The basis for critical thinking is the ability to ask questions and be able to see and listen to all various sides of a story before forming an opinion. Our community knows from experience how it feels for our stories to be told and our narratives constructed over our heads, a phenomenon which we have been fighting for years. No one knows better than us what sophisticated methods the system utilizes to oppress. We’re supposed to be the first to ask questions about the narrative that the system tells us about the Palestinians. The same system forbids us to mention the Nakba in education institutions, Jewish and Arabic, or any other institutional program, and threatens anyone who even tries with defunding, Shin Ben interrogations, and other sanctions. This, in itself, already raises questions.
We know that this article might raise some controversy. And if we might share honestly, we were afraid of writing it, even though we wholeheartedly believe in it. Yet we still decided to publish it for the people willing to listen, and because the core of our movement is to give a voice to everything that’s pushed back. We’ve been working for a long time to promote culture and art in our community, and many times we’ve been given the message that some things must never be discussed. This is not our way. We believe that in order to reach a reality where we could all exist as we are, we first need to talk. Let’s talk, argue, and conduct discussions on this issue, but please let’s not decide that it’s too complicated, and mostly, let’s stop ignoring it.
Why don’t they want us to talk about the Nakba? Why is this story silenced? Why can’t Arab children learn and speak about a significant trauma suffered by their parents and grandparents? What happened in this space called the Land of Israel before the Jews arrived? Is our religious right to the land from 3,000 years ago more important than the people who were already living here? Is founding a state in the Land of Israel different from the Western colonialism practiced in exactly the same period in Africa and Asia? Is the narrative promulgated by the state about the Palestinians and Zionism the whole truth? Why can’t we listen to the story told by the “other side”?
The Nakba (in Arabic: the catastrophe) began in 1947, when over 750,000 Palestinians were driven out of their homes within the 1967 borders, and were forced into exile as refugees. People who lived in those villages and homes for hundreds of years were driven out, and forbidden to return after the war. While most Jews in Israel are unfamiliar with the term “Nakba,” for Palestinians, this is a central component of their identity. To this day, over 12 million people are still refugees, with no country and no land. For them, this wound remains open to this very day.
The Balfour Declaration took place following many events, but we might say that this was the most significant turning point of this story. In 1917, Britain published a declaration, announcing that it would support the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people within the area of Palestine. This was driven by its interest to further its hold on the area, which was then occupied by the Ottoman Empire. Meaning, a Western country, with no connection to this geographical space, decided the fate of the people who lived here. During that same period, about 1 million people were living in this country, with a Muslim majority, as well as approximately 10% Christians and approximately 5% Jews.
During the British occupation, Jews began immigrating to the country in great numbers, establishing a number of armed Jewish organizations, with the goal of expanding Jewish occupation into additional areas, to defend the Jewish settlements, and to drive out the British mandate. During their years of activity, these organizations executed a number of terrorist attacks against the British and the Palestinians. Following the UN’s decision to divide the country into two, the attacks began to increase in frequency, reaching a peak with the Deir Yassin massacre. Following those attacks, more and more Palestinians decided to run from their homes, fearing their lives.
The UN’s Declaration – the partition plan
On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly adopted the partition plan, dividing the land’s area into two states. There it was decided that the Jewish state would receive approximately 62% of the land’s area, while the Palestinian state would receive approximately 38%. The Palestinians refused this plan. A review of the votes for and against the partition plan sheds light on world power relations. Most of the countries that voted for the plan were Western countries which were themselves colonizing countries in Africa and South Asia. Such colonized countries were not even part of the UN at the time.
The events we noted are only a small fraction of a series of actions taken on account of the Palestinians, expressing the Zionists’ and the British approach which viewed this land as empty. Most of the Jewish settlement plans around the country supported the expulsion of Palestinians from that land. This approach forms the basis of today’s reality, which completely delegitimizes the Palestinian story. Throughout the years, more and more lands were expropriated from Palestinians, and at the same time, even more settlements were established over those very same lands. The Palestinian population grew naturally, but despite this, since the establishment of the State of Israel, not even one new Palestinian settlement was permitted to be built, all the while, hundreds of Jewish settlements were being established.
Palestinians’ freedom of movement is limited on a daily basis by military checkpoints and administrative detainments. Israel even controls their sources of water and electricity. And that’s not even a fraction of the limitations and oppression imposed on them. Even if we believe that this is justified, it’s still defined as an occupation, military control of another people. And this control has many implications for us as citizens in this country, whether we want it or not. Especially when the most oppressed Jewish populations are the ones sent to enforce this supervision and control.
No matter which way we look at it, our Independence Day is the Palestinian Nakba. And we are wondering what our future would look like if we continue ignoring this. If we continue refusing to be accountable for our side of the story. Just last week we marked the Holocaust Remembrance Day, and we remember very well what they repeated to us, that the most terrible thing that happened there was the silence and deliberate ignorance of good people about what was going on. We are repeating the same mistake. It’s time we recognize that the Palestinians live under occupation, and that they’re a people with a history and culture, just like us.
We’d like to conclude with a quote by poet, politician, and cultural theorist Léopold S. Senghor (1906-2001), who was one of the leaders of the movement to free African peoples from colonialism.
I have hated only oppression / It is not hatred to love one’s people
I say there is no armed peace / No peace under oppression, no brotherhood without equality I wanted all men to be brothers.
(Translated from French by John Reed and Clive Wake)