The Other 'Nakba'

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Today is the day Palestinians commemorate the "Nakba," the "disaster" that brought about the rebirth of Israel. I'm an advocate of a Palestinian state on 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza (with land swaps, obviously -- the nefarious Obama plan that the majority of Israelis also endorse) and of a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, but what I won't do is label as a "nakba" a war that saw the 600,000 Jews of Palestine prevent their own slaughter at the hands of invading Arab armies.

The Middle East suffers today from the crucial mistakes made by Arab leaders in the late 1940s. The United Nations, you'll recall, voted to divide Palestine into two equal halves, one for a Jewish state, the other for an Arab state. The Jews accepted the plan; the Arab leadership, thinking its armies were strong enough to annihilate the Jews, invaded, and then proceeded to lose. As a consequence of the war, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians became refugees -- some were expelled by Jewish forces in the course of fighting, some fled, others were encouraged to leave by their leaders. Today, many of the descendants of these refugees are still warehoused in camps with the approval of the Arab states which, one might think, would have paid to resettle these descendants of refugees. Other refugee populations from the  tumultuous period following World War II have all been resettled, obviously.

The disaster, in other words, was the result of a series of mistakes made the leaders of the Arab states in 1948. There is not much recognition of this fact. Instead, those who romanticize the "nakba" argue that the Jews did not have a right to any slice of their historic homeland and that the Arabs were right to try to strangle the Jewish state at birth.

The Arab-Israeli parliamentarian Ahmed Tibi, speaking in commemoration of this day, said, "Recognition and empathy of the others' suffering is a lofty, humane value and a step towards peace between nations." This is absolutely true. Israelis should recognize that innocent Palestinians suffered because of their country's War of Independence. Palestinians today are not to blame for the current situation. But it is also true that men like Tibi should interrogate themselves about why the Palestinians became stateless. If Palestinian Arabs could bring themselves to recognize the simple fact that the Jewish people are from Palestine, much good would come.

This is not a commentary on Israel post-1967. The war that brought the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank under Israeli control in 1967 was not of Israel's making, but efforts following that war to colonize the land with Jewish settlers in order to deny it to a future Palestinian state, well, these efforts have been a nakba for everyone. I'm not arguing that without settlements there would today be a Palestinian state on the West Bank and peace throughout the land, but I do know the chance for peace would be much greater if Israel didn't succumb to temptation and settle these territories. But "The Nakba"? Palestinians should open themselves up to the idea that this nakba was avoidable. And if this Nakba had been avoided, a lot of other disasters would have been avoided, as well.

And speaking of nakbas, here is a report about another, more silent nabka, one that caused the movement of 850,000 people across the Middle East, but one that doesn't get that much attention, in part because these refugees were cared for by their brethren. Matti Friedman writes about a different nakba, a Jewish nakba.

I have spent a great deal of time in the past four years interviewing people born and raised in Aleppo, Syria. Some of these people, most of whom are now in their eighties, are descended from families with roots in Aleppo going back more than two millennia, to Roman times. None of them lives there now.

On November 30, 1947, a day after the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into two states, one for Arabs and one for Jews, Aleppo erupted. Mobs stalked Jewish neighborhoods, looting houses and burning synagogues; one man I interviewed remembered fleeing his home, a barefoot nine-year-old, moments before it was set on fire. Abetted by the government, the rioters burned 50 Jewish shops, five schools, 18 synagogues and an unknown number of homes. The next day the Jewish community's wealthiest families fled, and in the following months the rest began sneaking out in small groups, most of them headed to the new state of Israel. They forfeited their property, and faced imprisonment or torture if they were caught. Some disappeared en route. But the risk seemed worthwhile: in Damascus, the capital, rioters killed 13 Jews, including eight children, in August 1948, and there were similar events in other Arab cities.

At the time of the UN vote, there were about 10,000 Jews in Aleppo. By the mid-1950s there were 2,000, living in fear of the security forces and the mob. By the early 1990s no more than a handful remained, and today there are none. Similar scripts played out across the Islamic world. Some 850,000 Jews were forced from their homes.

Read the whole thing.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly 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.

Goldberg's 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. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. 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.

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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