Unit 6: And You Shall Recount it to Your Sons and Your Daughters
How shall we talk about the Nakba?

Learning about the Nakba raises many questions about our identity as Israeli Jews. In this unit, we’ll discuss these dilemmas in class, and consider how to deal with them. We’ll do so using an excerpt from the film "My Land Zion".

Goals:
1. Developing critical tools to cope with myths.
2. Asking questions about our attempts to understand the past, as well as considering the wrongs that Palestinians continue to suffer.
3. Learning what Israeli-Jewish society did in 1948 from the testimony of a member of the “Haganah” who describes the battles in which he fought.

Keywords: Art, Collective, Memory

Activity
1.  Introduction

-  What do you know about 1948?  - What were you told about the war? - Do you know what the Nakba is? - Have you heard anything about specific battles, about how soldiers and civilians behaved during the war? - Whom did you hear it from?

To the teacher: If this activity follows one in which students learned about the Nakba (Unit 2, for example), you may ask a specific question about the battles, such as: How would you describe the fighting, the expulsion? What did soldiers do; what did civilians do?  If this unit is not preceded by one dealing with the Nakba, we suggest asking the more general questions from the preceding paragraph.

2.  Introducing the film:
We’re going to watch an excerpt from the film, "My Land Zion" by Yuli Cohen.  It’s a documentary describing a journey the director took, and during which she reflects on her choice to raise her daughters in Israel. She uses the journey to critically examine the central myths and fundamental assumptions of Israeli society. We’ll first view an excerpt from the film in which the director speaks with her parents about their role in the 1948 war.

3.  Watching the film:  Excerpt from the film, "My Land Zion" (2004. Directed by Yuli Cohen. Length: 12 minutes, see: supplementary material 1).

To the teacher:  If you prefer, only the family conversation (Length: 4 minutes) can be shown.

4.  Class discussion: What did the students understand?
-  What was the conversation about?
-  What did the father tell his daughter?
-  Is the story told in the film similar to stories you’ve heard about what happened during the fighting?

5.  Group discussion: Divide the class into three groups. Give each group three poster board sheets, all containing the following three questions. Each group will discuss all three questions and write its answers on the poster board sheets:

-  What questions weren’t asked in the film?
-  What might we have asked people we know?
-  What similar questions might our children ask us?

To the teacher:  Additional questions that might help the groups in their discussions:
-  What questions weren’t asked in the film; what was missing from the conversation between the father and daughter?  One has the feeling that she refrains from confronting her parents too directly, that she fails to ask some difficult questions, and to show her discomfort.

-  What might we have asked people we know, our parents, our grandparents? What do we know about our family’s involvement in ’48? What would we like to know? Are there things we’d be afraid to find out? If they weren’t involved at all, or weren’t in the country then – what responsibility do we have as members of the group that has benefited from the fruits of that war, and continues to benefit?

-  What similar questions might our children ask us? What should we tell them about what’s happening today – for example, about the wars we know about - the second war with Lebanon, the second intifada, etc.?  What information will we give them? What will we withhold?

6.  Displaying the answers: Write the questions on the board. Have each group post its answer to each question, so as to create a table having three answers to each of the questions. Each group will present its answers. Pay attention to which question has the most answers.

The table would look like this:

 

What questions weren’t asked?

What questions might we have asked people we know?

What similar questions might our children ask us?

Group 1

 

 

 

Group 2

 

 

 

Group 3

 

 

 


7.  Class discussion:
-  How do you feel when you hear stories about the Nakba?
-  How can we deal with revelations about the past that we haven’t heard before?
-  What happens to us, as individuals and as a group, when we come across information that threatens our positive self-image as moral beings. How does this affect our identity? 
-  How does such information affect our relationships with those around us (family, friends)? 
-  Whom do you think the father should have told the story to? (Let the students make some suggestions)
-  Would you tell? Whom would you tell?

8.  Viewing the film: Mickey Cohen, the father in the first film we saw, began telling his story in a family setting. In the next, stage he moved from the family to the public arena, and told his story to Israelis and Palestinians. The narrative he presented at the beginning of his testimony is the familiar Israeli account. The additional, unsettling information about what happened and about his own behavior came out when the audience challenged him and asked questions. The answers exposed the serious incidents that no one had spoken about. Some claim that testimonies given at the site of the event, and discussions with those who participated in it, give the occasion the status of a public hearing. This also starts a process through which the person testifying, as well as the wider society, accept responsibility and are taken accountable. 

Supplementary Materials Index
Supplementary Material 1:  Excerpt from a film
An excerpt from the film, "My Land Zion" (2004).
Directed by Yuli Cohen (Length: 12 minutes)

Supplementary Material 2:  Testimony
An excerpt from Miki Cohen’s testimony (Length: 5:24 minutes.  From Zochrot’s tour of Bir Saba' (Beersheba), July 8, 2006
Directed by Raneen Jeries


Theoretical background

The Nakba’s place in Israeli collective memory has changed over the years. While in the 1950’s the Nakba had a place in discussions of the recent past (about morality, for example), in later decades it was slowly erased from public discourse and collective memory because of the apprehension that any discussion would undermine the foundations of Israel’s existence.

While learning about the Nakba, students may experience a revelation when they find out about traumatic events, and about the injustices that were, and continue to be, committed by us. They might understand, for the first time, that we are the ones who are sacrificing others. This understanding leads to questions, dilemmas, and doubts about their identity and the values on which they were raised. The activities in this Unit are designed to encourage discussions around these issues and to confront them. You should expect the students to raise similar questions at home, where they’ll probably face many difficulties.  Dan Bar On  argues that the family, which is seen as a protected space, does its best to silence discussions of trauma and collective events because it has difficulty incorporating them openly. The generation experiencing the trauma walls off the past from its present life, and the second generation constructs its own wall facing the one its parents built. A double wall of silence is thus created, repulsing questions about the role of family members in those events, and transmitting the trauma to the following generation. An additional silencing mechanism is created when exposure of the events labels the family members as a threat to society’s identity, and even to its very existence.  Learning about the Nakba raises moral issues about the involvement of those close to us, and about their responsibility. But such learning can also encourage dialogue within the family regarding these events. It’s important to note that we’re not referring only to the Nakba; discussion of the Nakba and the moral issues that arise from it can encourage the students to raise questions about the moral aspects of contemporary events, involvement of those who are near to them, and their own responsibility for what occurred in the past and what is happening now.

Pedagogical rationale

The Unit opens with the screening of an excerpt from the film, "My Land Zion" (2004), directed by Yuli Cohen, as background to, and basis for, discussion during the class activity (Included on the accompanying CD – cf. Supplementary Material 1). The director begins her film by describing the myths and experiences on which she was raised as an Israeli. and presents the dilemmas and questions that arose, and that led her to make the film. The excerpt on which we focus shows a conversation between the director and her parents about the 1948 war. Her father, who was a soldier in the Palmach’s Negev Brigade, recounts the part he played in expelling and killing the Arab residents of Bir Saba' [today, Beersheba]. A tense discussion follows between the daughter and her parents, and at one point the director’s own daughter, who is now old enough to serve in the army, joins them. 

The activity deals with the problems and questions that follow from the conversation between the director and her parents, and examines the students’ feelings, and the dilemmas that arise for them and their families regarding the silencing and concealing of traumatic collective events. We believe this will give them the opportunity to work through and understand intergenerational dialogic processes that occur in connection with these topics.

Three class discussions are part of this Unit:
The first (cf. Sec. 4), preliminary, discussion will be held after watching the film in class, and will be based directly upon it and on the feelings it evokes. During the discussion, we’ll ask questions to help students understand and analyze what the film shows.

The second discussion (cf. Sec. 5) will be held in small groups, during which we’ll try to extrapolate from a situation in which we watch a discussion among strangers to one which involves the student’s close circle of relatives. The main questions deal with the values and stories that have been bequeathed to us, and those which we bequeath in turn to others. During the discussion, students can refer to dilemmas dealing with contemporary events, not only those connected to the 1948 Nakba. It is important to permit discussion of other events, other wars, including those happening today, in order for the discussion to be relevant to the students’ attempts to cope with the world around them.

The third, concluding, discussion (cf. Sec. 7) will develop more theoretically the dilemmas that arise from watching the film and touch on the changes we undergo when we learn information that undermines, and even threatens, our positive view of ourselves - how we see ourselves as moral individuals. This, in fact, is the central leitmotif of the discussions about the Nakba. Don’t delegitimize defensive responses by students, such as expressions of disbelief in what they’re hearing, or attacks on the morality of the other side (Arab, Palestinian). But you should encourage a broader discussion that involves rigorous self-examination and self-criticism. It is also important that this concluding discussion address issues such as: Where does each of us stand with respect to these events? How much responsibility do we accept for them? 

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1 Shapiro, A. (2001), “Hirbet Hiz’a – Memory and Forgetting,” Alpayim , No. 21, Tel Aviv:  Am Oved (Hebrew)

2 Bar On., D. (2007), “The German, Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian Triangle”, Sedek-A Journal on the Ongoing Nakba. No. 1. Tel Aviv: Pardes, Parhessia and Zochrot.

3 Memmi, A. (1991), The Colonizer and the Colonized, Boston:  Beacon Press

Zochrot online