miraculous catastrophe

Israelis and Palestinians not only inhabit different worlds. They live different historical narratives as well.
Few Israelis are even aware about what Palestinians call the “nakba” – the so-called “catastrophe” entangled with what Jews see as little short of a divine miracle: the 1948 creation of the Israeli state.
The Tel Aviv NGO Zochrot aims to educate Israelis about the flip-side to this “liberation” of the Jewish people – the destruction of hundreds of villages and displacement of more than 250,000 Palestinians.
It publishes maps and leaflets in Hebrew marking the Arab villages that were destroyed to make way for what is now Israel, in the hope of spreading some kind of understanding of the historical impact on the situation we see today.
It organises tours to destroyed Palestinian villages and arranges testimonies from refugees and Jewish Israelis as well.
Activist Eytan Bronstein believes Israeli education is severely lacking in this respect. “Our schools simply teach that there was a war initiated by the Arabs, which they then lost. They teach that the repression we see today is the price the Palestinian people should pay for this, because they don’t want us here. The word Nakba is never mentioned, left alone explained from the perspective of the Palestinians.
“Israelis only learn our own historical narrative and many people don’t know anything about the other narratives that exist.
“Knowing about it is the first step to acknowledging what happened to the Palestinians and the fact that they are still suffering. This acknowledgment is essential if Israeli Jews are to take responsibility.
“It doesn’t mean that we are the only ones who should take responsibility, but we have played a big part in what happened to the Palestinians and what continues to take place today.”
According to Bronstein, most Israelis genuinely believe that today’s conflict is about nothing more than Palestinian people not wanting Israel to exist. But Zochrot doesn’t just want a better understanding about the history. To them, the logical next step is taking responsibility and making some kind of amends.
“When we talk about responsibility we need to talk about actions. We have some suggestions of how this could be done,” he says.
This period of Israel’s history is understandably touchy for many – “it touches the very nerve of our being” is how Bronstein puts it. He claims that efforts have been made to cover up the darker side of his country’s beginnings, with testimony from refugees hushed up by Zionists and resistance to education projects like his. Zochrot – whose members are routinely accused of being traitors and dubbed ‘self-hating Jews’ – wants to put together teaching materials to be used in schools but know that few teachers would be willing to broach the issue.
“The problem for many is that if you acknowledge that refugees exist, the next step is surely the right of return. We support that right of return but we need to think how it could be done,” he explains.
“We have to acknowledge the right of return – people have to be given the choice to return or to accept compensation or the choice to resettle somewhere else. Many wouldn’t want to return after all these years. But they need to be given some economic advantage in lieu of their land – studying free at a university built on their own village for example, or given apartments in a building on their land.”