The Nakba and Remembrance
16 May 2012 § 3 Comments
The Nakba is often described in Western media as what the Palestinians call the creation of Israel. If this were a fairer world, the absurdity would be self-evident of casting the single most important event in the history of the Palestinians as a people in terms of Israel. But this is not a fair world.
The Nakba is not what Palestinians call the creation of Israel. The Nakba is our word for the systematic ethnic cleansing of over 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, their lands, and their country. It began before the State of Israel was declared on May 15, 1948 (cf Qisarya and Sa’sa’), and it continued into the 1950s (cf. Majdal Asqalan). Every May 15 since then, we’ve commemorated and remembered the suffering we endured during that time.
My mother’s father was born in the town of Ramleh. He lived there for the first decade and a half of his life. This was the home he grew up in.
In 1948, my grandfather and his family were among the 70,000 Palestinians who were forced to leave Ramleh, the neighboring town of Lydda, and the surrounding villages. He died in 1987, having returned only once in the 1970s for a brief visit with family members who had remained in the town. A Jewish family now lives in this house. Neither my grandfather’s parents, nor he or any of his siblings ever received so much as a cent in compensation. They certainly never received acknowledgement for their losses.
Too many times, I and so many other Palestinians have been told to move on, to stop living in the past. The privileged persons who lecture us do not acknowledge that we are unable to let go of the Nakba because it never ended. A common saying among Palestinians is, “The Nakba is ongoing/continues” (al Nakba mustamirra in Arabic). The ethnic cleansing and dispossession never stopped after the end of the war in 1948. I’ve already mentioned cases like Majdal, where ethnic cleansing continued even without the excuse of war. But after Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, it also expelled another 300,000 from their homes, many of whom had also been victims of the Nakba 20 years earlier. And of course, nowadays, Israeli courts evict Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem in a cruel system masquerading as rule of law, while the Israeli army demolishes homes, schools, and other buildings inside and outside the Green Line.
How can we let go when everyday, every hour, every minute Israel gives us another reason to mourn? No other people would be expected to forsake the remembrance of their immense losses, certainly not while they continue to undergo them. The Palestinian people are no different. We remember because it’s our duty to our parents and grandparents, who have never been able to return to the homes they grew up in, to the streets where they played, to the fields they tilled with their hands. We remember because it’s our duty to the Palestinians who suffer dispossession today, in towns like Bil’in, al Araqib, and East Jerusalem and in the refugee camps of Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.
David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel and one of the architects of the Nakba, once observed of the plight of the refugees: “The old will die, and the young will forget.” We remember because remembering is an act of resistance — perhaps the most important act of resistance — against our dispossession by the State of Israel.