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[Hebrew U] Dr. Efrat Ben Ze'ev, [Ben Gurion U] Dr. Ahmad Sa'di, and [Durham U, U.K] Dr. Uri Davis at Sabeel's "remembering the Nakba"

Dr. Uri Davis is an honorary research fellow at the University of Durham's Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (IMEIS).

Dr. Ahmad Sa'di, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University.

Dr. Efrat Ben-Ze’ev, an anthropologist, teaches at the Ruppin Academic Centre and is a Fellow of the Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Sabeel Conference, November 13--Highlights of the Day

The first full day of Sabeel's seventh international conference focused on remembering the Nakba and on the current reality for those Palestinians who remained within the borders of Israel after 1948. These Palestinian Arabs became citizens of the new state of Israel, but suffered discrimination, racism, and restriction, first during the military rule of 1948-1966 and then in more subtle ways up to the present day.

These themes were introduced by the first part of a film entitled "The Land Speaks Arabic," directed by Maryse Gargour. The film included testimonies from Palestinian refugees who recalled their connections to the land prior to the Nakba.

The film was followed by a panel discussion on memory, featuring Dr. Ahmad Sa'di and Dr. Efrat Ben Ze'ev. Dr. Sa'di spoke of the way in which Palestinians remember the Nakba as "A total destruction, the uprooting of people from their homeland, the destruction of a social fabric that had existed for centuries, and the frustration of national aspirations," in addition to the personal stories of trauma presented by survivors of the Nakba. He went on to argue for the need for moral accountability in response knowledge of the events of 1948. The Nakba narrative is, according to Dr. Sa'di, "not triumphalist, but rather looking for a place to begin....For a story of trauma to be told, there is a need for a sympathetic audience." This audience, according to Dr. Sa'di, must be found not only among other Palestinians and the wider Arab world, but in the Western world and the Israeli Jewish public.

Dr. Ben Ze'ev presented her research among Israeli veterans of 1948, and found a much more complex narrative than the official and popularly accepted Zionist version of 1948. She found that, after 60 years, the self-imposed silence of the veterans is beginning to crack, and that many veterans, seeing changes in the Israeli public and seeking some sort of relief or forgiveness, have begun to tell the truth about what the saw and experienced in 1948. While usually portraying themselves as sympathetic witnesses to massacres, abuses, and expulsions, she found that veterans are increasingly willing to tell the truth about the war experiences, even when that truth runs counter to the official or popular narrative. Although Dr. Ben Ze'ev observed that "much of the old version of truth still holds in Israeli society," she urged the audience to "pay attention to the process by which some silences were broken, and some buried voices were surfaced," arguing that it is time to reincorporate the veterans narrative into an understanding of 1948 because "agreeing on the meaning of 1948 is a crucial step to reconciliation."

The next session included an overview of the current socioeconomic reality for Arab citizens of Israel by Dr. Basel Ghattas, who addressed housing shortages, inequalities in development budgets and public health, unemployment and underemployment, and other forms of socioeconomic inequality in Israel. Abir Kopty took time off from a successful political campaign in the Nazareth municipality to speak to the conference on issues of identity for Arab Palestinians in a Jewish state. And Dr. Ameer Makhoul gave participants a briefing on political realities.

Former MK Tamar Gozansky addressed inequality in Israel as a "crisis of Israeli democracy," pointing to recent attacks on Arab residents of Akka in the North of Israel as a sign of increasing racism. Dr. Uri Davis presented an argument for the use of the term "apartheid" to describe the Israeli state and its occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Dr. Davis defined an apartheid state as “a state that regulates racism through acts of parliament,” in which the “constitution and the legal system obligates citizens of that state to make racialized choices. It criminalizes humanitarian action.” Although pointing to differences between South African apartheid and the Israeli form of apartheid, such as the lack of petty apartheid (white-only bathrooms and drinking fountains, for example), Dr. Davis maintained that the classification of Israel as an apartheid state is accurate and calls for a response of economic activism--divestment and morally responsible investment.
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