to the Ottoman Empire had been settled was reckless. Unless the Palestinians and Israelis could have worked out their own partition plan instead of it being forced on them by outsiders a Two State Solution should never have been on the table. What they should have been planning was what most of the world has found workable: a One State Solution. Palestinians and Israelis could be part of a single democracy. That was actually written into the Declaration of Independence but the reality on the ground didn’t match the words on the page. A One State Solution, like the one that South Africa adopted giving the majority blacks equality and thus control, is actually one of the options on the table today to resolve the conflict. Surprisingly it is backed by many Israelis who would rather be a minority in a multi-ethnic state than maintain the status quo. While most Jews in Israel favor the idea of a homeland and a Jewish state, only about half support the current regime and its my-way-or-the-highway treatment of non-Jews. For the Orthodox Jews, they want a Jewish state, but only the one Messiah is going to establish, not the one established by a secular political movement like Zionism.
Instead of a partition plan and an automatic majority UN vote – read that “Tyranny of the Majority” – and spending billions of dollars on warfare and aid, the international community should have told the Jews their Zionist plans were going to cause major problems and instead offered to help the Jews buy real estate from the Palestinians. Everyone has a price at which they will sell the farm, especially if it buys them two farms somewhere else. If that had been the Zionist program for the last 68 years, as it had been before the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Israel would not be a thorn in the flesh to peace in the Middle East, and they would have their homeland, fair and square.
Peace For Palestine
How do we achieve peace in Palestine? Israel just needs to give back what they have taken beyond what they were offered the first time and rebuild what they have destroyed. Instead of sowing domination, abuse, and destruction, they need to sow goodwill and be the blessing to their neighbors their scriptures say they were meant to be. Do this and you will see an entirely different response from the oppressed. “You reap what you sow” works for evil and for good, even in Palestine.
It’s really that simple.
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