Nakba - Not a Dirty Word

Amaya Galili
Originally Published in Hebrew: Ynet
Translation by Charles Kamen:
May 1, 2009

“Where will you be for the holiday? Are you going to the celebrations in town? To a picnic in the Carmel Forest? It’s really beautiful there! Won’t you come? Everyone’s going.” A few years ago I would have joined them; a picnic out in the country – what could be wrong with that? But something changed. People around me are celebrating, but I’m not.

Once, at one of the picnics, I came across the remains of an old building with a blue dome. I discovered that it had belonged to the village of Ein Ghazal. IDF soldiers expelled its Palestinian residents on 26.7.1948, Israel prevented them from returning, and planted the Carmel Coast Forest among the ruins of the buildings it demolished. It was difficult to see the remains, but once I did I could no longer ignore them - the ruins of villages where people lived until 1948.

The nakba (which means “great catastrophe” in Arabic) began in 1948, when the Zionists began to expel most of the Palestinian inhabitants, to demolish their homes and erase the rich Palestinian culture. The nakba continues today with destruction of Palestinian buildings, mosques and cemeteries, expropriation of land for the benefit of Israeli Jews, institutionalized discrimination, refusal to allow Palestinian refugees to return home, military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, systematic killings in Gaza, most of whose residents are refugees, and more. We don’t want to see or hear any of this, and certainly not on Independence Day.

As I spoke with people about the nakba, and learned more about it, I began to ask myself questions and began to get worried. A crack opened in what I had known, and in my identity. The crack made me continue questioning. This educational process allows me to rethink my life here. The nakba isn’t only the Palestinian’s memory and history. It’s also an event that is a part of my individual and collective memory and identity as an Israeli.

The Israeli collective memory emphasizes the Jewish-national history of the country, and mostly denies its Palestinian past. We, as a society and as individuals, are unwilling to accept responsibility for the injustice done to the Palestinians, which allows us to continue living here. But who decided that’s the only way we can live here? The society we’re creating is saturated with violence and racism. Is this the society in which we want to live? What good does it do to avoid responsibility? What does that prevent us from doing?

Learning about the nakba gives me back a central part of my being, one that has been erased from Israeli identity, from our surroundings, from Israeli education and memory. Learning about the nakba allows me to live here with open eyes, and develop a different set of future relationships in the country, a future of mutual recognition and reconciliation between all those connected to this place.

Accepting responsibility for the nakba and its ongoing consequences obligates me to ask hard questions about the establishment of Israeli society, particularly about how we live today. I want to accept responsibility, to correct this reality, to change it. Not say, “There’s no choice. This is how we’ve survived for 61 years, and that’s how we’ll keep surviving.” It’s not enough for me just to “survive.” I want to live in a society that is aware of its past, and uses it to build a future that can include all the inhabitants of the country and all its refugees.

Recognizing and implementing the right of return are necessary conditions for creating that future. The refugees’ right of return is both individual and collective. Return does not mean more injustice and the expulsion of the country’s Jewish inhabitants. As has occurred elsewhere in the world, ways can be found to implement the return of the refugees without expelling the country’s current residents. That’s what should happen here, and it’s possible. Implementing the right of return will allow us, Jewish Israelis, to end our tragic role of occupiers.

Life doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. There are other alternatives. Palestinians and Jews can together build a society that is just and egalitarian. People will live sanely, not perpetually anxious and in fear of war. And then? Then we’ll really have a happy holiday.

Amaya Galil

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