The Continuing Story of the Nakba
Some troubling thoughts in advance of a conference on Shoah and the Nakba, at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem on Monday.
Sep 06, 2015 5:35 PM
When I try to guess what a Palestinian is feeling when he leaves his reservation and sees the Israeli flag flying on every hill and electric pole along the West Bank’s roads – I replace the Star of David with a swastika. And when I try to grasp the hatred that Palestinians feel toward Israel because of the injustice it has done to them, I replace “Israel” with “Germany.” These are the forms of hatred and disgust I know.
But relax. I am not trying to create an equivalency between the Nakba and the Shoah. First, the essence: There is a difference between mass expulsion of a people for purposes of political, demographic and economic conquest of a land, and genocide as one of a number of goals, among them conquering the world. A people who lives in exile and under occupation is not the same as a people whose place of burial remains unknown.
Second, the time factor: There is a difference between suffering that has an end, and suffering that has continued for almost 70 years without any sign of the end being near. The Holocaust lasted less than six years. The Nazi reign of terror existed for 12 years. The world joined forces to rein it in, and the process – the Nazi-German industry of murder – was halted.
The suffering of those who survived was not erased; we, their children, inherited a void and pain. There is no resurrection or rehabilitation for the Jewish world that became extinct and was erased. But parts of the Jewish people who survived succeeded in sprouting other flourishing branches – for example, an army that has a state and AIPAC, which capitalize on the suffering and the murder of the Jews, as a license to act against the Palestinians.
Almost 70 years after it was established, the Israeli-Zionist regime provides no respite to the Palestinian people. It never stops improving its methods to destroy, fragment, repress, humiliate, disinherit, kill, impoverish, expel or make life unbearable. The Nakba, as opposed to the Shoah, continues. With the collaboration of the High Court of Justice and despite the efforts of Israeli anti-occupation activists and human rights organizations.
It is possible to compare the regimes, their essence and goals – and then discover the enormous differences. The goal of the Israeli-Zionist regime and its praxis – despite murderous “episodes” – is not the extinction of the Palestinian people. (If the Nazi regime had lasted for “only” 30 years, not 70, while expanding its domination, how many Jews would have been left alive?)
But no one has the right to compare in any way the suffering of peoples and human beings, or to quantify it, rank it, calculate it. How is it possible to calculate 70 years of expulsion and occupation without any deadline – or to quantify the fear of certain deterioration under the rule of an Israeli-Jewish people which is continuing to move to the right – in order to determine that this is not as horrible as the Holocaust? It’s just as it is impossible to rank the suffering of the Africans during centuries of slavery and to determine that it was “less horrible” than the suffering of the Jews under the Nazis.
We don’t quantify. We don’t rate suffering.
The swastika is still disgusting today, but its concreteness is in the memory, not in any threat against us today. In comparison, the Star of David is definitely a symbol of the contemporariness and actuality of Israeli violence against Palestinians – a symbol of the Israeli sense of superiority and its expression on the ground. Today. Now. Tomorrow.
Hatred of Germany is focused on chapters of its past and on the guiding ideology of those times, which created quickly, in a short and compressed period, enormous tectonic changes. Germany of the past “congealed,” and as such it has an existence in the present, in parallel, like an echo that continues to be heard for a long time after the rocks have rolled down the slope, or after the sound of a scream has stopped. And likewise there is an echo of hatred. But Israel, as a foreign and oppressive ruler of the Palestinians, is not an echo and not a chapter of the past. For them, we are the continuing and evil present which is impossible not to despise.
Our personal and collective biographies are stamped by this perverse triangle of Jews, Germany, Palestinians. Before Nazism the great majority of Jews in the world did not choose Zionism and the Holy Land as a solution to the problem of anti-Semitism and the rest of their troubles. They were okay with being a people of Diaspora.
If not for Hitler, it is doubtful whether Zionism would have had enough manpower and resources to completely change the demographic situation and landscape, to expel others in wars, to take over lands.
If the nations of the world had accepted within their borders the Jews who understood early enough that they must flee Europe – they would not have had the need to seek refuge or a model of a nation-state in Palestine-Land of Israel.
Palestinians say, and rightfully so: “So why should we pay the price?” They shouldn’t, just as First Nations in America and Australia shouldn’t have paid the price for the greed of a European capitalism searching for spices, markets, open spaces and land for penal colonies.
It is impossible to analyze Israel merely as part of colonialism and imperialism, and to ignore the heavy historic weight of the Third Reich, as short-lived as it may have been, which strived to eradicate all Jewish existence – and partially succeeded. Periods of tremendous injustice and expulsion all over the world have given rise to new realities. A living people that was banished 70 years ago will be able to return home. But they will find another people there.
We are stuck here in this one land – two peoples, with a Shoah that was and a Nakba that persists, which we Israelis continue to propel toward a slope.