“The War for Palestine” and the biggest myth about Israel and the Nakba

(Excerpt from Haaretz article, May. 3, 2022)

By Seraj Assi

In a time-honored fable perpetuated by both Arabs and Israelis alike, the war is depicted as an epic battle between a Jewish David and an Arab Goliath. This is the sheer mythologizing of history.

But the war was not a little Israeli David facing a giant Arab Goliath. It was a highly motivated and relatively organized Israel fighting a fragmented Arab coalition whose governments entered the war to compete for their slice in Palestine.

Palestine was a proxy battlefields for their ambitions and fears. The fate of the Palestinians themselves barely figured in Arab autocrats’ calculations.

None of the Arab states who entered the war wished to see a viable Palestinian state emerge on its flank.

It was an Arab defeat, staged and orchestrated by Arab regimes, a self-inflicted disaster for which Palestinians have paid the ultimate price, ever since.

In fact they were hardly Arab states, but client states, under colonial auspices. In 1948, Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan were still under British control.

It was gullible to expect the Arabs to liberate Palestine when the Arabs themselves were not liberated.

And so the Arab armies invading Israel were no Goliaths. In fact, there were no Arab armies, only a mishmash of uncoordinated paramilitary groups, who were poorly armed and barely trained, highly improvised, greatly outnumbered and overwhelmed.

The 1948 war was not an Arab-Israeli war so much as an Arab-Arab war. To paraphrase Jean Baudrillard’s famous phrase: the 1948 War did not take place. For decades since 1948, Arab states have taxed the Palestinians — demanding their gratitude and obedience — with their wartime sacrifices on behalf of Palestine. But history shows that Arab commitment to Palestine is largely the stuff of legend.

Seraj Assi holds a PhD in Arabic Studies from Georgetown University, and is the author of The History and Politics of the Bedouin: Reimagining Nomadism in Modern Palestine (Routledge, 2018)

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