Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Review: The Palestine Nakba

Bernard Regan reviews Nur Masalha’s account of Palestinian history and the significance of the Nakba in the Israel-Palestine conflict

June 18, 2012
6 min read

If most of us were asked to recommend books on Palestine and the Palestinians we would almost certainly list authors like Avi Schlaim, Benny Morris and Ilan Pappé. Some might suggest Edward Said but too few would propose the long list of Palestinian authors who have written on Palestinian history. The works of historians like Rashid Khalidi, Abboushi, Kayyali, Antonius and many more all too often go unmentioned. It has been as if many in the West have not been prepared to accept accounts about what happened to the Palestinians unless the author was not a Palestinian.

Nur Massalha is another author people interested in the history of Palestine should be familiar with. For those who aren’t this book on the Nakba is a good place to start for those who want to explore accounts following the events that lead to the establishment of the state of Israel following British imperialism’s occupation and the suppression of the people of Palestine.

Massalha’s book provides a rich and challenging account of the Nakba, expanding our knowledge of the history of the Palestinians and raising some fundamental questions about just who writes history and how it is written. In my view this book breaks new ground in a number of ways which may well encourage a much wider debate on authorship and narrative in the history of Palestine.

It is a fact that the word ‘Nakba’ remains largely unknown to much of the world – and to others it is just the name given by Palestinians to 1948. Its significance to the Palestinians is of course much greater and Masalha’s new book begins to redress this, revealing its multi-layered character and the way in which the Israeli state, its army and agencies like the Jewish National Fund worked and are continuing to work assiduously to erase any record of the Palestinians from their homeland.

As Masalha says, ‘The Palestinians share common experiences with other indigenous peoples who have their narrative denied, their material culture destroyed and their histories erased or reinvented by European white settlers and colonisers.’ What might shock the reader is the systematic nature of this process which was inflicted on the Palestinians. The book details some of the massacres which took place, many after fighting had finished. Lydda where between 250-400 men and women were gunned down inside the city whilst hundreds more died of starvation fleeing it.  The list of atrocities has never fully been catalogued but the numbers in brackets indicate just some of the ‘white flag’ massacres that were carried out by Zionist para-militaries which subsequently merged to form the Israeli army: Balad al Shaykh (14); Semiramis Hotel, Jerusalem (12); Al Husayniyya (15); Safad (70); Acre (100); Al Tantura (70); Asdud (10); Safsaf (50); al-Dawayma (80). In each case I have quoted it is the lower figure of what is believed to have happened.  The list is much longer and does not include the cases of rape and sexual assault carried out by Zionist forces in towns like Acre, Al Tantura, Qula and more, the victims murdered more often than not after their assault.

Towns and villages have been destroyed and their names changed, mosques turned into bars and restaurants, theme parks and nature reserves developed on Palestinian lands. Moshe Dayan, a former General in the Israeli Defence Force and Foreign Minister, said, ‘Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these villages and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist.’ The object quite literally was to wipe the Palestinians off the map.

Many academics perpetuate the myth that there are no Palestinian archives. The truth is that many Palestinians records have been destroyed, books burnt and archives plundered, in Beirut and Jerusalem to name but two cases.  In an act of what Masalha, and others, have called ‘memoricide’ the aim is to remove all evidence of the Palestinians presence in the land substituting for it a synthetic history of Jewish continuity.  The expression ‘History is written by the victor’ has almost become a cliché but in contrast to these one sided and highly partisan accounts Masalha explains the importance of the role of Oral History in recapturing the past. He rightly asserts the validity of this process as way of regaining authorship of Palestinian history.  It is an important way for the victim or subaltern, to regain their voice.

There is much to commend in this book, not least the critique of the ‘new historians’ and analysis of the different approaches adopted by Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappé in particular. The three, once friends, have of course long since parted company with Pappé once describing Morris as a ‘Zionist fascist’.  Differentiating between Morris and Shlaim on the one hand and Pappé on the other, Maslaha points out that Morris and Shlaim write as though everything began in 1967 and the events of 1948 belong to another time. Their weakness, he identifies as stemming from their inability or refusal, unlike Pappé, to really accept the nature of the ethnic cleansing undertaken by the Zionist forces.  Morris’s subsequent claim that the problem was that the Zionists did not go far enough in 1948 has led to his work being put under a more rigorous scrutiny.  Shlaim’s work however has not been subject to a similar process of evaluation and although far from the position of Morris, it suffers from the fact that it considers the contenders of 1948, the Zionist terrorist and the Palestinians, as engaged in a symmetrical struggle.

The Palestine Nakba is a major contribution to redressing the gaps in our understanding of the Nakba and the way in which it is presented in the west. Palestinian history didn’t begin with the ‘new historians’: Nur Maslaha’s work and that of the large number of Palestinian historians that there are, deserve to be much more widely read and appreciated. Begin by buying this book!

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going


20