ON MAY 15, the Palestinians commemorated the 59th anniversary of al-Naqba ("the Catastrophe"), a day of "mourning" the establishment of the modern state of Israel on May 15, 1948.

In a sense, al-Naqba is the quintessential event that separates the Palestinians' historical experience from that of other Arab Muslim groups and forges their unique national identity.

It is worth noting that the Palestinians use the same day Israel declared its independence to mark their national day. As is the case with so much of Palestinian society and culture, it is the actions of their Jewish neighbors - not anything of their own doing - that's the constant focus of their attention.

Which brings us to the question: What exactly is the real "catastrophe"? Given that this year's al-Naqba commemoration has been overshadowed by the anarchy and infighting in Gaza, many Palestinians say that the real Naqba is the lack of unity in their society. Indeed, this internal factionalism is often cited by Palestinians as one of the key reasons they lost in the first place during the 1948 war opposing the formation of Israel.

Perhaps. But it looking at a different aspect of this year's Naqba events might give us a better hint of what the real Palestinian problem is.

In the early morning of May 15, Hamas used mortars, missiles and machine guns to attack a Presidential Guard contingent belonging to Fatah that was stationed near the Karni border crossing with Israel. Hamas then hit a jeep carrying Fatah reinforcements, and ensured their targets were dead by shooting them in the head at close range.

When the shooting was over, 10 Fatah members were dead, with a similar number wounded.

Suddenly aware that their unprovoked massacre may have gone too far, Hamas claimed it was Israel who had actually killed the Fatah people and threatened any journalist who dared report otherwise.

Then, in a truly perverse twist, Hamas launched more than 20 rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot "to take revenge" for the massacre they themselves had committed.

Given the overwhelming evidence and eyewitness accounts of those who were there, it was clear to most Palestinians that Hamas had committed the massacre. Still, when trying to explain the cause of the current infighting, several Palestinians, including Musa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas' political bureau, insisted that Israel was somehow to blame.

This is the real Palestinian Naqba, the disaster at the root of Palestinian suffering since even before 1948.

Instead of taking responsibility for their role in shaping their destiny, on virtually every occasion, the Palestinians have twisted their worldview to put the blame solely on Israel.

There is no self-awareness, not to mention self-criticism. No sense of accountability.

Since the Six-Day War of 1967, this tendency has only become worse. All too often, Palestinians claim that living under Israeli occupation has "driven" them to terrorism, as if they had no choice but to walk into a café and blow up people sitting there.

Such an approach not only ignores the pre-1967 (and indeed pre-1948) Palestinian terrorism. (It also fails to recognize that history has numerous examples of non-violent movements that were much more effective at achieving their aims.)

But the most unfortunate part of the Palestinians' fate is that they have had so many supporters around the world (including significant segments of the Israeli public) that they were by no means destined for the poverty and misery they find themselves in today. They certainly weren't destined to remain stateless almost 60 years after the United Nations passed the partition plan.

The lesson is that only when Palestinians, leadership and public alike, start to consider how their own actions have been the primary cause for the sorry state they're in will there be a chance for it to improve.

And once that true soul-searching finally takes place, and they begin to take responsibility for their collective destiny, the Palestinian people will be able to help themselves far more than all the other nations of the world have ever been able to. *

Cameron S. Brown is deputy director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya, Israel. Asaf Romirowsky is manager of Israeli & Middle East affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.