The New York Times published on April 18, 2018 the following op-ed piece by Hadash MK Ayman Odeh, who leads the Joint List, the third-largest bloc in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.
Seventy years ago, the world changed around my family. The establishment of the state of Israel represented self-determination for Jews, but a catastrophe — “Nakba” in Arabic — for Palestinians. In the area around the Mediterranean city of Haifa, where my family has lived for six generations, only 2,000 Palestinians of a population of 70,000 remained. My grandparents, A’bdel-Hai and A’dla, were among them. Their neighbors were expelled and dispossessed, and never allowed to return.
More than 400 Palestinian communities were destroyed entirely — each one carried the memories and milestones of the families who called it home. My grandparents and all those Palestinian Arabs who remained and became citizens of the state of Israel were placed under military rule in Israel until 1966.
This is a sorrowful and important part of my family’s story, and of Palestinian history. It should be recognized and mourned. But in 2011, Israel passed a law declaring that any institution that receives public funds can be financially penalized if it mourns the Nakba on the same day as Independence Day, which Israel celebrated [this year] on Thursday [April 19].
This law is intended to erase the painful truth of the Nakba, which is an inseparable part of the story of the founding of the state of Israel. It is also a point of proof that the Nakba — the erasure of Palestinians, along with our history, language and stories — is not a single historical event. It is a continuing phenomenon.
The Israeli educational system perpetuates the Nakba by refusing to teach about Palestinian society before 1948. Children in public schools throughout the country, Arab and Jewish, learn about European Zionists like Theodore Herzl, who died well before the establishment of Israel, but nothing about Palestinians before 1948. One would think there was not a Palestinian artist, poet or author before Israel’s founding.
The residents of the small village of Umm al-Hiran, whose 1,000 residents are Palestinian citizens of Israel, tasted the continuing Nakba bitterly last week.
They have been battling with the Israeli government for years to receive recognition for their village, which would allow it to finally be connected to the water and electrical grids, and to benefit from public infrastructure like paved roads. But the state dug in its heels in and refused, bulldozing the village over and over.
Finally, desperate to end the uncertainty and pain of living and raising families so precariously, the village residents signed an agreement with the government to move to a nearby town. Umm al-Hiran will be demolished, and a new town called Hiran will be built in its place. According to the planned town’s bylaws, it will be home to religious Jews only; these racist requirements are legal under current Israeli law.
Palestinians living in the occupied territories feel the continuing Nakba constantly, at each checkpoint that makes travel unbearable and keeps them contained, at each funeral for an unarmed protester killed by Israeli snipers and each time a settlement is built on stolen land with the blessing of the Israeli government. And if the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu follows through on its desires to annex the West Bank without providing full equal rights to its Palestinian residents, it won’t be a new Nakba. It will be the continuation of one that has never fully ended.
I don’t believe that my grandparents could have imagined 70 years ago that I would become a member of Knesset, representing Palestinian citizens of Israel, a minority voice in the parliament of the country we did not ask for but that came to us on the land we have always called home. I can’t know what place my children and grandchildren will have in their society in the future. But I am sure that to be able to create the kind of future I want for them — one in which they can live with equality and in peace — Israelis will have to do more than recognize the Nakba. They will have to end it.