Memo to American Jews: Discover the Nakba

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In today’s New York Times piece on how American charities are funding the settlement enterprise in Israel, Hadassah Marcus, the president of a group called the Central Fund of Israel, is quoted as saying that her group is “not a funnel. We’re trying to build a land. All we’re doing is going back to our home.”

I’m sure Marcus, who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, truly believes that what she would call “Judea and Samaria,” biblical-era names for the occupied West Bank, is really her “home.” Except that it’s not, because there are Palestinians living on that land who have lived in historic Palestine for generations and generations.

What Marcus’ comments show is that there is a great need to teach Americans, and especially American Jews, about al-Nakba, which means “the catastrophe” in Arabic and refers to the ethnic cleansing of over 700,000 Palestinians by Zionist militias in the 1947-49 Israeli-Arab war. The larger issue here is not that Marcus has bought into half-baked Jewish nationalist myths about Israel and the occupied territories, but how similar the beliefs she espouses are to mainstream Jewish teachings about Israel.

Most American Jews would find someone saying that Israel is their “homeland” normal. American Jews, myself included, were raised in synagogues and families that propagated these Zionist myths about the “homeland.”

These beliefs are not examined because most Americans are not taught the truth about how Israel was created: the Zionist movement colonized historic Palestine for about four or five decades, and when the United Nations voted in 1947 to partition the land into two parts, Palestinians rejected it (for understandable reasons), civil war broke out, and in the end the Palestinians were expelled from their land, made into refugees and left stateless.

The historical fact that the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their land led to the Jewish State goes unmentioned in the majority of discussions, both private and in the media, about Israel/Palestine.

That’s why mainstream American Jews, many of them largely secular, jump at the chance to exercise their “birthright” and join a free trip to their “homeland,” all paid for by Israel and Jewish groups. I’ve had countless conversations with friends and family about “birthright” trips, and the opportunity of going to Israel for free is a common refrain.

But if they knew about the Nakba, and the burning issue that is the Palestinian right of return, they might think twice about exercising their “birthright” while Palestinians their age long to return to villages razed and Judaized by Israel. Whether they know it or not, Taglit-Birthright Israel is a hard smack to the face of Palestinians whose ancestors, for hundreds and hundreds of years, lived in the villages and towns in what is now called Israel.

Americans badly need our own Zochrot, our own education on the Nakba.

This post originally appeared on Alex Kane’s blog.

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