Muzzling Discussion of the Nakba and Palestinian History

By Donna Nevel
10/12/13

Nakba: Palestine refugees 1948

Nakba: Palestine refugees 1948

We know all too well how adamantly pro-Israel forces in the U.S. Jewish community and Israel consider certain conversations and actions critical of Israel “beyond the pale,” and how blatant their hasbara (pro-Israel propaganda) attempts are to silence and suppress them.

Although the parameters (of what is “acceptable”) may change at times, what doesn’t seem to change is how hasbara intensifies as efforts to reveal historical and current truths and demand change become more visible and powerful.

Most recently, Al Jazeera reports that right wing groups have tried to censor schoolbooks and silence organizations that make visible to the Israeli public the Nakba, an Arabic word meaning catastrophe that refers to the forced dispossession and expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and land before, during, and after the creation of the Jewish state.

A bit of context: Some of these recent attempts at muzzling come as Zochrot, an Israeli organization, was planning (and recently held) a monumental conference, “From Truth to Redress: Realizing the Return of the Palestinian Refugees.” The conference had as its focus “the implication of Return for the country’s physical, cultural and economic space, on the nature of its future society, the status of Palestinians and Jews living here, the nature of its regime, and last but not least, the practicalities of returning property after 65 years of refugeehood and the destruction of Palestinian life on the one hand, and the establishment of a Jewish State and the resulting new reality on the other.”  This conference aligned with Zochrot’s ongoing commitment to “challenge the Israeli Jewish public’s preconceptions and promote awareness, political and cultural change within it to create the conditions for the Return of Palestinian Refugees and a shared life in this country.”  

Some of those engaged in the nastiest tactics are extreme right-wing groups like Im Tirtzu or NGO Monitor, which are both closely connected to the Israeli government. Recently, in response to an NGO Monitor report attacking it, the U.S. group, Jewish Voice for Peace, wrote: “NGO Monitor has a long history, broadly documented, of attacking any organization that it believes is effectively criticizing Israeli policies. The organizations NGO Monitor has attacked include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Al Haq, and the New Israel Fund, to name just a few. We are honored to be among them.”

But we also know that attempts to erase the Nakba have been standard policy and practice since the creation of the State, and they have been undertaken by people and groups across the political spectrum.  (More about this in a follow-up piece.)

Although the opposition may step up its tactics–of censoring; spying on organizations; prohibiting groups from even referring to the Nakba; shutting down funding; intimidating justice workers–that won’t change the fact that the history, the stories, the evidence, the documentation about the Nakba are indisputable.

Zochrot is having a truth commission for the events of 1948, to be held in March 2014,  “that will seek to collect and document information about the 1948 events, focusing in particular on the actions that led to the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. By exposing the public to this information, the event will seek to encourage various audiences in Israel to acknowledge these actions and take personal and collective responsibility for them.” This critical work continues.

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