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A brief history of the ‘Nakba’ in Israel

This text describes the discourse on the Nakba — mostly the concept but also the historical event — in Israel. When did it appear? When did it decline and was repressed? What caused these changes? The attempt here is to describe historical moments, a periodization, from the founding of the state until today, in order to describe the relation to the term in each period and the changes it went through. This text deals with the attitude towards the Nakba in Hebrew almost exclusively and does not attempt to describe the attitudes and changes it went through in Arabic and in the Arab world.

1948-1952: Early Naiveté

As surprising as it may sound, the first to use the term “Nakba” in reference to the Palestinian’s disaster was the Israeli military. In July 1948, IDF addressed with leaflets to the arab inhabitants of Tirat Haifa who resisted the occupation. In excellent Arabic, they called on them to surrender: “If you want to be ready for the Nakba, to avoid a disaster and save yourselves from an unavoidable catastrophe, you must surrender”.

A little afterwards, in August 1948, the Syrian intellectual Constantin Zureiq published his essay The Meaning of Disaster. In it he writes, among other things, “the defeat of the Arabs in Palestine is not simply a setback or a temporary atrocity. It is a Nakba in the fullest sense of the word”. Zureiq addresses the Arabs of the Middle East and implores them to respond to the terrible disaster that hit them. For him, then, the Nakba affects the entire Arab world and is not restricted to Palestinians alone.

Towards the end of the same year, in 11.19.1948, Nathan Alterman published his poem Al Zot (“On This”) in the Davar newspaper and Ben Gurion instructed that it be distributed among all of the IDF’s soldiers. The poem describes the massacre of defenseless Palestinians by IDF soldiers, and it is thought to be referring to the war crimes committed in Lod (Lydda). Hannan Hever and Yitzhak Laor claim that Alterman’s criticism of the event is not as clear-cut as might seem at first. Even if they are correct, and despite the poem ending with a clear call to “not fear also ‘Tell it not in Gath’…”, it describes events that, were they publicized today, would have created a huge turmoil among the Israeli public and its leaders, as we can safely assert based on the 2016 Breaking the Silence uproar.

In 1948, S. Yizhar, one of Israel’s leading authors, wrote his book “HaShavuy” (“The Captive”), in which he described the cruel behaviour of the IDF soldiers towards the defeated Palestinians. Several of his other books from those years, “Yemey Ziklag” (“Days of Ziklag”) and “Hkirbet Khizeh”, openly discussed the atrocities committed by IDF soldiers during the Nakba. “Khirbet Khizeh” became part of the official educational curriculum and was read by thousands of students.

In 1948 and in the first years there was a kind of naiveté in the discourse surrounding the Nakba. Even though the term itself wasn’t mentioned, the events, including the atrocities committed by the Zionist soldiers against Palestinians, were delivered in simplicity, taken for granted, without narrative filters or sublimation. This approach matched also Yizhar’s stream of consciousness literary style. The text supposedly is liberated from an author-subject as the author becomes an instrument to deliver experiences without processing them. This is also the way the Nakba events were delivered directly and in plain Hebrew.

The first book on “The Conquest of Jaffa” was thus titled by its author, Haim Lazar in 1951. Years later, the “conquest” would be replaced by “liberation”. Lazar also uses the term “cleansing” to describe what Zionists militia did in Jaffa. Years later, when the same term was used by Meron Benvenisti and later Ilan Pappé, it was perceived as a provocation.

The Palestinians who became Israeli citizens were in shock and trauma and under a military regime which would not allow any expression of protest. The Palestinian refugees waited for justice to come in the form of help from Arab nations and the international community but no such significant help came.

In 1951 the supreme court famously ruled that the displaced residents of the villages of Iqrit and Bir’im were allowed to go back to their villages, as was promised to them on the day they were expelled by the Israeli military. Less known are two other similar supreme court decisions. Also in 1951, it allowed the refugees from Ghabisiyya, not far from Nahariya, to return to their village. And in 1952 the supreme court accepted the appeal of the uprooted residents of Jalame to return there. But the kibbutz members in Lehavot Haviva, who settled on that village’s grounds, demolished its houses with explosives, thus preventing the return. In fact in all four cases the return of refugees was prevented because the stance of the military prevailed the judicial decisions. Since then, no other such court decisions were made. ...

Read entire article at Mondoweiss