“Palestinian” means “Nakba”

I wonder about a people that is willing to define itself from the get-go as a failure: The Nakba is the pivotal event that turned a group of long-term residents, remnants of the colonial take-over of ancient Israel (among other lands), together with more recently arrived economic migrants into a supposed nation. The Van Leer Institute supports this and will be holding a conference in honour of the publication of a new book on the Holocaust and Nakba as if these are parallel traumas for equivalent nations.

If you had any doubt about the formative nature of the massive defeat of the Arabs on “Palestinian” nationhood, Prof. Gabriel Motzkin, director of the Van Leer Institute himself acknowledges the link. He says:

We are in a better situation than them [the Palestinians], because we have a history from before the Holocaust,” argued Motzkin, mentioning the long history of Judaism. However, “the Palestinians didn’t exist before the Nakba,” they came into being because of what was a traumatic event for them, he said.

Is that traumatic defeat of the Arab nations sufficient to determine a new nationhood for a small segment of the vanquished? Well, only if you want to use those particular human beings as pawns with the ultimate goal of wiping out the Jews. Think of it — had the Arab states absorbed the refugees who fled from the war-torn area (regardless of WHY they fled), there would be nobody claiming Palestinian statehood now. There just would not be. In such a case, let the entire Arab World commemorate their Nakba — in their own states! But not here in Israel.

I refuse to venerate an event, a particular interpretation of which is being used to deny the legitimacy of my people’s homeland. I can empathize with other people’s traumas. I refuse to automatically celebrate them because that is the politically correct thing to do. If I am in Jordan or Egypt or Syria or Saudi Arabia or any other country that is marking the Nakba and the nation stands still for a minute of silence, I will stand still out of respect to the country I am visiting. I will not do that on my own soil where “Nakba” means failing to have killed off my people.

I am open to discussing the emotional, sociological and historical impact of the defeat of the Arabs with my fellow Arab citizens of Israel and of surrounding nations. I would happily do so, in fact. There is much I want to work out within myself regarding my own biases, misunderstandings and insufficient knowledge. Unfortunately, I have so far had the experience that I must admit to Israeli guilt for Arab misfortune/miscalculation from the outset of any discussion at pain of being labeled and dismissed. I would hope that such a discussion could include an exploration of many Arabs’ willingness to be defined by failure and their statehood to be established on victimhood.

Some would say that Israel was founded on the Holocaust (Jewish victimhood) but that is simply not true. It is a convenient lie some tell in order to diminish us as a nation. What is ironic is that many of these same people also deny the Holocaust itself. Go figure!

I do not agree with Im Tirzu’s request that the event be cancelled. If, in fact, the book contains chapters that are critical of the book even having been published, as Motzkin claims, then perhaps there is even an interesting discussion going on. But I do not need to listen to Arabs talk about the Nakba in order for them to listen to Jews go on and on about the Holocaust; while both the Holocaust and the expulsion of about 800,000 from Arab countries were traumatic events, these were not nation-forming events and if they want to know the history, that is fine with me, but I don’t need it from them. We were a nation long before that — we are an ancient nation. And the point is — those who call themselves Palestinians today were not a nation before the Nakba; in fact, most of them refused to call themselves Palestinians before the 1980s, when the tactics for fighting us Jews changed.

So again I want to ask: why would a new young nation want to accept a self-definition based on failure? I can actually imagine a young proud Palestinian Arab nation based on redefining itself as the state of the Arabs who were smart enough to turn around having been used as pawns into becoming a modern democratic nation. Can they pick up that gauntlet and face a brave new world alongside the proud modern democratic Jewish nation?

A proud Palestine that wanted to be defined by success and achievement would be a Palestine that would truly be a partner in peace.

About the Author
Sheri Oz, owner of, is a retired family therapist exploring mutual interactions between politics and Israeli society.
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