Nakba


I have been called out. I spent some time yesterday trying to compose an instagram post about the ongoing violence in Israel/Palestine that wouldn’t offend anyone. I was to say something that was, at the same time, profound and innocuous, and not result in a stream of abusive comments. I ended up doing the one thing that I so dislike in others - virtue-signalling. I got it wrong!


Thankfully, one of my friends from the region called me out on it. So I am writing what I really think here, in a piece long enough to capture the mixture of emotions I feel about the place, the peoples and the conflict.


Today is the anniversary of the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948. It is the day Palestinians have come to regard as the Nakba, the disaster. The newly-created United Nations had recommended a two-state solution to the ‘problem’ of British-mandate Palestine, and proposed partition and international administration of the most contentious area. Like previous partition plans in the parts of the world - most notably in Ireland and India - it was welcomed by the minority community and rejected by the majority. And, as in Ireland and India, its imposition resulted in violence, displacement of civilians and ongoing tensions. Looking back, it is hard to credit the sheer level of hubris on the part of those who believed that drawing lines on a map of someone else’s country would magically result in peace and harmony.


This is not a piece about ‘what if’s’: what if the Palestinians and surrounding Arab nations had accepted the 1947 UN Partition Plan; what id Jordan and Egypt had created an independent Palestine in Gaza and the West Bank during their administration of the areas; what if the British had fulfilled their promises to the League of Nations when the took on the mandate for the region and created an independent nation in what is now Israel, Palestine and Jordan?


What is absolutely clear over the past century is that the Palestinians have very few friends, either in the region, or beyond. As surrounding Arab states get fed up with the decades-long stand off with Israel and move towards normalizing diplomatic relations, so the Palestinians are marginalised even more. The cause of the Palestinians is increasingly the preserve of the far Left in Western politics and those small nations whose voices are drowned out by superpower rivalries.


As the case for Palestinian statehood slips down the international agenda, so the rhetoric ramps up. The word of the moment is ‘apartheid’, designed to evoke bad memories and stir the consciences of those who battled to overthrow the racist government of South Africa in the 70s and 80s. For me, the trouble with the use of the term is not whether it is appropriate, but that it serves well those who wish to distract from what is really at issue. Instead of providing a laser focus on the increasingly desperate plight of Palestinians in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank - and Jordan, Syria and Lebanon - it simply fuels an argument about semantics and anti-Semitism. In all this, the Palestinians get lost.