Hiding evidence of the Nakba, Israel denies Palestinian collective memory

Hiding evidence of the Nakba, Israel denies Palestinian collective memory
Comment: By refusing public access to documents about the Nakba, Israel has moved a step beyond denial, to directly challenge Palestinian memory, writes Ramona Wadi.
6 min read
25 Jul, 2019
Palestinians are expelled from Ramleh by the Israeli army in 1948 [Getty]
The increase in awareness when it comes to narratives around the Nakba runs contrary to Israel's plans to annihilate Palestinian collective memory. 

In this regard, there is little Israel can do in terms of preventing Palestinians from reclaiming and disseminating their narratives. 

However, the settler-colonial state is doing its utmost to prevent the confirmation of Nakba atrocities by systematically preventing access to historical archives.  

An in-depth report by Haaretz published earlier this month reveals that documents detailing the paramilitary massacres which were also referenced in books by Israeli historians, are no longer accessible.

The security section of Israel's Ministry of Defence, known as Malmab, is intentionally hiding documents pertaining to the massacres of Palestinian civilians during the Nakba in a bid to discredit the already-published research.

The Haaretz report specifically mentioned the research of Benny Morris, who just a few months ago described the Nakba as "a very clean war".

criticised Israel's decision to prevent access to information about the 1948 Nakba, yet also subscribed to the colonial narrative, stating, "What happened in 1948 happened 70 years ago in a difficult war that was forced upon the Jews." 

Keeping archives away from public scrutiny means withholding both recognition and justice

Israel's narratives about the Nakba must not be put on a par with the Palestinian experience and memory.

However, there is more to the Israeli Ministry of Defence's decision to classify documents that would confirm - through state evidence - what Palestinians have been stating all along about their ethnic cleansing and expulsion from Palestine.

Israel does not need to discredit its historians, given how the Israeli narrative has normalised the 1948 atrocities into a so-called "War of Independence". 

On the contrary, as Palestinian narratives start to take precedence, restricting access to documents is part of Israel's scheming to avoid culpability and accountability. 

The expulsion of Palestinians from their land, as well as their memory of historic Palestine and the Nakba, bestow validity upon the Palestinian right of return.

As the perpetrator that unleashed this chain of events, Israel will do its utmost to ensure that the Palestinian narrative stands on its own, without the possibility of corroborating evidence. 

The international community, unfortunately, has already laid the groundwork for such discrepancies.

UN Resolution 194 places a burden upon Palestinians and provides impunity for Israel as early as its inception. In part, the resolution states, "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practical date." 

The language employed by the UN - 'wishing to return' instead of establishing a binding right to do so, as well as requiring the displaced to make peace with the colonisers - already isolates Palestinian narratives. 

Speaking about Palestinian refugees, former Israeli security official Yehiel Horev who headed Malmab for 20 years until 2007, stated, "Not everything has been published about the refugee issue, and there are all kinds of narratives." Bringing to light evidence about the refugee narratives, he says, is decided on "whether it can do harm or not." 

This specification is what makes the issue of Israel's classified archives a pertinent matter for Palestinians.

It is a rare occurrence that Israeli historians detach from the state narrative to give a proper account of colonial expansion and violence. 

Israel has spent decades normalising the Nakba within its settler society and in diplomatic circles. The latter has been bolstered by US President Donald Trump and his intent to invent a definition of a Palestinian refugee that accommodates the Israeli narrative while excluding Palestinians from their legitimate, political demands of return. 

By refusing public access to documents pertaining to the Nakba, Israel has moved beyond Nakba denial. It is preoccupied with the possibility that Palestinian narratives, now gaining traction especially in literature and memory studies, will confirm the legitimacy of the Palestinian right of return. 

For Israel, the Nakba was the beginning of erasing Palestine and Palestinians. For Palestinians, the Nakba marked the beginning of their claim to return.

This preoccupation goes beyond what the UN stipulated in its flawed resolution which makes no mention of colonial violence or ethnic cleansing. Restricting access to the archives is in direct confrontation with Palestinian memory.

Ironically, Israel is also validating Palestinian claims by refusing to engage in an open process that would, at the very least, establish accountability in terms of justice. 

However, keeping archives away from public scrutiny means withholding both recognition and justice, to force Palestinians into oblivion of their own history. 

The denial of the Palestinian right to return from their own historical and memory framework has increased the people's tenacity regarding their aim. 

Read more: Friedman and Greenblatt are dismantling Palestine, one brick at a time

Within the entire international community, there is not one single entity that has approached Palestinians to uphold their definition of the right of return in line with their experiences of expulsion. 

Instead, Palestinians have to contend with the UN definition of what constitutes a return to their colonised homeland, to the point that UN Resolution 194 has also become normalised in Palestinian narratives, despite its discrepancies which so obviously cater to the permanence of Israel. 

Israel's actions must be seen within the wider context of a colonial entity and its accomplices denying Palestinians their legitimate rights.

Israel's narratives about the Nakba must not be put on a par with the Palestinian experience and memory

Although its ramifications may be more evident now, it is clear that Israel's systematic cleansing of its archives which started over a decade ago was not carried out as an isolated act, but in preparation for what decades of diplomacy would bring to the Palestinian people. 

One of the documents which now form part of the classified archives, but escaped total concealment due to availability of a copy that was authorised for publication by Israel's military censors, provides detail which shows why Israel would want its ethnic cleansing methods to remain hidden. 

Another document partially published by Haaretz, reveals the following with reference to the Palestinian people: "It was necessary for them to be no place to return to… within 48 hours I knocked all those villages to the ground. Period. There's no place to return to." 

For Israel, the Nakba was the beginning of erasing Palestine and Palestinians. For Palestinians, the Nakba marked the beginning of their claim to return.

The latter, despite diplomatic efforts to curb its expression, has survived generations and continues to inform Palestinian narratives. 

Given the stark difference between the settler-colonial state and the Palestinians as regards their approach to the Nakba, it is high time that the international community, rather than diluting the Palestinian right into a humanitarian concern, starts questioning why Israel deems it pertinent to secure its macabre beginnings away from public scrutiny.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law.

Follow her on Twitter: @walzerscent

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.