At UCLA, When ‘Nakba’ Fails, Switch to ‘Naksa’
Keeping up with anti-Israel buzz words is a full-time job. UCLA’s notoriously biased Center for Near East Studies recently held a conference whose title caused a double take: “The Naksa at 50: Nostalgia and Memory in the Middle East and Beyond.” Naksa?
While the term “Nakba” — Arabic for “catastrophe,” which refers to Israel’s creation in 1948 — is fairly well-known, “Naksa” is less familiar. It refers to the “setback” experienced by the Palestinians when the Arab world lost the 1967 war that it initiated against Israel.
While the speakers at the UCLA “Naksa” conference remained upbeat, the audience sat silently and solemnly. Many of the approximately 12 students in attendance gradually trickled out well before the entire 90 minutes was up, but an equal number of elderly academics in the audience remained.
During the event, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill professor Nadia Yaqub briefly promoted her upcoming book, Bad Girls of the Arab World, before making several questionable and occasionally historically inaccurate claims about Israel.
Yaqub lamented the 1982 “Israeli invasion of Lebanon” (in fact, there was no invasion), referred cheerily to a “Palestinian martyr cemetery in Beirut,” and stated that a “Gaza hospital was destroyed in 1982” without acknowledging that Palestinian terrorism led directly to the destruction of the hospital and other buildings.
Attempting to take the moral high ground by condemning Israeli modernity, Yaqub then criticized the “hedonistic culture of Tel Aviv’s Spring Break beaches.” Laughably, she also claimed that the “PLO revolution” was not just dedicated to liberating “Palestine,” but to “institution building.” In reality, the reason for Palestinian suffering is their leaders’ unwillingness to build non-violent, civil institutions.
She later cited the “non-violent resistance to occupation” of the 1970s, despite the lack of an Israeli occupation — and the abundance of Palestinian violence in that decade. By the time she used the invented word “contrapunctily,” even her copanelists had no idea what she was talking about.
Hosam Aboul-Ela, a post-colonial literature professor at the University of Houston, Texas, added to the sense of confusion by immediately wandering off-topic. Hearkening back to Edward Said accusing President George H.W. Bush of silencing radio discussion in 1991 during the first Gulf War, Aboul-Ela referred to that war as “post-Cold War American militarism” and a “violent police action.” In fact, the first Gulf War was a successful military action to stop Muslims in Iraq from trying to take over Muslims in Kuwait; Bush, Sr. is regarded as a hero in Kuwait.
Georgetown University Arabic and Islamic Studies professor Elliott Colla began his remarks by expressing a well-founded concern about academic conformity: “My fear is that we would all be talking about the same things.” He went on to employ a large number of Arabic words in his “discussion,” without bothering to offer a translation for the majority of the room not fluent in the language.
Colla depicted the 1967 Six-Day War as the culmination of a “twenty-year siege on Palestinian life in Israel,” while omitting that Arabs rejected peace in 1948 in favor of waging the first of many wars against Israel. He employed typical canards about “third-class citizens in the Jewish state,” “the occupation,” and the “occupied territories.” Meanwhile, he tried to romanticize Palestinian irredentism with love stories about “coming together,” and love “separated by barriers.”
“When will Israel withdraw from the West Bank?” Colla demanded to know. Never mind that most of the world has recognized that a final peace deal would allow Israel to retain parts of the West Bank in mutually agreed-upon land swaps.
Finally, Colla described “the roof of a prison cell” as a metaphor for Palestinian life after 1967, but didn’t acknowledge that it is terrorism against Israelis that has led to Palestinian imprisonment — whether real or imagined.
Faced with complete silence at the end of Colla’s talk, the moderator asked a question to spur the audience. This led to a rambling dialogue about the habits of Israeli and Arab library catalogers, during which Colla confused the 1948 “Nakba” for the 1967 “Naksa.” One can hardly blame him.
Yaqub concluded the conference by describing plane hijackings not as evil or wrong, but as “hugely controversial and problematic in many ways.” It was a fitting end to a day of moral vacuity.
Palestinian rejectionism, not Israel’s existence, is the true catastrophe in the Mideast conflict — and the primary obstacle to its resolution. Professors whining about the “Nakba” and the “Naksa” only perpetuate this destructive policy. Palestinians will continue to harm themselves if they spend another 50 years trying to destroy Israel and obsessing over self-inflicted setbacks. That the Palestinians should help build a civil society rather than trying to burn a successful country to the ground is what far too many Middle East studies professors refuse to acknowledge.