Palestinians and Israelis Will Commemorate the Nakba Together

25 April, 2022,
Paint­ing by Pales­tin­ian artist Taysir Sharaf, (cour­tesy estate of Taysir Sharaf).


Opin­ions pub­lished in The Markaz Review reflect the per­spec­tive of their authors and do not nec­es­sar­i­ly rep­re­sent TMR. 



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.


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Rana Salman is the Palestinian CEO and co-Executive Director of Combatants for Peace. Before she joined CFP, Rana co-founded and served as the director of project management for Peace By Piece Tours, a travel company that offers educational and political tours in Israel and Palestine. In that capacity, she spent much of the last 10 years leading international groups on alternative tours and fact-finding missions in the region. Rana has also been a freelance translator and writer. She was born in Jerusalem but now lives in Bethlehem with her family. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature and also has a diploma in tour guiding.  

Yonatan Gher is the Israeli CEO and co-Executive Director of Combatants for Peace. He has previously been the Executive Director of Amnesty International-Israel, Greenpeace Mediterranean, and the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, and Communications Director for the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel. Born in New York, Yonatan grew up in Jerusalem, and now lives in Jaffa with his husband and two sons.


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