What Is Nakba Day? Here’s the Truth the Mainstream Media Won’t Tell You

by May 15, 2019Foreign Policy6 comments

Palestinian refugees fleeing their homes, October 30, 1948 (Source: PalestineRemembered.com)

The New York Times’ reporting on the meaning of Nakba Day shows how the major media systematically whitewash the ethnic cleansing of Palestine from history.

Today is “Nakba Day”, which commemorates the ethnic cleansing of most of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine in 1948, a crime carried out by Zionist forces in order to establish there a “Jewish state”. But that’s not how the Western mainstream media explain it. Instead, Al-Nakba—Arabic for “The Catastrophe”—is whitewashed from history. The New York Times, America’s “newspaper of record” and arguably the most influential newspaper in the world, provides a useful case study.

The Times sometimes presents an explanation for the Nakba taken straight from Zionist propaganda, contending simply that Nakba Day is when Palestinians lament the establishment of Israel in 1948—as though Palestinians had no cause for lamentation other than an apparent hatred of Jews.

Sometimes in presenting the Zionist narrative, the Times does acknowledge that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians became refugees in 1948, but this is characterized as simply a consequence of a war started by the Arabs against the newly formed state of Israel—thus again leaving readers with the same false impression that the Arabs were the aggressors and had no reasonable cause.

Sometimes, the Times acknowledges that many Arab villages were also destroyed, though the fact that these numbered in the hundreds is rarely if ever mentioned.

On extremely rare occasions in the past, the Times has used the term “ethnic cleansing” in the context of Israel’s founding and the creation of the Palestinian refugee crisis that persists to this day. But the application of this term to what happened in 1948 is characterized as though dubious and controversial.

This is rather puzzling for a newspaper that in 1979 reported how former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had provided a firsthand account of how Palestinian civilians were deliberately expelled from their homes by Zionist forces.

It’s true, of course, that there are those who deny that what occurred was ethnic cleansing, but their denials are simply untenable. Israeli historian Benny Morris, for example, has argued that the term “ethnic cleansing” doesn’t apply, even though his own published research shows that ethnic cleansing is exactly what occurred.

As I relate in my book Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, in 2011, an episode occurred that is particularly illuminating with respect to how the New York Times willfully deceives its readers.

On May 14 of that year, Ethan Bronner wrote in the Times, “After Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948, armies from neighboring Arab states attacked the new nation; during the war that followed, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes by Israeli forces. Hundreds of Palestinian villages were also destroyed.”

A reader wrote to the editors to object to the Times omitting the fact that hundreds of thousands of Arabs had already been expelled from their homes before the Zionists unilaterally declared the existence of their “Jewish state” on May 14, 1948.

The public editor, Arthur S. Brisbane, relayed Bonner’s response that “space was limited in a short story and he wasn’t trying to recite the full history.”

In other words, neither Mr. Bronner nor his editors considered the fact particularly relevant, and due to space limitations, nothing could be done but mislead readers into believing that the flight and expulsions began only after the neighboring Arab states had sent their armies into Palestine.

We can demonstrate what a sorry excuse that was by simply rewriting the sentence to accurately communicate what happened in the same number of words: When the state of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948, armies from neighboring Arab states were sent to stop the ethnic cleansing operations that had already been underway for several months. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes.

There is only one purpose for the Times’ deception: to whitewash the ethnic cleansing from history. This is in keeping with the function that the major media serve of manufacturing public consent for government policies.

Just as the media spewed state propaganda to manufacture consent for the US government’s illegal war of aggression against Iraq in 2003, so do they spew propaganda to manufacture consent for the US government’s policy of supporting Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians.

By whitewashing the Zionists’ crimes against the Palestinians, the media whitewash Western governments’ complicity in them.

Indeed, the ethnic cleansing was a crime that was facilitated by the victorious Allied Powers in the wake of the First World War, particularly Great Britain, which enforced a belligerent occupation of Palestine after the dissolution of the defeated Ottoman Empire precisely in order to deny Palestine’s inhabitants their right to self-determination so that the Zionist project could proceed apace to reconstitute the Arab territory into a demographically “Jewish state”.

The policy course instituted by Britain’s infamous Balfour Declaration of 1917 ultimately facilitated the ethnic cleansing of most of the Arab population from their homes in Palestine in order for Israel to be established.

By the time the Zionists unilaterally and with no legal authority declared the existence of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948, more than a quarter of a million Arabs had already become refugees. By the time armistice lines were drawn in 1949, more than 700,000 Palestinians had been ethnically cleansed. The reason this refugee crisis has persisted to this day is because Israel refuses to allow Palestinian refugees to exercise their internationally recognized right to return to their homeland.

There is an institutionalized bias in the Western mainstream media toward the Israel-Palestine conflict, such that the fact that ethnic cleansing operations were already underway before the neighboring Arab states militarily intervened in Palestine is deemed irrelevant. Disclosing such facts doesn’t lead readers toward the desired conclusions.

The New York Times’ treatment of what “Nakba Day” means to Palestinians illustrates how the media attempt to conceal important historical facts from the general public in order to legitimize the heinous crime by which the “Jewish state” came into being and thus also to whitewash Western governments’ complicity in it.

But the truth cannot be concealed from the masses forever. The historical facts, no thanks to the major corporate media, are becoming known to an increasing number of people, prompting many to become active in the struggle for a just peace.

The governments of the world aren’t going to get the job done. The mainstream media refuse to do it. It is up to us to effect the paradigm shift necessary for a just peace to be realized. It is to empower people with the knowledge they need to speak out and help effect that shift that I wrote the book Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Without US support, Israel would simply not be able to sustain its oppressive occupation regime. Effecting the paradigm shift necessary so that it remains no longer politically tenable for the US to continue its policy of supporting Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians—or for the major media to continue deceiving the public about the fundamental essence of the conflict—should therefore be the primary goal of activists in the struggle for a just peace.

American activists in particular have a special responsibility in that regard.

This article was originally published at Foreign Policy Journal.

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About Jeremy R. Hammond

About Jeremy R. Hammond

I am an independent journalist, political analyst, publisher and editor of Foreign Policy Journal, book author, and writing coach.

My writings empower readers with the knowledge they need to see through state propaganda intended to manufacture their consent for criminal government policies.

By recognizing when we are being lied to and why, we can fight effectively for liberty, peace, and justice, in order to create a better world for ourselves, our children, and future generations of humanity.

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6 Comments

  1. rustyshackelfurd

    The conversation among the Israeli leadership in 1948 went something like this:

    David Ben-Gurion: We’re going to make sure that most of the Palestinians are forced into the surrounding Arab countries by the end of the war.
    other Israeli leader: But won’t that cause a great deal of international controversy?
    David Ben-Gurion: No, it won’t because I’m talking about today’s Arab countries.

    Reply
    • Jeremy R. Hammond

      Not sure what you’re driving at, but nice of you to acknowledge Ben-Gurion’s intent to ethnically cleanse Palestine of Arabs.

      Reply
      • Rusty Shackelford

        The truth is I don’t really understand myself what I’m driving at. All I know is that you seem to consider Ben-Gurion’s reasoning in this dialogue to be a valid defense of ethnic cleansing. You seem to consider the choice to force a particular ethnic group out of a particular country and into other countries defensible specifically because, at the time in 1948, those were “today’s Arab countries”. The fact that it was “today’s” Arab countries seems to make all the difference to you.

        I fully acknowledge that I don’t understand this reasoning. But you seem to get it. Could you please explain it to me?

      • Jeremy R. Hammond

        All I know is that you seem to consider Ben-Gurion’s reasoning in this dialogue to be a valid defense of ethnic cleansing.

        What a truly puzzling interpretation of my repeated condemnations of the Zionists’ ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

        Begone, troll!

      • Rusty Shackleford

        I have a strong feeling that you’ve understood from the start exactly the point I’m making and are only pretending to be confused because you realize acknowledgment of that point would make you look really bad. But I’ll entertain the notion that you don’t understand and explain it to you. You said the following in your article on Helen Thomas:

        “Thomas didn’t say that Jews indigenous to Palestine should leave, but referred only to Jews who immigrated there from Europe and elsewhere”

        You further defended Thomas’s demand by claiming that “Thomas did not suggest Jews should return to “the places of the final solution”, but to today’s Germany and Poland”. So you said it would be okay to ethnically cleanse most Israeli Jews by sending them to today’s Germany and Poland. You said such ethnic cleansing would be okay because Israeli Jews would be sent to modern day Germany and Poland. You put the word “today” in italics, emphasizing that the temporal aspects of the places Thomas wanted Israeli Jews sent to somehow would make this all okay.

        You’ve established that you’re okay with ethnic cleansing as long as the places the victims of the ethnic cleansing are sent to are “today’s” version of those places. If you’re okay with Jews being ethnically cleansed from Israel then obviously you’re okay with Palestinians being ethnically cleansed from Israel. It’s not possible for you to be okay with the former but not the latter since that would mean that you’re clearly biased against Israeli Jews but, as you told me on Amazon, you’re not biased against Israeli Jews. Since you’re not biased against Israel you clearly have equal tolerance for both ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Israelis and ethnic cleansing perpetrated against Israelis.

        Thus, your repeated condemnations of the Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinians are clearly lies.

      • Jeremy R. Hammond

        I have a strong feeling that you’ve understood from the start exactly the point I’m making and are only pretending to be confused…

        Now you’re projecting.

        So you said it would be okay to ethnically cleanse most Israeli Jews by sending them to today’s Germany and Poland.

        That is a malicious lie.

        Begone, troll!

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