'Remembering' the Palestinian tragedy
By: Itamar Inbari
28/02/2007

Has the Zochrot organization succeeded in raising awareness of the Palestinian "Nakba" of 1948 among Israelis? This question stood at the center of an event that the organization held last Thursday in Tel Aviv to mark five years since its founding. "To say that we have succeeded in creating a revolution is an exaggeration, but there is a change and we feel it," said the director of the organization, Eitan Bronstein, to Ma'ariv NRG, emphasizing that "without recognition of what happened to the Palestinians in 1948 it will not be possible to speak about real reconciliation between the two peoples."

About 100 people came to an event held at the offices of the organization in Tel Aviv, most of them Jews who identify with the activities of the organization, but alongside them also Arabs who define themselves as Palestinian refugees in Israel, as well as foreign citizens who support the organization and its efforts to disseminate awareness of the "Nakba" among the Israeli public.

As typical of these types of events, members and devotees of the organization recalled memories from the beginning of Zochrot's path and told stories about how they came to be aware of its activities, which include, among others, organizing tours to villages in which Palestinians lived until the founding of the state and posting signs bearing the former, "original" names of the localities that were founded after 1948.

Dr. Ariella Azoulay, lecturer on visual culture and philosophy, curator and documentary film director, ended her praise of Zochrot by saying that "if the organization 'Zochrot' did not exist, it would have to be invented." According to Azoulay, within the terminology of the occupation the organization has succeeded in creating a real framework in which it is possible to tell the story of this place. She noted especially Zochrot's attempts to raise awareness of the word "Nakba," which "serves as a barricade in the face of occupation."

People should know why wars happen

Eppie Banai, who was born in Kfar Shalem in Tel Aviv, told how his curiosity about what became of the residents of the Palestinian village Salame, who resided there before the founding of the neighborhood where he lives today, led him to become interested in Zochrot's activities. He said that after he was introduced to the activities of Zochrot he began preparing a documentary about the residents of the village Salame, on whose ruins the neighborhood where he spent his childhood was constructed.

The Arab participants at the event told how the founding of Zochrot succeeded in helping them to spread awareness of the Palestinian story among the Jewish-Israeli public. "On our agenda speaking to Israeli public opinion and to Jews who did not learn such subjects in school was very important," said Mohammad Kayyal of the Association for the Internally Displaced.

"For the Association for the Internally Displaced it is important not only to talk to Palestinian Arabs in Israel, and not only to the political leaders of Arab society in Israel, but also to the Israeli public," said Kayyal. "It is obviously a problem for us, and to our surprise together with Zochrot we are able to explain our side to Israeli public opinion."

Kayyal, who called the people of Zochrot "courageous, active, and steadfast people" also said that "I am always in favor that our brothers, the Israeli Jews and also the Palestinians, know why wars happen and why there is a conflict and people have to know the truth. Before we proceed to reconciliation and to a just and sustainable peace, we must reach the truth."

The activities of Zochrot also earn the esteem of Palestinians living overseas, something that was expressed during the event. In honor of the event Palestinian historian Dr. Salman Abu-Sitta wrote words of blessing in which he bestowed praise on the organization and on its people.

A wake-up call for Jews in Israel

"Zochrot's work is a pioneering, important, and noble action, because it shakes the dust off from the hidden truth which the education system in Israel has concealed, and which people the world over recognize," he wrote. "The activities of Zochrot are a wake-up call for Israeli Jews who went to sleep six decades ago on an imaginary story about the fabled creation of the state of Israel. In doing so Zochrot provides a service to these people by calling for the truth to be revealed and rights to be restored to their owners."

Abu-Sitta foresaw a day in which "the Jews will say: 'Despite the period of massacre, of the expulsion of human beings and the conquest of their property and land, which we are not proud of, there were among us those who stood on the side of justice and truth with courage and determination, and were like candles in the dark."

Salah Mansour as well, the founder and director of the internet site palestineremembered.com, wrote words of blessing in honor of the event. "It is very important because one day everything you do, everything you document, will become very useful," he said. "At a certain moment, when people will want to find the information, they will find it precisely there... You are bring awareness to Israelis on the core subject of the conflict."

Mansour emphasized that "we on the outside – westerners, Muslim and Christian Palestinians – think that you are all one group: All of you are Zionists, soldiers. It is very important that there be other faces, to show that there is more than one kind of Israeli. It is important to us to know that there really are Israelis who care about the Palestinians."

Sensing a change in Israeli public opinion

The director of "Zochrot" and the driving force behind the organization, Eitan Bronstein, said that he senses a change in Israeli public opinion regarding the Palestinian story since the founding of the organization. "To say that we succeeded in creating a revolution is an exaggeration, but undoubtedly there is a change, which we at "Zochrot" sense," he told Ma'ariv NRG. "There is an enormous rise in the number of visitors to our internet site, and the number of enquiries to us from Israelis is also increasing."

He remarked that there are also different bodies such as youth movements that turn to the organization for information about its activities and in order to participate in tours that it conducts.

Bronstein states that in opposition to the impression that might exist, he and his friends focus their activities first and foremost among the Jewish public in Israel . "Since I founded Zochrot, my obligation has been primarily toward the Jewish public in Israel ," he says. "We are careful that our materials are put out first in Hebrew, and as far as we are concerned we are acting in the interests of the Jewish public, even though there are those who might disagree with that."

According to him, recognition by the Jewish public of the "Nakba" and of the Palestinian narrative is the path to reaching true peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. "I am certain that in the absence of recognition of what happened in 1948 outside of the Zionist viewpoint it will not be possible to talk about true reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians and about life in peace and security," he said. "If we do not hear other viewpoints besides the Zionist viewpoint, which makes wars and the continuation of the occupation acceptable, there will be no chance for reconciliation."

Zochrot online