Steve Plaut: How 'Nakba' Proves There's No Palestinian Nation

Roundup: Media's Take

[Steven Plaut, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor at Haifa University. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.]

Over the past few years, the term nakba (also spelled naqba) has become the favorite nonsense word of the Anti-Israel Lobby. Meaning “catastrophe” in Arabic, it has been embraced by anti-Semites all over the planet to refer to Israel’s creation, which supposedly imposed a “catastrophe” upon the “disenfranchised Palestinian Arabs.”

Of course, the real catastrophe that befell the Arabs in 1948-49 was that they failed in their attempt to annihilate Israel and exterminate its population, and for that they paid a price.

Meanwhile, Nakba Nonsense has been spreading. Google finds over 85,000 web pages referring to Israel’s creation as a “nakba,” and a Yahoo search finds even more than that. The anti-Israel web magazine Counterpunch cannot mention Israel without using the term. Even Israel’s leftist minister of education, Yuli Tamir, has orderedthat the nakba be taught as partof the curriculum in Israeli schools, where Israel’s schoolchildren can be taught to mourn their own country’s existence.

(Tamir, who was previously a professor of education at Tel Aviv University, is so bizarre that in the summer of 1996 she published an article in the Boston Review defending female circumcision in the Third World and denouncing those who expressed disgust at the practice – see http://bostonreview.net/BR21.3/Tamir.html.)

Nakba ceremonies are now held each year by leftist professors at Israeli universities who mourn the very creation and existence of their country.

The nakba of the late 1940’s and 1950’s that befell large numbers of Jews living in Arab countries who were suddenly expelled, persecuted, and stripped of their property does not interest such people. Those Jewish refugees made new homes in Israel and actually outnumbered the Palestinians who fled.

Meanwhile, an urban legend has been fabricated about the origin of the term “nakba” – a fairy tale that claims the word was a banner waved by Palestinians starting in 1948, and that its very use shows how deep the roots of “Palestinian nationality” go.

So here is a little current events quiz: What is the real origin of the term “nakba” and what is its original meaning?

If you get the answer to the quiz wrong – in other words, if you say it refers to the events of 1948 – you are in very good company. I myself would have flunked the quiz up until a few days ago, when I stumbled on the correct answer. Not only does the bandying about of the “nakba” nonsense word not point to any “depths of roots of Palestinian nationality,” it proves the very opposite: namely, that there is no such thing as a Palestinian nation or nationality at all.

The authoritative source on the origin of “nakba” is none other than George Antonius, supposedly the first “official historian of Palestinian nationalism.” Like so many “Palestinians,” he actually wasn’t – Palestinian, that is. He was a Christian Lebanese-Egyptian who lived for a while in Jerusalem, where he composed his official advocacy/history of Arab nationalism. The Arab Awakening, a highly biased book, was published in 1938 and for years afterward was the official text used at British universities.

Antonius was an “official Palestinian representative” to Britain, trying to argue the cause for creating an Arab state in place of any prospective homeland promised the Jews under the Balfour Declaration of 1917. By the 1930’s Antonius was an active anti-Zionist propagandist, and as such was offered a job at Columbia University (where some things don’t seem to change much).

He served as an academic fig leaf for xenophobic Arab nationalists seeking to deny Jews any right to self-determination in or migration to the Land of Israel. And he was closely associated with the Grand Mufti, Hitler’s main Islamic ally, and also with the pro-German regime in Iraq in the early 1940’s.

Antonius was so passionately anti-Zionist that he continues to serve as the hero and mentor of Jewish leftist anti-Zionists everywhere. For example, the late Hebrew University sociology professor Baruch Kimmerling relied on Antonius at length in his own pseudo-history, Palestinians: The Making of a People (Free Press, 1993).

So how does Antonius provide us with the answer to the current-events quiz concerning the origin of “nakba”? The term was not invented in 1948 but rather in 1920. And it was coined not because of Palestinians suddenly getting nationalistic but because Arabs living in Palestine regarded themselves as Syrian and were enraged at being cut off from their Syrian homeland.

Before World War I, the entire Levant – including what is now Israel, the “occupied territories,” Jordan, Lebanon and Syria – was comprised of Ottoman Turkish colonies. When Allied forces drove the Turks out of the Levant, the two main powers, Britain and France, divided the spoils between them. Britain got Palestine, including what is now Jordan, while France got Lebanon and Syria.

The problem was that the Palestinian Arabs saw themselves as Syrians and were seen as such by other Syrians. The Palestinian Arabs were enraged that an artificial barrier was being erected within their Syrian homeland by the infidel colonial powers – one that would divide northern Syrian Arabs from southern Syrian Arabs, the latter being those who were later misnamed “Palestinians.”

The bulk of the Palestinian Arabs had in fact migrated to Palestine from Syria and Lebanon during the previous two generations, largely to benefit from the improving conditions and job opportunities afforded by Zionist immigration and capital flowing into the area. In 1920, both sets of Syrian Arabs, those in Syria and those in Palestine, rioted violently and murderously.

On page 312 of The Arab Awakening, Antonius writes, “The year 1920 has an evil name in Arab annals: it is referred to as the Year of the Catastrophe (Am al-Nakba). It saw the first armed risings that occurred in protest against the post-War settlement imposed by the Allies on the Arab countries. In that year, serious outbreaks took place in Syria, Palestine, and Iraq.”

Yes, the answer to our little quiz is 1920, not 1948. That’s 1920 – when there was no Zionist state, no Jewish sovereignty, no “settlements” in “occupied territories,” no Israel Defense Forces, no Israeli missiles and choppers targeting terror leaders, and no Jewish control over Jerusalem (which had a Jewish demographic majority going back at least to 1850).

The original “nakba” had nothing to do with Jews, and nothing to do with demands by Palestinian Arabs for self-determination, independence and statehood. To the contrary, it had everything to do with the fact that the Palestinian Arabs saw themselves as Syrians. They rioted at this nakba – at this catastrophe– because they found deeply offensive the very idea that they should be independent from Syria and Syrians.

In the 1920’s, the very suggestion that Palestinian Arabs constituted a separate ethnic nationality was enough to send those same Arabs out into the streets to murder and plunder violently in outrage. If they themselves insisted they were simply Syrians who had migrated to the Land of Israel, by what logic are the Palestinian Arabs deemed entitled to their own state today?

Palestinian Arabs are no more a nation and no more entitled to their own state than are the Arabs of Detroit or of Paris. They certainly are not entitled to four different states: Jordan, Hamastan in Gaza, a PLO state in the West Bank, and Israel converted into yet another Arab state via the granting of a “right of return” to Arab refugees.

Speaking of Palestinians as Syrians, it is worth noting what one of the early Syrian nationalists had to say. The following quote comes from the great-grandfather of the current Syrian dictator, Bashar Assad:

“Those good Jews brought civilization and peace to the Arab Muslims, and they dispersed gold and prosperity over Palestine without damage to anyone or taking anything by force. Despite this, the Muslims declared holy war against them and did not hesitate to massacre their children and women…. Thus a black fate awaits the Jews and other minorities in case the Mandates are cancelled and Muslim Syria is united with Muslim Palestine.”

That statement is from a letter sent to the French prime minister in June 1936 by six Syrian Alawi notables (the Alawis are the ruling class in Syria today) in support of Zionism. Bashar’s great-grandfather was one of them.

Read entire article at Jewish Press

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Paul Bogdanor - 5/21/2008

My definition of "apologist" does not include "people who say the atrocious practices are occurring and are atrocious." It applies to people who insinuate that the practices are less atrocious than we think because they resemble our own routine practices, especially when it's obvious that they don't.

It's no defence that my hypothetical paragraph is "an argument nobody actually makes." That's the point of a reductio ad absurdum: no serious person would make the argument. If you reject the absurdum, you must either explain why the reductio is a false analogy or abandon the proposition that evoked it.

In this case, if you admit that the hypothetical paragraph trivialises Mengele's atrocities, you must either distinguish it from the structurally identical argument made by Tamir, or admit that her argument trivialises the sexual mutilation of children.

Edwin Moise - 5/21/2008

To define the word "apologist" to include people who say the atrocious practices are occurring and are atrocious and should be stopped is an abuse and trivialization of the word "apologist."

I am not interested in discussing your hypothetical paragraph B, which is an argument nobody actually makes. But as for paragraph A: I am not sure I understand exactly why Tamir wrote this the way she did. But I don't think it trivializes clitoridectomy. It certainly does relativize clitoridectomy.

I do not object to the relativization of vile atrocities, but I think this is an issue on which reasonable people can disagree. There are real arguments against reletivizing atrocities, even if those arguments have not convinced me.

If you want to accuse Tamir of relativizing clitoridectory, I will have no objection. It is blatantly obvious that she does so. But I must object if you say that makes her an apologist for the practice.

Edwin Moise

Paul Bogdanor - 5/20/2008

Apologists for terrible atrocities typically adopt one or more of the following positions:-

1. They are not happening (denial)
2. They may be happening, but they are not objectionable and so we need not try to stop them (endorsement)
3. They are happening and should stop, but they are no worse than our own routine practices and we are hypocrites unless we focus on stopping the latter (relativisation and trivialisation)

Tamir's discussion of female genital mutilation is a textbook example of the third tactic. You ignore the analogy presented earlier. The nature of Tamir's argument becomes clear when rephrased:-

A: "Perhaps, then, we object to clitoridectomy because it is performed on minors. But think of the parents in our culture who foster in their daughters bad eating habits that might destroy their teeth or their vital organs, or, in more tragic cases, lead to life-threatening eating disorders. Are we ready to judge these parents as harshly as we judge parents who require clitoridectomies?"

B: "Perhaps, then, we object to Mengele's experiments because they were performed on minors. But think of the doctors in our culture who addict their child patients to Ritalin which has side-effects that might destroy their physical health, or, in more tragic cases, cause suicidal depression. Are we ready to judge these doctors as harshly as we judge Mengele for requiring child experimentation?"

Do you deny that paragraph B relativises and trivialises the experimental mutilation of children? And if not, how can you deny that paragraph A relativises and trivialises the sexual mutilation of children?

Edwin Moise - 5/20/2008

I have no idea how the computer managed to decide that the title of my last post was "US-Soviet Comparison". I did not put that title on the post.

Edwin Moise

Edwin Moise - 5/20/2008

I do not see any such conflation in that passage.

I don't want to push too hard in interpreting Tamir's argument. It is not entirely clear to me, and to the extent I can understand it, I do not always find it convincing. But I don't think she is arguing that because our society is as bad as the clitoridectomy societies, we should not judge them. I think her argument is that we should keep the sins of our own society clearly in mind, when judging the sins of other societies.

Look at her article, for heaven's sake. She has no hesitation in judging clitoridectomy, and finding it bad. She denounces it in conventional terms: "It is, among other things, an extremely painful, traumatizing mutilation of young girls that leaves them permanently disfigured and deprived of sexual enjoyment." And she denounces it in the terms of her own feminist ideology: she calls it a "way of oppressing women."

What she objects to is judgments of clitoridectomy phrased in ways that give the impression the judges' hands are cleaner than they are. I do not think these objections amount to a defense of clitoridectomy.

Edwin Moise

A. M. Eckstein - 5/16/2008

Please note, any reader in the future: Omar did not dare to answer my question.

What a hypocrite.

N. Friedman - 5/16/2008


There was no claim that Palestinian Arabs did not exist. What was claimed - and what the historic record shows (and what Professor Plaut's evidence further confirms) - is that Arabs from what Christians call Palestine did not identify themselves as Palestinians. Nationalism was not, as it turns out, a major force in their thinking, at that time and, to the extent that nationalism played a role - mostly in elites exposed to Western ideas -, the nationalism was mostly either Syrian or pan-Arab, not Palestinian Arab.

If you read Benny Morris' new book 1948, which is brilliant book well worth your time, it is difficult to conclude that Palestinian Arabs were a nation or anything of the sort. They did not behave like a nation which, in turn, was a major factor in their fate. Moreover, as Professor Morris' evidence shows, the transfer/ethnic cleansing mentality was part and parcel of the belief system of the Arab side and that led to their displacement, when Jews responded in kind to Arab efforts to displace Jews from the region. In fact, the transfer notion was a reaction by Jews that arose during the war, not a pre-set plan. By contrast, the Arab side's position was, from long before the war, to expel the Jewish population.

People who start unnecessary wars - as the Arab side did - and lose those wars have consequences.

So, I do not think this issue is one of your having chosen the wrong word. Rather, it is one of you believing in propaganda claims that are contradicted by the actual historic record.

A. M. Eckstein - 5/16/2008

EM, I don't see how you can get around Tamir's intentional conflating of mutilation of children with encouraging bad habits in children in the following passage. This is intellectual "slilppage' of the worst sort: Tamir's argument is that the West is as bad as the clitordectomy societies, so who are we to judge? But...we are not.

Tamir's full paragraph reads:

"Perhaps, then, we object to clitoridectomy because it is performed on minors. But think of the parents in our culture who foster in their daughters bad eating habits that might destroy their teeth or their vital organs, or, in more tragic cases, lead to life-threatening eating disorders. Are we ready to judge these parents as harshly as we judge parents who require clitoridectomies?"

Edwin Moise - 5/16/2008

No, Tamir's argument does not CONFUSE encouraging bad habits with forcibly mutilating a child. That is simply a figment of your interpretation; there is no such confusion in the passage you quoted from Tamir.

Edwin Moise

art eckstein - 5/15/2008

The Palestinians launched the war in 1947 and were defeated. The Arab states followed in 1948 and were defeated. Defeated states (and populations) suffer consequences.

TT, it is outrageous to claim that the Israelis have committed "many of the same crimes of the Nazis" when the Palestinian population has hugely grown since 1948 (and the population of Gaza has grown by 100,000 since 2005). This is not "genocide".

TT, if you think a crime WAS committed in 1948, then what do you say about the expulsion of the Jews from Muslim lands that followed: the number is 100,000 people larger than the Palestinian Naqba. They were left penniless and their property taken.

As far as I'm concerned, compensation for any property taken from the Palestinians in 1947-1948 can be gotten from the far larger amount of Jewish property seized by the Muslims after 1948 from Morocco to Iraq. Some Arab is enjoying that property as we speak. But no one ever talks about this.

If you are serious, and not a hypocrite, you will accept that a LARGER crime than the Naqba--if the Naqba was a crime--was committed by Arabs on Middle Eastern Jews after 1948.

But, you know TT--somehow I doubt that you will admit this.

I hope you prove me wrong.

T Trimper - 5/15/2008

Perhaps I've got the word wrong, but I think you get the idea.

The Meir and general zionist attitude that "there were no Palestinians" is one of the most anti-semetic statements ever made, worse than "judenrat" because these people should know better. Instead, they are repeating many of the same crimes they were once victims of.

N. Friedman - 5/15/2008


Strike the sentence that reads: "That was a war that the Arab side - proudly proclaimed at the time - to, in their words, expel Jews from their homes."


That was a war that the Arab side started - proudly proclaiming such at the time - to, in their words, expel Jews from their homes.

N. Friedman - 5/15/2008


The word "Naqba" is the word used by Arabs to describe their defeat in a war. That was a war that the Arab side - proudly proclaimed at the time - to, in their words, expel Jews from their homes. Arabs, not Jews, refused to consider a compromise. As historian Benny Morris notes, a driving force for the Arab rejection of compromise was religious hatred of Jews.

I do not think that anyone denies that Arabs suffered when Israeli was created. But, much of the suffering was self-inflicted in a war started in defiance of the United Nations.

T Trimper - 5/15/2008

Claiming that Nakba didn't happen is like claiming Hitler didn't murder six million jews.

All crimes against humanity need to be punished, and revisionism intended to cover up such crimes is equally revolting.

art eckstein - 5/14/2008

Dear OC,

As you can see from my exchange with Omar below, which I think you should read, I too believe that although there was no Palestinian people or nationality in 1920, and probably not in 1948, there is one now that has emerged.

The problem, though, is not only the genocidal nature of the Palestinian culture that has emerged, but that Omar won't similarly acknowledge that an Israeli people or nationality, which (equally) did not exist in 1920 but had come into existence by 1948, also exists. He won't acknowledge reciprocal existence, though the Israeli people (nationality)t too comes out of relatively recent events, as does the Palestinian one. I asked him 48 hours ago to acknowledge this reciprocal existence--and have received no answer. To Omar, it is clear, only the Palestinian people exists. And that, I think, points to the root of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Oscar Chamberlain - 5/14/2008

I'm not sure that there was a Palestinian nationality in 1948. There seems to be one emerging now.

And this is how nationalities often emerge, in chaos and conflict, and sometimes with foul deeds on all sides. One need not like the Palestinians to see them as a nascent, or at least potential, nation.

By the way, since Americans have no ancient coinage, does that mean we have no nationality?

Paul Bogdanor - 5/14/2008

Tamir's full paragraph reads:

"Perhaps, then, we object to clitoridectomy because it is performed on minors. But think of the parents in our culture who foster in their daughters bad eating habits that might destroy their teeth or their vital organs, or, in more tragic cases, lead to life-threatening eating disorders. Are we ready to judge these parents as harshly as we judge parents who require clitoridectomies?"

Tamir has carefully constructed a philosophical argument that confuses ENCOURAGING BAD HABITS with FORCIBLY MUTILATING a child. The nature of the reasoning becomes clear when the passage is rephrased:-

"Perhaps, then, we object to Mengele's experiments because they were performed on minors. But think of the doctors in our culture who addict their child patients to Ritalin which has side-effects that might destroy their physical health, or, in more tragic cases, cause suicidal depression. Are we ready to judge these doctors as harshly as we judge Mengele for requiring child experimentation?"

Any rational person who encountered such an argument would immediately dismiss its proponent as a Mengele apologist, perfunctory condemnations notwithstanding. And this hypothetical Mengele apologist relativises torturous child experiments in the same despicable way that Tamir relativises the sexual mutilation of children.

Edwin Moise - 5/14/2008

Tamir's argument is:

1) The people who impose genital mutilation on girls are doing a bad thing. They should be stopped from doing it.

2) There are also people in our culture who do bad things to girls.

3) Attacks on the practice of genital mutilation should not be phrased in such a fashion as to suggest that only those other cultures do bad things to girls, and that our culture is innocent.

This is not a defense of genital mutilation. It would not be a defense of genital mutilation even if Tamir claimed that our culture does things to girls that are as bad as genital mutilation, and Tamir does not argue that. Bogdanor quotes her: "think of the parents in our culture who foster in their daughters bad eating habits that might destroy their teeth or their vital organs, or, in more tragic cases, lead to life-threatening eating disorders. Are we ready to judge these parents as harshly as we judge parents who require clitoridectomies?" I cannot agree that by asking this question Tamir "equates" the phenomena. But even if she did equate them, this would not constitute a defense of female genital mutilation. It would not even come close to constituting a defense.

A. M. Eckstein - 5/13/2008

I am saying no such thing. The Palestinian people, with all their faults, exists--though in 1920 they did not.

You have yet to acknowledge that the Israeli people--with all their faults but with far more achievements than the Palestinians--exists.

According to you, does the Israeli people exist? Yes or No.

omar ibrahim baker - 5/13/2008

whether something exists or DOES NOT exist has no relation to its contributions and/or achievements in science and/or art or lack thereof!

According to Webster, "exist" means:
1 a: to have real being whether material or spiritual <did unicorns exist> <the largest galaxy known to exist> b: to have being in a specified place or with respect to understood limitations or conditions <strange ideas existed in his mind>
2: to continue to be <racism still exists in society>
3 a: to have life or the functions of vitality <we cannot exist without oxygen> etc...etc

However the interesting think about your repost is your apparent attempt to imbue the term with a presumed theory of a hierarchy of
By which you seem to favour a certain classification system of human kind whereby a people's right to exist is determined by the criteria you choose!

Here you seem to assume the capacity, the ability, the authority, the right to determine which people deserves to exist, how much they deserve to exist, or NOT to exist at all !

That would be a rehash, a reformulation, of an old, long discarded, system known to humankind as racial classification or, in short, racism.

That you hanker to such a system, but dare NOT say so in as many words, is understandable noting that you have been brought up in the original super racist system which classifies humankind as Jew and Goyim!

art eckstein - 5/13/2008

By the same token, the israeli people, who did not exist in 1920 any more than the Palestinian people did, also now exist.

And indeed they not only exist,--as the Palestinians do-- but the Israeli people have created a vibrant economy, great advances in sciences, three world class universities (whereas the entire Muslim world of 55 countries stretching from the Atlantic to Indonesia and with all its huge oil money has no world-class universities); the Israeli people have created symphony orchestras, democracy, a free press, etc., etc., etc.

But I guarantee you that Omar will not acknowledge THIS fact--the existence of the Israeli people.

Meanwhile, whereas the Palestinian people certain exists (although, like the Israelis, in 1920 they did not), the Palestinians' major contributions to world culture are world-scale corruption (Fatah), world-scale ignorant and violent fanaticism (Hamas), and the genocidal suicide bomber.

omar ibrahim baker - 5/13/2008

At long last Professor Eckstein concedes that 2+2=4!
That is a huge step forward for mathematics, for history, for geography and for Professor Eckstein in particular.
It took sometime but it did come at long last: the unique revelation that there is a Palestinian people!

But that was no easy birth; the labour leading to it was wracked with agony and trepidation.
Neither did it come as an unconditionally ipso facto fact!
Together with the revelation /reluctant admission there is an implicit proviso: do not pay them too much attention because
"...But the Palestinian people did not exist in 1920, ".

That is extremely interesting and coming from the highly awarded Professor demands fuller exploration and much, much deeper reflection.
Does it mean that:
- being less than, say, 100 years old makes them a "delinquent" people??
- being a young people makes them worthy of and deserving of guidance by a more mature "people" ??

I guess multi and highly awarded Professor Eckstein is now jumping with excitement at the opportunity I afford him to propose the USA? Israel? for the role of guide to the young, immature??, Palestinian people!
How long will it take him before he comes out with his SECOND earth shattering revelation .....is the important question now?

art eckstein - 5/11/2008

For once I agree with Omar. The "Palestinian people" now exists. And the Israelis must find a way to deal with this entity.

Unfortunately, the Palestinian people has increasingly also become a genocidal death-cult. That is the meta-meaning of suicide bombing--the point is that ANY Jew (men, women, children, old, young, political opinion unimportant) will due to kill. And Omar's crowing about the rise of fanatical Islamist beliefs shows that the transformation of the Palestinian people into a death-cult is unfortunately not yet complete.

But the Palestinian people did not exist in 1920, as Plaut points out in discussing the original meaning of "al-Nakba", which meant the separation of what later became the Palestinian people from Syria. And Benny Morris' new book makes a similar point-- that the Yishuv could not have beaten the Palestinians in the civil war that began in late 1947, almost 30 years later, if the local Palestinian populations had not placed local deals with the Jews (or local fighting with the Jews) above any kind of coordinated strategy by "the Palestinian people."

That this was the situation in 1920, and in 1947-1948, is interesting. But it has little or no relevance to the present problems.

As for "the crime" Omar bitterly refers to, Omar has never come to terms with the fact that 100,000 more Jews were expelled from the Muslim Middle East after 1948 than Palestinians were displaced in the war of 1948. If the one is a "crime," than the other is a bigger crime. He has never acknowledged this.

Of course, population displacements and "exchanges" were in any case not unusual in the late 1940s. 12 milion Germans were expelled from Eastern Europe and cannot--by law--come back; 2 million of them died. The tragic population exchanges that occurred in the creation of India are well known. The expulsion of Greeks as well as Jews from Nassar's Egypt in the 1950s is well known. The expulsion of Greeks from the northern coast of Turkey in the 1950s--a classic ethnic cleansing--is, on the other hand, unknown except to the Greeks.

None of the above groups engage in genocidal-themed suicide bombing. We don't see the descendents of German refugees blowing up universities in Warsaw, or the descendent of Jewish or Greek refugees blowing up busses filled with civilians in Cairo, or the descendant of Greek refugees blowing up discos in Istanbul.

But Omar once explained the difference to me: the Palestinians, he told me, are "more honorable" than these other (often larger) refugee groups from the 1940s.

Well, that's one way of putting it.

omar ibrahim baker - 5/11/2008

The more Jewish scholars endeavor to prove that there is no Palestinian people, the better I feel about the whole situation!
It, their inane denial, is not only a means of guilt alleviation but more importantly it is a flight into phantasy land to avoid facing reality.

For the reality of the situation is truly unsettling.
For the few, the more conscientious among them, a crime was committed and will have to be atoned for one way or another.
For the many, the less conscientious among them, the widening and deepening hatred surrounding them, the grim prospects of further alienation, the hopelessness of the whole situation, the dead end reached with REALITY in total NEGATION of the promise, with peace further than ever before , with racism assuming the role of officially adopted nation/state dogma…....there is very little to celebrate.
In a more sober mood Professor Plaut should wish that there is a Palestinian people with whom to deal rather than to face the faceless nemesis of Jewish Zionism, the Islamist movement, with whom he will have to deal sooner or later.

art eckstein - 5/10/2008

Plaut and Bogdanor win. Moise is, clearly, wrong.

art eckstein - 5/10/2008

The above from JE is an example of "defining genocide down" in such a way that the Israelis can somehow be made guilty of "genocide", even though the hard fact is that the Palestinian populations in Gaza, Israel, and the West Bank have all greatly increased since 1948--increased, not been annihilated.

Per Fagereng - 5/10/2008

Except for the people of Deir Yassin who freely volunteered to be shot.

Paul Bogdanor - 5/10/2008

I have consulted the text of the article by Tamir. The passage you quoted continues as follows:-

"But we also should be suspicious about the role of clitoridectomy in current political debate. Despite their liberal appearance, references to clitoridectomy commonly reveal a patronizing attitude toward women, suggesting that they are primarily sexual beings. Moreover, those references involve a certain degree of dishonesty."

So Tamir's perfunctory rejection of female genital mutilation is the preface to a lengthy attack on the arguments and motives of its opponents. She relativises the atrocity by comparing it to the removal of teeth, body piercing, tattooing, and "abnormal elongation of lips, ear lobes, and necks." She even offers the following argument:-

"it seems clear that Western conceptions of female beauty encourage women to undergo a wide range of painful, medically unnecessary, and potentially damaging processes - extreme diets, depilation, face lifts, fat pumping, silicone implants. Of course, adult women do these things to their own bodies, and, it is said, their decisions are freely made. But would our gut reaction to female circumcision be very different if it were performed on consenting adults?"

Tamir knows very well that female genital mutilation is not performed on consenting adults. That her obfuscation is intentional is confirmed by this passage:-

"think of the parents in our culture who foster in their daughters bad eating habits that might destroy their teeth or their vital organs, or, in more tragic cases, lead to life-threatening eating disorders. Are we ready to judge these parents as harshly as we judge parents who require clitoridectomies?"

Thus Tamir equates parents who "foster" bad eating habits with those who FORCE children to suffer female genital mutilation. And she urges her Western readers to stop discussing the atrocity:-

"Referring to clitoridectomy, and emphasizing the distance of the practice from our own conventions, allows us to condemn THEM for what they do to THEIR women, support the struggle of THEIR women against their primitive, inhuman culture, and remain silent on the status of women in our society."

In short, Tamir argues that the focus on female genital mutilation is a sign of Western hypocrisy; that the atrocity is no more offensive than harmless or non-coercive practices such as dentistry and cosmetic surgery; that the perpetrators of this atrocity are no worse than parents who encourage the wrong eating habits; and that condemnation of the atrocity is motivated by sexism and racism.

That hardly amounts to denouncing the crime "in no uncertain terms."

Jeffery Ewener - 5/10/2008

You're absolutely right, Braun. I was quoting from memory, which gets riskier as the years go on. Lemkin was writing in the '40s after all, and referred to the German occupation of Holland in that decade.

I think this actually reinforces the point I was trying to make, which is that Lemkin -- who we see now is surveying the full horror of Nazi crimes -- still tries to usefully distinguish between the different forms or modes of genocide, all of which are directed to the same final goal via different means, different operations in different areas.

A nation is a complex entity, and can therefore be attacked, with an aim to its destruction, in very different ways.

Jeffery Ewener - 5/10/2008

You should ask a cultural anthropologist, not me. They're the people who look for identifying myths of the kind you describe. If the Palestinians were originally the Philistines or the Canaanites, as some argue, then they have a wealth of mythical material in the bible itself. Not to mention plenty of coins under the soil, the ruins of cities, and so on.

But none of that really matters. Nations are human, and therefore historical entities, they come into being and pass away. The usual markers of a nation focus on the here and now -- common language, common culture, etc. -- and as far as I know none of them is definitive on its own. You've got to look at the whole cluster.

Nations are also basically self-defining, as the Israelis have demonstrated magnificently in the revival of modern Hebrew. The Palestinians are a nation first and foremost because they say they are. Maybe this accounts for the brutality of Israeli violence against them. There is no military objective for the IDF to take, no beach, no bridge, no fortress, only an idea in people's heads. So they multiply the checkpoints, invade homes, close down schools and orphanages, vandalize centuries-old olive trees and commit innumerable other examples of petty humiliations every day, to try to undermine ordinary people's idea of who they are, their pride, their sense of belonging, of community.

It seems natural that religious fundamentalists like Hamas, with their harder lines, firmer definitions, stronger sense of identity & purpose, would become more popular with people under such circumstances, no?

Irene Solnik - 5/9/2008

A nation, name their coinage, name an ancient ruler, name one ancient reverance to them? Can't do it can you?

Irene Solnik - 5/9/2008

They left of their own free will hoping to take over dead Jews property!

Edwin Moise - 5/9/2008

Plaut states that Yuli Tamir (also known as Yael Tamir), Israel's minister of education, "is so bizarre that in the summer of 1996 she published an article in the Boston Review defending female circumcision in the Third World and denouncing those who expressed disgust at the practice – see http://bostonreview.net/BR21.3/Tamir.html.)"

This is a remarkable misrepresentation. If one will consult the actual text of the article by Tamir, to which Plaut referred, one will find that in it Tamir denounced female circumcision--clitoridectomy--in no uncertain terms. "Clitoridectomy is obviously a deplorable practice. It is, among other things, an extremely painful, traumatizing mutilation of young girls that leaves them permanently disfigured and deprived of sexual enjoyment. We should express no sympathy toward those who practice it, and support those who struggle to end it."

Salé Braun - 5/9/2008

I would strongly recommend Jeffrey Ewener to better check his souces before indulging in obscure semantics I'm not sure he himself understands.During WWI Holland was neutral and was never occupied by Germany.This gross ignorance of an important historic detail casts serious doubt about the rest of his purported reasoning.

Kerr Mahnke - 5/9/2008

good job uncovering the true meaning of nakba. Now please stop calling anyone who questions Israel's treatment of Palestinians (and don't be daft, you know to whom I refer) anti-Semites.

Jeffery Ewener - 5/9/2008

What is the point of an article like this? Is it just nonsense, the ravings of a bitter old fool? Or is it, within its historical situation, attempting to fill a role that is far worse?

Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term "genocide", intended it originally to cover a range of crimes. The unifying element was that they were all directed to the destruction of a "nation", by one means or another.

The most familiar, and the most horrific, is biological genocide, the killing of all the members of the nation, as practised against European Jews, the Rom, the Armenians, the Tutsis and so on.

But Lemkin identified other strategies, and other crimes, directed toward the same end. There is cultural genocide, economic genocide, political genocide. Lemkin gives the example of the Dutch under German occupation in the First World War (he was writing in the '30s), whose schools were forced to educate Dutch youth in German and were forbidden to teach Dutch. A similar strategy was employed in Canada against aboriginal children, in order, it was said, to help them "assimilate" to Canadian society. The point was to eliminate the power of the nation to reproduce itself into the future, to steadily erode the possibility of its continued existence as a self-recognised, self-expressing entity.

In this context, Plaut's idiotic argument takes on a much darker role -- as an attempt at a kind of "epistemological genocide", defining away the Palestinians' very right to see and express themselves as a nation, and to be so seen by the other nations of the world.

While this article may seem to be trivial, in the historical and political context of an infinitely delayed Palestinian statehood, under an infinitely extended military occupation, upon a territory continuously compromised, infiltrated, marginalised and fragmented, it has its own small but vicious little role to play.

Per Fagereng - 5/9/2008

Call them what you will, the fact remains that hundreds of thousands of real people were driven from their homes in 1948.