Opinion |

Looking the Nakba Dead in the Eye

A new film by director Michal Weitz, which serves as reckoning with her family history, should once again remind Israeli society to deal with its past

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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Yosef Weitz on the job as director of the land department at the JNF, a scene included in the documentary 'Blue Box.'
Yosef Weitz on the job as director of the land department at the JNF, a scene included in the documentary 'Blue Box.'Credit: Daniel Miller / Courtesy of Yes Docu and Docaviv
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

“I’m not comfortable with this whole thing,” mutters Rami Weitz, father of film director Michal Weitz, as he squirms in his seat in a heartrending scene about the role her great-grandfather, Yosef Weitz, played in formulating and implementing the Israeli transfer policy. “I don’t like it that people call my grandfather ‘the father of the transfer,’ and I don’t like it that you do it,” he says, as she confronts him with findings she collected over 14 years of work on her documentary film “Blue Box,” a must-see for every Israeli.

The film traces the deep involvement of Yosef Weitz, a family and national hero and a top figure in the Jewish National Fund in “cleansing” Palestine of Arabs. “If you were here in ’48, you would have stood hand in hand with all those who did whatever it was you just read to me now. It’s very easy to judge when you’re not in the same position,” Weitz tells his daughter, succinctly summing up the entire Israeli narrative – including, perhaps especially, the term “whatever,” which signifies the level of ignorance and repression.

The story of the Weitz family is the story of the State of Israel and its attitude then and now to the Nakba. Like many nations that reach a stage in which they can explore the darker sides of its history, among third-generation Israelis today there are those who seek to break the silence surrounding the injustice that its foundations were built on. Even if it makes some people “uncomfortable.”

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The clashes in May between Jews and Arabs within the ’67 lines underscored the urgent need to look right in the eye at the past that is pursuing us. A clear line connects the fury that erupted among Palestinian citizens of Israel over events in Jaffa, Sheikh Jarrah, Damascus Gate and Al-Aqsa, and the trauma of the Nakba.

While all of these instances differed in the details, ultimately what they have in common is a continuation of the policy of moving Arabs out of their homes and depriving them of emblems of sovereignty. The whitewashing of the Evyatar outpost on the lands of Beita, the law banning reunification of Palestinian families and the construction currently being planned for the village of Lifta are all a direct continuation of the never-ending effort to ensure a Jewish majority on as much of the land as possible, even when the balance of power has already been decided. While the Netanyahu government tried to convince us that the Palestinian issue had become “irrelevant” and that the Nakba is “bullshit,” Yosef Weitz’s life work to Judaize the area is alive and kicking in every aspect of life for Jews and Arabs between the Jordan River and the sea.

Weitz, whose thick diaries present a chillingly self-aware portrait of the man, knew all this even when he was busy “eliminating” the deserted villages and concealing the evidence of their existence by covering the ruins with the pastoral JNF forests. He knew that no amount of saplings would make the pain and its implications disappear, he criticized David Ben-Gurion for failing to deal with the refugee problem and called for them to be offered monetary compensation.

“Our government’s avoidance of clearly stating its position on the refugee question was no blessing,” he wrote. “The illusion of conquest is comfortable – the euphoria of victory overshadowed long-term thinking. We were doubly profiting: We have land, and we didn’t pay money. The Arab refugees should be paid for their land.”

Of course, financial compensation alone does not remedy injustices, but it is certainly part of a process of recognition and justice in much of the world, such as the movement calling for recognition and symbolic compensation for the descendants of the victims of slavery in America. In Israel, too, the time has come to learn from “the father of the transfer” how to look the uncomfortable truth in the eye and begin seriously discussing the question of recognition and reparations for victims of the Nakba.

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