Yesterday marked the 66th year since the Nakba, or “catastrophe” for Palestinian people living in present-day Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and in diaspora around the world. While Israeli Jews celebrate their independence day, increasing outspoken commemoration of the other side of independence is taking place throughout Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel proper. The popular myth believed by many in the U.S. about Israel revolves around the idea of “a people without a land returning to their holy land” in a procession similar to the whitewashed version of American history in which European settlers arrived at a mostly empty land and went about making it home. The problem with both of these narratives is that they fail to mention just how not-empty the promised land was when they got there. In 1948, more than 750,000 Palestinian Arabs were displaced by the military directly or voluntarily, with the intention to return home, after hearing stories of violent displacement in other nearby villages.
If you temporarily left home, you would bring your keys with you to open the door upon your return. Today, many of the descendants of the 1948 refugees, in the third or fourth generation removed from the Nakba, still have these keys and keep them as a symbol of their intention to return home. Almost a year ago, I was able to visit the West Bank and saw one of the few villages that was evacuated, but not demolished, Lifta. The grandchildren of the people who lived, loved, worked, argued, and played here still live nearby in many cases, but are unable to see what would have been their home due to the occupation. Without knowing the history, the ruins of the buildings overgrown with cacti and flowers appears very beautiful. After learning the story behind it though, it becomes more difficult to enjoy the sight of the old stone homes and roads.
Just like Americans in the West who were raised on a narrative of progress and westward expansion that left out the genocide of the Native population that predicated it, Israeli Jews have been insulated from the ugly history of their nation’s founding by a culture of fear and nationalism. Former Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff Moshe Dayan summed up the strategy of erasing history selectively when he said, “Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist, not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either…There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab Population.” The restriction of information about the Nakba was an intentional decision to dehumanize the population of Palestinians further in the eyes of Jewish settlers. Increasingly, the Jewish population in Israel is being confronted with the suppressed story of the Nakba. A culture of fear and nationalism has kept the story skewed for nearly seventy years, but with wider access to information and huge nonviolent action by Palestinian neighbors with growing international solidarity movements, it has become more difficult to ignore.
To learn more about the ongoing Nakba displacing people from their homes and denying their right to return, and about strategies to end this oppression, check out these links and photos:
Younes Arar has an excellent ongoing photo documentation of Palestinian resistance on Facebook here.
If you have other great resources, please include them in the comments!