Thursday, May 17, 2012

They brought the catastrophe upon themselves

They brought the catastrophe upon themselves

Dan Margalit

Nakba Day (Day of Catastrophe), which many Arabs mark on the day Israel was established, has had its ups and downs. A year ago the border was breached in the north and one demonstrator from Syria infiltrated Jaffa. This year on Nakba Day rocks were hurled at Jews near Hebron.

But the debate took on a new dimension this year, as it focused on the very principle of allowing Arab demonstrators, and the handful of their Jewish supporters, to stage an event on the Tel Aviv University campus. The university administration had agreed to the event, but refused – as it should – to fund it. A group of students staged a counter-demonstration – also, as they should. Such a public debate is a perfect example of democracy, its very essence, and as long as the debate does not involve violence or law-breaking, it must be protected.

What is more, every Israeli Arab knows that the catastrophe that befell his or her people in 1948 was caused first and foremost, actually exclusively, by the Arab leadership.

The newspaper Haaretz went as far as to say on Tuesday that the Nakba was part of the story of Israel's establishment. This kind of statement would almost be acceptable if it had been made in a context that was anywhere near historical accuracy.

In certain respects, Israel could have used the concept of the Nakba in order to instill a balanced view among Arab youth. In sweeping the Nakba under the rug and refraining from teaching it in schools, Israel basically left it up to pro-Palestinian propagandists to teach this difficult chapter in history. They, in turn, avoided any real debate and turned the Nakba into an ax with which to carve out their nationalistic views.

Educators, historians, archaeologists and international experts – both Jewish and Palestinian – still have time to strike a balance. Such a balanced narrative would be based on these fundamental principles: The Arabs brought the catastrophe upon themselves when they rejected the U.N. partition plan, which would have seen two states established for two peoples. They opted for war, in what was the peak of the anti-Jewish policy that had gotten progressively more extreme ever since the 1929 Hebron massacre.

The myth surrounding the Jews' intention to attack mosques on the Temple Mount (“The ‘Al-Aksa Is in Danger’ Libel: The History of a Lie,” Nadav Shragai's new book) and the Arabs' support of the Nazis throughout World War II were only the introduction to the catastrophe that the Arabs brought upon themselves in 1948.

Intelligent people who observe the factual details understand that from that point forward, the Jews acted as any other people would have. The Jews take no responsibility for what happened, but the humane nature of Judaism prompts the Jews to show understanding and sympathy for others' suffering and to take part in the rehabilitation of Palestinian refugees, wherever they live, or in a future sovereign state, but not in Israel.

The Nakba is the Palestinians' pain, but the justification of the Jews. Israel will never repeat the mistake made by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who offered to absorb thousands of Palestinian refugees in Israel. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas fled from Olmert's proposal, sparing the Jews from that embarrassing and cumbersome chapter.

As long as the Jews cultivate the notion that there is not, and never will be, a Palestinian right of return, there is no reason why we shouldn't show understanding and sympathy for the Palestinian refugees and their bitter fate. Sympathy for the fact that they left their homes in Haifa and in Jaffa of their own free will, and were subsequently taken in by unsympathetic neighboring countries and Arab brothers who didn't show too much interest in their future.