The NY Times “Navigates” the Nakba

Jodi Rudoren has given us a pleasant surprise with a recent story about the Nakba, the “catastrophe” that emptied 500 Palestinian villages in 1948, sent some 750,000 indigenous residents into exile and created a refugee crisis that continues today.

The article, “Navigating Lost Villages in Israel,” appears as Israel is celebrating its founding and Palestinians are mourning their dispossession. It is informed with a nostalgic sense of the past, and it quotes Palestinian and sympathetic Israeli sources. The story also tells us that Israel has tried to muzzle any mention of the Nakba and criminalize those who commemorate it.

All of this is a welcome change from the usual pro-Israel spin in the Times, but it is not the moment to celebrate yet. The Times has confined this story to its international edition; print subscribers in the United States will not find it in their pages.

Moreover, Rudoren does not mention the massacres that helped empty the villages of their residents nor many other unsavory facts about Israel’s founding.

The article takes us on a tour of abandoned villages as Rudoren uses a new app on her iPhone. It is called iNakba and was created by the Israeli group Zochrot, which is dedicated to exposing the ethnic cleansing that accompanied the creation of Israel. The app places the abandoned and destroyed villages on the Google map of Israel and provides photos and data about the sites before the catastrophe struck.

“I saw scores of villages destroyed or abandoned as Israel became a state 66 years ago,” Rudoren writes. She goes on to quote Liat Rosenberg, director of Zochrot, who says the app “forces Israelis to have it in their face.” And she quotes Abed Barghouti, an Israeli Palestinian whose family came from the village of Safuriyya, now a pile of stones.

All this is good, yet the story fails to mention the massacres in Lydda, Deir Yassin and other sites that created panic among the Palestinian residents. It fails to say that Israeli forces bombed abandoned villages and shot farmers as they tried to return to their fields. It tells us that the Switzerland Forest covers the site of two villages, but it does not say that such forests are one of the ways Israel has tried to obliterate traces of the indigenous residents.

Rudoren also fails to say that Zochrot has faced hostility and threats from Israelis who refuse to hear the story of the Nakba and that the signs the group places to mark former village sites are routinely removed and defaced.

But in one passage she gives us a hint of why the article has made its way into print just now. She writes, “Ari Shavit’s new book, ‘My Promised Land,’ has begun to bring into the mainstream discussion the idea that Zionists must wrestle with the Nakba.” In that book, Shavit describes the massacre in Lydda and the expulsion of its residents (but in the end supports the atrocities as necessary for the creation of Israel). It seems that Shavit’s exposure has given Rudoren permission to address the issue as well.

Yet in other stories, Rudoren has tried to obscure the ongoing Nakba, the present day efforts to rob Palestinians of still more land and the many violations of international law in the occupied territories. (See here and here and here.) Even as she writes about the events of 66 years ago, she has failed to cover, for instance, a recent report that Israel is subjecting Palestinian children to solitary confinement, killings of unarmed civilians along the Gaza border or the destruction of humble Bedouin encampments in the Jordan Valley.

Nevertheless, as the Nakba of 1948 becomes history, as the discourse in Israel gradually begins to shift, she has taken a step outside the usual permissible narrative, for this one time at least. Those in charge at the Times, however, are unable to follow her lead, and “Navigating Lost Villages” was deemed unfit to print in the United States.

Barbara Erickson

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