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Summoning Al Nakba Is A Barrier To Peace
fter proclaiming the pursuit
of a sovereign Palestinian
state won't delegitimize
Israel's right to exist, Palestine
Liberation Organization (PLO)
Chairman Mahmoud Abbas sought
redress for "the historic, unprec-
edented injustice" that befell the
Palestinian people during Al Nakba,
the so-called "Catastrophe" of Israeli
statehood, which Palestinians believe
triggered their refugee crisis.
Abbas' Sept. 26 forum was the
United Nations General Assembly,
which just last year raised the status
of "Palestine" to that of an observer
state despite the then-stalemated
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Continued citing of Al Nakba, a hollow
claim, will only inflame the Palestinian
bid for sovereignty, however.
Clearly, the Palestinians have con-
fused restarted negotiations by mak-
ing resettlement and compensation
on behalf of refugees or their descen-
dants a central theme.
The number of Arabs considered
refugees of Israel or their descen-
dants is between 500,000 and 1 mil-
lion, depending on the source.
Seemingly lost in Abbas' insistence
on resolving refugees as part of a
final-status deal with Israel is the
need to recognize Jewish refugees
from Arab lands as a balance. More
than 800,000 Jews lived in Arab
lands at the time of Israel's founding.
Most left, fled or were driven from
their homes after Israel became a
state; 75 percent of these Jewish ref-
ugees settled in the new Jewish state,
which became a haven for endangered
Jews throughout the diaspora.
As the PLO seeks Palestinian state-
hood within the 1949-1967 armistice
lines with east Jerusalem as the
capital, a tall challenge in itself given
Israel's natural settlement expansion
and war-empowered reunification of
Jerusalem, Abbas chose to muddy the
negotiating waters by telling the U.N.
that Palestinians born in pre-state
Palestine as well as their descendants
remain in exile and victimized as a
result of Al Nakba.
"Since the start of this year," he
said, "27 Palestinian citizens have
been killed and 951 have been wound-
ed by the bullets of the occupation,
and 5,000 fighters for freedom and
peace are held captive in occupation
Given the fragile peace talks bro-
kered by U.S. Secretary of State John
Kerry hinge in large part on his sin-
cerity, Abbas should know better than
to invoke the period when many more
Arabs fled the fledgling state of Israel
at their leaders' urging in advance of
invading Arab armies than those that
Israel freedom fighters forced out
in the course of defending the U.N.-
declared Jewish state.
In his U.N. remarks, Abbas was con-
ciliatory in hoping for "a future in
which Israel will gain the recognition
of 57 Arab and Muslim countries" and
where "the states of Palestine and
Israel will coexist in peace." But he
also lambasted "Israeli occupation"
of what is disputed land, claiming
Palestinians are forbidden from plant-
ing on their land or using water from
their land to irrigate crops, a situation
further compounded by Israel's instal-
lation of a security fence and security
"So," Abbas asked, "does anyone
deserve more than the Palestinian
people ending this occupation and
realizing a just and immediate peace?"
As much as Abbas talks about
Israel's military presence in the West
Bank, much of which falls under
his control, we wonder if the Israel
Defense Forces patrols there don't
actually safeguard the Palestinians by
keeping neighboring rogue regimes
and terrorist groups at bay.
Abbas described himself as an Al
Nakba victim, one of the "hundreds
of thousands" who were "thrown
into exile" and who, while in refugee
camps, tasted the bitterness "of pov-
erty, hunger, illness and humiliation"
and had to rise "to the challenge of
affirming one's identity."
"Our people have walked the path
of armed revolution and rose from the
ashes of Al Nakba," he said, collecting
"the shards of its soul."
He added, "We have walked a long,
difficult path and sacrificed dearly,
and yet we affirmed at all times our
active quest for peacemaking."
Dissolving his argument is the fact
that the "armed revolution" involved
two rounds of years-long terrorist
attacks against Israel. Amid the ter-
rorism, the Palestinians showed no
real regard for negotiating, even when
some Israeli prime ministers literally
opened the political store in pitching
of Al Nakba, a
hollow claim, will
only inflame the
Palestinian bid for
Abbas had every reason to condemn
Israeli settler terrorist attacks on
Arab mosques and churches as well as
unmerited Israeli aggression toward
Palestinian olive groves, farming fields
and homes and property. Israel has a
right to protect its citizens and prop-
erty from violence, but must be held
to the same high humanitarian stan-
dards that all civilized nations are in
how it treats ordinary Palestinians.
Abbas is right: "Time is running out
and the window of peace is narrowing
and the opportunities are diminish-
ing. The current round of negotiations
appears to be a last chance to realize
a just peace."
Invoking the imagined Al Nakba
not only will scuttle the search for a
lasting peace accord that brings an
internationally recognized state of
Palestine, but also irreparably dam-
age PLO credibility exactly 20 years
after the optimistic signing of the
Declaration of Principles in 1993
between the PLO and Israel – the well-
hyped, but long-failed Oslo Accords. ❑
The Challenges Of Teaching Night
mily's copy of Night was a riot of
sticky notes. It looked like she
watered it weekly, and the pages
had long grown out of their binding. Other
students' copies were improvisations on the
theme: well-thumbed pages with dog ears,
multi-colored bookmarks and other place
holders. Across the classroom, I noticed
that Mandy —who aspired to be a designer
— had drawn a Celtic swirl on the back
cover, with the name "Elie" knotted in.
The students had read Night in high
school, and these were the copies they
had used. I was looking forward to asking
them about the differences between this
first reading —usually in a 10th-grade
English course — and in my university
seminar about the Holocaust. It was, of
course, a biased comparison, and I expect-
ed to hear reports about a different kind
of depth. I had not expected to
hear about a different experi-
"In high school it was bor-
ing:' said Emily. "It was just
another book to analyze' She
pointed to her garden of sticky
notes. "I marked every time
he used the metaphor of night.
There are seven. And every
time he used the metaphor
"Seven:' other students
chimed in. Mandy revealed a
Gothic seven on a blank inside page.
"But 'boring'?" I asked.
"Boring; even reticent students echoed.
"Because it was just another book, and we
were supposed to pick it apart:'
"How many nights, how many
hangings, how many crucifixion
scenes. I've got them all marked:'
said Don. "The good soup, the
bad soup and the soup soup:'
Don is a master of metaphor,
and he was, almost literally, on
a roll. "In high school, we got
some lettuce, some tomato and
a few slices of salami. But we
never got the sandwich"
Unquestionably, the high
school teachers were well-intentioned
professionals who assumed that training
in literary dis-
Still, while the
to have been suc-
cessful — the stu-
dents were in our
Honors program — the memoir died.
Rather than struggling with Wiesel's own
struggle to retell, the students were directed
toward a kind of literary curiosity shop.
A Holocaust survivor whom I first inter-
viewed in the 1970s insisted: "It is not a
story. It has to be made a story. And with
all the frustration that implies. Because, at
best, you compromise. You compromise'
Night on page 31
October 10 • 2013