May 25, 2011 by IJV
Over the last week Israel had to face the Palestinian Nakba Day. Fixed on May 15, chosen as the day following the creation of Israel, this date has become a symbol for Palestinians in Israel, in the Occupied Territories, in refugee camps, as well as worldwide, to commemorate the dispossession of more than 600,000 Palestinians over the years 1947 and 1948. Israel has never taken any responsibility for this dispossession and for its outcomes: most importantly the fate of about five million Palestinians living today outside their original villages, towns and cities. As a matter of fact, in Israeli-Jewish society, topics such as the connection between the creation of Israel and the Palestinian refugee problem, let alone to the Palestinian Right of Return, have become a taboo. Too sensitive to be genuinely discussed, Israelis have instead adopted a more comfortable version of history, according to which the Palestinian refugees are those who “decided” to leave their homes during the 1948 War, and because they left they have not been allowed back.
I came back from a conference inSarajevoon May 15. Already on the way from the airport to Tel Aviv I heard in the radio that the Israeli army had opened fire on Palestinian demonstrators. It all started when Palestinian refugees in Syria protested next to the border with Israel demanding their right of return. A few hundreds of them cut through the fence and entered intoIsrael, or – to be more accurate – into the Golan Heights which was a Syrian land occupied in 1967 byIsrael. They ran through the mine field that separates the two countries and entered Majdal Shams, a Druze village in theGolan Heights. Four of them were shot dead by the army. Many were returned to Syria. One of them, Hassan Hijazi, succeeded in making the long journey to Jaffa, where his father and grandfather were born. Upon arrival he began to search for his family’s original house in the city and also walked to the Jaffa beach about which he had heard so much. “It was my dream to reach Jaffa” he said before surrendering to the Israeli police.
On my way to work the following day I heard on the Israeli radio a few original ways to divert the debate from Hijazi’s actual problem. The spokesperson of the IDF, for example, did not perceive the Palestinian demonstrations as an outcome of Palestinian suffering and political longing for their homeland. Instead, we were told that the IDF sees “fingerprints of Iranian provocation” in the events.
I changed stations on the radio and was unlucky enough to hear a debate with a Professor from TelAviv University, the radio station’s correspondent on Arab affairs. The broadcaster began the debate asking “why do you think the Palestinians in theWest Bankwho allegedly suffer more than other Palestinians from what is called ‘Nakba’ did not demonstrate on May 15?” It was quite a telling question: it placed Nakba in an ‘as it called’ paradigm, and also presupposed that living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank is worse than living in a refugee camp or in any other location far away from home, be it Lebanon, Jordan, Syria or the UK. The correspondent on Arab affairs had a knockout answer for this. He explained that these demonstrations were not organised and created by Palestinians but by the Syrian regime in an attempt to switch the attention of the world from the demonstrations inSyriato the Palestinian problem.
I had had enough. At work I could read the newspapers, which – except Ha’aretz – put Nakba in inverted commas. They were thus able to deal with the events of the previous day with a pinch of salt, or actually with salt alone. I was looking for an article that speaks about international law and the right of refugees or for an interview with an Israeli academic who researched the events during the 1948 War and who could shed light on the dispossession of the Palestinians. I was searching for one article about any Palestinian family who lives in Jordan, or Syria, or Lebanon, or London, and who can give the Israeli-Jewish reader a Palestinian view about their life as refugees, and about how they see the future resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and of the Right of Return. There was not one to be found.
On the way back from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, at a traffic light, a few young men with white shirts knocked on my window. They were members of the right-wing movement Im Tirzu handing out to drivers a sticker and a booklet entitled Nakba is Kharta (meaning: ‘Nakba is Nonsense’). The sticker has an illustration of an Arab man, with a kaffiyeh on his head, who is winking. The title Nakba is Kharta with this illustration leaves no place for confusion: according to Im Tirzu the Palestinian “narrative” is a fraud, they are trying to fool the world with their accusations. The Nakba is Kharta campaign, I later discovered, had been taking place for a few days already and was published on the most popular websites and newspapers in Israel. Very sad to see how a country so obsessed with people having been historically denied its own rights is also able to deny the tragedy of others.
Just before I arrived back to Tel Aviv I heard on the radio an interview with a Jewish-Israeli who emigrated in the 1960s from Libya. “Can you please tell us how you were expelled from your house?” asked the interviewer. “Can you tell us whether you were allowed to take your property with you?” she continued. “Can you tell us whether you still have possessions inLibya?” The Libyan-Jewish interviewee gave her all the “right” answers and explained that the expulsion of the Jews from Arab lands was horrible and that they left behind at least as much as the Palestinians did. The aim of the interview was clear, but for me – a bit naïve you may say – it was shocking to see the lack of courage shown by Israeli-Jewish society. It was sad to see how in a period of a few day, when Palestinians were demonstrating non-violently for their rights, Israelis were eager to speak about everything which is beyond and around and next to and on top of the Nakba, but never about the Nakba itself, and never without inverted commas.
In the evening news I heard the military correspondent of Channel 10, Alon Ben David, analysing what happened on the border and the crossing of the demonstrators into the Golan Heights. He was asked from the studio what is the lesson that should be learnt from this. He could have mentioned that the protests will not stop until a just solution for the Palestinian refugees is found, or thatIsraelshould learn that military force is not a response to the political demands of the Palestinians. Instead, he had another lesson that he thought worth mentioning. “Israel must place more landmines in the minefield of the Israeli-Syrian border so that next time the demonstrators will not cross that easily”. Shocking indeed, but quite representative of Israeli discourse: don’t ask why they shout, ask how we can mute them.