The Palestine Nakba is the best known dispossession myth in the Palestinian “narrative,” though it is not the first or the last. Everyone knows that almost three quarters of a million Palestinian Arabs became refugees during the 1948 Israel War of Independence. The Arabs have constructed a mythical narrative around these refugees. The historian Benny Morris wrote of this myth:
In defiance of the will of the international community, as embodied in the UN General Assembly Resolution of November 29th, 1947 (No. 181), they launched hostilities against the Jewish community in Palestine in the hope of aborting the emergence of the Jewish state and perhaps destroying that community. But they lost; and one of the results was the displacement of 700,000 of them from their homes…
The displacement of the 700,000 Arabs who became “refugees” …was … the result of a national conflict and a war, with religious overtones, from the Muslim perspective, launched by the Arabs themselves.
Benny Morris did more than anyone else to launch the Nakba myth and give it academic respectablity. Still, he can be dismissed as a “Zionist.” The testimony of Arabs, then and now, cannot be dismissed in the same way. Emile Ghoury, secretary of the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee, in an interview with the Beirut Telegraph published on Sept. 6, 1949, stated:
” The fact that there are these refugees is the direct consequence of the act of the Arab states in opposing partition and the Jewish state. The Arab states agree upon this policy unanimously and they must share in the solution of the problem.”
Ghoury’s statement is joined by hundreds of similar statements. They can all be dismissed as self-serving. The instigators of the war were not the Arab states alone. The Arabs of Palestine, and their leaders, especially the Nazi Grand Mufti, Hajj Amin Al Husseini conducted a tireless agitation on behalf of the Palestinian cause in every Arab capital. Prior to the Arab invasion, the Arabs of Palestine conducted a tenacious and cruel civil war against the Jews, including a siege of Jerusalem. They sent emissaries to Damascus and other Arab capitals to beg for arms and soldiers, After the defeat, the Palestinians blamed the Arab States, and the Arab states blamed the Palestinians. Success has many fathers. Failure is always an orphan.
The statements of Palestinians can all be ignored in favor of the Palestinian Arab dispossession myth. But Ghoury’s version, is affirmed by a much more recent Arab source, an Iraqi author:
Arabs …must help me expose and eliminate the enormous lie that has for 60 years justified, extolled, and supported brutality…
“This enormous lie is what the Arabs called the Nakba — that is, the establishment of two states in Palestine: the state of Israel, which the Jews agreed to accept, and the state of Palestine, which the Arabs rejected.
“In our times, when science, with its accurate instruments, can predict climatic changes that will lead to drought or the movement of tectonic plates that causes earthquakes, it is inconceivable that a modern man can, without making a laughingstock of himself, attribute the destruction of cities ancient or modern to the wrath of Allah. Nevertheless, today, 80% of Arabs claim this to be the case. They are neither embarrassed nor afraid of being laughed at.
The Nakba myth is supposedly buttressed by the evidence of millions of Palestinian “refugees” who live in camps paid for, for the most part, by Western powers. Everywhere else, children of refugees are not considered refugees, but for some reason, these people are.
Most of these “refugees” were born in the camps, and have no knowledge of the events of 1948. Some, an unknown number, are not even descendants of Palestinian refugees, The misery of the refugees was imposed on them by Arab countries, to put political pressure on Israel.
But the Nakba myth is only a part of the dispossession fiction concocted by Palestinians and their apologists. According to the dispossession myth, Zionists plotted to “ethnically cleanse” the Arabs of Palestine as part of Zionist ideology and goals. The mosaic of this myth is made of many bits of evidence, some fabricated (see for example here ). This supposed “dispossession” began during the time of the British Palestine Mandate, The origin of the claims that Zionists were dispossessing the Arabs of Palestine were the repeated and insistent claims of the Nazi Grand Mufti, Hajj Amin Al Husseini, When these claims were investigated, it was found that much less than 1,000 families may have lost land as the result of Zionist land purchases. If, as alleged, “[t]he dispossession and expulsion of a majority of Palestinians were the result of Zionist policies planned over a thirty-year period,” then the fiendish Zionist policies were a miserable failure, and the Zionist leaders were woefully incompetent. In 1922, according to the British census, there were 672,000 non-Jews in Palestine, mostly Arab Muslims. In 1945 there were over over 1.22 million non-Jews on Palestine, an increase of about 81%. Clearly, Arabs were not dispossessed by Zionist settlement. Since the beginning of Zionist settlement, more Arabs came to live, and still live, in the land between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea than at any previous time in recorded history. Nonetheless, the myth of Palestinian Arab dispossession persists. Ignoring the obvious fact of population growth, the myth makers toil away to assemble “facts” in support of the myth.
A passage in the Hope Simpson report of 1930 has been a standby favorite of the myth makers. The report of Sir John Hope Simpson (the “Hope Simpson” report”) was issued following the widespread Palestinian riots of 1929. Though the riots were kindled by agitation about supposed Zionist designs on the Al-Aqsa mosque, the Shaw Commission,appointed after the riots, upon the urgent lobbying of the Grand Mufti, Hajj Amin Al Husseini, who had instigated the riots, indicated that the riots were due to immigration and land purchases.
The British had already decided to renege on its promise of a Jewish national home. This would antagonize the Arabs and require the presence of British troops in Palestine, which would be expensive. The British authorities accordingly conducted an “investigation” into the possibilities for future immigration to and settlement of Palestine. The investigation was headed by Sir John Hope Simpson. The results of the “investigation’ were a foregone conclusion.
Hope Simpson knew little about Palestine except what he was told by his advisors. The British constructed a fantastic theory according to which the land was like a container of limited size. It would only hold a limited population, regardless of development. The report claimed that there was not enough land to support continued immigration. According to the report, Arab farmers were suffering from severe economic difficulties, because there was not sufficient arable land reserves per farmer. There was no evidence at all that the Standard of living of Palestinian Arabs had decreased under the mandate. On the contrary, it had obviously improved despite the world depression..
The “forecast” assumed that there could be no irrigation, no reclamation of land and that the economy of Palestine must always be based on subsistence agriculture. The heart of the report was the following:
Fellah families cultivating.—An enquiry has been made by a Commission appointed by the Palestine Government into the economic condition of agriculturists in 104 representative villages. In these villages there reside 23,573 families, of whom 16,633 have holdings and 6,940 have not, that is to say, that there are in these villages 29.4 per cent, of families who live, not directly by cultivation, but by labour either in the village or outside and in other ways. Everywhere there is the complaint that many of the cultivators have lost their land. Doubtless this 29.4 per cent, includes these landless men who previously were cultivators. If a deduction of 29.4 per cent, is made from the total of 86,980 families reached above, the balance is 61,408 families actually cultivating the land in the Hills and the Five Plains. In addition, there are a large number of families which should be, but are not, cultivating the land.
There is no explanation of hoe or why these particular villages were chosen, and there is no evidence given to support the contention that:
Doubtless this 29.4 per cent, includes these landless men who previously were cultivators
. Some of the 29.4% were “doubtless” previously cultivators, but “doubtless,” some of the landowners were previously landless. No longitudinal study was ever done. As Kenneth Stein pointed out in The Land Question in Palestine, the “data” purposely did not take into account that a large part of the rural population was always composed of people who did not own land and never owned land: blacksmiths,wheelwrights,teachers ,clerks, Imams, grocers, younger sons and itinerant workers. No data for comparison were offered from similar villages in other countries. Moreover the process of “dispossession” of Arab small holders had been going on for many years, and it was being done not by Zionists, but by richer Arabs, as Stein notes. The same process, of course, was going on around the world. The balance of population was shifting from over 90% rural and agricultural in 1800 to 0ver 90% urban and industrial all over the world. Palestine was no exception. The non-Jewish population of Palestine grew from 672,000 in 1922, to over 800,000 in 1930. Since there was not an unlimited amount of land, some people had to pursue non-agricultural occupations. The British knew this, since they were hiring Arabs to work on expanding the port of Haifa, and importing laborers from the Houran in Syria.
Population growth was unevenly distributed among the sixteen subdistricts of mandatory Palestine. If Jews displaced Arabs, we would expect that the greatest increase in Arab population would occur in the areas with the least Jews, but it was not so. Between 1922 and 1945, non-Jewish population increased 176% and 172% in Jaffa and Haifa, but these were also the areas with the largest percentage of Jews in 1945 — 72 and 47%. In the eight subdistricts with the highest percentage of Jews in 1945, non-Jewish population had increased by 120% since 1922, whereas in the eight subdistricts with the smallest percentage of Jews, Arab population rose only 50%. Overall, the correlation of population increase between Jewish and Arab subdistricts in mandatory Palestine was 0.504, significant at better than 5% confidence level. Zionist settlement did not displace or dispossess Arabs. Nonetheless, the myth persists.
In case you are wondering, Little Lies I is here. There will never be a shortage of lies.