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Tel Aviv University
[Tel Aviv University, Arts] Ariella Azoulay: Constituting Violence, 1947-1950 A visual genealogy of a regime


Ariella Azoulay Ph.D., Faculty Graduate Program In The Arts, FACULTY OF THE ARTS, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Israel. Email: rellyaz@netvision.net.il 




Ariella Azoulay: Constituting Violence, 1947-1950 A visual genealogy of a regime

this text is connected to Relly's exhibition in Zochrot which we plan to visit on May 1st.

Between 1947 and 1950, the institutions of the Jewish Yishuv were transformed into the apparatus of a Jewish state. They were tasked with Judaizing the region they had conquered. They applied their
logic to all areas of life in a territory which still had no permanent borders. The exhibition follows this process through some two hundred photographs, most of which come from various Yishuv and state archives. The apparatus of the new state was shaped during the process of destroying Palestinian society by killing, dividing, expropriating, expelling and preventing those expelled from returning. Nor was that enough. In order for this apparatus to be stabilized and maintained, it was necessary to transform the catastrophe imposed on the Palestinians into what I shall characterize as “catastrophe from their point of view” – “their,” of course, referring to the Palestinians.


*Eyal Weizman is an Architect based in London. He studied architecture at the Architectural Association in London and completed his PhD at the London Consortium, Birkbeck College. He is the director of the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Before this role, Weizman was Professor of Architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Since 2008 he is a member of B'Tselem managing board. Weizman has taught, lectured, curated and organised conferences in many institutions worldwide. His books include Hollow Land [Verso Books, 2007], A Civilian Occupation [Verso Books, 2003], the series Territories 1,2 and 3, Yellow Rhythms and many articles in journals, magazines and edited books. Weizman is a regular contributors to many journals and magazines he is a member of editorial advisary board to inflexion journal and is an editor at large for Cabinet Magazine (New York). Weizman is the recipient of the James Stirling Memorial Lecture Prize for 2006-2007


http://roundtable.kein.org/files/roundtable/Azoulay_Eng18-2.pdf (See original document for references in Hebrew)

– 1 –

Constituting Violence, 1947-1950

A visual genealogy of a regime

and “a catastrophe from their point of view”

Ar i e l l a Az o u l a y 1

Between 1947 and 1950, the institutions of the Jewish Yishuv were transformed into the apparatus of

a Jewish state. They were tasked with Judaizing the region they had conquered. They applied their

logic to all areas of life in a territory which still had no permanent borders. The exhibition follows

this process through some two hundred photographs, most of which come from various Yishuv

and state archives. The apparatus of the new state was shaped during the process of destroying

Palestinian society by killing, dividing, expropriating, expelling and preventing those expelled from

returning. Nor was that enough. In order for this apparatus to be stabilized and maintained, it was

necessary to transform the catastrophe imposed on the Palestinians into what I shall characterize as

catastrophe from their point of view” – “their,” of course, referring to the Palestinians.

In order to trace the process by which the state apparatus was established, and by which the

Palestinian catastrophe was structured as “catastrophe from their point of view,” the exhibit puts aside

two major narratives: the Zionist narrative, beginning with the dream of return to Zion and ending

with its realization in the establishment of the state, and the Palestinian or post-Zionist narrative

which situates the nakba as the constitutive event of Palestinian existence and identity, and ignores

its contribution to the establishment of the Israeli regime and to shaping the forms of violence

that maintain it.2 Both these narratives make a rigid distinction between Jews and Arabs, but do

not allow us to reconstruct the origins of this division. This dividing line is a central component

of the Israeli regime’s ruling apparatus. It was the means by which the disaster imposed on the

1 English translation: Charles S. Kamen.

2 For additional discussion of constitutional violence and law-preserving violence , cf. (Walter Benjamin, 1999.

“Critique of Violence”, Selected Writings Volume 1 – 1913-1926, Cambridge, Massachusetts, The Belknap Press of

Harvard University Press). In an article I wrote for a conference on the return of the refugees organized by Zochrot

at Tel Aviv (2007), I characterized three groups subject to violence whose object is to maintain the Israeli regime:

1. Non-citizens – both non-ruled (residents of the refugee camps outside of Israel) and ruled (under

occupation since 1967). The state has waged, and continues to wage, a violent, wild, uncompromising struggle

against the non-citizens’ violent and non-violent resistance to a regime responsible for turning them into refugees.

2. Non-Jewish citizens, against whom the regime wages what is primarily an ideological struggle, including,

from time to time, moderate, measured and relatively cautions use of force. 3. Jewish citizens, against whom the

struggle is also primarily ideological, focusing on mobilizing the citizenry to maintain the reality of a regime in

which anyone not a member of the political entity that legitimates it is neither taken into consideration nor counted.

The struggle includes broad nationalization of the various components of the state apparatus (both ideological and

repressive), as well as of the Jewish citizens, nationalization intended to enable maximum mobilization of the Jewish

population to strengthen the regime. For a more comprehensive discussion of this use of violence, cf. (Azoulay,

Ariella, forthcoming. Sedek, Zochrot).

– 2 –

Palestinians was transformed into “catastrophe from their point of view.” The exhibition sets aside

both competing narratives, and rather than drawing a line between Jews and Arabs it seeks to

understand its institutionalization as a central ruling principle of the Jewish state. It does so by

presencing the disaster imposed on the Palestinians as a catastrophe (from a civil perspective), and

by presenting it not as the outcome of a war that preceded the creation of the Israeli regime, but as

a component and as a product of that regime.

The exhibition includes many unfamiliar photographs. Still, it would be incorrect to think

of it as an “exposé.” Each photograph was selected because of the particular situation it records,

but none of them should surprise us – that is, we can’t say, “We’ve never seen anything like this.”

We’ve certainly seen “something like this” – “we” Israeli citizens, men and women. We’ve seen the

remains of Arab villages, in our streets as well as in photographs. We’ve referred to these remains by

the names of the localities in which we live. We’ve come across them as part of the urban fabric in

which they’ve been absorbed almost unquestioningly, and in landscapes where they’ve appeared as

ancient “khirbot” – ruins. We’ve mentioned the names of the refugee camps to which the Palestinians

were expelled. We’ve used maps from which entire human landscapes have been erased. Some of

us can still remember repeating as children the names of the military operations during which those

landscapes were transformed. We’ve been able to see ourselves in the pages of those photographic

albums documenting how the country was built – members of youth movements clearing stones

from “abandoned” villages; pioneers celebrating “settling on the land” while moving into Arab

houses situated against a backdrop of Arab landscapes.

Nor were images of Palestinian refugees strange to us. In recent years, as part of the effort to

preserve the history of photography in Israel, there have been a number of museum exhibitions

that include a fine selection of photographs in which various aspects of the nakba are visible. They

weren’t called by name, nor was any effort made to consider the significance of their presence,

their presencing, in the exhibition. Such disregard allowed many to leave these exhibitions without

noticing the catastrophe, or, at best, to view “catastrophe from their point of view” as a marginal

episode in the story of how the country was built. Nevertheless, the word itself – nakba – no longer

sounds so strange in Hebrew, even if many areas of public discourse still avoid using it.

“Nakba?” “Yes, that’s how the Palestinians refer to what happened to them in ’48.” The word,

when it appears, usually does so imprisoned in a parenthetical perspective. “We” have “our” story;

now the time has come to tell their story, as they see it. The word that came relatively late into

Hebrew provided a heading for “their” story, even though that word existed from the moment that

“our” story was created. Both these stories, entwined as distinct, parallel, competing tales, are the

product of the same Jewish state apparatus that operated systematically to create the line dividing

Jews from Arabs and establish it as an unalterable, objective reality. This line also structured the

violent events that accompanied the establishment of the state, presenting them as a tale of warfare

between two sides who shared the same territory and were condemned to part.

Various historical reasons led to the adoption of this account by international bodies, including

– 3 –

those who were to have acted as unbiased “external mediators.” The criticisms that were raised as part

of the Jewish-Arab conflict against the mediators, others involved, the Mandatory Government, or

UN personnel were incorporated symmetrically within the discourse as part of those two competing

stories, in a manner that made it impossible to see what lay in the balance: creating the Jewish

state machinery. The photographs included in the series entitled “Architecture of Dispossession”

portray the massive, purposeful destruction of Haifa’s old city, the vestiges of the Deir Yassin

massacre and the establishment of Giv’at Sha’ul B a few months later on the ruins of the village that

had not yet been erased. They serve witness to the determination of the state machinery to destroy

completely any possibility of creating a binational civil society. Three other series of photographs

– “Military Governmentality,” “Creating a Jewish political body and deporting the country’s Arab

residents;” “Borders, strategies of uprooting and preventing return” show the degree to which this

effort, most of which was carried out by military means, reflected a systematic policy.

While the nakba, “catastrophe from their point of view,” has already become a research topic, the

civic catastrophe has not yet been studied. Erasing the traces of this catastrophe, even more than

erasing the nakba’s traces, is the condition for naturalizing the Jewish-Israeli regime. In order for

this catastrophe to appear as a catastrophe, it must be freed from its status as their catastrophe or

catastrophe from their point of view. This can be done only by historicising the dividing line, not

letting it define one’s point of view. The appearance of the civil catastrophe as a catastrophe, is a

pre-condition for the rehabilitation of the destroyed civil society. The exhibition’s visual genealogy

of the regime and the “catastrophe from their point of view,” is an initial attempt to do so.

The United Nations partition decision of 29 November 1947 was adopted in complete opposition

to the desires of at least 70% of the country’s Arab inhabitants. A not-insignificant number of Jews

also opposed the decision.3 From the moment that the UN decided, the Zionist leadership counted

the country’s inhabitants along to the line dividing Jews from Arabs. The position of the Zionist

leadership in support of partition and its unconditional justification of using violence to establish

the Jewish regime were presented as the Jewish position. Ultra-orthodox Jews, communists,

pacifists and those who supported the creation of civil society had no place in the public discourse,

and almost no information is available about their struggle. This erasure is also the outcome of

the action of the state apparatus as it took over public discourse, the discourse of female and male

citizens, and organized the totality of relationships among the country’s inhabitants according the

destructive ethnic division between Jews and Arabs.

The Arabs who lived in Palestine for hundreds of years, occupying more than 90 percent of the

3 Adi Ophir, in “Zero Hour,” cites voices opposing the establishment of the state at the time it was proclaimed (50

to 48, Van Leer Institute and HaKibbutz HaMeuchad, 1999). Even if they don’t provide a sufficient indicator of

the opposition to the Partition Plan one year earlier, they allow us to overhear some of the voices that have been

almost completely silenced, and which blur the dividing line. An additional glimpse of the voices and actions of Jews

who didn’t accept the division between Jews and Arabs that the state institutions tried to impose is available in an

unpublished talk by Eitan Bronstein (2006), “Local Jewish resistance to the Palestinian nakba” and in Kamen, S.

Charles, 1987. “After the catastrophe I: The Arabs in Israel 1948-1951”, Middle Eastern Studies, Volume 23, Issue 4.

– 4 –

territory, opposed from the outset the plan to partition their land, and refused to cooperate with

the UN bodies that prepared it. The partition plan, therefore, was designed by the UN and the

Zionist leadership, which thereby gained recognition as the leadership of the state-in-formation.4

The country’s Arab inhabitants had little influence, given the line-up of forces: A-(Jewish)-statein-

formation and an organization of states (the UN) supporting it. The new diplomatic, military

and political map that was created transformed them into “stateless persons.”5 The UN decision

was a crucial moment in transforming the Arabs from inhabitants of their country into “stateless

persons,” even before they became refugees. The state that came into being in their land did not

want them, nor was there any other state which did. The reason and rationale behind the opposition

of the majority of the country’s inhabitants to the partition plan received almost no attention. In

a situation where there was room for only two competing stories, which were presented as if they

both sprang from the same initial conditions, their logic was understood as an example of “irrational

policy” or as “their story.” The Palestinians were presented as having missed the opportunity that

had been “given to them,” as having made a continuous series of errors – mass flight, hostile action,

cooperating with the attack by Arab states. The Jews, on the other hand, were presented as seizing

the opportunity presented and knowing how to make the most of it.

The exhibition is based primarily on official Israeli state archives.6 Its approach draws upon the

ontological conception of photography which I have developed elsewhere.7 According to this view,

the photograph contains much more information than that intended by those who were involved in

its creation, preservation and dissemination – photographers, soldiers, archive personnel, military

and political leaders, and other participants in the various apparatuses of rule. Photographs of

disasters are particularly rich in superfluity. But, of course, the photograph alone is insufficient to

reveal the treasures it conceals. I could not have “read” and interpreted any of the photographs in

this exhibition in the absence of textual sources external to them. These included the important

studies written about the nakba and the 1948 war by historians old and new, eyewitness accounts,

diaries, memoirs, newspapers from the period, minutes and memoranda. These materials often also

showed the limitations of photography under the condition of constituting violence – it is difficult

4 This argument is based on the analysis by Deleuze and Guattrii of the struggle between state institutions and

nomadic society, in particular the chapter “Nomadology” in their book, Mille plateaux, Minuit, 1980).

5 This is the only appropriate use of the combination “stateless person” – a status which has been created by a particular

state, rather than as a characteristic of a population, as the Palestinians in the occupied territories are commonly

referred to. On the creation of stateless persons, cf. (Arendt, Hannah, 1968, “The decline of the nation-state and

the end of the rights of man,” Imperialism, Harvest/HBJ Book). On the creation of the “bare life,” cf. (Butler,

Judith and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Who Sings the Nation State, Seagull), and on the category of non-citizens

as an alternative to the category of stateless persons in connection with Palestinians in the occupied territories, cf.

(Azoulay, Ariella, 2008. The Civil Contrat of Photography, Zone Books).

6 The exhibition also contains a number of photographs by Ali Zaarour, thanks to the generosity of his son, Zaki

Za’arur, and from the Associated Press.

7 For the onltological conception of photography, cf. (Azoulay, 2008 above). A similar approach guided my work on

the Act of State exhibition (Azoulay, Ariella, 2008. Act of State – A photographic history of the occupation – 1967-2007,

Etgar Publishers)

– 5 –

to find visual evidence of non-constituting violence. Thus, for example, although historians agree

today that during the period the exhibition documents there were at least twenty massacres of Arabs

by Jews, I was not able to find even one photograph of a massacre.8 The taking of life, therefore, had

apparently not become, in and of itself, an element of the regime.9 But constitutionally legalized

violence – such as looting, expropriation, dispossession and expulsion – was often photographed

by agents of the state. Each of those acts was carried out under state auspices, under another name

– evacuation, not expulsion; flight, not deportation; distribution of property, not looting; fair

allocation, not dispossession. The laundered language made it possible for these activities to be

immortalized in photographs.

During the years covered by the exhibit (1947-1950), the years of the catastrophe, both it and

its consequences were relatively visible to the public. Busses and trucks loaded with refugees who

had been expelled from their homes drove along the country’s roads in full view of its Jewish

inhabitants (who sometimes even took pity on the expellees and gave them water to drink). The

photographs bear traces of those Jewish observers and of the fact that everything was done openly.

But despite this visibility, the catastrophe didn’t appear as a catastrophe. The terms in which it was

described, that sound like those we associate today with the darkest of regimes, didn’t send chills

down the spines of those who used them, as they would have had they felt that a catastrophe had

occurred. It was only a few years later that these terms began to sound like evidence of a crime,

and they were gradually replaced by others. In recent years, with the development of what has

been called post-Zionist historiography, when these terms of discourse reappeared, they made the

deniers (those who refused to admit that the descriptions were accurate accounts of what actually

occurred) uncomfortable, as well as those who were outraged (those who felt a moral, political or

civil obligation to reconstruct the story of the catastrophe). Terms like “cleansing” or “ghetto,” for

example, were widespread at the end of the 1940’s, but someone speaking them today in Hebrew

would sound as if she were being deliberately provocative.10

The nakba did, in fact, leave many public traces in Israel. Some remained unintentionally

or inexplicably, such as demolitions whose rubble had not been completely cleared, villages and

buildings that were not totally erased. But many of the remnants were intentional, deliberate, the

result of pride, administrative procedures, planning, need, preservation, policy, or image-making.

8 For a discussion of massacres, cf. (Morris, Benny. 1987. The birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, 1947-1949,

Cambridge Middle East library, Cambridge University Press. Dan Yahav, 2002. Tohar ha-Nesheq: Ethos, Mythos

u-Metziut 1936-1956 (Purity of Arms: Ethos, Myth and Reality 1936–1956),Tammuz Publishers, Tel Aviv. Pappe,

Ilan, The ethnic cleansing of Palestine, Oneworld, 2006)

9 At least, not until the 1967 occupation. With the creation of an additional regime within the Israeli regime – an

occupation regime – killing people gradually began a part of it. For more about two-regimes-in-one cf. (Azoulay,

Ophir, 2008. This regime which is not one – democracy and occupation between the sea and the river [1967 – ], Resling).

On targeted assassinations, cf. (Weizman, Eyal, 2007. Hollow Land, Verso).

10 For example, the 1950 account ot the capture of Jaffa (Lazar [Lita’i], Haim, The Capture of Jaffa, Shelah Publishers),

describes without a second thought what took place there as “cleansing.” Ilan Pappe’s book, Ethnic Cleansing,

published in English in 2006 and not yet translated into Hebrew, reads like a deliberate provocation rather than a

description of the phenomenon he’s addressing.

– 6 –

The series, “Architecture of Dispossession,” shows how those who carried out the nakba tried from

the outset to restage some of its traces incompletely, devoid of context. They sought to incorporate

these traces in the new language and ways of life in Palestine to eliminate their disturbing presence

and erase the memory of the unitary, coherent world that had been destroyed. The expulsion from

the country in which the state of Israel was established of 750,000 Palestinian men and women, and

the subordination of those who remained to military government for eighteen years, removed from

the public arena those for whom those traces were from the outset both the remnants of catastrophe

and part of the ongoing presence of the catastrophe.

Those who created the Palestinian catastrophe turned it into an Israeli public holiday, one

celebrating the establishment of the state of Israel. The successful completion of operations

“evacuating” the Arab population were occasions for the military or political leadership to raise a

toast; blowing up a village was an opportunity for a photograph. Traces of the catastrophe, where

no catastrophe remained, were thus merged with the state’s festive celebration. The festivities were

the culmination of “our” narrative, and “catastrophe from their point of view” was no more than a

part of “their” story, the result of their error, their missed opportunity, their weakness or their

abandonment by the Arab states. For decades, the Palestinian catastrophe remained “catastrophe

from their point of view,” and thus a perpetuation of the catastrophe. Its traces remained devoid of

context, unconnected to any discourse that could have made them manifest, used them to show the

injustice, base on them a claim for redress and for compensating the victims. It was a catastrophe that

was absent from the many traces that it left behind. A catastrophe that left no trace of catastrophe,

as if the shadow cast by a man had been a shadow of a dog. These absent-but-present traces of the

catastrophe were incorporated into forms of speech, landscapes, urban fabrics, political arguments,

lesson plans, youth movement training programs, into the structures of moral indecisiveness and

historical periodization.

The Arabic term nakba, incorporated today into Hebrew, is no longer solely an object of

academic research. Even were it less prominent in public discourse, its entry into Hebrew, like a

foreigner refusing naturalization, has created an increasing number of friction points between the

narrative framework it proposes and the way in which those who were exposed to it during the

past decade have experienced the remnants it describes. The term provided a name for what had

previously been present naturally, sometimes even with disturbing intimacy, in their language,

their bodies, their homes and in the life spaces of their spokeswomen and men. The nakba,

which was for the Palestinians the name of the catastrophe that befell them, began to be seen by

a relatively small number of Israeli Jews as the name of a disaster which until then had no name,

whose outline they had failed to recognize, and now beginning to appear crystal clear before their

eyes. This misrecognition of the ruins left behind by colonial regimes, is called by Ann Stoler

“colonial aphasia”: “Aphasia is rather a dismembering, a difficulty speaking, difficulty generating a

vocabulary that associates appropriate words and concepts to appropriate things. Aphasia in its many

forms describes a difficulty retrieving an available vocabulary, and most importantly, a difficulty

– 7 –

comprehending what is spoken”11. Bringing the term “nakba” into Hebrew not only provides a new

narrative framework; it also becomes a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for recognizing these

deficiencies of sight and speech. In that sense, the incorporation of the term nakba into Hebrew

represents a milestone in the history of the catastrophe. It signifies the initial appearance of the

Palestinian catastrophe as one that is not simply “catastrophe from their point of view.”

The dividing line between Jews and Arabs, that sets limits on what can be seen and what can

make sense, affected the use of the term nakba in hebrew. The nakba was “theirs”, and a différend12

– a disagreement unbridgeable in current discourse – between “ours” and “theirs” was established.

This exhibition proposes to look beyond the horizon set by this différend between Jews and Arabs.

Rather than viewing the catastrophe from within the différend, or accepting the différend as if it

had been imposed by fate, as if we had to choose between the points of view provided by the

competing stories of two sides or two nations fated to fight each other unto death, it is now possible

to consider this différend itself as part of the Palestinian catastrophe, as its continuation. Perhaps, for

the first time since the term nakba came into Hebrew, it is now possible to recognize the existence of

another, civil différend with regard to the nakba, not one between Jews and Arabs, but between those

who see the disaster that befell the Palestinians as a catastrophe (from every conceivable human

perspective), and those who see no catastrophe or, at best, see “catastrophe from their point of view.”

The civil perspective makes it possible to understand colonial aphasia as a civil malfunct'ion.

Wh a t i s a c i v i l ma l f u n c t i o n ?

A civil malfunc'tion is not an individual characteristic, the outcome of a damaged personality or

moral shortcoming of the persons who suffer from it. A civil malfunc'tion is an effect of being

governed differentially, with others and together with them, but in an entirely different way. A civil

malfunct'ion is created when the differences in the ways various groups are being governed become

a structural feature of the regime. It is a structural malfunct'ion characterizing the contradiction

between formal civil equality and the differential way of being governed instilled in the governed

through various mechanisms of socialization and control, one that organizes and limits their visual

field, restricts what they can say before they even open their mouths, and specifies which behaviors

are possible. A civil malfunct'ion refers to the manner in which those governed perceive and

conduct their relations with other governed. A civil malfunct'ion is an effect of the regime and its

governmental apparatus; the governed participate – both consciously and unconsciously, willingly

11 Stoler, L. Ann, “Colonial Apahsia,” La fracture postcoloniale, eds. Nicolas Bancel, Florence Bernault, Achille

Mbembe, Francoise Verges (Paris, La Decouverte, 2009)

12 Jean-Francois Lyotard, in Le différend, Minuit, 1982, identifies various levels of discourse in which the différend

appears. All are characterized by the absence of a legal instance accessible to both parties where a claim by one of

them can be heard.

– 8 –

or unwillingly – in their formation and are formed by them. It is a structural, not a personal, failure,

which citizens living under a particular regime are unable to avoid. They have no other way of

paying taxes even if they object to the state increasing its financial reserves by expropriating the

property of others; they can’t refrain from traveling even though the roads they use have been built

on land taken from others; they can’t stop using the names of the places in which they live merely

because they echo the names of places that have been destroyed; they can’t help marveling at the

architecture or the groves and orchards that have been preserved; even had they wished to redress

some of the injustice and sell their homes to refugees they can’t afford to do so, nor are the refugees

permitted to return. But they may deal with this malfunct'ion a little differently, insist on making

its presence visible, confront others with its existence, object to it sometimes or always, explicitly,

even intentionally, and make an effort to free themselves, particularly in situations in which they

become accomplices to the crime. But no matter how hard individuals try to overcome this civil

malfunct'ion, full release is impossible without changing the regime responsible for it.

The photographic series, “Socialization to the State and the Mechanisms of Subordination,”

displays a visual genealogy of the creation of this malfunct'ion under the auspices of state institutions.

It reconstructs various situations in which traces of the fact that Jews and Arabs are being governed

differentially, as well as of the creation of a rigid pattern of power relations between those Jews and

Arabs (and not only between state institutions and those governed) can be discerned. Vocational

training, job placement, the census, welfare benefits, photography, currency, ID cards, elections,

festivals – all provided opportunities to make those governed aware of the differences among them,

something to be accepted unthinkingly, part of a regime whose arrangements were seen as natural.

The Arabs who remained were ruled differently and were almost completely excluded from the

ruling circles which, prior to the end of the British Mandate, had not been closed to them, but were

now exclusively in the Jewish hands which were directly and indirectly responsible for the disaster

that befell them. Their participation in the ruling circles as citizens possessing equal rights was

expressed primarily through the right to vote, the act of casting a ballot. They were ruled differently

with respect to everything that took place outside the voting booth, including the opportunity to

be exposed to an electoral campaign that would allow them to vote after weighing the arguments

presented by the competing parties.

The distinction between Israeli citizens who viewed the Palestinians’ disaster as an actual

catastrophe, in every sense, and those who see it as “catastrophe from their point of view,” or who

don’t view it as a catastrophe at all, overlaps to a great degree, though not completely, the division

between Arabs and Jews. The disaster, although not its traces, was quickly erased from the

consciousness of Israeli Jews. Gradually, with the passage of time, more Jews became aware of it,

some after forty, fifty or even sixty years of living alongside Arabs. Awareness of the catastrophe

was a constitutive component of Palestinian consciousness, but reconstructing the différend relating

to the catastrophe indicates that as a condition for Arabs who had not been expelled and had become

a minority in their land to become citizens, they had to relinquish any attempt to preserve traces of

– 9 –

the catastrophe or presence it as the meaning of the traces that did remain. This was required of them

both explicitly and implicitly through various practices in which they could not avoid participating,

willingly or unwillingly. They were forced to sign documents in which they relinquished the right

to present future claims; they had to participate in hunting down “infiltrators” – refugees who had

been expelled and attempted to return to their homes; they were required to buy produce that had

been harvested from fields which had been stolen from them; they were forced to live in camps

as internal refugees while Jews moved into their homes; they were employed planting forests “to

reclaim the wasteland;” they were offered social services by a welfare state that had transformed

them into the needy; they could democratically elect as their representatives the people who had

destroyed their world and who expected them to dance at Independence Day celebrations in the

forests that had been planted on the ruins of their villages. Their socialization to the state through

such practices included denying the différend that existed between them and the Jewish governed

regarding recognition of the catastrophe.

So, despite the catastrophe that befell them, the Palestinians were expected to behave as if

nothing had occurred, as if, at worst, it was catastrophe from their point of view “[the expelled

Palestinians].” There were, among the Jews, some individuals and groups who immediately realized

that what had happened to the Palestinians was in fact a catastrophe, but they had to make a special

effort to demonstrate this, an effort that required them to “brush history against the grain”. No

systematic account has yet been written about the various joint Jewish-Arab commercial, economic,

social, cultural and civic ventures that were destroyed just before the establishment of the state

and during its early years in order to restructure relations along the rigid divide between Jews and

Arabs, between the governed and the non-governed, between citizens and citizens-under-militaryrule.

But the absence of an historical account does not mean that we can assume that all Jews joined

in denying the Palestinian catastrophe. Such an assumption, which is unfounded, recapitulates the

division between Jews and Arabs, presences the image of the disaster that befell the Palestinians as

catastrophe from their point of view,” and makes permanent the civil malfunct'ion that the catastrophe

has imposed upon those who brought it about and upon their descendents. Precisely because it

rejects this assumption, the exhibition proposes a way of thinking in civil terms about a place that

today, under the existing regime, appears hopeless, one where nothing can be promised, where it is

impossible to dream of tomorrow.

When I looked at the photographs of beautiful villages that had been blown up, destroyed,

wiped off the face of the earth – each of which had its own character – I was reminded of a unique

preservation technique employed in Japan, one which could create the conditions that might allow

us to make promises about our future here.

In this approach to preservation it is not the physical objects – the buildings – that are preserved.

Structures, no matter how unique, can always be rebuilt, their architectural design and construction

materials recreated – if the skills required to rebuild them still exist. Japanese preservation efforts are,

therefore, devoted to bequeathing the construction expertise used to erect the buildings that were

– 10 –

destroyed. The Japanese demolish in order to rebuild. Because we destroyed, we should rebuild.

Reconstruction, using skills and techniques found today only among the refugees, will result in a

demand for a new kind of preservation. It is not the physical objects that must be preserved, but the

skills possessed by the people who created them.

The passage of time has made some buildings and groups of buildings worthy of preservation.

These may be individual structures or entire villages. The past can’t be restored. Nor can the

villages be brought back as they once were. We can only demand a different kind of participation

and cooperation across space and time. Cooperation and participation not only in the present,

using what exists, that which violence has created, but also with the past, or at least by presencing

the past in order to create the possibility for a different kind of participation and cooperation in

the future. The Palestinian multi-layered presence here, which was violently erased, should be

restored – refugees, language, homes, mosques, churches, olive presses, enterprises, partnerships,

urban fabric. Not a nostalgic, impossible return that restores everything to its original location,

but returning a former presence to today’s landscape. And restoring skills as well. Human skills,

which built the world, especially a shared world, are never simply technical skills. Those that are

needed even more, though some may disappear and other be replaced, are often those relating to

the manner in which people become citizens, find their place in the world and develop ways of

cooperating with each other. Many of the refugees who were dispersed in all directions are still

alive. They have preserved the knowledge and skills required to recreate many of the Palestinian

architectural styles, to situate them as facts in the Judaized space whose continued development

will have to take them into consideration. This could be still another claim – one of many to be

submitted to history’s tribunal, a joint civil action by Palestinians, refugees, their descendents and

Israelis of Jewish descent who can’t conceive of continuing to live in Israel without rectifying the

crime their parents committed.

* * *

Photographers: Yehuda Eisenstark, David Eldan, Werner Braun, Teddy Brauner, Paul Goldman,

Ali Zaarour, Rudolf Jonas, Fritz Cohen, Hugo Mendelson, Jim Pringle, Frank, Fred Chesnik,

Zoltan Kluger, Beno Rothenberg.

Ac k n owl e d g eme n t s

I was born in the early 1960s, and took for granted the existence of the state of Israel. My political

consciousness was formed by the 1967 occupation, the injustices it led to and the urgent need to

reflect on them. 1948 appeared as a distant disaster, irreversible and less acute than the endless

injustices that resulted from the 1967 occupation. After years of research on citizenship, photography

– 11 –

and occupation, when it became clear to me that the occupation was part of a regime, after Adi

Ophir and I wrote This regime which is not one, and I curated the exhibition entitled Act of State, I

understood that my assumption about the irreversibility of 1948 was a passive manifestation of that

civil malfunct'ion which I described above. I sought a way to think the nakba in relation to notions

of political body, citizenship and the process of becoming a citizen and as a perspective from which

to think about the possibility of regime change in Israel/Palestine . Zochrot’s ongoing activities also

contributed, by providing in recent years an increasing amount of information about the nakba’s

public presence in Israeli space, as did new research published in the past few years in Hebrew,

the growing accessibility of research by Palestinians, in English and via the internet, including

testimonies by refugees outside of Israel, and above all, the determination of Eitan Bronstein and

Norma Musih to involve me in the important enterprise they established – Zochrot – and my

continuing discussions with them both.

This exhibition would not have been possible without Hadas Snir’s efforts to locate hundreds

of photographs in the archives of institutions as well as individuals, and without her excellent

investigatory work. I am grateful to Michael Gordon for his careful and exacting exhibition design,

and his extraordinary ability to arrange texts and images in the space he had at his disposal, giving

the exhibit its final form. Special thanks are also due to Oren Hadar, who assisted him, to Charles S.

Kamen for the English translation, and to Zaki Zaarour for lending photographs to the exhibition.

Those photographs are the tip of an iceberg of what would have been visible had the archives of

Palestinian photographers active in the country during those crucial years not been damaged.

Sami Abu Shehada, Waji Atallah, Ronnie Ellenblum, Umar Ighbarieh, Yoni Eshpar, Eyal Sagi

Bizawi, Muhammad Bishar, Fahri Jdai, Esther Goldenberg, Raneen Jeries, Oren Yiftachel, Dr.

Mustafa Kabha, Walid Karkabi, Joni Mansur, Gabi ‘Abed, Ilan Pappe, Dalia Karpel, Guy Raz and

Sharon Rotbard helped Hadas Snir and me to locate, interpret, find information and translate.We

thank them all.

Support for the exhibition comes from HEKS EPER, Broederlijk Delen and MEDICO.

Photographs were provided by:

The Israel Government Press Office, the Israel State Archive, the Central Zionist Archive, the

IDF and Defense Archive, the JNF Photographic Archive, the Palmach Museum photographic

collection, the Haganah Archive, the Golani Museum Archive, the Associated Press, Photo Art

Israel, Zaki Zaarour, Nahada Zahara, AFSC-Archive, the Meitar Ltd. Collection, Bitmunah Lab,

Palestine Remembered Internet website, Shahar Regev, Meron Perach, Al Rabta-The Jaffa Arabs

Association, The Monastery and School of “Jesus Adolescent” (Don Bosco)-Nazareth.

– 12 –

I used various books, articles and internet sites to help me prepare the captions. A complete list of

these sources is attached.


Abu-Sitta, Salman H. 2004. Atlas of Palestine 1948. London: Palestine Land Society.

Benvenisti, Meron. 2002. Sacred landscape: the buried history of the Holy Land since 1948. Berkeley, Calif: University of

California Press.

Gallagher, Nancy Elizabeth. 2007. Quakers in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the dilemmas of NGO humanitarian activism.

Cairo: American University in Cairo Press.

Junod, Dominique-D. 1996. The Imperiled Red Cross and the Palestine-Eretz-Yisrael Conflict, 1945-1952: The Influence

of Institutional Concerns on a Humanitarian Operation. London: Kegan Paul International.

G. Forman: Military Rule, Political Manipulation, and Jewish Settlement: Israeli Mechanisms for Controlling Nazareth in

the 1950s, The Journal of Israeli History, Vol. 25, No. 2 (2006) 335-359.

Jurays, Sabri. 1976. The Arabs in Israel. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Kamen, S. Charles, 1987. “After the catastrophe I: The Arabs in Israel 1948-1951”, Middle Eastern Studies, Volume 23,

Issue 4.

Kletter, Raz. 2006. Just past?: the making of Israeli archaeology. London: Equinox.

Khalidi, Walid. 1984. Before their diaspora: a photographic history of the Palestinians, 1876-1948. Washington, D.C.:

Institute for Palestine Studies.

Khalidi, Walid. 1992. All that remains: the Palestinian villages occupied and depopulated by Israel in 1948. Washington,

D.C.: Institute for Palestine Studies.

Lesch, Ann Mosely, and Ian Lustick. 2005. Exile and return: predicaments of Palestinians and Jews. Philadelphia:

University of Pennsylvania Press.

Jamal, Amal. 2005. The Palestinian IDPs in Israel and the Predicament of Return: Between Imagining the Impossible

and Enabling the Imaginative. In Exile and return: predicaments of Palestinians and Jews, eds. Anne Mosely Lesch

and Ian Lustick, 133-160. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Masalha, Nur. 1992. Expulsion of the Palestinians: the concept of “transfer” in Zionist political thought, 1882-1948.

Washington, D.C.: Institute for Palestine Studies.

Masalha, Nur. 2005. Catastrophe remembered: Palestine, Israel and the internal refugees : essays in memory of Edward W.

Said (1935-2003). London: Zed Books.

Monterescu, Daniel, and Dan Rabinowitz. 2007. Mixed towns, trapped communities: historical narratives, spatial dynamics,

gender relations and cultural encounters in Palestinian-Israeli towns. Re-materialising cultural geography. Aldershot:


Morris, Benny. 2004. The birth of the Palestinian refugee problem revisited. Cambridge Middle East studies, 18.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pappé, Ilan. 2006. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Oxford: Oneworld.

Pappé, Ilan. 2007. The Israel/Palestine question: a reader. London: Routledge.

Rogan, Eugene L., and Avi Shlaim. 2001. The war for Palestine: rewriting the history of 1948. Cambridge Middle East

studies, 15. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Tamari, Salim. 1999. Jerusalem 1948: the Arab neighbourhoods and their fate in the war. Jerusalem: Institute of Jerusalem

Studies [u.a.].

Torstrick, Rebecca L. 2000. The limits of coexistence: identity politics in Israel. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.







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