Why Alderman is wrong about the Naqba

Wounds won’t heal if we seek to dismiss the Arab suffering of 1948

By Sir Jeremy Beecham, August 13, 2009

For nearly 2,000 years, Jews have commemorated the catastrophe of the destruction of the Temple with a day of fasting, Tisha B’Av. It is ironic, therefore, that the very next day, this year, Geoffrey Alderman should criticise the use of the term naqba — Arabic for “catastrophe” — by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in reference to the events of 1948.

How else should one describe the flight of 700,000 people from their homes, land and possessions, whether induced by fear, guilt, Israeli state policy, the cynical encouragement of the Arab States which declared war on Israel, or any combination of these factors? Jews, of all people, exiled and dispossessed for countless generations, might be expected to have an understanding of the sense of loss such a mass-migration engendered.

At least Mr Alderman does not extend his callous dismissal of the sensibilities of the Palestinian citizens of Israel to endorsing the campaign of strident right-wingers to criminalise commemoration of the Naqba. But he errs significantly in claiming that Israeli Arabs “can take full advantage of the educational and economic opportunities the Jewish state provides”.

True, Israel’s 20 per cent Arab minority have much greater access to democratic and legal rights, and higher material standards of life than most of their brethren in an Arab world dominated by totalitarian and corrupt regimes. That, however, is not the comparison they draw, and nor should we. The more relevant comparison is with their Jewish fellow citizens, and here the reality is much less acceptable.

Expenditure on education is much greater, per head, for Jewish children than Arab. Planning policy, land allocation and development budgets are heavily and disproportionately weighted in favour of Jewish as opposed to Arab areas. The “natural growth” which Binyamin Netanyahu claims as the rationale for increased building in settlements in the West Bank is denied to Israel’s own Arab communities, where provision of new housing is lamentably lacking. The recent budget continues, indeed exacerbates, the unequal distribution of resources criticised years ago by the official Or Commission which reported on the second intifada, stating that the government “did not show sufficient sensitivity to the needs of the Arab population or take enough action in order to allocate state resources in an equal manner”.

How else can one describe the flight of 700,000 people from their homes?

If Israel’s Arab citizens are to feel fully part of the state, and contribute to its economic development — and the wounds of the Naqba to heal — then Israel must tackle the disadvantage and discrimination they suffer. This, after all, is what its Declaration of Independence pledged.

Sir Jeremy Beecham is a Labour councillor in Newcastle

Last updated: 1:51pm, August 13 2009