The HyperTexts

The Palestinian Nakba: Hard Evidence of Ethnic Cleansing, Genocide and a New Holocaust

by Michael R. Burch, an editor of Holocaust and Nakba poetry

The Jewish Shoah (Hebrew for “Catastrophe”) was one of the most tragic events in human history. While the Shoah is often confused with the Holocaust, the Nazis also imprisoned, tortured and killed people who were non-Jewish, including Roma Gypsies, Slavs, communists, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and people with physical and mental handicaps. To avoid confusion, I will use the term “Holocaust” when talking about the larger catastrophe, and the term “Shoah” when talking about the catastrophe specific to Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Palestinians use the term Nakba (Arabic for “Catastrophe”) to describe what happened to them beginning in 1948. Unfortunately, their suffering continues to this day, so this new Holocaust is ongoing. But before we can decide whether terms like “ethnic cleansing,” “genocide” and “Holocaust” can be applied to the Nakba, we must define what the terms mean, in their most common sense, and if we are going to use them, provide “hard evidence” that they really do apply. As an editor of Holocaust and Nakba poetry, I have studied both events in considerable depth, and have worked closely with victims of both catastrophes, so I believe I can discuss both events knowledgeably and provide “hard evidence” that the Nakba is, indeed, a new Holocaust. This not to say that the two events are exactly the same, only to say that the horrors, suffering and death involved are, unfortunately, more than sufficient for such harsh words to be used.

If I convince you that the Nakba is a new Holocaust, or at the very least another catastrophe, then the questions raised become: "Who is responsible?" and "What can we do to persuade the responsible parties to end this new Holocaust as quickly and humanely as possible?" I will delve into both questions in more detail soon, but for now let me answer both questions briefly.

The most responsible parties are the governments of Israel, the United States and Great Britain, each of which praises itself for being a "democracy" and standing for "equal rights," "freedom," "justice" and "representative government," while never having done anything worth mentioning to help the Palestinian people enjoy any of these wonderful benefits. Rather, time and time again these three governments have blocked any possibility of the Palestinians achieving equal rights, freedom, justice or representative government.

What we can do, I believe, is threefold. First, we can speak firmly for the right of Palestinians to enjoy the same freedoms and privileges that we enjoy ourselves. Second, we can educate help other people, especially Americans who may still believe the prevailing fictions. (For instance, you could provide links to my articles, if you think they have merit.) Third, if at any point you are persuaded to try to end the current madness, I have developed a new peace initiative which I welcome you to study. Perhaps you can be the person to help make it happen. You can read the details here: The Burch-Elberry Peace Initiative. The idea is mine; my friend the Egyptian peace activist Zainab Elberry agreed to allow me to use her name alongside mine because she thinks the idea has merit.

The Hard Evidence of Ethnic Cleansing

Ethnic cleansing may be defined as "the expulsion, imprisonment, or killing of an ethnic minority by a dominant majority." I believe four demographic maps provide "hard evidence" of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine:

Map #1 of 1946 Palestine, showing more than 90% of the land belonging to Palestinians
Map #2 of 1947 U.N. partition plan of Israel and Palestine; please note that the U.N. did not "give" any land to anyone; Israeli Jews took the white areas by force
Map #3 of 1967 borders of Israel and Palestine showing the "1967 lines" aka the "1949 armistice lines" with Israeli Jews now "owning" most of Palestine
Map #4 of 2000 borders showing how Israel keeps acquiring land outside its borders, creating discontiguous Palestinian bantustans

The maps above tell quite a story, with an obvious parallel being what happened to Native Americans when they were ethnically cleansed from most of North America by white Americans. It is hard to argue with the maps. Before 1948, around 7% of the land had been purchased by Israeli Jews (the tiny white areas in the first map). The rest of the land was owned by non-Jews. But then suddenly in 1948, Israeli Jews "owned" more than half the land without having paid anyone for it, and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had become exiles living under terrible conditions in refugee camps located in other countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon. So what happened? Was this somehow an accident, or a stroke of good fortune for the Jews and a stroke of bad fortune for the Palestinians, or was it deliberate?

The ethnic cleansing was clearly deliberate, because hundreds of Palestinian villages and thousands of individual homes were deliberately destroyed by Israeli Jews. This did not happen "by accident" because it takes a lot of manpower, machinery, money and coordination to destroy that many villages and homes. The destruction of the villages and homes has been documented by Jewish historians like Benny Morris, Ilan Pappé and Avi Shlaim. Just as American historians no longer deny that Native Americans were ethnically cleansed, leading Jewish historians no longer deny that Palestinians were ethnically cleansed, because the evidence is clear and overwhelming. No one can possibly dispute the fact that before 1948 hundreds of Palestinian villages existed, and after 1948 they didn't.

Many pro-Israel apologist and propagandists try to explain the disappearance of the Palestinians as a voluntary act, but that makes no sense. While it is entirely possible that some or perhaps even most Palestinians fled the fighting that broke out in 1948 voluntarily, the real question is why they weren't allowed to return when the fighting was over. Most of the Palestinians were noncombatant farm families. If American farmers fled their homes temporarily to escape a flood, or war, or some other act of nature, when the danger was over they should be able to return to their homes. We would consider it an outrage and a wild injustice if the government confiscated (stole) their land and demolished their houses and towns to prevent them from returning. But that is exactly what the government of Israel did in 1948.

Why did the government of Israel do such a terrible thing? For a very simple reason: demographics. Within the white areas in the second map, if the Palestinians had been allowed to return, they would have probably had the majority of the population. If they didn't have the majority in 1948, they probably would have had it soon thereafter, thanks to a higher birthrate than Israeli Jews. And other reasons were probably greed and money. The Jews had only managed to buy a small part of the land legally. If they took the land by force, they could transfer great wealth from the rightful owner to themselves. So Golda Meir traveled to the United States, raised 50 million dollars from American Jews (which was a lot of money back then, especially in Palestine), and the money was used to buy lots of weapons which were used to take the land by force. It was armed robbery and murder, because when farm families lose their land they lose the ability to feed and clothe themselves. Without a house they become prey to the elements and criminals. So many of the displaced and dispossessed Palestinians died prematurely. To cause the premature death of an innocent person is murder. And this brings us to the second charge against Israel: genocide.

The Hard Evidence of Genocide

Genocide can be defined as "the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group." Most Jews accuse Nazi Germany of genocide, even though Germany did not kill all German Jews and did not attempt to kill the many Jews living in areas outside the areas controlled by German soldiers. So the question becomes, "If the Jews accuse Nazi Germany of genocide for deliberately killing large numbers of Jews, can the Palestinians accuse Israeli Jews of genocide for deliberately killing large numbers of Palestinians?" I believe the answer is clearly "yes," and I will explain why.

Native Americans were clearly victims of genocide, but most of the victims didn't die in battle. Rather, most of the victims died premature deaths because they were deprived of the land they needed to live, and also because they were forced to live under terrible condition which produce fear, stress and anxiety, and cause premature deaths. Please remember that to cause the premature death of an innocent person is the terrible crime of murder.

What happens when farm families are robbed of their land and their homes are destroyed? Many or most of them will become homeless and destitute. Hunger, malnutrition, fear, stress and despair will weaken their immune systems, and many of them will die prematurely. Others will become the victims of rape, muggings and murder because they lack the shelter of a house. Anyone who deliberately robs a farm family of its land and house has to know that many of the victims will die premature deaths. Thus, ethnic cleansing of large numbers of people will always result in genocide.

The Hard Evidence of a New Holocaust

Can I prove that the Nakba is a new Holocaust? I believe the answer is "yes," if we can say that such terrible things as ethnic cleansing and genocide happening to millions of people for a period of 60+ years, and still continuing today, qualifies as a catastrophe. Can I prove that the Nakba is as terrible in every way as the Jewish Shoah? No, and in certain ways the Shoah was obviously worse: the gas ovens, for instance. But in other ways the Nakba may be worse, because more people have suffered for a much longer period of time. Also, the Jews who lived through the Shoah knew that there was a war in progress, and they knew that if the Germans lost the war they might be rescued. But due to the collusion of the military superpowers Israel, the United States and Great Britain, the Palestinians have seldom had any real hope of being freed. When I talk to children who live in Gaza, I can tell that many of them are without hope, and each of those children and their families are living through personal Holocausts.

The main thing that makes the Nakba worse than the Holocaust today, is that the Holocaust is long over and its victims are no longer suffering. But millions of Palestinians are still suffering. While I do care about the suffering of the dead, I care far more about the suffering of the living.

Unfortunately, I have become something of an expert on such things. I have worked with Jewish survivors of the Shoah, and with Palestinians who continue to suffer through the Nakba, and I hear the same kind of pain, anguish and despair in their voices. They cannot believe other people are capable of such inhumanity. I find it terribly ironic that so many Jews who rightfully demand that other people never deny the Holocaust (I agree with them 100%) themselves deny the Nakba (I disagree with them 100%). One Jewish Holocaust survivor actually told me, "The Palestinians are not suffering!" But of course they are, and anyone who is not in denial knows it. So unfortunately, many Jews — most, as far as I can tell  — have become Holocaust deniers.

The HyperTexts