Amnon Neumann is wearing a blue shirt and large glasses. Despite the topic he presents his testimony slowly and gently to the spectators in front of him; he’s talking about The Nakba in 1948 when he and his fellow army commanders helped literally erase Palestinian villages from the map. It’s a rare sight; The Nakba is a taboo topic in Israel, more often pushed to the depths of memories rather than shared with an audience.
Filming him is Lia Tarachansky, an Israeli Russian Canadian journalist, gathering footage for her debut documentary ‘Seven Deadly Myths’. Through interviews with Amnon Neumann and a handful of other veterans her new film (about to enter post production) hopes to unravel Israeli attitudes towards the Nakba in 1948.
When Israel was established in 1948, around two thirds of the Palestinian population became refugees, their right of return to their own homes and villages thwarted. Nakba is translated into “catastrophe’ by Palestinians and celebrated by Israelis as their day of independence.
Many believe that Israel’s lack of accountability to the events of the war, and how they view their past is largely blocking reconciliation between Palestinian and Israeli citizens in the present day – their apartheid system was established then and continues now. In a recent interview with 978 Magazine, Lia reflects:
“I’ve come to realise that to understand the Israeli self-identity, it’s important to understand that it’s not so much the events that shape our understanding of reality, but really our memories of them.”
It’s not just veterans who are affected by Nakba denial. In a video pitch for funding, Lia returns to the settlement based in the Occupied Territories on which she grew up. She was outside, just as the call to prayer started, when she “realised that I had grown up in a place completely surrounded by Palestinian villages and yet I had never heard this call to prayer that happens everyday five times a day.”
Many blame this unawareness on the complete lack of Nakba coverage in the Israeli media, public discourse and the education system. They believe it prevents people like Lia from understanding the true circumstances of their country. For example, the Israeli government has recently passed a law which grants the foreign minister the right to curb funding to any institution which celebrates Israel’s “independence day” as a day of mourning.
In the game of tug of war, NGOs like Zochrot are on the other side, organisations that serve to educate citizens about the true nature of the Nakba. But it’s not enough. Describing an interview that took place with Yossi Mekyton – one of the founders of Zochret – Lia recounts his experience riding on a bus past the ruins of a former Palestinian village.
“The difference is twenty years ago the youth wouldn’t have any clue what these ruins were while today the only thing he knows is that whatever happened was justified.”
Looking forward, how does Lia feel about the Palestinian refugee issue, about those who were forced to leave their homes in 1948? “I think that as a people [Israelis] who carry such a long and painful history, we have a special responsibility to justice and historical honesty.” Lia says.
Follow Amelia on Twitter: @amyinthedesert
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.