The War in Ukraine Makes a Mockery of the Palestinian Narrative

The Palestine narrative runs like this: in 1948, in creating the State of Israel, European Jewish colonialists displaced the indigenous Palestinians from their land, dispossessing around 700,000 refugees. The narrative labels this seminal event as the “Nakba” or catastrophe. Subsequently, the Jews illegally occupied additional land in the West Bank of Jordan which occupation continues to this day. From time to time, the Israelis attack Palestinians indiscriminately in Gaza resulting in massive civilian casualties. The moral of this story is that the State of Israel has no legitimate right to exist.

The problem with the Palestinian narrative is that its key words (catastrophe, displaced refuges, occupation, civilian casualties) have no connection with the reality they describe. They have been misappropriated from other contexts to create a tale of Palestinian victimhood. The Palestinians have weaponized story telling for propaganda purposes.

This has recently been made apparent by the current war in Ukraine. There, the words of the Palestinian narrative have real meaning and accurately reflect facts on the ground for all to see. Contrasting the real and tragic situation in Ukraine with the fantasy world created by Palestinian apologists exposes the Palestinian narrative for what it is: a lie. No different from Trump’s narrative that “the election was stolen,” or the anti-vaxxers’ narrative that COVID vaccines cause COVID.

Not all narratives are equal or true. As the late Senator from New York and United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Catastrophe. The Palestinians’ narrative begins with the “Nakba,” (the catastrophe), in their view, the creation of the State of Israel. Israel was established, in part, as a result of the Holocaust, the genocidal extermination of Jewish civilization in Europe, the mass murder of six million Jews. A real Nakba if there ever was one. However, Israel’s establishment was sanctioned by the United Nations. At the same time, the United Nations offered the Palestinians their own sovereign independent state which they declined. That rejection is the actual Nakba missing in the traditional Palestinian narrative.

In sharp contrast to the Palestinians’ situation and underscoring the misuse of the term “catastrophe” in their narrative is the current war in Ukraine. Ukraine today is what an actual catastrophe looks like. Russia has launched an unprovoked war on another sovereign nation, resulting in millions of refugees and thousands of civilians killed in indiscriminate missile attacks. Russia’s intent is to wipe Ukraine off the map. Ukraine is experiencing an actual Nakba. The war in Ukraine makes a mockery of the Palestinians’ appropriation of that damning word, more accurately applied to an event like the Holocaust or the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Displacement and Refugees. In the Palestinian narrative, during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, some 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes and became refugees in other countries. They remain so to this day and their numbers have grown to over 5.7 million (in an Orwellian twist, the world has applied a unique and singular meaning to the case of Palestinian refugees (and only Palestinian refugees) whereby refugee status is inherited and hence the number of refugees grows over time). However, there is no basis in fact that the Israelis intentionally displaced Palestinians during its War for Independence. Rather, the record reflects that the Israeli government urged its Arab residents to remain in Israel and become citizens of the new state (as many did, now comprising twenty percent of Israel’s population). The Palestinians that did flee the fighting were not welcomed with open arms by their Palestinian brothers in Jordan or other Arab countries. Instead, they were placed in squalid refugee camps were they remain to this day insisting on a delusional “right of return” to their former homes in Israel after seventy years.

In sharp contrast, over three million Ukrainian refugees, mostly woman and children (while the men remained to fight) have fled Ukraine in just the first three weeks of the war in Ukraine. They have been met with open arms by neighboring countries, provided visas, health benefits, and employment opportunities. It is impossible to believe that their refugee status will be inherited and become permanent for generations or, in the event of a Russian victory in the war, that their great grandchildren will insist on a “right of return” seventy years from now.

According to the United Nations, there are eighty-four million forcibly displaced persons in the world today and twenty-six million refugees. Most forcibly displaced persons eventually settle down in other countries reducing the number of refugees over time (for example, in 1948, at the time that 700,000 Palestinians were allegedly “displaced” from Israel, over 800,000 Jews were displaced from Arab countries where their families had lived for centuries and eventually settled in Israel or other countries). But not the Palestinian “refugees.” They have remained refugees and have grown fruitful and multiplied, according to the Palestinian narrative. Real refugees in Ukraine and other countries give the lie to the Palestinian refugee narrative.

Occupation. At the heart of the Palestinian narrative is the myth of the Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank in Israel. Aside from the catastrophic creation of the State of Israel in the first place, champions of the Palestinian narrative proclaim that Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank of the Jordan and homes built there by Israeli “settlers” lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinian narrative fails to take into account the undisputed fact that Israel only obtained control over the West Bank in 1967 in a defensive war after being threatened with destruction by its Arab neighbors. It also fails to mention the rather significant fact that on at least six occasions Israel has offered to voluntarily leave the West Bank (as it did the Sinai in 1982, Lebanon in 2000, and Gaza in 2005) and allow the Palestinians to create their own independent state there. Offers which the Palestinians repeatedly rejected.

Again, in sharp contrast, the Russians intend a real occupation of Ukraine. They plan to take control of the country not in response to an unprovoked attack by Ukraine but as a result of an aggressive war designed to occupy the country and destroy its government. Ukrainians who remain in the country under Russian occupation will not be governed by their own leaders as residents of the West Bank are, will not run their own schools, courts, and local elections as Palestinians in the West Bank do. Quite the contrary, a Russian occupation will be a real occupation. Just as Russia’s occupation of Crimea is, China’s occupation of Tibet, and the German occupation of Europe during the Second World War was. Here again, the war in Ukraine brings into sharp focus the difference between reality and the Palestinians’ perverse distortion of reality.

Civilian Casualties. Over the years, the Palestinian narrative has been augmented by several conflicts in Gaza. The story goes that Israelis needlessly and intentionally target civilian locations resulting in death and destruction. Of course, this narrative neglects to mention that the Hamas leadership in Gaza (elected by the Palestinian people) initiates rocket attacks on Israel and purposely locates its missiles in civilian buildings such as hospitals and schools and uses innocent civilians as human shields so that, in defending itself, Israel has no choice but to target the location of Hamas’ offensive weapons, sometimes inadvertently resulting in civilian casualties. Nor does the narrative mention that before attacking, Israel makes every effort to warn the civilian population to evacuate a targeted building even going so far as to notify individuals with cell phone calls.

However, real civilian casualties take place daily in Ukraine as we speak. The Russians are pummeling apartments, maternity wards, and bread lines in Ukraine without reason and without warning. Their goal is not defensive but to purposefully spread death, destruction and mayhem throughout Ukraine’s major cities in an effort to destroy the country. The horrific deaths of civilians in Ukraine is real. The duplicitous appropriation of inadvertent civilian casualties in the Palestinian narrative is a cynical misrepresentation of reality.

If you credit the Palestinian narrative than I’ve got an unhinged narrative for you to buy: the Russian narrative that it invaded Ukraine to “denazify” the government (the one with a Jewish President), to prevent genocide against ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine, and the claim that Ukraine is not just a sovereign neighboring country, but an inalienable part of Russian history and culture. In this instance, Russia’s narrative is rightly recognized for the gross propaganda that it is. In the case of the Palestinian fabrication of history, it is credited as their “narrative.”

At the end of the day, there are facts and myths. The war in Ukraine is tragic reality based on objective facts. The Palestinian narrative is a bogus lie based on a perversion of facts. There is a big difference.

About the Author
Steve Frank is retired after a 30-year career as an appellate lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. His writings on Israel, the law and architecture have appeared in numerous publications including the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish News Syndicate and Moment magazine.