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FM Livni, the Nakba is not going to disappear!
By Dror Etkes
May 18, 2008
Translated by Sol Salbe / Middle East News Service
The only way to dissipate the power and the pivotal role of the Nakba in Palestinian discourse is to actually recognise it. The Nakba’s role in the creation of the Palestinian national identity is evocative of the role given by the Israeli political establishment to the Holocaust.
The events marking the state’s 60th anniversary celebrations, of which the President’s Conference was meant to be one of the high spots, served to focus attention on a crucial contradiction. On one hand we have the democratic ethos and the pretension to be “a light unto the nations”. On the other hand we have the gloomy political reality. And the gap between the two is increasing.
The clearest expression of this gap can be seen in the inability of the Israeli political establishment to accept even a modicum of responsibility for choices made and actions taken by the state, both past and present. A good example of this attitude was unintentionally provided by one of the conference’s invitees, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. During the concluding session, the one devoted to “a vision of Israel ’s future”, she said that “the Palestinians will be able to celebrate their independence day on the same day that the word Nakba [catastrophe] is erased from their lexicon”.
One must hope that millions of Palestinians scattered around the world have been reading their newspapers in recent days. After all, it is not every day that a senior Israeli political personality lays down the line on what is required from the Palestinians in order to obtain their yearned-for independence. Livni’s comments lead one to conclude that, as always with Israeli politicians, everything is predicated on the Palestinians’ behaviour. And if they finally update their lexicon of national values, and perhaps also start teaching bible and civic studies according to the Israeli curriculum, all the problems will be solved. The vision of the two-state solution, with Israel generously evacuating a couple of settlements, will come to fruition.
The boastful and illusory attempts by Israeli politicians to mould the Palestinian historical narrative though the erasure of those chapters that fashion the creation of their nation recall an earlier episode. We have here a tragi-pathetic rehashing of the previous Israeli canon, one that was holding sway until a decade and a half ago. That was the notion there does not exist, and has never been, such a thing as the Palestinian people. According to this version of history, upon which people of Livni’s generation were raised, there was an amorphous collection of people, the majority of whom were Bedouin, who arrived in the 19th century and who went under the collective name of “Arabs” -- and that’s all. Those particular Arabs are supposed to feel a deep sense of gratitude to the Zionist enterprise that has drained the coastal swamps, built by-pass roads and provided places of employment for them.
There is continuing denial [in Israel ] of the Palestinian Arabs’ Nakba and a demand that they obliterate it and give up any affinity to all the parts of the land which they call Palestine . This is the same land that the Jewish community here call the Land Of Israel, But the Nakba denial and the foregoing demand provide the ultimate proof of the moral immaturity of Israeli society on its 60th birthday. This is an expression of the State of Israel ’s obstinate refusal to recognise the complex circumstances of its own formation. It is an ongoing denial of the fundamental historical fact that there is more to the history of this land than one continuous line from God’s promise to Abraham and the formation of the state of Israel . Those intermediate “trivial” chapters have left their mark upon both the landscape and culture of this land. This stubborn insistence is an expression of a steadfast determination to hang on to our victim status. This in turn allows us Israelis to observe the world from a standpoint of a subject who has no control over his/her destiny and who therefore is unaccountable for his/her actions.
The denial of the right of the Palestinians to remember and grieve for their disaster in turn strengthens the dominant destructive forces among them. They too cling to their status as an offended victim, and refuse to accept any responsibility for their actions and choices in recent decades. But beyond that, the continuing denial of the Nakba by Israel prevents the absolutely necessary dialogue about the way in which one day it may be possible to deal with the questions that have been hanging around for 60 years between Arabs and Jews about the connection and ownership of this land.
The Nakba’s role in the creation of the Palestinian national identity is evocative of the role given by the Israeli political establishment to the Holocaust in the creation of Israeli identity and consciousness. The only way to dissipate the power and pivotal role of the Nakba is actually to recognise it. What is certain is that hobnobbing with billionaires, celebrities and fashionable philosophers who remind us of our status as long-suffering but cute, is not going to advance this aim even slightly.
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