Monday, May 05, 2008

The Origins of the Term "Nakba" Proves there is no Palestinian Nation

Subject: The Origins of the Term "Nakba" Proves there is no Palestinian Nation

How 'Nakba' Proves There's No Palestinian Nation

By: Steven Plaut Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Over the past few years, the term nakba (also spelled naqba) has
become the favorite nonsense word of the Anti-Israel Lobby. Meaning
"catastrophe" in Arabic, it has been embraced by anti-Semites all over the
planet to refer to Israel's creation, which supposedly imposed a
"catastrophe" upon the "disenfranchised Palestinian Arabs."

Of course, the real catastrophe that befell the Arabs in 1948-49 was
that they failed in their attempt to annihilate Israel and exterminate its
population, and for that they paid a price.

Meanwhile, Nakba Nonsense has been spreading. Google finds over 85,000
web pages referring to Israel's creation as a "nakba," and a Yahoo search
finds even more than that. The anti-Israel web magazine Counterpunch cannot
mention Israel without using the term. Even Israel's leftist minister of
education, Yuli Tamir, has
the nakba be taught as
the curriculum in Israeli schools, where Israel's schoolchildren can be
taught to mourn their own country's existence.

(Tamir, who was previously a professor of education at Tel Aviv
University, is so bizarre that in the summer of 1996 she published an
article in the Boston Review defending female circumcision in the Third
World and denouncing those who expressed disgust at the practice – see

Nakba ceremonies are now held each year by leftist professors at
Israeli universities who mourn the very creation and existence of their

The nakba of the late 1940's and 1950's that befell large numbers of
Jews living in Arab countries who were suddenly expelled, persecuted, and
stripped of their property does not interest such people. Those Jewish
refugees made new homes in Israel and actually outnumbered the Palestinians
who fled.

Meanwhile, an urban legend has been fabricated about the origin of the
term "nakba" – a fairy tale that claims the word was a banner waved by
Palestinians starting in 1948, and that its very use shows how deep the
roots of "Palestinian nationality" go.

So here is a little current events quiz: What is the real origin of
the term "nakba" and what is its original meaning?

If you get the answer to the quiz wrong – in other words, if you say
it refers to the events of 1948 – you are in very good company. I myself
would have flunked the quiz up until a few days ago, when I stumbled on the
correct answer. Not only does the bandying about of the "nakba" nonsense
word not point to any "depths of roots of Palestinian nationality," it
proves the very opposite: namely, that there is no such thing as a
Palestinian nation or nationality at all.

The authoritative source on the origin of "nakba" is none other than
George Antonius, supposedly the first "official historian of Palestinian
nationalism." Like so many "Palestinians," he actually wasn't – Palestinian,
that is. He was a Christian Lebanese-Egyptian who lived for a while in
Jerusalem, where he composed his official advocacy/history of Arab
nationalism. The Arab Awakening, a highly biased book, was published in 1938
and for years afterward was the official text used at British universities.

Antonius was an "official Palestinian representative" to Britain,
trying to argue the cause for creating an Arab state in place of any
prospective homeland promised the Jews under the Balfour Declaration of
1917. By the 1930's Antonius was an active anti-Zionist propagandist, and as
such was offered a job at Columbia University (where some things don't seem
to change much).

He served as an academic fig leaf for xenophobic Arab nationalists
seeking to deny Jews any right to self-determination in or migration to the
Land of Israel. And he was closely associated with the Grand
Hitler's main Islamic ally, and also with the pro-German regime in Iraq in
the early 1940's.

Antonius was so passionately anti-Zionist that he continues to serve
as the hero and mentor of Jewish leftist anti-Zionists everywhere. For
example, the late Hebrew University sociology professor Baruch Kimmerling
relied on Antonius at length in his own pseudo-history, Palestinians: The
Making of a People<>
Press, 1993).

So how does Antonius provide us with the answer to the current-events
quiz concerning the origin of "nakba"? The term was not invented in 1948 but
rather in 1920. And it was coined not because of Palestinians suddenly
getting nationalistic but because Arabs living in Palestine regarded
themselves as Syrian and were enraged at being cut off from their Syrian

Before World War I, the entire Levant – including what is now Israel,
the "occupied territories," Jordan, Lebanon and Syria – was comprised of
Ottoman Turkish colonies. When Allied forces drove the Turks out of the
Levant, the two main powers, Britain and France, divided the spoils between
them. Britain got Palestine, including what is now Jordan, while France got
Lebanon and Syria.

The problem was that the Palestinian Arabs saw themselves as Syrians
and were seen as such by other Syrians. The Palestinian Arabs were enraged
that an artificial barrier was being erected within their Syrian homeland by
the infidel colonial powers – one that would divide northern Syrian Arabs
from southern Syrian Arabs, the latter being those who were later misnamed

The bulk of the Palestinian Arabs had in fact migrated to Palestine
from Syria and Lebanon during the previous two generations, largely to
benefit from the improving conditions and job opportunities afforded by
Zionist immigration and capital flowing into the area. In 1920, both sets of
Syrian Arabs, those in Syria and those in Palestine, rioted violently and

On page 312 of The Arab Awakening, Antonius writes, "The year 1920 has
an evil name in Arab annals: it is referred to as the Year of the
Catastrophe (Am al-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."

Yes, the answer to our little quiz is 1920, not 1948. That's 1920 –
when there was no Zionist state, no Jewish sovereignty, no "settlements" in
"occupied territories," no Israel Defense Forces, no Israeli missiles and
choppers targeting terror leaders, and no Jewish control over Jerusalem
(which had a Jewish demographic majority going back at least to 1850).

The original "nakba" had nothing to do with Jews, and nothing to do
with demands by Palestinian Arabs for self-determination, independence and
statehood. To the contrary, it had everything to do with the fact that the
Palestinian Arabs saw themselves as Syrians. They rioted at this nakba – at
this catastrophe– because they found deeply offensive the very idea that
they should be independent from Syria and Syrians.

In the 1920's, the very suggestion that Palestinian Arabs constituted
a separate ethnic nationality was enough to send those same Arabs out into
the streets to murder and plunder violently in outrage. If they themselves
insisted they were simply Syrians who had migrated to the Land of Israel, by
what logic are the Palestinian Arabs deemed entitled to their own state

Palestinian Arabs are no more a nation and no more entitled to their
own state than are the Arabs of Detroit or of Paris. They certainly are not
entitled to four different states: Jordan, Hamastan in Gaza, a PLO state in
the West Bank, and Israel converted into yet another Arab state via the
granting of a "right of return" to Arab refugees.

Speaking of Palestinians as Syrians, it is worth noting what one of
the early Syrian nationalists had to say. The following quote comes from the
great-grandfather of the current Syrian dictator, Bashar Assad:

"Those good Jews brought civilization and peace to the Arab Muslims,
and they dispersed gold and prosperity over Palestine without damage to
anyone or taking anything by force. Despite this, the Muslims declared holy
war against them and did not hesitate to massacre their children and women….
Thus a black fate awaits the Jews and other minorities in case the Mandates
are cancelled and Muslim Syria is united with Muslim Palestine."

That statement is from a letter sent to the French prime minister in
June 1936 by six Syrian Alawi notables (the Alawis are the ruling class in
Syria today) in support of Zionism. Bashar's great-grandfather was one of

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