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For Palestinians, the Nakba is not history

The Nakba has a dual meaning today. On one hand, it is about the hundreds of villages that were razed in 1948 and the hundreds of thousands of refugees who lost their homes. On the other hand, Palestinians continue to suffer the Nakba daily – the separation of families, continuous confiscations of land and settlements choking every Palestinian village and town.

Palestinians today mark 64 years since the Nakba (catastrophe). They are not commemorating a historical event that has long passed, or a sad moment in their past. Many of the Palestinian people are living the reality of the Nakba today. The pain of the open wound has not healed.

Sixty-four years after the Nakba, Palestinians still have no state and no equality. Refugee camps still exist all over the world and a majority of Palestinians live in the diaspora. Against their will, the Nakba divided the Palestinian people between Palestine and diaspora, between Gaza and the West Bank, between those who hold a refugee identification card and who don’t.

The Nakba has a dual meaning today. On one hand, it is about the hundreds of villages that were razed in 1948 and the hundreds of thousands of refugees who lost their homes. I remember taking a group to Qubeibeh, a Palestinian village on the outskirts of Hebron. Qubeibeh was destroyed in 1948. On the trip, I asked two Palestinians who lived there before the war to join us. They walked around the destroyed village telling the stories of each house, each family, the gossip of the town, funny and sad anecdotes. The tears streaming down their faces were tears of longing and passion, about loss and love.

Palestinian school at a refugee camp in 1948 (photo:flickr/gnuckx)

However, this is only one aspect of the Nakba. Palestinians today feel that the Nakba didn’t end in ’48. They suffer the Nakba daily – the separation of families, continuous confiscations of land and the settlements choking every Palestinian village and town.

The Nakba is the present as much as it is the past. To my parents who built their house in Bethany, which is five kilometers outside Jerusalem, the Nakba is as real today as it was 64 years ago. But my parents aren’t allowed to live in their house if they want to keep their Jerusalem ID. They must rent an apartment in Jerusalem. Yet the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement is walking distance from my parent’s home in Bethany. It is perfectly “legal” for Israeli Jews to live there, but not for my parents. Every time my father travels through checkpoints to water the garden he planted and to take care of the empty house – while not being allowed to spend a night there –  he relives the Nakba again. When my aunt, who was born in Jerusalem but lives in Hebron, cannot come and visit us in Jerusalem because she is a “West Banker,” we live the Nakba again.

This year, Nakba commemoration is no different than in previous years. Despite many Israeli historians whose research shows that the Nakba is not a figment of the Palestinian imagination, but a real tragedy, many Israelis prefer to ignore it or not believe it. They prefer to cover their eyes and close their ears when it comes to the Palestinian story, the Palestinian pain and the Palestinian narrative.

I understand that it is hard to learn about the narrative of “your enemy” and the suffering of that enemy, especially if it is due to your country’s practices. I remember having to walk this uncomfortable path and learn about the Israeli and Jewish narrative. At first everything in me rejected the idea and refused to sympathize. However, if peace is ever to be realized between the Palestinians and the Israelis, this must happen. Dr. Sami Adwan, Dr. Dan Bar-on and Dr. Eyal Naveh have undertaken the breakthrough work of presenting the two narratives in a joint book published recently, titled “Side by side.” The importance of recognizing the story of the other is crucial to any real peace. This is true for both Israelis and Palestinians.

However, the reality paints a different picture. The Israeli government not only ignores Palestinian history, but is also trying to force Palestinians to forget their own narrative, by forbidding commemoration of the Nakba. Are they so ignorant that they believe a law can strip a person of his identity, memories and passions?  Jews who came to Palestine  boasted about their longing for the “holy land” for thousands of years. How can such people ignore the longing and love of the land of many Palestinians who lived on that land just 64 years ago, many of whom cannot even visit anymore?

The justification I hear about why Israel ignores the Nakba is an interesting one. They claim that Nakba commemoration is about hating Jews. I have heard it over and over again. So, I quote the Palestinian poet Mahmound Darwish, who wrote about the Nakba extensively. When accused of hating Jews he said:

The accusation is that I hate Jews.
It’s not comfortable that they show me as a devil
and an enemy of Israel.
I am not a lover of Israel, of course.
I have no reason to be.But I don’t hate Jews

I will continue to humanize even the enemy
The first teacher who taught me Hebrew was a Jew.
The first love affair in my life was with a Jewish girl.
The first judge who sent me to prison was a Jewish woman.
So from the beginning, I didn’t see Jews as devils or angels,
but as human beings.

While Nakba day is about mourning the destruction of historical Palestine and facing a continued unjust reality, it is also about the future. The Palestinians on this day look ahead and try to figure out a way for Nakba Day to become about the past and not the present. We cannot change the past, but we can make tomorrow different. Nakba Day is also about finding a way to bring peace to a people that lived in catastrophe and long for peace, freedom and security.

Read also:
Rightists disrupt Nakba ceremony at Tel Aviv University
Why the inconvenient truths of the Nakba must be recognized
Israel’s n**** word: efforts to teach it, and attempts to erase it

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    COMMENTS

    1. AYLA

      Thank you, Aziz. These two points are so important: that Palestinians are still living the Nakba, and that there is an opportunity to live in a land with all histories and stories honored, side by side.
      *
      I just want to say, when I argue against the voices of those who feel threatened by Nakba Day, I don’t hear anyone saying that they feel Nakba recognition is anti-Jewish. I hear them thinking that Nakba = the idea that the very existence of the state of Israel is our catastrophe. This makes some people feel that honoring the Nakba is the same as saying you want to wipe the State, and her people if necessary, off the map. This logic (if you will) is, of course, perpetuated by the Israeli government, media, and various pro-Israel organizations in the U.S., in typical political form. Yesterday and today, Tel Aviv University and Ha’aretz offered voices of reason that speak to those fears. I’m moved by those signs of life.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Richard Witty

      “However, this is only one aspect of the Nakba. Palestinians today feel that the Nakba didn’t end in ’48. They suffer the Nakba daily – the separation of families, continuous confiscations of land and the settlements choking every Palestinian village and town.”

      This is the critical point.

      For Jews, for Israelis, the present should be a healing time, not a salt on wounds time.

      Reply to Comment
    3. @Ayala
      “I just want to say, when I argue against the voices of those who feel threatened by Nakba Day, I don’t hear anyone saying that they feel Nakba recognition is anti-Jewish. I hear them thinking that Nakba = the idea that the very existence of the state of Israel is our catastrophe. This makes some people feel that honoring the Nakba is the same as saying you want to wipe the State, and her people if necessary, off the map”

      I agree with you that many Israelis see it in this way. The way I normally respond is by giving an example from Jewish heritage.

      Think about Tisha b’av and the Jewish people mourning over the destroyed temple. If a Palestinian was to use the same logic mentioned above, then it means that Jews want to destroy the Aqsa mosque to rebuild the temple.

      Palestinians can argue that mourning the destruction of a structure believed by Jews to be at the same location of the Aqsa mosque means the intention to destroy the mosque.

      Now, I know that some do want to rebuild the temple over the Aqsa mosque, but that doesn’t characterize everyone that is mourning the temple’s destruction. The same is true about Palestinians mourning the Nakba.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ronen

      For Israelis, the Jewish Nakba is also not history.
      “They stole everything from us… in Bagdad, Cairo, Aleppo, Tunis, Marrakech and Yemen. Yet refuse to admit it in their deviant guilt”

      Reply to Comment
    5. Matt

      Palestinians are addicted to their own suffering. As long as they are rewarded financially, militarily, and emotionally for simply being victims, they will never move on from their “losses”.

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        Get back to me, Matt, when Jews stop building more Holocaust museums.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Dorn

      If the Arab world had accepted “two states for two peoples” in 1948, or 1967, or 2001, or 2010, there’d be no need for this propaganda exercise. There were more JEWISH REFUGEES FROM ARAB LANDS than Arab refugees. They looked forward and rebuilt their lives. They form a majority in Israel. In contrast, the Arab world has cynically manipulated Arab refugees for 64 years. This is especially hypocritical as BOTH refugee issues were started by Arab initiated wars.

      There were 12 million refugees (almost 10 times the size of population exchange) between India and Pakistan in 1947. Neither side there has sought to exploit the issues.

      If the Arab world wanted a solution, there could be one. But the core issue remains Arab rejection of a permanent Israel, no matter what its boundaries. For them, Jews can only be “dhimmis” in the Middle East.

      Reply to Comment
    7. nahum

      Italians had lived in Istria and Dalmatia since XII Century, when Palestine was still raided by Mongol tribes and the ancestors of nowadays Palestinians were somewhere else. After WWII Italians of Istria and Dalmatia were offered the choice: either leaving their ancestral homeland, or staying in Yugoslavia, as an oppressed cultural minority, getting far worse than Arab citizens in today Israel.
      Mind that they have not been necessarily Fascists. But Italy had lost the war and they were Italians. These things happen. As an Italia, I look at this as a minor wrongdoing in the general frame of history. I had plenty of sons of Istrian and Dalmatian refugees, as schoolmates, when I was at school. That is because my city was choosen for one of these relocations that -mutatis mutandis- could have solved the Palestinian problem, had the Arab countries set apart their dreams of revenge. I empathized with their sad stories, and the uprooting, and the camps ets. But I am grateful that Italy lost WWII, and that these revanchistes had become the ridicolous minority they are today. By the way, could somebody please remember me whose side the Palestinians took on, during the Shoah? Thanks

      Reply to Comment
      • Leen

        ‘y the way, could somebody please remember me whose side the Palestinians took on, during the Shoah? Thanks’
        Not all Palestinians.
        The majority of Palestinians had no participation or support for either the Nazis nor the Allies. However the Hajj Husseini was on the side of the Nazis (remember, he was not the only one though, Stern Gang and Lehi had relations with the Nazis). The Nashashibis did not and were on the side of the allies.
        That was natural, up until 1944-45 where more information was made about the genocide of the Jews, people were picking sides. Remember, King Edward was for a while sympathetic towards the Nazis, no one seems to be holding it against the British though. Same thing with Henry Ford (who as we know was the founder of one of the biggest, if not the biggest, industry in the US at the time of WW2) and a very influential person.

        Reply to Comment
    8. Kolumn9

      Aziz, Ayla, I am sorry but your arguments are just disingenuous. Nabka commemoration started during the first intifada and was made official by the PLO. The Nakba ceremonies are inseparable from the continuing political demand of a ‘return’ to villages that haven’t existed since 1948 and a reversal of the outcome of the 1948 war to a situation where Israel ceases to exist. There is a relatively obvious conclusion based on the banners, speeches and narratives that are rehashed on this day. The banners are of return, the speeches are for political mobilization and the narrative leaves no room for Israel. The Israeli rejection of this commemoration is an issue of understanding, not the lack thereof.
      .

      As for the argument that the Nakba is ‘ongoing’. Aziz complains that his parents can’t move from Jerusalem (Israel) to al-Eizariya (PA) without losing their Israeli issued ID cards that grant them access to all of Israel. Some other Palestinians complain that they can’t live in some village in Israel on top of which there is a city already. Some Israeli Arabs complain that there are borders between them their brethren in Beirut. They all point to this as signs of an ongoing Nakba. To the untrained eye it would appear more as a generalized complaint that Israel continues to exist.

      Reply to Comment
      • Leen

        Kolumn, as per the Oslo agreements, any person issued an Israeli ID number at birth cannot acquire a Palestinian ID number, even if they lose their Israeli residency. So if a Palestinian loses their Israeli residency, they cannot acquire a Palestinian ID, which in short means they can no longer live in either Israel or Palestine, which in short is the continuation of ‘Nakba’. This is what I think Aziz is referring to.

        Reply to Comment
    9. Jack

      Kolumn9,
      Like any state that have been engaged in stealing lands and ehtnic cleansing they of course deny the history, deny the law. Your arguments imply that you are well aware of this.

      Reply to Comment
    10. AYLA

      Thanks for your response, Aziz! I’m not sure if that analogy, however apt, would resonate with people as much; the destruction of the second temple is paramount in Jewish history, but for most it doesn’t conjure up fresh pain like the Nakba does for Palestinians, and the Holocaust for Jews. (Please–no comments now about how I just equated the Nakba to the Holocaust. They are quite different). There also is more of a causality between the creation of the state of Israel and the Nakba than in your analogy. That causality can’t be denied, by anyone. So what’s analogous is that just because one mourns one thing, doesn’t mean they want to destroy another…
      *
      K9–we’ll never see eye to eye, but I love today’s Ha’aretz editorial on this subject, and you’d be hard-pressed to call them disingenuous: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/nakba-is-part-of-israel-s-history-1.430501

      Reply to Comment
      • Sinjim

        I have to stand in awe of your talents, Ayla. Yet again, you’ve managed to make this all about you and your emotions and feelings and fears.

        On this one day, this one day out of the whole year, I would venture to say Palestinians do not give a flying rat’s tail what Israelis or Jews think about the Nakba or its commemoration by your victims and their descendents. This isn’t about you, it’s about us.

        Keep your belly-aching about the implications of this or that aspect of the Nakba to yourself. At least for today.

        Reply to Comment
    11. Richard Witty

      In the condition where one’s survival is at stake, there is a valid basis for temporary restriction on others, even to the line of temporary suppression.

      In the case of restrictions on Paletinians that get to a level of suppression, beyond moderate inconvenience(like going through airport security), its not temporary, and not necessary.

      Its not useful to rationalize in any way that “they deserve it”, or “if you those acting on behalf of your great-grandparents in 1948”

      Its a stupid argument, that dehumanizes Jews in the making of it.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Richard Witty

      The approach of accepting one’s neighbors experience is a much more effective means to realize security.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Kolumn9

      Ayla, I am confused. Are you suggesting that I would be hard-pressed to call Haaretz editorials disingenuous? Not in the slightest. Haaretz goes out of its way to use the same disingenuous arguments promoted by the extreme left in Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Kolumn9

      Richard, accepting my neighbor’s justification that it is legitimate to kill me doesn’t make it less likely that he will kill me.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Richard Witty

      Kolumn8,
      Do you know your neighbors well enough to accurately conclude what their specific motivations, experience, goals, ethics are?

      Palestinians views vary greatly. Read here if you don’t think so.

      I correspond with a couple that actively teach Palestinians and other Arab communities about the holocaust for example.

      Its a very moral and courageous action on their part.

      We should follow the model of learning about the “other”, not just shooting first ourselves.

      Reply to Comment
    16. XYZ

      Richard,
      The fact that you and others personally know moderate Palestinians has no effect whatsoever on the political struggle. They are not in power. The Palestinians are controlled by the FATAH-PA in the West Bank and HAMAS in the Gaza Strip. The propaganda of both show they are not interested in a compromise peace on any terms. Then there are the refugees who don’t have official representation but any time anyone suggests that they are going to forget about a “right of return” there is a firestorm of protest. No Palestinian….and I repeat NO PALESTNIAN leader can ever agree to any restriction on the “right of return” which means there will not be a peace agreement.
      In all wars, there are no doubt people of good-will on both side who would want to end the conflict, but they are not the ones who make the decisions.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Nan

      The misery of the Palestinian Arabs is one they have brought on themselves for refusing to accept Jews before ’48 and Jews and Israel after 48. All these unfortunate conditions under which Palestinian Arabs must live are 1) due to their desire to blow up Jews; and if they are not the ones blowing up, they are the ones celebrating the ones blowing up and 2) their Arab “brothers” who have allowed them to fester in refugee camps for generations in order to use them as a pawn against the “Zionist entity”. This article includes a tent city of Arab refugees; that tent city could just as well been one of many that newly independent Israel created for the Jews ethnically cleansed from all of Arab nations of the Middle East after 1948–that was their “nakba” as well. However, those tent cities of Middle Eastern Jews no longer exist because they are now the majority in Israel, fully integrated into Israeli society. Too bad the Palestinian Arabs insist on perpetuating their own misery just to spite the “Zionist entity”–Jews.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Ben Waxman

      “Think about Tisha b’av and the Jewish people mourning over the destroyed temple.”

      for the jewish people, tisha b’av is not only about the destruction but about the mistakes that we made, the sins that we committed, the stupidities and illusions that we lived in, and the required introspection needed to overcome these follies. that is what is missing from all the nakba discussions.

      for arabs to ask/demand that israeli jews understand that palestinians suffered/paid a heavy price in 48 is a legitimate demand. for arabs to place all the responsibility for 48 and the so-called ongoing nakba, well the phrase in hebrew is best: lo ba beshbon.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Two quotes form Kolumn9, above:
      .
      “Some Israeli Arabs complain that there are borders between them their brethren in Beirut. They all point to this as signs of an ongoing Nakba. To the untrained eye it would appear more as a generalized complaint that Israel continues to exist.”
      .
      “accepting my neighbor’s justification that it is legitimate to kill me doesn’t make it less likely that he will kill me.”
      .
      I do not believe polls show that Arab Israeli citizens have no great desire to see the disolution of Israel. Perhaps they are all lying out of fear. But let’s risk it: let’s begin to break the racial analysis barrier by dealing with civil rights for all Israeli citizens. Or should we discard citizenship for pure racial categories? I think Nakba is being used by the right to that end.

      Reply to Comment
    20. AYLA

      K9–knowing a lot and seeing things differently than you doesn’t make one disingenuous.
      *
      This is my new, favorite response to everything, via my long-time favorite astrologer ;), Rob Breszny: Kabbalist teacher Ann Davies told a story about a U.S. Army general negotiating with a cannibal chief in New Guinea during World War II. The general wanted the chief to rally his tribe to help American troops fight the Japanese. The chief refused, calling the Americans immoral. The general was shocked. “We are not immoral!” he protested. “The Japanese are immoral!” The cannibal chief replied, “The Japanese and Americans are equally immoral. You both kill far more people than you can eat.”
      *
      Greg Pollack–hope you, at least, enjoyed it :).

      Reply to Comment
    21. Richard Witty

      “The misery of the Palestinian Arabs is one they have brought on themselves for refusing to accept Jews before ’48 and Jews and Israel after 48.”

      A false and cruel analysis. Cruel for the blanket curse on subsequent generations, rather than accountability for actions as a basis of judgment. Three generations ago?

      Are we to be so cursed as well?

      XYZ,
      You fear words? Do you fear your own?

      We have the capability of restraining our own words only. And, it is our obligation in the world NOT to create unnecessary hardship really anywhere.

      Or, do you think that it is permissable to harm when we are afraid, that fear justifies harming?

      I don’t. The only harming that I understand as permissable, morally or halachically, is when under immediate tangible danger, not 3 moves out.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Kerry

      The Arabs should assimilate their brethren as Israel did and still does. Remember 650,000 Jew were expelled from Arab lands too.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Leen

      Aziz, today is the 65th anniversary of the Nakba, not the 64th.

      Reply to Comment
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