Meron Rapoport and Ameer Fakhoury write in +972 on 23 June 2022:
“Remember 1948, remember our War of Independence — and your Nakba. Ask the elders among you, the grandfathers and grandmothers, and they will explain to you that eventually the Jews wake up and know how to protect themselves and the idea of a Jewish state.”
Israel Katz, Israel’s former transportation minister who sees himself as one of the potential heirs to Benjamin Netanyahu’s throne at the head of Likud, made these remarks before the Knesset in late May, in reference to the expulsion, flight, and denial of return to hundreds of thousands of refugees during and after the 1948 war. Katz’s speech to the Knesset plenum came after students flew Palestinian flags across university campuses in Israel to commemorate Nakba Day, raising the ire of the Israeli right.
Katz was not alone in his threats. Yoav Galant — the former minister of education from Likud who was nearly appointed chief of staff of the Israeli army — also decried the flying of Palestinian flags as a reason to remind Palestinians of their “mass flight” 74 years ago, with a veiled threat of a repeat should they make the same “mistake” again. Just months before, Uzi Dayan, a veteran military commander and Israeli politician who served as a member of Knesset for Likud between 2020 and 2021, made a similar threat during an interview with the far-right Channel 14.
“The thing we need to tell the Arab community, even those who didn’t participate in the attacks, is to be careful,” Dayan said. “If we reach a civil war situation, things will end in one word and a situation you know, which is Nakba. This is what will happen in the end.”
It is not clear whether the threats to carry out a second Nakba are coming directly from the upper echelons of Likud and Netanyahu himself, or whether such an expulsion plan will appear on the party’s platform in the next Knesset, but this sequence of statements indicates that talk of another Palestinian catastrophe is not an outburst or an isolated case. Coming from mainstream right-wing leaders such as Katz, Galant, and Dayan, as opposed to the usual suspects for “extremist” rhetoric such as Itamar Ben Gvir, the Nakba is presented as a legitimate policy decision, akin to a speeding ticket or a fine for greenhouse gas emissions. The threat of mass expulsions of Palestinians is portrayed as a reasonable method of enforcement against both citizens and non-citizens under Israeli control.
Against this background, it is understandable how Ophira Assayag and Eyal Berkowitz, the hosts of one of Israel’s most prominent political talk shows, held a discussion on their program alongside Ben Gvir about his intention to set up an office that would encourage emigration in order to remove the “terrorist supporters” who wave Palestinian flags, even if that number reaches the hundreds of thousands. But Ben Gvir, the Kahanist who not long ago was considered to be on the fringes of Israeli politics, no longer sounds so extreme. The Ministry for the Encouragement of Emigration sounds polite and considerate next to Likud members who offer direct and bloodthirsty war crimes as policy.
From denial, to justification, to a plan of action
The threat of a new Nakba by non-religious right-wing leaders such as Katz and Galant is not entirely new. In 2007, former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter, then an interior minister from the centrist Kadima party and now a senior Likud official, said: “Whoever sits year after year and cries over the Nakba should not be surprised that in the end he will actually receive a Nakba.” In 2017, following the murder of three settler children in the West Bank settlement of Halamish, Tzachi Hanegbi, then the regional cooperation minister on behalf of Kadima, directly addressed the Palestinians on his Facebook page: “Remember ‘48, remember ‘67, that’s how Nakba begins.”
And yet, although this has been said before, one must wonder how the threat of a second Nakba has become mainstream in today’s right.