15 May 2021

Remembering the Nakba and Gaza today

In the past six days, Israeli armed forces have killed 126 people, including 31 children, and wounded 920 more after shelling Gaza and bombarding from the air. Nearly ten thousand Palestinians have been forced to flee their homes from the assault. This coordinated and deliberate display of military brutality against a civilian population comes as a result of protests against Israeli police, who have been aiding illegal Israeli settlers to forcibly evict Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem over the past several weeks.

According to any civilised measure of what constitutes just warfare, Israel’s retaliation to these protests is anything but just. The principles of necessity and proportionality are not only routinely ignored, but flouted, by Netanyahu’s misgovernment of miscreants. It is not, as the American press misreports it, a ‘clash’. It is not, as said misgovernment risibly calls it, a ‘civil war’. It is an act of ethnic cleansing, one which also targets and impacts the indigenous Christians of the Middle East.

It is necessary to remember that this is not a sectarian struggle. It is not about Muslims versus Jews. Christians have been integral to the Palestinian struggle since the beginning. The newspapers that were chiefly responsible for building the movement opposing Zionist settler-colonialism, al-Karmal and Falasṭîn, were run by Orthodox Christian editors: to wit, Najîb Naṣṣâr and ‘Îssa al-‘Îssa. The Palestinian Arab Congress arose out of the Muslim-Christian associations that arose as organic Arab nationalist societies in every major city in Palestine. The cause of Palestine is not a Muslim one only, it is a human one.

Of the Palestinian people who live in aš-Šayḵ Jarrâḥ, a significant proportion of them are in fact refugees from aṭ-Ṭalbiyyah in the western part of the city, which during the 1920s and 1930s was a predominantly Arab Christian neighbourhood. Between 1948 and 1967, the Israelis cheated or outright stole the land from the Arabic residents and kicked them into East Jerusalem. The current takeover by Israeli settlers, the evictions and the confiscation of property, are in fact a continuation of the initial Nakba which took place in 1948 and which is remembered each year today.

The Nakba is continuing in aš-Šayḵ Jarrâḥ and in Gaza, through the familiar pattern of people with guns terrorising people without guns. However, the people of Palestine are rising up against the unlawful evictions, and they deserve support. So far, that support has not been forthcoming from the United States or from the Biden Administration, which has been blocking UN Security Council action to stop the escalating violence against Palestinians. Moreover, they refuse to condemn the killing of children by the Israeli military. This is part of a definite pattern on the part of this administration, and one may be sure that the hypocrisy is being noticed abroad.

For that matter, it’s also necessary to remember that the Nakba is not just a Middle Eastern problem. It is a European problem. George Antonius’s book The Arab Awakening should be required reading on this topic. The British and French governments rankly betrayed their Arab allies during WWI, first with the Sykes-Picot Agreement and then with the Balfour Declaration. It was easier for them to foist off the ‘Jewish problem’ onto a subjugated and colonised population far away in the Middle East, than for them to deal with their own deep-seated anti-Semitism. The same principle held when it came to European support for Zionism after World War II. The same people who perpetrated the horrors of Shoah on European Jewry were content to send the rest of them packing to the Middle East: a way to assuage their guilty consciences without bearing any real cost.

(Even today, the openly anti-Semitic governments of Poland, Hungary and the Ukraine enjoy an alliance of convenience with the far-right ethnonationalist Likud misgovernment in Israel. And in the United States, men who can’t stand the idea of their children going to school with Jewish children openly tout their alliance with Israel. This ‘double game’ allows anti-Semitism in the West to continue to disguise itself as ‘friendship’, and also allows Israel to benefit from a continuing climate of hostility to Jews in Western nations.)

In the meantime, however, the Palestinian people cannot wait for justice. This Nakba Day, let us first begin by praying for an end to the violence. And then, in the spirit of that prayer, at the very least let us be courageous enough to acknowledge the truths of what is happening in Palestine. What is going on is not a ‘clash’ or a ‘civil war’ between two sides of equal strength which bear equal blame: one side has tanks and planes and nuclear weapons and the other side does not, and the more powerful side has no regard for restraint. What is going on is not a conflict over religion: it is a conflict over land. What is going on is also not a far-away iteration of irrational regional hatreds: it is the culmination of a long and deep-seated spiritual illness in the West, and it is one for which our governments and peoples bear responsibility. Once we have been courageous enough to acknowledge these truths, let us then translate that awareness into action. Israel’s ongoing crimes against Palestine must end, and international pressure must be brought to bear for that to happen. And the costs of Europe’s centuries-long mistreatment of the Jews must no longer fall upon an Arabic populace that bears no responsibility for that mistreatment.

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