A Pattern of Nakba Passivity at the New York Times

Last week I wrote about the use of the passive voice in describing the Nakba in the New York Times. This device allows for a sense of ambiguity as to who did what and specifically, who destroyed Palestinian villages.

However, on May 16th this is how Jodi Rudoren described it:

After two young Palestinian men were killed Thursday by Israeli security forces during a demonstration commemorating the Nakba — Arabic for “catastrophe,” and the word used to describe Israel’s destruction of Palestinian villages as it became a state in 1948 — two Israeli journalists said they were nearly “lynched” by a Palestinian mob.

Wow, that is progress. Now the reader is actually being told who destroyed the Palestinian villages: Israel. But before you get too excited, just four days later and in the next reference of the Nakba in theNew York Times Rudoren writes:

The deaths occurred on Nakba Day, in which Palestinians commemorate the destruction of scores of Arab villages around the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.

So we are back to the passive voice and ambiguity. Is hiding and obscuring the Israeli role in the destruction of Palestinian villages and the creation of the Palestinian refugee crisis just the default way the New York Times writes about the Nakba? If one looks back they find that with rare exception, Israel’s role in the destruction of the villages and refugee creation in Nakba descriptions is rarely every mentioned.

Here is Isabel Kershner in 2013:

Palestinians refer to the events of 1948 as al-Nakba, Arabic for “the catastrophe.” About 700,000 Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes during the Arab-Israeli war over the foundation of Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were later displaced by the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, some becoming refugees twice over. Tens of thousands have recently been displaced again, reliving the trauma, because of the civil war raging in Syria.

Kershner in 2012:

The two sides had seemed intent on reaching a deal before Tuesday, when the Palestinians commemorate the “nakba,” or catastrophe, on the anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948. The war that followed the declaration led to the flight or expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and the day is traditionally observed with protest marches.

Kershner in 2011:

That echoed the conditions that led to the violence on May 15, the day Palestinians mark as the “nakba,” or catastrophe, of Israel’s establishment in 1948.

Ethan Bronner in 2011(a) (b) & (c)

The occasion was Nakba Day, when Palestinians mark Israel’s creation and mourn the expulsion and flight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948.

Tensions were high in East Jerusalem on Saturday as hundreds of Palestinians buried a 17-year-old demonstrator and preparations were under way for rallies on Sunday to mark the founding of Israel 63 years ago, an event that Palestinians call the “nakba,” Arabic for catastrophe.

The first is known as “the Nakba bill,” in reference to the Arabic word for “catastrophe” commonly used by Arabs to describe the birth of Israel in 1948.Arabs who are Israeli citizens often commemorate Israeli independence by noting their losses — the destruction of hundreds of villages and the exile of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

Robert Mackey in 2011

It shows Palestinian protesters rallying at the border near the Lebanese town of Maroun al-Ras to mark the anniversary of what they call the “nakba” or the “catastrophe” of Israel’s founding and the loss of their homes. 

Isabel Kershner in 2010

Israeli Jews describe the houses of Ein Hod as “abandoned” Arab properties. But for Arabs, 1948 was the “nakba,” Arabic for “catastrophe,” and they consider the houses stolen.

Ethan Bronner in 2008

On Thursday, which is Independence Day, thousands will gather in their former villages to protest what they have come to call the “nakba,” or catastrophe, meaning Israel’s birth.

Steven Erlanger in 2007

Dahbour was 2 when his family fled Haifa into exile in 1948. “I’m the generation of the nakba,” he told me recently — the “catastrophe,” as Palestinians refer to the establishment of Israel and their own flight or expulsion.

Greg Myre in 2005

Also on Sunday, Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip marched to mark the 57th anniversary of the founding of Israel, a day the Palestinians call “al nakba,” or “the catastrophe.” 

Steven Erlanger in 2004

The Palestinians refer to the Israeli victory over the Arab nations in 1948 as al nakba, or the catastrophe, when many of them became refugees. 

James Bennet in 2004

For Palestinians the scenes broadcast Sunday and Monday of refugees carrying mattresses and clothes as they streamed from the camp recalled images of the Nakba, or catastrophe, when some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were forced from their homes during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. 

So this begs the question, what does Nakba day actually commemorate and what exactly is the Nakba? This is something of a complicated question. Primarily the Nakba describes a historical event or a series of historical events around 1947-1949. But the Nakba is not only in the past but ongoing as well. To this day Palestinians are being forced out of homes, living in refugee camps and having land expropriated by Israel. It is both a part of the past and present.

But the year 1948 is the most significant transition period in the modern history of the native peoples of Palestine. This is primarily the historical moment commemorated on Nakba day. It is when more than two thirds of the native inhabitants of Palestine became refugees and forced into exile.

This occurred in various ways and stages. In some cases, people were expelled by the Israeli state and/or its militias. In some cases, people were massacred by the Israeli state and/or its militias. In some cases, people fled and were forced into perpetual exile when the Israeli state subsequently destroyed their homes, expropriated their land and assets and barred them from returning. But in all cases, regardless of the various reasons for flight, the Israeli state played a central role in the experience of both individual and collective dispossession Palestinians call the Nakba.

So why does the New York Times systematically obscure that when writing about it?

h/t Patrick Conners who brought this pattern to my attention