Why the Nakba should never be forgotten
Netflix is currently streaming “Farha,” a movie about a teenager who witnesses the Nakba. Israelis have been left infuriated by the film, which in their perspective is full of libels and shows them in a bad light. However, the movie is not about that at all. Actually, the Nakba is about the collective memory of Palestinians as people. The movie’s purpose is to assert the Palestinian right to statehood.
The Nakba, which means “catastrophe” in Arabic, is about the events of 1948, when Palestinians were driven out of their homes and Israel as a state was declared. More than 700,000 people, half of Palestine’s pre-war Arab population, were expelled from their homes. They became stateless and many of these refugees’ offspring are still stateless today.
An opponent to the movie posted on Twitter that he does not mind a movie showing Palestinians suffering, but he is against a movie showing Jews as killers. However, we need to ask what caused these people’s suffering? What triggered their displacement? And to be realistic, it was the use of force. Only through force could Israel have been built. David Ben-Gurion said it in his memoirs and this is not exclusive to Israel. Unfortunately, human history has shown us that state-building is often a violent endeavor. The Palestinians would not have peacefully left their homes to give space for the Jewish settlers to build their state. Hence, showing the Jewish settlers as being peaceful and kind would be a fantasy.
In the collective Palestinian memory, the Nakba defines their existence as people who have the right to their ancestral homeland. This puts even peace activists who believe in the two-state solution on edge. Will recognizing the Nakba give the Palestinians claim to all of historic Palestine? That is also not the case because the UN recognizes Israel and there are established facts on the ground: Israel is a full-fledged state with people and institutions. Recognizing that Jewish settlers took the place of Palestinians does not delegitimize Israel.
However, when the world recognizes the Nakba, it recognizes the right of Palestinians to have their state in Palestine, not in Jordan as the late Ariel Sharon suggested.
Forgetting about the Nakba means forgetting about the two-state solution. Because it would mean the Palestinians forgetting about their right to have a state of their own. Denying the Nakba is similar to denying the Holocaust. It is about denying the right of a people to self-determination. Unless the Israelis recognize the Nakba, there will be no reconciliation. And if there is no reconciliation, there will be no peace.
The agreements we have today are shallow and have not reached the grassroots. They can be revoked at any time, once the countries that are party to them no longer have an interest in pursuing them or once there is enough domestic pressure to overturn them. For example, Mauritania revoked its normalization agreement with Israel following the tragic events in Gaza in 2009.
Recognizing that Jewish settlers took the place of Palestinians does not delegitimize Israel.
However, despite the generally negative reaction from Israelis, the movie was due to be shown at a theater in Jaffa. The fact that it is showing in Israel means that some factions recognize the Nakba and are aware that acknowledgment is the way to bring about reconciliation and peace. This is the Israel we want. This is the Israel that can bring peace to its people, to the Palestinians and to the region.
There are two Israels — the one that acknowledges its problems and wants to move forward, compromise and make peace, and the other, which is ideological, arrogant, racist and is sadly becoming much stronger. Israel will soon have its most right-wing, racist government ever. However, there is a silver lining. A friend told me that maybe this new government will make things so terrible that the people will understand they have to choose a different path.
Israel, or at least the incoming government of Israel, does not recognize how the world is changing. It is banking on some high-level accords for its security, but the problems are much deeper than this. The Abraham Accords will not take root and will not cement people-to-people relations as they were supposed to if no reconciliation takes place.
The World Cup in Qatar has shown the centrality of the Palestinian issue to the Arab world. Even a Moroccan player raised the flag of Palestine after a match. Sadly, the way Israeli correspondents have been rebuffed during the World Cup shows that there has been no reconciliation. Israel should realize that, for its sustainability, it needs reconciliation.
Obviously, the new government will be as belligerent as it can get toward the Palestinians. It is unlikely that it will recognize the Nakba or any rights for the Palestinians. However, it does not realize that, if there is no Palestine, there is no Israel. If the two-state solution is killed, then Israel will slowly be killed too.
Israeli leaders think they can maintain the status quo through maintaining the occupation, but they do not realize that, by occupying Palestinians’ land and destroying their dreams of statehood, they are destroying their own state. However, for the Israeli psyche to accept Palestinian statehood, it needs to recognize the Palestinians’ rights as indigenous people; as people who have roots on the land; as people who have been in Palestine for as long as anyone can remember. This recognition cannot happen unless the Nakba is recognized — this is why it should never be forgotten.
• Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is an affiliated scholar at the Hoover Institution, Stanford, and is president of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese nongovernmental organization focused on Track II.