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
creation, which supposedly imposed a “catastrophe” upon the “disenfranchised
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 orderedthat the nakba be taught as partof the curriculum in Israeli schools,
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 http://bostonreview.net/BR21.3/Tamir.html.)
Nakba ceremonies are now held each year by leftist
professors at Israeli universities who mourn the very creation and existence of
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 Mufti, 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
professor Baruch Kimmerling relied on Antonius at length in his own
pseudo-history, Palestinians: The Making of a People (Free 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 homeland.
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
The bulk of the Palestinian Arabs had in fact migrated to Palestine from Syria
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 murderously.
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,
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
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 today?
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 them.