"I don't know what Land Day is and I don't know what Nakba Day is," says N., a Bedouin student who adds that in school she was never taught the significance of these two days, which are marked this week. "I do know that a disaster happened to the Palestinians. Our land was stolen and now we're commemorating this. At school, people were afraid to talk about this publicly."
The school she was referring to can also be described as a kind of nakba, or catastrophe: two buildings with exposed brick and tin coating. N. lives in what is referred to in Hebrew as a pzura, or scattering. It's a sterile term that connotes a number of villages, or to be more exact, clusters of buildings held up by wooden boards, boxes and garbage bins without running water or electricity. These villages are not recognized by the Israeli government.
Now that she is a college student and a mother, N. does whatever she can for her community. She splits her time between her studies, her home and Tehila - a grassroots project devoted to caring for Bedouin children who dropped out of school. There are many such cases in the Negev.
She is a sharp, opinionated student, and she is struggling to understand why the Knesset insists on passing legislation known as the Nakba Law before anyone bothers to teach her about this Nakba. She enters the classroom carrying books on the Palestinian refugee problem by Benny Morris and on history and remembrance by Yoav Gelber.
Everybody is preoccupied with the refugee problem, but only from a Jewish and Zionist perspective, not an Israeli one. In other words, nobody bothers to take an interest, heaven forbid, in the Palestinian and Bedouin collective memory, and in "those in the north," as N. refers to them, meaning the Palestinian Israelis who are not Bedouin. "They in the north suffered more than we did," she says in an attempt to rationalize her unfamiliarity with the issue. "Maybe this is why they know more about what the Nakba is."
"We too lost land," says her friend, S.
"But the Jews didn't expel us like they did those in the north," says N., who seeks to distinguish between tragedy and disaster.
"We were also expelled," S. retorts. "We have relatives in Gaza who fled in 1948." N. is silent for a moment.
"We also celebrate Land Day," N. says.
"Yes, we celebrate," S. says. "We plant trees and sing songs."
"You're referring to the holiday when the Jews plant trees. That's not Land Day."
"No, no, that's exactly our Land Day," S. says. "That's how we remember the land."
N. refutes S.'s statements while the other Bedouin students in the classroom watch in silence. They too don't know whose side to take. Perhaps the lecturer will determine that for them.
"In our community, the children know what Land Day is, but they don't learn about it in schools," says O., a student from Rahat. "They learn about it from their parents at home. Whatever they know we know. There are also NGOs whose activists come and lecture us. They show the children pictures of villages that no longer exist, maps that show approximately where this or that village once stood. But the children are young, they still don't understand maps very well. In general, once we start telling children where the Palestinian villages were, they lose interest. Anything that isn't related to Bedouin doesn't interest them."
This reminds me of conversations I have had with Kurds in Turkey. They too were not permitted by the regime to remember. The Kurdish language was barred from schools and Kurdish holidays are still days when the authorities warn of possible terrorist attacks.
"We ingrain our history and language in our children's heads," said a Kurdish man living in the town of Diyarbakir. "That's how they learn their history in a way that no Turkish teacher can teach them. That's how they will forever know about Turkish injustice while hating those who deny them their culture."
O. is not so familiar with his history. The Israeli school curriculum has run away from Palestinian history, and now the Nakba Law will try to bury in the sand whatever remains of collective memory. Yet O. and S. have no intention of giving up. Anyone who wants to erase the Nakba, water down the Palestinian collective memory and blur Land Day will only push them deeper into remembrance, one that includes all the errors, distortions and hatreds against whoever seek to uproot that memory.
Maybe the people who want to blot out the memory of the Nakba should also burn the books on the subject by Israeli researchers. That way, the Palestinians won't have any sources to learn from.
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