Lessons on the Anniversary of the Nakba

A poster at a Nakba gallery in Gaza City. (Photo: Yousef Aljamal, PC)

By Hani Al-Masri

On the anniversary of the 1948 Nakba, I think it is appropriate to share what I consider some lessons to be learned from the Palestinian experience since the establishment of Israel on the land of historic Palestine.

For a start, it is a lie to say that the Palestinian and Arab rejection of the UN Partition Plan contributed to the Nakba and led to Israel occupying 78 per cent of Mandatory Palestine; the UN allocated just over 50 per cent to the Zionist state. This excess has been shrugged off as a “mistake” but documents now in the public domain throw more light on this lie.

They show that the Zionist Jews and their backers always intended and planned to take more land than allocated by the UN, and carry out the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians to expel as many as possible before a ceasefire. This also confirms that it is also a lie to claim that Israel had no option but to defend itself after the Arabs rejected partition and went to war against the new-born state. In beating the Arabs at that time, the Israelis argue, they had a “right” to the spoils. It is worth noting that the number of fighters and weapons available to the nascent state outweighed in terms of quantity and quality those of the Arab “armies” who went to the aid of Palestine. In addition, the support offered to the Zionists by the British authorities contributed to the defeat of the Arabs, not their rejection of the Partition Plan.

The All-Palestine Government was formed in order to control the Palestinian territories that were not part of Israel. However, it was unable to stand on its own two feet given the rejection of the neighbouring Arab rulers, as well as their complicity with and reliance on their cherished British ally, the author of the infamous 1917 Balfour Declaration.

We cannot hold the people and leadership accountable for their refusal to accept the division of their homeland by a colonial-settler movement. Approval would have divided the country, people and the cause. If that had happened and the Palestinian leadership had accepted the Partition Plan, then the Palestinian cause would not be alive today. The contemporary Palestinian uprising has revived the cause years after the Nakba, and it remains alive despite all of the dangers and challenges it is facing.

Of course, the Palestinians and the Arabs could have given more attention to the group who talked about the establishment of a Palestinian state (an Arab state according to the text of the Partition Plan) and addressed this group positively without agreeing to partition. This would have exposed the Zionist position on the issue. However, despite its importance, this is merely a detail, because the reality is and was the gross imbalance in favour of Israel and its supporters in the corridors of power.

One of the lessons learned from the whole experience is that it was a massive blunder to erase the Palestinian aspect of the struggle in favour of an Arab aspect, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. Moreover, it swung the opposite way post-Oslo, with a focus on the Palestinian aspect to the exclusion of the Arabs. It is a mistake now to raise the flag of internationalism, nationalism or religion at the expense of Palestinian centrality to the conflict, which was and still is crucial for the restoration of Palestinian national rights.

It is the Palestinians who are the owners of the land and the victims of Zionism; they are on the front line in the confrontation with the Zionist project, which is an embodiment and extension of foreign imperialist hegemony over the region. Based on this, it is a mistake to neglect the Arab and international aspects completely, because the occupation of Palestine not only targets Palestinian land, but also aims to keep the Arab region captive to backwardness, ignorance, poverty, dependence and fragmentation, and thus under foreign control so that its wealth can continue to be looted and its markets exploited.

The Palestinians alone will not be able to liberate Palestine given the Israeli involvement in the hegemony projects in the region. However, nor can they wait until the Arab, Muslim or international genie wakes up. Their duty is to keep the flame of the conflict and struggle ignited and to achieve as much as possible at every stage. The revolution has a Palestinian face, an Arab depth and an international prospect and dimension.

After its launch, the Palestinian revolutionaries, especially Fatah, gave armed resistance overwhelming attention with the slogan, “My rifle is my identity”; armed resistance was the only path. Then, the Palestinian leadership backtracked on its principles and considered negotiations and other political efforts as the only way to achieve rights and national goals. It conceded the right to armed struggle after signing the Oslo Accords, and accepted the definition of such resistance as “terrorism”. The Palestinian leadership also, regrettably, recognised Israel’s “right” to exist on 78 per cent of historic Palestine but did not insist on Israeli recognition of any Palestinian rights.

With negotiations continuing to fail, the solution is believed to be more negotiations, or simply doing nothing while waiting for more to begin. The most that is done is the improvement of some conditions or the provision of international auspices as a formality.

The conclusion to be drawn from the Palestinian struggle is that it is both possible and necessary to combine armed and peaceful resistance. We can focus on one form rather than the other, or adopt one over the other at specific stages based on the requirements and circumstances of a specific stage and the feasibility of one option over the other depending on gains and losses. However, we must not abandon what we have learned from our extensive experience; the right of the occupied Palestinian people to exercise armed resistance against the military occupation of their land is guaranteed by UN resolutions, international law and, indeed, all religions. Exercising this right is subject to political strategies at every stage.

It is not one single party or element that determines the form or forms of struggle, there are many: the nature of the struggle and its characteristics; the balance of power; the various parties involved and the factors influencing them; the willingness or unwillingness of one or both parties in the struggle to find a solution; and the extent of the use of force and destruction. We cannot confront Israel’s excessive and disproportionate use of military force with peaceful resistance alone. We must take into consideration the impact that the absence of Arab, regional, international and strategic depths has on the armed struggle. The collapse of the Soviet Union and its backing for liberation movements, as well as Arab solidarity, along with the current situation across the region all have to be taken into account.

The modern national movement was launched upon the belief that Palestine can be liberated in one blow or effort once Arab unity is achieved or after the establishment of the Islamic caliphate, and that there is no room for temporary phases and agreements. Hence, in the beginning, anyone who spoke about a deal with the Israelis or a state on part of the Palestinian territories was considered to be a traitor. Then influential circles in the national movement flipped over and started to believe that “the achievement of something is better than nothing”, demanding that we “save what can be saved.” This has reached the point of conceding most of Palestine, bargaining on the legitimate right of return, sovereignty and the area of the Palestinian state, without achieving anything, not even the establishment of a state on part of Palestine.

The outcome of this approach is the loss of everything. The leadership has neither managed to preserve the unity of the cause, land and people, nor the narrative and historical rights; it has failed to liberate any part of Palestine.

The lesson we can learn from all of this is that achieving something in stages cannot be allowed to interfere with or replace the overall objectives of human rights, principles and goals. The price of such achievements must not be the concession of basic rights. What is the point of achieving something if the price is to concede everything?

(Translated by MEMO from Masarat.ps, May 10, 2016.)

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