In Farsi, there is a tense to be used when describing a historical event that was so important that it even now impacts our individual lives. It is a tense of ‘is-was’ – of the past bleeding into present, traumas and joys being carried by the backs of generations, linking centuries and generations in a defiance of our linear time.
‘Nakba’ is the Arabic word for catastrophe. The catastrophe of war, of loss, of oppression. The word itself refers to the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948, in which approximately 750,000 Palestinians were made into refugees of their own land and 500 Palestinian villages, towns and cities were destroyed by Israeli forces. The Nakba was the beginning of a larger catastrophe, of now 75 years of Palestinians having their land, culture and basic freedoms being denied them.
For so much of the youth in Palestine, there is not the luxury and power of knowledge of their history. Israel is employing increasingly invasive policies acting to erase the Palestinian people from history. It is considered an act of terrorism to fly a Palestinian flag in Israel, and the government is taking steps to ban Palestinian textbooks. This acts as an attempt to deny Palestinians their cultural identity – to deny them the power that comes with knowledge of their past. A ‘is-was’ event like the Nakba can be, it seems, rewritten by the authorities into a day of Israeli Independence alone, a day of one sided celebration without thought for what is being celebrated.
The city of Haifa was one of the 500 destroyed in the Nakba. To commemorate 75 years since the Nakba, our implementing partner, the Arab Culture Association, hosted an ‘Identity Workshop’ in Haifa, where they educated Palestinian students about the Nakba and their long denied roots. The students walked throughout Haifa, led by Kholoud Abu Ahmed (a former scholarship coordinator), past abandoned buildings, homes with blast holes in the walls, tangles of weeds encroaching into what once may have been a classroom, a chemist, or a child’s bedroom. There have been plans by the Haifa municipality to transform the village into an expensive artists’ quarter, but still it remains derelict, a sad testament to the persecution that began in 1948 and continues today of Palestinian people by Israel.
Another such town is Yaffa, which the students also visit, led by Yara Garableh, a social activist. Prior to 1948, Yara informs the group, there stood the Ilana Goor Museum, belonging to the prominent Palestinian artist, Tamam Alakhal. However, during the Nakba she was forced to flee to Jordan. When Alakhal tried to return to her home in Yaffa, she found it was under the ‘ownership’ of Israelis. This is sadly a common narrative. Indeed, Yaffa was once a bustling Palestinian village. Now, Yara points out the shops lining the village’s alleys, most everything is Israeli.
As the Israeli government employs increasingly harrowing policies in attempts to eradicate Palestinian identity, workshops like this Identity Workshop initiate the important act of remembrance – not only of past injustices, but also a remembrance of one’s roots and the opportunity to begin to be with power from new knowledge.