the world knows what happened here in 1948,’ Daoud Abu Lebdeh says, while
leaning against a table in a coffee shop on the Hebrew University’s Mount
Israeli soldiers or the Israeli militias like the Hagana, Kahane, the Irgun and
Lehi came here and they [kicked] the people outside from their homes.”
is a nondescript man of 24 from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz. A
correspondent and blogger with the Palestinian website the Middle East Post,
Daoud has come highly recommended as an expert on the Nakba, the “catastrophe”
of the birth of the State of Israel, and concurrently, the start of the
Palestinian refugee problem, by Fatah Youth activist and Jerusalemite Mousa
for the historical inaccuracy of placing the radical Jewish nationalist
movement of Kahanism in the 1940s, several decades too early, Daoud’s statement
echoes the standard Palestinian narrative of the Nakba, a topic which comes up
every year as Arabs within Israel, the Palestinian Authority and around the
world commemorate the what they see as the tragedy of Israel’s establishment on
May 14, 1948.
on the Palestinian narrative regarding what they have termed “ethnic
cleansing,” Daoud explains that “the English books, the American history books,
it’s all the same. There is nothing to change. The whole world knows what
Jews] came here and established their own state [and] until today they have
prevented us [from] establishing our state near to their state.”
Palestinian narrative is very clear. According to Daoud and the Arab version of
events, the Zionist movement began bringing in Jews to Palestine, then a
peaceful backwater of the Ottoman Empire in which a distinct Palestinian
culture had developed over centuries.
convinced the British to back their nationalist goals at the expense of the
local Palestinians, the Jews began to bring in illegal immigrants and
eventually drove the Palestinians out of their homes in an orgy of violence and
Jews, explains Daoud, have no claim to any part of Palestine.
why his predecessors did not accept the 1947 United Nations partition plan,
unlike the Zionist movement which endorsed it wholeheartedly, and instead chose
to go to war, the Palestinian journalist grabs my iPhone off of the table.
taken your phone,” he says. “What do you do?” The partition resolution, he
claims, was like someone stealing a smartphone and then asking to split it. He
asserts that the Zionist movement had no claim to any part of the land and that
asking the Arabs to accept that they did was a trampling of their rights.
to Daoud, the ancient Jewish presence in Israel, preceding the arrival of Arabs
and Islam to the country by thousands of years, does not have any bearing on
the current political reality.
why, he counters that the Jewish presence in this land is similar to that of
the Muslim Moors who conquered Spain.
as I can’t, in the name of Islam, go to Spain to occupy it and [expel] the
Spanish because [in the past we were there],” he says, “it’s the same thing
that you [Israel] are doing now. It’s not my problem that [King] David was here
and Muhammad was there.”
Palestinian focus on the Nakba, and on the return to homes lost in the fighting
and subsequent Arab mass flight from Israel in 1948, has intensified over the
past few years, he asserts. Despite an emphasis on the Nakba, and Israel’s
illegitimacy, in the PA’s educational curriculum since the early 1990s, Daoud
is sure that his people have grown more attached to the Nakba narrative because
they are disillusioned by the failure to achieve a two-state solution.
despite the popularity and wide currency enjoyed by the Palestinian version of
events, not everybody subscribes to the Nakba narrative.
Karsh, an expatriate Israeli, historian and Arabist, is the editor of the Philadelphia-based
Middle East Quarterly, published by
Dr. Daniel Pipes’s think tank the Middle East Forum, and, speaking with the
Post by Skype from his home in the city of brotherly love, affirms his
contention that the popular version of events is based on erroneous sources.
who recently published Palestine Betrayed,
a history of the Nakba, explains that it is precisely the widespread acceptance
of Palestinian historiography that has stood in the way of implementing a
two-state solution and accounts for, in his view, Palestinian intransigence.
accurate history of the conflict, he opens, should be independent of political
ideology. He believes history has no relation to political ideology. He
himself, he continues, is an advocate of the two-state paradigm, despite his
absolute rejection of the Palestinian narrative.
Karsh’s main contentions in his book is the responsibility of the Palestinian
and outside Arab leadership for the events of 1948.
1947, prior to the first UN General Assembly vote, Palestinian leaders rejected
any form of Jewish self-determination in Palestine. Hajj Amin Husseini, their
most prominent leader from the early 1920s to the late 1940s, upheld that
‘there is no place in Palestine for two races.’ All areas conquered by the
Arabs during the 1948 war were cleansed of Jews,” he wrote in this newspaper
through Arab, Israeli and British archives, Karsh in Palestine Betrayed paints
a portrait of a divided and not at all cohesive Palestinian-Arab society that,
as he put it “all but disintegrated, with 300,000-340,000 of its members
fleeing their homes to other parts of Palestine and to the neighboring Arab
that “nowhere at the time was the collapse and dispersion of Palestinian Arab
society al-Nakba, ‘the catastrophe,’ as it would come to be known in
Palestinian and Arab discourse – described as a systematic dispossession of
Arabs by Jews,” Karsh went on to quote contemporary Palestinian Arab leader
Musa Alami, who stated that “If ultimately the Palestinians evacuated their
country, it was not out of cowardice, but because they had lost all confidence
in the existing system of defense.”
more damning, in Karsh’s eyes, is a statement by Sir John Troutbeck, the head
of the British Middle East Office in Cairo, regarding a 1949 fact-finding
mission to the Gaza Strip.
know who our enemies are,’ they [the Arab refugees] will say, and they are
referring to their Arab brothers who, they declare, persuaded them
unnecessarily to leave their homes.”
to these and similar statements, Karsh tells the Post that “the beginning of my book basically tells it all. In
1948-1949 no one among the Palestinians spoke about the Jews as responsible for
their plight. It came only later, ex post facto, that they started explaining
why they ran away. If you look, there are quotes of refugees in Gaza in 1949
telling the British ‘look, our leaders, the Arabs, they pushed us out but not
the Jews’ so I cannot think that you need much more than this [to understand
Fifties, Karsh says, the narrative began to change, with the plight of the
Palestinian refugees being used as a tool in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Fifties you see the discredited Arab leaders like the Mufti and others begin an
attempt to basically absolve themselves or rehabilitate themselves in their
constituents,” he says.
alternative narrative, combined with statements by Daoud regarding repeated
Israeli rejections of Palestinian peace offers which Karsh rejects as untrue,
paint a picture, he says, of a people unwilling to face reality.
current Palestinian historiography is “a combination of ignorance and
reluctance to reconcile themselves to reality [and] the result is very
dispiriting for the future for peace,” he continues.
the PA’s continuing demand for the “right of return” would be looked upon
differently by a world that believed the Palestinian exodus to be the fault of
the Arab states and local communal leaders.
fact, Karsh continues, while there has been, even after the Roman exile, a
Jewish presence in the Land of Israel for millennia, the very concept of
Palestinian nationalism is a 20th-century creation.
his sources, Karsh quotes former Arab nationalist, Knesset member and alleged
Hezbollah spy Azmi Bishara, who once made an appearance on Israeli television
to announce that he doesn’t “think there is a Palestinian nation at all. I
think there is an Arab nation.
always thought so and I did not change my mind. I do not think there is a
Palestinian nation, I think its a colonialist invention – Palestinian nation.
When were there any Palestinians? Where did it come from? I think there is an
Arab nation. I never turned to be a Palestinian nationalist, despite my
decisive struggle against the occupation. I think that until the end of the
19th century, Palestine was the south of Greater Syria.”
course, Daoud is having none of this. He says that while he is ready to accept
a two-state solution, there really is no legitimate Jewish sovereignty in
Palestine and that the entire conflict is the fault of Zionist territorial
hunger and ethnic cleansing. Karsh’s opinion, he believes, is the historical
revision, not the current Nakba narrative.
Jews suffered at the hands of the Nazis. What we don’t know is why we the
Palestinians must pay the price for that.”