A Palestinian man overlooks a school in a refugee camp, 1948. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
My sisters and brothers the refugees of Palestinian, today is the 15th of May, the Nakba Day, and I have one request from you; a heartfelt request from the son of occupiers, as an occupier, to those who paid the price for this occupation.
No, I do not ask for forgiveness for the occupation, or the destruction and expulsion that occurred in the Nakba of 1948. I can’t really expect forgiveness for these horrors, not in the true sense of forgiveness, the religious or spiritual sense. And since this forgiveness cannot truly take place, so can Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation occur only as a political and cultural settlement that will allow us to stop the killing and the mutual fear (and this mutuality does not mean symmetry, because it absolutely does not exist between the sides). Religious forgiveness belongs, therefore, to a different dimension, an unrealistic dimension utopian to a radical degree. This perhaps is a Platonic idea or guiding principle that guides us in the right direction that we must strive towards even if we’ll never get there.
Therefore, my request is more modest, and I hope that you could relate to it because without it I will not be able to continue to hope and to believe that it is possible to live in this land. And by “living” I mean really living, in the true sense of the word—to speak its language, to know its history, not just to conquer it, to turn it into a myth, to be afraid in and to want to be someplace else, which is not this land, when a good opportunity happens to come up, to run away to foreign lands (always in a Western direction) in every opportunity…
My request is, therefore, that you persist and will not give up your right to return.
It might sound a little strange because who am I to ask of you to insist on your own rights, the basic right of people who were uprooted from their land and their homes. But despite this, despite how awkward or absurd this request may be, despite it sounds as minefield, I insist. Please, you and your children, don’t ever give up your right to return. Not (only) for yourselves but for me also. Do you understand? If you give up this right all chance for a just life in this land will be lost and I will be sentenced to the shameful life of an eternal occupier, armed from the soles of my feet to the depths of my soul and always afraid, like all colonizers. From my point of view dangerous things might happen to us, the Israelis, if it happened that you, the Palestinian refugees, give up your right to return. If that day arrives, the day where you give up your right of return, the great haters of the Jews will be able to celebrate their ultimate victory. When the Jewish Israelis’ position as conquerors and bringers of woe will be made permanent, their haters will prove that they were right when they blamed them for having a badly damaged humanity .
Our humanity is bound up with your right to return. The day we expelled you from your land you carried a part of it with you. Only when you can return we will be able to restore our humanity. It is hard for us to continue in this way, with damaged humanities. It doesn’t mean that all our humanity has left us, but, as you know, we were left mainly with vulgarity, condescension, militarism and fear. Yes, we have some beautiful things but about real humanity occupiers cannot even dream of. Actually to dream of it may be possible. About a life in cooperation with you here in our shared land. It is a beautiful and moving dream.
In my dream I see a life in cooperation with my friends, Palestinian refugees, who have exponentially grown in numbers ever since I started to learn and teach about the Nakba. From then, many places here have ceased being (only) training grounds for the army, JNF forests, national parks, ancient Jewish towns, ancient ruins, Crusader fortresses, liberated towns, picturesque villages, empty wilderness…
Miska, Qula, Bir’im, Saffuriyya, al-Ghabisiyya, ‘Ayn Ghazal, Yaffa, Haifa, Tabaria, Ijzim, Dair Yassin, Safsaf, Ijlil, Qaqun, ‘Innaba, al-Lajjun, al-Ghubayyat, and more – Israel destroyed an entire life, an entire page of civilization, in destroying these places. For me these places have a real face, one that I met personally, and there are many refugees that are demanding their right to return to them.
When you return these empty towns and villages will be filled with people, they will be bursting with life and will stop being only a testimony for death and sad memories as they have been for 62 years. Filling up these spaces will also fill up the empty space in my own humanity.
Your right to return is my opportunity and that of all Israelis to begin restoring our humanity.
Eitan Bronstein is the Executive Director of the the Israeli NGO Zochrot. Zochrot’s aim is to promote awareness of the Palestinian Nakba and their slogan is "To commemorate, witness, acknowledge, and repair."