The Nakba narrative now dominates

By Alex Brummer, May 2, 2008

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.

Last updated: 11:19am, June 4 2008