A Response to the Proposal to Ban Commemoration of the Nakba on Independence Day

The proposal to legally bar the commemoration of the Nakba on Israel’s Independence Day reflects growing trepidation in Israel about the inevitable encounter with the Palestinian Nakba and the understanding that the Nakba is a foundational part of Israeli identity. Until recently, the threat of exposing the Nakba was barely felt. There was no need to fight this repressed demon, which might suddenly reveal itself and disrupt the seeming calm of a harmonious Jewish democracy. But the Nakba is not a demon, not the fruit of deceptive imagination, and therefore we should not underestimate the challenge facing Israeli society: to recognize Israel’s part in the expulsion of most of the Palestinian inhabitants of the land in 1948, the destruction of most of their localities (upwards of five hundred), the annihilation of urban Palestinian culture, and tens of massacres, rapes, incidents of looting, and dispossession. Looking into so dark a mirror takes courage and maturity, demonstrated in the research of such scholars as Morris, Gelber, Milstein, Khalidi, Pappe, and others, as well as in the diaries of Netiva Ben Yehuda and Yosef Nahmani.

It is not surprising that the “appropriate Zionist response,” to inscribe the forgetting of this human horror into law, comes from the circles of the political right-wing. They have always been more sincere in their racist attitudes toward Arabs in Israel, compared to the Left, which marketed to the world and to us its honest (yet illusory) longing for peace.

More than eighty years ago, it was clear to Jabotinsky, the leader of the historic Right and perhaps the most realistic Zionist thinker, that the establishment of the Jewish state required citizens to be forever soldiers under the protection of the “Iron Wall.” Jabotinsky understood that Jewish existence depended upon violent strength, on killing and being killed in a predominantly Arab region that would never accept them. A year ago his student, Tzipi Livni, suggested that Palestinians remove the word ‘Nakba’ from their lexicon as part of a comprehensive peace deal. Our current Prime Minister announced during his recent campaign that he would expunge the Nakba from educational curricula (since when has the Nakba been taught anyway?) and would order the teaching of Jabotinsky’s legacy.

The Greek philosopher Thrasymachus taught us that “the law is what is good for the stronger,” but no law, not even that of the democratic Jewish Knesset, can erase the horrors of history. Traces of these horrors will always be visible, in both personal and collective memory and forgetfulness. In Israel, the sabras, prickly cactus bushes, have become vivid and thorny monuments of the Palestinian Nakba. This obstinate plant was brought by the Palestinians from Mexico to mark and defend their territory. The sabra not only persists in the landscape long after Israel expelled those who planted it, it also grows wild despite attempts to eradicate it. Perhaps, in response, the Israeli government should make it unlawful to eat its fruit?

At the same time, remembrance of the Nakba is growing and takes root in the deepening fissures in the Iron Wall. The Palestinian refugees – the majority of Palestinians are, indeed, refugees – have mourned the Nakba from the moment it occurred and demand justice. After the Oslo Accords, when they realized their concerns would be pushed aside indefinitely, they began to struggle effectively against the worldwide disregard for their tragedy. However, the proposed law to forget the Nakba is in actuality a response to cultural shifts in Jewish-Israeli society to coping with this disaster. The real threat to the colonialist Iron Wall occurs as the majority of its soldiers refuse to obey the commandment not to remember. In the last few years, hundreds of Jews in Israel (and around the world) have participated in events commemorating the Nakba during Israel’s Independence Day. In recent years hundreds of Israelis have turned to Zochrot – an organization working to bring the Nakba to the consciousness of Jews in Israel – to request information on the topic. Journalists, writers, architects, as well as people in film, television, and theater who grew up on the good old stories of Israel seek to discover their repressed past. Educators are requesting the educational packet on the Nakba developed by Zochrot. Soldiers from the Palmach are turning to Zochrot towards the end of their lives to share stories of what they did and saw in 1948.

Who knows, maybe the day is not far off when the choice at the center of the political debate will be the State of Israel as it is today versus recognition of the Nakba and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. When this day comes, the citizens of Israel will be able to choose between two clear visions: separation and perpetual violence versus a life of equality for all the country’s residents and refugees. To hurry this day forward, maybe we should make up another Hebrew word: “de-colonization.”

Eitan Bronstein founded Zochrot (Remember) which tries to educate Israelis about the history of 1948, including Israeli attacks on unarmed Palestinians and the destruction of more than 400 Palestinian towns and villages. Read other articles by Eitan, or visit Eitan's website.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on May 30th, 2009 at 2:18pm #

    nakba, then, can be righted by doing a right for a change. ‘Zionist’ wrongs can be defended only by more and more wrongs or until world get’s tired of the land robbers and abandons them.

    since an israel, in whatever shape or size, wld be too small, too impoverished, and too dependent on others, it wld finally vanish in a massive bloodbath.

    the last thing we shld do is to abrogate our second-dearest panhuman right: that of the right to return to one’s habitat regardless why one had left it or had been driven out. tnx bozhidar balkas vancouver

  2. Michael Kenny said on May 31st, 2009 at 6:40am #

    There are two silver linings to this. First, all of this, even the talk of it, does immense damage to Israel in the world and since Israel cannot exist without being propped up by foreign troops, that is a huge disaster for the Israelis. Secondly, the Israelis are not so stupid that they don’t realise that, which means that they are panicking. They see themselves as defeated and are trying a last, desperate throw of the dice.

  3. Barry99 said on May 31st, 2009 at 5:04pm #

    Last week, the Israeli parliament passed legislation – and it was not close – to make it a crime punishable by a year in prison to assert that Israel was something other than a democratic and Jewish state. What self-respecting Palestinian member of parliament will answer the question to the satisfaction of his Jewish overlords. They will either not run for office or spend a year in the slammer.
    That this ‘democratic’ state would even consider. let alone pass such legislation says it all about this country. Of course, Bronstein’s article say it all too. All has been said many times over – yet the Israelis never cease to amaze.

  4. kalidas said on May 31st, 2009 at 6:30pm #

    Neither do the Germans, Austrians, etc., etc., cease to amaze.
    They have laws, punishable by prison, for NOT believing something.

  5. Jeff White said on May 31st, 2009 at 9:52pm #

    Will the “civilized” countries that have criminalized Holocaust denial now make Nakba denial a crime as well?

    I’m not holding my breath.

  6. opeluboy said on June 1st, 2009 at 3:40pm #

    You beat me to it, Jeff.

  7. Barry99 said on June 1st, 2009 at 7:15pm #

    Jeff – More likely the *civilized* countries will criminalize utterances confirming belief in an-Nakba. To believe that the Nakba is an historical event will be considered anti-Semitic.

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain said on June 1st, 2009 at 11:36pm #

    Barry seems to get the point. One of the craziest manifestations of Judaic chauvinism and delusions of ‘Chosenness’, mediated in the West through their unparalled media and political control, an outgrowth of their money power, is the demand that the Likudnick mentality becomes the arbiter of the conscience and morality of the world. The ‘Holocaust’ is to be a global secular religion, the Jews again ‘Chosen’ as the only people to have suffered a ‘genocide’, so defined as to remove from consideration all the other mass murders of history. The Noachite laws are to be inserted into as many constitutional and legal structures as possible, making Judaic morality the basis of jurisprudence and governance. Hollywood, naturally, will go on representing Jews as lovable chaps, and Arabs, and Moslems, and Palestinians in particular, as savages.
    Now I certainly see some admirable features in Judaic custom and law, along with many I find deplorable. I’d say that is true, for me at least, for every culture. However I see the increasing dominance and assertion of one tiny group, and their incessant hectoring, vilification and intimidation of all who dare question them in any way, as frankly mad. While I find it perfectly understandable that the Jews are armed to the teeth, what with their recent history, I see no reason to allow that history to give them carte blanche to mercilessly oppress another people for sixty years, while hysterically demanding the world’s adoration. I see no reason to allow Jews, or any other tiny tribal or social or religious group, to so dominate the world, that entire legislatures, as in the US and most of the West, are entirely in their pockets. Such a circumstance is immoral, untenable and can only lead to increased resentment of Judaic power and influence, even amongst those with no ‘anti-Semitic’ tendencies. The Jews need to wake up to the scourge they are fashioning for their own backs, through their arrogance, presumption and intransigence. The refusal to make a proper peace with the Palestinians will exacerbate every tendency that will lead to Israel’s eventual destruction, an avoidable tragedy, but one that seems ordained by a malignant fate.

  9. bozh said on June 2nd, 2009 at 6:27am #

    if euro jews are indeed decsendants of hebrews and having willingly abandoned not only hebrew names but also the hebrew language spoken by yahweh to moshe, i can’t see how yahweh or moshe [once moshiach comes around] can ever forgive euro hebrews for abandoning the holy language.

    in addition to moshiach; jesus and mahdi, will also land; probably at the same instant. And since we wld still have the three gods: Yahweh, jesus, and allah, things cld get even uglier.

    at that time, ‘jews’, being impostors as my label implies, wld find selves in a hellish situation.tnx bozhidar balkas vancouver