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Independence contra disaster: Israel’s suppression of alternative historical narratives

Israel continues to suppress histories of Palestine.

By Patrick O. Strickland | Bikyamasr | Tel Aviv | 28 Apr 2012

April 26, 2012, marked the 64th birthday of the state of Israel. May 15th, however, will bring the 64th anniversary of the Palestinian al-Nakba, or disaster, during which roughly 700,000 Palestinians were displaced by fleeing or expulsion.

Yesterday, as a show of solidarity for Palestinian refugees’ right of return, thousands of Palestinians and Israelis marched from Abu Sinan, passed through Kwikat, and arrived at Amqa. These villages, casualties of the 1948 war, no longer exist. Yet, Palestinians whose families hail from these villages still have the keys to homes that were demolished over half a century ago.

The debate over narrative–Israel’s Independence Day vs. Palestinian al-Nakba–has received particular attention this year due to the Nakba Law. According to Haaretz, the Nakba Law, was proposed by MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beiteinu) [and] grants the finance minister the power to reduce the budget of state-funded bodies that openly reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, or that mark the state’s Independence Day as a day of mourning.

In The Russian Revolution, Rose Luxemburg wrote, “The freedom of speech is meaningless unless it means the freedom of the person who thinks differently.” She was speaking of the systematic persecution of those who were critical of the Bolshevik suspension of democracy that followed the 1917 revolution, but her maxim aptly lends itself to the struggle over historical narrative that persists in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Nakba Law, upheld in a constitutional court in January of 2012, symbolizes a major setback for the proponents of free speech. The absurd idea that historical perception can be regulated by the state is self-defeating: time and time again such efforts have strengthened the very forces they aimed at eliminating.

For the proponents of such a bizarre and reactionary law, the danger lies not merely in emboldening the opposition, but also in setting a dubious precedent that almost certainly will one day work against them. “Every time you violate– or propose to violate –the right to free speech of someone else,” the late Christopher Hitchens said, “you in potentia are making a rod for your own back.”

The struggle to over historical narrative is nothing new in this conflict. To Palestinians, the events of 1948 were indeed nothing short of disastrous. Denying that fact is pointless.(In the same vein, to many Jews it is perceived the liberation of an entire people who spent 2,000 years in exile.) Attempting to command a monopoly on historical narrative is not just frivolous; it is masochistic. Legislative efforts would be better spent on searching for reconciliation, rather than curbing the free speech of civilians and civil society.

Patrick O. Strickland is a freelance writer living and traveling in the Middle East. He writes about politics and travels on his blog, He is presently working towards an MA in Middle Eastern Studies.



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