The ‘Nakba law’ and erasing history

Israel/Palestine
on 6 Comments

Israel is a country rift with multiple overlapping narratives. They drift into each other, defy one another and wrestle for the unachievable title of ultimate truth. And although there is no such thing, it appears as if the current Israeli government is working hard to officially establish one authoritative story as part of the ongoing construction of a Jewish-Zionist only national identity.  Tuesday night, March 22nd, the Knesset passed a piece of legislation that seemed to go largely undetected, despite its significance. The “Nakba law,” which legislates the withdrawal of state funding from any institution that commemorates the Palestinian day of mourning, is discriminatory and threatening to Palestinian citizens, and harmful for Palestinians and Jews alike.

Nakba day marks the expulsion, displacement and loss of life and property that occurred in 1948 and coincides with the celebrations of the Israeli day of Independence. When asked for the reason behind the law, MK Alex Miller, of Yisrael Beitenu, who sponsored the bill stated, “I view Independence Day as a state symbol, but from an early age, some citizens of Israel are taught to view this day as a day of mourning! So either we want education for coexistence and peace, or we want pupils to be brainwashed and incited against [other] citizens of their state from an early age.”

To use co-existence as the rational for a law that delegitimizes the collective memory of a minority indigenous population is absurd. It is an appalling step back when compared with advancements in minority education at the global scale. Post-colonial and post-conflict societies, such as Bolivia, Guatemala, Peru, South Africa, have begun to implement programs of intercultural and multi-cultural education that teach multiple historical narratives in an effort to work towards reconciliation and to build an inclusive national identity. Israel’s new law meanwhile officially solidifies the incompatibility of  Palestinian history and culture with the current construction of the Israeli-nation state by promoting one history that is not to be questioned, debated or examined, and framing the Palestinian point of view as invalid, violent, antagonistic, and illegal.

This law’s concentrated effect on Palestinian citizens of Israel makes it easy for Jewish citizens to ignore. In fact, it passed with a 37 to 25 vote, as many liberal leaning MKs who would have opposed it simply did not show up to vote, because maybe it seemed like no big deal.  However, I believe that the idea that it does not concern us is one of the biggest errors surrounding the commemoration of the Nakba. The Nakba narrative is a significant part of the Jewish Israeli history and it is crucial to recognize the tragedy that comes with violent victory in order for lessons to be learned from the past.

If there is ever to be true peace in the region, it will not come from one absolute truth that everyone is forced or coerced into accepting. Rather, it will come from embracing the validity of multiple narratives. As I write about the question of history, it seems necessary to quote Howard Zinn, the revisionist historian who made me, and many of my peers, question US historical narratives for the first time. He said, “I suggest that if you know history, then you might not be so easily fooled by the government when it tells you -you must go to war for this or that reason -that history is a protective armor against being misled.”

So, as parts of history are being erased in Israel, what does this predict for our future here?  

For more information please see the Association for Civil Rights in Israel’s (ACRI) website.

Shiri Raphaely is a 2009 graduate of Tufts University who now lives in Israel and works on human rights advocacy in Israel with the Mossawa Center, the Advocacy Center for Palestinian Citizens of Israel. She co-writes on Midthoughtblog.com, where this post can also be found.

6 Responses

  1. Avi
    March 31, 2011, 11:07 am

    “I view Independence Day as a state symbol, but from an early age, some citizens of Israel are taught to view this day as a day of mourning! So either we want education for coexistence and peace, or we want pupils to be brainwashed and incited against [other] citizens of their state from an early age.”

    This goes to the heart of the same Israeli Hasbara that seeks to label anything resembling Palestinian nationality, equality or dignity as “Incitement”.

    Israel’s new law meanwhile officially solidifies the incompatibility of Palestinian history and culture with the current construction of the Israeli-nation state by promoting one history that is not to be questioned, debated or examined, and framing the Palestinian point of view as invalid, violent, antagonistic, and illegal.

    Exactly, hence the use of the pejorative “incitement”. It is used as a tool to silence dissent, much in the same way the “anti-Semite” label has been abused.

    This law’s concentrated effect on Palestinian citizens of Israel makes it easy for Jewish citizens to ignore. In fact, it passed with a 37 to 25 vote, as many liberal leaning MKs who would have opposed it simply did not show up to vote, because maybe it seemed like no big deal.

    Not quite. So-called liberal leaning Members of Knesset did so for several reasons. It is common practice for MKs to avoid the Knesset when they want to fence-sit, avoid taking a stance in favor or against. Some do so due to a lack of political courage, while others do so due to their own hypocrisy for they believe that non-Jews should not commemorate the Nakbah, but at the same time fear being called out for the faux liberals that they are, Zionist, but “liberal”.

    The Nakba narrative is a significant part of the Jewish Israeli history and it is crucial to recognize the tragedy that comes with violent victory in order for lessons to be learned from the past.

    Some words can bring down an entire history.

    Here, “victory” can be misread as implying that Israel won a war in 1948 and that was the end of the Nakbah. It also implies that the Nakbah was an inevitable consequence of that war — tragedies in the fog of war and all that.

    Alas the Nakbah is ongoing and the ethnic cleansing started several months before the war of 1948. It remains a part of the state’s systemic attempts to maintain Jewish ethnic supremacy.

  2. EmmaZunz
    March 31, 2011, 11:13 am

    “Israel is a country rift…”

    The word is “riven”. Sorry, but your use of the word made me think!

  3. pabelmont
    March 31, 2011, 11:33 am

    Yeah, There is a rift a mile deep. Between truth and fabrication, between democracy and tyranny, between listening kindly to another and insisting that one’s own “truth” or “narrative” prevail, between decency and * * *, and Israel is indeed riven.

  4. lysias
    March 31, 2011, 12:26 pm

    Did the MK’s not show up because they didn’t regard it as a big deal, or because they didn’t want to have to take a stand on it?

    • Walid
      March 31, 2011, 12:43 pm

      The day will come when they’ll get it all back, with interest.

  5. Colin Murray
    March 31, 2011, 12:46 pm

    This was nicely done. Kudos to Phil and Adam for letting Shiri Raphaely voice her opinion here. While I agree with and appreciate Avi’s comments, especially the one on left-leaning members of the Knesset, we ought to cut Shiri some slack. She hasn’t been in Israel long enough to learn all the nuances of Israeli politics and undoubtedly has some unlearning to do, in my opinion a process everyone goes through when they first make a serious attempt to understand politics of any kind.

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