Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Catastrophe

May 14: Anticipating Nakba Day

On May 15, 1948, Israel declared its 'independence', and the new Jewish state was born.  War was already underway in Palestine, with the struggle increasing in intensity in the early spring of 1948.  In March of that year, the Jewish guerrilla groups had adopted 'Plan Dalet', a blueprint for an offensive across all of Mandate Palestine, with the initial objective of forcing corridors and passages between the areas allotted to the Zionist movement under the terms of the UN Partition Plan of November 1947.  The fragmentary Palestinian forces and leadership, weakened and lacking experience and equipment since the great revolt of 1936-1939, collapsed under Haganah pressure, and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine began.  'Defenders of Israel' who like to point out that the new state was invaded by Arab armies on the day of its independence tend to forget that by May 15, 1948, 250,000 Palestinians had already fled the Mandate territory, driven out and terrorized by massacres such as that at Deir Yassin (also written as Dayr Yassin) in April of that year.

Over against the official memory of Israeli 'independence' (I am always rather mystified as to exactly what it was that Israel was declaring its independence from - the Ottomans were gone, the British were leaving, and no Arab alternative was capable of emerging), the Palestinian communities assert their counter-memory of 'an-nakba' - the catastrophe. Between the voting through of the Partition Plan at the UN in late 1947, and the eventual armistice in early 1949, an estimated 700,000 - 800,000 Palestinians left their homes in fear or at gunpoint, or in terror of real or rumoured slaughter.  The Zionist exultation at winning a territorial state is shadowed by the grief, exile, longing, fury, humiliation and chaos of the Palestinian dispersal. The Whiggish Israeli story contains within itself, as its dark and bloody condition of possibility, the grim and disastrous Palestinian story.   Edward Said used to point out how the success of the Zionist 'narrative' had been its capacity to interdict, in both the most brutally literal manner as well as as in the lofty realm of ideas, the Palestinian 'narrative', and in fact actually to erase its territorial ground.

One of the features of the emergence of the Israeli 'New History' in the 1980s was its edging of an Israeli account of what happened in 1947-1949 much closer to accounts that had long been given by Palestinian historians of the Nakba. One of the most distinguished of those historians was Walid Khalidi.  Khalidi's masterpiece is an epic and wrenching book entitled All That Remains - a painstaking gazetteer, complete with maps and photographs, of every one of the more than 400 Palestinian villages which were cleansed, evacuated, and eventually bulldozed and destroyed by Israel at this time.  The Guardian has published an 'interactive map', which chillingly illustrates the logic of this process of clearing Palestinian communities over this period, in a succession of simple and effective maps.  It's worth looking at, as we prepare ourselves for the windy rhetoric of official Israeli celebrations:

The Arab villages lost since Israel's war of independence - interactive 

Verso is one of the Anglophone world's best leftwing publishers, with a good record of putting out valuable books on Israel/Palestine.  Here is a Nakba reading list, from the Verso site:

Nakba Day: A Reading List


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