My paper for the International Conference “Of War and Collective Memory”
in collaboration with and supported by FIDH, UKRI, GCRF and ICAN. (11 December 2020)[i]
War and memory, is it the memory of war, or is it the war against memory when the latter is the only remaining element of a whole existence?
Palestine has suffered a permanent war for 91 years when the colonial army of the British Empire forcibly expelled all the villagers from the plain of Wadi Al Hawirth between Jaffa and Haifa for the benefit of the Jewish settlers to build their own settlements on the ruins of these Palestinian villages.
Thus, began this war and its immediate consequences: expropriation of the land and transformation of the natives settled on their land into refugees far from home.
This colonial war has been unique: it is a settler colonization that requires large-scale ethnic cleansing and the massive expulsion of colonized autochthons while exploiting Palestinian land instead of exploiting colonized autochtons’ labor.
This Zionist colonial project in Palestine aimed quite simply at the annihilation of the Palestinian people and for this reason: the war against Palestine has been total.
It is not about winning a military battle but about destroying the existence of Palestine and wiping out its civil society, institutions, historical memory and culture.
The replacement of the Palestinian by the Settler has always been the first objective of this colonial war. A war focusing on the theft of enemy property: land, houses, and even culture, arts , crafts , culinary arts; women’s costume embroidery, Falafel and Homos and many other things.
This total war has been aiming to eradicate all Palestinian existence and deport it outside, in a state of wandering, in a “non – lieu”, “no place, out of place“.
(title of the book of Edward Sa ‘aid)
Noha Khalaf, discussing Edward Sa’aid’s book,” says that for Marc Augé, the anthropological places have at least three common characteristics. They are attributes of identity, they are relational, and historical.
First, these features are constitutive of identity: what does it mean to be born if not to be born somewhere, in an identified place, and to benefit from the right to be a natural and by right resident there?
This question is the foundation of individual identity.
Second, it is relational, since two elements cannot occupy the same space at the same time, they should rather be next to each other, and in relation with each other.
Third, it is historical, since they are places to be remembered and spaces of stability and continuity.
So, Out of Place means no identity, no social relationship, no common history. Out of place reveals somehow the anthropology of displacement and alienation which has devastated Palestinian society and fragmented communities which were previously cohesive, transferring them into ‘non places’ and therefore transforming them into uprooted senseless dispersed entities.
This is the very essence of this colonial war against Palestine, land and people, a war that has created a nation of exiled, shattered families, individuals and communities living on the fringes, on the margins. Beyond the military battles to seize property, there has been another total war against the Palestinian very own collective memory to replace it with a guilty memory so that the victim should supposedly bear the burden and the responsibility of the disaster of Nakba: so far, this has been a war to make sure the Palestinian becomes a stranger to himself.
Thus, the Israeli war on Palestinian culture has had one goal: to make the nation of exiles a nation of amnesia.
The powerful Zionist propaganda has worked to erase the Palestinian narrative thanks to the colonial war, to delegitimize it and to make it invisible: to prevent the Palestinian nation to pass on a narrative of its own built around its history and its destiny.
Even worse, in parallel to the mechanism of replacing the Palestinian by the settler through the war, Zionism has been trying to replace the Palestinian narration by a Zionist narration and exploiting and instrumentalizing the suffering of European Jews in Nazi Germany and with which the Palestinians had nothing to do with.
Here, the perversion of Zionist ideology has been at its height by using Jewish suffering to justify the “legitimacy” of making another people suffer, a people innocent of any involvement in European anti-Judaism.
The Zionist massacres and the “socio-cide” against the Palestinians cannot possibly be justified by the “geno-cide” committed against European Jews by other Europeans.
Salman Natour in his book-investigation “Memory told me and it went away”[ii] (2015) shows us that outside massacres known and recognized by official historiography, such as that of Deir Yasine, collective memory and oral narration indicate dozens of massacres in Palestinian villages and small towns that caused the exodus of civilian populations in 1947-1948 .
In this context, both Salman Natour and Edward Said consider recourse to memory as an act of resistance to deconstruct the Zionist narrative around war.
This same memory is thus a moment of construction of the identity threatened by the dislocation caused by the dispersion in exile.
Gayatri Spivak once asked if The Subaltern Can Speak?
The answer is yes, following the successive wars, the Zionists organized the theft of 30,000 books from the Palestinian private and public libraries (6,000 looted books are currently accessible in the Library of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) but they are unable to steal the living memory of Palestinians.
For Ghada Al-Karmi, even if the homeland no longer exists, it is always in the memory (Return, A Palestinian Memoir, 2015) because the Palestinians are the guardians of this fertile memory, according to the Palestinian artist “Dalal Abu Amneh “.
Another artist, “Rehab Nazal“, dedicates her art to unveil the “invisible Israeli war against Palestinian memory to keep the spirit of resistance of the Palestinian people against annihilation, wandering and thus to allow Palestinians to exist and not die in the silence of the world in silence.
Thus, culture and art are the new “war” started by the Palestinians to safeguard their existence against their enemy and “Against the Loveless World” according to the title of Susan Abulhawa‘s novel. This novelist cannot find a habitable place anywhere because we continue to live in the Non-Place far from home.
Only the return of the Palestinians to their country (or keeping the hope to return) is the remedy[iii] against the trauma of war to live in peace in a democratic and secular state instead of the Israeli apartheid state in place. A single state for all its inhabitants’ Palestinian residents and refugees and Israelized Jews.
A state that must stop the massacres committed against humanity, culture and nature in Palestine (One million of olive trees were ripped-of uprooted).
[i] Speakers: Dr Naji El Khatib lecturer, writer and activist, Farhad Golyardi sociologist & co-founder of the Eutopia Institute, Dr. Sayed Askar Mousavi lecturer and writer, Debbie Stothard Human rights activist & Founder of Altsean-Burma, Ilya Nuzov lawyer & Head of FIDH Eastern Europe & Central Asia Desk, Daniele Rugo Award-winning film maker and lecturer.
Discussant: Dr. Neelam Raina Associate Professor, Challenge Leader for Security, Protracted Conflict, Refugees and Displacement Global Challenges Research Fund GCRF, UKRI.
Moderator: Guissou Jahangiri, Vice President FIDH & Executive director of OPEN ASIA|Armanshahr Foundation
Guissou Jahangiri, NeelamRaina
[ii] Yahouda Shenhav translated this Book into Hebrew;