Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany, and many other countries. The logic is that such a great humanitarian disaster should be remembered, and in remembering never repeated. Yet another humanitarian disaster, different, but certainly involving the population of an entire nation, still hanging over them with the spectre of obliteration from the face of the earth, in the name of race. And this disaster was caused by the very people who collectively were victims of the Holocaust. So certainly it is of great significance, something to be remembered, something to make them strive to avoid victimizing others as they were victimized. Yet almost the opposite has occurred. And so Israel denies the Palestinian Nakba ... but brave and powerful voices are speaking the unspeakable, telling the whole painful truth. And what peace or freedom can there be without truth?
In seeking understanding between Palestinians and Israelis, there are some Israelis, like Norma Musih, featured in this article, and Eitan Bronstein, founder of Zochrot ("remembering" in Hebrew), who have made it their mission to present the often-lost/denied part of Israel's formation, in particular "the expulsion and dispossession of hundreds of thousands Palestinians from their homes and land in 1948", known as the Nakba, also described here:
In 1948 more than 60 percent of the total Palestinian population was expelled.
More than 530 Palestinian villages were depopulated and completely destroyed. To date, Israel has prevented the return of approximately six million Palestinian refugees, who have either been expelled or displaced. Approximately 250,000 internally displaced Palestinian second-class citizens of Israel are prevented from returning to their homes and villages.
Norma Musih, a young teacher from Jaffa and Assistant Director and one of the founders of Zochrot, helped New Yorkers commemorate "Nakba Day" last May 15, 2007, during which she opened a dialogue about the meaning of the Nakba, reconciliation, justice, and the work of Zochrot.
In spite of death threats and other attacks and resistence, she and other members of the group are devoted to "commemorating, understanding and teaching about a subject that in Israel is plainly subversive: the Palestinian Nakba."
“At first, the Nakba was something I couldn’t understand,” Musih said. “But I felt there was something there I must face. I had to explore what that was. Now I see that the Nakba belongs to us as well as to the Palestinians. It is part of our healing process.”
In one of her exercises with children, she hands each child a card on which are the names of Palestinian villages that were destroyed, or from which Arabs were driven out. The children are to put their cards in their proper places on the map.
“One Israeli girl put back on the map the village her father had destroyed,” Musih recalled.
Here one can read about Eitan Bronstein, an Argentinian-born Israeli educator and activist, who, as Director of Zokhrot, says,
"When it comes to the Nakba and what was there before Israel was created, it's a big hole, a black hole and people don't know how to deal with it," he said. "It's perhaps the most important period of our life in this region and it's not really known."As stated on their website:
"The Zionist collective memory exists in both our cultural and physical landscape, yet the heavy price paid by the Palestinians -- in lives, in the destruction of hundreds of villages, and in the continuing plight of the Palestinian refugees -- receives little public recognition. Zochrot works to make the history of the Nakba accessible to the Israeli public so as to engage Jews and Palestinians in an open recounting of our painful common history.
"We hope that by bringing the Nakba into Hebrew, the language spoken by the Jewish majority in Israel, we can make a qualitative change in the political discourse of this region. Acknowledging the past is the first step in taking responsibility for its consequences. This must include equal rights for all the peoples of this land, including the right of Palestinians to return to their homes."
The group's compassionate and honest willingness to view the situation from the Palestinian side is crucial to achieving a lasting peace, realistically.
For Bronstein it is critical for Israelis to understand and acknowledge what happened to the Palestinians in 1948.
"1948 was the year that constructed relations between Jews and Arabs, that made it okay for Israelis to shoot Arabs in 2000," he said referring to the 13 Palestinian citizens of Israel who were shot and killed by Israeli police during a protest against Israeli practices in the Occupied Territories. "You can't understand what happened in 2000 without understanding the Nakba. Anyone who understands what happened in 1948 cannot continue to be blind."
The keyword is reconciliation, far preferable to war, even though more difficult to get people to do, especially in light of such painful historical events as Plan Dalet, the strategy Israel acted upon in which Palestinians were forcibly removed and sometimes massacred in order to form Israel as a Jewish homeland. Two-thirds of Palestinians became refugees, numbering about 700,000 or more, and "more than 100 civilians (were) killed in the village of Deir Yassin on April 9 and 200 in Tantura between May 22nd and 23rd, (1948)."
To deny this reality, and continue to attempt to bulldoze and kill their way to "victory", will surely not bring true success to Israel. Unfortunately, the easy route is the right-wing militant route, the route people always seem to fall back on, the reason people - and I'm referring to all people, since the dawn of time - always seem to end up fighting endless wars, destroying their own resources, constantly creating enemies.
Now it seems the Israelis in power want to make Gaza a killing field, label all Palestinians as "terrorists", bulldoze whole neighborhoods to make way for Jews, ethnically cleanse their new "homeland" and erase the memory of how it got there. Zokhrot keeps alive the notion that Jews are not all about decimating non-Jews, and Israel's future does not need to rely on creating an island of racially pure Judaic prosperity in a sea of Arab enmity and poverty, or forced subservience and its consequence, seething resentment.
And not all the shared Palestinian-Israeli memories are bad. As Ali Abunimah of The Christian Science Monitor, 14 May 2007, says,
My mother remembers her early childhood and the Jewish neighbors who rented the apartment her father owned. She recalls helping them on the Sabbath and playing with their daughter after school. A life such as this is no more than a distant memory for most Palestinian refugees, who, with their descendants, now number
more than 5 million.
Israel could benefit from generating neighborliness instead of enmity. In fact, they would be well-advised to erect a Nakba memorial near the Holocaust memorial. Start the healing, start being neighbors. I noticed even normally hostile Palestinian sites responding very positively to the work of Zokhrot, and the concept of being good neighbors. Want them to be less like terrorists? Try being more of a mensch.