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The assassination of Palestinian memory: Another tool of ethnic cleansing

May 18, 2019 at 1:30 pm

Palestinian students seen at United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) school in Gaza on 29 August 2018 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]

While Israel was celebrating its independence day earlier this week, I heard two anecdotes.

One story was related to me by Jerusalemite friends working in Israeli institutions, who told me about their discomfort during Yom HaZikaron–the day of remembrance honoring Israeli soldiers who have fallen and honoring other Israelis who have died due to “terrorism.” On that day in Israel, a siren is sounded across the country and all persons are expected to stop whatever they are doing – including driving an automobile – to demonstrate through two minutes of silence their remembrance and respect for the dead. One friend said that her Israeli boss had told her either to stand up in respect while the siren was heard, or not to come to work at all that day. Another friend said that she went to the workers’restroom at that moment, where she found twelve other Palestinian women. All of them were evading the imposition of honoring the very people who have been persecuting us since the earliest origin of the idea to establish the state of Israel on our homeland.

A second anecdote took place at an Israeli college in Jerusalem, where Palestinian Jerusalemites, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, and Israeli Jews all study. Here a wall board was installed as a memorial dedicated to fallen Israeli soldiers, so that students could write the name of “their loved ones and light candle in their memory,” as the college student union explains. The memorial wall was then found one day with candles extinguished and “Ramadan Kareem” written on the memorial wall board itself. Police and right-wing political parties then became involved in the matter. One Jerusalemite girl was accused of having carried out this “vandalizing” and six others were accused of supporting her; all are currently awaiting punishment. Condemnation of the act is reportedly affecting “all the Arabs” at the college, who are expected to share in general guilt and shame.  No one has commented that the presence of the board in the first place erases the memory and the national history of the Palestinians.

Recently, Israel has launched accusations and incitement against Palestinian schools that were brought to the European Union. A written reply to this issue, issued by Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, confirmed that a study on Palestinian school curricula is being planned: “Terms of reference for the study are currently being prepared with a view to identifying possible incitement to hatred and violence, and any possible lack of compliance with UNESCO standards of peace and tolerance in education.” But no such study is planned for the Israeli curricula! Israelis apparently demand that Palestinian curricula completely erase the map and the history of Palestine and, in its place, teach the history of the European Holocaust to youngsters who are already overwhelmed with the torments of their immediate life experiences.

I am all for academic study and reform of Palestinian curricula – a study examining the extent to which Palestinian curricula teach critical thinking, autonomy, and agency and a reform that helps Palestinian youngsters understand their current experience within the full context of genuine Palestinian history. This reform will not resemble the deformed and amputated version of Palestinian history tailored to donors’ “will and values.” What is needed is study and reform of our curricula done by Palestinians and for Palestinians.

Recently, the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education, in the presence of top Palestinian officials such as Mr. Azzam   Mr. Saeb Erekat, launched a book titled Our Role Model is Our President  that features a picture of Mahmoud Abbas on its cover and is said to contain examples of his remarks. These officials first glorified the book and announced that it would be distributed throughout the schools in Palestine. But the initiative received so much criticism and mockery in the scholarly and popular media that the government backed off this project, and announced that the book will not be part of the curricula after all.

This is an agonising time of year for us – when we remember the tragic events that led to the occupation of Palestine and anticipate what is yet to come in the “Deal of the Century.” We search within the untold history of the defeated and learn there of the evil of the Zionist project and the international powers who equipped the colonizing Jews in their conquest of the Palestinian nation, the betrayal of the official Arab leadership who disempowered the Palestinians, and the naivete and inadequacy of the Palestinian leadership who placed their trust in this Arab leadership and the Western powers. The Nakba had been initiated many years before the actual establishment of Israel and continues to this very day – reflected in our deep apprehensions regarding the “Deal of the Century” and our realisation that power dynamics globally have not fundamentally evolved since these beginnings. The Nakba affects not only Palestinians but the whole Arab world, because the entire region is weakened and undermined by the Israeli occupation, even if the Palestinians just happen to be in the way and must to be killed or transferred to make room for the newest colony of the Western Empires.  The state of Israel was established with ethnic cleansing, massacres, and crimes quite similar to those that are nowadays committed by the Islamic State in its path to create yet another religious state. The difference is that Israel has managed to erase memory. Who remembers the Hagana’s forcing Palestinians to dig their own mass graves in Tantoura, then shooting and burying them there over May 22 and 23 in 1948? This is the history of the “Most moral army” in the world. The chief terrorists of the past became statesmen and won Nobel prizes – although the wanted poster for Menachem Begin might act as a reminder.

Today, the Eurovision song contest held in Tel Aviv on the anniversary of Israel’s crimes of “independence” is an example of the brainwashing strategy that Israel has always used to induce people to forget history – even very recent history, in which the Israeli Army killed 60 and injured 2,700 Palestinians in one day when they demonstrated at the border of Gaza at the March of Return in protest of relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem.

At a time when the culture and politics of Israel are hypermnestic and super- sensitive to its own history, Israel is relentless in its ongoing attack on ours. The war on our history is part of the war on our minds and a muted continuation of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian nation. We hold memories charged with pain as we hope for the future; it is said that those who don’t remember their past are condemned to repeat it.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.