August 26, 2016

Remembering Palestine

On Israel’s anniversary, Palestinians commemorate Al Nakba—the Catastrophe

Dana Olwan, PhD ’09
Dana Olwan, PhD ’09

On May 15, Israel will celebrate its 60th anniversary. Palestinians around the world will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba or the “Catastrophe.” Among other things, Al-Nakba marks the forced expulsion and destitution of 750,000 Palestinians from their indigenous homeland and the destruction of 418 villages in 1948. Its aftermath effectively decimated Palestinian identity, culture and life.

While Israelis are exhorted to remember this day and mark the sixth decade of Israel’s creation and independence as a celebratory occasion, Palestinians are encouraged to forget their past and their historic link with their homeland.

We’re instructed to concede to traditional Zionist myths that have depicted the land of Palestine as empty prior to the arrival of Zionist settlers. We’re expected to accept that Israel’s creation did not alter or disrupt the lives of the land’s indigenous Palestinian inhabitants.

Today, we’re reminded Israel is the only country anxious for peace with its Palestinian and Arab neighbors. We’re told the building of the apartheid wall upon Palestinian territories, the repeated military incursions into the West Bank and Gaza, the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied territories in contravention of international law, the displacement of Palestinians through the confiscation of ID cards and the targeting and collective punishment of Palestinian civilians—including the latest massacre on Gaza, which resulted in the death of at least 106 Palestinian civilians—are all justifiable and “measured” acts. We’re pressured to ignore the current state of colonization and occupation and focus instead on unbalanced attempts at peace and reconciliation that privilege Israeli security over Palestinian sovereignty and human rights, including their UN-sanctioned right of return.

Ironically, in the U.S., it’s no longer possible to celebrate Columbus Day without acknowledging the considerable toll of European settlement. Likewise, 1948 shouldn’t be celebrated as a realization of a dream without recognizing its catastrophic consequences for Palestinians. Yet Israel continually refuses to acknowledge any culpability for Palestinians’ plight.

One can only celebrate the creation of the Israeli state through the deliberate burying of the following historical facts: that the creation of the Israeli state was made possible at the expense of the indigenous population; that its creation was legitimized through racist Zionist narratives that depicted Palestinians in the words of Zionist leader Moshe Smilansky as “semi-savage” and incapable of self-governance; that it actively engages in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Palestine through expulsion, massacre and state terrorism; that Israeli “democracy” privileges its Jewish citizens and actively discriminates against Palestinians; that it has left Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza cut off economically and politically; and finally that Israel continues to employ racist and exclusionary legislative policies that prevent the seven million Palestinians living in the diaspora from returning to their homeland.

Palestinians will mark the 60th anniversary of Israel’s creation by remembering these painful historic facts. They will remember the names of the villages that were destroyed, record the names of those who were killed and lament the loss of their inherent right to a dignified life in their homeland. They will challenge efforts to deny Israeli abuses of Palestinian human rights and oppose attempts to silence Israel’s critics by deliberately conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. They will recognize the contributions and sacrifices of those Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation and languish in refugee camps. They will speak against Israel’s present and continuing crimes in the West Bank and Gaza. When 1.4 million Palestinian women, men and children living in Gaza are deprived of water, electricity and medical care and are subject to brutal military attacks, how can we ignore the pain and suffering the formation of the state of Israel has wrought on Palestinians?

Palestinians everywhere will mark May 15 by celebrating the enduring spirit of Palestinian resistance. They will remember by engaging their communities, by educating others about their plight and by working in solidarity with other marginalized indigenous groups in Canada and elsewhere. They will remember Al Nakba by asserting their right to remember Palestine.

Acts of remembrance involve a conscious effort to resist erasures or commit them.

How will you choose to remember Palestine?

Dana Olwan is national chair of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights.

Have questions or comments about this piece? Send them to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca . Go to queensjournal.ca March 31 for an online discussion.

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