Here is a puzzle. What did Israel Katz, an Israeli legislator and until recently a senior government minister, mean when he threatened Palestinian students last month with another "Nakba" if they continued to wave the Palestinian flag? He urged them to "remember 1948" and speak to their "grandfathers and grandmothers".
"If you don't calm down," he told the Israeli parliament, "we'll teach you a lesson that won't be forgotten."
And similarly, what was in the mind of Uzi Dayan, a former army general who is also a member of the Israeli parliament, when he warned Palestinians two months earlier "to be careful"? They would face "a situation you know, which is Nakba", if they refused to passively submit to Israel's dictates.
Both threats - and similar ones from senior Israeli politicians over the years - fly in the face of long-held claims by successive Israeli governments that the Palestinian narrative of the Nakba, the Arabic word for "catastrophe", constitutes a vile distortion of the region's history.
According to Israeli officials, Palestinian accusations that they were violently and willfully expelled from their homeland in 1948 are a slur against Israel's character and its army, supposedly "the most moral in the world". It is even suggested that commemorating the Nakba equates to antisemitism.
And yet paradoxically, Israeli politicians seem only too ready to echo these supposed calumnies against the founding of the self-declared "Jewish state". In 2017, Tzachi Hanegbi, while serving as a senior cabinet minister, warned Palestinians that they faced a "third Nakba" - after the mass expulsions of 1948 and 1967 - if they resisted the occupation.
"You've already paid that crazy price twice for your leaders," he wrote in a Facebook post. "Don't try us again, because the result won't be any different. You have been warned!"Nakba denial
According to Palestinians and a growing number of scholars researching Israel's archives, Zionist leaders and their militias waged a violent, premeditated campaign of ethnic cleansing in 1948 in which four-fifths of all Palestinians were driven off their lands and into exile. As a consequence, the Zionist movement was able to declare a Jewish state on most of their homeland.
Today, many millions of Palestinian refugees are dispersed across the Middle East and much of the rest of the world, unable to return. Israeli officials have been so adamant that this narrative is a lie to demonise Israel that back in 2011 the government of Benjamin Netanyahu passed a law to erase from the public space any commemoration of the Nakba.
The so-called Nakba Law threatens to strip Israeli institutions - including schools, universities, libraries and municipalities - of state funding if they allow any such commemoration. In its original form, the law would have led to a three-year jail term for anyone taking part in such an event.
But even before the legislation, Nakba denial was the Israeli state's default position.
In contrast to the Palestinian narrative, Israel denies any premeditation or malicious violence by its leaders and soldiers, and instead blames the Palestinian exodus in 1948 on other factors.
It claims that most Palestinians left on the orders of Arab leaders, rather than that they were ethnically cleansed by the new Israeli state's army. Officials argue too that the Israeli army attacked Palestinian communities largely in response to violence from Palestinian fighters and units of Arab soldiers from neighbouring countries that came to their aid.
Noted Israeli historians like Benny Morris continue to argue that "at no stage of the 1948 war was there a decision by the leadership of the Yishuv [pre-state Jewish community] or the state to 'expel the Arabs'." On this official view, most Palestinians either chose to leave or were responsible for provoking the violence that led to them being forced out. Israel's hands are supposedly clean.
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