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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The origin of the term 'naqba'

Tonight is the 60th Independence Day here in Israel - in fact I have the opening ceremony from Mount Herzl on the radio right now. If tonight is our 60th anniversary, it's also the 60th anniversary of what the 'Palestinians' call their 'naqba' or catastrophe. Steven Plaut has researched the origin of the term 'naqba' and it may surprise you to hear that the term 'naqba' is more than 60 years old and originally had nothing to do with the creation of the State of Israel.
Here is a little current events quiz: What is the real origin of the term “nakba” and what is its original meaning?

If you get the answer to the quiz wrong – in other words, if you say it refers to the events of 1948 – you are in very good company. I myself would have flunked the quiz up until a few days ago, when I stumbled on the correct answer. Not only does the bandying about of the “nakba” nonsense word not point to any “depths of roots of Palestinian nationality,” it proves the very opposite: namely, that there is no such thing as a Palestinian nation or nationality at all.

The authoritative source on the origin of “nakba” is none other than George Antonius, supposedly the first “official historian of Palestinian nationalism.” Like so many “Palestinians,” he actually wasn’t – Palestinian, that is. He was a Christian Lebanese-Egyptian who lived for a while in Jerusalem, where he composed his official advocacy/history of Arab nationalism. The Arab Awakening, a highly biased book, was published in 1938 and for years afterward was the official text used at British universities.

Antonius was an “official Palestinian representative” to Britain, trying to argue the cause for creating an Arab state in place of any prospective homeland promised the Jews under the Balfour Declaration of 1917. By the 1930’s Antonius was an active anti-Zionist propagandist, and as such was offered a job at Columbia University (where some things don’t seem to change much).

He served as an academic fig leaf for xenophobic Arab nationalists seeking to deny Jews any right to self-determination in or migration to the Land of Israel. And he was closely associated with the Grand Mufti, Hitler’s main Islamic ally, and also with the pro-German regime in Iraq in the early 1940’s.

Antonius was so passionately anti-Zionist that he continues to serve as the hero and mentor of Jewish leftist anti-Zionists everywhere. For example, the late Hebrew University sociology professor Baruch Kimmerling relied on Antonius at length in his own pseudo-history, Palestinians: The Making of a People (Free Press, 1993).

So how does Antonius provide us with the answer to the current-events quiz concerning the origin of “nakba”? The term was not invented in 1948 but rather in 1920. And it was coined not because of Palestinians suddenly getting nationalistic but because Arabs living in Palestine regarded themselves as Syrian and were enraged at being cut off from their Syrian homeland.

Before World War I, the entire Levant – including what is now Israel, the “occupied territories,” Jordan, Lebanon and Syria – was comprised of Ottoman Turkish colonies. When Allied forces drove the Turks out of the Levant, the two main powers, Britain and France, divided the spoils between them. Britain got Palestine, including what is now Jordan, while France got Lebanon and Syria.

The problem was that the Palestinian Arabs saw themselves as Syrians and were seen as such by other Syrians. The Palestinian Arabs were enraged that an artificial barrier was being erected within their Syrian homeland by the infidel colonial powers – one that would divide northern Syrian Arabs from southern Syrian Arabs, the latter being those who were later misnamed “Palestinians.”

The bulk of the Palestinian Arabs had in fact migrated to Palestine from Syria and Lebanon during the previous two generations, largely to benefit from the improving conditions and job opportunities afforded by Zionist immigration and capital flowing into the area. In 1920, both sets of Syrian Arabs, those in Syria and those in Palestine, rioted violently and murderously.

On page 312 of The Arab Awakening, Antonius writes, “The year 1920 has an evil name in Arab annals: it is referred to as the Year of the Catastrophe (Am al-Nakba). It saw the first armed risings that occurred in protest against the post-War settlement imposed by the Allies on the Arab countries. In that year, serious outbreaks took place in Syria, Palestine, and Iraq.”

Yes, the answer to our little quiz is 1920, not 1948. That’s 1920 – when there was no Zionist state, no Jewish sovereignty, no “settlements” in “occupied territories,” no Israel Defense Forces, no Israeli missiles and choppers targeting terror leaders, and no Jewish control over Jerusalem (which had a Jewish demographic majority going back at least to 1850).

The original “nakba” had nothing to do with Jews, and nothing to do with demands by Palestinian Arabs for self-determination, independence and statehood. To the contrary, it had everything to do with the fact that the Palestinian Arabs saw themselves as Syrians. They rioted at this nakba – at this catastrophe– because they found deeply offensive the very idea that they should be independent from Syria and Syrians.

In the 1920’s, the very suggestion that Palestinian Arabs constituted a separate ethnic nationality was enough to send those same Arabs out into the streets to murder and plunder violently in outrage. If they themselves insisted they were simply Syrians who had migrated to the Land of Israel, by what logic are the Palestinian Arabs deemed entitled to their own state today?
Good question. Read the whole thing. I left out a great quote from the great grandfather of a current Middle Eastern dictator.


At 5:19 PM, Blogger Athena said...

Of course, the Arabs in the Palestine Mandate wanted to be regarded as Syrians. "Palestinian" had been synonymous with "Jew" since the Roman Emperor Hadrian had changed the name of Judea to Palestina in 135 A.D., after defeating the last of the Jewish uprisings under Bar Kokba. "Palestine" then became synonymous with "Land of the Jews" or "the Holy Land," and "Palestinian" with "Jew." That is why the Zionists wanted the "Palestine Mandate" (and the Arabs objected).
Soviet propaganda caused the Arabs (non-Jews) who live in what was "the Palestine Mandate" to be called "Palestinian," the Soviet Union and Nasser having founded the "Palestine Liberation Front (P.L.O.)" in Cairo in 1964.

At 5:19 PM, Blogger Athena said...

Of course, the Arabs in the Palestine Mandate regarded themselves as Syrians, rather than "Palestinians" since the name "Palestinian" has been synonymous with "Jew" since the Roman Emperor Hadrian changed the name of Judea to Palestina in 135 A.D. after suppressing the last of the Jewish rebellions under Bar Kokba. After that, "Palestine" became synonymous with "land of the Jews" or "the Holy Land" and "Palestinian" became synonymous with "Jew." That is why the Zionists wanted the "Palestine Mandate."
Calling Arabs "Palestinian" is the consequence of Soviet propaganda, the Soviet Union and Nasser having founded the "Palestine Liberation Front (P.L.O.) in Cairo in 1964.


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