Denying the Palestinian Nakba: Sixty Years is Enough
What is happening in Gaza today is not a humanitarian crisis; rather, it is another Nakba, another war. Israel will continue to escalate its atrocities and intensify its siege in the hope that Gazans will flee to Egypt—this time, once and for all. Israeli Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit has suggested annihilating a Gaza neighborhood in response to Qassam fire on Sderot. And he is considered a moderate compared to other Israeli ministers!
This year Palestinians will mark 60 years since the beginning of the Nakba, the events of 1948 that resulted in the occupation of the Palestinian land and the expulsion of its people. But the Nakba is not simply an historical event of the past. It is a deliberate program, a process, of occupation, transfer and genocide of the Palestinian’s national identity to create an empty land to be populated by Jewish immigrants.
In 1948, it was possible to attack unarmed Palestinian villagers in the night, to terrify, kill and rape. Today, in a century that pretends to be more civilized and in a more globalized world, the tactic of choice is to make the lives of Palestinians worse than death, by denying them water, electricity, food and medicine, so that they will be forced to “voluntarily” leave their homeland.
The complicity of the countries of the region and the world in the siege of Gaza is evident. Indeed, even those who break the silence to speak about a “humanitarian crises” in Gaza are complicit, however unwittingly: for the people of Gaza are not suffering from the aftereffects of a tsunami, earthquake or other natural disaster. Their “humanitarian crisis” is the result of Israel’s political will and the acquiescence of the international community.
We are promised peace by the end of 2008, but all we see and experience are oppression and war. The so-called “peace process” is merely a vehicle for political expediency that favors the perpetrators of our national dispersion. At conference after conference, summit after summit, the Palestinian Nakba is consigned to oblivion; it is not alluded to in peace talks, and no lessons are deduced from it. Every diplomat or politician who comes to the region visits the Yad Vashim Holocaust museum, but no one bothers to look toward neighboring Deir Yassin, the site of one of the Nakba’s most ominous massacres.
As those who insist “Never again!” understand, denial is a symbolic process of negating the dignity of the survivors of an atrocity as well as the responsibility of its perpetrators. Such denial not only affects the past and the present, but has implications for the future, as it not only jeopardizes the chance for a genuine reconciliation but possibly increases the risk of a repeat occurrence.
The Jewish state as well as individual Israelis share responsibility not only for the Nakba itself but for the determination to deny it. The claim by some Israelis that only politicians are to blame for the Nakba is unfounded, as many cultural, religious and professional figures and institutions have colluded with the fundamentally evil Israeli occupation. In many instances, academics and professionals have lent their skills, talents and prestige to oppressive ideologies and practices that are central features of the occupation. Who, for example, advises torturers on the right dosage, timing and means of torture of Palestinian detainees? Psychiatrists and psychologists like my teachers, my colleagues and myself. Those professionals have repudiated their ethical codes and oaths to serve as tools of the occupation. Academics and historians have made a career out of denial of the Nakba, attempting to reshape history in order to absolve the perpetrators and demonize the victims.
Because those in denial pretend to be asleep, they are very difficult to awaken. One strategy they employ is the angry denial of facts, of the veracity of the horrific stories of deliberate state terrorism. Another is acknowledgment of the objective facts, but without repentance. The Israeli historian Benny Morris, for example, has documented the cruel deeds committed by the Zionist enterprise: the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians, the massacres, the raping of Palestinian women to “cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads.” Yet he neither condemns nor denounces these atrocities. Instead, he has said, “I don’t think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands.
“Ben-Gurion was right,” Morris concludes. “If he had not done what he did, a state would not have come into being.”
Since so much of our war is psychological, it’s no wonder that the psychological element is also key to peace. A universal acknowledgement of the Nakba, like that of the Holocaust, apartheid, slavery and other human-made horrors, is a crucial component of achieving peace in the region. Such acknowledgment must include the honest admission that such a past did indeed exist, the attempt to remedy to the fullest possible extent the wrongs that have been committed, and a sincere effort to move toward reconstructing the future after processing history and learning to live with the past. While this acknowledgment can never undo what has been done, it allows for extending reverence and grace toward the victims, establishing a momentum toward healing wounded histories and memories, and, ultimately, creating a new reality. In other words, it promotes a restorative, rather than a retributive, justice.
An open acknowledgement of the evil and immoral acts committed against the Palestinian people is a prerequisite for the psychological rehabilitation of Palestinians and Israelis alike. Nakba survivors must be heard, their stories recognized and their rights restored. Because justice is a requirement for, rather than an alternative to, reconciliation, Israeli perpetrators must admit their wrongs and request amnesty. Why not a Nuremburg Tribunal or a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for all of us? The latter certainly was key to South Africa’s successful transformation from an apartheid to a democratic state that today is a welcome and respected member of the international community.
The current threats to the people and existence of Gaza create not the slightest ripple in the world. Despite the fact that we live in an information-saturated era, people and nations display a breathtaking ability to deny reality. They assume the role of passive bystander, waiting for someone else to act and assume responsibility. As a result, entire communities can become incapacitated and paralyzed.
Information alone is not sufficient to counter denial. In fact, it seems that increased information, an abundance of images and numbers and historical evidence only intensify people’s denial and refusal to accept the implications of the facts before them. We know that when the conscious mind decides that something is just too overwhelming to contemplate, the individual suppresses the memory of that event—
but how can we suppress memories of killings that are being repeated before our eyes today?
Palestinians do not care what Israelis tell their grandchildren who demand to know where they were during the Nakba. Those who are ashamed of their actions or inaction but are in denial will simply reply, “I didn’t know,” “I didn’t do it,” or “I couldn’t do anything to stop it.”
What matters to Palestinians is that 60 years are too much, and that denial of the Nakba must come to an end.
Let’s make this year a unique opportunity to break the cycle of denial, and join the handful of people who have already decided to stop being passive bystanders. This will require the collective determination of solidarity movements around the world to launch a truth movement and mobilize for an end-the-Nakba campaign. As we embark on the process to achieve closure of a cruel and oppressive past, we can simultaneously work toward a future of reconstruction and reconciliation.