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.