The Nakba Isn’t Going Away

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Palestine refugees leave the Gaza Strip on fishing boats in 1948.
Palestine refugees leave the Gaza Strip on fishing boats in 1948.Credit: UN Archives

The establishment of Israel involved the destruction of the Palestinian society that existed here until 1948. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians became refugees, their villages destroyed and their land confiscated, with Jews settling on it instead.

These events, called the Nakba (Catastrophe) ever since, and fueling the fire of the conflict, are a great taboo in the Israeli consciousness. They are not taught in schools, only a few historians study them, and mention of them in the media immediately sparks efforts to silence them along the lines of “the Arabs rejected the partition plan and brought destruction on themselves.” The description of war crimes committed by Israeli soldiers in 1948 – expulsion, looting, murder and rape – are shunted aside, and publishing information on them is seen as undermining the justness of the national project.

But the state does not suffice with the callousness common in Israeli society toward the events of 1948. Rather, it strives to hide evidence of the Nakba. Hagar Shezaf’s investigative report in Haaretz over the weekend has uncovered actions by the Defense Ministry’s security department, known by its acronym Malmab, that have gone on for about a decade now, to conceal documents and testimony about war crimes in 1948 in public and private archives, even in cases where the information has already been published.

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Malmab, whose authority to censor the past is dubious and controversial, ignores the opposition of historians and archive directors who support exposing the events of the past as they happened. The goal of concealing them is to blur the evidence and strengthen the mendacious Israeli narrative that “the Arabs fled of their own free will, encouraged by their leaders.”

This is the Malmab that hid a detailed document describing the abandonment of the Palestinian cities and villages up to June 1948 and showed that most of the Palestinians left because of Jewish military actions. And that was even before the major expulsions from Ramle, Lod, the central Galilee and the northern Negev in the months after the war. The fact that the document had already been published didn’t deter the Defense Ministry’s falsifiers of history, who foolishly believe that absent documentation, the Nakba will be forgotten. Malmab is working in the spirit of the fascist slogan on the Israeli right that “the Nakba is rubbish.”

Israel at age 71 is strong enough to address the moral failings of its past. The Nakba won’t go away. It’s still there in the landscape, in the rows of pear cactus of the abandoned villages, in the many arched houses of Jaffa and Haifa, and in the memory of the Palestinian community in Israel, and in the territories and across the border.

Instead of censoring and concealing things, the history of Israel’s establishment and the Palestinian society that was uprooted should be studied and taught. Commemoration signs should be put up at the sites of destroyed villages, and the moral dilemmas that have accompanied Israel since 1948 should be faced. Such recognition won’t resolve the conflict, but it will place dialogue between Jews and Palestinians in Israel on a foundation of truth instead of lies, shame and concealment.

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