Press "Enter" to skip to content

The Nakba Continues

As my grief and outrage mount at the predictable escalations of violence in Israel/Palestine, I once again marvel at the chasms of misunderstanding and miscalculations in describing events as they unfold and the script that frames most mainstream media reporting. (Recently, The New York Times is a notable exception.)

The both-sides-have-their-reasons-but-Israel-is-the-victim stories follow an expected pattern. Israeli Jews, still living in the shadow of the Holocaust, return to their rightful homes and then fight for every inch of what is justly theirs.  They are repeatedly faced with intractable Arab terrorists who attack innocent civilians and must be crushed with all the might the Israeli military has at its disposal. Never Again! Add “barely human” Hamas and Iranian militants, and armed and aggressive ultra-Orthodox Jews and settlers abetted by Israeli soldiers defending God’s promises and marching defiantly through Jerusalem yelling “Death to the Arabs!” and we have the narrative in place. The United Nations, a host of human rights groups, and the International Court protest, suggesting various crimes against humanity, while Israelis wring their hands and cry foul. Victim again. The US remains remarkably silent given that much of the weaponry is ours. Could both sides just de-escalate, please?

What is different this time?

While there have been uprisings of Palestinian citizens in Israel against land confiscations and other violations, as well as in support of Palestinians suffering in the territories (Land Day in 1976 comes to mind), now Palestinians in Acre, Haifa, Jaffe, Lod, Nazareth, and Ramle are protesting loudly and vigorously. The mayor of Lod may call this “Kristallnacht” but Palestinian citizens have reached a breaking point, unable to tolerate the 72 year history of racist and exclusionary policies by the Israeli government, its most recent attacks in Jerusalem, and ever-increasing rightward, tending toward fascistic, political parties.

The Israeli government may have miscalculated, although it is entirely possible that the wily Netanyahu thinks that a war would rally the fractured Israeli populace and improve his chances of reappearing Houdini-like as a viable candidate and of course staying out of prison. I suspect that most Israeli politicians believe that anything that causes a rift in the dysfunctional Hamas/Palestinian Authority relationship and provides an excuse to assassinate a few Hamas leaders is also good for Israel. Israel has already thrown a monkey wrench into the now cancelled Palestinian elections by denying East Jerusalemites the right to vote, thus increasing the distress of the already pandemic stressed occupied Palestinian population.

Although Israeli officials claim the usual Hamas-plot-to-destroy-Israel scenario which I would argue is an egregious attempt at distraction, the reasons for the current eruptions of rage are much more understandable as another spike in the ongoing Nakba that started well before 1948.

The families in the Sheikh Jarrar neighborhood in East Jerusalem were expelled by Israeli soldiers from their homes in Haifa and Jaffa in 1948. Twenty-eight families were settled in Sheikh Jarrar in the 1950s by the Jordanian government in coordination with UNRWA. They moved into houses built by wealthy Palestinian families who had escaped the crowded winding streets of the Old City in the early 20th century as well as into newly built homes. The area was named for the personal physician of the Islamic general Saladin, who settled there when Muslim armies captured the city from Christian crusaders in 1187.

Palestinians leaving Haifa as Jewish forces enter the city – Public Domain

In the 1960s, the families made a deal with Jordan (who controlled the area until 1967) to become owners of their homes; they received official land deeds in return for renouncing their refugee status with its international protections. The Jordanian government has repeatedly provided documents proving Palestinian ownership of their properties. After the ’67 War, the Israeli government developed a settlement plan for the area, called the Holy Basin, which involves building a string of settler units and parks around the Old City and the removal of Palestinian homes using outright confiscation and endless tortured legal battles. Employing Israeli laws that allow Jews to reclaim ownership of land lost in 1948 as well as a host of forged documents, settlers have challenged Palestinian ownership and repeatedly won in Israeli courts. For the Israeli government to call this merely a “real-estate dispute” is unfathomably dishonest. Needless to say, Palestinians who have lost homes and property in West Jerusalem or anywhere in Israel for that matter have no such legal remedy. Twenty-thousand Palestinian homes are currently at risk for demolition in the city.

As Palestinians faced new evictions, tensions mounted, Ramadan was coming to a close, and the Israeli government chose this moment to block Palestinians from outside Jerusalem from entering the Al Aqsa Mosque on one of their most sacred religious holidays. Violence erupted further on Jerusalem Day, a raucous nationalistic celebration of the Israeli capture of the city in 1967, pouring acid into the already seething wound. Israeli police stormed Al Aqsa, firing rubber tipped bullets, stun grenades, and tear gas at praying Palestinians and others (not surprisingly) throwing stones, (the weapon of choice for the disenfranchised, enraged, and humiliated). Three hundred thirty Palestinians were injured.

It is not surprising that Hamas felt obligated to respond to these repeated provocations. I have to wonder if the provocations were indeed deliberate. Over the past few days, hundreds of rockets from Hamas have hit several Israeli cities, killing seven, and Israeli forces have repeatedly bombed the Strip, killing over 113, with 530 wounded. More death and destruction will undoubtedly follow as Israeli forces prepare for a land invasion, children will die, the tragic numbers in Israel will be dwarfed by the magnitude of horrifying death in Gaza. Mothers and fathers will weep and young men will vow vengeance. We know this story. The Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz stated “Israel is not preparing for a ceasefire. There is currently no end date for the operation.” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh announced that the rocket attacks would continue until Israel stopped “all scenes of terrorism and aggression in Jerusalem and al-Aqsa mosque”.

Now protests have erupted in the West Bank in Hebron, Jenin, Nablus, Qalqilya, and Tulkarem.

The thing to remember is that this is not a battle between two equal parties; this is a struggle between one of the strongest military powers in the world, backed by the US, bent on disinheriting and humiliating a dispossessed people. This is a frightful example of ongoing violent settler colonialism, of the inability of the world to see Palestinians as equally human, traumatized, and deserving as their powerful Jewish Israeli neighbors and occupiers. If the international community does not force Israel to deal with the root causes of this disaster, the tragedy will repeat itself over and over again. The narrative of Jewish liberation and entitlement has been poisoned by decades of racist, unjust policies that have been called by many a slow genocide for Palestine. No one wins.

It is up to the international media, governments, human rights and grassroots organizations, and communities all over the world to make this story different this time.

Alice Rothchild is a physician, author, and filmmaker who has focused her interest in human rights and social justice on the Israel/Palestine conflict since 1997.  She practiced ob-gyn for almost 40 years. Until her recent retirement she served as Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Harvard Medical School. She writes and lectures widely, is the author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience, and On the Brink: Israel and Palestine on the Eve of the 2014 Gaza Invasion. She directed a documentary film, Voices Across the Divide and is active in Jewish Voice for Peace.



  1. Katte Schaaf May 24, 2021

    Alice, I agree. Thank you for elucidating something I have felt since I heard of this when I was an 8 year old and first heard the term ‘terrorist’ describing people of Palestine who were put in a position of defending their homes and olive trees when a totally outside force decided arbitrarily to uproot them and take their homes… as a small child I wondered, ‘what would they have to live for? ‘ … the surrounding Arabian countries seem to not defend or care… I really think the Zionists are jealous. Palestinians are remarkably brilliant and beautiful. It’s as though the Israelis and their minions are frothing in their savagery… shocking -and it is the main reason for unrest. Because there is no justice, there cannot be Peace. Mark Twain’s Words, ‘we ambuscated the Arabs’ come to mind….

  2. Marshall Newman May 24, 2021

    Since the author is interested in things to remember, here are a couple she apparently forgot. The recent 11-day conflict began May 10, when Hamas fired long-range rockets at Jerusalem to support the land protests at the Temple Mount. This was a calculated and provocative act by Hamas and it was taken with the full knowledge that Israel would respond. The destruction in Gaza wrought by Israel’s response is therefore Hamas’ to own – it would not have happened without that calculated and provocative act. An element of that calculation was and is that Hamas hoped to again become relevant. Maybe Hamas has become relevant as a result, but if so, it has done so – not that it cares – at huge cost to Gaza and its residents. There also is an unintended result. It has strengthened Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu just as there was a glimmer of hope for installation of a more moderate government in Israel, one that might have benefited Palestinians. Last but not least, Palestinians of all stripes have been poorly served by their ruling parties – both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority – and the intransigence of those ruling parties has cost Palestinians more than 20 years, years that might have provided progress towards better relations with Israel.

    • Pat Kittle May 24, 2021

      Marshall Newman:
      In the unlikely event you don’t already know…

      — Israel created Hamas, specifically to divide Palestinians.
      — Israel supports ISIS, specifically to divide Syrians.
      — Israel tried to murder the entire crew of a US Navy ship (USS Liberty) & sink it, hoping Arabs would be blamed.
      — Israel violently & illegally sabotages Iran’s nuclear program, even though Iran complied 100% with international inspections.
      — Israel forced it servants in the US government (like Trump) to break the nuclear treaty Obama achieved, & Iran 100% complied with.
      — Israel has 100’s of nukes in its arsenal — which it has never allowed to be inspected, and of which Israel stole the active ingredients from its BFF, the US.
      — Israel has threatened the whole world with nuclear devastation if the world remains neutral while Israel faces defeat (aka “Samson option”).
      — Israel did 9-11 (overwhelming evidence at Wikispooks) — specifically to suck us endless Mideastern wars for “Greater Israel.”

      This is a far from complete account of Israeli war criminality & treachery. Since you can’t refute it, you can always play your AntisemitismCard and demand I be censored.

      Have a nice day!

      • Bruce Anderson May 24, 2021

        Mostly incorrect, Kittle. There’s no evidence that the Israelis had anything to do with 9-11; Israel has not threatened the world with the alleged Samson Option, a staple of the anti-Semitic websites where you get your info. Continuing, Israel did not create Hamas nor does Israel support Isis. Etc. Go away, and take your dangerously moronic opinions with you. PS. Whoever sabs Iran’s nuclear capacity is doing a good thing.

        • Pat Kittle May 24, 2021

          I’ll back up everything I say — IF you have the courage to keep your finger off the CENSOR button.

          It’s easy to win a debate when you can simply repeat…
          — factless denials,
          — ad hominems (“anti-Semitic, moronic opinions”),
          — and ban anyone you can’t refute.

          BTW, as you know, in 1953 Iran had a democratically-elected government, led by PM Mossadegh, who had the temerity to let Iran decide for itself what it would charge for Iranian oil, which led to a CIA coup — the kind of thing you usually find quite stressful. So what’s your prob — you Islamophobic or something?

          When the US Navy (while probably invading Iranian territorial waters) shot down an Iranian airliner, killing everyone on board, Pres. GHW Bush arrogantly said the US doesn’t apologize. Largely at the behest of the Israel lobby we’ve been screwing the Iranians over at every turn.

          Iran’s not our enemy.

          • Bruce Anderson May 25, 2021

            Your sources, based on your posts, are an array of crackpots, as your ref to Mossadegh confirms. He was a sophisticated, humane man, a socialist (of course). Neither he nor the Shah, installed by the Western powers after they removed Mossadegh, would have brandished nukes and orchestrated rallies to eliminate Israel or designated America “the great Satan, all of which began with your soul bros, the mullahs. In your anti=Semitic zeal to tag Israel the great Satan you manage to undermine yourself. Seek help, Kittle.

      • Bruce McEwen May 25, 2021

        “Israel created Hamas”–?

        In my vast ignorance I was laboring under the distinct impression that the Palestinian people freely elected Hamas by a large majority over the moderate contenders… thereby alienating what American support they may have enjoyed before.

        Like the majority of Israelis who voted for their current regime of war mongers, both sides seem to prefer bloodthirsty intolerance to all other solutions.

    • Katte Schaaf May 24, 2021

      Mr. Newman, Please remember that Israel was Palestine longer ago than your short memory serves…before Nakba…more lately of course the savagery of the military is more obvious to the Palestinians… I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t appreciate the bombing and razing… we would consider them NIMBYs…. think Rachel Corrie.

      • Marshall Newman May 24, 2021

        Indeed, though my memory is pretty good. You should remember that approximately 800,000 Jews lived in Arab countries before the the creation of Israel. Nearly all were forced to leave those countries due to discriminatory laws or expelled outright. In nearly all cases, they left their property behind without compensation. In Morocco, Libya, Iraq and Syria, there were massacres of Jews. Plenty of NIMBY-ism to go around.

        • Katte Schaaf May 24, 2021

          Mr. Newman, do you just want to spew stuff or try to really read more deeply…you are apparently appalled by truth…
          Truth is that The Arab countries have been neatly divided by policies not their own.

          My people lived side by side in Baghdad with never a problem with their Arab neighbors until England along with some other clever people decided to divide Iraq creating havoc and my people were forced to seek refuge, some here in the United States.

          As far as I have known about the Arab culture they would…no matter your affiliations…invite you for tea… that’s the long history… so why the long face when Miss Rothchild feels her own pain when she and all too many others feel compassion for the Palestinians?

          • Marshall Newman May 25, 2021

            Only the last portion of my first comment is conjecture: the rest is truth, amply backed up by evidence.

  3. Mark Laszlo May 24, 2021

    People in my family were killed at Auschwitz, but Israel’s atrocities to Palestinians sometimes exceed the nazi’s to Jews. In nazi occupied Europe, if 1 German was killed, ten civilians were killed, but now, in Israel and Gaza it’s 7 to 113. Moslem Palestinians may average more ancient Hebrew lineage than Jews. I heard a New York Jewish taxi driver say he saw an Israeli taxi driver refuse to take a little boy who had cancer to the hospital with his mother. Jews in New York City say of Israeli taxi drivers “It’s enough to make you antisemitic”. And i think since the assassination of Begin and suppression of the Israeli peace movement, the state of Israel today is the main cause of old blood libels seeming credible to so many. Similar to the USA and Saudi Arabia, Israel’s right wing and military industrial complex warlords, are our worst enemies.

  4. George Dorner May 25, 2021

    A combat veteran’s third comment on warfare and peace:

    I have previously commented on history’s lesson that the winners of a war do pretty much as they please, and the losers can go pack sand.

    One of history’s false lessons is that when a war ends, the fighting stops. Books about World War I often end with some sententious sentence such as, “Across Europe, the guns fell silent”. They seldom go on to mention the defeated German troopers forming militias to fight a communist insurrection, nor the fighting throughout the Baltic region. They may mention the farcial attempt to take over the vastness of Russia with half a dozen regiments of foreigners. The American “Banana Wars” south of the border are largely forgotten.

    The point of my example being, the fighting isn’t over until it’s over. Today, the Palestinians are firing their arsenal of rockets garnered from mysterious sources at Israel; the IDF counters with American glide bombs. Human beings are being killed, regardless of treaties, ideology, politics. You can label the present conflict as an intafada, a bloody protest, a war, a violation of international norms. The labels don’t matter, when corpses litter the battlefield.

  5. Dave Johnson May 25, 2021

    Mr. BruceAnderson. Thank you for your reply to recent misinformed statements by misinformed persons.: Re, Israel vs Palestine. Hamas is a threat to Israel. But, in spite of Israel’s superior strength Hamas still causes Israel to respond, creating tremendous loss of life and infrastructures. Israel, of course, is the only democratic country in the Middle East. Of course, the U.S. will support them. Bonnie and I appreciate your Paper.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *