In the last few weeks two liberal New York institutions, The New York Times and the 92d Street Y, have published discussions about a central Palestinian experience– the Nakba, or catastrophe that accompanied the creation of Israel in 1948– and in these three discussions, there was not a Palestinian in sight. Though three or four Zionists got to weigh in on the issue.
Of course non-Palestinians have the right to free speech about Palestinian history. What is so desperate and unfair about these three discussions is that they demonstrate a racist pattern in our public culture, in which leading U.S. institutions grant authority about Palestinian history only to non-Palestinians.
It is very much as if the history of Jim Crow and slavery and the civil rights movement could only be told by white people.
Here are the three cases.
1. Last Sunday the New York Times Book Review ran a review by Dexter Filkins of the novel Khirbet Khizeh. The novel is the late S. Yizhar‘s beautiful rendering of the ethnic cleansing of a Palestinian village in 1948. Yizhar published the book in 1949 several months after he had participated in such activities as an Israeli intelligence officer.
Yousef Munayyer promptly tweeted:
This Dexter Filkins review for @nytimesbooks gets some VERY BASIC historical facts wrong which should be corrected
Donald Johnson summarizes the review, “Admit the Nakba, but paint it as inadvertent and even make basic mistakes on the chronology. … Don’t mention Plan Dalet, which some historians think wasn’t meant to be a permanent expulsion plan (yeah, right). Don’t mention that it was clearly ethnic cleansing in the later stages.”
Munayyer enumerated 13 errors in the review. One of those errors was Filkins’s description of the Nakba beginning after the establishment of Israel on May 15, 1948.
The Israelis, fearing extinction (the Holocaust had ended only three years before), struck back; in the course of the fighting, they not only repelled the invading armies but also set the Palestinians — some 700,000 of them — to flight.
The flight/expulsion of the Palestinian refugees actually began weeks before the declaration of the state of Israel. Deir Yassin was in April 1948. So was the siege of Jaffa that emptied a leading Palestinian city and pushed some Palestinians into the sea.
Munayyer also offered evidence that the ethnic cleansing of the Nakba was intentional:
“For years before the war, Yishuv military intelligence collected nuanced data on all Arab villages, paving way for Nakba.”
Myself I thought Filkins’s review was a plus, providing an account of the Nakba in the Times. But my point here is that Palestinians, who are generally far better acquainted with this history than I am, and obviously more sensitive to that history, in the way that, say John Lewis is sensitive to the history of the civil rights movement — don’t even get included in the official conversation. You’d be angry too! As Munayyer pointed out:
Has @nytimesbooks review ever reviewed a book on the Nakba by, say, a Palestinian?
– Read more: Leading NY Institutions Discuss the Nakba — and There is Not a Palestinian in Sight – Mondoweiss