May 15, the day Israelis and most of the world celebrate the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 every year, is a painful day for Palestinians, whose experience of that day and history is very different from the Israeli history. Popular news media run stories on this day about Palestinian violence and anger at the creation of Israel, yet they present no context for the situation. Indeed, this year protests saw the Israelis killing 12 people near the borders and a youth in Jerusalem, who was most likely shot by a settler group that has been evicted by the Israelis themselves for illegally occupying their house in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. Hundreds more were wounded or detained in various protests all throughout the West Bank.
In popular news media, there is often little explanation that the Palestinians are grieving the past and lamenting the present, where to this day the longest military occupation in history is still going strong. The reality of what happened in the Holy Land in 1947-48 – and well before – is sharply different for Palestinians than for Israelis. For Palestinians, this is the Nakba – the catastrophe – when between 700,000 and 800,000 people were expelled from their homes and over 500 villages were destroyed.
Most Americans know the story as it was portrated in the movie Exodus by Leon Uris starring Paul Neuman, where it looks like the little country of Israel was inexplicably attacked when it declared itself a state by 5 large Arab nations who had many more men and weapons than Israel. More and more Israeli historians point to a very different reality. Using material from Israel’s archives, they say Israeli paramilitary groups (some deemed terrorist by the British, all very well-armed) targeted many villages, indeed even carried out massacres and violent expulsions, so that the people would flee. Disorganized action by these Arab countries didn’t offer much effective resistance and they were outnumbered and outgunned. This is according to some new Israeli historians like Ilan Pappe, who also says that about half of the refugees and half of the villages were destroyed before the creation of the state of Israel was even declared.
Much of the “violence” of this day is in fact non-violent protest and civil disobedience that is met by Israeli tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and detention of those participating. Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, a well-known non-violent peace protester, has been detained and is still in prison as of this writing.
It is also noteworthy that the Israeli government just passed a law that makes discussing the Nakba (which they say negates the reality of the Jewish state) cause for threatening a public organization’s funding. While the first one, which made it a crime to mention the word Nakba, only passed on part of the Parliament, a milder version passed that says this: “any body that is funded by the state, or a public institute that is supported by the state, will be barred from allocating money to activity that involves the negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people; the negation of the state’s democratic character; support for armed struggle, or terror acts by an enemy or a terror organization against the state of Israel; incitement to racism, violence and terror and dishonoring the national flag or the national symbol.”
See one Israeli organization defying this law.
Part two of the video on the Nakba can be seen at http://youtu.be/jYvimRnlTqE.
View the more traditional Israeli view of history in the History Channel’s The Birth of a Nation .(it is in 10 parts)