JPRS 2nd Ed: Documenting the Ongoing Nakba

JPRS 2nd Ed: Documenting the Ongoing Nakba

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains a headline, or a daily story, on TV channels and in newspapers. It seems to be the most well-known case world-wide. Tens, if not hundreds, of films have been produced about Palestine, and plenty on the Nakba in different languages.

In my attempt at producing a documentary on the Nakba I was confronted with a number of questions which I resolved following a deep and thorough review of scattered archive, countless interviews with Palestinians, Israeli and British experts. I concluded that I have to expand the project from a one-hour documentary to a series of four hours. The objective changed to highlighting a considerable number of basic facts regarding the roots and the causes of the Palestinian Nakba. Some of these facts were presented on TV for the first time, more than 60 years after the Nakba. In this article I will present some of the basic facts which were presented in my documentary.First: The understanding of the general public is that the Nakba is a single event that took place in May of 1948. They thus commemorate the 15th of May every year. This is absolutely incorrect. The Nakba did not begin in 1948 and did not end in 48 either. The roots of the Nakba started much earlier than most of us would even guess. The first date we could verify in our search was in 1799 as Napoleon was trying to break through the walls of Acre. He then made a public appeal to Jews world-wide, which was a headline in the French press. His appeal stated: “This is the moment. France is extending its hand to you with the legacy of Israel. Rush to reclaim your position amongst the peoples of the world”.Second: If the Nakba means the expulsion of people from their homes, and seizing their land, then this really began in 1919. The Marj Bin Amer valley, towards the North of Palestine, then the home of 60,000 villagers, was targeted after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The villagers were kicked out, and Jewish settlements were built on the land using funding from the Zionist Lord Rochield.Third: Herbert Samuel –a Zionist Jew- was UK’s Home Secretary in 1915. He wrote a top secret document entitled “the Future of Palestine”. This document was submitted to the British government, and stated clearly his suggestions on what Britain should do to transfer Palestine from its current status (where 10% of its populations are Jews) to a homeland for 3 to 4 million Jews. This document was the major building block to the Balfour Declaration. Five years later, Samuel was appointed as the first British High Commissioner in Palestine from 1920 – 1925. During his appointment, he laid over a hundred legislations in favour of the Zionist movement. These legislations included facilitating immigration and the transfer of any government-owned land to Jewish and Zionist ownership. Fourth: In 1920, the Council of League of Nations (later renamed as the United Nations), assigned to Great Britain the task of preparing Palestine to be a homeland for the Jews. The British Mandate used to submit an annual report for the next 28 years to the UN detailing the progress made towards achieving this goal. The support for the Zionist movement was on all levels: assisting the immigration, establishing an economic base, amending the legislations, as well as establishing an army. These reports are all available in the archive.Fifth: Not only did the British Mandate support the Zionist movement, but it also worked towards breaking up and suppressing any Palestinian leadership. During the years of the Palestinian revolution 1936 – 1939, the British army killed over 4000 Palestinians, and demolished hundreds of homes and imprisoned thousands in detention camps. Check points surrounded all cities and villages in search of guns or even single bullets. This made sure that the Palestinians are deprived from any means of resistance. On the other hand, the nucleus of the Haganah army was established in 1920, and trained as part of the British army during the Second World War. It was equipped with the latest weapons. As a result, in 1939 at the St. James conference in London, Britain announced that it had fulfilled its obligations under the mandate to establish the basis for the Jewish state in Palestine.Sixth: During the first four months of 1948, under the British mandate, and along with the presence of 75,000 British soldiers in Palestine, around 350,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes in five cities and over 200 villages. Before May 15th, dozens of massacres were committed, yet only the famous Deir Yassin massacare in April 1948 was known.Seventh: It is still common to refer to the 1948 events as the defeat of seven Arab armies by the Israeli army. Facts now reveal that the combined count of the Arab army was 24,000 soldiers with traditional weapons, while the Israeli soldiers were 75,000, well trained and highly equipped. Thus the entire Arab fighting force was less than one third of the size of the Jewish forces. These Arab forces were under the leadership of General John Globb of Jordan, who later called the 1948 events “the fake war”.Eighth: The expulsion of the Palestinians continued during the fifties. The people of Al Majdal town for example were expelled in 1951. These are some of the facts about Nakba. One might question how and why these basic facts are not well-known. I believe that the main media channels, based in Europe and the United States, aimed to conceal and distort  most of the information regarding the Palestinian Nakba. This fact is very clear when we look at the main tool of TV journalism – the visuals. I will mention a few examples indicating the current status of visuals related to the Nakba.


1.    The expulsion of over 800,000 Palestinians, over almost a year is documented in only two video sequences; each is less than a minute, and in less than 10 still images! The image that most of you remember of crossing a broken bridge is of 1967, not of 1948. This image is used incorrectly to represent the expulsion. Many of the images are wrongly classified in the Congress Library or here in London. You find pictures classified under Haifa while being shot in Jerusalem, etc. Many are archived under Israel, while being shot before Israel was even created. Using the archive becomes a tedious task, as the researcher or the journalist needs to double – and even triple – check any acquired material.

2.    While we lack videos of the Nakba, all the Jewish and British activities are well documented since the 30s. There are lengthy videos, with audio, for the Haganah training, the arrival of the Jewish immigrants, building of settlements, the British soldiers and even evening parties by the British community in Jerusalem. There is a video as early as 1919 showing the building of Tel Aviv.

3.    4000 Palestinian fighters and demonstrators were killed between 1936 and 1939. Yet, there are only 5 still images covering this fact. On the cultural and personal levels, we do not have videos for the Palestinian lifestyle during the 20s, 30s or the 40s of the last decade. Tel Aviv is filmed as an icon of modernisation in the 30s, while the Palestinian cities: Jaffa, Haifa or Acre are completely ignored. Instead, the Palestinians are only represented in the European news as Bedouins on camels.The bias in recording the life in Palestine can easily be spot. All this is not a coincident. It signifies a bias in the recorded material, as well as a biased archive. There is evidence of Israel possessing some of the missing archive, yet this is strictly confidential. One example is the images of the Kofr Kassem massacre in 1956, when the Israeli army killed 49 Palestinians who held Israeli passports. These images are accessible to view, but one cannot copy or record them for media usage.As a result of this scarcity of visual material, a Journalist is directed to documents as a source of information. Documents are usually overlooked by tv journalists, and deemed less interesting to the general public. In my research for the Nakba series I found numerous neglected documents, from which many of the facts I mentioned earlier were acquired. Israel has not ignored this source of information and made all possible attempts to hide or damage any documents on Palestine. Just as the Palestinians are scattered everywhere, the Palestinian archive is similarly scattered and poorly preserved. Our archive, especially after the Israeli raid on the Palestinian studies centre in Beirut in 1982, is mainly here in Britain, in the United States and within the Israeli archives. All the libraries owned by Palestinians before 1948 were stolen and are now in the basement of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem under the special collections section.In Oxford and in particular at the Middle East Centre, Antony’s College, there are thousands of the original British Mandate documents related to Palestine, thanks to the public domain archive scheme. I still recall how I found Herbert Samuel’s document “The Future of Palestine” lying there amongst piles of his personal letters. I also encountered correspondences between Samuel, Allenby, Belfour, Weizmann, and Marks Sykes.Another example of neglected documents is the work of the Physician Dr. Hussein Fakhri Al Khaldi, the ex-mayor of Jerusalem and a member of the Arab High Committee in Palestine. These were written during his stay in Beirut after 1949. The first is his memoirs and the second is entitled the “Arab Exodus”. Neither was published to date.It has long been realised that the Palestinian story needs to rely on oral witnesses, due to the lack of visual archive and the scattering of documents. It should be mentioned that only 10% of those who were born in Palestine before 1948 are still alive. Many oral history projects were carried out since the late 1970s. All those projects were by individuals or small institutions and a centralised library for all these recordings is not available.Finally, we should certainly salute the PRC for adopting the slogan “the On-going Nakba”, and keeping it on the political and media map. The last episode in the Nakba series was also entitled “The On-Going Nakba”. We are still experiencing the long process of transforming Palestine to a Zionist state and erasing it from the world map. Many might think the term on-going Nakba is merely related to the refugee camps in Gaza or Lebanon. It should be clarified that the current expulsion of Sheikh Jarrah area in East Jerusalem is part of this on-going nakba, as well as the constant demolishing of houses in Lod and Jaffa.Many Palestinians who stayed within the borders of Israel were displaced inside Israel and are refugees within their same city or in different cities and villages. They are unable to return to their homes to date, despite holding an Israeli passport.Only this year, I finished a five-hour documentary entitled “Homeland’s Owners”, which was shown on Al Jazeera Arabic. This tackled the extremely sensitive topic of Palestinians inside Israel, often incorrectly referred to as “Israeli Arabs” in the media. The 160,000 Palestinians in 1948, who became 1.5 million today, are still deprived of their basic rights of housing and lands. Around 50 villages are deprived of water and electricity. Confiscation of their lands, and demolishing their houses is continuous as well as threats to transfer them under the slogan “Mevet-Le-Aravi” – Death for the Arabs. Here, it is worth noting how the media manipulates the facts, including the fact that half the jews who immigrated to Israel were and still are indeed Arabs. The Palestinians – the “Homeland’s Owners” – are discriminated against in every aspect of their daily life. After broadcasting the series, I was surprised to discover that Palestinians in the West Bank are unaware of the situations under which Palestinians live in Jaffa, Lod, Ramleh and Acre today.For this, we surely need a specialised Media institute that aims at documenting, in a professional manner, what happened and is happening. This institute should collect and verify all pictures and documents. Despite our passion, I do not believe that we are doing what we can. Not only is the European and American public unaware of the truth, but we – Palestinians and Arabs – are equally unaware of the Nakba, its past, presence and Israeli plans for the future. In conclusion I would like to quote Mr. Wakeem Wakeem, “I do not blame those who plan day and night for their ideological project, which serves their interests. I blame us. What are we doing to ensure that any future plan that could become a new chapter of the Nakba will not succeed?”

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