Note: This was submitted to “The Stranger” in response to this article. They declined to publish it.
Every year, Jews around the world observe two of the darkest days in our collective memory: Yom HaShoah – for the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, and Yom HaZikaron – for the ever-growing list of Israelis killed in wars and terrorist attacks. Immediately after that, we move from grief to celebration on Yom HaAtzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day. Around the same time, many Palestinians and their allies around the world gather to mark Nakba Day. Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”) is how Palestinians often refer to the founding of Israel, Israel’s victory against invading Arab forces, and the tragic Palestinian refugee crisis that took place during the 1948 War.
Unfortunately, a recent article in The Stranger on a Nakba Day rally in Seattle distorted history, erased Jewish and Israeli experiences, and promoted a campaign rooted in a hateful conspiracy theory.
The article states that “the state of Israel took over Palestine” violently in 1948, after the British government unfairly gave the country to Jews. It also claims the Israeli military pushed over 750,000 Palestinians out of their homes.
No one can deny the devastating trauma experienced by Palestinian refugees. What people in Seattle can and must do to advance justice and peace is tell the whole truth about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It is a historical fact that Israel is the ancestral home of the Jewish people. All peoples, including Jews and Palestinians, have a right to self-determination under international law. The State of Israel was not established by the British Empire, but by Jews who decided to fight for their freedom after 1,900 years of living as an oppressed minority across Europe and the Middle East. They organized a liberation movement, built communities and institutions, began nation building in the late 1800's and early 1900's in their ancestral homeland (including the founding of Tel Aviv in 1909) and fought for self-determination, including against British forces. Britain stopped Jews fleeing to the Palestine Mandate during the Holocaust and did not support the establishment of Israel in 1948.
Organized violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began not in 1948, but in 1920 with attacks against Jews in Jerusalem. In 1947, the UN tried to resolve the conflict by proposing a division of the land into two independent states: a Jewish state and an Arab state. Jewish leaders said yes, but Palestinian leaders and Arab states said no and made no counteroffer. Instead, they made genocidal threats and launched a civil war to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state. On May 14, 1948, in the middle of this civil war, Israel declared independence. The following day, the armies of five surrounding Arab states invaded.
Benny Morris, one of the most widely quoted historians regarding the Palestinian refugee crisis, wrote that the crisis was, “born of war, and not by design, Jewish or Arab. It was largely a by-product of Arab and Jewish fears and of the protracted, bitter fighting that characterized the first Arab-Israeli war; in smaller part, it was the deliberate creation of Jewish and Arab military commanders and politicians.” Over 160,000 Arabs remained in Israel and became Israeli citizens after 1948.
Palestinians were not the only ones who suffered due to the war. Over 6,000 Israeli Jews were killed, including a massacre of nearly 80 during an ambush in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Almost 10,000 Jews were expelled from eastern Jerusalem and other areas seized by Jordan. Before, during, and after the war, over 850,000 Jews fled or were expelled from Arab states. Most found refuge in Israel and their families make up the majority of Israeli Jews today.
The report also did not mention that the Nakba Day protest included chants such as, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “Intifada, intifada, long live the intifada.” The first is a call for the elimination of Israel, which is located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea – a stance that is considered antisemitic by the vast majority of Jews. The most recent intifada was a brutal campaign of suicide bombings and other attacks which killed over 1,000 Israelis and maimed thousands of others.
The article ends with an implied call to action supporting the Deadly Exchange (DX) campaign. What it does not mention is that DX is rooted in a libelous conspiracy theory that falsely blames American Jewish groups and Israel for police brutality in the U.S. This echoes a long and violent history of Jews being scapegoated for everything from pandemics to economic crises. Furthermore, there is evidence that the DX conspiracy theory helped inspire a deadly antisemitic mass shooting in 2019.
At this point some readers may be thinking, “but criticizing Israel isn’t antisemitic.” While that’s certainly true, opposing Israel’s existence, celebrating horrific violence against Israeli civilians, and promoting dangerous conspiracy theories is not reasonable “criticism of Israel.” These are forms of hate that harm not only Israelis, but American Jews as well.
Palestinians and Israelis are bound to live together side by side. People in Seattle should be encouraging efforts to build a shared future, not promoting more misunderstanding and conflict.