As former citrus grove worker Ismail Abu Shehadeh reminded me, “you must wipe 1948 from your mind. Four thousand bombs were dropped on Jaffa — and it was a small place. Forgetting is a blessing from God.” Better for the old not to bring up the past, not to remember.
Sixty unarmed protestors were killed last month by Israeli military on the Gaza border, on the day that the US inaugurated its new embassy in Jerusalem, outraging the world; the Palestinians had been, in part, commemorating the Nakba, the catastrophe of the displacement of so many from the new state of Israel 70 years ago. The Great March of Return movement argues for the refugees’ right to come back to their ancestral lands. Yet some communities never left.
Staying in an Arab area south of Tel Aviv, I realized that Christian and Muslim Arabs and Jewish Israelis were, despite the divisive policies and rightward march of the Israeli government, still living together in a microcosm of what was once a very diverse part of the world. I’d been uneasy about travelling to Israel, and my pregnant wife and I were worried when, on our first afternoon, we heard that a Palestinian man had driven a truck into a crowd in Jerusalem and killed four young Israeli soldiers. We had found our apartment, which was in Ajami, a rundown district near the port of Jaffa, and our host, who lived next door with four generations of her Arab Christian family, welcomed us kindly with coffee in a sunny courtyard amid citrus trees in fruit. She was over 70, and had probably been a small child when her homeland ceased to exist. I had not expected to find anyone like her in modern Israel.
After seven decades of attempting to replace one people with another, Zionism faces the unsustainability of such a project in the 21st century. . . . It is losing that battle today, which is a cause for optimism for those who seek peace with justice for Palestinians and Israelis.
With the replacement of Palestine by Israel and the expulsion of most of its Arab population in 1948, it appeared that the Zionist dream had become a reality. A Jewish state had arisen, and there was no competing Palestinian state; ethnic cleansing had produced a massive demographic transformation, and the land of all those “absent” Arabs could be appropriated.
The Zionists’ hope and expectation was that the refugees would simply disappear, and even the memory that this had been an Arab-majority country for more than a millennium could be effaced. As Golda Meir put it, “There were no such thing as Palestinians. . . . They did not exist.” It seemed that the colonial-settler ideal had been realized: The natives were gone, there was plenty of space, their beautiful stone houses could be repurposed, and their “khummus” could be rebranded and mispronounced.
“Today, a film like ‘Khirbet Khizeh’ would be impossible. You won’t be jailed for it, but the subject of the Nakba” — the Arabic term for the “catastrophe” of Palestinian expulsion and exile, in 1948 — “cannot be mentioned unless you want to be branded a ‘leftist.’ ”
— Rogel Alpher, television critic for Haaretz
In 1949, Yizhar Smilansky, a young Israeli veteran, national legislator, and novelist writing under the pen name S. Yizhar, published “Khirbet Khizeh,” a novella about the destruction of a lightly fictionalized Palestinian village near Ashkelon, some thirty miles south of Tel Aviv.
Writing from the point of view of a disillusioned Israeli soldier, Yizhar describes the Army’s capture of the village and the expulsion of its remaining inhabitants. The time is 1948, the moment of Israel’s independence and its subsequent victory over five invading Arab armies that had hoped to erase the fledgling Jewish state from the map.
It would be forty years before the New Historians — Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim, and Simha Flapan among them — marshalled the nerve and the documentary evidence required to shatter the myth that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs had all voluntarily “abandoned” their cities and villages.
“We only took a few utensils to use for food preparation, we didn’t take many clothes, and we left our jewelry back at our home. We thought we would be back in a few days.”
— Hawwa told Al Jazeera.
In a rush, Hawwa al-Khawaja and her daughter Khawla stepped off a bus as it pulled over at the entrance of what was once the village they called home. The elder Khawaja stood there greeting others who had arrived on the buses that followed, just as she used to greet her village’s visitors as a young woman before 1948.
“Welcome, welcome to al-Thahiryeh,” the 90-year-old said. “We apologize for not having a home to welcome you in.”
Since 1948, there have been no homes or residents in the destroyed village of al-Thahiryeh, which lies southeast of the city of al-Lydd. That year, Zionist forces pushed out Palestinian families living in the village, before destroying every inch of it. Al-Thahiryeh was one of 500 villages that faced the same fate in what became known as the ethnic cleansing of at least 800,000 Palestinians.
On Wednesday, Hawwa al-Khawaja returned to al-Thahiryeh for the first time, but only for a few hours.
If the demonstrations continue, and Israel responds the way it did today, there is a significant risk that the death count will rise, and an already complicated situation will get worse.
Israeli troops opened fire Friday at Palestinians near the Gaza Strip’s border with the Jewish state, killing at least 15 people and wounding many more. The numbers came from the Palestinian health ministry, which put the number of those injured at more than 1,000.
The Palestinian demonstration at the border, dubbed the Great March of Return, was billed as peaceful and nonviolent. Protesters pitched tents near the border with Israel and demanded that refugees be allowed to return to homes they left behind in 1948 during the creation of the state of Israel. Israel, which estimates that 17,000 Palestinians have gathered near the border at six locations, said its troops were enforcing “a closed military zone.” The Israeli army also said it opened fire toward the “main instigators” of what it called rioters who were “rolling burning tires and hurling stones at the security fence and at” Israeli troops. Israel had warned Gaza residents against protesting, and said Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza, was “cynically” sending women and children “to the security fence and endangering their lives.”
The date the protest began, March 30, is the anniversary of Land Day, a 1976 event in which Israelis killed six Palestinians who were protesting the confiscation of their lands. The protests are expected to last until May 15, the anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel, which the Palestinians view as a “naqba” or “catastrophe” for their people.
“There is fear that the situation might deteriorate in the coming days.”
— Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, assistant UN secretary general for political affairs
Gaza hospitals, running low on blood and overstretched by the huge number of wounded, were reeling after one of the enclave’s bloodiest days outside of open war, in which Israeli soldiers shot 773 people with live ammunition, according to the ministry of health.
Fifteen of the wounded died, said the ministry spokesperson Dr Ashraf al-Qidra. “Most of the dead were aged between 17 and 35 years old,” he said. “The injuries were on the upper part of the body.” He added that the remainder of the wounded, some of whom were in a critical condition, had been “shot with live ammunition.”
The violence erupted on Friday after mass demonstrations took place demanding the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to land in Israel.
The “Nakba” (“catastrophe” in Arabic) refers to the mass expulsion of Palestinian Arabs from British Mandate Palestine during Israel’s creation (1947–49).
The Nakba was not an unintended result of war. It was a deliberate and systematic act necessary for the creation of a Jewish majority state in historic Palestine, which was overwhelmingly Arab prior to 1948.
The Nakba’s roots lay in the emergence of political Zionism in 19th-Century Europe, when some Jews, influenced by the nationalism then sweeping the continent, began emigrating as colonists to the Holy Land, displacing indigenous Palestinians in the process.
The Nakba did not end in 1948. It continues today, in the form of Israel’s ongoing appropriation of Palestinian land for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and for Jewish communities inside Israel.
Tomorrow, Palestinians in Gaza will take part in the March of Return to mark the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic), when some 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed to make way for a Jewish-majority state of Israel. Many of the participants will be Nakba survivors and their descendants, who have been denied their internationally-recognized legal right of return to the lands they were expelled from during Israel’s establishment.
Israel has flagged the drones, tear gas, sniper fire, even tanks it will employ against thousands of Palestinians planning to approach the Gaza border. But confronting a PR campaign with the language of force only invites disaster.
Israel needs to prepare for the coming celebration and marching season with an extensive public diplomacy effort, not only to celebrate our own independence, but to give those that wish to mourn, the room to do so.
The Palestinians are planning and producing a huge PR event. The stage is set, and the curtain will be drawn this Friday, March 30th. Organizations in Gaza are initiating a series of events that will challenge Israel on the ground, physically and militarily, but their real intended target is the public arena.
As Israel organizes its own public relations opportunities in celebration of its 70-year anniversary, complete with a bonus additional PR event, the opening of the new American embassy in Jerusalem, the Palestinians plan to march.
Palestinians in Gaza intend to kick off their series of events by erecting “return camps,” tent campsites along the area bordering Israel. Some assessments have suggested Hamas is going to rally around 100,000 people along the border area in a huge show of force. . . .
Over the last few days, reports in the Israeli media have multiplied about how the security forces will confront the oncoming demonstrations and riots. Various means of riot dispersal, dropped from drones; tear gas; water cannons; targeted sniper fire against the main instigators; and even reports of tanks being deployed along the Israel-Gaza border. . . .
What appears to be lacking from the Israeli preparation is the response to the political challenge.
“The decision of the US administration to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to choose the anniversary of the Nakba of the Palestinian people for carrying out this step expresses a flagrant violation of the law.”
— Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization
Sheldon G. Adelson, one of the most hawkish supporters of Israel among American Jews, has offered to help fund the construction of a new American Embassy in Jerusalem, according to the State Department, which on Friday said it was reviewing whether it could legally accept the donation.
The total price tag to build the new embassy to replace the current one in Tel Aviv is estimated at around $500 million, according to one former State Department official. While private donors have previously paid for renovations to American ambassadors’ overseas residences, Mr. Adelson’s contribution would be likely to far surpass those gifts — and could further strain American diplomacy in the Middle East.
Before the embassy is built, the Trump administration plans to open a temporary one in Jerusalem. On Friday, it said that it was accelerating the projected opening in time to mark the 70th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel on May 14.
The new [Polish] law, which criminalizes any researcher who dares publish the truth [about Polish involvement in the Holocaust], is an attempt at historical revisionism. . . . So how is this law any different from the [Israeli] Nakba Law, which would withhold state funds from cultural and educational institutions that commemorate the horrors that befell the Palestinians in 1948?
The responses coming from Israel to the new Polish law, which forbids discussing war crimes committed by the Polish people during the holocaust, are nothing if not paradoxical. While the Israeli establishment, from the Right to the Left, denies the identity, history, and catastrophe of the Palestinian people, it reprimands those who deny responsibility for the fate of the Jews during the Holocaust.
The Holocaust, a monstrous, well-planned genocide, was possible not only because of the Nazis’ nightmarishly meticulous implementation, but also because those who stood aside as it was happening. The Germans had willing accomplices, including many Poles, who took an active part in the persecution and murder. The history books talk about the “hunt for the Jews,” which led to the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews, both directly and indirectly, during the Second World War.