One of the more difficult aspects of living in Israel over the last several years has been coming to terms with the layers of denial in which Jewish Israeli society wraps itself. The denial comes in many forms and covers some of the biggest issues facing the country: the occupation, discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel and Mizrahi Jews, sexism, homophobia and of course, the Nakba.
I recently came across a video that, at least for me, clarifies just how deep the denial of the destruction of Palestinian existence prior to 1948 runs in Israeli society. The video shows the Nahal Band – a music and theater troupe belonging to the IDF’s Nahal group, famous for their renditions of classic Eretz Yisrael songs – singing Haim Hefer’s timeless “He Never Knew Her Name.” The sepia-tinted clip, which looks as if it were filmed sometime the 1960s, opens with five members of the group driving their jeep through a rocky terrain lined with sabra cacti. As the camera zooms out, we see the ruins of a Palestinian village. The next two-and-a-half minutes show lead singer Sassi Keshet (who went on to become a famous Israeli entertainer), walking around the sabra field, finally reaching what is clearly an abandoned Palestinian home. There, he leans on the building, looking forlorn and dejected, before returning to his fellow troupe members and driving off.
Watching this video, one cannot help but be taken aback by the sight of the soldier singing a love song while walking around a depopulated Palestinian village. The village’s ruins and its cacti are transformed and repurposed into a mere backdrop for the soldier’s longing for his nameless female lover. But the most disturbing aspect of the video is that we aren’t watching some kind of accident unfold before us, nor are we witnessing some lone blemish on the pristine record of the most moral army in the world. The video strikes at the underlying principles of the Zionist project: the denial of the existence of another people who had to be cleared away in order to build a new society.