When the Shoah met the Nakba (“One group lost all…while the other found everything they needed”)

Joseph Kuzkovsky's painting, "Led to the Slaughter -- Baba Yar," hangs in the Israeli Knesset

Joseph Kuzkovsky's painting, "Led to the Slaughter -- Baba Yar," hangs in a hallway in the Israeli Knesset

The Nakba briefly appears in Tom Segev’s magisterial history of Israel and the Holocaust, “The Seventh Million.” In a single (very long) paragraph, Segev tells the story of how survivors of a genocide were transformed by the Zionist enterprise into participants in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Photo by Oren Ziv of the initial expulsion and destruction of Al Arakib, a Bedouin village in the Negev that the state of Israel has destroyed 21 times in the past year

Photo by Oren Ziv of the initial expulsion and destruction of Al Arakib, a Bedouin village in the Negev that the state of Israel has destroyed 21 times in the past year

Segev writes on pp. 161-62: “Then the War of Independence broke out, and tens of thousands of homes were suddenly available. This was what Shaul Avigur called ‘the Arab miracle’: Hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled, and were expelled from their homes. Entire cities and hundreds of villages left empty were repopulated in short order with new immigrants. In April 1949 they numbered 100,000, most of them Holocaust survivors. The moment was a dramatic one in the war for Israel, and a frightfully banal one, too, focused as it was on the struggle over houses and furniture. Free people–Arabs–had gone into exile and become destitute refugees; destitute refugees–Jews–took the exiles’ places as a first step in their new lives as free people. One group lost all they had, while the other found everything they needed–tables, chairs, closets pots, pans, plates, sometimes clothes, family albums, books, radios, and pets. Most of the immigrants broke into the abandoned Arab houses without direction, without order, without permission. For several months the country was caught up in a frenzy of take-what-you-can, first-come, first-served. Afterwards, the authorities tried to halt the looting and take control of the allocation of houses, but in general they came too late. Immigrants also took possession of Arab stores and workshops, and some Arab neighborhoods soon looked like Jewish towns in prewar Europe, with tailors, shoemakers, dry goods merchants–all the traditional Jewish occupations.”

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