When they came to expel us to Tel Arad, the Jews surrounded Lakiya to prevent us from fleeing. There was a Jewish police station here. I remember that on the day we ran away, my mother forgot some cooked food on the stove. My father pulled me by the hand and my uncle Ahmad held an iron chain, and my hair got stuck in it. They forced us out, forced us on busses, and whoever resisted got shot. We were clubbed, and some men and women got killed near the eastern road. The eastern road leads from Hebron to Beersheba. Some people left without taking anything from their houses. One family even forgot their son in panic and fled. Twenty days after we moved to Tel Arad [a settlement near the West Bank], my father died there. He died of sorrow. Interview with El-Haja Rukayya El-Sani', refugee from Bir-a-Saba; Raneen Jeries, April 2006
On May 15th, the 64th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba was commemorated worldwide. The event planned by Zochrot has gained in significance following a previous commemoration and re-presentation activity we planned to hold on Israel's Independence Day, celebrated this year on April 26. However, we were unable to do so since we had been preempted by the Israeli police – officers besieged our headquarters, surrounded them with a human fence and would not let our activists leave the grounds. Moreover, three of them were subsequently arrested.
"Public nuisance " was how the police defined the activity planned for that evening, a term that apparently designed to justify questioning of everyone who left our offices, searching their belongings and blocking all entries and exists to the ordinary residence building in the heart of Tel Aviv. Despite the massive crowds partying on the streets that night, there seemed to be no shortage of police manpower, and it is impossible not to conclude, therefore, that the Nakba discourse is perceived as a real threat to public order – particularly given the recently passed Nakba Law.
The rioting at the Tel Aviv University campus yesterday also reinforces that impression. At noon, a quiet Nakba commemoration ceremony was held there in front of a massive, loud counter-demonstration. It had been preceded by a request by Education Minister Gideon Saar that the university president reconsider his approval of the event, as well as by a heated debate at the Knesset Committee on Education.
Article 215a of the Israeli Penal Law 5737-1977 defines "public nuisance", as follows: "If a person committed an act that is not authorized by en [sic] enactment or abstains from an act which he is obligated to perform under an enactment, and if he thereby causes the public any injury, danger or annoyance, or if he obstructs it or causes it inconvenience in the exercise of a public right, than he committed a public nuisance and is liable to one year imprisonment". So what is a public nuisance? More importantly, how and by whom is it determined what "annoys" the public, what "obstructs" or "inconveniences" it? The answers to these questions seem quite clear when we refer to physical nuisances such as garbage dumped in a playground, but what about the free expression of viewpoints that inherently subvert the existing order and deliberately seek to challenge it? Thus, all too often and all too easily, the term "public nuisance" is used as a mechanism for silencing those alternative voices.
Zochrot seeks to undermine and challenge the public order and promote the recognition of the Nakba among the Jewish public in Israel. Although the NGO seeks to do so in ways adapted to the psychological preparedness of Jews to deal with this complex and emotionally laden issue, undoubtedly the Nakba discourse is usually perceived not only as liable to destabilize the existing order but also to shatter the fundamental assumptions accepted by the Jewish public in Israel. In the face of this shattering experience, the Jewish public adopts mechanisms of escape and avoidance of anyone and anything that might awaken this sense of threat and allow it to inhabit its consciousness.
"This conflict between the will to deny what has happened and the will to speak it aloud is the central dialectic of trauma", wrote Judith Herman in Trauma and Recovery (1992). "In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator's first line of defense… The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality…"
Given this background, it is clear why the current discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which views 1967 as its zero hours, is much easier for Jews to digest, as it does not threaten the very foundations of their being, but at most threatens to reduce their living space. But the truth is that every silenced and denied memory becomes clearer and captures the heart. In time, it is not clear which is more painful, what etches itself so rudely upon the psyche: the distance from memory, forgetfulness, repression, erasure, or maybe precisely the invasion of memory into a space it is not adjusted to. A space that is used to forgetting. When we forget, at least we have the illusion of tranquility: the mind which does not remember rids itself of misery and regrets, accountability and consequences. Usually, it has the privilege of hopping back and forth between forgetfulness and memory as it may see fit.
Coming to terms with the fact that it was the 1948 Nakba or Catastrophe which turned most of this country's Palestinian inhabitants into refugees and destroyed most of their towns and villages which established the oppressive relationship between Jews and Palestinians which continue to this day is difficult for Jews. It is difficult mainly because it entails a heavy burden of responsibility that nearly cannot contain and carry itself. Therefore, anyone and anything which seeks to remind us of it is necessarily a threat to be defended against. Not only do we refer to the Nakba like a chapter from a 2000 year-old history, rather than a relatively recent event. We repeatedly erase it from our minds, and physical, cultural, linguistic and public spaces. In that, we are guilty of a double crime: the historic crime of 1948 and the crime of its erasure ever since.
How can we remember in a reality drowning in forgetfulness? When memory and oblivion live side by side, a minute's walk away – not even as far as the distance between East Jerusalem and Tel Aviv? When oblivion lives and Yaffo next door to its neighbor, memory, who lives in Yafa? And when there are those who seek to remember and those who seek to erase from memory, when there are those who protect the public order against such nuisances and those who continuously work to undermine it? And when there are those who simply wish to return. On Nakba Day, we seek to introduce into the public discourse, consciousness and conscience not only the tragedy of the Palestinian refugees, but also the ongoing crime of silencing history.
Translation to English: Amy Asher
This text was publishe at Ha'oketz on May 14, 2012