Will the Real Nakba Please Stand Up!

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The Arabic words “an-Nakba” (“the catastrophe,” from the trilateral Semitic root NKB meaning to do harm, or to make miserable) is the term used in modern Arabic to refer to the uprooting of about 700,000 Arabs living in British Mandatory Palestine and their exile to neighboring Arab states, as a result of Israel’s victory in the 1948 war.  It has become a political term that competes well with “ha-Shoah” (the Holocaust) for international attention, as a gut-wrenching knee-jerk plea for recognition of a tragedy of epic proportions wrecked upon a hapless, helpless population.  As Palestinian Authority representative Hanan Ashrawi stated at the controversial 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa: “a nation in captivity held hostage to an ongoing Nakba, as the most intricate and pervasive expression of persistent colonialism, apartheid, racism, and victimization.”

But “ha-Shoah” represents a real disaster, galactic in dimension, and, as Will Durant put it, an evil that demonstrated the failure of civilization, or worse, “the failure of civilization, democracy, ethics and religion… of everything we might call humanity.” The use of “an-Nakba” today, however, represents the successful spin of modern Arab propaganda in support of an endeavor maintained for more than 60 years, by Arab states and terrorists, that seeks to replicate the Holocaust on an even larger scale.

The term originated in Arabic history decades before the 1948 war, and meant almost exactly the opposite of its current usage.

George Habib Antonius, the father of modern Arab nationalist history, wrote The Arab Awakening in 1938.  There he documented the first known political use of the term (pg. 312):

“The year 1920 has an evil name in Arab annals: it is referred to as the Year of the Catastrophe (Am an-Nakba). It saw the first armed risings that occurred in protest against the post-War settlement imposed by the Allies on the Arab countries. In that year, serious outbreaks took place in Syria, Palestine, and Iraq.”

In fact, from the 1880’s onward Arab nationalists protested the use of the term “Palestine” because “Palestine,” as they explained, was really southern Syria (as-Suriyeh al-janubiyeh).  Even the most vitriolic and vociferous Arab nationalist in Southern Syria, the Hajj Amin el-Husseini, opposed the Mandate because it created “Palestine” separate from Syria.”[i] The General Syrian Congress of 1919 stressed an exclusively Syrian identity for the Arabs of “greater Syria” (i.e., including Lebanon and Palestine): “We ask that there should be no separation of the southern part of Syria, known as Palestine . . .”[ii] George Antonius, as noted above, defined Palestine as part of Syria.  Akhmed Shukairi, the PLO delegate to the UN, asserted in 1956, eight years after the birth of the State of Israel and the creation of the “Palestinian refugees,” that “It is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but Southern Syria.”[iii] As late as 1974 Syria’s President Hafez al-Assad asserted that: … Palestine is not only a part of our Arab homeland, but a basic part of southern Syria.”

This original “Nakba,” thus, was not the catastrophe that Ashrawi described in such searing terms.  Rather it was a spontaneous rebellion by the Arabs of southern Syria (which would soon become known as British Mandatory Palestine), in protest against the division by the European victors of World War 1 of Arab-populated lands of the former Ottoman (Turkish) Empire into the British and French mandates of Palestine, Syria and Iraq.

This “Nakba” had nothing to do with Jews or Zionism, and nothing to do with demands by “Palestinian” Arabs for national self-determination or political self-realization. To the contrary, this original “Nakba” stands as historical testimony to the fact that the Arabs of British Mandatory Palestine saw themselves as Syrians.  They had no perception of themselves as “Palestinians.”

Even the term “Nakba” as it was first used to relate to the 1948 war is inconsistent with its emotion -fraught use today.  Constantine Zureiq, a professor of history at the American University of Beirut, in his 1948 book Ma’na an-Nakba (The Meaning of the Catastrophe), used the term to condemn Arab governments for their failure to vanquish Israel and for their abandonment of the Arab peasantry;  and to critique Arab society as a whole for its tendency to live in the past: “The Zionists had a vision from the past to the future, while the Arabs lived in the dreams of their glorious past.”[iv]

The concepts of the “Palestinian people” and “historic Palestine” as that people’s ancient homeland “from time immemorial” did not exist in the Arab world of 1948.  Those Arabs who suffered that “Nakba” were indeed hapless victims; but they were victims of their own leaders’ lust for the destruction of Israel,[v] and they saw themselves as Syrians, living in what should rightfully be called “Southern Syria.”  It was only decades later that Yasser Arafat and his Soviet handlers came up with the eminently successful PR fiction that the Arab refugees represented an ancient nation in its ancestral homeland, exiled cruelly by a brutal colonialist Jewish army. [vi]

The term “an-Nakba” in its current usage, referring exclusively to Israel’s putative crimes against the “Palestinian people,” was an even later invention.  The term is not found in Arabic political usage until 1998 when Arafat, by this time ensconced as the “rais” (head, leader) of the Palestinian Authority, thanks to the Oslo Accords, instituted an official “Nakba Day” to be held every year on May 15, the anniversary of the declaration of the State of Israel.  Only then did the words “an-Nakba” begin to assume their place of prominence in Palestinian life.

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  • Chezwick_mac

    I have to take exception…and I'm sure I'll have my detractors.

    Articles like this remind me of Arab attempts to de-legitimize Israel. It doesn't wash.

    There are 2 million Arabs living on the West Bank…and a million more living in Gaza. They exist, whether we like it or not. It is their prerogative to collectively identify themselves in any manner they deem fit. If they want to call themselves Palestinians, so be it.

    The Palestinians don't deserve a state of their own….NOT because they don't exist as a people, but because they've opted for the most pathologically violent methods of political expression imaginable.

    • fargar

      you are a nut, my brother

    • mikep1738

      You misundertood the term because of your failure to recognize that what is being referenced is that the Arabs of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza are not a historically distinct and unique people rather than is they exist. They do exist as part of the greater Arab nation.

  • Sashland

    Greetings Chezwick_mac

    This doesn't seem to be one of those 'they aren't really Palestinians so they don't matter' articles; rather, the author says they are historically of Syrian extraction and points to the difference between the myth and the reality, along with the political posturing to create the myth. Sure, they can call themselves whatever they want, but they shouldn't get away with creating a false history seems to be the point.

    and one logically could argue that your last sentence could switch "NOT" to "BOTH" and "but" to "and".

    As for: Which nabka?

    I enjoy celebrating the modern nabka! Happy nabka to you! The nabka is our nachas!

    Maybe I'll start to celebrate both…

    • Roger Zem

      The leaders of the Palestinian Arabs also claim that the Pal. Arabs are descended from the biblical Philistines, and that there is no historical Jewish connection to Jerusalem. Any serious historian or anthropologist can debunk both claims with little effort, but it doesn't stop them from using them. What price truth???

  • PhillipGaley

    Okay, but as good as this article is, can we tie it to the larger picture: Moslem women are kept secluded, uneducated, fed a diet of fatalism, to be the handmaidens and chattels of bad men. The peoples of the Moslem nations are so deeply inbred from frozen centuries of 1st cousin marriage, producing triple the rate of b. defects and low IQ with emotional instability, like a cult, and necessarily parasitic to the larger society—just when will there have been sufficient record of anti-social and criminal activity—the world round—to have the G0D d_ed thing recognized in law as criminal / terrorist—assets seized, WIRETAPS, etc., the damnable thing stamped out, with every mosque an ash pit no less than five feet deep, and this to include that big one in Spain, . . . you know, do our part to make the world safe for women and children, . . . but when?

    • Supreme_Galooty

      Your comment is apt, accurate, and appreciated. Thus my only quibble: Muslim MEN are (also) kept secluded, uneducated, fed a diet of fatalism, and are the chattel of bad men. Islam is an evil that should be eschewed by all of good heart.

  • Marty

    What nakba? About 1.5 million arabs live comfortable lives as Israeli citizens. This is a tenfold increase from their population in 1948. They vote in free elections, serve in parliament, on courts, and those who are Druse are willingly drafted in the IDF (where some rise to high rank). They form about a fourth of the total population and have access to all kinds of benefits arabs living in syria and egypt can only dream about. Not all are loyal to the state that provides them with a vibrant economy, religious freedom, and democracy, but even the malcontents (who freely and enthusiastically call for Israel's destruction) retain rights they wouldn't enjoy anywhere else in the Middle East.

  • StephenD

    Having no claim on Israel except to say it is the birthplace of my faith which was born of Judaism, I cannot speak for them. I can say that I think Ziontruth is absolutely right on with this one. Marty, you spoke well also.
    Viva Israel!

  • http://karmafishies.blogspot.com Karmafish


    The progressive-left, of which I used to be a member, is full of dupes who buy into this fiction, entirely.

    It also serves as this generation's reason to despise the Jewish people.

  • ObamaYoMoma

    Here’s where I disagree with Meir-Levy: The so-called Palestinian people were initially invented out of whole cloth in Moscow in 1964 by the Soviet KGB as a disinformation campaign to camouflage the Islamic world’s permanent genocidal jihad of conquest being waged perpetually against the Jewish unbelievers in Israel under a cloak of nationalism. Hence, the so-called Palestinian people are nothing but the convenient proxies of the greater Islamic world.

    In addition, it is wrong to characterize the permanent and perpetual genocidal jihad of conquest the Islamic world is waging against the Jewish unbelievers in Israel as a conflict just between Arabs & Israel, because it is not. Instead, it is a permanent and perpetual genocidal jihad of conquest being waged by the Islamic world mainly through their proxy – the so-called Palestinian people – and as such it is one of many such permanent and perpetual jihads of conquest being waged around the world against all unbelievers. Indeed, Israel’s biggest nemesis today – Iran – is not even a country comprised of Arabs. Instead, Iran is a country largely comprised of Persians and not Arabs.

    Furthermore, the so-called struggle for the inalienable national rights of the so-called Palestinian people again is a fiction and a disinformation campaign concocted in Moscow in 1964 by the Soviet KGB to camouflage the Islamic world’s permanent and perpetual genocidal jihad of conquest being waged against the Jewish unbelievers in Israel.

    Moreover, the Islamic world’s permanent and perpetual genocidal jihad of conquest being waged against the Jewish unbelievers in Israel is no different from any of the many other permanent and perpetual jihads of conquest the Islamic world is also waging around the world against all unbelievers in places like Kashmir, Jammu, Mumbai, India, Thailand, the Philippines, Chechnya, China, Russia, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Sudan, Bosnia, Kosovo, etc., etc., etc. ad nauseum. Not to mention also mass Muslim immigration to the West and other non-Muslim countries for the purpose of demographic conquest that altogether comprises the greater global jihad at large.

    Hence, obviously the only reason that the permanent and perpetual genocidal jihad of conquest being waged against the Jewish unbelievers in Israel by the Islamic world is deliberately mischaracterized as being a conflict between only Arabs & Israel and specifically between the so-called Palestinians and Israel today is to camouflage the Islamic world’s greater global jihad at large.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    There is little to no truth in Arab claims and where they can muster any
    historical fact it is morphed into complete fabrication. That any National
    Government subscribes to their falsehood does not indict their mental
    faculties but it does reveal who has been bought. Israel is the Jewish
    homeland of old without the correct borders, it should be ten times greater
    in terms of land mass, maybe fifety or a hundred…………..I will go to the
    grave believing what is in the Old Testament, God gave to Abraham and
    it is so and it is the land of Israel now being occupied by Palestinian and
    Arab interlopers…………………………………………………………William