The 1920 “Nakba” (Steven Plaut)
From the Jewish Press (excerpts):
The authoritative source on the origin of “nakba” is none other than George Antonius, supposedly the first “official historian of Palestinian nationalism.” Like so many “Palestinians,” he actually wasn’t – Palestinian, that is. He was a Christian Lebanese-Egyptian who lived for a while in Jerusalem, where he composed his official advocacy/history of Arab nationalism. The Arab Awakening, a highly biased book, was published in 1938 and for years afterward was the official text used at British universities.
The term was not invented in 1948 but rather in 1920. And it was coined not because of Palestinians suddenly getting nationalistic but because Arabs living in Palestine regarded themselves as Syrian and were enraged at being cut off from their Syrian homeland.
Before World War I, the entire Levant – including what is now Israel, the “occupied territories,” Jordan, Lebanon and Syria – was comprised of Ottoman Turkish colonies. When Allied forces drove the Turks out of the Levant, the two main powers, Britain and France, divided the spoils between them. Britain got Palestine, including what is now Jordan, while France got Lebanon and Syria.
The problem was that the Palestinian Arabs saw themselves as Syrians and were seen as such by other Syrians. The Palestinian Arabs were enraged that an artificial barrier was being erected within their Syrian homeland by the infidel colonial powers – one that would divide northern Syrian Arabs from southern Syrian Arabs, the latter being those who were later misnamed “Palestinians.”
The bulk of the Palestinian Arabs had in fact migrated to Palestine from Syria and Lebanon during the previous two generations, largely to benefit from the improving conditions and job opportunities afforded by Zionist immigration and capital flowing into the area. In 1920, both sets of Syrian Arabs, those in Syria and those in Palestine, rioted violently and murderously.
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 (Am al-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.”
The original “nakba” had nothing to do with Jews, and nothing to do with demands by Palestinian Arabs for self-determination, independence and statehood. To the contrary, it had everything to do with the fact that the Palestinian Arabs saw themselves as Syrians. They rioted at this nakba – at this catastrophe– because they found deeply offensive the very idea that they should be independent from Syria and Syrians.
In the 1920’s, the very suggestion that Palestinian Arabs constituted a separate ethnic nationality was enough to send those same Arabs out into the streets to murder and plunder violently in outrage. If they themselves insisted they were simply Syrians who had migrated to the Land of Israel, by what logic are the Palestinian Arabs deemed entitled to their own state today?