An Open Letter to Nakba Deniers

We are well aware, unfortunately, of the prevalence of denying the Nakba in the Jewish community.  This letter is meant to be shared with those who are still in a state of denial regarding the Catastrophe that Palestinians commemorate every year on May 15.

By Ilana Sumka, Jordy Silverstein and Sahar Vardi

An Open Letter to Nakba Deniers

To those who refuse to speak about the Nakba,

We’re writing to ask you to reconsider your position.  While you may think that narrating a story of the creation of Israel which avoids the truth about history is in the best interest of the Jewish people, you are, in fact, contributing to the spreading of lies and serving as an obstacle to a genuine and lasting peace in Israel-Palestine.  

We are part of a network of Jews from across the globe, called Sedq: A Global Jewish Network for Justice. We come together from Brazil to Australia, the United Kingdom to South Africa, Canada to Belgium, the United States to Israel, in order to work across borders for justice for all peoples.

This May 15, Palestinians are commemorating seventy years of the continuing Nakba, the Catastrophe.  As Jews concerned with the historic and ongoing role that the State of Israel plays in dispossessing Palestinians of their land, we’re asking you, who tries to deny the Nakba, to change your ways and stand with us.  

Acknowledge the catastrophe that befell Palestinians in 1948.

Acknowledge that the Nakba is part of Jewish history.  You can get a glimpse of some of our members in this video, in which Jews around the world speak up, recalling where we were when we first learned about the Nakba and why it’s so important for us to acknowledge it, remembering it as part of our history.

Please consider this an official invitation to join us.  This is an opportunity to step away from erasure, to step towards a fuller history, present, and future. Towards a just peace.

For the past six weeks, we have watched in horror as the Israeli military has opened fire on Gazan Palestinians who are exercising their right to assemble.  We have heard a deafening silence from most Jewish communities around the world in response.

And we know, as academics and activists, that it’s time – far past time – for the global Jewish community to recognize Nakba and acknowledge our role as Jews in the loss of land and life of Palestinians. It is time for us to answer the calls from the Palestinian refugee protestors in Gaza, and Palestinians in ‘48/Israel, the West Bank, and around the world, and talk about the Nakba.

You don’t have to take our word for it alone.  From respected Israeli scholar Benny Morris to the Israeli research NGO Zochrot, there’s a wealth of information detailing the history of the Jewish role in killing Palestinians, depopulating their villages and exiling them from their homeland, all in the name of claims to Jewish sovereignty.

Sure, you can continue to live with your head in the sand, repeating lies like “a land without a people for a people without a land.”  You can attempt to absolve yourself of any responsibility for what’s happening now in Gaza by pointing all your fingers at Hamas. But when you do that, when you fail to take responsibility and distort history, as victors like to do, you further entrench the Nakba in daily Palestinian life.

But regardless of the differences between them, there is only one future for Israelis and Palestinians, and that’s a shared future.  Whether it’s two states or one state or a federation of something that hasn’t yet been dreamed of, there’s no way around it: 7 million Jewish Israelis and 6 million Palestinians are in it together.  But since 1948, ‘together’ has consisted of Israel standing with its boot on the neck of Palestinians, turning the Jewish people into a darkness unto the nations and ruining the lives of an entire people.

But also, since 1948, ‘together’ has meant continual Palestinian protest, resilience, creativity, knowledge, inspiration. It has meant moments of Israelis and Palestinians working together, struggling together, to create something new and just.

Acknowledging Nakba would be one small but important step towards a different path forward for Palestinians and Israelis.  Acknowledging our role in it as Jews would be a testament to our integrity and, ultimately, would need to unfold into an act of teshuvah. This would involve re-narrating our histories of the creation of Israel as a Jewish state, gaining an understanding of what this creation involved for all those who lived on that land.

Just as European Jews have been right to demand apologies and restitution from our past oppressors, Palestinians have every right to demand apologies and restitution from us.  

The longer we delay in righting the wrongs of the past, the longer we forestall a future in which Israelis and Palestinians can live the vibrant, full lives they are entitled to.  Won’t you refrain from allowing your erasure of history to serve as an obstacle to a thriving future for all, and join us in the pursuit of justice?

Respectfully yours,

Ilana Sumka, Jordy Silverstein and Sahar Vardi

Ilana Sumka lives in Belgium and is an educator, writer and activist working to end the Israeli occupation.

Jordy Silverstein lives in Australia and is an historian and writer, and author of Anxious Histories: Narrating the Holocaust in Jewish Communities at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century (Berghahn, 2015).

Sahar Vardi is a Jerusalem based activist.


4 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Nakba Deniers

  1. You want the truth? No problem.
    In 1948, the UN approved the Partition Plan. The Jews accepted. The Arabs rejected it, and attacked Israel with the intent of destroying Israel. During the war, many Arabs left Israel. Most did so either voluntarily (to avoid the fighting) or at the urging of the Arab nations. A small minority of those who left were expelled by Israeli military forces who were fighting for the life of their country.
    Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Jews were expelled from Arab and Muslim countries.
    Fast forward 70 years… nobody calls the Jews who were expelled (or their descendants) “refugees.” Rather, they have settled in Israel, the US, and elsewhere. The Arab nations, on the other hand, refused to assimilate the Arabs that they now call “Palestinians.” Why is this? Simple… they are pawns to continue their denial of Israel’s right to exist.
    The word “nakba” means catastrophe. Perhaps, for the Arab civilians who left their homes in Israel, 1948 was a catastrophe. But it was orchestrated by their leaders, who chose a path of conflict. It was Israel’s doing.
    The proof of this is clear. Arabs living in Israel today enjoy greater rights and opportunities than their counterparts throughout the Arab world. But for those who left… there’s no going back. Israel cannot exist if millions of Arabs “return” to change the demographics of the Jewish state. By the same token, the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were expelled from Arab and Muslim states are not going back.
    If the Arabs want to get past their “nakba,” they should accept the existence of a Jewish State, make peace, and work toward building their own state. That opportunity has been offered to them numerous times. Its still available today. The ball is in their court.

    1. Did you read the thoughtful and carefully worded letter? It doesn’t seem like it. You just burped up the old narrative “they left voluntarily”, ignoring all the documents that prove otherwise. You’re part of the problem.

  2. Typo correction (since there does not seem to be an edit button): it should read “It was NOT Israel’s doing.”

  3. This article was surprisingly inanane.

    For starters I am not going to waste a moment of my life feeling badly about the creation of Israel. I also do not accept that this conflict is in anyway based on the a fictional loss of land for a fictional people.

    In 1948 there was no such entity calling itself Palestine, and no people self identifying as Palestinians. it is all fiction.

    In 1947 war broke out between the Jews residing in British Mandate Palestine, or the Arabs called the area, Bilad a Sham (Greater Syria). The Arabs attempted to combat the rise in jewish immigration as they did in 1936-39, which led to the White Paper issued by the Chamberlain government, which agreed to the Arab demand that no Jew be allowed to enter British Mandate Palestine. Due to the White Paper, the Jews of Europe attempting to flee the Nazi killing fields did not have a place of refuge, which is the raison d’etre for the estalbishment of the Jewish state. We owe it to Arab and British machinations that millions of Jew were abandoned to die. And if this were not enough Haj Amin el Husseini the Mufti of Jersualem was meeting with Hitler in Germany whilst estalbishing a Muslim SS. division in Bosnia.
    Note that it was not the Jews who kept the Arabs from forming a Palestinian state, in fact it was the Jordanians who took Judea and Samaria, and the Egyptians that occupied Gaza. At no time did the leaders or citizens of these two states call for a Palestinian state, nor recognize one. What is even more informative and meaningful is that no entity calling themselves Palestinian requested such a state to come into being.

    I find it odd that Leftists are so jingoistic when it comes to Palestine. Marxists are fundamentally opposed to nationalism, yet they are rabid supporters of every lie concerning Palestine and their grievances.

    I wish you all a Happy Naqba, for it seems that one man’s Naqba is anothers joy and independence.

    I am certain that no Russians, French, Americans, Brits or Poleswere feeling badly or a grain of guilt over “Victory Day May 9) when the Russians celebrate their victory over Nazi Germany.

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