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“We are not heading toward a third intifada, we are heading toward a third Nakba”

Israeli Likud Minister for Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi said on a Channel 2 interview on Saturday, using the Arabic work for “catastrophe,” which also refers to the Israeli displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian people which began with the founding of state in 1948.

“This is how a Nakba starts,” he said. “I pray that they do not bring a third Nakba on themselves”.

“They’ll lose control, the whole situation will spiral out of control, and the end result will be their misery and a third Nakba, which I emphatically do not wish for them.”

Whilst Hanegbi’s final added empathy could console some, to many others, particularly Palestinians, his statements may amount to a genocidal threat. That Palestinians would ‘bring this upon themselves’, to supposedly alleviate Israeli responsibility in the event of such genocidal action, doesn’t provide much comfort for its potential victims.

This isn’t a new idea in the Israeli discourse. It’s interesting to compare Hanegbi’s words with somewhat similar statements from Israeli historian Benny Morris, who is a self proclaimed ‘leftist’. In a 2004 interview with Ari Shavit in Haaretz, titled ‘Survival of the Fittest’, Morris bemoans that Ben-Gurion didn’t ‘finish the job’ in 1948:

“If he was already engaged in expulsion, maybe he should have done a complete job. I know that this stuns the Arabs and the liberals and the politically correct types. But my feeling is that this place would be quieter and know less suffering if the matter had been resolved once and for all. If Ben-Gurion had carried out a large expulsion and cleansed the whole country – the whole Land of Israel, as far as the Jordan River. It may yet turn out that this was his fatal mistake. If he had carried out a full expulsion – rather than a partial one – he would have stabilized the State of Israel for generations.” 

Yet Morris is aware that such acts, in normal circumstances, may be problematic. Nonetheless, he says:

“I am ready to tell you that in other circumstances, apocalyptic ones, which are liable to be realized in five or ten years, I can see expulsions. If we find ourselves with atomic weapons around us, or if there is a general Arab attack on us and a situation of warfare on the front with Arabs in the rear shooting at convoys on their way to the front, acts of expulsion will be entirely reasonable. They may even be essential.” 

Bear in mind, that Morris is not only referring to “transfer and expulsion” of the Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza, but also “perhaps even from Galilee and the Triangle” (the “Triangle” includes several Palestinian towns within and adjacent to the 1949 ceasefire lines, in both the central and Haifa districts).

The notion of war justifying such acts is reminiscent of what Chief IDF Rabbi, General Shlomo Goren, said in 1967, when he proposed to Chief of Central Command Uzi Narkis to blow up the Dome of the Rock at the Al-Aqsa compound:

“Do this and you will go down in history,” Goren said, and explained that such a thing could only be done under cover of war: “Tomorrow might be too late.”

But back to Hanegbi and his Nakba statements. The narrative he runs implies that Israel has no responsibility in regard to what Palestinians are doing. Whatever Palestinians are doing they ‘do to themselves’:

“We’ll suffer too, but it’s not dependent on us. We’re not slaughtering ourselves at a birthday celebration at Halamish,”

he said, referencing the Friday night terror attack at the Halamish settlement in which a Palestinian stabbed to death three members of an Israeli settler family.

“We’re not shooting ourselves at Temple Mount”, he added.

So according to Hanegbi, we’re always victims. He equates the Palestinian attack on a civilian settler family with the attack on armed border police officers, there’s no difference in his rendering. Hence, the occupation of East Jerusalem doesn’t exist in Hanegbi’s mind, as it doesn’t for Israel officially (not to mention that the occupation as a whole doesn’t exist in the world of many Israelis), as in the minds of so many other Israelis.  Hence, all of this is just them ‘bringing it upon themselves’. If they cause us to do a Nakba to them, they’ll have only themselves to blame…

It’s also interesting that Hanegbi uses the term Nakba – which Israel officially denies and has outlawed the commemoration of in 2011. Not only does Hangebi relate to the 1948 Nakba, which is the most common reference to the Nakba, but also to 1967:

“That’s exactly what happened in 1948 and 1967 — the delusion that ‘against the Jews, we have Allah. He’ll protect us. and we’ll go and bash our heads into the wall, even if we become martyrs”, he said.

So Hanegbi is both framing the 1948 and 1967 as holy wars of Jews against Muslims (rather than nationalist confrontations), as well as regarding them as two NAKBA waves, where he now warns of a third.

There is a huge indirect admission here, coming from a senior Jewish Israeli right-wing politician, that the Palestinian Nakba is not a one-off event, but rather an ongoing one – a notion that many Palestinians arduously seek to convey to the world. More specifically, the 1967 war and ensuing occupation are regarded by Palestinians as the Naqsa, which many seem to translate to ‘setback’, but it really means ‘turning over’, in the sense of an irreversible and fateful completion. 

Indeed, the 1967 war, which was instigated by Israel, included a relatively underreported additional ethnic cleansing of several hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and Syrians. The 1967 war was widely regarded as ‘finishing the job’ of 1948 by the military leaders, just as Benny Morris was suggesting above – and yet, it didn’t ‘finish the job’ demographically, only territorially.

Hanegbi runs the narrative about 1948 and 1967 suggesting that these were mere responses of Israel to “existential threats” from Arabs, and that any expulsions are but that – responses. It’s never ethnic cleansing, it’s just ‘response’. It’s certainly not genocide – it’s just response.

If we go back to Morris in his interview, there he says:

“There are circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing. I know that this term is completely negative in the discourse of the 21st century, but when the choice is between ethnic cleansing and genocide – the annihilation of your people – I prefer ethnic cleansing.”

What is Morris saying in his supposed distinction between ethnic cleansing and genocide? In his rendering, ‘genocide’ only pertains to ‘your people’ – that is, ‘his people’, that is, the ‘Jewish people’. A supposed national threat to Israel is tantamount to ‘annihilation’, that is, genocide. But when it’s about Palestinians, it’s just… ethnic cleansing. And that’s not as bad, after all. It’s even justified, according to Morris, in certain circumstances.

Ah, well, he’s not that consistent after all, because at another point in the interview he says that

“even the great American democracy could not have been created without the annihilation of the Indians.”

So really, Morris also thinks that there are circumstances in history that justify genocide… Aye, he concludes:

“There are cases in which the overall, final good justifies harsh and cruel acts that are committed in the course of history.”

So here we are, trying to work out whether Hanegbi’s references to a “third Nakba” are a threat. Hanegbi is certainly not stupid. He knows what his words mean to Palestinians, even if they mean rather little for many Israelis. He’s sending a message. And you don’t necessarily have to read Benny Morris’ many scholarly historical appraisals of the Nakba to get it, nor his other more un-cuffed statements. Palestinians get it, they know the reality of this ongoing Nakba all too well. When a senior Israeli leader like Hanegbi utters that word in this way, they have good reason to take it very seriously and be very worried. And so should we all be.