Jewish rescuers search for victims in the rubble of destroyed buildings on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem in March 1948 during Arab-Israeli War, before the proclamation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. (Hugo H. Mendelsohn/AFP via Getty Images)

BC Must Reject Activist Demand to Teach Historically Inaccurate Account of 1948 Arab-Israeli War in Schools

A pro-Palestinian activist group called Nakba Education BC has sent an open letter and a petition to Minister of Education Rachna Singh demanding that “the Nakba” be immediately (“NOW”) integrated into B.C.’s elementary and secondary school curricula.
Nakba means “catastrophe” in Arabic; it characterizes the ongoing Palestinian view of Israel’s victory in the 1948 War of Independence.

The heart of the petition deplores “the violent dispossession and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that led to the creation of the state of Israel,” stating that “[o]ver 700,000 Palestinians were forcefully expelled from their homes, more than 15,000 were massacred, and over 500 of their villages were destroyed.”

The first problem with this statement is its complete lack of context. The upheaval referred to occurred in the course of a defensive war on Israel’s part, launched immediately following Israel’s U.N.-validated elevation to statehood by a coalition of Egyptian, Jordanian, Iraqi, Syrian, and Lebanon forces.

The Arabs had more than defeat of the Jews in mind. I.F. Stone, once the left’s most revered journalist, wrote a contemporaneous book, “This is Israel,” based on his war reportage. “Arab leaders made no secret of their intentions,” he wrote, and, quoting the head of the Arab League, Abdul Rahman Azzam: “This war will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongol massacres and the Crusades.”

The second problem is the statement, “more than 15,000 were massacred.” Civilians? Fighters? According to scholar Henry Laurens, only 3,000 Palestinian civilians are known to have died as collateral damage to combat. Another 11,047 Palestinians went missing and were “presumed dead though not known to have died in combat situations.”
The third problem is that the words “forcefully expelled” are misleading, because they strongly imply that it was only Jews who forced them to leave.

An enormous amount of research has been done over the years on this thorny issue. According to Efraim Karsh, head of the Middle East program at King’s College London and author of the 2010 book, “Palestine Betrayed,” irrefutable evidence—intelligence briefs, captured Arab documents, press reports, personal testimonies et al.—proves that most Palestinian Arabs did not need to be forced. They were eager to be out of harm’s way, especially since they were assured they would soon return after a presumed easy victory against out-matched Jews. (It was in fact miraculous that Israel prevailed.)
Of those who wanted to stay, large numbers were driven from their homes by their own leaders or by the “Arab Liberation Army” that entered Palestine prior to the British departure. In Haifa, for one well-known example, where there were about 60,000 Arab residents, most were bullied into leaving on the instructions of the Arab Higher Committee, the all-but-official “government” of the Palestinian Arabs.
As The Economist reported on Oct 3, 1948, “Various factors influenced the [Haifa Arabs’] decision to seek safety in flight. There is but little doubt that the most potent of the factors were the announcements made over the air by the Higher Arab Executive, urging the Arabs to quit. … It was clearly intimated that those Arabs who remained in Haifa and accepted Jewish protection would be regarded as renegades.”

The fourth problem relates to (minimally) one of the nine signatories to the petition, Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network. The Israelis consider Samidoun to be an international proxy organization for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, best known for airplane hijackings and suicide bombings. The PFLP is listed as a terror organization in Canada and elsewhere. (In 2021, the Israeli government designated Samidoun a terrorist entity in its own right.)
Any group willing to associate itself with Samidoun—or conversely to be accepted by Samidoun as an associate—cannot be trusted to be objective in the creation of a teaching project that involves Israel. But even if the demand for the Nakba to be included in a curriculum were put forward by good-faith educators, it would be reasonable to interrogate the need for it.

The world is, and always has been, chock-a-block with refugees left homeless following wars. All but the Palestinians accepted that they must start life anew elsewhere. And for the most pertinent example of the road to a healthy future not taken by the Palestinians, we have only to look at the ethnic cleansing of Jews in Arab countries.
Before 1948, there were nearly 900,000 Jews living in Arab lands. By 2001, only 6,500 remained. For no other reason than anti-Semitism, the Arab League urged Arab governments to cleanse their Jews by making life untenable through discriminatory decrees, including the freezing of bank accounts. In 1951, the Iraqi government passed legislation that made affiliation with Zionism a felony and ordered the expulsion of Jews who refused to sign a statement of anti-Zionism.

The Arabic Jews were compelled to leave all their assets—estimated at some $7 billion in today’s currency—which they never recovered. (By contrast, Israel returned over 90 percent of blocked bank accounts and safe deposit boxes to the Palestinian refugees.)

In 2008, the U.S. Congress adopted Resolution 185, recognizing Jewish refugees from Arab countries. In its preamble are these words: “Whereas Jews and other ethnic groups have lived mostly as minorities in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf region for more than 2,500 years, more than 1,000 years before the advent of Islam…” And these: “Whereas approximately 850,000 Jews have been displaced from Arab countries since the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948…”
What happened to those Jews? Why aren’t they demanding inclusion of their own “catastrophe” in the education curricula of the West? Very simple. They were absorbed into Israel (with enormous difficulty, given Israel’s meagre resources at the time), because they had nowhere else to go, and because Israel recognized their obligation to their ethnic kinsmen. Their children and grandchildren are today indistinguishable from other Israelis. Their catastrophe is behind them, as it is for innumerable other former refugees.

The Palestinians’ Nakba continues to fester, because they alone of all the refugees in the world remain mired in a revanchist fantasy that they can rewrite history. They are encouraged in this fantasy by their ethnic brethren, by an Israel-hostile U.N., and by useful western idiots who romanticize victimhood. With over 75 years of grievance-collecting as their daily bread, Palestinian culture has become steeped in a toxic rejectionism that has no parallel anywhere else in the world. They could have had their state many times over, but they prefer self-sabotage to living in peace alongside hated Jews.

Conceived as an anti-Semitism-laundering project, Nakba Education BC’s petition must be rejected.