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Home > English > Website archives > Rainbow of Crisis > Facing the Specters of Israel’s Establishment: the Palestinian Right of (…)


Facing the Specters of Israel’s Establishment: the Palestinian Right of Return as the True Healing of Israeli Society

Tuesday 27 May 2008, by Michel Warshavski

Ten years ago, when the State of Israel was celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, our main duty was to explain that the creation of Israel was also the Palestinian Nakba, and often people asked "what does Nakba mean?" In most of the cases, the question was the result of ignorance. Today, whoever is asking "what does Nakba mean?" is not an ignorant, but rather a Nakba-denier, a kind of cousin of the Shoah-denier who is asking "what does Shoah mean?” The concept of Nakba and the reality of the Palestinian catastrophe have become public knowledge.

Moreover: all over the world, and not only in the progressive media, any mention of Israel’s sixtieth anniversary has been followed by the mention of the Palestinian Nakba, including by those—and they are the majority—for whom the creation of Israel is an event that deserves feasts and celebrations.

No doubt that this recognition is a big victory for the Palestinian people, whose tragic history has been denied for decades: the battle over history has finally be won, and the Zionist narrative concerning "a land without people for a people without land" and Palestinian refugees who either have never existed (sic) or have been forced to flee by their own leadership, are lying today in the garbage heap of old-propaganda lies. In its great majority, international public opinion recognizes that the price for the creation of a Jewish State was the destruction of Palestine and the creation of hundreds of thousands of refugees.

In Israel too, the Palestinian tragedy is largely recognized, thanks to the New Historians, who, twenty years ago, started to demystify the events surrounding the creation of Israel and have almost become today the official historians of Israel. No doubt, recognizing the "original sin" of the birth of Israel is an important evolution, allowing the Israeli people to look at its own existence with much less self-deception and mystifications, and, therefore, able to better understand the roots of the Israeli-Arab conflict and the way out of this conflict.

One should, however, be aware of the simple fact that recognizing a crime is only a first step, and by no means final one if our aspiration is reconciliation between the peoples. A necessary condition, yes, but not a sufficient one to end the conflict.

It may sound obvious, but it is not: during the Oslo process, not a few Israeli Left-intellectuals argued about the necessity for Israel to recognize "its portion of responsibility" and the right of return for the refugees, while, in exchange, the Palestinians will renounce any meaningful implementation of this right. Not a bad deal! One pleads guilty in exchange of being absolved by the victims and not having to repair or pay compensations! In reality, however, it is a very bad deal. First for the victims, who are asked to renounce what has just been recognized as their legitimate right; it is not hard to imagine that as long they are barred from returning to their lands, many among the refugees will keep their anger and animosity toward the Israelis, even after the Israelis will have asked for forgiveness.

But it is also a bad deal for the Israelis themselves, who, by such tricks and half-measures, will not be able to liberate themselves from the specters haunting their very existence. For, the Israeli structural violence and brutality cannot be understood if one is not aware of the permanent presence of the specters of the Nakba in the Israeli collective (un)consciousness. It is well known that denial does not make the victims disappear, but merely transform them into specters.

Only by fully accepting the right of return of the refugees can the Israeli people liberate themselves from the fear of return and destruction. Because, accepting in good faith the (right of) return means the end of the refugees as refugees, and their transformation into neighbors. The return of the Palestinian refugees to their homeland is not only a basic and nonnegotiable human right, but the precondition for the healing of Israeli society, its normalization, and the door open for true reconciliation.

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