The Nakba nar­ra­tive now dom­i­nates

The Pales­tinian ‘dis­as­ter’ framed much of the UK me­dia’s cov­er­age of Is­rael’s 60th


ANY­ONE TUN­ING into Jeremy Bowen’s doc­u­men­tary Birth of Is­rael, re­viewed be­low, would in­stantly recog­nise the progress the re­vi­sion­ists and the Pales­tini­ans have made in fram­ing the his­tory of the Jewish state. No longer is it suf­fi­cient to record how Ben-Gu­rion and his gen­er­als re­pelled five Arab armies in the af­ter­math of the United Na­tions vote in favour of the Jewish state.

In­stead, jour­nal­ists mark­ing Is­rael’s 60th birth­day feel the need to frame the nar­ra­tive in terms of what the Arabs call the Nakba, or the catas­tro­phe. Any­one tun­ing into Bowen, for in­stance, might eas­ily as­sume that Is­rael owes its ex­is­tence to a se­ries of mas­sacres per­pe­trated by the Ir­gun, the Stern Gang and Ha­ganah, aimed at dis­pos­sess­ing the Pales­tinian Arabs, rather than an ex­is­ten­tial war.

Among those buy­ing into the re­vi­sion­ist his­tory is Jo­hann Hari in the In­de­pen­dent. Quot­ing Is­raeli his­to­rian Ilan Pappe, he notes that when the state was born in 1948, “Plan Dalit” came into op­er­a­tion. The goal was in­tim­i­da­tion of the of the Arab pop­u­la­tion aimed at forcibly evict­ing a peo­ple. As a re­sult, he as­serts, 800,000 Arabs “were eth­ni­cally cleansed”.

A sim­i­lar nar­ra­tive, on a hu­man scale, is of­fered by Rory McCarthy in The Guardian. He traces the his­tory of the el­e­gant “Hal­lak” house in the Tal­bieh dis­trict of Jerusalem. Oc­cu­pied be­fore 1948 by an ex­tended fam­ily of Pales­tinian Chris­tians, it fell vic­tim to the UN’s failed at­tempts at par­ti­tion. On a spring day, he records, Jewish of­fi­cials drove through Tal­bieh in­struct­ing Pales­tini­ans to leave their homes im­me­di­ately be­cause of a shoot­ing. The fam­ily re­moved them­selves to the Old City.

But they were not al­lowed back, and like 700,000 other Arabs who fled or were forced out in 1948, the Hal­lak home was given over to Jewish refugees from the Shoah. It is a mov­ing story, all the more con­vinc­ing for its hu­man­ity. How­ever, it pro­vides none of the his­tor­i­cal con­text of the siege of Jerusalem, the im­pact of Arab me­dia af­ter the al­leged mas­sacre at Deir Yassin on April 9-11, 1948, or the threat of Arab armies to push Jews into the sea.

The Guardian bal­ances the dou­ble-page spread on the house with com­men­tary by Mid­dle East ed­i­tor Ian Black. He care­fully lists Is­rael’s re­mark­able achieve­ments in science, agri­cul­ture and tech­nol­ogy and in­sert­ing democ­racy into a re­gion where there was none.

Mean­while, the Fi­nan­cial Times’s Jerusalem correspondent To­bias Buck chose to see Is­rael’s 60th through the eyes of Asher Gore, then a young diplo­mat present in the UN cham­ber when it voted in Novem­ber 1947 to di­vide the ter­ri­tory be­tween Jews and Arabs.

“The real achieve­ment was not the vote but the war of 1948 in which Is­rael de­feated an in­va­sion by mul­ti­ple Arab armies.” The FT’s in­for­ma­tion box felt no need to re­fer to the Nakba. It noted fac­tu­ally that “Is­rael de­feated its at­tack­ers, 700,000 Pales­tini­ans fled Is­raeli-con­trolled ter­ri­tory.”

In the Sun­day Tele­graph, the Jerusalem Post ed­i­tor David Horovitz drew at­ten­tion to how Is­rael has been be­smirched in the land of his birth. “In the UK the malev­o­lent por­trayal of Is­rael as an il­le­git­i­mate colo­nial usurper has moved from the prov­ince of the far-Left in­ex­orably to the main­stream.” This at a time when Iran threat­ens the ex­is­tence of the Jewish state in much the same way as the Arab armies in 1948.

The shame­ful thing, as Me­lanie Phillips notes in the Spec­ta­tor cover story, is that the re­vi­sion­ist his­to­ri­ans have bought into “Arab dis­in­for­ma­tion”. Af­ter watch­ing the Birth of Is­rael and delv­ing into the press cov­er­age, one recog­nises how cor­ro­sive this process has be­come.

Alex Brum­mer is City Ed­i­tor of the Daily Mail

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