ABOUT THE NAQBA (Article by Shlomo Avineri, Yediot Ahronot, Shabbat Supplement, p. 22)

Every year, Palestinians – including those who are Israeli citizens – mark May 15 as a day of national mourning, in remembrance of the disaster, which befell Arabs in the Land of Israel in the 1948 war. As human beings and as Jews, we must be attentive to their pain and suffering: Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were uprooted from their homes – some fled, some were expelled. This is a human tragedy beyond its national dimensions. Whoever hopes for peace and reconciliation between us and the Palestinians, cannot be indifferent to their sorrow. However, whoever wishes to be attentive to the Palestinians’ pain must see things in their proper political and moral contexts. It is no coincidence that the Palestinians chose the phrase naqba, meaning “disaster”. This is a neutral term, as if one were discussing a natural disaster. But what happened to the Palestinians in 1948 was the result of a political decision on their part, and political decisions have consequences. We should say it openly and forthrightly: The Palestinians who mourn on May 15 do not believe that the decision to prevent the carrying out of the partition of the Land of Israel was either incorrect or immoral. What they regret is that they lost that war, not that they began it. It is possible to understand the heart of the Palestinians in particular and that of the Arabs in general: From their point-of-view, the Zionist settlement was an act of colonialism that came to rip away a section of the Arab homeland. Arab consciousness finds it hard to accept this fact and therefore, the Arab response to the Zionist attempt to gain a foothold in the land was, from the outset, a total war – in which the murder of civilians is considered a legitimate tool. It was not following the occupation of 1967 that the Palestinians turned to terror, in the simplest sense of the word – intentionally attacking civilians. This was the Palestinians’ modus operandi in 1920, in 1929, and in 1936-9. When the Arabs of the Land of Israel – supported by the Arab countries – decided to prevent the establishment of a Jewish in 1948, they came out against not only the Zionist movement and the Jewish community in the Land of Israel, but against international legitimacy as well. It was the UN – the sole body that expressed, however imperfectly, international legitimacy – which determined that the Jews merited a state in part of their homeland. It was the UN that accepted the Zionist claim that this was a conflict between two national movements, and which therefore saw compromise, i.e. partition, as the only fair way out. The Zionist movement – not without some reservations – accepted the principle of partition. The Arabs of the Land of Israel and the Arab countries rejected it. When four Arab states, who are members of the UN – Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq – were recruited to support the Israeli Arab armed struggle against the establishment of the Jewish state, they went to war not only against the Jewish community in the Land of Israel, but also against the UN decision. It is irrelevant that Israel has not always done what the UN expected of it; what is important is that on the central issue – the right of the Jewish people to have its own state in its own land – the UN accepted the Jewish claim and rejected the Arab claim. From the point of international legitimacy, the Arab war against Israel was born in sin. The fact is that even today Palestinians refuse to accept that we are talking about rights against rights; from their point of view, in 1948, as today, we are talking about rights against injustice. This is the basis of the insistence on the right of return. The tragedy is that this viewpoint fundamentally prevents compromise. The Palestinian attempt to compare the naqba to the Holocaust is bound in deep moral obtuseness: European Jews who were murdered by Nazis did not go to war against Germany. The Arabs of the Land of Israel went to war – and lost. That is the only difference. However, there is an aspect of comparison with Germany that is politically and morally relevant: When Germany was defeated, in 1945, over 10 million Germans were deported – all of whom were civilians, woman and children, not only members of the Nazi party – from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Yugoslavia. That is the terrible price that millions of innocent Germans paid for Nazi crimes. Nobody – not even Germany –petitions today for the right of return for these millions and their children, to the countries they were expelled from and where they and their ancestors had lived for hundreds of years. A German government, that raises the issue of the right of return for these millions as a condition for peace with eastern European countries, will be perceived – justifiably – as neo-Nazi, and as trying to change the outcome of the Second World War. This is cruel and harsh – but the whole world, including the entire German political sphere, except for negligible margins, recognizes this. Therefore, we listen attentively and with empathy to the sufferings of the Palestinians – as every person, including Jews, cannot be impervious to the sufferings of millions of Germans who were expelled from Eastern Europe. Gunter Grass’s last book, “Crabwalk”, is a noble expression of this pain, and is expressed specifically by someone to the left of the political spectrum. However, with all the understanding for the suffering of fellow men, the truth must be told to our Palestinian neighbors: Just like Germany in 1939 went to war – and lost; just as in the German case, the fall was bound with much suffering; but just as Germany internalized the messages of the World War, in the same way – with all the pain and understanding – if the Palestinians want peace, they must take moral responsibility for the decisive outcome in 1948, to go to war, not just against Israel, but also against international legitimacy, which accepted the Jews’ right to sovereignty.