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In these horrible and painful times, it is more vital than ever that we Palestinians and Israelis stop talking about each other, and start talking to each other. Below is a conversation between the two CEOs of Combatants for Peace, discussing the Nakba Remembrance Ceremony they are hosting, on May 15th, 2022. Combatants for Peace is an NGO whose members work toward a two state solution in the 1967 borders, OR any other mutually agreed upon solution that will allow both Israelis and Palestinians to live in freedom, security, democracy and dignity in their homeland. Register to participate here.
Op-ed by Rana Salman (Palestine) and Yonatan Gher (Israel), co-CEOs of Combatants for Peace
Yonatan: We should probably tell our readers from the start that in writing this article, we are violating Israeli law. According to Israel’s 2011 Budget Foundations Law (known as the Nakba law), it is forbidden to relate to the day of the founding of the State of Israel as a day of mourning.
Rana: It’s a law I’m happy to violate. The Nakba law violates the right to freedom of expression for citizens in Israel and the rights of the Palestinian minority in the country and aims to erase the memory of the most mournful day in the lives of Palestinians. Nakba literally means catastrophe, but the Palestinian Nakba was not a natural disaster. It marks the destruction and displacement of more than 700,000 Palestinians during the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Today, the total 1948 refugee population is estimated at some five and a half million, including four million registered with UNRWA and one and a half million not registered. Most live in Jordan, followed by the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon and East Jerusalem.
Yonatan: Those are things I should know. Growing up in the Israeli school system, at no point did I hear the word Nakba from any of my teachers, let alone the perspective it represents. In Israeli history class we learned that the waves of Jewish immigrants that came to Israel in the late 19th and early 20th centuries came to a barren land. There was no local population to speak of, other than that they tried to kill us. So we defended ourselves, and they ran away.
Later in life, when I learned of the term Nakba, it was in the context by which many Israelis have come to understand the term: An antisemitic desire that Israel should cease to exist and that we all should die.
Rana: That’s not what I want. But I do want Israelis to understand what the Nakba really is. As for me, I didn’t have to learn about Nakba at school to understand how painful it was, as I am a descendant of a Palestinian refugee family that was expelled from their home in Haifa in 1948. I grew up imagining how difficult it must have been for my family to lose their home and become refugees. My grandparents were never allowed to return.
Yonatan: Many nations have gone and continue to go through a reckoning of their past, and the devastation that their founding brought upon the indigenous communities that existed prior. Australia changed its national anthem, to reflect its understanding and respect towards the aboriginal communities that lived on the land long before the European arrival. Israel lacks the ability of these other nations to look at their history and say “yes, we did wrong, we now wish to rectify,” to a large extent because in our case — this has to be said — the wrongdoing is still taking place. So, while my position might not be popular in my country right now, I would like to think that when future generations learn about this period, my actions will be ones for which they will not need to apologize.
Rana: That will take commitment and a lot of work. Learning about the Nakba is not only a matter of learning facts, although having this knowledge is of great importance. It is essential to comprehend the meaning of these facts to cultivate sympathy and compassion. Israelis should learn about the traumatic event of the Nakba and acknowledge it as a historical reality. It is necessary for Israel to recognize the ethnic cleansing that was (and still is) committed, it is the only way that we will overcome it. Educating Israelis about the Nakba is still relevant today as tensions continue to escalate. Last year, Israel was carrying out the most brutal displacement operations in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, while the international community was not only witnessing and ignoring but allowing Israel to continue its human rights violations and international crimes against the Palestinian people. This year, the communities of Masafer Yatta, an area in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank, are also facing the threat of expulsion.
Yonatan: If we are to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians, we must be able to understand where the other is coming from. We don’t need to accept or agree with the others’ narrative, but we need to recognize that it exists. One side’s terrorists are the other side’s freedom fighters. One side’s occupation forces are the other side’s defense forces. One side’s Independence Day is the other side’s Nakba. Both sides have their dignity and their determination, and no side will be defeated into submission. At the same time, we must also recognize the facts on the ground, the apartheid and oppression are very real, and cannot be ended until we have a serious reckoning with both history and the current reality. Israelis are participating in the Nakba ceremony because we want to learn, we want to understand, we want to reckon, we want to end the bloodshed and live here together with equality and peace.
Rana: Learning each other’s narratives is why Israelis participate in the Nakba ceremony, and also why Palestinians participate in the joint Israeli-Palestinian Yom Hazikaron Memorial Ceremony. You can’t truly connect with someone without sharing things about yourself. Palestinians participate at the joint Memorial Ceremony because we want to connect with the “other” on a human level. We want to prevent further pain, grief and loss. It is through this approach that Palestinians and Israelis realize war is not a decree of destiny but a political choice.
And that’s what we hope to achieve with the Nakba Remembrance Ceremony. It builds empathy and awareness of the suffering caused by the events of 1948 and the creation of the State of Israel — pain that continues to this day. A peaceful future can only be built when together, we honor and acknowledge the pain of the past and its influence on the present.
The Nakba Remembrance Ceremony will take Place on Sunday, May 15th, at 7 PM in Palestine and Israel. You can participate here.