Al Nakba: Expelled from home and native land but not from history

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'Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time
Close to the gardens of broken shadows,
We do what prisoners do,
And what the jobless do:
We cultivate hope'

- Mahmoud Darwish

When asked for a definition of "peace" during a CBC interview, Canadian scientist, educator and renowned activist Ursula Franklin stated: "Peace is not just the absence of war. It is the presence of justice and the absence of fear." This simple definition helps explain why there is still no peace in Palestine. The man-made Palestinian plight has been characterized by a lack of justice and driven by fear and greed, from the decision of colonialist powers to give away more than half of Palestinian land without a referendum -- including the valuable coastal strip -- to the ongoing immoral blockade of Gaza.

Palestinians around the world commemorate on May 15 their collective national trauma, the forced exodus from their homeland in 1948, or Al Nakba (Catastrophe) -- a historic injustice inflicted on some 750,000 unarmed civilian Palestinians. As they fled in fear, their properties were seized, their religious institutions destroyed, and close to 500 of their villages demolished or emptied.

By accepting the declaration of independence -- self-proclaimed one day before the end of the British mandate -- and by recognizing the state of Israel, an entity with no defined borders, the international community officially placed the fate of Palestinians at the mercy of Israel. At that point, plans "A" "B" and "C" had already been formulated, and the fourth plan "Dalet"  (letter "D" in Hebrew) which called for the systematic expulsion of Palestinians from strategic areas had been finalized in March 1948.

So, before any Arab forces entered the sectors designated as Arab under the Partition Plan, Zionists -- (Dan Freeman-Maloy quoting David Bercuson) -- carried out terrorist activities and operations within them to ethnically cleanse them of indigenous population. Many well-known terrorists are recognized as Israeli heroes, amongst them Israeli prime ministers. It is odd that Israeli leaders can't see the similarity between their reaction to the British Mandate and that of the Palestinians under occupation.

The recent Israeli wars and ongoing campaigns of terror are nothing but means to fully realize the Zionist project failed to achieve. In the words of Israeli historian Benny Morris, "If the end of the story turns out to be a gloomy one for the Jews, it will be because Ben-Gurion did not complete the transfer in 1948. Because he left a large and volatile demographic reserve in the West Bank and Gaza and within Israel itself... In certain conditions, expulsion is not a war crime. I don't think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands." (Survival of the Fittest? An Interview with Benny Morris by Ari Shavit, Haaretz, Jan. 16, 2004)

In The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (1987, updated 2004), Morris uses official Israeli documents to refute the myth that Palestinians fled under the orders of Arab leaders. He chronicles the acts of terrorism, rapes, massacres, and ethnic cleansing that went on with a wink and a nod from Zionist leaders eager to acquire land without its people. One of the architects of the Oslo Accord, Yitzak Rabin, had as defence minister urged the country to "create in the course of the next 10 or 20 years conditions which would attract natural and voluntary migration of the refugees from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to Jordan." (Quoted by Alice Gray in Positive Conditions -- The Water Crisis In Gaza and by Robert I. Friedman.

The transfer of the Palestinian population is still ‘encouraged' through highly discriminatory policies, some visible, such as home demolitions, closures, checkpoints, attacks on peaceful demonstrations, and others less so, such as the system of registration, permits, etc., special to Palestinians in the Occupied Territory (including Jerusalem) -- a bureaucratic process straight out of Kafka's nightmarish world.

There are concerns that Canada has moved farther away from international law and UN resolutions on the Arab/Israeli conflict. The process of siding with Israel that started under Martin's Liberals has now turned Canada into Israel's cheerleader, overtaking the U.S. The undermining of the work of Rights and Democracy, the de-funding of internationally respected NGOs such as KAIROS, the decision to withdraw funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency [UNRWA] -- when the USA announced an initial contribution of $40 million that will provide critical health, education, and humanitarian services to 4.7 million Palestinian refugees across the region -- have raised concerns that the current government sees human rights not as universal, and peaceful advocacy in zones of conflict such as Israel/Palestine as something Canada should not support or fund.

Rhetorically, the Canadian government supports a two-state solution as does the Israeli government (See official Israeli Ministry of Tourism's map of Israel), even as Israel expropriates and builds illegal Jews-only settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. It also supports the boycott of besieged Gaza while condemning calls for boycott of and divestment from Israel.

Contrary to Golda Meir's famous sentence ("There is no such thing as a Palestinian people... It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn't exist." -- Golda Meir, statement to The Sunday Times, 15 June, 1969), Palestine was a land with a thriving people. Holding onto shards of memory for six decades of exile, Palestinians, in the words of British-Palestinian filmmaker Omar Al-Qattan, know it "is clearly impossible to return to point zero... But it is also impossible for any Palestinian to honestly pretend that the trauma of 1948, or of the subsequent dispossessions and forced exiles which afflicted us and continue to do so, are no longer central to our lives. Nothing makes much sense without those memories and that history." (Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory, by Ahmad H. Sa'di and Lila Abu-Lughod, quoted in PulseMedia).

Canada has been engaged in the Middle East, in the roles of peacekeeping as well as peacemaking, ever since the fateful UN Partition resolution through our then representative, Ivan C. Rand, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, and Lester B. Pearson, who shepherded the resolution to adoption. The only Middle East expert in the Department of External Affairs, Elizabeth P. MacCallum, objected ("because we didn't give two hoots for democracy") and warned that the partition would create chaos for 40 years, a conservative estimate, but her advice was ignored.

Canada may become relevant again as a player in the region when we stop looking at the conflict only through the Israeli prism. As our Canadian political leaders once again join in Israel's celebration, they must also acknowledge that May 15th is a day of mourning for all Palestinians, and that their continued plight is a source of much sorrow and anger in the region and beyond.

Whatever the competing historical interpretations, it remains that for the past six decades one of these peoples has enjoyed its independence and the other has been denied it, and the most basic human rights.

Bahija Réghaï is a well-known human rights activist, former president of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relatons (NCCAR).


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