Donna Nevel is a community psychologist and educator living in the US. She is a coordinating team member (along with Nava EtShalom, Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark, and Rabbi Alissa Wise) of the Facing the Nakba project.
As a Jew living in the US, I know that many, if not most, of us from Jewish communities grew up learning little, if anything, about the Nakba even though we knew so much—we thought—about the establishment of Israel. After being introduced to what actually happened before and during Israel’s creation, that is, the dispossession of 750,000 Palestinians from their land and homes, I understood that this was a history that had remained untold or distorted within Jewish communities.
Several years ago, I joined with a group of Jewish women who were determined to develop educational resources about the Nakba and the consequences of the Nakba to share within our communities. Over the next number of years, we developed the Facing the Nakba (FTN) project, which includes a seven-session curriculum on the Nakba, past and present, accompanied by a facilitator guide. The resources in the curriculum are heavily drawn from testimonies, first-hand accounts, and histories shared by Palestinians. The goal of the project is to encourage US Jews and others to learn the history of the Nakba, past and ongoing, to reckon with that history, and to act accordingly. We also know all too well that Palestinians continue to be expelled from their homes and their land continues to be stolen as the Israeli government amps up its violence against the Palestinian people.
The FTN curriculum draws heavily on the work of Zochrot, (“remembering” in Hebrew), an Israeli organization that aims to educate Israeli Jews and others about the history and ongoing injustices of the Nakba and promote the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. FTN also draws upon the work of BADIL, a human rights organization committed to defending and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons, within the frameworks of international humanitarian and human rights law.
We remain deeply committed to sharing these resources with Jewish communities in the US and across the globe, as well as with anyone who wants to understand the Palestinian call for justice.
Rachel Liebhaber is a lawyer and member of the AJDS committee. Last May, she took part in a delegation to Israel and Palestine with the Centre for Jewish Non-Violence. She co facilitated the facing the Nakba workshops in Melbourne earlier this year with Jordy Silverstein.
Growing up, in a Jewish school and Zionist youth group, I hardly heard the term Nakba at all. When I did, it was explained to me that ‘Nakba’ (always contained in inverted commas) means a catastrophe, and is how Palestinians refer to Yom Ha’atzmaut. They might have added something like, ‘can you believe, that is what Palestinians insist on calling the miracle of Jews finally getting their own homeland?’
Today, the word seems to remain something of a taboo in the Jewish Community.
When Jordy and I decided to run a ‘Facing the Nakba’ session earlier this year, our motivation was to try and change the conversation in the Jewish community around Israel and Palestine. To my mind, this requires the important step of understanding what the Nakba actually means for Palestinians. I don’t think one can talk about peace or reconciliation without this understanding.
In our Jewish schools, youth movements and in the broader community, we hear about Israel as a realisation of a longed-for dream, a safe-haven for Jews, a centre for Jewish life. But we don’t hear about what the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 meant for those who were dispossessed from that land. When Australian Jews do talk about Palestine, the conversation often focuses on the post-1967 occupation, without acknowledging the occupation that began with the founding of the state of Israel.
Change starts with the small things, with education and conversations. The ‘Facing the Nakba’ sessions developed by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) are excellent for facilitating such conversations and discussions. These draw from the pioneering work of the Israeli organisation Zochrot (‘Remembering’), which published a study guide in 2008 called ‘How do you say Nakba in Hebrew?’ We were grateful that JVP made their sessions available to the public. These are a set of invaluable resources that any educator can use and adapt to their needs.
We were overwhelmed by the interest we had for these sessions, and our initial group came along ready to engage with challenging ideas and material. In one of the sessions, we undertook close readings of a number of source documents including Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the testimony of a Palmach soldier, two poems by Mahmoud Darwish, and the text of the Haganah’s notorious Plan Dalet. Reading these texts alongside each other was both illuminating and harrowing. Another memorable session involved engaging in Palestinian art works in response to the Nakba.
We hope that these sessions were a beginning, and that they will spark further reading, conversations, and ultimately, change. Given the interest we had in these sessions, and the encouraging responses from those who came along, it seems like attitudes in the Jewish community may be shifting. Perhaps the taboo over the Nakba in the Jewish community might be ready to be lifted.
- This article appeared in the AJDS Magazine Just Voices 16: Israel / Palestine 1948