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On Nakba Day I want the right to be angry

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Betrayed, massacred, exiled, besieged, occupied, vilified and criminalized, Palestinians are nothing if not survivors. And as survivors, we are in the company of some of the finest peoples in the world.  But this year, as I once again commemorate our losses and honor our resistance, I am angry at the fact that all we can celebrate is our persistence, our ongoing resistance.

More than sadness, sorrow, or mourning, this year, as one more Nakba Day commemoration rolls along, it is anger that swells up in me.

I am angry at the fact that this is a year of milestones, each adding to the previous one’s devastation, with none celebrating a major victory.  2017 marks one hundred years since the Balfour Declaration, 69 years since al-Nakba, 50 years since al-Naksa.  And yet for many, it is only that most recent blow, “the occupation,” that registers as wrong, as if imperialism, settler-colonialism and genocide were perfectly acceptable.  2017 marks 50 years of al-Naksa, which is Arabic for “the setback,” an assertion of previous harm.  It is not Arabic for “the occupation.”  I am angry that we still use misleading Eurocentric designations for our circumstances, and that some of the groups receiving accolades from the “progressive” camp this year are groups such as “If Not Now,” which denounce the Occupation, rather than Zionism.  (I know readers will respond here, telling me “If Not Now” are wonderful.  I am angry that a group that states, on their website, that “we do not take a unified stance on BDS, Zionism or the question of statehood.  We work together to end American Jewish support for the occupation” is considered a vibrant part of the solution to the problem that Zionism inflicts on the Palestinian people).

I am angry at the fact that the left has so misrepresented and misunderstood us, for so long, that 100 years after the Balfour Declaration, that act of colonial arrogance par excellence, and seventy years since the first genocidal massacres against the Palestinian people, some still think giving even one inch of Palestine to Europe’s Jews, rather than striving to end anti-Semitism there, was not just acceptable, but a good thing.

I am angry at the fact that, upon my answering the question “Where are you from?” some people think it appropriate to respond “Palestinian, that’s nice!” Would it be appropriate to tell someone “Black, that’s nice?”  Or “Trans, that’s nice?”  Yet I’m supposed to be grateful for “Palestinian… that’s nice.”  And I’m angry because yes, I am indeed grateful when that is the response I get.  I’m grateful for people who recognize my identity, and for the fact that they can look at me and not see the monster they have been taught to associate with it.  Beyond and before “the occupation,” this is what Zionism has done, by presenting us as the savages to fear, neutralize, eliminate, if the Jewish people are to ever be safe

I am angry at the fact that I, a secular anti-Zionist, must explain to supposedly-learned people, as well as ignorant bigots, that Judaism and Zionism are distinct beliefs.  One of the most influential Jewish thinkers, Rabbi Joseph Hillel, is said to have told a follower: “That which is hateful to you, do not do unto another.  This is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary.”  Anyone who takes this Jewish teaching to heart cannot logically be a Zionist, as Zionists are doing unto the Palestinians that which would be hateful to them.

And I’m angry because the privileging of Israeli prerogatives over Palestinian rights is so rampant, so pervasive, that Palestinians are consistently asked to consider what awful, terrible, scary things would happen to Israelis if there is finally justice in our homeland.  I am angry because when it comes to redressing a wrong, Israelis are still privileged, and fourth generation refugees living in squalor must give up their basic human rights so as to accommodate the comfort level of Israelis, who are apparently utterly incapable of living in a just, equal society.  I am angry because I am told that insisting on the Right of Return is a non-starter, because it just wouldn’t be convenient, and I’m not supposed to ask “not convenient for whom?”

I am angry at the fact that some people still tell me I should feel lucky to be in the US, rather than in Palestine, and at the fact that I need to explain that if that is the case, it is because Israel, that supposed “democracy” they so admire, wants me dead.

I am angry at the fact that, on this Nakba Day, 2017, activists in the US still organized events about Palestine with only Jewish speakers.  I will not engage in public call-outs by linking to such events, but again, would anyone put on a Movement for Black Lives event with only white speakers?  More seriously, would anti-racist white people accept to be the only speakers at a Movement for Black Lives event with the same regularity that Jewish anti-Zionists accept to be the only speakers at a pro-Palestinian rights event?  We have been misrepresented, and spoken for, for way too long, and our allies are the ones who must stop this.  Anything else continues our displacement.

Basically, I’m angry because I want to be normal, yet normalcy evades me, and I want to be post-nationalist, even if Palestine has never been allowed to become a nation. And I’m angry at the fact that, despite the century of abuse, we are one people (yes, a people) never allowed to be angry.

This year, I don’t want to be grateful for being a survivor, “nice.”  I want the right to be angry.

And I want to celebrate my righteous anger, and the anger of all who are outraged at injustice, because without this anger, there would only be sorrow, sadness, defeat.  But we are survivors, and this anger, channeled into organizing and activism, will secure the victories we have been longing for.

Nada Elia

Nada Elia is a Palestinian scholar-activist, writer, and grassroots organizer, currently completing a book on Palestinian Diaspora activism.

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9 Responses

  1. John O on May 15, 2017, 11:12 am

    Well said, Nada.

    “Black, that’s nice,” reminds me of something written by the great oral historian of Chicago, Studs Terkel. When asked how it felt being African-American, one of his interviewees put it beautifully: “It’s like walking around all day in wrong-sized shoes.”

  2. John O on May 15, 2017, 11:15 am

    On a more positive note, today the “On this day …” part of Wikipedia’s home page is headed: May 15: Nakba Day in Palestinian communities.

  3. Blake on May 15, 2017, 11:36 am

    Humanity has failed the Palestinians. I feel your pain.

  4. JosephA on May 15, 2017, 4:49 pm

    Nadia, you have expressed yourself succinctly. Thanks for writing this piece.

    As an aside, I once met an old man who tried to convince me that Palestinians are an invented people. He was dead serious when explaining this to me (he said they were “imported by the British to build the railroads”) and I laughed in his face. It was an uncomfortable, spontaneous laughter.

  5. ritzl on May 15, 2017, 5:33 pm

    This may be a duplicate…

    Brilliant once again Nada.

    A) You ABSOLUTELY have the right to get and be angry.

    B) I mentioned in another thread that I was recently involved in a conversation that was founded on the assumption, “If only the Palestinians could develop some empathy for their Jewish brethren in the Holy Land, progress could be made…” I got angry.

    C) I guess it needs to be asked, is it possible for Jews who seek to remain inside the “community” by using intentionally softened/vague/conciliatory language/meanings as buy-in for that inclusion actually help the Palestinian cause in any way? Or maybe a little more positively, is glacially nudging the Jewish collective conscience on Palestinian treatment in the right direction a prerequisite for Palestinian justice (i.e. justice for Palestinians is subordinated until the “right” time in the Jewish conversation, but necessarily so)?

    I increasingly get the sense that the ugly Palestinian reality is second or third priority amongst their own advocates.

    D) Following on (C), do groups like “If Not Now” ask themselves the questions Ms. Elia raises here?


    Btw eljay, the rape analogy only made her harden her boilerplate, liberal beliefs across the board. I guess this Zionist take on Palestinians is entwined with a whole body of perception and conceptual thought. Gonna be tougher than I thought to unravel, if it can be unraveled at all. It’s less about discrete epiphanies than it is about preventing cracks in a fairly fragile world view. That may not be a “universal,” but I didn’t really foresee it even as a specific possibility, so again thanks. Learned something.

    • eljay on May 16, 2017, 6:29 pm

      It’s unfortunate that the analogy didn’t shock some enlightenment into her. :-(

  6. Citizen on May 15, 2017, 6:20 pm

    I empathize with you, Nadia. I wake up angry every day, thinking how my country, the USA, treats your people. It’s very frustrating, especially since I am forced to help pay for it. The huge hypocrisy of my country’s leadership in this matter is stunning, and very embarrassing to me.

    • ritzl on May 15, 2017, 7:06 pm

      Hi Citizen. Don’t know if you saw this at Truthdig but the discussion is starting at the top level about US state suppression of everyone.

      It’s by Chris Hedges and is mostly about the murderous MOVE suppression in Philadelphia but he’s trying to ( don’t think he quite does explicitly) tie that to our current non-Constitutional state in a way to suggest that we’re ALL (white people too) at risk of/will soon experience what the Palestinians have long experienced. A “First they came for MOVE…” sort of thing.

      That may be a little too vague a description, but I thought of your “Dick and Jane” examples when I read it. Hedges argues with some urgency that there’s a long history of suppression (no surprise) that is expanding rapidly to include new victims including “Dick and Jane.” That may generate new empathy for other suppressed peoples, but it also may be that once a broadly-shared empathy is achieved it may be too late to act on it (that was the unsatisfying, open-ended conclusion).

      That may be a stretch read of the article but it did suggest to me more organic awareness/solidarity with Palestinian issues is coming sooner rather than later, along the lines you point out is so sorely missing currently.


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