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Holy Nakba By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, February 16, 2009

Critics of Israel who claim they support Israel's existence often embrace the Nakba, or Arab "catastrophe," myth that claims Jews ethnically cleansed Arabs from what became Israel in 1948.

The Nakba storyline's unsubtle implication is that all descendants of pre-1948 Palestinians from within present day Israel should have an unlimited "right of return," which would demographically eradicate Israel's Jewish majority.  

A recent Nakba commemoration was sponsored by the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace, whose February 3 reception was in the historic Methodist Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.  

Addressing the event, United Methodist lobbyist Jim Winkler compared Nakba deniers with Holocaust deniers: "The notion of the Nakba is disputed by some, [but]there was and is a Nakba, and there was a Holocaust." Consequently, explained Winkler, "Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have lived in refugee camps, lo, these many years."

"The occupation must end," Winkler insisted, "The right of return must be addressed," because "occupation never works anywhere, anytime."  Since Winkler was citing "occupation" in relation to "right of return," was he comparing pre-1967 Israel with the occupied territories? He professes to support Israel, but his endorsing the Nakba narrative, and the accompanying "right of return" demand, undermines that claim.

Islamic cleric Shaker al-Sayed of a northern Virginia mosque also spoke at the Methodist Building and not so indirectly questioned whether Israel merited further existence, according to a report by my assistant Rebekah Sharpe. The imam, citing the Old Testament expectation that Abraham's descendants remain righteous, suggested that Israel's Jews of today were not. "So long as Israel fails that condition, Israel can have all the might to exist, but not the right to exist." he suggested, also quoting from the Koran.  

Another speaker was self-described Nakba survivor Mrs. Afaf Zalatimo Ayish, who recalled that prior to 1948, "Everybody used to live together and have a good time until the Israelis started the war. They started shooting every place. They killed millions of people." When her family fled to Jordan, she remembered, "We saw the people who came, refugees, by the hundreds. No food, no water, nothing, just the clothes on them. We didn't have anything to help with; we didn't have enough food for ourselves."

Echoing similar themes at the Methodist Building was Thomas Neu, Executive Director of Friends of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), who said: "I can certainly believe that there was a Nakba because it's still going on. The people in Gaza, they feel the danger all the time."

The reception at the Methodist Building unveiled a photo show chronicling the supposed horrors of Israel's creation. The exhibit originated with Sabeel, the Jerusalem-based think tank for Palestinian liberation theology that draws "parallels between Christ's experience under occupation and the current situation in Israel-Palestine." In November, Sabeel hosted its seventh international conference on the West Bank, in coordination with the missions agencies of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The theme was "THE NAKBA: MEMORY, REALITY AND BEYOND."

More than 200 pro-Palestinian Christians from around the world attended the Sabeel event, whose manifesto lamented the "tragic events" of 60 years ago and the 750,000 refugees "who have not been allowed to return to their homes since 1948." The Nakba, the Sabeel crowd averred, was a "catastrophe that has been imposed and is still being imposed on the people of Palestine -- continues unabated and unrestrained." Inevitably, the Sabeel proclamation demanded "the right of return for Palestinian refugees" back to pre-1967 Israel.

Western church groups that support Sabeel and unquestioningly broadcast the Nakba mythology claim they affirm Israel's existence.  But what kind of Israel do they affirm: The current majority Jewish nation, or a future Islamic successor that is populated by "refugee" claimants to Nakba victimhood, who drive their "persecutors" into the sea?

Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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