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“A Racist, Criminal Project”: Palestinian Historian on 1948 Nakba, Israel’s War on Gaza & U.S. Complicity

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Palestinians across the globe are marking the 76th anniversary of the Nakba — which means “catastrophe” in Arabic — when those establishing the state of Israel violently expelled over 700,000 Palestinians. Palestinian historian Abdel Razzaq Takriti says closer to 900,000 Palestinians were forced out or massacred during Israel’s founding, which is being celebrated inside Israel with calls to ethnically cleanse and settle the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank. “The Nakba is continuing. This is a colonial continuum,” says Takriti. “It’s not enough to commemorate. It’s not enough to talk about it. We have to stop it right now. … The first step to doing that is to stop the genocide in Gaza.” Takriti lays out four principles for Nakba education: refuting Nakba denialism, recognizing the Nakba is part of an ongoing process of settler colonialism, stopping that process, and then reversing it by restoring Palestinian national rights.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

A far-right march to Gaza was part of the events this week marking Israel’s Independence Day and the 76th anniversary of its founding. On Tuesday, a group of far-right Israelis, including a number of government ministers, marched in Sderot, in southern Israel, calling for the resettlement of Gaza and expulsion of Palestinians living there. Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said, quote, “First, we must return to Gaza now. We are coming home to the Holy Land. And second, we must encourage migration, encourage the voluntary migration of the residents of Gaza,” unquote.

This comes as Palestinians across the globe are marking the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, which means “catastrophe” in Arabic, when some 700,000 Palestinians fled from or were violently expelled from their homes as Israel also carried out massacres upon its founding. Many Palestinians say they’re facing a second Nakba today in both Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

For more, we go to Amman, Jordan, where we’re joined by professor Abdel Razzaq Takriti, a Palestinian historian, endowed chair in Arab studies at Rice University in Houston, Texas. He’s published widely on the history of colonialism and anti-colonialism in Palestine and the broader Middle East. Most recently, he co-created Thawra, a political education project on Arab and Palestinian history on The Dig podcast. He’s also active with Scholars Against the War on Palestine.

Professor, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. If you can talk about the significance of this day?

ABDEL RAZZAQ TAKRITI: Thank you, Amy.

Well, first of all, I want to note that the numbers that are used by Palestinian historians now about the numbers of Palestinians that were expelled are at least 900,000. The Nakba witnessed the destruction of Palestinian society, the destruction of Palestinian urban life. The two most important cities, the cultural and economic capitals of Palestine, Haifa and Yaffa, were lost during the Nakba. A host of other cities were lost during the Nakba. Five hundred and thirty villages were completely depopulated during the Nakba. And out of a population of 1.4 million, you had the vast majority being displaced.

So this is a very significant event in Palestinian history. It’s a horrific event. And what’s very shocking about it is that it was an internationally sanctioned event in many ways. It was the byproduct of a policy that was created by the so-called international community during the mandate period, when they instituted the mandate system under the League of Nations. And they did something very unique in world history, which is to sanction the establishment of a settler-colonial presence in Palestine. So, it’s a very late settler colonialism, but it was a settler colonialism that led to the expulsion of the native population 30 years after the Balfour Declaration that instituted the settler-colonial program in 1917.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor Takriti, the basis for the Nakba was laid by the British, who held that mandate. Could you talk about their role in the repression of the Palestinians, especially in the 1930s?

ABDEL RAZZAQ TAKRITI: Yes. So, the British had actually been repressing the Palestinians from the very beginning. The main rule that was applied in Palestine was to arm the settler and disarm the native and to punish the native for developing any ability to conduct self-defense. So you had a very aggressive settler-colonial movement develop in Palestine under British rule. And it was armed under British rule. It was trained under British rule.

The British, like Biden today, were claiming that they were even-handed. They were claiming that they took the interests of both sides. You know, they were talking in these bothsideist terms. But in reality, they were determined to establish a settler-colonial project in Palestine. And they did succeed in doing that, in horrific ways, actually. So, yes, Britain self-projects as an empire that was trying to do the right thing, in the same way that Joe Biden today tries to project this U.S. role as being fair and even-handed, but, in reality, of course, they were pursuing this objective, which structurally led to the destruction of our people.

Luckily, however, we have survived, despite the fact that they repressed us during the 1936 revolt, which you were referring to. Although they destroyed the Palestinian countryside during that period and they incurred heavy losses on us, that did not mean that our people did not continue. And even later on, when the settler-colonist forces that were to establish the state of Israel expelled our population, our people continued to insist that they shall live. And today we’re witnessing the same level of resilience and insistence on resisting the reality of the Nakba, even today when we’re facing the second Nakba unfolding in Gaza.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And also, could you talk about the efforts of the Israeli government to even prevent Palestinians from mourning what occurred in 1948, the Nakba, the Nakba law that is in effect?

ABDEL RAZZAQ TAKRITI: Yeah. So, this is a criminal trying to hide their crime. They’ve committed the crime. By the way, the current Israeli government, they’re the descendants of the people that created the Nakba. And I’m talking here individually. So, Netanyahu’s father was a member of the Irgun, Benzion Netanyahu. That was a terrorist organization that carried out the ethnic cleansing of Yaffa. It bombarded the city of Yaffa, besieged it mercilessly, put its inhabitants under ruthless danger. And, you know, somebody like Yoav Gallant, who is currently engaging in major ethnic cleansing and genocide in Gaza, his father named him after Operation Yoav, which led to the depopulation and the expulsion of the majority of southern Palestine and its cornering into Gaza. So, these people who are the children of those that committed this crime are trying to engage in Nakba denialism by banning the commemoration of the Nakba. They’re trying to hide the crime so as to be able to continue committing similar crimes in the present.

And this is a very important point. You know, I’ve been engaged in Nakba education for a long time, and I always say we have to apply four principal rules to Nakba education. One, the Nakba happened. We must reject Nakba denialism in all its forms, including, by the way, the forms that are promoted by Israeli historians that are sometimes presented as reasonable on the Nakba. In this show, you’ve hosted people like Benny Morris before. Well, Benny Morris is a Nakba denialist, not because he disputes the idea that Palestinians were expelled from their villages, but because he denies that it was actually part of a plan, in the same way that now in Gaza what we’re witnessing is a plan unfolding. It’s intentional. We must insist on intentionality. So, the first point when we’re dealing with Nakba education is to insist that the Nakba happened and to reject denialism in all its forms.

Secondly, we need to insist on the fact that the Nakba is continuing. We have to understand that this is a colonial continuum. This is a structural process. It is not an event. And what we’re seeing now in Gaza is very much connected to what happened in 1948.

Thirdly, the Nakba must be stopped. So, it’s not enough to commemorate. It’s not enough talk about it. We have to stop it right now. And that means the first step to doing that is to stop the genocide in Gaza.

And fourthly, it must be reversed. The Nakba must be reversed. And that means restoring Palestinian political and national rights, not only dealing with this as a humanitarian question, despite the gravity of the humanitarian situation. The humanitarian situation is a byproduct of the denial of the Palestinian political and national rights from the beginning of British colonialism to this very, very day.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Professor Abdel Razzaq Takriti, you have the Israeli Knesset member Ariel Kallner calling for a second Nakba, saying, “Right now, one goal: Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of 48.” On the one hand, you have Knesset members like these in Israel denying the original Nakba, but, on the other hand, calling for a second Nakba. And in the United States, people like Congressmember Tim Walberg are suggesting Gaza should be bombed, quote, “like Nagasaki and Hiroshima,” while at the same time these Republicans insist no genocide is underway. Your final comment in this last 60 seconds?

ABDEL RAZZAQ TAKRITI: Well, this is actually classic genocidal thinking. And it’s also classic, classic engagement with different audiences. On the internal audience front, the Israelis actually talk about genocidal plans openly, and they advocate them. And this has been happening for a long time. By the way, this is not just a byproduct of the Zionist right. It existed in the — the Nakba was committed by the Zionist so-called left. It was the labor Zionism that committed the Nakba. They were presenting an image of self-defense to the external world, but they were actually engaging in very aggressive ethnic cleansing action and advocating it internally.

The same is happening now. And we must understand that this is, again, an international process. The Israeli project is very much intertwined with American foreign policy towards the Palestinian people. They don’t see us as human beings. They want to destroy us. But they know that they have to present it in self-defense terms so that it’s palatable to the broader public. So, in reality, however, this is just a racist, criminal project that is leading and causing immense pain and suffering. And as a descendant of Nakba survivors, it hurts me. It pains me to hear this discourse.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Abdel Razzaq Takriti, we want to thank you so much for being with us, Palestinian American historian and chair in Arab studies at Rice University in Houston, Texas, speaking to us from Amman, Jordan.

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