Israelis, drop your denial and recognize the Nakba

Israeli recognition of its role in the Palestinian catastrophe is essential for both communities to survive. Other societies in conflict already figured that out.

Palestine refugees initially displaced to Beach Camp in Gaza board boats to Lebanon or Egypt during the first Arab-Israeli war, 1949

No country wants to accept the blood of the “others” it shed to be born. In 1945 — three years before Palestinians were scattered and exiled from their land — George Orwell wrote in his essay, “Notes on Nationalism,” that “There is no crime, absolutely none, that cannot be condoned when ‘our’ side commits it. Even if one does not deny that the crime has happened, even if one admits in an intellectual sense that it is unjustified — still one cannot feel that it is wrong.”

So, what do we do when one denies that the crime has been committed?

As an American and a Canadian, it seemed obvious to me why the destruction of indigenous populations required acknowledgment, remembrance, and redress. Perhaps for these reasons, I used to think that Israel’s denial of its own dark past would come to a natural end.

Israelis, I believed, would develop a sense of national, multi-generational, collective security. After we had passed through the stages of grief over historic Jewish destruction, and generations of Jews would be born into a nation-state of their own, we would be strong enough to lower our defenses. Then Israel could confront what it had done.

I believed this must happen for both Israelis and Palestinians to survive. Recognizing the Nakba — the expulsion and flight of Palestinians in 1948, and the formative trauma of modern Palestinian national identity — is essential for reaching any future agreement to end the conflict, which I view as a matter of survival.

Acknowledging Israel’s role in the Nakba is also essential for historic truth, as some Israeli historians and archivists know. The importance of recognition is not only about making peace with Palestinians outside the borders of the state; Israel must know the experiences of its own Palestinian citizens, who make up a fifth of the state’s population, if relations are to ever deepen into equals.

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