What Vox didn’t say about the Nakba

Recently, Vox set out to tell the story of the Nakba, a deeply significant chapter in Palestinian history. However, their video left out several important parts of the story.

To be fair, Vox adeptly conveyed the Palestinian perspective of what happened to their people in 1948. But there’s a much broader story. So, this week, we wanted to weave in four critical chapters that give more context to the story Vox set out to tell:

Chapter 1: Jewish historical and religious ties to the land

Vox’s narrative emphasizes Palestinian Arabs’ centuries-long habitation of the land. While this is important, there’s something equally significant: the continuous Jewish presence on that same land for thousands of years. 

This connection isn’t just a matter of historical records; it’s woven into the very fabric of Jewish culture and religion.

It starts with the most influential piece of content in the history of Western civilization: the Bible. 

Jerusalem is the focal point of Jewish prayers, recited daily and on holidays. 

So much of Jewish history was forged on this land. The three pilgrimage holidays — Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot — each signify the profound bond that exists between the Jews and their ancestral homeland. 

It’s not just the ancient birthplace of a handful of Jews; it’s a cornerstone of Jewish identity, indelibly ingrained and deeply personal.

Chapter 2: The UN Partition Plan

Vox suggests that the UN Partition Plan of Palestine was inherently unfair, giving more than 50% of the land to the Jewish people and less than 50% of the land to a new Arab state. 

It’s essential to remember that this plan wasn’t about subjugation, but rather about sharing. It aimed to reconcile two distinct narratives and historical connections to the same land.

Indeed, many religious Zionists expressed disappointment that the holy Jewish cities of Jerusalem and Hebron, along with famous Biblical cities such as Shechem and Jericho, would not be under Jewish control. 

Zionist leaders like Menachem Begin even desired a greater Israel of biblical proportions. But for the sake of compromise, they accepted the plan, taking the pragmatic approach.

Regrettably, the plan was met with firm Palestinian resistance, not only due to the prospect of an Arab minority in certain areas but also due to a categorical opposition to the establishment of a Jewish state in any form.

The Partition Plan was a proposed solution to a profoundly complex issue. Although not perfect for either side, it represented an attempt at compromise and co-existence. The Arab parties’ dismissal of this proposal marked a missed opportunity for a more harmonious path forward.

Chapter 3: Deir Yassin

We now transition to a darker chapter — Deir Yassin, where more than 100 Palestinian Arabs were killed. This brutal incident, highlighted by Vox, is also remembered with regret and sorrow in Jewish history. 

There are conflicting accounts of what transpired, including debates over the number of casualties and whether the violence was indiscriminate or targeted. However, from the research, it is clear no sexual violence occurred.

As with any conflict, it’s essential to contextualize the larger picture: this occurred amidst the chaos and violence of war, where tragedies are unfortunately common.

Instances of brutal violence were witnessed on both sides, such as the Hadassah convoy massacre, where 79 Jews were killed while attempting to reach a hospital. A few months prior, 35 soldiers were ambushed during an attempted relief mission, amid Arab attacks on the Yishuv, Israel’s pre-state government leadership.

Chapter 4: Post-1948 Palestinian Situation

In the chaos of war and in the scramble to safeguard civilians, about 700,000 Arab refugees were displaced following Israel’s establishment in 1948.

Rather than merely sharing one side of the story, it’s important to recognize that historians still debate exactly what happened.

Some argue that Arab refugees left due to fear of the fighting, while others suggest they departed on the orders of Arab leaders to make way for strategic military operations. However, it is clear that Israelis were directly responsible for the expulsion of tens of thousands of Arabs.

Israel, whose total population doubled after the war, refused to allow the 700,000 Arabs to return, either for demographic reasons or because many of those who left supported the invading Arab armies.

Adding to the tragedy, these Palestinians were not granted citizenship by the surrounding states that hosted them, such as Jordan or Egypt. Instead, they were left in a state of perpetual refugee status, a condition that persists for their descendants today.

Israeli history scholar Daniel Gordis has noted that the host countries “deliberately perpetuated their homelessness to foment international condemnation of Israel,” turning the Palestinian plight into a “genuine human tragedy.” 

The difficult truth is that had these Arabs been allowed to return, Israel could not exist as a Jewish and democratic state, and it might have had a hostile population within its borders. 

Of course, no state could be built with a significant percentage of its population hostile to its existence. And so, the reality is that the 150,000 Arabs who stayed in 1948 have flourished and prospered as part of Israel’s democracy. They and their descendants constitute about 20% of Israel’s population today.

Now, having filled in those missing chapters, let’s remember these 3 takeaways:

1. Empathy for Palestinians

First, the story of the Nakba must be told. It carries the heavy burden of tragedy and loss, akin to many other chapters of human history. Wars inflict scars, particularly on the defeated side, and we all have a responsibility to empathize with the suffering of Palestinians. Acknowledging this isn’t only fair but crucial to our shared understanding.

2. Jewish connection to Israel

Recognizing Palestinian pain should not diminish the profound, deeply ingrained connection Jews have to their ancestral homeland. This is a significant omission in Vox’s account. 

The video depicts Zionism primarily as a reaction to antisemitism, which is only a part of the story. Zionism extends beyond a political movement intended to create a safe haven for Jews. It’s an affirmation of the Jewish link to the land of Israel.

The video subtly but significantly misrepresents the Jewish connection to Israel, stating that Jews debated between Uganda and Argentina as potential sites for a Jewish state but ultimately chose Israel. This oversimplifies the Jews’ desperate situation at the time.

They were so desperate due to rampant, violent antisemitism that they were prepared to relocate to any place offering safety. Initially, most Zionist leaders voted for this idea out of necessity, not desire.

However, they ultimately rejected the idea for a simple reason: Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel, and Am Yisrael, the People of Israel, are inextricably linked.

Zionism was not just about Jews being driven out of lands due to global antisemitism. It was also about the longing for Jews to return to their homeland and reclaim their place as actors on the world stage. 

Zionism signified the revival of an almost extinct language, Hebrew, and the rejuvenation of a people who had been subjected to foreign rule and whim.

A millennia before Nationalism, there existed a yearning for Zion that wasn’t about antisemitism. Great Jewish figures like Yehuda Halevi and the Vilna Gaon embodied this longing. 

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook’s Zionism was not centered around antisemitism — instead, it highlighted the importance of a robust Jewish identity, combining spirituality, land, religion, and nationhood. 

By reducing Zionism to a response to antisemitism, one overlooks a significant portion of its impetus. The Jewish aspiration for self-determination in their ancient homeland is a fundamental human right.

3. The broader story 

The Palestinian perspective is crucial, but it’s only one facet of a multi-dimensional story. Vox’s narrative left out vital chapters of this historical account. 

Take, for instance, the period from November 1947 to March 1948. It was a turbulent era marked by the violent rejection of the UN resolution and a civil war.

Palestinian Arabs vehemently opposed any territorial division that would grant Jews a homeland. During this time, both Palestinian Arabs and soon-to-be Israeli Jews suffered, killed, and were killed.

This story is complex, messy, and painful for all parties involved. It might be tempting to label heroes and villains, but real history rarely fits neatly into such categories. It’s an intricate blend of perspectives, interpretations, motivations, and actions.

So, what should our goal be when teaching history? Should we stoke the fires of anger and resentment, or should we aim to foster mutual understanding? 

History should not be a tool for division, but a means for understanding. Both Israelis and Palestinians have weathered their share of turmoil, but let’s illuminate the whole story rather than part of it. Vox, in the future, let’s strive for a more comprehensive, balanced narrative.

We study the past to make sense of the present and to shape a better future. This is the only viable path forward.

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