As Israel celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with appropriate pomp and circumstance, the new Palestine Authority, the entity that rules all of the Palestinian Arab population in Gaza and 95% of their population on the west bank, had planned memorial day of reckoning of their own for May 14th, 1998, the date that marks the Gregorian calendar day marking the pioneering of the state of Israel. That day is referred to in Arabic lore as “Nakba”, the day of “disaster”.
To commemorate the Nakba, the official television station of the Palestine Authority, the PBC, the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation, ran two days of military marching music that accompanied file footage of Palestinian Arabs firing weapons and hurling stones at Israeli troops and civilians. In addition, the PBC ran a special children’s program, screening it every hour on the hour, during which Arab children are portrayed running from their burning homes, with the children picking up the charred wreckage and declaring that they will fight to liberate and reclaim their homes in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Acre. Palestine Authority chairman Arafat also repeated a canned speech on PBC-TV, in which he echoed the call for “resistance” and demanded “Al Awdah”, the “right of return”.
Not all Israelis saw Palestinian Arab commemoration of the Nakba in itself as an entirely negative phenomenon. In the words of Prof. Gad Gilbar, rector of Haifa University, such a day should indeed be observed with reverence by the Palestinian Arab people, as a time of reckoning, introspection and second thoughts.
After all, Gelber noted, the Palestinian Arabs had rejected the chance for a state of their own that had been legislated by according to the November 29, 1947 UN resolution #181 that had mandated two states to be carved out of the former British mandate – one Jewish and one Arab. The failed attack of seven Arab armies and the Palestinian Arab militias to prevent the establishment of the Jewish state thwarted Palestinian Arab hopes, and, for fifty years, the United Nations has sparked the hope of return for three million Palestinian Arabs who are descended from the half a million Arabs who became refugees as a result of that war. The UN did that by maintaining them as refugees, under the promise and premise of repatriation to homes and villages that no longer exist. Back in 1958, Abba Eban, Israel’s eloquent ambassador to the UN, warned that Arab nationalists were “prolonging” the suffering of refugees so as to use it as a humanitarian weapon against Israel
Eban, now head of the International Center for Peace in the Middle East and just as eloquent, continues to express his fear -forty years later- that the Palestinian Arab leadership will continue to manipulate the refugee/right of return issue, just as they are on the threshold of an opportunity for their own national state. In the oft-repeated words of Abba Eban, “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Gelbar’s call to the new Palestine Authority, will be more realistic this time, and to use the NAKBA as a genuine opportunity to adopt an idea and ideology of coexistence for a Jewish and Arab national entity that could make peace with each other.
Yet Palestinian Authority attention on the day of the Nakba did not focus on the UN “partition resolution” #181 or the UN “territories for peace” resolution #242. Instead, what the PA repeatedly proclaimed and quoted was UN resolution #194, a decision enacted on December 10, 1948 that mandates the “right of return” for Palestinian Arabs who left their homes and villages to return to the villages where they came from, even if they do not exist. The PA is well aware that the US, Canada, the EU nations, Japan and Scandinavian countries introduce #194 every year, and that renewed mandate serves as the basis to provide funds for UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which operates more than thirty refugee camps, in Gaza, the west bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, confining three million Palestinian Arabs to what the UN defines as “temporary shelters” for all of these years.
Encouraged by the UN, Palestinian Arab refugee camp residents will not settle for life on the west bank and Gaza. The first decision of the Palestine Authority, indeed, was to disallow housing improvement in these UNRWA camps, since these homes are temporary dwellings.
On Thursday, May 13, the morning that the rioting started, Omar Bessisso, the head of Relations and External Media Department in the PA’s Ministry of Information, granted an interview to Raanana journalist Aaron Lerner, in which he stated that “the central message of today is that ‘… our Palestinian refugees must return to their homeland.” Bessisso stressed that every refugee must be given the right to choose between compensation and returning to within Israel.
It was therefore no surprise when Palestinian Arabs, carrying United Nations flags in every city and refugee camp under the control of the Palestine Authority began their processions on Thursday, which very quickly erupted into violence. Since Israeli troops no longer patrol Arab cities in the west bank and Gaza, casualties were not as great on both sides as they could have been.
Missing from the lips of Palestinian Authority spokesmen in Arabic for the past four years has been any call for Palestinian Arab independence that would be confined to the west bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Arafat could could have had his moment of international media attention without Palestinian Arab dead and wounded. After all, the PA orschesrated a well-planned moment of silence with sirens, along with large mock-up keys to the lost homes and pictures of the no-longer existant five hundred and eighteen Arab villages that would assure good media coverage. The PA also organized parades from the refugee camps, where family clans marched with signs around their necks that depicted where each and every Arab refugee family had left in 1948.
Tragically, Arafat’s violent focus on the 1948 refugees and his continuous cries to liberate Jerusalem have moved the Palestinian Arab people away from a compromise with the workable deal that the vast majority of Israel would be prepared to live with.
Abba Eban’s premonition that the Palestian Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity could not have been more true on the day of the Nakba.