Sometime in 2001, after a moving tour in the villages around Latrun, destroyed and depopulated by Israel in 1967, I conceived the idea of posting simple signs that will commemorate villages displaced in the Nakba. I shared it with friends and colleagues and one of them, Eran Shahar – editor of Hakibbutz – decided to publish it. A double page spread that included an interview with me and supporters and detractors of my idea was published on August 23. I feel it is important to give due credit to Shahar, whose words contributed to the creation of a second NGO – the first was Four Mothers.
Shahar’s story named dozens of kibbutzim built on the ruins of Palestinian villages, and I was naive enough – extremely naive – to suggest that they post modest signs to commemorate those destroyed villages. In the simple words of someone who grew up in a kibbutz and will always love it, with no sophistication or mediation, I approached them with an offer to take part in a new pioneering project. I tried to offer to several acquaintances from Kibbutz HaOgen to commemorate Wadi Qabbani, about which they knew well, but pretty soon I realized how far this idea was from their thoughts.
It was only then that I became aware of my own ignorance as to my birthplace, Kibbutz Bahan, located only two miles from Qaqun. I had to start Zochrot in order to “discover” that this was a displaced Palestinian village and not just a Crusader fortress as I was told as a child.
There was no Zochrot yet, no organization, just an idea that I shared with others. It was the responses I got which moved this idea forward. I’d like to think that Zochrot was created based on communicating with people and getting their response. It was built up on human interaction rather than as the outcome of strategic discussions or funds allocated for this initiative by an individual or a group of individuals.
So I started it, but I didn’t establish it. It was established by many who have responded to it and took part in it. I cannot but mention Norma Musih, who was my main partner in shaping Zochrot’s path until two years ago. Together we realized that Zochrot was not ours, and certainly not an end in itself, but a manifestation of our civil responsibility towards the society we live in.
Only recently, when representing Zochrot in Berlin (where else?) I voiced the insight that the initial idea of posting signs originated in my colonialist identity. We inherited the name reclaiming practice from our founding father Ben-Gurion, who had inherited it from great European conquerors before him.
Naming by sign posting is a proactive step typical of conquerors. Zochrot’s signs, which remind us of the enormous destruction carried out in order to establish the Jewish State, goes beyond solidarity with the occupied people. Together with the understanding that the country’s indigenous population pays the main price for the injustices of Zionism, it is the occupier who is the signs’ main target. They are designed to make Jewish Israelis acknowledge their own privileged status and go beyond guilt by taking responsibility for the Nakba. Only recognition of this kind can lay the groundwork for future reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.
Zochrot is something that happened between many people in the world, not only Israelis and Palestinians. For me, even Israelis actively opposed to Zochrot are part of the project. Even the Israeli government, which had passed a law without precedence anywhere in the world, providing for sanctions against state-funded entities that mark the Nakba Day, is part. The so-called Nakba Law – a response to the growing recognition of the 1948 catastrophe in Israel – served to deepen Israeli Jews’ awareness of their troubled recent history and ongoing violent history.
I headed Zochrot until early 2011, and since I left I worked on many related projects, the most notable of which where the Nakba Map, and the New KKL (JNF), presented together with Moran Barir at the Zochrot Gallery. In doing so I achieved exactly what I wanted – not to manage, but to promote and produce new knowledge about the Nakba and Jewish Israelis.
At the end of this year I will end my activity in Zochrot, but I’m not pulling back. On the contrary, I intend to take a closer look at what we’ve accomplished and write a book about this experience together with my wife Dr. Eléonore Merza – an anthropologist studying Israeli society. Precisely at a time when the organization I’ve started is undergoing such profound changes it seems important to me to document the move we’ve led to transform the Nakba discourse in Israel. This wouldn’t be a memoire but an analyses of our major milestones and the decisions we took, which I find relevant for anyone seeking to lead social change, not only in Israel. In addition, the book will describe the methods we’ve used and provide new materials on the issue to which I have devoted my life since 2001. In that, the book will embody one of our main principals: the knowledge that I gain as a political activist is not only mine, but must return to society in order to be part of the possible change.
This is a tremendous challenge but I’m glad to say that my passion to move forward is still there. At present, I’m working on my last project in Zochrot – upgrading the Nakba Map, the only one in Hebrew. The first edition I had edited is out of print, which serves as a proof for the importance and benefit of this work.
In these days of growing despair in Israel, I still believe that the key still held in the Palestinian refugees’ hands and the lock hole in our Zochrot logo both hold the key for a decent life in this country – a life of equality and peace for all the country’s inhabitants and refugees.