Did the "Nakba" Happen?

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A reader named Jeet Heer writes to ask:

Quick question: why is Nakba in quotes in your recent post? Do you think that the Nakba didn't happen?

The war that gave Jews freedom in their ancient homeland three years after the Holocaust was not a "catastrophe," which is what "nakba" means in Arabic. Did the war result in misery and displacement for a great number of Arabs? Yes. Did it result in misery and displacement for a great number of Jews as well? Yes. Was the misery of the Arabs brought about in large part by the bad decision-making of their leaders? Yes. Arab leaders made the decision to reject the United Nations plan to divide Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab countries, and then they attacked the reborn Jewish country, promising the annihilation of its inhabitants. And then they proceeded to lose. Many of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine suffered as a result of their leaders' failure to annihilate the Jews.

Was the misery of the Jews who were displaced from Arab countries brought about by the decision of Arab leaders? Also yes. The difference between these competing miseries is that the Arabs who professed brotherhood with their displaced cousins did nothing to help them. The Jews who professed brotherhood with their displaced cousins resettled them in Israel.

So, no, the "nakba" didn't happen. The return of a persecuted people to its ancient homeland is what happened. And a series of disastrous mistakes some made by the returned Jews, most made by the Arabs, resulted in what Arabs refer to as a catastrophe, a catastrophe which, of course, could have been mitigated at many points along the way, most recently following the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza four years ago. But, alas, not yet.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, Goldberg also writes the magazine's advice column. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. Previously, he served as a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward, and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

His book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. Goldberg rthe recipient of the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism. He is also the recipient of 2005's Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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