Joseph Dana writes:
On May 15, five days after Israel’s Independence Day, Palestinians rallied around the Nakba—the Arabic word for catastrophe, used to mark the displacement of as many as 750,000 Palestinians in 1948. It was a bid to reiterate their opposition to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and control of the Gaza Strip. For the first time in years, every Israeli newspaper carried the word “Nakba” on its front page, albeit not in reference to the historical event but to demonstrations that consumed the West Bank and Israel’s border towns. The episode highlighted an important truth: Sooner or later, Israel will be forced to incorporate the Palestinian Nakba narrative into the larger Israeli societal discourse. There can be a Zionist narrative of 1948 that includes the tragic and violent Palestinian experience of displacement—but it must be predicated on the acceptance of the Nakba in Israeli society.
My first experience with the history of the Nakba came as a young Jewish Studies student at the University of Maryland. One graduate seminar I attended was led by Benny Morris, the prominent Israeli historian responsible for revolutionizing his country’s historiography pertaining to the founding period. The subject of the seminar was 1948, and the course material—army reports from the field, personal letters, radio transcripts—came directly from Morris’ influential first book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, published in 1988.
Early on in the seminar, I asked Morris, a short man with a fiery personality, if it was difficult to be a post-Zionist—an adherent of a movement that strives to replace Israel’s Zionist identity with a liberal cosmopolitan one—in Israel. He responded, almost snapping at me, that he was not a post-Zionist and never had been. As I would see in the seminar, Morris had exposed one of Israel’s darkest chapters without abandoning a strong allegiance to Zionism.