Nihad Boqai’ is the Coordinator of Research, Information and Legal Advocacy at BADIL.
Sometimes we wonder how Israeli society can remain immune to the daily pictures of destruction, killing and collective punishment in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories in this intifada. We
wonder about the mechanisms by means of which Israeli society can perceive itself as the victim of aggression while the arrogance of power is endorsed publicly and widely.
The key to understanding current Israeli attitudes towards the Palestinian intifada lies in a propaganda mechanism which has been employed by the Zionist leadership in times of crises since the early days of the Zionist colonization of Palestine: The Israeli people are told that the "crisis is existential, a question of to be or not to be." The notion of the "existential crisis to Zionism" is shared by part of the Israeli leadership and the mainstream media
The name of Kafr Bir’im is well-known in the context of Palestinian displacement. This Palestinian Christian village is located 4 km south of the Lebanese-Israel/Palestine border. In mid-November 1948, two weeks after Israeli forces occupied the village, residents were ordered to leave with a promise from Israeli officials that the people of Kafr Bir’im would be able to return to their homes within two weeks. Fifty-seven years later they remain in forced exile.
In his book Imagined Communities professor Benedict Anderson discusses the primary role played by three institutions - the population census, the map, and the museum - in articulating national identities in southeast Asia during the previous decades. These institutions became the main centers of power used by the colonial state to create and develop a clear national identity. Based on Anderson's ideas, Israeli historian Hillel Cohen demonstrates in his research about displaced Palestinians inside Israel the reliance of Israel on these same institutions but in a totally reversed manner - to eliminate the "Palestinian case".
During the past few years, the Association for Defending the Rights of the Internally Displaced Persons in Israel (ADRID), along with local committees and other associations have organized a series of visits to depopulated Palestinian villages. These visits aim to raise awareness about the plight of the internally displaced, but they also signify the importance of memory for Palestinians who were expelled from their lands and country by force.
Memory provides a link between the individual and the collective experience. Return visits also reveal the importance of identity and belonging to a particularly geographical place. This identity continues to have an impact on displaced persons today. Visiting depopulated villages is one method of resistance and protest against involuntary displacement and against Zionist policies that are based on the denial of the Nakba. It is a clear pronouncement of participation in the struggle for return.
Two comments are in place at the beginning of this essay: first, criticism presented here should not be interpreted as downplaying the historical role, work and activities of the Palestinian national movement amid an extremely adverse political climate; and, second, it is important to remember that the national movement, which has grown from the conflict, is a dynamic movement which has shaped the course of the conflict while being shaped by it. It has defined its position and place among the Palestinian people by adjusting and adapting to the varying circumstances.
The Palestinian national movement developed in the 1920s, when Palestine was for the first time defined as one unified geopolitical entity separate from “Greater Syria.” In general, the national movement has since then viewed Palestine as a homeland threatened by a western colonialist campaign that denied, in a blatant manner, the desires and aspirations of the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination.