Sammy Stein

The ‘Nakba’ was originally about Arab failure

On ‘Nakba Day’, we should recognise that the man who conceived the idea was describing the inability of the Arabs to stop the establishment of the State of Israel


Palestinian youths during a rally in Hebron on 15 May 2024, marking the "Nakba" (Photo by HAZEM BADER/AFP via Getty Images)

May 15, 2024 12:25

Palestinian groups and their supporters have termed the creation of 700,000 Arab refugees in 1948 as the Nakba (“catastrophe”) and it is annually commemorated on 15 May. But this widely used term of abuse against Israel ironically originated as a criticism of the Arab nations.

In August 1948 Constantin Zurayk, the Syrian Arab Christian, defined the term Nakba in a book and then a pamphlet written after the Arab-Israeli war, when seven Arab states went to war against the newly independent state of Israel. Zurayk described the Nakba as the catastrophic failure by the Arabs to stop the establishment of the State of Israel, as “Seven Arab states declare war on Zionism in Palestine, stop impotent before it, and then turn on their heels”.

In his pamphlet, “The Meaning of the Disaster”, Zurayk wrote that, “The representatives of the Arabs deliver fiery speeches in the highest international forums, warning what the Arab states and peoples will do if this or that decision be enacted. Declarations fall like bombs from the mouths of officials at the meetings of the Arab League, but when action becomes necessary, the fire is still and quiet, the steel and iron are rusted and twisted, quick to bend and disintegrate. The bombs are hollow and empty. They cause no damage and kill no one”.

Zurayk pointed out that in 1948 the Arab states were still young, with small, ill-equipped armies. “Seven states seek the abolition of partition and the subduing of Zionism, but they leave the battle having lost a not inconsiderable portion of the soil of Palestine, even of the part given to the Arabs in the partition. They are forced to accept a truce in which there is neither advantage nor gain for them”

In pointing out the difference between the struggle faced by the Jews and the Arabs, Zurayk wrote that, “These Zionists do not have the characteristics of a united nation, for they are from widely separate lands, speak different languages, and follow different ways. Their only common bonds are religion and suffering. Despite these facts the idea has united them, sharpened by their determination, and created in them the unflinching will to struggle so that, by this will and by their unconditional acceptance of modern civilisation, they have almost accomplished that which is unnatural, whereas, that which is natural to the Arabs – that they form a nation – is not as yet accomplished. Here is the decisive difference!”

Zurayk criticised the Arabs of Palestine as weak and impotent. He further wrote that as soon as “the first bombs fell on them, they fled and evacuated their cities and their strongholds, and surrendered them to the enemy on a silver platter.” This led to the situation that a large number of them fled even before the battle had taken place and they took refuge in other Arab countries and in remote regions of Palestine.

Zurayk summarised his concerns by providing an accurate picture of the future where a Jewish state established in Palestine would be “internationally secured through recognition by the United Nations and by individual states”. He believed that the country would eventually have the “largest Air Force in the Near East and God forbid, a merchant marine and a fleet which will dominate these shores in their entirety as well as an organised, mechanised army supported by abundant material and the most hellish modern weapons.” Furthermore he could see a future where this state “will open its doors to thousands of immigrants who will pour into it from Europe and to millions of dollars which will flood it from America. Thus it will become a human and financial force which will be difficult to contain in its own area and which will overflow into the remainder of the Arab countries by every possible means and thus constitute, during a situation of world disturbance, a great danger for those countries”.

In the intervening 76 years, the Nakba which Zurayk defined as the failure of ineffectual Arab states to achieve “the abolition of partition and the subduing of Zionism” whilst also leaving the battle “having lost a not inconsiderable portion of the soil of Palestine” has been disingenuously redefined by the Israel haters as the expulsion of Palestinians and creation of refugees from the future state of Israel and areas that could have been included in a state of Palestine.

Zurayk made no mention of the Palestinians as a people - he defined the Nakba as the self-inflicted wound of the Arabs, not of Israel.

The politicised hijacking of the term Nakba which bemoaned the absence of pan-Arab unity and castigated Arabs for their failings has become a term of abuse against Israel and is a calculated and continuous act of deception designed to absolve Arab states of blame and condemn Israel for successfully defending itself against attack.

Zurayk had a prophetic view of the Arab youth at the time. He noted that, “The young men of this nation look around in all directions, but on the one hand they do not find their ideal within the present leadership, nor on the other hand do the struggles of the disjointed nationalist cliques satisfy their eager ambition; thus despair overcomes them, and perplexity overflows in their souls. They end either by doubting their own nation and despairing of the potentialities of their people, in which case they follow a path leading toward satisfaction of desire and yielding to temptation, or else they fall prey to some destructive movement and find their consolation in uproar and disturbance for its own sake, regardless of result”

This prophecy has been borne out with the relentless and pointless terrorism by Hamas, Hezbollah and before them the PLO against Israel. The continued desperate levels of hatred against the Jewish state demonstrated clearly just how devastating the Nakba or Arab failure has been for Arab hope and Arab lives.

The catastrophe of the Nakba remains the refusal of the Arab nations in 1948 to accept the UN proposition of the Partition for Palestine. If they had we would be celebrating the 76th birthday not only of Israel but also of a Palestinian State.

Sammy Stein is chair of Glasgow Friends of Israel

May 15, 2024 12:25

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