May 17, 2008

Denying al-nakba

The marking of Israel's sixtieth year has also brought the circulation of its shadow, the Palestinian remembrance of al-nakba, or the catastrophe of massive displacement that followed the 1948 war.

Beersheba 1948:

Post-independence Beersheba,
with Leonard Bernstein, November 1948:

Not surprisingly, there is the continued insistence that their independence not be woven tight to the price Palestinians paid then, and pay now. Israel is currently trying to pressure the United Nations to avoid using nakba. This attempt to influence the common "lexicon" is nothing other than trying to banish the very idea of a historical view of the Palestinian plight from general thought. It is indicative of the worst contradictions that saturate the problems in Palestine. Israel's Foreign Minister Livni suggested that the path for a Palestinian today is paved by forgetting yesterday -- saying they will have their own independence day when the word nakba falls from their vocabulary. But Defense Minister Barak reminded every Israeli that "there is no future for a nation that does not know its past." Israel cannot shape the vision of the past from sheer rhetorical gamesmanship. There is too much already written into the land, like the script their security fence and West Bank bypass roads, and the more obscure traces in the shape of deeds for homes lost or the diaried memories of refugees.

That such history might disappear is the revolutionary dream. That the myths of a clean creation must be so obscenely protected is the impulse of weak nationalism. Of course, the past remains, and it seems increasingly present beyond the limited use of emigrants, exiles, and refugees, people who are not so absent as to have their past erased and scattered, but living reminders. The "right of return" for them may be framed in moral terms, as a just insistence, but that is a political matter. It is an object in a struggle for recognition since it, as a right, must be recognized. Without being part of an agreement it has as much substance as the claim that other should not remember their losses, that should agree to displacement. For that decision to forget would also be a political choice and not a human one.

Human catastrophes, however, are not so easily negotiated, and so one begins with recognition that not only are such memories powerful, but that they belong to all of Palestine, whatever its future formations. In other words:
"No national 'right,' as in organic and pre-given. No self-determination, as in self-sufficiency, of nations. To [this] we can add . . . no singular selfhood. Rights . . . relies on a fully rational, monochrome, conception of the person. I must know who I am when I claim them. But if the mind is not its own place? If my claim delves into the depths of my own history, trawling through my dreams and nightmare, to create its own law? The image we have of displaced persons tends to be cast in terms of endurance, survival, the fierce adherence of all human creatures to their own life. It bears no investigation of inner worlds. I suggest instead we see peoples on the move at least partly as sleepwalkers, trundling through each other's dark night."
--Jacqueline Rose, "Displacement in Zion," The Last Resistance