The Occupation and the Nakba :: Robin Rothfield

Robin Rothfield. [email protected]


Last year the Jewish Left remembered the 50th anniversary of the 6 day war and the occupation which followed this war. On the occupation the Left was united in its condemnation of the government of Netanyahu in its failure to curb the expansion of the settlements and to prevent the ongoing severe abuses of the rights of the Palestinians. On the issue of the retroactive legislation on settlements passed in the Knesset, leading figures in the Australian Jewish establishment expressed their disapproval.

Supporters of Netanyahu defend the existence of the occupation by arguing that it is in Israel’s security interests. So it may be noted that Ehud Barak, former Prime Minister and former Minister for Defence, addressing a security conference in Herzliya in November 2015, pointed out that in the opinion of 80 – 90% of Israel’s defence and intelligence establishment, Israel would be better able to defend itself from the recognised international borders than from the current borders.

But a serious rift in the Jewish Left emerged when elements argued that we cannot issue a statement on the occupation without mentioning the Nakba because the Nakba is understood as a founding act of violence. I would argue that the founding act of violence was the decision of 5 Arab states to declare war against the fledgling state of Israel. Members of the hard left are aware of the 1948 war of independence but are reluctant to give it serious consideration as the primary cause of the violence and dispossession of Palestinians which followed. Had the Arab states decided to accept the decision of the United Nations General Assembly in 1947 to create a Jewish and an Arab state in Palestine, and to recognize and make peace with the subsequently declared state of Israel in 1948, does anyone seriously believe that the dispossession of more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs would still have taken place?

Members of the Jewish hard left find that they have a bond with Palestinians whom they see as the underdog, and that is perfectly understandable. But they also need to consider events such as the following:

  • The holocaust survivors who tried to reach Palestine in 1947 but who were deported back to Europe by the British Royal navy
  • The 20,000 Israeli soldiers killed in combat beween 1948 and 1997, the 75,000 Israelis wounded during this period and tens of thousands of[4] Israelis considered to be disabled army veterans
  • The fighters of Kibbutz Negba, who in the 1948 war of independence, using only small arms, overcame Egyptian heavy armour and halted the advance of the Egyptian army.

To some extent I believe that the difficulty of the hard left in coming to terms with the above events is a generation issue. While one might be aware of these events at an intellectual level, it is not the same as living through them.

It should be noted that the following 5 organisations devoted to human rights issued a statement on the occupation without mentioning the Nakba:

Amnesty International

Machsom Watch

New Israel Fund

T’ruah – Rabbis for human rights (USA)

Meretz Australia


For the AJDS statement on the occupation a compromise was reached whereby the Nakba was mentioned as the view of the Palestinians but not as the view of AJDS.

For a more comprehensive discussion please refer to my full article on the AJDS website, which includes as an attachment the AJDS statement on the occupation