The Palestinian Narrative Has Won

When the Knesset approves legislation banning the Nakba commemoration, it seems surreal. Yet, there is also something good in this commotion. At least, there's no denial of the Nakba.

Israeli Arabs gather in northern Israel to mark Nakba Day 2013.
Jack Khoury

When the teacher asked us first-graders in Kfar Yafia what we do on Independence Day - it's "day" in the uninspired Jewish term, "holiday" in the imaginative Arab language - I answered excitedly: We go to Ma'alul.

Ma'alul is my parents' village, whose residents were uprooted in 1948. Indeed, it was a holiday, when the military administration, in its generosity, loosened its grip a little and turned a blind eye to the crowds "celebrating" Independence Day on the ruins of the villages from which they had been uprooted.

At the time I, the refugee, felt privileged. I told my friends how we visited a church and a mosque, strolled along the paths, and how we gathered by the fountain.

Do you hold gatherings here as well, they asked. No, I said with spiritual elation. In Ma'alul the gatherings are more beautiful. How does Bertolt Brecht put it - in the homeland, even the voice sounds clearer.

Today, more than 40 years later, my daughter Hala is in first grade and feels the same sense of privilege. She, too, has Ma'alul.

They didn't use the word "nakba" then. The popular expression was "al hajij" (forced migration ), and was enough to raise a storm of emotions - a mixture of sadness, loss, anger, helplessness, compassion and yearning. The poet Salem Jubran said: "As the mother loves her disabled son...I will love you my homeland."

What would we have done in their place, I always ask myself. The challenge they faced was so great, I answer myself - beyond their capability to grasp, not to speak of dealing with it.

The term "Nakba" sounds like a natural disaster and still provokes debate. Those who object to it say what happened was not a natural disaster. That's true. But what counts is that the event is seen as a disaster of proportions beyond anything human beings are capable of generating.

So when the Knesset approves legislation banning the Nakba commemoration, it seems surreal. The Nakba is an ongoing event. No solution has been found for the refugee problem; the Arab population is discriminated against; senior cabinet ministers are threatening a sequel to the Nakba and Prime Minister Netanyahu defined the demographic issue, i.e. the Arabs' presence in their homeland, as the gravest problem.

Yet, there is also something good in this commotion. At least, there's no denial of the Nakba. Nobody claims the whole thing is a fairy-tale. The Palestinian narrative has won. The narrative that in '48 a people was exiled, by force, from its land, has been seared into Israeli and global consciousness. A vibrant, lively nation lived in Palestine, and a brutal act severed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. They were brutally and mercilessly thrown into the desert of doom and oblivion.

Instead of conducting a discourse, the Gadhafi-like types here - the Liebermans and their kind - are threatening a massive bombardment "house by house, zanga-zanga" of every good part in Israeli society. They won't rest until they destroy any memory of the word "Nakba." They will use this opportunity to eliminate every trace of democracy as well.

What gives us room for optimism is that this running amok has awakened Israeli public opinion against the murky fascistic wave. Perhaps this absurd law will provoke a dialogue about the events that took place in 1948, as a way to reconcile the two peoples. Avoiding such a dialogue will only add to the conflagration, for the surest way to get stuck in an entanglement is to ignore it.