Presenting a completely distorted history of the Israel-Arab conflict, and the creation of Israel.
Now in its second consecutive year, the Nakba Tour is a speaking event that brings several Palestinian women registered as refugees in Lebanon to university, church, and other community venues across North America.
The talks rightly highlight the many overwhelming challenges that Palestinians face in Lebanon, including the denial of basic civil rights and endemic discrimination.
Lebanon’s dozen refugee camps have long been considered among the worst in the region in terms of poverty, health, education, and living conditions. It is important for people in the U.S. and Canada to learn more about the hardships that Palestinians face there so that solutions can be found.
But the Nakba Tour doesn’t link the deplorable conditions for Palestinians living in Lebanon to the real culprits: the Lebanese state and society. Instead, the tour’s speakers, along with the materials provided on the Nakba Tour’s website and social media, blame Israel for Lebanon’s failure to treat Palestinians decently.
Promoted and sponsored by virulently anti-Israel activists and organizations, the Nakba Tour insists that Palestinian refugees have the “right of return”, advocates for Palestine to replace Israel (violently if necessary), and scorns Zionism as antithetical to justice and as inherently racist and oppressive.
The Nakba Tour is promoted as an educational experience. But it’s also a “Call to Action”.
It asks audiences to help the speakers get briefings at Congress (this year scheduled for October 19, when they’ll be in the D.C. area); to write and phone their congressional representatives to “stop all aid to Israel” and to join BDS, including “academic, cultural, economic and military” boycott campaigns, in order to “provide a material boost to the Palestinian struggle for return and liberation.”
Basically, the Nakba Tour aims to manipulate often well-meaning (but largely naïve) North American audiences by first generating rage and disgust for the disgraceful situation faced by Palestinians in Lebanon, and then working to turn that anger against Israel.
Below I provide an overview of Nakba Tour 2017. The remainder of the post is organized as follows:
- The Tour Plan
- The Nakba Tour: Key Features of the Program
- The Nakba Tour’s Advisors and Sponsors
- Nakba Tour 2017 Aims to Build Intersectional Alliances
- The Controversy Surrounding Nakba Tour 2016
- Fact-checking the Nakba Tour
- Nakba Tour 2017 Comes to Syracuse, NY
- Conclusion: FAKE HISTORY and Deception
The Tour Plan
In 2016, the Nakba Tour covered the western part of the United States, with speaking engagements in California, Arizona and neighboring states. This year it’s scheduled to make pit stops mainly in Canada and in the U.S. along the eastern seaboard.
The Tour has already spoken at various universities, community centers, and churches in Montreal, Toronto, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.Some two-dozen additional events for college campuses and community venues are now booked in New York and the Washington D.C. area, and in various cities in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, North and South Carolina, and Georgia.
The Nakba Tour is also hoping to schedule new events in Alabama and Florida this fall.As described in further detail below, the speaking engagements involve elderly Palestinian women who lived in pre-state Israel prior to its 1948 War of Independence and ended up “stateless” in Lebanese refugee camps.
They’re accompanied by an articulate and winsome 23-year-old Palestinian woman who also lives in Lebanon, Amena Elashkar. A translator and journalist, she’s the “great granddaughter of other Nakba survivors” and also grew up as a “stateless refugee” in one of the camps.
Together, the pair of speakers spend several hours describing their “life as refugees” and sharing their “experiences of Lebanon camps” with American and Canadian audiences, who likely have little knowledge of the deplorable living conditions in the camps or the biased anti-Palestinian attitudes of Lebanese society.
It’s commendable that the Nakba Tour wants to educate North Americans about the discrimination faced by the some 450,000 Palestinians registered as refugees in Lebanon by UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency).
Nearly 200,000 still live in refugee camps and, because of draconian laws and restrictions, are largely excluded from the formal labor market, access to higher educational opportunities, and even adequate health care.The vast majority of Palestinians living in Lebanon today are still being denied citizenship and basic civil rights even though they were born on Lebanese soil and are second, third, and even fourth generation descendants of the Palestinians who arrived in Lebanon in 1948.
It’s important for the outside world to know these facts.
It’s essential for not only generating sympathy for beleaguered Palestinians in Lebanon, and other Arab countries, but also for coming up with solutions to their plight.
But instead of condemning the Lebanese government and society, or denouncing UNRWA (which for decades has shamefully refused to remedy the situation and actually “obstructs the best possible service to the Palestinians”), in the Nakba Tour the “voices of stateless Palestinians” become a vehicle for attacking Israel.
The speakers tell undeniably sad stories about their lives, and the appalling situation they and their families face, in order to redirect hatred toward Israel and Zionists.
By the end of the event, audiences are invited to deny the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.
Basically, the Nakba Tour milks the tragic personal lives of several elderly Palestinian women, and the real and unacceptable mistreatment of the Palestinians in Lebanon, to call for the Jewish state’s destruction and to “build the boycott of Israel.”
The Nakba Tour: Key Features of the Program
In 2016, the Nakba Tour featured the 86-year-old Mariam Fathalla (affectionately known as Umm Akram) who has lived for 68 years in refugee camps in Lebanon, raising three generations in them.
Together with Elashkar, she traveled 12,000 miles speaking at 26 venues across North America over a two month period.
This year, it’s 84-year-old Khawla Hammad who is making the rounds.
Hammad (Umm Mousa) was “expelled from her village of Kabri, in Palestine” when she was 16-years-old.
Four of her children were killed in “repeated Israeli attacks on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon,” according to the Nakba Tour materials (and Umm Mousa’s own testimonial, see below). Before the 1948 “Nakba”, Hammad’s father died as “a Palestinian freedom fighter” at the hands of the British authorities.
— Activist Calendar (@ActCal) September 18, 2017
There isn’t yet a lot of media coverage of the 2017 tour which kicked-off just a couple of weeks ago.
But you can glean a lot from the tour’s website and its social media, several articles about the event recently published in the local Northampton, MA press (Elashkar and Hammad spoke at Northampton’s First Churches on September 19), a recent Cape Cod NPR station (WCAI) 10 minute interview with Elashkar, and by viewing YouTube clips from the 2016 events.
From the Massachussetts Daily Collegian: Palestinian women talk about their lives as refugees https://t.co/SggM0jCPSY
— Nakba Tour (@NakbaTour) September 29, 2017
In them, the Palestinian refugee crisis is defined as a “crime” inflicted by “the Zionists” on defenseless Palestinians.
The “Nakba” (catastrophe in Arabic) is characterized as Israel deliberately “expelling most of the population in 1948” and “forcing” the Palestinians from their homes.
Elashkar (who tends to do a lot of the talking and serves as a translator at the events, and in subsequent media interviews), says that “Arabs were forced to leave so Israel could be established.”
The bulk of the presentations highlight Hammad and Elashkar’s refugee experiences, and that of their families, as a lead up to the general message that the Nakba Tour wants to bring to North America: 7 million Palestinian inheritors of refugee status have a legal and moral “right to return” to present-day Israel.
In the presentations, Elashkar and her traveling elderly companion—who obviously generates considerable sympathy from the crowds—convey how much “all the Palestinian refugees” are longing to “return.”
Here’s a clip that emphasizes how, according to the Nakba Tour, Palestinian refugees don’t want citizenship or more rights and liberties in the places where they were born and grew up—or even to emigrate to the West—but dream only to go back to “their homes” in Israel:
In her recent NPR interview, Elashkar claims that even documented refugees who manage to get asylum and citizenship in the U.S., Europe, or Canada still try to go “back to Palestine to live there.”
By the end of one of the events, during the Q&A, an incensed audience is provoked to lash out at Israel and at Zionists, as can be seen in a promotional video (view the vimeo at this link) produced for the Nakba 2017 tour:Basically, the Nakba Tour primes audiences to be BDS advocates, to “speak up against Zionism” and to oppose Jewish self-determination.
The Nakba Tour’s Advisors and Sponsors
The Nakba Tour gets programmatic assistance and financial support from a coterie of vehemently anti-Israel activists and organizations.
Board of Advisors – A Who’s Who of Anti-Israel Activists
Heading up the list is Hanan Ashrawi, an elected member of the PLO and founder of Miftah, whose innocuous sounding name (Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy) masks its intolerant politics. As documented in multiple reports by the Jerusalem-based watchdog group NGO Monitor (see for example, here and here), Ashrawi and Miftah have trafficked in anti-Jewish blood libels in the past, and routinely glorify terrorists and demonize Israel.Samia Khoury, a Trustee at Birzeit University in the West Bank, is also on the list. Birzeit has long been a hotbed of anti-Israel radicalism. Today, nearly 60-70% of its students are reportedly imprisoned for “security offenses.”
Khoury is also noted to be a founding member of Sabeel.
As we highlighted in a prior post, Sabeel is an anti-Israel and antisemitic West Bank-based so-called Christian organization that is behind much of the BDS activism in America’s progressive churches today, Sabeel – the anti-Israel Christian activists you never heard of. Khoury’s involvement in the Nakba Tour may be part of the reason that so many of its events are hosted at mainline churches.
Several faculty leaders of the BDS movement are also on the Board of Advisors, including University of California at Davis Professor of Asian American Studies Sunaina Maira, who thinks you can’t be a “leftist and a Zionist” and routinely conjures up conspiracies of Zionist Jewish control in her work and public speaking, and Professor Francis Boyle who teaches law at the University of Illinois. Boyle’s antisemitic crackpottery includes thinking that “Obama was bought and paid for by the Zionists.”
He also recently endorsed the new book by notorious antisemitic author, writer and musician Gilad Atzmon:
Sponsors: The Usual Suspects
The Nakba Tour is financially supported by an array of virulently anti-Israel groups.
According to its website and promotional information, the tour is sponsored by the California-based, tax-exempt 501 (c)(3) Free Palestine Movement, the International Solidarity Movement, and the Al-Awda Right to Return Coalition.
All three organizations are legend for their malicious anti-Israel activism.
According to NGO Monitor, The Free Palestine Movement is an outgrowth of the Free Gaza Movement, a radical group of international activists who have organized flotillas to “directly challenge the Israeli siege” of Gaza by initiating confrontations with the Israeli navy.
Al-Awda is a leading anti-Israel campaigner that views Zionism as “inherently racist” and is unwilling to accept Israel’s existence. It’s promoted terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Hezbollah; equated Judaism with Nazism; and disseminated antisemitic conspiracies about Israel’s involvement with ISIS.
Founded some 15 years ago at the start of the second intifada, International Solidarity Movement (ISM) has long supported violence as “legitimate national resistance.”
Its shameful violent radicalism—assisting and forging ties with terrorists—is well-documented.
As discussed by Johns Hopkins University Professor Joshua Muravchik in his outstanding 2014 book Making David Into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel, ISM leaders have often expressed sympathy for Palestinian suicide bombers. At least one has interacted with Hamas—even receiving an award from Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh back in 2008. Also that year, Muravchik notes that an ISM volunteer was sentenced to 42 months in a U.S. federal prison for giving about $20,000 to Hamas while working in Israel on behalf of ISM.
ISM “tourism” is risky for all those involved.
Rachel Corrie, an American ISM activist was accidentally killed in 2003 while trying to prevent a bulldozer from clearing brush and debris that was shielding Palestinian fighters and the tunnels they were then using to smuggle arms from Egypt.
In recent years, ISM operatives have traveled routinely to Israel on tourist visas, “visiting flashpoint locations” and participating in protests at Israel’s security fence. The Palestinian village of Bil’in has been one such popular destination for ISM foreign activists. They gather there to instigate fights with the IDF, incite local Palestinian residents to violence, and to get propaganda footage for the media.
The fact that ISM and Al-Awda are sponsors could be helpful in securing bookings because of the “tourism subterfuge” in Israel and the West Bank in which these organizations have long been engaged.
For example, the recent Nakba Tour event in Northampton, Massachusetts was co-organized by Sherill Hogan, who has a prior connection to ISM. Hogan reportedly “strives to educate the community” about the distress of Palestinian refugees. But according to an article in the local paper, her decision to invite the Nakba Tour to her home-town was a direct result of her prior experiences traveling with ISM back in 2002.Hogan was reportedly upset at “witnessing 24-hour curfews that were put on Palestinians and enforced by Israeli armies [sic]” (note: the fact that Israel was at the time trying to staunch a lethal suicide terror-campaign doesn’t seem to have fazed her).
So basically Hogan went with the aggressively anti-Israel ISM to Israel and the Palestinian territories, and over a decade later, she now fields anti-Israel propaganda events for her local Massachusetts community.
Nakba Tour 2017 Aims to Build Intersectional Alliances
A major goal of this year’s tour is to establish intersectional partnerships among other groups and organizations in North America, based on the loopy notion that all forms of oppression are “inexorably linked”.
As we’ve noted in dozens of posts, in recent years the intersectionality paradigm has led to the “linking of unrelated victimizations”; the conflation of totally unrelated grievances; and the creation of artificial coalitions among a coterie of causes that have absolutely nothing to do with each other—except a hatred for white supremacy and white privilege, which bizarrely always seems to involve the demonization of Israel and the disdain of Zionists.
The much-hyped inaugural event of Nakba Tour 2017 on September 15 was at a New Jersey Native American prayer camp where the Nakba Tour entourage “shared stories and built connections.” Specifically the goal was an “exploration of joint indigenous solidarity between Palestinians and the Ramapough Lenape Nation” which is reportedly currently resisting an oil pipeline being constructed through their land.
— Nakba Tour (@NakbaTour) September 23, 2017
I don’t know much about the specific controversy surrounding the land usage dispute between the Lenape and the town of Mahwah, NJ but I know this for certain: the ongoing “struggle” of this Native American tribe isn’t going to be helped one iota by “communal dialogue” over “tactics” with the “stateless Palestinians” of Lebanon.
In addition to this ridiculous effort to draw similarities between two wholly different groups of people with vastly different sets of problems, the Nakba Tour has also engaged in a partnership with Black4Palestine, which is now co-sponsoring this year’s tour.
— Nakba Tour (@NakbaTour) September 17, 2017
This effort builds on other connections that Black Lives Matter activists have forged with the anti-Israel BDS movement, as we discussed in earlier posts:
- Hijacking of #BlackLivesMatter by anti-Israel activists already has damaged the movement
- If you are surprised #BlackLivesMatter joined the war on Israel, you haven’t been paying attention
In an illuminating interview for Black Agenda Report that’s well-worth reading, Kristian Davis Bailey describes how the new alliance with Nakba Tour was forged—mostly by repeated visits with Palestinians living in the Lebanese refugee camps, and a desire to repay the hospitality and to “offer gratitude for opening their homes to us.”
During those home visits in the refugee camps, Bailey tried hard to connect the problems of policing in America and her own education in the U.S. (which is “designed to keep us ignorant and disempowered”) with the conditions facing the Palestinians in Lebanon.
It’s an absurd comparison, but one that Amena Elashkar completely supports:
Amena told them how many of the places she visited where Black people live, such as Jackson, Mississippi and Detroit, look just like the camps in Lebanon.”
Based on the interview, the Palestinian families also seemed to spend a lot of time emphasizing to their African-American visitors that they “love Blackness” and that “many of them are Black themselves”:
One of Umm Riyad’s daughters called her son down from the apartment above to show me that we indeed had the same skin color.”
The Controversy Surrounding Nakba Tour 2016
Amena Elashkar is a charming and appealing young woman who strikes an endearing pose during the Nakba Tour.
On the tour’s Facebook page she’s depicted as inquisitive and delightful, marveling at the wonderful sights she visits across North America and enjoying her time in front of the cameras and in more informal settings.But Elashkar also has a darker side.
She and others in the Nakba Tour appear to greatly admire Leila Khaled, a convicted terrorist and member of the PFLP, a U.S. designated terrorist organization:On the Nakba Tour’s Facebook page, Elashkar has recommended for further reading books by anti-Israel activists and flagrant anti-Jewish bigots Miko Peled, Max Blumenthal, and Shlomo Sand.
She also suggests that people read the work of notorious anti-Jewish conspiracy theorist Alison Weir, whose hatred of Jews is so appalling that the ADL has issued a ten page comprehensive report on her work.
The highlights include a nasty habit of modernizing anti-Jewish blood libels and characterizing Jews as conspiratorial groups of people who control America and the world. (As we noted in a prior post, Weir is so toxic that even the staunchly anti-Israel Jewish Voice for Peace has broken ties with her).
This admiration for Weir sparked controversy during last year’s Nakba Tour, at a scheduled pit stop back in April at Stanford University. Hosted by Stanford’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the event was abruptly canceled after SJP found out that Weir was invited to join the event and distribute her book and materials at the venue.
Elashkar wasn’t happy that Weir was being ostracized (see how she defends her in the video clip below). She also expresses frustration with the fact that SJP had warned her not to mention that Israel should be destroyed. In the video below, Elashkar declares that “Israel has no right to exist” and that SJP—and other Americans—shouldn’t be afraid to say so:
As far as I can tell, this YouTube interview led to the only protest of the speaking tour last year.
According to a local media report, in Columbia, Missouri some residents who had viewed the video online took offense at the public library’s plan to host the tour.
One of the residents, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, reportedly called for the event’s cancellation, arguing that the library “should not condone hate speech” and noting that “It is not legitimate to call for the destruction—the violent destruction—of Israel.”
Despite the protests though, the talk at the library went ahead as planned. Library officials were reportedly swayed by those calling for free speech and the free exchange of ideas, viewing it appropriate to use tax-payer dollars to host “a night filled with public expression of antisemitism”.
Fact-checking the Nakba Tour
As noted above, the Nakba Tour does an admirable job of presenting to North American audiences the many hardships that Palestinians living in Lebanon’s refugee camps have faced for nearly seven decades.
The Tour’s online materials and the speaker presentations describe well the wretched living conditions in the camps and the systematic denial of rights.
But the tour fails miserably when it comes to conveying the history and contemporary contours of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The presentations offer little more than a caricature, depicting the Palestinians as blameless victims and the “foreign” Jews as perennial oppressors.
There’s never any sense that the Palestinians ever acted unjustly by themselves initiating acts of aggression; that they planned attacks on Israel from their base in Lebanon perpetrating acts of unconscionable terror; that their leaders have persistently incited to violence; or that Jews were forced to defend themselves.
Below I highlight several aspects of the historical record, and the current situation, which the Nakba Tour gets wrong or ignores.
Failure to acknowledge the Jewish Nakba
As far as I could tell from the materials that I reviewed for this post, there is no mention at all of the nearly one million Jews who were forced to flee Arab lands from 1948 to the early 1970s, and who were never compensated for their substantial losses, November 30: Commemorating departure and expulsion of Jews from Arab and Muslim lands.
The remarkable resettlement of these Jewish refugees, most of whom had to leave everything behind and came to Israel destitute and penniless, is also disregarded.
Basically Israel absorbed and resettled the Jewish refugees while Lebanon and other Arab states refused to allow the resettlement and integration of their Palestinian brothers and sisters, preferring instead to exploit the Palestinian refugees to serve their own political agendas.
Presenting the Palestinian refugee crisis as originating from a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing
The Nakba Tour maintains that the Palestinian refugee crisis was a result of “Zionist colonization” and the “ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948.”
But the reality is that Israel’s leaders never adopted an explicit state policy of expulsion during its 1948 war for independence. In many instances, Arabs were encouraged to stay in situ as the fighting intensified.
During the conflict, Arab flight was complex and triggered by a diverse set of factors at different times, as leading historian Benny Morris has persuasively argued. Wealthy elite Arabs left early on, fully expecting to return once the fighting ended.
Like Khawla Hammad, others left in a panic, fearful that they and their families would be caught in the cross-fire. But many also fled at the urging of Palestinian leaders, reassured that they would return to their homes once the Jewish forces were defeated.
This complexity is confirmed in the testimonials of those who witnessed the events. For example, Mordechai Bar-On, who is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause in his writing and who served as a platoon commander and later as company commander in an elite fighting unit during the 1948 war, notes:
…participating in attacks on, and the conquest of, more than a dozen Arab villages in the southern coastal plain…I can testify that all these villages were practically empty when we arrived…we could often see the fellahin with their women and children in the distance, making their way to the Arab lines…I am sure that thousands of Israeli soldiers carry with them the memory of flight rather than expulsion. Ezra Danin, a senior member of Israel’s intelligence service, did not lie when he stated in his memoirs: ‘The Arab exodus was a surprise to us all…we witnessed a mass flight, despite promises made to the inhabitants of the villages in the Sharon and the Shfela [the coastal plain between Haifa and Gaza] that no harm would be done to them…Once the great exodus started, it spread like brushfire…”
It’s not difficult to understand why.
In a war zone, it’s reasonable for civilians to run for their lives—as Hammad admits that she and her family did when they fled to the Lebanese border. But that’s a very different reality than the one that the Nakba Tour actually tries to ram home, namely that Israel “exiled” and “dispossessed” hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from “their country.”
Here are several short video clips that provide helpful insight into the origins of the Palestinian refugee crisis:
Misrepresenting UN General Assembly Resolution 194
The Nakba Tour repeatedly draws on UNGA Resolution 194, passed on December 11, 1948. It’s the key document cited by supporters of a Palestinian “right of return.”
But the reality is that this non-binding resolution only recommended that the refugees be permitted to return and didn’t create any “right” of return. A relevant clause also required that the refugees “wishing to return to their homes” accept to “live at peace with their neighbors”—meaning accepting Israel’s right to exist, something that they weren’t willing to do then, and never really ever since.
Resolution 194 gave resettlement of the refugees equal footing to other suggested solutions, which is precisely why the Arab states voted against it. That is, they wouldn’t support Resolution 194 back in 1948 because they believed that it didn’t establish a “right of return” (and also because it implicitly recognized Israel).
In sum, the Nakba Tour’s insistence on the Palestinian refugees’ “right of return” to Israel is built on “questionable legal foundations.”
Ignoring the plight of Palestinian Christians in Lebanon
The diverse viewpoints of Christian and Muslim Palestinians who live in Lebanon are woefully underexplored by the Nakba Tour.
As it happens though, my former graduate student Robert Nicholson, who now serves as Executive Director of the Philos Project, can shed some light having just returned from a mission in Lebanon where he met with Palestinian Christians to hear more about their plight and their needs.
In a short video clip that Nicholson posted last week on YouTube, he describes how Christian Palestinians from the Dbayeh refugee camp related to him that they were being neglected by humanitarian relief efforts—and that Muslims were always receiving the lion’s share of the available funding.
Contrary to the Nakba Tour’s insistence that all Palestinians yearn to reclaim property in present-day Israel, Nicholson also remarks in the video that most Christian Palestinians he spoke with have absolutely no interest in “returning to Palestine”; they are, however, very keen on going to Canada.
Failing to acknowledge how UNRWA exacerbates the Palestinian refugee crisis
In the Nakba Tour, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s (UNRWA) role in aggravating—and to a large extent intensifying—the hardships faced by Lebanon’s Palestinians is never taken to task.
The omission is not inconsequential because UNRWA is a significant part of the problem. As noted by many scholars and policy experts (see for example here and here), UNRWA’s perpetuation of the “myth of Palestinian refugees” prevents a resolution of the refugee crisis.
Basically, UNRWA has ensured that Palestinians are the only community on the planet that gets to inherit refugee states. This questionable practice has provided a convenient excuse for the refusal of Arab states to integrate their Palestinian populations (unlike UNRWA, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),which manages the needs of all the world’s other refugees, doesn’t transfer refugee status to descendants).
The Nakba Tour Comes to Syracuse, NY
Nakba Tour 2017 was brought to Syracuse, NY on October 2 to present at All Saints Roman Catholic Church.
The program was sponsored by the Justice for Palestine Committee of the Syracuse Peace Council (SPC).
In the past, this group has also hosted in the Syracuse area the notorious antisemitic conspiracy theorist Alison Weir and Miko Peled who think Jews have a “reputation for being sleazy thieves” and has a nasty habit of making “offensive Holocaust remarks”.
According to its promotional material, the SPC’s Justice for Palestine Committee supports the goals of the BDS movement, including ending U.S. military aid to Israel, implementing the Palestinian right of return, and dismantling Israeli “apartheid”.
The SPC’s Justice for Palestine Committee believes that “to understand the complexities of the Palestine/Israel issue, one must view Israel, like the U.S. itself, as a colonial settler state.”
SPC’s handouts and materials, free-for-the-taking by people as they entered the church, included a brochure from Weir’s organization If Americans New and the “mendacious maps”—a widely-disseminated but factually inaccurate series of four chronological maps alleging the expansion of Jewish-controlled territory and the elimination of Palestinian territory.These maps gives the false impression that Jews stole land from a once-existing Palestinian state (none ever existed), while obscuring the fact that so-called “Palestinian lands” were actually nothing of the sort—they were mostly public and government-owned, originally by the Ottoman crown and then ruled by the British mandatory authorities.
The first time Palestinians ever gained control was after 1995, under the Oslo Accords—so the last map of the series actually represents a gain of land, not a loss.
As we noted in a prior post, MSNBC apologized for showing these propaganda maps to its viewers last year.
Roughly 40 people attended the Nakba Tour 2017 event, which is a pretty good turnout for Syracuse.
This frightening image of what appears to be the grim reaper holding a dead child was up on the screen as people took their seats in the church pews:The two hour event was professionally filmed and posted to YouTube (full embed below). We prepared a short, 2 minute clip capturing some of the highlights.
In the remainder of this post I provide an overview of the Nakba Tour 2017 Syracuse program, which from what I can tell is the format being used at other venues this year (note: numbers in headings below refer to the time stamps on the video).
Syracuse Peace Council delivers an introduction—2:00-8:30
Pat Carmeli of the Syracuse Peace Council came up to the front of the church to introduce the program.
I’ve seen her do this before, so I knew what to expect.
She always self-identifies “as a Jew who lived in Israel” and “married an Israeli”. She mentioned that her group used to be called Central NY Working for Justice in Israel and Palestine, but that a few years ago a name change was made (to Committee for Justice in Palestine). According to Carmeli, the reason was that “Everything is going well in Israel, which is thriving, but Palestinians are the ones who need our help.”
She then showed the audience all the flyers and materials that had been distributed at the front entrance, including the “map of lies”:Carmeli warned the audience to “be brave” because “you can get attacked, including by those in the local community, when you speak up for Palestinians” (note: she’s one of those people who thinks that the right to free speech gives you the right to be free of criticism).
A slickly-produced 3 minute video preceded the talk.
It depicts the horrible, slum-like conditions of the Burj Al Barajneh camp where Elashkar grew up. It’s the most overpopulated camp in the Beirut area, and clearly a very dangerous and bleak place for kids.
In the film, a bunch of adorable children speak into the camera from the narrow, garbage-strewn alleyways and dilapidated roads running through the camp, saying that they “want to return to Palestine” because “my home is there; Israel occupied it.”
The film ends with the disturbing image featured at the start of the program:
Khawla Hammad’s story—13:04-49:35
Following the film, Hammad spoke of her life and the difficulties she’s endured. Sitting stoical at the front of the room, she talked in a monotone Arabic, but Elashkar was by her side throughout to translate and to liven up the story-telling.Hammad is certainly entitled to her perspective.
There can be no doubt that she suffered—losing children in battle; fleeing her home and village in the Galilee as Jewish forces advanced; and having to live in the wilderness near the Lebanese border for months until the UN set up refugee camps.
But there was enough suffering and heartache to go around in 1948.
As we noted in a prior post, it was a war that was actually fought in three phases and which began on November 30, 1947, just a few hours after the UN General Assembly voted in favor of partition, when Palestinians rejected it and attacked a Jewish civilian bus near Lydda airport.
Israel eventually prevailed, but the costs were high. By the time the war ended in 1949, Israel had sustained some 6,000 war casualties, including 2,000 civilians.
Among the war dead was Ralph Lowenstein, an American Jewish college student who decided to postpone his studies in order to help Israel become a state, despite the fact that he lacked any military experience and didn’t even know Hebrew very well. Disguised as a Holocaust survivor, he was among a thousand Canadian and American Jews who volunteered to serve in the Jewish defense forces during the 1948 war (40 of them lost their lives).
Hammad discusses at some length the “good relations” her village had with nearby Jewish communities before 1948, even describing the celebration of each other’s weddings.
It’s true that in many places in the Yishuv (pre-state Israel), the Zionists forged business ties with their Arab neighbors, and even friendships.
But the reality is that these relationships were always precarious.
— Miriam F. Elman (@MiriamElman) October 2, 2017
Attacks on settlements and vicious pogroms against the Jews incited by Palestinian leaders took place routinely, often necessitating the complete evacuation of the Jewish community as happened in Hebron in 1929, Anniversary of 1929 Hebron Massacre and Ethnic Cleansing of Jews.
Hammad’s belief in a pre-1948 idyllic harmony is as much a myth as is her view that the “Zionist gangs” perpetrated all the acts of violence. To hear Hammad tell the story of 1947-1948, Palestinians are never the ones behaving badly.
But the reality is that the Palestinian militias and Arab Legion committed many anti-Jewish atrocities and war crimes.
In fact, one infamous case—the Kfar Etzion massacre—happened just a couple of weeks after Hammad says that she fled her home to Lebanon.
On May 13, 1948 some 127 Holocaust survivors were executed after Kfar Etzion, on the road to Jerusalem, fell to Palestinian militiamen. To be clear: the Jewish defenders had surrendered and had put down their weapons when the Arab attackers opened fire on them with guns and grenades (in 1967, Jews returned to the ruined kibbutz; it became one of the first communities to be re-established after the war).
Hammad says that when her village was bombarded in early May 1948, it was the first time that she had witnessed any violence. But that admission isn’t consistent with the historical record because by then the Palestinian Arabs had already been fighting alongside the Jordanian Legion for some five months.
Basically, the Arabs responded to the UN partition plan with massacres, riots, and a crippling blockade of Jerusalem and outlying Jewish settlement areas, like Kfar Etzion. In addition to armed fighters, many civilians, including Arab women and even children, gave logistical support to this effort.
This massive participation of Arab civilians in the atrocities against the Jews
reinforced the impression among many that no rules of war would be followed…[it] stamped-in the conviction that the Arabs of Palestine and their allies would conduct a war of extermination and ethnic cleansing in Palestine. Those Jews who were not killed would be evacuated. No Jews would be allowed to live on territory conquered by Arabs.”
Amena Elashkar’s PowerPoint Slide Show—50:12-1:14:08
Following Hammad’s monologue, Elashkar presented a PowerPoint slide show about the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s “aggressions” in Lebanon.
This section of the Nakba Tour is a hodgepodge of distortions, disinformation and omitted facts.
Much of Elashkar’s talk was a typical, garden-variety anti-Israel diatribe: the 1917 Balfour Declaration was foisted on the “indigenous” Palestinians; the Zionists wanted to “get rid” of the Palestinians and perpetrated countless “crimes” against the innocent (Elashkar: “The Palestinians were exiled, massacred and ‘pogromed’—maybe not the right verb, but I’ll use that word anyway”).
Once again the “map of lies” was trotted out, this time to reinforce that the Jews “belong” to the diaspora—and not to “Palestine”—as Elashkar put it.
But the reality is that the Balfour Declaration was incorporated by the Allied Powers into the San Remo Treaty of 1920, and into the subsequent Mandate for Palestine that the League of Nations entrusted to Britain. So the Jewish attachment to the land “became an established part of international law.”
Basically, the international community recognized a pre-existing right of the Jewish people to establish a national home in Palestine—one which had never been forfeited or surrendered. As historian and member of the Council of Scholars for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) Professor Alex Grobman remarks in a recent op-ed:
The Jewish people had been sovereign in their own land for 1,000 years before many were forced into exile…the establishment of the state of Israel did not represent a creation ex nihilo.”
As with the other Nakba Tour materials, the salvageable piece of her presentation came when Elashkar spoke to the challenges of life in Lebanon’s refugee camps. Here she helpfully brought in details not typically found in UN or Amnesty reports—like having to buy water outside of the camps, because the Lebanese government couldn’t ever be bothered to provide drinkable tap water.
So she did a decent job highlighting the awful conditions in the cramped and squalid camps. But she never mentioned the Palestinian terror organizations which took root there, or the negative impact they’ve had on Lebanese politics. Mention of the prominent role that the PLO played in the country’s devastating and protracted civil war from 1975 to 1990, for example, was conspicuously missing.
In this regard, also disappointing was Elashkar’s coverage of the first Lebanon war in 1982.
Claiming that after 1948 Israel “didn’t leave the Palestinians alone” but “chased after them” to Lebanon, she accused Israel of “invading Beirut [in 1982] to get rid of the Palestinians.”
It’s a preposterous charge.
In fact, Israel launched Operation Peace for Galilee on June 6, 1982 because the threat to northern Israeli towns, cities and villages by Lebanon-based terrorists had become unbearable. Specifically, the PLO was using the southern part of Lebanon as a base for rocket attacks and a terrorist safe haven from which to operate against targets in Israel and abroad.
So the operation was meant to destroy militant infrastructure on the Israel-Lebanon border. The purpose was to bring relief to the northern Israeli communities that were being repeatedly shelled—not “go after Palestinian refugees.”
Here’s a short video that gives the context of Operation Peace for Galilee:
Questions & Answers—1:14:19-1:43:05
The Q&A is often my favorite part of events like this because they’re unscripted. So the speakers can really trip up, revealing their biases and lack of knowledge.
When one person asked Elashkar how he could “get the U.S. government to support UN Resolution 194” because “194 states that Israel can only be a state if the refugees are allowed to return”, Elashkar’s answer merely reinforced this bungled misreading of the document.
When another listener asked how the PLO came to be in Lebanon and if she could speak to its “history of resistance”, she acted like she didn’t understand the question, then gave a lame answer that “the fighters of the PLO were also refugees.”
Kudos to that guy for trying to get Elashkar to hold the Palestinian leadership to at least some minimal accounting for their people’s suffering.
Here’s the video of the entire 2 hour Syracuse program:
Conclusion – FAKE HISTORY and deception
In an important new article for National Affairs, Harvard University Professor Emeritus Ruth R. Wisse discusses the “modern organization of a politics against the Jews”, demonstrating the useful function this antisemitism plays for anti-liberal movements, and tracing its development on the political left.
The leftist form of anti-Semitism…became anti-Zionism—opposition to Jewish political self-determination and to the recovery of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel…anti-Zionism, which promises international brotherhood, economic justice, and true universal equality, accused Zionist Jews of betraying this optimism with their insular national religion and imperialist colonization of Israel. The demonizing terminology of this internationalist and anti-Western anti-Zionism, rather than the more nationalist anti-Semitism of the right, remains the parlance of most contemporary anti-Jewish politics today.”
It’s essential to realize that the 2017 Nakba Tour, now perhaps coming to a college campus, church, or community center near you, rises to this level of “anti-Semitism/Zionism” even though it doesn’t have to.
It could elicit sympathy for the plight of stateless Palestinians in Lebanon without attacking Jewish identity or denying the Jewish people’s national rights in the land of their beginnings. It could encourage support for Palestinian national aspirations without trying to demonize and delegitimize the Jews’ state, or encouraging a violent ending to the Jewish people’s national project.But it chooses not to do that.
So the Nakba Tour is an example of anti-Semitic/Zionism, in exactly the way Professor Wisse describes.
Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Inaugural Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamElmanDONATE
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