‘Nakba’ in a Vacuum: AP Covers 1948 ‘Mass Expulsion,’ Erases Arab War of Annihilation

“Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate,” stated former Associated Press correspondent Matti Friedman in 2014, concisely distilling the fundamental fault of international media coverage of Israel and the Palestinians. “The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters.”

In May 14 and 15 coverage of the “Nakba,” or the Palestinians’ “original ‘catastrophe,'” the Associated Press drilled down on that well-worn modus operandi. The leading news agency covered at length what it described as “the 76th year of their mass expulsion from what is now Israel, an event that is at the core of their national struggle,” without one word about what precipitated that catastrophe: that is, the war that five Arab armies, joined together with the local Arab population, launched in a failed effort to annihilate the nascent Jewish state (“Palestinians mark 76 years of dispossession as a potentially even larger catastrophe unfolds in Gaza,” Joseph Krauss, May 14).

A second lengthy AP story the next day, “Palestinians across the Middle East mark their original ‘catastrophe’ with eyes on the war in Gaza,” likewise contained not one hint of the joint Arab effort to eradicate the new Jewish state. According to its selective reporting, “The Nakba, Arabic for ‘catastrophe,’ refers to the 700,000 Palestinians who fled were driven out of what is now Israel before and during the war surrounding its creation in 1948.”

In both articles, AP refrained from reporting on who exactly started that war, and to what end. The May 15 article by Joseph Krauss, Abby Sewell and Samy Magdy no longer appears on AP’s site or on the news database Lexis-Nexis, but is archived here

Krauss’ May 14 article also concealed the fact that it was the Arab side which launched the (failed) war which was meant to wipe Israel off the map but instead which engendered the enduring refugee crisis: “Some 700,000 Palestinians – the majority of the prewar population – fled or were driven from their homes before and during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that followed Israel’s establishment.”

The mass refugee issue is a result of a war that Arab countries launched on Israel, and yet the two AP “Nakba” stories never report that key point. The selective reporting is the ultimate ruse for erasing Palestinian responsibility for their own decades-long fate.

Reporting on the “Nakba” without noting the Arab states joined the local Arab population to launch a war of eradication of the Jewish state is like reporting on Israel’s present day war in Gaza without noting Hamas’ October 7 orgy of murder, rape, torture, maiming, destruction and looting.

Incidentally, on the very same day that AP was busy ignoring the Arab-launched war which directly precipitated the refugee crisis, the news agency strikingly reached back decades in history to “contextualize” Hamas’ brutal Oct. 7 massacre. Thus, about the worst slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust, in which the terror organization butchered and burned families in their homes and youth celebrating music, AP shifted responsibility away from Hamas, stating (“Netanyahu fends of criticism at home and abroad over his lack of a postwar plan for Gaza“):

The latest war began on Oct. 7 with Hamas’ rampage across southern Israel, through some of the same areas where Palestinians fled from their villages decades earlier.

Thus, according to the AP narrative, not only were the Palestinians blameless for the “Nakba,” but that defining “catastrophe” also diminishes any responsibility for subsequent Palestinian atrocities in perpetuity such as the Oct. 7 savageries three-quarters of a century later. 

Back to 1948, it’s not that the Associated Press was unaware of the fateful steps that local Arabs, aided by five invading Arab countries, took which sealed the fate of the Palestinian Arabs. A separate AP May 15 item, “Today in History: May 15, new state of Israel attacked by 5 nations,” made plainly clear: “On May 15, 1948, hours after declaring its independence, the new state of Israel was attacked by Transjordan, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.”

Nurses care for Jewish refugees from Arab attacks in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv 1948 (Photo by Kluger Zoltan/GPO)

Moreover, readers of both articles marking the “mass expulsion” of Palestinians would have no idea that the vast majority of Palestinian Arabs fled either because they followed the example of their own leaders or at the behest of leaders who promised their return once the Jewish state was vanquished, while a much smaller percentage of refugees were expelled.

In contrast, 13 paragraphs later, when Joseph Krauss finally got to the mass displacement of Jews from Arab and Muslim lands in his May 14 article, there was no mention of “mass expulsion.” Instead, Krauss euphemistically referred to “the hundreds of thousands of Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries during the turmoil following its establishment, though few of them want to return.”

True, few Jews from Muslim lands want to return to hostile countries which have completely or almost completely ethnically cleansed their Jewish populations. But Krauss omits that these dispossessed 800,000 Jews and their millions of descendants have not seen any compensation for their lost homes, properties, businesses and assets that they left behind – having been driven out of their homelands nearly penniless after facing pogroms, massacres, harassment and discrimination.

And, unlike the Palestinian Arabs who launched war on the nascent Jewish state and were subsequently displaced, the indigenous Jews who were expelled from their ancient homelands never waged war against Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and so on. 

In addition, the May 14 story falsely states about Palestinian refugees: “After the war, Israel refused to allow them to return. . . ” In fact, as CAMERA’s Alex Safian previously reported, as a goodwill gesture during the Lausanne negotiations in 1949, Israel offered to take back 100,000 Palestinian refugees even before any discussion of the refugee question. The Arab states, who had refused to negotiate face-to-face with the Israelis, turned down the offer because it implicitly recognized Israel’s existence (Nadav Safran, Israel: The Embattled Ally, Harvard University Press, p 336).
Finally, Krauss wrongly reported May 14: “In Gaza, the refugees and their descendants make up around three-quarters of the population.” According to UNRWA, registered refugees in Gaza (which includes just a few thousand 1948 refugees at best and the rest are all descendants) totals 1.8 million individuals (and that’s generously rounding up) – or 65 percent of Gaza’s total population of 2.3 million. Not “three-quarters.”
Following CAMERA’s correspondence with Associated Press about the glaring shortcomings in its “Nakba” coverage, the news agency published a third story on the Palestinian “catastrophe” (“Palestinians recount painful history with war in Gaza as a reminder“). Unlike the previous two stories, AP this time included some of the basic history of Arab rejectionism and belligerence which birthed the Palestinian refugee problem:

Decades before 1948, Jews escaping antisemitism and persecution in Europe sought to establish a Jewish state in a place they considered their ancestral homeland. In November 1947, after World War II and the Holocaust, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution to partition Mandatory Palestine, controlled by the British, into two states – one Arab and one Jewish.

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