The Nakba law is coming up again for consideration in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, in a more moderate version than before but with the same motivation: to frighten everyone who wishes to commemorate the human and political tragedy that occurred in 1948, in which the Zionists expelled most of the Palestinian inhabitants of the country and the state of Israel destroyed most of the localities in which they lived. Those proposing the law hope to mobilize Zionist patriotism by threatening to forbid commemorating Independence Day as a day of mourning. They are blind, of course, to the historical context, and the development of that tradition among the displaced Palestinians who remained in Israeli territory. Let us not forget that Arab localities in Israel were ruled by a military government until 1966. Palestinian citizens were forbidden to travel “beyond the pale” without a permit from the military governor. On Independence Day all the residents had a vacation, even the Arabs! The most important place for them to visit was the one where they had lived, to which they were forbidden to return. As the years went by, and they understood that the Jewish state would never allow them to return home, this event took on a national-political aspect, and in recent years it is celebrated with a “March home” to the remains of one of the localities captured during the nakba. “Their independence; our Nakba,” became the main slogan of these events.
The government intends to impose economic sanctions on the organizers of these important commemorations, which will only increase the discrimination suffered by Palestinian citizens of Israel. The economic sanctions contradict the state’s obligation to the welfare of all its citizens, regardless of their political beliefs or national identity. In recent years, a growing number of Jews have participated in the return marches to Palestinian localities which Israel captured during the Nakba, and support for the right of return is increasing. These Jews are undermining the ethno-national dichotomy of the slogan, recognizing that the tragedy which occurred in 1948 is part of their own history. The participation of Jews in events commemorating the Nakba undermines the effort, which is as old as Zionism itself, to bring about confrontation and schism between Arabs and Jews in the country.
It may not come as a surprise that in this difficult time for Israeli public relations efforts, the government disseminates absurd “facts” about the Palestinian refugees. For example, that they numbered only 320,000, not approximately 800,000, as a result of the Nakba, while 150,000 “were absorbed in Arab countries” and 50,000 “ returned to their countries.” Such newspeak insults the intelligence of many Israelis, who have known for a long time that the official government explanations for the events of 1948 are intentional lies.
Hundreds of Israelis contact Zochrot every year. Educators, students, journalists, directors and others who are interested request information which has been concealed for so long about what happened just outside the house where they were born. The editor of the most comprehensive web site about the Nakba, www.palestineremembered.com reports that the number of Israelis entering the site is second only to the number of Palestinians. These are dramatic developments which no law which tries to compel people to forget the Nakba will be able to stop.
The Nakba is increasingly present in Israeli cultural production, no longer ignored by best-selling books and films by young directors. Even architects are beginning to show signs of addressing the traditions of local Palestinian architecture.
Despite these positive signs, it is impossible to underestimate the danger presented by the strengthening of anti-democratic currents in Israel. The present government is acting to greatly restrict the freedom of civil society to negotiate with the regime over the most controversial topics. Arbitrary arrests, outrageous investigations and draconic legislation are what you find in the toolbox of a government which knows that its survival depends on creating a “iron wall” that, for now, protects the Israeli colonial regime.
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