The Myth of the Nakba, and Its Consequences

December 16, 2019 | Shmuel Trigano
About the author: Shmuel Trigano, a professor of sociology emeritus at Paris University, is the author of 24 books, including French Jews: Fifteen Years of Solitude (2015). In 2001 he created the bulletin Survey of the Jewish World and the journal Controverses to document and publicize the rise of anti-Semitic violence in France.

Used by Palestinians to denote the creation of the Jewish state, the term nakba—meaning “catastrophe”—has come to be part of the vocabulary of anti-Israel activists. Shmuel Trigano investigates the historical narrative summed up by this word, which involves a deft inversion of good and evil and has evolved in such a way as to appeal to Western, especially European sympathies:

The defeat of [the Arab] armies and [the Arab states’] political failure in opposing the partition of Mandatory Palestine have been rewritten . . . as a shocking, congenital injustice of which [Palestinians] are the victims. This injustice is affixed to the very existence of Israel, which, in order to exist, purportedly dispossessed an innocent people of their land so that it could take their place. The Palestinian aggressors, [through this interpretation] became the victims. The [failed attempt at the] extermination of others became [reason for] self-pity and compassion.

The actual term, nakba, is an evident translation of shoah, meaning “catastrophe,” and it derives its emotional impact from accusing the victims of becoming the executioners, so that the new Palestinian “victims” have taken the place of the victims of Nazism, the holders of the memory of the Holocaust. This follows exactly the formula coined by Edward Said: “The Palestinians are the victims of the victims.”

By manipulating the West’s sensitivity and feelings of guilt, the Palestinians have not only become known as victims, but they also offer Westerners a delayed reaction to the Nazi extermination of the Jews, thereby freeing themselves from blame. Westerners can now denounce the victims’ descendants by accusing them of the same atrocities as the Nazis and the Europeans of [the colonial] era. In this way they accomplish two goals at once: Nazi Europe effectively becomes colonial Europe, and honoring the memory of the Holocaust becomes, through this manipulation, an occasion to condemn racism—“apartheid”—by the Israelis against the Palestinians and to accuse them of colonialism [and even of] Nazism.

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