Shadows and Distortions:
The Nakba in Palestine
By Nora Barrows-Friedman
As the heavy shadow of the 1948 Nakba hovers and recedes over the narrow alleyways of refugee camps and Diaspora communities this week, Palestinians remain at Israel’s whim to starve, die, or become displaced and divided.
Subdued commemorations are happening all over the rocky hillsides of occupied Palestine; there are the throngs of children waving the colorful and banned Palestinian flag which whips in the hot springtime wind, the busloads of people trying to travel to city centers to hear stories of the Nakba, only to be stopped at checkpoints and ordered back to their dusty refugee camps and shrinking villages. 58 years after the Zionist militias lay siege to over 450 Palestinian towns and villages, Palestinian refugees are still waiting, holding the iron keys that unlock the doors to homes that no longer exist.
Palestinian historian and researcher Dr. Ghada Karmi remarked, “Israel is 58 years old today. Israelis have already celebrated with barbecues and parties. And so they should, for they've pulled off an amazing stunt: the creation of a state for one people on the land of another - and at their massive expense - without incurring effective sanction.” Indeed, as the illegal apartheid wall snakes through the West Bank, as the settlement colonies expand and cascade down the valleys, as Gaza continues to absorb the psychic weight of 1.4 million Palestinians, hungry and dying and becoming angrier each day, it is as if Israel’s smirk grows wider and more toothy – for 58 years and counting, they have gotten away with it and assembled a fun-house mirror alternate reality to show to the world. Ignore the torture in the prisons. Disregard the human rights abuses. Pay no attention to the illegal settlement expansion. Don’t ask about the secret nuclear weapons program. Nevermind the apartheid social policies. Overlook the land theft. Forget about the home demolitions. After all, this is just for security reasons. And you – the Jewish American, the Jewish Russian, the Jewish Canadian, here’s your state. It’s malleable, it’s soft, it’s yours. It’s all for you. Look what we’ve built in your honor.
As a Jewish American, I do not want this tied to my history. This ballast, this anchor now inextricably linked to my ancestor’s struggles, my dead relatives’ stories. How dare we as American Jews allow this to happen. How dare we. How dare we support the ethnic cleansing in Palestine. How dare we argue over oppression hierarchy. How dare we march against the war in Iraq and keep our mouths shut on Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza. How dare we let lobby groups such as AIPAC drench our collective histories in soups of militarism, imperial domination, and snarly relationships with US weapons manufacturers and fascist politicians.
And here, as I sit in a quiet Berkeley café, I know I don’t have to travel 10,000 miles to see the effects of a Nakba. It is all around us, this wrinkled, drunken beast of ethnic cleansing, its atomic particles buzzing in our ears and whispering the names of Ohlone, Miwok, Pomo, Kashaya, Yuki, Wintun. The Nakba in 1492 that spread like cancer from the far corners of the northern “American” continent is ongoing and entrenched. “Where did the Indians go?” my daughter asked me recently. When I explained that they were killed or moved to other areas of the country so that this building, or that street, or those houses could be built for the gun-carrying white settlers (I put it in more delicate terms), she turned and without skipping a beat, said “oh, just like in Palestine.”
And so we go about our lives here in the occupied United States, five hundred years and millions of ghosts later, as half a world away, Palestinian children sit in the sweltering heat at the checkpoints, their flags whipping in the sandy wind and their grandparents’ iron keys ringing softly as though, they too, wait to once again fulfill their right of intention and identity.