Nakba vs. Nakba

Palestinian dichotomyUNWRA logo

Nakba of the Jews

Iain Banks is dying of cancer and his last public act will be to raise his middle finger to Israel. Somehow impending mortality is supposed to make ignorance of the facts and a totally credulous acceptance of the Palestinian narrative more saintly. Although I suspect Israel will survive not reading his latest novel, if you are desperate to engage with his arguments you can read Why I’m supporting a cultural boycott of Israel in the Guardian (what a surprise!). I would not have heard of Bank’s death bed wish had I not read Letter to Iain Banks on the eve of Yom HaShoah by little-known Iraqi-Jewish writer Bataween. I definitely recommend you read that.

Bataween attempted to draw Bank’s attention to the almost one million Jews from the Arab World, ethnic cleansed following what  the Palestinians call the Nakba – Catastrophe. It started me thinking of a Nakba closer to home. While on the United Nations Relief  and  Works Agency (UNRWA) site† I noticed some interesting features. If Banks is so fired up about the Arabs deprived of their land under very highly debated circumstances surely he can spare the same compassion for Jews deprived of their land by the Arabs, at the same time and in the same place?

Who are Palestine refugees?

Under UNRWA’s operational definition, Palestine refugees are people whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.

UNRWA’s services are available to all those living in its area of operations who meet this definition, who are registered with the Agency and who need assistance. The descendants of the original Palestine refugees are also eligible for registration. When the Agency started working in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, 5 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services.

United Nations Works and Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East

UNWRA Number of registered refugees

45,800 Jews were refugees by the unique UNRWA definition until 1952
Click for larger image

So what happened  in 1952? Israel told UNRWA that while Israel is a Jewish State no Jew will ever be without refuge. By the standards applying to every other refugee group once they were permanently settled they were no longer refugees. It would be an interesting ‘what-if’ had the Jews and succeeding generations remained on the lists for 65 years.

Compare with Palestine with its pretensions for statehood.  Today there are 19 refugee camps in the West Bank and 8 camps in Gaza. The President, still officially a refugee, is a multimillionaire who lives in a mansion in Ramallah (his holiday home in Gaza is another question). If and when the Palestinian State is established there is no intention to end that situation. Actually, President Mahmud and others have declared their intention for a Judenrein Palestine on several occasions. The camps and their utility for collecting aid will remain.

The figures are interesting in other aspects while UNRWA itself accepts the figure of 750,000 for the number of refugees (by its own definition) by 1950 that number had swollen to 914,221. How many of that extra 164,221 (and cumulative descendants) are demanding right of return?

Another interesting item. At least in their official documents UNRWA talks about Palestine not PalestinIAN refugees.

Tu quoque? Take your dirty hands off us.

Point out the equal or worse crimes the Arabs have committed against the Jews? The more informed of Israel’s opponents have taken to calling  this a tu quoque logical fallacy. The less informed simply deny it happened – either the Jews all decided, without any pressure, to leave their homes of centuries or perhaps there were far fewer Jews there, if any?

Tu quoque  (Latin for “you, too” or “you, also”) or the appeal to hypocrisy, is a logical fallacy that attempts to discredit the opponent’s position by asserting the opponent’s failure to act consistently in accordance with that position; it attempts to show that a criticism or objection applies equally to the person making it. This dismisses someone’s point of view based on criticism of the person’s inconsistency, and not the position presented, whereas a person’s inconsistency should not discredit their position. Thus, it is a form of the ad hominem (attacking the man not the position) argument. To clarify, although the person being attacked might indeed be acting inconsistently or hypocritically, this does not invalidate their argument‡.

Far from me to resist pointing out the hypocrisy of the Palestinian position. Throwing out a little Latin jargon (FYI the Arab invaders kicked out the Romans when they invaded and occupied this region, then known as Bilad a-Sham (Greater Syria),  in 634 CE) is a way of avoiding examination of their own actions. Still, in the interest of logical consistency we should consider if there is something in the tu quoque charge.

In common law, a legal maxim exists stating a person cannot approach the courts of equity (for an extraordinary remedy) with unclean hands. If there is a connection between the applicant’s wrongful act and the rights the applicant wishes to enforce, the court may not grant the applicant’s request. In this clean hands doctrine, also known as the dirty hands doctrine, the defendant argues that the plaintiff is not entitled to obtain the relief he requests  because he is acting unethically or has acted in bad faith with respect to the subject of the complaint—that is, with “unclean hands”††.  Ironically the origin of this concept also stems from Rome.  It can be traced as far back as the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.

It is easy to see the connection between the ethnic cleansing of the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa and the acts of the Palestinians. It was done on their behalf, with their approval and would not have happened had it not been for the war they started. If they try the ‘Not me. Guv’ defence the connection between the nakba of the Arabs and the nakba of the Jews is even clearer. The Palestine Arabs colluded with the Hashemites in its execution, did nothing to stop it or even protest it, moved into Jewish houses and were happy to keep the Jews out of the territories until 1967 when Israel won a war which the Arabs, yet again, had started.

If we are looking for proverbs. You live in glass houses so stop throwing stones. Coming to the court of opinion with clean hands trumps the sophistry of tu quoque.

Additional reading:

Jewish girl, Rachel Levy, 7, fleeing from street w. burning bldgs. as the Arabs sack Jerusalem after its surrender. May 28, 1948. John Phillips

Jewish girl, Rachel Levy, 7, fleeing from street w. burning buildings. as the Arabs sack Jerusalem after its surrender. May 28, 1948. John Phillips

Jewish families being evacuated from city. June 1948. John Phillips

Jewish families being evacuated from city. June 1948. John Phillips

Looting in burning Jerusalem, John Phillips. June 1948

Looting in burning Jerusalem, June 1948. John Phillips.

Jewish people attempting to leave portion of city surrendered to Arab forces. Jerusalem, Israel. June 1948. John Phillips

Jewish people attempting to leave portion of city surrendered to Arab forces. Jerusalem, Israel. June 1948. John Phillips

4 April 2013

By David Guy (@5MFI)


†A basic piece of information for anyone analyzing the Israel Palestine conflict (Israel-Palestine 101, if you will) is that every refugee in the world is the charge of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) except the Palestinians who have their own unique organisation to ‘help’ them, UNRWA. They manage to gain the sympathy of the world (or at least some of it) as if they were UNHCR refugees. There are three essential differences between the two: the criteria for the label refugee is different, the status of descendants and the criteria for ending the status of refugee, if at all.
‡ * From Wikipedia – tu quoque.
††  From Wikipedia – unclean hands

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
This entry was posted in 5MFI Blog and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.