Nakba at 65: A Palestinian Reality in 138 Languages

By Jamil Toubbeh

Following exposure of the break-in in June of 1972 at the HQ of the Democratic National Committee office at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., an event that captured US public attention for months, a child of school age was asked to comment on this mesmerizing phenomenon that became known as the Watergate Scandal.  His response, paraphrased, was: If you open the water gate you will have a flood! And indeed, the Nixon Administration’s cover-up of the break-in became the critical mass of gibberish that forced the “water gate” to open and send the Administration floating on a rickety raft out of the White House.

I met and talked briefly with Mr. Nixon in the Rose Garden days after King Hussein of Jordan’s official visit to the US.  I had always admired the President for his grasp of US foreign policy.


The recent UN General Assembly’s resounding vote in favor of Palestinian statehood (N=193: 138 in favor; 9 against; 41 abstained) represents a different but related kind of a flood.  Symbolically, it was a ‘flower path’ (‘hanamichi’ in Japanese Kabuki theater) that broke the proscenium barrier between actors and audience, in this case, the global community of nations without veto power and the Security Council with veto power. In Kabuki, an actor who steps onto the hanamichi has an important message to deliver to the audience—in this case, the Security Council.

Abstentions are as good as ‘in favor’ votes, particularly in UN voting patterns.

The vote reflects global dissatisfaction with Zionism’s historical machinations and persistent violations of international laws, especially the Geneva Protocols to which Israel is a signatory.  It also reflects Israel’s non-compliance with UN resolutions and, by association, dissatisfaction with US use of the veto to shield Israel against UN-imposed sanctions. The universal endorsement of Palestinian statehood was a significant measure of the unique concept of the “Palestinian Nakba”, and set the foundation and pace for its just resolution. At age 65, the Palestinian Nakba has exceeded the levels of intentionally inflicted human misery described or implied in the Geneva Protocols.  And, to borrow, again, a line from American poet Robert Frost, the Palestinian Nakba has “…miles to go before [we] sleep/[and] miles to go before [we] sleep”.


In the narrative of the Palestinian Nakba, we, Palestinians, are still in the literary “midnight” of our collective catastrophe. Gaza is a good place to experience that “midnight” of the Palestinian Nakba.  But the ever-shrinking space of the West Bank is also a good place to experience the dimness of the night before “midnight”. A literary “midnight” always has a beginning and an ending.

On May 15, or for that matter, any moment in time, Palestinians can describe the ‘ending’ of this literary narrative in great detail.  The ‘ending’ of this narrative can be sparked by the name of a village, an olive tree, an orange grove, a walk through Galilee, a visit to Nabi Mousa, a church in Nazareth or Bethlehem, al-Aqsa or Khan Yunis.  There are 10 million renditions of the ‘ending’.  These singular vignettes are colored by the ‘beginning’—the violent history of Zionism as the colonial project had evolved into the Jewish state.  Nakba Day is only a reminder of the legal institutionalization of violence against Palestinians that led to the destruction of their communities and the ethnic cleansing of their historic land.


The ‘beginning’ of the narrative of the Nakba has been a subject of scrutiny by Palestinian institutions and independent historians and biographers, as well as by Israeli historians, the “New Historians”, whose findings challenge the Israel’s official version of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

One of Zionism distinguishing features is racism, a complex phenomenon based in fear.  The word ‘Arab’ or ‘Muslim’ triggers fear-by-association with some events.  Hollywood and the media in general are masters at creating fear in the minds of people: a headdress, a dagger, or other characteristics that differ from a perceived norm.  Racism is sometimes institutionalized to separate or divide colonized communities or even societies. Hitler, Stalin comes to mind.  And one can’t forget the Spanish Inquisition that forced thousands of Jewish and Muslims communities to seek shelter in Muslim dominated North Africa.

The ‘beginning’ narrative of the Nakba shows some continuity in Zionist evolution of racism.  Theodor Herzl, and years later, his echo, Golda Meier, denied the existence of Palestinians in a show-me-to-believe game. When a leader denies existence of people, the denied become a target for state violence; and denial is a form of racism.  One renowned Russian-born Zionists, Ze’ev Jabotimsky described Zionism as “[a] colonizing adventure and therefore it stands or falls by the question of armed force”.  Decades later Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu applied the principle with deadly force. The first PM of Israel encouraged his troops to rid the country (Palestine) of “Arabs” by any means possible, including terror and assassination—and there was a lot of indiscriminate terror and assassinations.  This has been the narrative of the Palestinian Nakba through the evolutionary period of the Zionist Project.

What might shock historians, who would be re-examining the phenomenon “Israel”, say in 50 years, would be the finding that US’ favored nation’s leaders had been described as “peace” –doves. Palestinians hope, of course, that long before these would-be historians become historians, Palestinians and Israelis would be talking about their joint car rides to Beirut to eat Armenian-prepared shawarma.

The Palestinian Nakba will not be commemorated in the US; but it will be in the hearts and minds of many. As a matter of fact, the Palestinian “question” has been sidestepped by US mainstream media.  By the same token, Israel is no longer on the agenda of mainstream media. The voice of Israel today is AIPAC and it is heard loud and clear in Washington, D.C. The number of critics of Israeli policies in the US populations, but especially abroad, has grown significantly since 1967.  There is indeed a growing conflict of ‘opinion’ between officialdom in D.C. and the general population vis-à-vis Israel. It is the kind of conflict that creates uneasiness among those politicians in D.C. who give more standing ovations to Israeli PMs than to the Commander-in-Chief in the White House.

Even in the ’midnight’’ of the Palestinian Nakba there is always hope that the ‘ending’ would be shorter in distance than Frost’s “miles and miles before [he] sleep[s].   With that thought in mind, commemorate Nakba in 138 languages.

– Jamil Toubbeh is author of Day of the Long Night, (McFarland & Co. Publishers), a Fulbright Scholar and recipient of the Eagle Feather for work on Native American disability policy. He is currently Senior Researcher in cancer health disparities at Center for Asian Health, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA. He contributed this article to

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