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Zochrot and BADIL bring Nakba to U.S. audience

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On Thursday night, a group of twenty-five people walked back and forth in front of the Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan. They held up signs reading “Palestine” and chanted “stop denying history.”

Invoking “history” does not usually rouse people to action. But it was history that brought them and many others out that night. They were protesting the Upper West Side synagogue’s cancellation of an event on the Nakba, the Arabic term for catastrophe that refers to Israel’s 1948 expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinians from their homes.

A protester in front of the Lincoln Square Synagogue, which cancelled an event on the Nakba. (Photo: Bud Korotzer/DesertPeace)

A protester in front of the Lincoln Square Synagogue, which cancelled an event on the Nakba. (Photo: Bud Korotzer/DesertPeace)

After the protest, the demonstrators, members of Jewish Voice for Peace NYC and Jews Say No!, joined about fifty others at an Upper West Side venue that did welcome the event–the Advent Lutheran Church.

It was the latest talk put on by the Nakba Education Project, a new initiative trying to bring the roots of the Israel/Palestine conflict to Americans around the country. Representatives from Zochrot and BADIL, two groups in Israel/Palestine working on Palestinian refugee rights, are touring the U.S. to educate audiences about the Nakba–and why Palestinians say it’s not just a historical event but an ongoing process in Israel/Palestine.

The New York talk, like a similar event at the Jewish Voice for Peace national membership meeting, saw Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark, a member of the Nakba Education Project, moderating the discussion with Basem Sbaih of BADIL and Liat Rosenberg of Zochrot, which means “remembering” in Hebrew. The tour has appeared in Baltimore, Washington, D.C. Philadelphia and now New York, and arrives in Boston this weekend.

“The importance of the tour is to raise awareness and to educate the public about the most critical issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is the issue of right of return for Palestinian refugees,” said Rosenberg, the director of Zochrot, in an interview before the New York talk. “It’s of great importance, and as we know, now with the elections in Israel, the common discourse is about the two-state solution, and the issue of Palestinian refugees is cornered, it’s not even in the negotiations. So we want to put it on the table.”

But as the cancellation of the event by the Lincoln Square Synagogue showed, it’s an issue that many Israelis and American Jews don’t want put on the table. Kleinberg Neimark called it the “third rail” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I think they don’t want to listen to the truth–and the truth sometimes pains some people,” said Sbaih, who manages BADIL’s campaign for defending refugee rights, when I asked him why the issue is so threatening to people in Israel and the U.S. “The issue of refugees is the core issue of the conflict.” He added that talking about displacement and the Nakba threatens the Zionist narrative.

The Nakba talk brought the other narrative, of Palestinian displacement, to the fore. Sbaih and Rosenberg went through the history of Palestinian land loss, the state of Palestinian refugees today–including dismal conditions in Syria as the civil war there rages–and why Israelis fear the right of return.

“We don’t have a problem of room, space,” said Rosenberg, who asserted that there is plenty of land available for Palestinian refugees to return to. “The greatest fear of Israeli Jews is the fear to die,” a reference to fears that returning Palestinian refugees would massacre Israeli Jews. She said that the fear of discussing the Nakba can be seen in laws like one passed in 2011 that mandates the withdrawal of state funding from institutions that commemorate the Nakba. (The law has not been put into practice, though Israeli and Palestinian activists say it has a chilling effect.)

Sbaih emphasized that the logic of the Nakba–driving Palestinians out to appropriate their land for Israeli Jews–continues to live on today in policies that seek to expel Palestinians from their land and contain them in isolated islands among Israeli settlements.

Perhaps the most innovative work BADIL and Zochrot are doing is looking at how to implement the right of return today. In 2011, the groups released a co-authored report on “practical approaches to refugee return.” They called for recognition of refugee rights, acknowledgement of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the implementation of the right of return. That message came through at the New York talk.

Rosenberg said her group is achieving some success in Israel, though she acknowledged the deep difficulties she encounters when trying to bring the Nakba and refugee rights up in Israel.

“The greatest success we can see in the last decade is the fact that we are able to bring the Nakba into the discourse and to sustain the discourse–to keep it on the table,” she said.

BADIL’s Sbaih added that “we are trying…to influence policymakers and change the discourse about the Nakba and the peace process itself.”

Alex Kane
About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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33 Responses

  1. a blah chick
    a blah chick
    March 22, 2015, 10:40 am

    When you listen to these people they sound so sane and humane. In stark contrast to the people who sneer at their efforts. Palestinian history is not merely neglected it is either ignored or smeared with slurs and outright lies. Take it away Edwin Black, “International Investigative Author” (via The World Post)

    “On April 1, 1933, when the Hitler regime formalized its pre-existing boycott Jewish-owned stores as German national policy, the Mufti and his followers saluted and then adopted the Nazi tactic of anti-Jewish boycott, both in name and spirit. Indeed, Hitler became a hero to the Arab community in Palestine and the wider Arab world. After Mohammad, “Hitler” and “Adolf” became the second most popular baby names. Ultimately, in the 1940s, the Mufti joined forces with Hitler, creating three Nazi-flagged divisions of Waffen SS to fight in central Europe. During WWII, the anti-Jewish boycott was coordinated throughout the Islamic world, from India to Iraq, through the Mufti’s “Arab Higher Committee.”

    Yep, the Palestinian community is just swamped with Hitler Mansours and Adolf Haddads.

    • Walid
      Walid
      March 22, 2015, 12:43 pm

      “The greatest fear of Israeli Jews is the fear to die,” (Sbaih)

      That’s what Israelis are all about, another name would be “cowards”, which makes their Samson Option superfluous.

      As to the “Adolf” name becoming the second most popular name, it’s one of the most absurd stories I’ve heard from Zionists.

      • a blah chick
        a blah chick
        March 22, 2015, 3:03 pm

        It’s definitely a new slur, and one that demands proof. But Zionists have been making up s**t for years. Remember the “broadcasts” that the Arab government supposedly made to get the Palestinians to leave? I haven’t heard that one for quite a while. The old stuff was getting stale, time to try out new material.

    • March 23, 2015, 7:25 am

      1. Muslims named Adolph? Named Hitler? Wow!

      2. Let us not forget that the Zionists fired the first salvo at Germany before the Nazis did anything.

      Long before the Hitler government began restricting the rights of the German Jews, the leaders of the worldwide Jewish community formally declared war on the “New Germany” at a time when the U.S. government and even the Jewish leaders in Germany were urging caution in dealing with the new Hitler regime.

      The war by the international Jewish leadership on Germany not only sparked definite reprisals by the German government but also set the stage for a little-known economic and political alliance between the Hitler government and the leaders of the Zionist movement who hoped that the tension between the Germans and the Jews would lead to massive emigration to Palestine. In short, the result was a tactical alliance between the Nazis and the founders of the modern-day state of Israel – a fact that many today would prefer be forgotten.

      • talknic
        talknic
        March 24, 2015, 1:14 am

        Giles March 23, 2015, 7:25 am “The war by the international Jewish leadership on Ger … etc …”

        Methinks evidence is necessary for any such assertions

  2. just
    just
    March 22, 2015, 4:05 pm

    Many thanks for this report and interview, Alex. Huge thanks to “Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark, a member of the Nakba Education Project, moderating the discussion with Basem Sbaih of BADIL and Liat Rosenberg of Zochrot”. Thanks also to the members & supporters of those groups who do so much good work every day.

    The truth will out, whether the average Israeli or Israel supporter likes it or not. The longer the criminal denial continues, the more Israel is delegitimized.

    Thanks also to Advent Lutheran Church.

    Shame on Lincoln Square Synagogue, and thanks to the protestors who demonstrated from JVP NY and Jews Say No!~ “They held up signs reading “Palestine” and chanted “stop denying history.””.

    Can’t get more direct than that.

    ( it’s interesting to note that on the linked schedule, there is no hosting synagogue but there is a Baptist, Episcopal and Lutheran church… that’s telling)

  3. Steve Grover
    Steve Grover
    March 22, 2015, 9:17 pm

    Congratulations to the Lincoln Street Synagogue for standing up to Jewish Voice for Peace and not letting them force their anti Israel views at their Synagogue.
    This is akin to me going to JVP’s national membership meeting and making them listen to my Zionist pro-Israel point of view.
    The Lincoln Street Synagogue isn’t afraid of the JVP point of view, they are offended and disgusted by it.

    • Kris
      Kris
      March 23, 2015, 5:35 pm

      Do you mean that Zionism equals Judaism, and that’s why synagogues should not allow criticism of Israel?

  4. TwoRedDogs
    TwoRedDogs
    March 23, 2015, 1:21 am

    How do we find out about these events ahead of tim? Wouldn’t it be nice if Phil added a section called “Calendar of Events” and list upcoming I/P events in the city/area?

    • annie
      annie
      March 23, 2015, 2:59 am

      2dogs, great idea. in the meantime you can sign up for nakba education project updates here: http://nakbaeducation.com/wp-login.php?action=register

      • TwoRedDogs
        TwoRedDogs
        March 23, 2015, 2:46 pm

        Thanks Annie. I did check them out. But there are other groups/lectures/discussions etc., and I always learn about them after it happens, mainly through your great website. A central depository would be nice when you get a chance.

      • annie
        annie
        March 23, 2015, 3:09 pm

        once we get a chance. hmm. that would require someone compiling them, rotating them and updating them. it would probably need to rival something along the lines of kate’s list. i know she spends hours on that list a few times a week. so unless you know someone who can do all this work i’m not sure how staff could take it on. whereas, i am a member of several listserves (jvp comes to mind) and have these updates delivered to my inbox. also, anyone can join end the occupation listserve too and american muslims for palestine (amp). i’m not sure what else to tell you but if this is something that matters to you, i would suggest doing the legwork. start by investing a few hours joining listserves of several groups, then every week compile the data. send it to us. if, over the course of a month or two or once you get it streamlined make the proposal to adam and phil. as for us doing it for you — i’m booked. i spend my spare time moderating and we’re backed up right now. sorry!

        p.s. it occurs to me you could leave a message for kate at the base of one of her today in palestine lists. maybe she’s got the extra few hours a week. ;)

    • ritzl
      ritzl
      March 23, 2015, 11:11 pm

      Along those lines, is a MW Twitter list possible? It would be easier.

      I’m @grizzlebar (Yeah, yeah. Don’t laugh. It was one of my five old AOL screen names. It stuck.)

      I’m a hot head who likes the imagined smell of jasmine wafting up on a summer breeze off the Med and tea on the beach amid the gentle refrain of bombs not dropping. Call me a hopeless romantic.

      It might serve some of the same purpose TwoRedDogs is asking for.

      I follow Annie, ckg, and JLDickerson that I know of.

      Just a thought.

  5. catalan
    catalan
    March 23, 2015, 8:42 am

    the leaders of the worldwide Jewish community formally declared war on the “New Germany” – @giles
    Did this “worldwide” community have a Ministry of Defence or elections for these “leaders”? A standing army that could challenge Germany and “formally” declare war? Were the Jews of Hungary or Iran consulted on this question? Never mind, I hereby present an apology to Germany on behalf of my grandparents, they doubtlessly deserved what happened to them.

    • Walid
      Walid
      March 23, 2015, 12:35 pm

      “Never mind, I hereby present an apology to Germany on behalf of my grandparents, they doubtlessly deserved what happened to them.” (Catalan)

      Don’t get too dramatic, Catalan, the war that was declared was an economic war on Nazi businesses.

      • OyVey00
        OyVey00
        March 23, 2015, 12:42 pm

        You mean an economic war on the German state.

      • catalan
        catalan
        March 23, 2015, 4:43 pm

        Don’t get too dramatic, Catalan, the war that was declared was an economic war on Nazi businesses. – walid,
        Poor poor Volkswagen and Basf, Krupps and Mercedes and Bosch, the suffering they all endured due to this economic war is well documented. Their profits were just terrible.
        I guess the mentally ill and gays also declared an economic war and got what was due to them.
        “Economic war”. What a joke!
        The most dramatic person tells me to not be dramatic?!?!

    • annie
      annie
      March 23, 2015, 4:01 pm

      Did this “worldwide” community have a Ministry of Defence or elections for these “leaders”? A standing army that could challenge Germany and “formally” declare war?

      i appreciate your support for the BDS movement.

      • catalan
        catalan
        March 23, 2015, 4:35 pm

        i appreciate your support for the BDS movement. annie
        I support the right of people to assemble, organize, and to push their beliefs as long as those are not absolutely abhorrent (say torture).
        That said I do believe that dialogue and communcation are always more productive means of persuasion that sanctions and isolation, as well as more ethical ones. My problem is with making innocent people bear consequences for things they should not. Essentially all sanctions are a form of collective punishment, as they affect children, elderly, mentally ill people etc. considerably more than billionaires and politicians.
        I am aware that’s a minority view.

      • annie
        annie
        March 23, 2015, 5:04 pm

        what sort of diplomatic actions would you advocate states use to apply pressure on gov’t actions in lieu of economic sanctions catalan? i suppose you also object to the US tying it’s trade treaty to the EU to ensure their support for trade with israel? and you also object to the US sanctions in place to pressure iran?

        as a prelude to war, how would advocate our country pressure gov’t it’s unhappy with?

        My problem is with making innocent people bear consequences for things they should not.

        iow, by cutting off trade with corporation that employ thousands of workers, say Volkswagen, Basf, Krupps, Mercedes and Bosch – you’d be concerned with the impact it would have on their families and children? certainly in the millions of dollars and 100’s of thousands of people?

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        March 23, 2015, 8:38 pm

        “Were the Jews of Hungary or Iran consulted on this question?”

        Like they were consulted about and voted for Zionism?

      • ritzl
        ritzl
        March 23, 2015, 11:34 pm

        That’s not by any stretch of the imagination, a “minority” view, catalan. It IS, however, a highly selective view as your comments here show so clearly.

        Not one word about Gaza, the current and ON-GOING extreme example of your applied sensibilities — should they ever come to be applied that is.

        Same selectivity that generates your “Why should Jews in Greece be harmed by events far, far away that they didn’t even know about?” rhetorical (to you) question.

        See, the thing is it’s not rhetorical or hypothetical AT ALL. It’s the whole basis for this conflict, yet somehow your curiosity or speculation or wonderment simply doesn’t extend past your nose and into actual horrible real-world examples of the sinister forces you say you deplore.

        I will never understand that ability (and it is an ability make no mistake, practiced probably even) to avoid the glaringly obvious and in order to concentrate on the obscure and imagined.

  6. catalan
    catalan
    March 23, 2015, 5:33 pm

    iow, by cutting off trade with corporation that employ thousands of workers, say Volkswagen, Basf, Krupps, Mercedes and Bosch – annie.
    There never was a worldwide Jewish boycott of Nazi Germany because there is no worldwide Jewish community that has either the power or the authority to decide on such a boycott. Anyone can call themselves leader of the Jews and announce boycotts. There is no legitimacy in such a Jewish boycotts because Jews have neither elected leadership not monarchy.
    But for what it is worth I am pretty certain that boycotts of firms in Nazi Germany probably did not help. It probably aggravated things. Some of these business tycoons in Germany were actually good guys.
    I have no idea how you can push governments to do what you want them to do, that doesn’t mean that boycotting works. Just because I know something is a bad medicine doesn’t mean I have the good medicine.

    • annie
      annie
      March 23, 2015, 7:00 pm

      i wasn’t insinuating you had good medicine catalan. but i don’t believe you when you say “you have no idea how you can push governments to do what you want them to do”. obviously war and regime change work on occasion. it’s good enough for the US and israel wrt iran, obviously. it’s something both countries advocate for their adversaries and relate to.

      do you object to the US tying it’s trade treaty to the EU to ensure their support for trade with israel?

      a simple yes or no will do.

      do you object to the sanctions against iran to pressure them to curtail their nuclear program?

      a simple yes or no will do.

      saying there was never a jewish boycott of germany because there was no Jewish community that had either the power or the authority to decide on such a boycott is no different than saying the bds movement doesn’t exist because the palestinian community has neither the power or the authority to decide on such a boycott. it’s bullcrap and meaningless and a word game.

      and i already know there was no jewish consensus on a boycott because everyone knows (or should know by now) the zionists were trading hand over fist with the nazis. so i already know “worldwide” doesn’t mean every jew worldwide.

      that wasn’t my point anyway. i guess i just don’t believe you. i think you’re taking this stand because you support israel and don’t like it there’s a growing boycott against it in varying degrees (some just for the settlements which is a tad disingenuous since there are so many ties between israel and the settlements it’s virtually impossible to unravel them just like it’s virtually impossible to keep profits from the settlements and the occupation from benefitting israeli people as well as feeding the expansion) and don’t want to come off sounding like a hypocrite. that’s how it reads anyway.

      anyway, i get it. you don’t like it. but you’re wasting words here. the boycott won’t stop because you don’t think it will work.

      I am pretty certain that boycotts of firms in Nazi Germany probably did not help. It probably aggravated things.

      you don’t say?! as i recall kristallnacht happened a week after the jewish boycott against german businesses was broadly announced, that’s just been (somewhat) erased from the historical record. but the internet will make sure people remember, if they are interested enough to find out.

      • lysias
        lysias
        March 24, 2015, 10:59 am

        What happened a week after the Jewish boycott was announced (in March 1933) was the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses in Germany on April 1, 1933.

        Kristallnacht happened years later, the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938.

    • catalan
      catalan
      March 23, 2015, 7:32 pm

      annie I think the sanctions against Iran are stupid. You can’t compare worldwide Jews with the bds movement. The bds movement is a group of people that agree on certain topics and pursue them. That has never been true of Jews. Just because some Jews at some point wanted to boycott German businesses and declared themselves leaders means nothing for the rest. Many American Jews went to study in Germany between the wars, including Farber, the creator of Chemotherapy. And we know that the German economy pretty much boomed during the first Hitler years. All I am saying is, there are no leaders of the Jews. There is no global Jewry. There is just a bunch of people sharing some sort of heritage, and anyone can speak for anyone if they so choose. There never was a common goal of any kind.
      I have said this, defending Israeli policy simply does not interest me.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        March 23, 2015, 8:34 pm

        “There never was a common goal of any kind.”

        I know how it is, “catalan”. One minute you’re aimlessly poking around, wondering how to use the long summer afternoon, no common goals, and the next minute Ka-blam! There you are, declaring a state in Palestine.
        It just, well, you know happened.

      • ritzl
        ritzl
        March 23, 2015, 11:39 pm

        Thanks Mooser.

        Just general principles…

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      March 23, 2015, 8:20 pm

      “There never was a worldwide Jewish boycott of Nazi Germany because there is no worldwide Jewish community that has either the power or the authority to decide on such a boycott. Anyone can call themselves leader of the Jews and announce boycotts. There is no legitimacy in such a Jewish boycotts because Jews have neither elected leadership not monarchy.”

      So we can’t manage a simple boycott, but we have the power and authority to secure by violence, and declare a state in the name of the Jews. I which I knew which of those it was on any given day of the week. Are we poor, disparate and disorganized today, or are we a lean, mean national machine today, I never know.

  7. catalan
    catalan
    March 23, 2015, 8:36 pm

    So we can’t manage a simple boycott, but we have the power and authority to secure by violence, and declare a state in the name of the Jews –
    All I was saying is that the Jews of Pinsk and Thesaloniki didn’t deserve what happened to them because of some boycotts they never heard of. There was no Internet in the thirties, life was more local. They were mostly ordinary people minding their lives and dying of diseases now easily treatable. They had other worries. Germany was an economic, military, and cultural powerhouse.

  8. catalan
    catalan
    March 23, 2015, 8:52 pm

    Mooser let’s face it. Zionism after the ww 2 has mostly been a ticket out of the shit life in Eastern Europe. Whoever can, gets to Canada or the U.S. People can only manage so much waiting for milk and cooking oil before you bail out to the first place with real doctors and no lines. After that, it all became a belief of convenience. We all like to think we are just great, that’s some kind of human universal, whether you are Navajo or Tibetan.

    • just
      just
      March 23, 2015, 11:57 pm

      Can you please direct me to your concerns for “Navajo or Tibetan” people?

      You speak of milk and cooking oil, bread lines and boogers, and of being privileged today.

      “I am not sure Seafoid. I have always been squeezed and lived among the squeezed. I am living the affluence here in the States but inside I will aways be a 7 year old boy with boogers waiting in line in the cold for the once a year oranges. It doesn’t work like that. People don’t change their ways under pressure. That’s hard for Westerners to understand. Most Israelis are from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. They dance to a different tune, notwithstanding their iPhones.” – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/profile/catalan#sthash.wXmC6uWF.dpuf

      I respect your history, but object to your lack of care for those that still suffer (the Palestinian people and their progeny who did nothing bad to anyone, btw) because you suffered. I don’t ‘get’ it, or you. I’m thinking that you should take that plank out of your eye and the chip off your shoulder.

  9. just
    just
    March 24, 2015, 3:44 pm

    “Shay Piron, education minister in the previous government, was quoted on Tuesday as backing the teaching of the Nakba – the Arabic word for “catastrophe,” which the Palestinians use to refer to Israel’s War of Independence – to all Israeli students.

    Piron’s remarks, in a recording broadcast by Israeli Army Radio, indicated that he supported teaching the Nakba story alongside what he called the “settler narrative.”

    “In the bilingual schools in Misgav” – a city 45 minutes northeast of Haifa – “I was asked what I thought about teaching the Nakba to Arab students,” Piron, a member of the Yesh Atid Party, said.

    “I answered that I opposed it. I support teaching the Nakba to all Israeli students. I don’t think that a student can reach deep in the Israeli educational system when 20 percent of the students have an ethos, a specific story, and he does not know that story.”

    `Some see profit in hate’

    Piron spoke at the Kibbutzim College, a Tel Aviv institute that trains teachers and therapists.

    Specifically, he spoke at the launch of a book by the chairman of the Pedagogical Secretariat within the Education Ministry, Nir Michaeli, called “Yes in Our Schools: “Articles About Political Education.”

    He later on Tuesday spoke directly with Army Radio about his remarks, saying, “No one ever died from studying, and studying something doesn’t mean you agree with it. Studying something, not studying it or ignoring it doesn’t mean it does not exist.

    “If we don’t tell the story [and] children don’t encounter it, [does that mean} it does not exist in the media? It does not come up in conversation? Can you truly ignore it?”

    He added: “Some people see profit in hate.”
    …..

    Noteworthy is that in his tenure as minister, Piron did not add the subject of the Nakba to the educational curriculum, nor did he return the subject of the Green Line to textbooks.”

    http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/.premium-1.648611

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