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My People Know Our Past

The uprooted refugees of Haifa are my people and their tragedy is part of the formative story of the entire Palestinian people

איימן עודה
Ayman Odeh
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Three Haganah members escort three Palestinian Arabs expelled from Haifa during the 1948 War of Indpendence.
Three Haganah members escort three Palestinian Arabs expelled from Haifa during the 1948 War of Indpendence.Credit: AFP
איימן עודה
Ayman Odeh

On Thursday, Nakba Day was marked in Haifa, the city where I was born and have lived all my life. When I walk the streets of Haifa, I can’t help but think of the people who once lived in the abandoned houses, my Aunt Fathiya among them. On April 22, 1948, the conquest of the city was completed. Tens of thousands of Haifa’s people became refugees in Lebanon and other countries, while others scattered throughout Israel, and to this day not one of them has been permitted to return to their home. On the morning of April 23, out of the 70,000 Palestinian Arab residents of Haifa, only 2,900 remained.

The uprooted refugees of Haifa are my people, they include my neighbors and my family, and their tragedy is part of the formative story of the entire Palestinian people.

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For 73 years now, we’ve been expected to forget this tragedy. One Israeli government after another demands that we – Arabs who are part of the Palestinian people, citizens of this country – abandon our past and our identity and wear a new identity – “Israeli Arabs.” The “Israeli Arab” is detached from his roots and his identity is drained of meaning. He’s like a warped, hybrid creature that does not belong to the Palestinian people but is also not fully Israeli in the Jewish state. For there is no such thing as an “Israeli Jew”; Jewish citizens of Israel are simply called Israelis.

In his book “A Curtain of Sand,” Yigal Allon wrote, “A people that does not know its past has a meager present and a future that is shrouded in fog.” We Palestinian citizens of Israel are told that to gain a future we must give up the past, but the truth is that the only way we can build a future for ourselves is by acknowledging the past. A future in which we are both part of the Palestinian people and full, equal citizens in the country in which we were born.

In Israel in recent years, the fight for the future has became a fight between two groups – one that is for Benjamin Netanyahu and one that is against him. Again we are expected to put history and our identity aside, and to join the camp that hopes to replace Netanyahu at any cost. So what if the leading candidate of this camp is Naftali Bennett, who denies the Nakba and simultaneously calls for its continuation via home demolitions, legalization of settlements, annexation of occupied territory and land appropriations from Arab communities in the Negev and Galilee? How can I, whose family was torn apart and whose aunt lives to this day in exile in a refugee camp in Jordan, ignore all that?

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin went so far as to say at the torch-lighting ceremony that the Yom Ha’atzmaut holiday belongs to all Israelis, including the Arabs – which is akin to inviting someone to dance on his own grave. Could anything be crueler and more cynical? The indirect racism that seeks to disguise itself as a hand outstretched in partnership is just as serious and damaging as the crude, direct kind.

True partnership cannot exist without acknowledgement of the injustices of the past, and of those that endure in the present. True partnership cannot exist while the occupation continues, while a policy of Judaization continues throughout the country, while there is no recognition of the unrecognized villages in the Negev, while the Arab towns and villages are subject to discrimination in planning and building, infrastructure and land, while the police treat Arab citizens as enemies and leave them at the mercy of crime organizations.

True Jewish-Arab partnership begins with mutual recognition of the rights of the two peoples, Jewish and Palestinian, to self-definition. Only through recognition and amending the historical injustice can we build together a future of justice, equality, democracy, peace and partnership.

Ayman Odeh is an MK and chairman of the Joint List.

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