For over a decade, the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute has facilitated the work of a number of scholars whose aim is to minimize the scale of the catastrophe of the Jews in WWII by comparing the Holocaust to the Palestinian Nakba. The Holocaust equivalence serves two goals. It absolves the Palestinians and their Arab allies from any blame for starting a war which intended to destroy the nascent State of Israel, and shows that the former Jewish victims had become the “new” Nazis perpetrator. In this new paradigm, best described as the “Holocaust inversion,” the Palestinians became the “new Jews.”
The Holocaust inversion paradigm would be on display at the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in a panel discussion on March 19, 2019 on the book The Holocaust and the Nakba: A New Grammar of Trauma and History, edited by Bashir Bashir and Amos Goldberg. Prof. Bashir Bashir of the Open University of Israel and Prof. Amos Goldberg of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem will be speaking. Prof. Alon Confino, the Director of the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies at the UMass Amherst, is the organizer of the event and the moderator. Confino reviewed the Bashir-Goldberg book when it first appeared in Hebrew in 2015, and wrote: "Whether one accepts Israel’s justifications of what occurred in 1948 and continues to occur to this day or not, the state of Israel is not a neutral party with regard to the suffering of the Palestinians, in contrast to the Palestinians who had no role in the Holocaust."
One of the architects of the Holocaust Inversion is Prof. Amos Goldberg from the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University and a research fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. Since 2008 Goldberg "was among the initiators of an encounter group of Jews and Arabs Studying the Holocaust Together. Following these encounters, he and Prof. Bashir Bashir edited The Holocaust and the Nakba: Memory, National Identity and Jewish-Arab Partnership. Another volume they co-edited together was the (completely different) English book: The Holocaust and the Nakba: A New Grammar of Trauma and History published by Columbia UP 2018."
Goldberg is a veteran activist member of the group Ta'ayush, an Arab-Jewish partnership of Israelis and Palestinians "striving together to end the Israeli occupation and to achieve full civil equality through daily non-violent direct-action." The use of non-violent means is questionable.
Photograph by Abir Sultan, Flash 90, February 2010.
On February 26, 2010, Goldberg was pictured by the press participating in a demonstration in Hebron with anarchists and masked men. Arutz 7 reported of "Palestinians and left-wing activists are rioting in Judea and Samaria." In a week of escalated violence, Palestinians were throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. The tensions in Hebron spilled over onto Jerusalem, nearing a third Intifada.
Bashir offers an explanation of how they came to develop the Holocaust inversion. Interviewed about the book, Bashir recalled how the project started in Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, when Palestinian school teachers were learning about the Holocaust. Bashir insisted that they include the Nakba in their learning. "When we decided to do this book, my condition was that it needed to address not just the Holocaust, but the Holocaust and the Nakba together. If you are in the Israeli context and you want to discuss the Holocaust with Jewish and Palestinian teachers, it is entirely flawed to do so without intimately connecting the Holocaust and the Nakba, since the institutions of the state treat the Holocaust as an exceptional and unique event, instrumentalizing it to defend the hegemony of Zionism... Palestinians are not responsible for the Holocaust but the Zionist movement and the state of Israel are very much responsible for the Nakba," Bashir argued. He added, "the Holocaust is largely a past, albeit a very important and traumatic one whereas the Nakba is an ongoing reality for Palestinians. We need to put the Holocaust and the Nakba together in a historical context tied to phenomena such as colonialism, nationalism, state-building, and ethnic cleansing." Bashir explained another purpose of the book, "to recognize that it was not perpetrated against Jews alone, but also against Roma, homosexuals, and the disabled." Bashir emphasized, "Putting the Holocaust and the Nakba together in a common frame disrupts this exceptionalism and is meant to provoke new thinking." Bashir also added that "when the sirens blare on Holocaust day in Israel, it is hard to bring Palestinians in Israel to participate in the ritual of standing silence, because many know that it is part and parcel of a larger monopolization and instrumentalization of the Holocaust that serves to justify the very serious discrimination, racism, and oppression exercised against them as Palestinians."
Indeed, Goldberg adopted the new thinking suggested by Bashir. In January 26,2011, in a lecture titled "Franz Fanon in the Warsaw Ghetto: Writing the history of the victims from a post-colonial perspective,” Goldberg began by discussing an article from 2000 by Harvard historian Charles Maier. Maier argued that in the twentieth century there were two conflicting narratives of catastrophe, one is the Holocaust and the other is Post-Colonial. "The Holocaust is perceived in this sense as a catastrophe perverted to barbarism, lurking at its doorstep, if we let the reactionary forces to return. The obvious conclusion is that if we adhere to our liberal democratic values, strengthen the values of civil society, fight against anti-Semitism and racism, and moderate radical political tendencies, we are safe from the catastrophe." But, as for the identity of the West, Goldberg argues, the postcolonial theory is much more critical, "because in the heart of the liberal democratic state, in the modern thinking of enlightenment the catastrophe already lies. The involvement of democratic states, and the West in general, in factories of mass violence, disgraceful exploitation, colonial policy of oppression and torture, as well as racism emerging from the modern rational discourse, all indicate that even the liberal democratic state with the tradition of enlightenment and rationalism are not immune to crimes that the West tries to forget and from responsibility it seeks to escape."
This is not the only case of Holocaust inversion. In 2016, Van Leer Jerusalem Institute convened a special seat in a conference titled "To Study and Teach the Holocaust and Genocide in a Context of Conflict and Trauma," organized by Goldberg and Confino. The invitation read: "In this special session, taking place as part of the Fifth Conference of the International Network of Genocide Scholars, we will try to clarify whether a state of perpetual violence influences how we think about the Holocaust and other instances of genocide and how we study them. We will try to answer such questions as what the connection is between trauma, violence, writing, and Israel/Palestine as the space we live in, whether the questions are interpretive, narrative, or ethical. Does the violent present in Israel/Palestine influence the narrative of the past that we recount? Is there a connection between representations of a past of mass violence in the Modern Era, in research in academe or museums, and the Nakba and the denial of Palestinians’ human rights today, and if so, what is the nature of that connection? Does the narrator have a special responsibility toward the present, and if so, what is it? Or perhaps we must ask totally different questions, even questions that negate the validity of this session."
Goldberg posits that Jews in the Holocaust unconsciously identified with their Nazi oppressors and, given the opportunity, would become perpetrators themselves.
Even by the shoddy academic standards of critical theory of which Goldberg follows, this is an inexcusable exercise in speculation.
The Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
DATE & TIME
Mar 19, 2019
PHONE: (413) 835-0221
The Holocaust and the Nakba: A New Grammar of Trauma and History
"The Holocaust and the Nakba: A New Grammar of Trauma and History", front cover
A panel discussion of the new book:
The Holocaust and the Nakba: A New Grammar of Trauma and History
Edited by Bashir Bashir and Amos Goldberg
In this groundbreaking book, leading Arab and Jewish intellectuals examine how and why the Holocaust and the Nakba are interlinked without blurring fundamental difference between them. The first treatment in English of these two constitutive traumas together, it searches for a new historical and political grammar for relating and narrating their complicated intersections.
Panel will include:
Bashir Bashir is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, Political Science and Communication at the Open University of Israel. He is the co-editor of Rethinking the Politics of Israel/Palestine: Partition and Its Alternatives (2014).
Amos Goldberg is Associate Professor at the Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of Trauma in First Person: Diary Writing During the Holocaust (2017).
Leila Farsakh is Associate Professor and Chair at the Department of Political Science at UMass Boston. She is the author of Palestinian Labor Migration to Israel: Labor, Land and Occupation (2012).
Laura Jockusch is the Albert Abramson Assistant Professor of Holocaust Studies at the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. She is the author of Collect and Record! Jewish Holocaust Documentation in Early Postwar Europe (2012).
Moderated by Alon Confino, Pen Tishkach Chair of Holocaust Studies, Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies, UMass Amherst.
The Nakba and the Holocaust: A Conversation with Bashir Bashir
How can one think productively about the Holocaust and the Nakba together? Political theorist Bashir Bashir argues that confronting this question is necessary in order to develop a new approach to decolonization in Israel/Palestine. Bashir is co-editor, along with historian Amos Goldberg, of the recently released Hebrew volume, The Holocaust and the Nakba: Memory, National Identity and Jewish-Arab Partnership (ha-Shoʼah veha-nakbah: zikaron, zehut leʼumit ve-shutafut Yehudit-ʻArvit). Bashir agreed to discuss the project of engaging the Holocaust and Nakba together in a recent interview with The Nakba Files. Below is a condensed version of the conversation.
What were the origins and goals of this book?
This book has a long and interesting history. It originated in efforts to bring schoolteachers — Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel — to the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute to discuss the Holocaust, and I was one of the speakers in the program. The project generated several challenges that were raised by Palestinian speakers like me and Palestinian teachers. This project and the challenges it raised inspired Amos Goldberg, the academic director of the project, and I to do an academic volume. When we decided to do this book, my condition was that it needed to address not just the Holocaust, but the Holocaust and the Nakba together. If you are in the Israeli context and you want to discuss the Holocaust with Jewish and Palestinian teachers, it is entirely flawed to do so without intimately connecting the Holocaust and the Nakba, since the institutions of the state treat the Holocaust as an exceptional and unique event, instrumentalizing it to defend the hegemony of Zionism. My view is that any consistent and morally defensible Jewish Israeli ethical politics must engage with the Nakba and its ongoing consequences.
So the idea was to address this connection: what are the possibilities of putting the Holocaust and Nakba into a single conversation? What are the sensitivities, the “explosive materials,” so to speak? What opportunities does this enable for thinking about decolonization based on Arab-Jewish partnership? Of course we knew we were touching a very sensitive issue and there are different views on this, including our own views. These issues are highly charged and constitutive of people’s feelings, identities, and consciousness, their conceptions of history and memory. We were keen on having a wide spectrum of views in the book, including those who are hostile to the very idea of invoking Holocaust and Nakba in same context.
From my point of view, it is absolutely critical to stress that we are not presenting some kind of binary equating the two phenomena, nor is this an attempt at some kind of empty “dialogue” that papers over asymmetries of power in Israel/Palestine. Indeed, there are at least three crucial asymmetries that come out of discussing the Holocaust and Nakba together. First, obviously the Holocaust and the Nakba are not the same thing: yes, genocide and ethnic cleansing are part of a continuum, but they are not the same thing. Second, Palestinians are not responsible for the Holocaust but the Zionist movement and the state of Israel are very much responsible for the Nakba. Third, the Holocaust is largely a past, albeit a very important and traumatic one whereas the Nakba is an ongoing reality for Palestinians.
We need to put the Holocaust and the Nakba together in a historical context tied to phenomena such as colonialism, nationalism, state-building, and ethnic cleansing. For the Holocaust, it is especially crucial to demystify, historicize, and contextualize this event, to respect its dimensions as a man-made event without denying its murderous, disastrous and genocidal scale. And also to recognize that it was not perpetrated against Jews alone, but also against Roma, homosexuals, and the disabled. Zionism tries to treat the Holocaust as both universal and particular: it is supposed to be significance to all of humanity, but it is also the patrimony of Zionism, which has the right to decide how it is invoked and understood. Putting the Holocaust and the Nakba together in a common frame disrupts this exceptionalism and is meant to provoke new thinking that exceeds the rigid, dichotomous, and oppositional boundaries of ethno-nationalism.
If your message to Israeli Jews is that discussing the Holocaust requires grappling with the Nakba, what is your message to Palestinians about the Holocaust?
I still do not have a comprehensively articulated account of how Palestinians should address the Holocaust, given that they were not responsible for it. But the existing intertwined and binational realities, though asymmetrical, in Israel/Palestine, colonialism, irony and moral considerations, have rendered Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews inseparable. That is partly why I see the Holocaust and Nakba as interconnected in the past, present and future of Israel/Palestine. This doesn’t come without numerous challenges. On the one hand, we Palestinians must express an uncompromising and consistent human empathy in the face of mass murder like the Holocaust, as is the case with other murderous crimes anywhere in the world. On the other hand, participating in the state’s rituals of Holocaust commemoration presents serious dilemmas. For example, when the sirens blare on Holocaust day in Israel, it is hard to bring Palestinians in Israel to participate in the ritual of standing silence, because many know that it is part and parcel of a larger monopolization and instrumentalization of the Holocaust that serves to justify the very serious discrimination, racism, and oppression exercised against them as Palestinians.
The relationship between the Holocaust and international law is an important and fraught one, especially in the debates around the Genocide Convention and the more general project of using international criminal law to address mass atrocities. Do you have any thoughts on how juxtaposing Holocaust and Nakba helps us rethink the law?
I can think of three important ways in which considering the Holocaust and the Nakba together is relevant for legal issues. First, an engagement with the Nakba is needed to restore credibility to the project of international criminal justice, which owes so much to the history of the Holocaust and discussions around it. Juxtaposing the Nakba and the Holocaust is a reminder that mass atrocities — not only the Nakba, but others around the world — should not be ignored or marginalized in the service of empires, colonial or national orders, or geostrategic interests. Thus this juxtaposition has a pedagogical and democratizing impact epistemologically, historically, and politically.
Second, it is necessary to challenge the colonial legality that allows Israel to continue to perpetuate the Nakba, including laws that concern Palestinian refugees — be they the “internally displaced” Palestinians who lost their homes but remain citizens of the state of Israel or those in exile outside the boundaries of historic Palestine. We must also resist any attempt to liquidate or undermine the rights of the refugees; indeed, we should return to an understanding of Palestinian nationalism after the Nakba as a primarily exilic form of nationalism that is centered around a project of return and self-determination.
Third, we need to move beyond the scandalous and amnesic framework of “conflict resolution and peacemaking” between Zionism/the state of Israel and Palestinian nationalism/the PLO as manifested in the Oslo peace process and instead move toward a process of historical reconciliation. At the core of this reconciliation is, among other things, coming to terms with the Nakba which means securing from Israel recognition of the Zionist movement’s major responsibility for the Nakba and addressing the question of reparations for Palestinians.
What have been the reactions to the book so far?
Although it addresses issues of concern to all Palestinians, this book was meant primarily for a Hebrew-speaking audience. And I must say that the reaction from Israeli Jewish quarters — including colleagues who see themselves as critical of the state or as liberal Zionists — has ranged from negative to hostile, with some exceptions. Some objected to the mere title of the book for putting the words “Holocaust” and “Nakba” together. This attempt to police the mere juxtaposition of these words is very telling and of course gets at the very reasons why we wanted to produce this book as a disruption to the dominant discourse in the first place.
The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, through which the book was published and where I serve as a research fellow, was flooded with angry phone calls and emails for several days and had to hire extra security for the book launch event. Several dozen protesters, mostly from the far-right group Im Tirtzu, staged a demonstration outside the building during the book launch.
What are your future plans for this work?
Because the book was intended for an Israeli audience, we didn’t have plans or resources to translate it, although we have been approached about an Italian translation. Instead, Amos and I are at work on an edited volume intended for English-speaking audiences, under the provisional title The Holocaust and the Nakba: A New Grammar of Conflicting Historical Traumas. The Hebrew book was “horizontal” in the sense that it sought to capture a wide range of views to start a conversation about the Holocaust and Nakba. This book will be “vertical”: its contributors all share the starting point that this conversation is necessary, which will enable them to address issues more deeply.
Both books are part of my own broader project, which argues that Palestinian nationalism is entering a new stage requiring a distinct moral and political grammar. A key part of this is engaging the relationship between Holocaust and Nakba. This isn’t entirely new: Ghassan Kanafani tried to do this, Elias Khoury tried it with Gate of the Sun and his new novel, Children of the Ghetto — My Name is Adam, as did the Jewish poet Avoth Yeshurun. This new grammar brings in the colonial dimension. This entails an awareness that the conflict cannot be framed entirely around partition; that the question of Palestine goes beyond merely statehood and must include a rethinking of the “self” in self-determination; and finally, the role of Israeli Jews. Zionism has managed to create a distinctively Israeli Jewish national identity and this historical and sociological fact must be reckoned with.
This leads us to the most important part of this new grammar, which is binationalism. Beyond the question of whether there will be two states or one, a decolonizing commitment to binationalism means that despite being the victims of Zionism we Palestinians must develop an inclusive, humanistic, form of politics that allows us to accommodate Israeli Jews in a democratic venture of togetherness. A productive and joint conversation on the Holocaust and the Nakba is a fundamental pillar of this venture.
For further reading: Bashir Bashir & Amos Goldberg, “Deliberating the Holocaust and the Nakba: Disruptive Empathy and Binationalism in Israel/Palestine,” Journal of Genocide Research 16(1), pp. 77-19 (2014).
Bashir Bashir is a research fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, senior lecturer in the department of sociology, political science, and communication at the Open University, and teaches political theory in the department of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He holds a PhD in Political Theory from the LSE. His primary research interests are nationalism and citizenship studies, multiculturalism, democratic theory, and the politics of reconciliation. His publications include: ‘Reconciling Historical Injustices: Deliberative Democracy and the Politics of Reconciliation’, Res Publica, 18(2), 2012: 127-143; ‘On Citizenship and Citizenship Education: A Levantine Approach and Re-Imagining Israel/Palestine’, Citizenship Studies, 2015; with Will Kymlicka (eds.) The Politics of Reconciliation in Multicultural Societies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008); with Azar Dakwar, Rethinking the Politics of Israel/ Palestine: Partition and Its Alternatives (Vienna: Bruno Kreisky Forum and S&D Group, 2014).
The Holocaust and the Nakba: Memory, National Identity and Jewish-Arab Partnership
The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and Hakibbutz Hameuchad
The Holocaust and the Nakba: Memory, National Identity and Jewish-Arab Partnership grew out of the meetings of a group of educators—Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel—who came together in 2008 at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute to consider jointly the Holocaust and the Nakba. The group’s wrenching experience in dealing with these charged topics led to a decision to try to discuss this issue analytically and critically. Thus, the book proposes thinking about ways to remember the Holocaust and the Nakba together, to discuss them together in the Israeli context, and to examine the conditions that make this possible—not because they are identical or even similar events, but rather because both were traumatic and identity-forming. Both the Nakba and the Holocaust shaped the fate and the identity of two peoples, albeit each in a totally different way.
The book contains articles and essays by Jewish and Palestinian researchers, writers, and philosophers seeking to grapple with this issue. The articles are varied: Some demand consideration of both events and see such a consideration as an opening for reconciliation and acceptance, and some reject this possibility altogether. Thus the book provides a unique mosaic that challenges the conventional approach to remembering the traumas of the two peoples.
B. Bashir u.a. (Hrsg.): The Holocaust and the Nakba
Titel The Holocaust and the Nakba. Memory, National Identity and Jewish-Arab Partnership
Hrsg. v. Bashir, Bashir; Goldberg, Amos
ErschienenJerusalem 2015: The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House
Rezensiert für den Arbeitskreis Historische Friedens- und Konfliktforschung bei H-Soz-Kult von:
Alon Confino, Department of History, University of Virginia and Ben-Gurion University, Israel
The link between the Holocaust and the Nakba is probably the most charged for both Jews and Palestinians. To Jews, the Holocaust is a foundational past, and some would say a unique one, and thus to discuss it in conjunction with any other event may appear to banalize the extermination of the Jews and even to present a moral and political threat. To Palestinians, the Nakba is a foundational past, and since the Jews invoke the Holocaust to justify Zionism and Israel’s actions, to many Palestinians recognition of the Holocaust is tantamount to legitimizing the injustices of the Nakba and the iniquities that Israel continues to wreak upon them. To Germans as well, the juxtaposition of these two events is a sensitive matter, since they feel particularly responsible for the memory of the Holocaust.
The book “Shoah and Nakba: Memory, National Identity and Jewish-Arab Partnership”, edited by Bashir Bashir and Amos Goldberg, seeks to explore the link between these two events. It contains 14 articles written by Palestinian and Jewish scholars, writers, and literati, all of them citizens of Israel. This is an important book since it does not seek to persuade the reader to adopt a particular position, but presents a variety of opinions on the topic, including articles that cast doubt on the project or reject it altogether. Particularly worthy of note is the excellent introduction, with its restrained tone and its sensitivity to history and memory.
What, then, does this book argue? Let us begin by what it does not do – Bashir and Goldberg do not draw comparisons between the Holocaust and the Nakba: “These are very different events that cannot be compared as far as the scope of violence and murder committed during their course are concerned […] the intention [of this book] is not to blur the tremendous differences between them.” They do invite discussion on two levels. The first addresses the memory of the Holocaust and the Nakba as traumatic events. They are both foundational pasts that constitute an ethical and historical turning point for each people. The editors propose to bundle together the memories of these two events in order to generate “empathic unsettlement” on the part of each side toward the other. This shared empathy does not imply immediate recognition of the other’s truths or the erasure of one’s own identity, nor does it necessarily and immediately lead to practical results. It does, however, propose an alternative to the self-contained, zero-sum narrative of history and memory, and to the rejection of the other and their suffering. It requires the Palestinian people “to recognize that which is most inconceivable to it – the legitimacy of the Jewish-Israeli identity that evolved in the Land of Israel / Palestine,” and requires the Jews “to recognize the catastrophe that they brought upon the Palestinians.”
The second discussion concerns our historical understanding of the two events. Bashir and Goldberg maintain that “given the potential for radical violence found in ethnic nationalism and in the modern nation-state […] both the Holocaust and the Nakba are characterized by a purifying national violence.” Relying on extensive scholarly literature, they assert that two major characteristics of the nation-state are the desire to associate citizenship with ethnic-national ascription, and the aspiration toward homogenization of society. The Jews of Europe suffered from this urge toward national homogenization. While this in itself fails to explain the Holocaust, once the Jews were marked as an other that did not belong, they immediately became an object of discrimination, and frequently suffered expulsion or murder.
“This type of nationalism,” note Bashir and Goldberg, “constantly engages in defining the ethnic identity of the nation-state and its efforts at ethnic homogenization.” In this respect, the new Jewish nationalism in Palestine regarded the Palestinians as a threat to Jewish sovereignty and an ethnic other (although there were of course other imaginations of the relations between Jews and Arabs). Once the Palestinians were marked as such, they were driven out during the 1948 war on behalf of the creation of a homogenous Jewish nation-state. Bashir and Goldberg emphasize here once again that the Holocaust and the Nakba were events of a different magnitude and of a completely different historical character, and cannot be compared. Yet they are also events that “in certain senses share the same type of political logic.”
This methodological framework contributes to our understanding of the events’ memory and history without divesting them of their particularity. Bashir and Goldberg do not seek to show that the two events are identical, but rather endeavor to understand them within a broader panoply of traumatic pasts and homogenous nation-states. This approach does not detract from the particularity of either event, on the contrary. Take the Holocaust for example. This approach is compatible with insightful approaches to the study of the Holocaust, which comprehend the extermination of the Jews within the broad context of modern comparative genocide. This scholarly approach examines the similarities as well as the differences between the Holocaust and other instances of genocide. The notion of exterminating racial groups thus appeared some hundred years prior to the Third Reich. And yet, the persecution and annihilation of the Jews was clearly pursued with greater urgency by the Nazis and was of greater historical significance than other acts of genocide that they perpetrated. It is precisely this approach that underscores the particularity of the Holocaust within its historical context. Similarly, the particularity of the Holocaust and of the Nakba is in no way compromised when one thinks about the two events in tandem. In terms of historical method and interpretation, it is appropriate to discuss these two events together, as well as other events which exist on a spectrum of modern mass violence. The aversion on the part of Jews and Palestinians to do so stems from concerns over the identity and political implications of such a move.
And still, we are entitled to ask, why should we link these events? Is this book perhaps merely the outcome of a transitory fashionable moment at which the Nakba became a catchword within Israeli culture, or is the debate on the relations between the Holocaust and the Nakba rooted in a longer tradition? Our historical imagination connects at times very different events because by joining them they tell us something important about who we are, where we came from, how we got here, and where we are going. This, to my mind, is true of the linkage between the Holocaust and the Nakba in Israeli culture from 1948 to the present. In his tale “Hirbet Hizah,” which appeared in 1949 when the echoes of battle had hardly subsided, S. Yizhar depicted the expelled Palestinians as “a frightened and compliant and silent and groaning flock,” alluding to the metaphor that served to describe the Jews who, during the Holocaust, were led as “a flock to slaughter.” Shortly thereafter, in 1952, Avot Yeshurun’s jolting poem “Passover on Caves” appeared in Ha’aretz newspaper. He subsequently described it in the following words: “The Holocaust of European Jewry and the Holocaust of Palestinian Arabs, a single Holocaust of the Jewish People. The two gaze directly into one another’s face.” Closer to our time, in his film “Waltz With Bashir” Ari Fulman placed the Palestinian refugees alongside the victims of the Holocaust. And the list can go on and on.
The linkage between the two events in society, literature, and politics has created a cultural tradition with its own language and images that enables Israelis to think about the two events separately and in tandem. This tradition is shared by those who connect the events and those who utterly reject this connection. For the mention of the two events in the same breath has always aroused fierce opposition and profound resentment. And yet this opposition is part of the cultural tradition that by connecting the events confront their memory and give them meaning.
The significance of the link between the two events has altered over the years with the transformations undergone by Israeli society. What insights can we gain from the book’s “Introduction” with regard to the connection between the Holocaust and the Nakba these days? While the Holocaust is a foundational event in modern history, it nevertheless, as a historical event, lies in the past. Of course, Holocaust victims bear the trauma throughout their life, but the Jews as a collectivity live in a completely different historical and political time, both by virtue of the existence of the state of Israel and because Germans and Jews harbor no political or territorial claims on each other. The enduring struggle is that over memory. One remembers the Holocaust with such intensity precisely because it has passed from the domain of history into the domain of memory.
Yet while the Holocaust has become part of history, not so the Nakba, which is in some way a continuous present. Its outcome impacts almost every Palestinian wherever he or she may be, and the Palestinians’ ongoing collective weakness is linked to the uprooting of the texture of their life in 1948. Although the Nakba – the uprooting of the Palestinians in the 1948 war – was an event specific in time and place, its results – the deprivation of the Palestinians’ national rights – continue to this day. The fact that the Holocaust belongs to the past and the Nakba to the present explains why Jews and Germans find it easier to be reconciled with regard to the memory of the Holocaust than it is for Jews and Palestinians to be reconciled with regard to the memory of the Nakba.
A further point should be noted. Jews are right to assert that one cannot compare the genocide committed during the Holocaust to the Nakba. But there is another aspect of asymmetry between the two events, and Jews should do well to take note thereof: the Palestinians are in no way responsible for the Holocaust of European Jewry, whereas Israel is closely linked to the Nakba. Israel had a hand in the expulsion of the Palestinians, in the confiscation of their property, and in obstructing the return of the refugees. The question here is not who is right and who is wrong. Whether one accepts Israel’s justifications of what occurred in 1948 and continues to occur to this day or not, the state of Israel is not a neutral party with regard to the suffering of the Palestinians, in contrast to the Palestinians who had no role in the Holocaust. There is no symmetry, write correctly Bashir and Goldberg: “there is a conqueror and there are the conquered; there is a sovereign and there are subjects; there are those who drove others out and there are those who were dispossessed; there is a people that established its homeland and that caused another people to lose its homeland.” In this sense it is not sufficient for Israeli Jews to recognize the Palestinian trauma only at the level of memory; a change must come about also at the political level.
Several of the articles in the book object to discuss the Holocaust and the Nakba in the same breath. Palestinian resistance to this linkage has nothing to do with Holocaust denial. Salman Natour writes of “the incomparability of the Holocaust and the Nakba” because using the Holocaust “to legitimize the occupation of Palestine and the expulsion of the Palestinian people is an immoral act.” From a Zionist perspective, Elhanan Yakira denounces the project altogether because using “the word ‘Nakba’ as if it were equivalent to the word ‘Holocaust,’ or as if the events that these two words denote belong to the same family of historical events, is completely unfounded.” I do not accept his position, but this is a legitimate opinion. Yet Yakira proceeds to claim that “what they now call the catastrophe is nothing but their defeat in war […] it is not even altogether clear who sought to drive them out and to what extent.” These are notions that derive from the Jews’ collective memory of what they wish to believe to have happened in 1948, not from the history of what actually happened during the war. The Nakba is the expulsion and uprooting of the Palestinians in the war of 1948, the confiscation of their property, and the prevention of their return; it is linked to the war, but its meaning cannot be confined to the war itself. In this sense it resembles the Holocaust. The annihilation of the Jews between 1941 and 1945 was a part of the Nazi war in Europe, but its significance cannot be restricted to the war itself. As far as the 1948 expulsion goes, scholarly studies have made it quite clear who drove out whom and to what extent.
Precisely because the Holocaust and the Nakba are foundational events, it is essential to study their history. The purpose of the national narratives of both peoples is to explain and to justify their identity in the present, and less to become familiar with and to understand the complexity of past events. We must therefore be prepared to learn the past and face it unflinchingly. This requires willingness on the part of the Palestinians to learn about the Holocaust. If one adheres to the assumption that the Zionists were no more than European settler colonialists, as many Palestinians believe, one fails to understand that Zionism was also a movement of national liberation that grew out of the persecution of the Jews in Europe prior to the Holocaust. And it requires willingness on the part of the Jews to learn about the Nakba. One of the explanations for the uprooting of the Palestinians, which appeared immediately after the 1948 war and over the years became a part of the Israeli narrative, is that the Palestinians’ leaders ordered them to leave in order to facilitate the Arabs’ military campaigns, and assured them that they would return to their homes in the wake of the armies’ victory. This is a fable; even Zionist historians no longer believe it.
As a scholar of Germany and the Holocaust, as well as of 1948 in Palestine, I find it helpful to think in association about Holocaust and Nakba memory in order to learn and apply useful methods and approaches. The term “Holocaust” came to stand for the extermination of the Jews in Europe only in the late 1950s and the beginning of 1960s, although references to “Shoah” were already made during the Second World War. The term Nakba was coined to represent the dispossession of the Palestinians by the historian Constantine Zurayk in his small, influential book “The Meaning of Disaster” written in mid-1948. But the term did not catch up among Israeli Jews, and, as far as I could attest, was not used regularly in public space by Palestinians citizens of Israel until the 1990s. In both historical cases the term that came to stand for the event was attached to it years after it actually happened. Also of interest is that while the Holocaust and the Nakba are foundational pasts that elicit strong emotional response, the history of denying they ever happened is part of the history of their memory. Finally, Israeli Jews can look at how Germans remembered the Holocaust--at the road they traveled from years of denial and half-hearted recognition to assuming historical responsibility--and draw important lessons for the way they should assume historical responsibility for aspects of their 1948 past.
We can think about the Nakba by telling a story of 1948 that does not seek to lay blame, score points, and divide the world into clear-cut perpetrators and victims, but that recognizes the complexity of human affairs and accepts that perpetrator and victim may coexist in the same person. Since the topic is so charged, it is insightful to begin understanding it from a broader historical perspective. Something happened in Palestine in 1948. 750,000 Palestinians were uprooted. They did not just leave of their own accord. What happened in Palestine in 1948 was part of a history of forced migrations whereby nation-states sought to create homogenous populations by violently removing thousands and even millions of people. The 1940s were a key decade in this respect that witnessed forced migrations in Europe, in India/Pakistan, and in Palestine/Israel. In Europe, among others, eleven million Germans were uprooted from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary in a wave that began in 1944 as millions fled the advancing Red Army. In India, in 1947–1948, twelve million people were expelled from their homes in the new India and in the two parts of the new Pakistan. Thousands of Hindis in Lahore and Muslims in Delhi left before the mass expulsions began for fear of their safety. Millions were driven out thereafter.
Jews can draw two conclusions from their role in the forced migration of the Palestinians. They can emit a sigh of relief, “Well, everyone expelled people in the 1940s, that’s life, what can we do about it, let us be.” And some may even add, “it’s a pity we didn’t finish the job.” Of course, such an arrogant and disparaging attitude is inconceivable when discussing the atrocities visited upon the Jews in the 1940s, including the Holocaust. A second conclusion would be to view Zionism in general and 1948 in particular from a wider perspective; not as a unique story, but as a story of human beings acting within specific historical time, place, and circumstances. From this perspective, forced migrations took place in various locations during the first half of the twentieth century, and in particular during the 1940s. They had general causes, while they were acted out in specific historical contexts. But they did happen; they constitute a human tragedy that has to be acknowledged by those who are fully or partly responsible for them.
1948 is the year of the Nakba and is also the year in which the Jews founded a state of their own, with its own language, culture and vitality. The Nakba and Israel’s independence also “gaze directly into one another’s face.” Just as one cannot understand the rich history of the United States only through the prism of the genocide of the Native-Americans, so one cannot understand the rich history of the state of Israel only through the expulsion of the Palestinians. Yet it behooves the Jews to recognize the role played by their people in the Nakba, for a very simple reason. The Nakba is part of their history, and an important part: they remember the Nakba whether they deny it or relate it in prose or in poetry. The very attempt to erase the memory of the Nakba is the outcome of an immense mobilization of political, economic, and cultural effort. The erasure of memory is the outcome of an extraordinarily lively awareness. The Jews are condemned, in some sense, to remember and remember and remember the Palestinians who lost their homes and their homeland, and to tell this story in various ways because it is inextricably bound up with the way in which they themselves won their homes and their homeland. And this is one of the reasons that the defining past events of both peoples have continued to eye each other ever since 1948.
Why is this book important? Its power lies not in a quest for agreement or in an attempt to persuade, but in the act of Jews and Palestinians speaking, writing, and reading together about the Holocaust and the Nakba; this is the real event and the significant effort. This act in itself generates a jolt, without which there is no prospect of national rights and human rights for all the inhabitants of the land.