Oxblog reviews the evidence for and against the Palestinian claim that Israel engaged in the mass expulsion of Arabs at the very birth of the state. In the end David Adesnik comes to no definite conclusion. Historical guilt is hard to ascribe, especially when every injustice stands upon the shoulders of an earlier and reciprocal grievance. Here's a summary of how Adesnik's inquiry started, though it is by no means finished.
Recently, my colleague has raised the question of the 700,000 or so Palestinian refugees who fled their homes during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948-1949. Arabs refer to this flight as the nakhba, or catastrophe. For many advocates of the Palestinian cause, the nakhba was a historic injustice that fatally compromised the legitimacy of the Jewish state.
But what, precisely, was the nakhba? My limited knowledge of the subject derives from Benny Morris' 1999 survey of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, entitled Righteous Victims. However, I read the book in 2001, so my recollections of its content were vague at best until I stopped by the library today to refresh my memory. ...
According to Morris, the refugee crisis developed in four stages during the war, which I will describe below.
But first, Morris points out that Zionist leaders such as David Ben-Gurion considered the forcible transfer of Palestinians to be necessary and just. As the future Prime Minister said in 1938, "I support compulsory transfer. I do not see in it anything immoral." Other influential Israelis agreed, although both they and Ben Gurion felt that it would be best not to make their opinions known.
This position, however, does not seem to have resulted in any clear plan to force out the Palestinians. Rather, the refugee crisis developed in a series of unplanned stages ...
In the course of trying to help upland tribesmen obtain titles to their ancestral lands in the Philippines, I became acutely aware that ethnic expulsions did not begin, nor did they end, with the arrival of the White Man. But even the tribesmen had the good sense to realize that there was no point in aspiring to return the clock to some arbitrary point in the past. They were content to have aspire to peace and prosperity in the present. Judith Weiss describes the perils of invoking the sacred past in arguing for an unattainable future with respect to Christian Zionists who claim that since God gave Israel to the Jews, then so it must be. Churchill was alleged to have said (I cannot find the quote) that the problem with the Past is that it made the Future impossible. Today, with unprecedented population movements taking place under the impetus of globalization, to what past could we conceivably return? But Churchill, almost anticipating the Internet, definitely did say was that "the empires of the future will be empires of the mind". And in that future, which is our present, it is the location of your mind rather than your body that matters most. In that respect, where is Israel? And where are the Palestinians?