Issue 283, Friday 30 November 2012 - 16 Muharram 1434
Book Review: Insight into the plight of the Palestinian people
By Muhammad Khan
Understanding the Nakba By Nasim Ahmed, London: Palestinian Return Centre, pp202. PB. 2012.
As I write the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis is once again back in the news, thanks to Israeli Government’s decision to assassinate Hamas’s military commander, Ahmed Sa‘id al-Jabri. Over the years I have read many books on the history and culture of Palestine, the forced displacement and dispersal of its people from their ancestral homeland, and the consequences of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on global politics in general and the Middle East in particular.
As expected, scores of books have already been written by Palestinian and other writers, journalists and poets in both Arabic and English describing the difficulties, challenges and struggle which the people of this ancient land have been forced to endure without a resolution in sight. Like their Middle Eastern counterparts, influential Western leaders (including successive Presidents of the United States of America) have been unable to find a solution to one of the world’s most intractable, longest and tragic political conflicts of modern times. Why the world’s leading powers have been unable to resolve this conflict for so long raises many serious questions which demand answers.
In the book under review, the author grapples with some of the historical, political, social, economic and demographic consequences of this tragic conflict. According to Ahmed, “This book is an attempt to understand the ongoing expulsion and exile of Palestinians from their land, which Palestinians refer to as their Nakba catastrophe. The Nakba has dominated Palestinian lives for over six decades. The book does not focus on any single issue, but instead, tries to combine major aspects of the conflict for a better understanding. It tries to piece together fragments of the Nakba in order to comprehend” the situation currently facing Palestinians. (p9)
Consisting of 15 short chapters and a useful introduction and conclusion, the author provides a brief historical overview of this conflict before exploring its different dimensions including the plight of the refugees, Israel’s attitude towards UN resolutions, US and Israeli relation, the dangerous culture of violence in that region as well as the role of the international community in its efforts to resolve this conflict.
Although a substantial amount has already been written on the different aspects of the conflict, the strength of this monograph lies in the fact that the author insists that the Nakba must not be viewed in isolation and that it “must be seen through the historical ashes from which it emerged. The raging fires in Europe, culminating in the Second World War and the Holocaust, enabled Europe to resolve its centuries old ‘Jewish Question’ through its patronisation of the state of Israel. The project that culminated six decades ago as a nationalist movement for the Jewish people to address the ‘Jewish problem’ in Europe has continued to produce one of history’s greatest tragedies. What was supposed to mark an end to centuries of persecution for one group of people has created conditions for the persecution and destruction of another,” he argues (p9).
By pursuing a contextual approach to the Palestinian tragedy, the author sought to move beyond misinformation and propaganda in order to provide a detached but historically informed account of the Nakba.
In conclusion the author argues, “A successful end to this conflict can only come about through rectifying the failures identified in the international system and not by forcing a political solution that has no legal legitimacy. Just peace can only occur if justice and law are reinstated to their proper place. Just peace can only occur if law and justice become the primary reference to our imaginations of peace in the region rather than peace by imperial design…There is still time to end the Nakba and inscribe a narrative of redemption for the international community. That the Palestinian Nakba serves as another eternal lesson for humanity maybe the only real redeeming quality for the decades of misery.” (p186)
All in all, this is a useful book on the topic and it is worth reading.
M Khan is author of The Muslim 100 (2010; Kindle 2011) and The Muslim Heritage of Bengal (forthcoming, Spring 2013).
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