Nakba… Naksa… Naqsba: The Victimization of Palestinian Refugees

Fragments in honor of Naqba Day

  • The original meaning of Nakba: the catastrophe Arab leadership brought on the refugees from their failed war. It was initially voiced by refugees as criticism of the Arab elite.
  • Naksa: (the setback), the term to designate the repeat catastrophe that befell the Arab world under Nasser in 1967: global humiliation, Israel from the river to the sea, Jerusalem in Jewish hands.
  • Current meaning of Nakba (as in Nakba Day): accusation against Israel for treating Palestinians so terribly, sometimes accompanied with comparisons of the Holocaust and the Nakba.
  • This is same scapegoating discourse that created the Nakba in the first place: accusing Israel, erasing criticism of Arab leaders.
  • Naqsba: the mentality of those Arab leaders who scapegoat Israel while abusing their own people, and thereby perpetuate an ongoing catastrophe for Arab people in Arab lands, especially for Palestinians.
  • The way for Palestinians to put an end to the Nakba is to stop blaming Israel and self-criticize. Ouch. A little help here, “western” (ie privileged) progressives? Or is it just too important to you to blame Israel. Ouch.

The term nakba first appeared among refugees to describe the catastrophe that befell them in the failed Arab war to destroy Israel. Told to flee their homes with rumors of Jewish slaughter even cannibalism, to make way for the victorious Arab armies that would defeat this terrible enemy, not only did they get imprisoned in refugee camps, but their neighbors who stayed, not only didn’t get slaughtered, but got treated far better by their Israeli “enemies” than those who fled got treated by their Arab “hosts”. Indeed, one phrase for referring to this catastrophically shameful event was: lammā sharnā wa-tla’nā (“when we blackened our faces and left”).

So one of the original meanings of Nakba was a reproach from “refugees,” the greatest victims of the Arab elite’s irresponsible war, against Arab leaders for their terrible treatment of their own people (lying to them to get them to run, impoverishing them, and imprisoning them in camps to await the day of vengeance). There was even an element of self-reproach for running. In any case, Israel was neither the main culprit, nor even the main target of the criticism. Part of the shame of running, was the Israeli treatment of Arabs who stayed.

Over the last couple of decades, the meaning of Nakba has been completely reversed. It now designates the catastrophe that Israel brought on the “Palestinian refugees,” kicking them out and not letting them back in. The role of the Arab elites in creating the catastrophe, and prolonging it by keeping the refugees in camps, is erased, and its place taken by a loud outrage at Israeli sins and fierce calls for Al Awda – the return.

This reversal of blame rides on the analogy that Palestinians make about how their suffering is somehow equivalent to the Holocaust, and that they are the new Jews, and the Israelis are the new Nazis. It feeds so nicely into the (false) equivalency: what the Nazis did to the Jews, the Israelis did to the Palestinians. How sad! How appalling of the Jews… no sooner do they take power than they do onto others what was done to them.

This switch in meaning is being pushed by the same Arab leadership that brought on the Nakba, with the same strategies of victimizing their own people in pursuit of restoring Arab honor, and scapegoating the Jews as guilty ones. Those outsiders (non-Palestinian progressives, or diaspora Palestinians) who adopt this inverted narrative, thereby support the Arab Nakba-causers, and their descendents who want to prolong the catastrophic policies of Arab forbears, and who benefit from prolonging the suffering of “Palestinians” in pursuit of their irredentist goals.

Naksba: a term to designate the behavior of Arab “leaders” who perpetuate these catastrophes by pursuing the same catastrophic goals and sacrificing their own people in order to attack Israel. Western progressives have no business being Naqsba enablers. It’s almost as if, having taken a time-machine into the middle ages, we were to side with the aristocracy, enabling them to crush their subjects.

From wikipedia:

Initially, the use of the term Nakba among Palestinians was not universal. For example, many years after 1948, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon avoided and even actively resisted using the term, because it lent permanency to a situation they viewed as temporary, and they often insisted on being called “returnees.”[10]

ie: it recognized the naksba logic of turning them into victims, i.e. prolonging their status as refugees.

In the 1950s and 1960s, terms they used to describe the events of 1948 included al-‘ightiṣāb (“the rape”), or were more euphemistic, such as al-‘aḥdāth (“the events”), al-hijra (“the exodus”), and lammā sharnā wa-tla’nā (“when we blackened our faces and left”).[10]

also self-critical or at least a self-reproach. our leaders misled us, but we are shamed for having listened to them and run like cowards.

Nakba narratives were avoided by the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Lebanon in the 1970s, in favor of a narrative of revolution and renewal.

when they have power, they get triumphalist, no more of this victim stuff. we’re headed for victory. result: over a decade of civil war (1975-82) in which 150,000 civilians were killed by various factions, among which the PLO was a major player. (NB: all the Arab-Israeli wars together (1948-present), have produced fewer dead (counting both civilians and soldiers) than ten years of civil war killed of Lebanese civilians).

Interest in the Nakba by organizations representing refugees in Lebanon surged in the 1990s due to the perception that the refugees’ right of return might be negotiated away in exchange for Palestinian statehood, and the desire was to send a clear message to the international community that this right was non-negotiable.[10]

so instead of protesting that Arafat wouldn’t let them into his Palestinian state, the one he’d be creating by (allegedly) giving up this right of return, thus leaving them – even after “independence” – in their brutal Lebanese captivity (naksba policy), the spokesmen for the Lebanese Palestinian refugees (and here i’m guessing a naksba elite, not the refugees whose suffering the world must see and blame on Israel) insist that Arafat not touch “their” right to return to Israel. Everyone show your ancestor’s key. Naqsba thinking all the way.

The Israeli–Palestinian conflict has prompted Palestinians like Mahmoud Darwish to describe the Nakba as “an extended present that promises to continue in the future.”[7]

a stark and pregnant description of the condition of his people. the Naksba mentality – blaming Israel, seeking revenge – is precisely what extends into the ongoing present, the Arab elites’ exploitation of, and sacrifice of, Arab people,especially those they designate “Palestinians,” thus perpetuating this Nakba into the future. 

3 Responses to Nakba… Naksa… Naqsba: The Victimization of Palestinian Refugees

  1. E.G. says:

    On page 312 of The Arab Awakening, Antonius writes: “The year 1920 has an evil name in Arab annals: it is referred to as the Year of the Catastrophe (Aam An-Nakba). It saw the first armed risings that occurred in protest against the post-War settlement imposed by the Allies on the Arab countries. In that year, serious outbreaks took place in Syria, Palestine, and Iraq.”

    Nakba Means There’s No Palestine
    The real origin of the term Nakba.
    http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/7964

  2. Rich Rostrom says:

    “Told to flee their homes with rumors of Jewish slaughter even cannibalism…” Arab propaganda incited Palestinians to flee Israeli conquest, but it’s clear that towards the end of the war, the Israelis were happy to have the Arabs believe the worst and flee. And at least one substantial bolus of Palestinians (the population of Lydda, now Lod, about 25,000) were pretty much expelled at gunpoint.

    (One should note that thousands of Jews were forcibly expelled – or escaped with their lives – from areas conquered by Arab forces, such as east Jerusalem and the Etzion Bloc. And hundreds of thousands were forced out of other Arab countries after 1948.)

    The Nakba was a genuine calamity for Palestinians; brought on largely by their leaders and Arab allies, but no less painful for that. And of course amplified by the post-1948 policies of those same leaders and “allies”.

    Prof. Landes usefully notes the importance of “the shame of 1948” to the Arabs; how it locks them into permanent victimization and war.

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