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Shhhh, the Nakba made it to prime time

Israel’s top satire program takes on the Nakba. Sometimes humor can succeed in places where activism or advocacy fall short.

Kitzis reports on the battle of narratives over Independence Day and the Nakba

Kitzis reports on the battle of narratives over Independence Day and the Nakba. Screenshot of ‘Eretz Nehederet.’

The tortured road of the Nakba towards a legitimate place in the Israeli historical memory has some unexpected twists.

Eitan Bronstein Aparicio and Dr. Eléonore Merza Bronstein recently explained that at first, it was mainly Palestinians who wished to commemorate the Nakba. Next came far-left wing Jews in Israel. Following that came the right-wing or oppositional Jewish Israeli approaches, such as “Jewish Nakba,” a phrase coined over the years as a name for the violent expulsion of Jews from Arab countries following the establishment of the State of Israel. Their piece highlights how defensive efforts to reject the history of the Palestinian Nakba, or turn Jewish history into a political rebuttal, actually acknowledge its importance. The first of these was the childish but notorious “Nakba – Bullshit” campaign by the bully-group Im Tirzu.

However, the recent appearance of the Nakba in popular, mainstream Israeli culture may be the most surprising roadstop of all.

With little blowback or social media shrieks, Israeli television viewers of all ilk were treated to a surprisingly detailed, historically informed re-enaction of the very Nakba most would prefer to ignore. This happened on Channel 2, the highest-rated, mainstream channel in the country. And not only on Channel 2, but on Eretz Nehederet, the most beloved, top-ranking satire show in the land. And that would have been enough, but the show went further, broadcasting the practically subversive skit in its Independence Day episode. Had Channel 2 been a public company, it would have violated the Nakba Law, which stipulates that a public organization observing the Nakba on Independence Day can lose its public funding.

But perhaps what can’t be done through activism or advocacy can be accomplished by humor. When we laugh, we forgo the pain and think about the content of what made us laugh. Maybe that way we forget to be shocked at the choice of content to begin with.

It’s hard for an un-funny writer to re-create humor through description, especially in translation. It’s even harder when the text is so zippy and quippy, slapping silly jokes and gravitas together like candy-coated medicine.

You can watch the episode  here (Eretz Nehederet, Season 12, episode 11, starting around 35 minutes). Otherwise, several highlights stand out that make it so valuable:

Eyal Kitzis – the longtime anchor often dubbed Israel’s Jon Stewart – observes that in recent years, each Independence Day sparks a battle of narratives. This sentence alone would have been inconceivable in a political climate when one’s own history was simply true and there was no such thing as a competing version. The writers of the show are well aware that their audiences are familiar with the problem.

The re-enactment is a flashback to a scene using 1940s versions of well-known characters from the current season: A female Arab pharmacist-poet from the present is now doling out plant-based remedies for malaria to a man in her village, while discreetly inquiring if he has had “unprotected contact with a mosquito.” The hawker who sells awful homemade soups at the shopping mall in the present, and who is in love with the pharmacist, is now the company cook for a Palmach battalion. He fills canteens with soup and rock-hard meatballs solid enough to stop a speeding bullet.

The Palmach shlemiel wanders over to the village and happens upon the pharmacist, collecting plants. They flirt, and as they lean in for an illicit kiss, a mercenary Jewish soldier gallops over to warn them both: She must leave the village ahead of conquering Jewish forces, and the Palmachnik must not waste his time falling in love with her.

The Palestinian woman is shocked that she must leave her home; the mercenary soldier lies and tells her she can return the next day. On the side, he tries to tell the Palmach soldier about the plan to expel the villagers, by order of Ben Gurion. But the Palmach soldier cuts him off and insists that he not spoil the ending. Mocking modern day addictions to TV series, the Palmach soldier explains that he’s only up to the UN partition vote (“Argentina said ‘sustains’” – Israelis love poking fun at their own poor English).

Nakba re-enacted on Israeli prime time

Nakba re-enacted on Israeli prime time

There is no dancing around the issue, no skirting the margins; the skit is the nexus of the Nakba itself. By taking a sly position on the huge historical debate over Ben Gurion’s knowledge or guidance of efforts to remove as many Palestinians as possible under the cover of war, the writers implicate everyone, from lowly soldiers who prefer not to know, and the top who probably does.

The scene, not even three minutes long, also takes place on the very battleground of memory. It is composed of information made available only through exhaustive efforts of historians over decades of research, involving lawsuits against the Israeli government to declassify files and archives. Even still, some of these archives have since been re-classified. Along with the history that increasingly cannot be disputed, there is also little question that the state exerted considerable effort, and still does, to suppress the events. With this episode, Eretz Nehederet has jumped into the ring, on the challenger side.

Typically, Eretz Nehederet has the last word, and it borders on cynicism. The flashback returns to modern-day Israel, where the the village has morphed back into the shopping mall and two woman are wrestling on the ground over a shirt (this actually happened, when H&M opened its doors in Tel Aviv a few years ago).

Cheap shots, to be sure. But if even one or two average viewers – not political activists, not left-wingers and not Im Tirzu types – are left questioning if the present justifies the past, or questioning anything at all, we might do a better job of redressing both.

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    1. Ginger Eis

      The Jewish Nakba!

      Here Is The Story Of The Forgotten Refugees that +972mag and the Israeli and International Hypocritical leftists love to ignore. It is about the Jewish Nakba that don’t make it to prime-time.

      1. For centuries, Jews lived in what is called Dhimmitude in Arab-Muslim countries. To understand what Dhimmitude means, pls. watch the video below and listen carefully to every word and expression and discover the immense sorrow emanating deep from the heart of the Forgotten Refugees;

      2. Over a million Jews were expelled from Arab countries;

      3. Thousands of the family members of the expellees never made it out alive out of Arab countries to the Land OF Israel. They were in fact murdered by Arab lynch mobs and their governments, etc.
      4. Those of the expellees who made it to the Land of Israel came with NOTHING, but the cloths they wore. Their properties, business, etc. were loathed and possessed by the local Arab populations.

      5. By not covering the Jewish Forgotten Refugees, +972mag does immense injustice to Jews, helps in perpetuating the sufferings of The Forgotten Jewish Refugees from Arab countries and – probably as an unintended consequence – falsifies history by presenting wholly and utterly one-side coverage of the refugee-issue.

      Here is the story of the Jewish Nakba.

      Watch. And Weep!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KH8RL2XRr48

      Reply to Comment
    2. “All in the Family” hit Vietnam, Civil Rights, and Watergate as they happened. Let people form views through the protective space of laughter.

      Laughter: I saw Robin Williams on Charlie Rose making jokes about heart valve replacements, both of which they had had. Rose was laughing uncontrollably. Williams’ jokes were flat to me, but I could see how for Rose they dislodged the actual event, this effect giving Williams pleasure too. Dislodged from reality, freed of its binds, so too we don’t have to be afraid of what people might think of us if we voice some opinions. Someone starts; others realize it’s ok to try.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Bruce Gould

      Many American Jews participate in the Birthright Program, which offers free trips to Israel. A few people who go look around at Israeli society and decide that maybe BDS is appropriate – the Forward investigates:

      http://forward.com/news/israel/307941/birthright-paves-path-to-bds-for-some-participants/?utm_source=Newsletter+subscribers&utm_campaign=c5ad45ad48-Daily_Briefing_5_11_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_2dce5bc6f8-c5ad45ad48-25790869

      “Sussman isn’t the only American to visit Israel on a Birthright or similar program and return filled with questions that morph into criticism. Many of these young people I spoke with say that after Birthright they became activists in left-wing organizations. They reflect the way some people see Israel when visiting for the first time — as well as young American Jews’ changing relationship with the land of their ancestors.”

      Reply to Comment
    4. Pedro X

      In Israel there is left wing and right wing satire. Both can be very funny, reflecting already formed views, but that all satire is.

      Latma, a right wing satire group, had a very funny skit on Obama. In the skit Obama gives his “I have a Dream Speech”

      “I have a dream that the Israelis will withdraw and return to the ’67 borders – 1567. I have a dream that in Palestine a binational state will arise, comprised of the two nations, the Palestinians and the Bedouins. I have a dream that Jews of Israel will finally be able to live in peace in their homes in the Slovakian hills, in Polish valleys and villages in Libya.”

      Addressing Iran Obama continues “I have a dream that Iran will stop developing nuclear weapons and start producing them already. Come on, how much time can you give to development?”

      Obama is said to hope Jews will integrate in all social spheres “and not just control the banks,” Obama then wakes up in the skit at the AIPAC convention, where he pledges to “have Israel’s back.”

      Latma also skewers Israeli politicians including the Prime Minister and President Ruby Rivlin and the Israeli Supreme Court Justices. In one hilarious skit the Justices come down from their lofty benches to walk in the streets of an Israeli city amazed at finding what real life was all about. Liberman is lampooned chasing voters, leftists, animal rights activists, homosexuals, everyone but rightists in his bid to save his election campaign. Shav Shafir is ridiculed blaming the right for all ills including not being able to get a gluten free pizza over Passover.

      Then there is “1000 Times More ‘Breaking the Silence’” on facebook producing their own mock anonymous testimonies of soldiers’ expressing remorse for terrible misdeeds, such as

      “We were lying in ambush when suddenly, a boy approached us, wearing an explosive vest. We convinced him to take it off and promised we’d give him a Messi shirt. We had a different shirt, but we fooled him and he didn’t even know.”

      “Once, during reserve duty at Etzion, I served black coffee to two Palestinian workers. I now think, with regret, that perhaps they couldn’t sleep that night.”

      “Once, I had a bottle of Coke and I didn’t throw it at the roadside – thus preventing a Palestinian from exercising his right to a fire bomb.”

      “I feel shame because of all the people getting run over, wounded and murdered in the car terror attacks that are taking place. A person takes action to liberate his land from the horrible occupation, and in return we break their windshields with flying bodies and destroy their cars’ chassis when they crash into the bus stop. We’ve learned nothing from the Holocaust.”

      “I broke down. I took out my mobile Bluetooth speaker from my pouch and and played Katy Perry at full volume. Yes, Katy Perry, in a civilian home at Ras al-Hirtutya. I don’t know where that demon entered me from. The evil. That was the second at which I no longer recognized myself. The second I realized that I would never be the same person. Nothing will cleanse me.”

      “When I was at a roadblock in Hevron, I stopped a private car with two small girls. In the car’s baggage trunk were two guns and ten cartridges. To this day, I find it hard to get over the damage I caused that family when I scratched their car as I removed the ammunition from the trunk. One of the guns scratched the hood of the trunk.”

      In the final analysis, satire is satire but it does not change history or change minds.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Jenny

      seriously. Eretz Nehederet is the best TV show in the world. It actually is.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ben

      Information:

      As Noam Scheizaf has made clear, Oslo IS the occupation:
      http://972mag.com/an-agreement-on-indefinite-occupation-oslo-celebrates-19-years/55788/

      Here Sandy Tolan makes the same case.
      http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/09/201192411359575499.html

      Sandy Tolan author of “The Lemon Tree,” has a new book out: “Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land”
      http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/children-of-the-stone-9781608198139/

      Reply to Comment
    7. Ben

      The reclassification of the archives speaks loud and clear.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Bar

      I can’t wait until they tackle the incessant hatred, demonization and lying that the Arab leadership conducted toward Jews and the Yishuv. I’m particularly excited to see the ethnic cleansing the Arabs practiced in Jerusalem and environs, followed by the pogroms and discriminatory laws that made almost all the Jews in the ME and North Africa flee, most coming to Israel. Good times. Good times.

      Reply to Comment