TEST
1948: Independence and the Nakba
On June 12, 2008, the Palestine-Israel Journal (PIJ) held a roundtable discussion on "1948: Independence and the Nakba" at the PIJ offices in Jerusalem. The Palestinian participants were Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway, professor of Philosophy and Islamic Studies at Al-Quds University; and Lucy Nusseibeh, director of MEND (Middle East Nonviolence and Democracy) and head of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University. The Israeli participants were Dr. Sarah Ozacky-Lazar, research fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute; and Haim Baram, journalist and author. The discussion was moderated by PIJ Editorial Board member Benjamin Pogrund. PIJ intern Robert Terpstra contributed to the questions.

Pogrund: 1948 was pivotal for us, and its effects are still with us. To Palestinians, it was the Nakba, the catastrophe; to Israelis, and especially Israeli Jews, it was the War of Independence. To Palestinians, they were the victims of a pre-determined Jewish conspiracy to chase them from their homes. Plan Dalet was the mechanism for doing this. And Palestinians fled en masse in fear of their lives. On the other hand, to Jews, there was nothing pre-planned. Plan Dalet was a response to Arab attacks, and the Arabs left either because they were frightened and thought they would return home when the fighting ended, or they were driven away. Is it possible to synthesize the two totally contradictory narratives? Must it be attempted in order to achieve peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians? What if it cannot be done?

Abu Sway: They cannot be synthesized. Even the contradictory statements are not representative of all Zionist or Jewish narratives. Yitzhak Rabin himself is on record stating that they had deliberately used force to drive the Palestinians out. He said it was a necessity to drive them out. So it was clear-cut ethnic cleansing. It was premeditated. Ilan Pappe's The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine is loaded with testimony. The narrative about what happened to the Palestinians that you have just mentioned is a rewriting of history - an edited narrative to justify what happened: that the Jews had nothing to do with it; it just happened and they had to defend themselves against the Arabs who were about to destroy them all from within.

Ozacky-Lazar: I would say that we should not synthesize the narratives. There is no way we can agree on the story of our past, and I don't think that nowadays it's relevant. It won't lead us to any solution. I am a veteran of hundreds of discussions about narratives. Everyone should know and appreciate the other side's narrative, but not necessarily agree with it and accept it. Look to the future and not to the past. Know the past; teach it, but find practical ways to move forward.

Baram: I think that pragmatism is actually tantamount to accepting the situation as is. There is no equal treatment, and it is impossible for both parties to see the truth and to see 1948 the same way. I happen to think that 1948 from a Palestinian point of view and an objective point of view is unforgivable. And if it is unforgivable, it is impossible for the Palestinians to see it as the basis for new dialogue with the Israelis. The Israelis should reconsider 1948 and see the truth for what it is, because discussion in Israel has revolved around the occupation in 1967 rather than what happened in 1948. Only recently has an awareness of 1948 begun to spread. Therefore, most Israelis believe that to give up the territory captured in 1967 is a great concession. They don't understand the magnitude of the tragedy of 1948, and a large majority of Israel was not here in 1948 or they are too young to remember anything about it.

Pogrund: To pick up the phrase that Sarah used - "appreciate" - do you believe that the Israelis must appreciate what happened in 1948?

Baram: I don't think you can put it on an equal footing. The Palestinians can't see 1948 as the great War of Independence of the Jewish people against the British and then setting up their own state. It is impossible. I appreciate their narrative and their tragedy. I hope to learn from it and not use the advantage accumulated since to oppress them further.

Pogrund: Can we try and teach these two narratives? In schools? In universities? To the public?

Nusseibeh: I appreciate what Mustafa and Haim said about the impossibility of agreeing on the truth, and I am more inclined to go with Sarah's point that there is a danger about getting stuck in the past. I think it is very interesting what Haim said about how it used to be that only 1967 was discussed. And suddenly, in recent years, we see much more of a focus on 1948. Even the word "Nakba" has only entered the general dialogue maybe in the past two years.
Baram: Ironically, this is the great success of the Israeli right wing. They have managed to bring 1948 to the fore by saying to the other Israelis that even if you give up the achievements - as 1967 is called - you cannot achieve peace [because of the Nakba of 1948]. So ironically, these narratives converge.

Nusseibeh: That's an interesting point. I think it's important to look forward, to consider the damaging effects of always dwelling on the pain of the past. It has to be acknowledged, not appreciated. People, at least on the Palestinian side, live in a world where there is no real hope. There is no way of looking forward, and this is the real tragedy, that it just continues. Not just that it happened in 1948 and 1967, but that it is still an ongoing, smoldering war that is actually destroying both societies.

Pogrund: Have the narratives changed at all since 1948 on either side? If so, why? How?

Abu Sway: More details are known about what happened in 1948 as more and more Israeli researchers dig up the military files. We now know about massacres that took place that we didn't even know about. The details of the Nakba are growing - not in the sense that they are being made up - we are discovering the magnitude of what happened. And the Nakba is an open wound, point! It is getting larger and larger. Every day, a Palestinian is born in the Diaspora.
In order to comment about what happened in 1948, we need to also go a little bit beyond not only 1967 and 1948, and even the 1917 Balfour Declaration. We try, as Palestinians, to go back to 1897, the first Zionist Congress, because it was there that it was decided to shape the history of the Holy Land. Deliberate measures were taken, and all that happened later on that led to the Balfour Declaration. It was all a part of a premeditated project. The project unfolded and it is still unfolding. The Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of 1948, is not completed yet. I have calculated, according to B'Tselem's website, that in 2006, more than 1,300 Palestinians from East Jerusalem lost their IDs. Every working day, three or four Palestinians from East Jerusalem lose their IDs. Statistically, as we are meeting today, three or four Palestinians will have lost their IDs, which means that the ethnic cleansing is continuing. It's not really a closed file; the tragedy is still unfolding.

Pogrund: The Israeli narrative has, in fact, changed over the years with all the researching - what started as the New Historians, now the old New Historians. On the Palestinian side, have any perceptions changed or have feelings simply hardened because of more discoveries? Is there any shift in attitude in any way at all?

Abu Sway: I would say that there is a healthy distinction between what's Zionist and what's Jewish. If there is a serious and genuine attempt to deconstruct Zionism, not to change history, but to reconsider Zionism and what it means as a project, this is something you should do on your own. To reconsider the nature of the relationship of the Jews with the indigenous people of the Holy Land. It is then that basically we will become more accommodating. Remember, we are not Zionists and we will never be. I mean, there will always be people who will be accommodating because of the nature of the pressure on them, but not the popular narrative.

Pogrund: Let's now go to the core issue: In 1948 there was the rejection by Palestinians and the neighboring Arab states of a Jewish national political presence in this part of the world. Does that remain a barrier today to the acceptance of Israel, or have we moved on since then?

Abu Sway: There will be no de jure recognition of Israel. The relationship will remain as it is generally as a de facto. It will never be de jure because it is really what caused the displacement of the Palestinians. It is the source of the Nakba, of the continued suffering. Even when you talk about the notion of an "open wound," after "healing" that wound there will be a scar. The nature of the wound of the Nakba will leave a big scar. When you deal with the Holocaust, you do not believe that because you've closed the file you don't feel bad about it. We will always feel bad about what happened in the Nakba; this is the normal thing. Now, how to get beyond that point, it's really about the Zionist project, which did not give up its outlook. There is no genuine recognition of the Palestinian people. That's why we see the settlements continue to grow. It's not that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, but how will a development in the narrative take place when the pain is growing and the Zionist project still unfolding?

Pogrund: Any response here?

Ozacky-Lazar: You say there will never be a de jure recognition of Israel? Never, even when there is a Palestinian state?

Abu Sway: No.

Terpstra: What about the PLO perspective? Weren't they able to recognize Resolutions 181 (the Partition Plan) and 242 in 1988?

Abu Sway: These were all practical measures. We are talking about the popular narrative. Certain institutions might be forced to say something. I'm talking about the popular narrative. With the popular narrative, the truth is that this is the way that it's going to be. Abu Mazen can say whatever he wants to say. The late Yasser Arafat said whatever he wanted to say. That's why politicians are politicians. Once they are in office, they have to say certain things.

Pogrund: What you are saying is on the other side of the same thing that right-wing Jews in Israel are saying: that there will never be a peace agreement; therefore, we have to go on with perpetual war and conflict.

Abu Sway: This is the decision they have to make.

Pogrund: But you seem to be saying the same.

Abu Sway: No, no, no, this is not what I am saying. I am against waging wars. What the next step is is a different story. What I am saying is that we will never accept [Israel]. If you believe the Hasbarah (Israeli PR) narratives, these are doctored narratives that attempt to explain the unexplainable about what is happening to the Palestinians.

Pogrund: Is there a different Islamic view of the situation than a secular view?

Nusseibeh: I am not an expert on this and am reluctant to speak about it, but I think that there is a difference of view, actually. I'm puzzled by even the de jure because it seems to me that if you sign an agreement, that's also de jure. I think that there are polls that have been done, and that there is enough evidence from the better times in history that if people on the Palestinian side are given a chance to build a state, they will get on with that and be happy. With that, it won't heal the wound - it wouldn't deal with the right of return - but will start to give people a future. If then core issues like Jerusalem would be dealt with fairly - which is possible, as we know - and if the right of return could also be addressed fairly - which is also possible - then I think it would only be a small number of people who would cling emotionally to the pain of the past in a way that would prevent them from coming to some sort of accommodation with the facts on the ground.
If you look at Europe, there were appalling killings, brutality and ethnic cleansing - even more recently in the former Yugoslavia - and people come to terms with this when they decide to invest in rebuilding their lives. There is a need to be a victim, but there comes a time when people have to decide whether to stay put or to move forward.

Baram: I am far more optimistic about several aspects of the conflict. I think that one can never say never. "Never" is not a sound historical way of dealing with political forecasts. We don't know what will happen in the future. The example that [Mustafa] gave about the Holocaust and our relationship with the Germans actually indicates the opposite. We have forgiven the Germans, not emotionally - there will be a historic account that will have to be settled between us and the Germans - but our relations with Germany are not only cordial; they are good, and friendly. And the conflict in Europe was far more bloody and terrible than the conflict here in terms of loss of life and displacement. This doesn't mean that I urge you or any Palestinian to forget the past. I don't believe that the Zionist project as it exists now can be the basis for the construction of peace in the Middle East.
People discuss the conflict as if it has no international dimensions. I think if we are serious enough, we have to remind ourselves the two parties are not equal, not only that the Israelis are stronger than the Palestinians, but that the Israelis are constantly being aided and abetted by the superpowers that increasingly play a very negative role in the Middle East. The Israeli peace camp always believed that the Americans would come and intervene and bring about peace. All of us believed this; even the so-called Palestinian moderates believed that the Americans would somehow save us. I don't think that this is going to happen soon. We have to reassess our attitude, not only vis-à-vis 1948, but also the international dimension, in order to move forward.

Ozacky-Lazar: Concerning narratives, I think that even among Palestinian historians we start to hear now a bit of criticism about the past. It's not yet the revisionist history of the Israelis, because the Palestinians are still in the stage of fighting for their state. There is some criticism about the past, about the leadership, about their decisions.
I usually hate to bring up the Holocaust when we talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but since it was brought up, I will say something that is very personal - don't take it as criticism. I belong to a family of Holocaust survivors who came to Israel and taught me from the first day that I and my generation "are the first generation of redemption and the last generation of oppression." This is how Israelis my age were brought up. It took me many years to discover the Palestinians and 1948 and learn their story. From my perspective, from my story, this is true. My parents lost everything; they lost their parents, their families, their homes, everything, and the only place that was possible for them to restart living and be free was here. They never forgot - and my father was one of the first fighters against the compensations and the relations with Germany - but they did not stop there, they were not stuck there, did not complain, worked hard and had a long happy life beyond that. So what I am saying - not only to the Palestinians - we cannot be stuck always in the past; of course, we won't forget it, but if you are saying that you will never accept Israel, so what future do you suggest for your children? Always to hate?

Abu Sway: Don't put words in my mouth, because if you say a "one-state solution," then that's a solution. It is very simple. No narratives about hate, no nothing. Once we talk about a one-state solution, then we are already there. I don't understand why I should just talk about the failure of Oslo and the informal Geneva Accords, to put it all on the table. This is what I'm talking about. I did not at all say that we don't have a de facto relationship. When we talk about agreements, I see them as de facto relationships. This should clarify some of the ambiguity there.

Ozacky-Lazar: If you look at an issue of the Palestine-Israel Journal from 1996 ["The Road Ahead," Vol.3, Nos. 3&4, 1996], I wrote an article in it with a Palestinian colleague of mine about the one-state solution. My ideas are post-national and post-Zionist, post-everything; they're about equality. I am not a good example, nor is Haim a good example of the average Israeli. We belong to a very small minority of Israelis who would even sit with Palestinians and talk as equals about the future. I think we should join forces with the Palestinians and start to design [the future], but we are not there yet. We must not always dwell on the past; let's look to the future.

Abu Sway: You need to be occupied to understand. It's not past. Every day I go through the checkpoint when I go to Abu Dis to teach. Every day that I go through the checkpoint I am reminded that it is not past. It is part of my daily reality. Every day I am reminded of reality through various [means]: the settlement being built where I live - this is not past; we have no control over how many building permits we get; we have no control over the houses that have been demolished - three of them the day before yesterday. It is a reality that is still unfolding. We are still under occupation; it is the root of things. It is not past. The problem is that it is not past.

Baram: I think the most important sentence Sarah has uttered has been largely overlooked. She said that we constitute a small minority among the Israeli population, and I think that this is not only true, but that it exposes the basic futility of most of the dialogue that brings together an Israeli minority with a Palestinian majority. This has always been the case. The Palestinian who comes to us presents either a majority view, or that of an influential minority. In Israel, our voice has been mostly ignored, and sometimes has even encountered hatred and criticism. It is not easy for us to persuade and convince other Israelis to join forces with us, and it is becoming increasingly more difficult with more and more ultra-religious influence, and more and more settlements. Also the fact that our main argument over the years has been that if we continue our policies, the whole world would turn against us, and especially the Americans; while now even George W. Bush and Barack Obama speak as though they were part of the right-wing in the Knesset.
We should fight against the immediate hardships that the Palestinians suffer and we should fight for peace - this is the only formula. I have been a two-state supporter all my life and believed in a two-state solution, but with all the problems now I increasingly disbelieve in it. I can see that the only fair solution - justice, I am not speaking about justice; justice will destroy all of us, so let's think of less than justice - the only reasonable solution would be for us to build a homeland together. We have no chance to bring it about now, and we have to weigh it against the alternatives.

Pogrund: The UNSCOP (United Nations Special Committee on Palestine) minority report of 1947 spoke about a federation, or a confederation. Certainly from what I know, I don't ever think you're going to get a situation where the Jews in Israel will agree to a cessation of the Jewish state. If you take that as a given, then what do you do after that?

Ozacky-Lazar: Well, 20 years ago we said that there was no way that the Israelis would agree to two states, and even [Ariel] Sharon agreed to two states. Never say never.

Baram: But two states with the Americans dictating everything is not really a two-state solution.

Nusseibeh: Two states is still something that fits with Zionist ideals, surely. I've been in occasional discussions with Israelis about one state and they generally tend to get very upset over the idea, because it denies the Zionist vision.

Baram: A large majority of Israelis wouldn't hear of it at the moment. They feel that we are asked to unilaterally relinquish our identity, our state, our culture and everything that we have built here for a solution that we do not know. There is a great suspicion of everything Muslim, everything Arab, everything Middle Eastern. People are always thinking that the alternatives are an Islamist state here or a very corrupt socialist state like what we see in the Arab countries. We know that many Israeli Palestinians wouldn't dream of living under any Arab regime. They think it is better for them to live here in the hell that they experience every day than under a regime that will oppress them.
I, certainly, don't believe that an American-brokered solution can work for very long, because an American solution will, by definition, mean a conspiracy between the Israelis and the Americans to oppress the Palestinians. We need a great deal of international involvement, including European, in solving the problem, and we have to check the attitudes of the Islamic world. In my writings, I have often called for the creation of a new type of Jewish-Islamic reconciliation in the same way that Israelis and Palestinians must be reconciled, because if Israelis align themselves with right-wing Europeans against the Muslim population, this will be a recipe for disaster.

Pogrund: Mustafa, is there any way forward in the creation of a Jewish-Muslim cooperation group? Or is this impossible due to the existence of what is called a Jewish presence here as a formal state?

Abu Sway: Let's forget about the religious tags that we have here. Had all the Palestinians been Buddhists or Hindus, the situation would not have been different. It's not about our religious identity. It is not about us being Christians or Muslims and you being Jewish. It's about power structure. You would like to see that those who are oppressed are not oppressed anymore. If you think of religious dialogue - you talk about being a veteran of hundreds of meetings - and I can say the same thing about interfaith dialogues. We have, for example, inflated the personality of Abraham, but that did not solve the political problems on the ground - but the moment you have to agree about having a joint statement with the rabbis against the Israeli Ministry of the Interior's revocation of the identity cards of the Palestinians from East Jerusalem, the rabbis refuse because they are part of something greater that the interfaith dialogue itself. They cannot say something that will influence the Shas party, for example. They cannot say something that could be considered pro-Palestinian.
Interfaith in a sense is good, but it is elitist. It is also eclectic because we choose topics that won't disturb the status quo. And it is sporadic. I met some people in Ireland, then we met in Jerusalem, and then in the United States at Harvard, and then we met in Switzerland; it took 25 years for five or six meetings. How is that going to influence anything?

Pogrund: What about Hamas and Islamic Jihad?

Abu Sway: I cannot speak in their name. This is not about religion.

Pogrund: Yes, but what about them?

Abu Sway: They are Palestinian, like everyone else. That is why when there is something practical that can be worked out like a state in the 1967 area; you will find a de facto acceptance of a Palestinian state [within those bounds]. That's it, de facto.

Pogrund: Coming back to the differing narratives, PRIME (Peace Research Institute in the Middle East) - the organization run by Dr. Sami Adwan and Prof. Dan Bar-On -put in their textbooks the divergent narratives on facing pages, for use in Palestinian and Israeli schools. In my own case, I co-edited a book, Shared Histories, with Walid Salem and Paul Scham, where we didn't try to synthesize; we simply presented the Israeli and Palestinian views from their respective perspectives. Do efforts like these need to be fostered? Can they help to overcome the barriers between people? Or do we just sit back and do nothing?

Baram: They need to be fostered, but they will not solve the bigger problem as long as the roadblocks are still in operation.

Nusseibeh: It's only real change on the ground, in my opinion, that will make a difference to the barriers between people. It's really important to have people start to become aware of the other's narrative, but just as the other's narrative. And as long as the power balance is so overwhelmingly uneven, it is not going to be possible for people to hear each other's narrative. Don't forget that everyone is traumatized, and people are frightened and, especially on the Palestinian side, there is a lack of human security. It's good to find ways to help people understand each other, and that can perhaps also address the fears and the demonization that goes with the conflict. The main thing is, if you don't change the reality on the ground, nothing else will make any difference. In the end, people get tired, and they'll say that this is all just playing at a peace process that doesn't have any tangible existence on the ground.

Terpstra: Sarah, drawing on your experience as the first generation after the Holocaust, do you see the narratives as converging or diverging? Do you think that for children exposed to these narratives for the first time, this is a powerful way to introduce the conflict?

Ozacky-Lazar: Yesterday, Hillel and I participated in a meeting of the Israeli Peace NGOs at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, and we belong to a vast framework that is called Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum that has over 130 organizations. Many of them have been working in the field for 25 to 30 years. You would think with so many people involved, with so many educational and academic projects, you name it, the situation between the two peoples would be better. Why are we keeping this optimism? My answer is that there are two levels here. There is the political level that we should fight and struggle to change, and there is what we call the people-to-people level or civil society that I think is extremely important. There is a saying in Hebrew: If one saves one soul, he saves the whole world. We "save" by bringing people together, by knowing the Palestinian narrative, by acknowledging Palestinian history.

Baram: As long as we don't delude ourselves into thinking that this will solve everything. We have to be very humble in order to be constructive.

Schenker: I think what Rob asked is connected to the education of the future generations. To what degree is that important? Or do we only have to work on the political level?

Ozacky-Lazar: That's it, there are two levels. I think that each one of us can work on both. One can vote for the right parties, go to demonstrations, try whatever political measures possible - and, at the same time, educate people, bring them together.

Baram: I think that we have to distinguish between education in the formal sense, at universities or schools, and education that takes place within the political culture. Every newspaper, every headline is an education. If my 10-year-old child reads a biased headline in the paper, he gets far more education than what his teacher can tell him, and what I preach to him at home. Therefore education means fighting at a cultural level, fighting in the media...

Pogrund: The same thing can be said about a Palestinian child. He gathers his knowledge at the checkpoints. He acquires his experience of the checkpoints when he sees his parents suffer there and that determines his attitude. A friend of mine is a history teacher at an Israeli high school. He says that his problem is that children bring their beliefs and prejudices from their homes. He's fighting that every day. It's the home and the environment - the school can have only a limited effect.

Baram: And there is a great deal of incitement in the synagogues…

Pogrund: …and in the mosques.

Nusseibeh: I just want to add that I think education in general is incredibly important. Education of all kinds, formal, non-formal or political is the key to the future here. Education is also actually one of the basic ways to get people to understand the other side - simply opening people's minds.

Terpstra: And these are the people who are going to be forming the next 40 to 50 years of political thought.

Ozacky-Lazar: Yes, but we cannot wait, and we cannot put the entire burden on our children; we have to work with adults as well and change their mindset.

Baram: When we have a minister in the Israeli government who threatens another member state in the United Nations - I'm speaking about Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz threatening Iran - what can I tell my 18-year-old boy about education? The education is that the establishment condones the presence of such a minister in the cabinet. This is a kind of counter-education. If you want to foster liberal, humane and egalitarian ideals, it is very hard.

Nusseibeh: I've done a lot of work with the joint Palestinian-Israeli Sesame Street project starting in 1995-96. The organizers did research among three-year-olds on both sides of the conflict. Already the stereotypes and the negative perceptions had been deeply embedded. Even with three-year-olds you're doing damage control.

Pogrund: Let's take up something else: 1948 is still with us in the fact of Palestinian refugees. In the major negotiations to end the conflict, they are one of the core issues. The Palestinian refugees are unusual in a world where there have been literally millions of refugees in the last 100 years. India, Pakistan, 10 million; Germany after World War II, 12 million; Greece and Turkey; Sudan; the list is almost endless. And yet Palestinian refugees are probably, to my knowledge, unique because they and the Arab states that support them have refused to accept what happened to them in 1948 - and to some extent in 1967 - and they insist on returning to their original homes. On the other hand, Israel won't allow that - except for 60,000 to 80,000 for so-called family reunification. Can this be resolved? Are we going to live with 1948 and its consequences forever?

Abu Sway: Again, it's about the Zionist project. If you are going to continue the Zionist project, the problem will continue to exist. If it's a post-Zionist context, then they can come back.

Pogrund: What you mean is that they [Israel] must accept everybody?

Abu Sway: Yes, why not?

Pogrund: But that's not going to happen, Mustafa.

Abu Sway: Well, you are not going to get a different statement from me. People have the right to go back to their homes. When on a plane, I can still see some of the homes that were destroyed in 1948. Dr. Salman Abu Sittah is an expert on how the Palestinian refugees can be accommodated back in their own homes. When I receive an email from a friend of mine - he is a second-generation refugee from Tur'an; his daughter Lubna is now eight years old - for me, though he is outside Palestine, I can still see this family situated in Tur'an… it's not a fantasy. The way that this family lives is just part and parcel of the social fabric of this country.
I do not think in terms of this or that national state. If you really want to talk about a solution, you talk about a solution. You don't talk about a treaty. You don't talk about a piece of paper. We need to admit that it's going to be painful; it's going to be hard, but you cannot solve the problem when people are still suffering. I cannot see how peace along with Palestinian suffering is possible.

Pogrund: You don't see any way of ending that suffering? In other words, as it has happened in India, Pakistan, Germany and everywhere else where people have simply accepted that they're not going to go back?

Abu Sway: You are the best example for us to follow. You, Jews, are the best example. You never gave up; we will never give up. You are our teachers. We have been in the same place for a long time to learn from your skills.

Baram: Speaking as a person who has abandoned Zionism, it's very difficult for me to accept your new version of Zionism. I don't think it's a very good idea to learn from our example without discriminating. There is much to be discarded.

Abu Sway: What I meant is persistence.

Baram: I understood you perfectly. I don't believe in the possibility of ideological reconciliation at the moment. And since there is no ideological reconciliation, there can be no mass re-admittance of the refugees. It's true what you say that without the Zionist project the refugees can be re-admitted, but the Israelis - a large majority of them, including the liberal Israelis - will not abandon the Zionist project for symbolic, not only for practical, reasons. I don't include myself in this, but I am talking about a very large majority. I don't believe that the Palestinians as a whole or the refugees would be allowed to return. Most of the homes have already been populated by others.
I appreciate that the consciousness of one's origins is genuine - "I come from Haifa," "I come from Jerusalem" - it's not only indoctrination by the leaders, because you cannot perpetuate suffering; it's part of the soul. But a solution with the return of the refugees - I don't think it is possible in the foreseeable future. Therefore you're right that a de jure acceptance of Israel, not in a legal sense but in your sense, is not possible in the foreseeable future. I accept this.

Nusseibeh: I think there is a distinction to be made between the right to return, which is unquestionable, and the actual possibility of return. That's one point. But I'm also thinking about what you mentioned about suffering and the perpetuation of pain. One action could be to at least have a way for every refugee to go back symbolically - whether or not they could return actually - to enable people to visit and say goodbye to their homes, bury the keys, if there were to be a two-state solution, for instance, and not everyone would be able to go back. There has to be a real attention to the strong attachment to the homes. It is a homesickness that affects the entire population of refugees. If this isn't addressed, then things won't work. I think also that there is a difference between forgetting and forgiving. It's not forgetting, but there is a form of self-liberation when you can start to forgive and free your mind.

Baram: I think it must be appreciated that the majority of Israelis don't feel guilty about anything at all; they don't feel they have to apologize for anything - and I'm speaking even about educated Israelis. I struggle to get people even to acknowledge the suffering of the Palestinians. What happened in 1948 is perceived in Israel in a completely different manner. And, therefore, we have to re-educate the whole population. This is a far cry from achieving practical peace; it has nothing to do with it.

Abu Sway: Let me just say that the key, the traditional shape of the key, became a symbol of 'awdah (return). You have independent movements with the same name, the 'Awdah movement. There is an 'Awdah movement in the United States; there is an 'Awdah movement in the United Kingdom; there is an 'Awdah movement in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon and Syria. They don't talk about symbolic visits, and I don't think that they are willing to bury the key in that sense. If there is any place where they would like to insert their key is literally in the doors that might not exist anymore in their homes, in Haifa, etc.

Baram: This is not reality, I'm afraid. Although this is a beautiful idea.

Abu Sway: An 'Awdah movement is not about symbols. It is a movement about people who are intent, and rightly so, to go back to their homes from which they have been uprooted. It's a basic human right. I cannot see why a Palestinian cannot go back to his home, wherever that home might be in the 1948 area, and a Peruvian Catholic church, a whole Catholic church, can make aliyah. Peruvian, indigenous South Americans, whom it is politically incorrect to call Red Indians - a Peruvian Catholic church converted to Judaism and ended up as settlers in Elon Moreh. They started referring to themselves as the rightful owners of this land.

Baram: This Peruvian episode is simply an anecdote. It's not a serious phenomenon, this Peruvian incident.

Pogrund: The argument that is advanced by some in Israel is that roughly the same number of Jews left the Arab states as a result of 1948 as the Arabs who left Palestine. It's not analogous because Israel welcomed them as immigrants, but they did suffer violence; many were forced to leave. One of the arguments is: Let's at least trade off in terms of property restitution and so on.

Ozacky-Lazar: I don't think the people who are participating in this discussion should quote this argument. I think we've gone beyond it.

Pogrund: Except it is growing, Sarah; the argument is growing. I see it more and more.

Abu Sway: The American Congress has recognized them as refugees. The Congress has recognized the Jewish refugees.

Ozacky-Lazar: It has been studied and there were committees, reports, surveys; we are not inventing something new. I think we should again separate between two levels: the emotional, historic justice, and the one of acknowledgment. We, as Israelis, should acknowledge the problem, the pain, the suffering of the Palestinian refugees. But it's obvious that not every one of them wants physical return. They want to have the right to return. Not all the Jews returned to Israel, but they all have the right to return. The future Palestinian state should have the right of return for every Palestinian. Some arrangements should be made in the political agreement to make it possible. Even the Arab Peace Initiative talked about it. There are hundreds of Palestinian villages that don't exist anymore; there is no way to rebuild them.

Abu Sway: That is a very strange argument because you have rebuilt Beit El [settlement] although Jacob himself only left a few stones one on top of the other. I don't know if you can trace the roots of a non-existent village 5,000 years ago compared to a Palestinian village that still has its cactus trees.

Ozacky-Lazar: We can be dreamers; we can use our imagination; we can think about things that are not real and that are not practical. The Jews and the Palestinians are the same - dreaming about things that are not achievable. The refugee problem is one out of the many that are solvable. After Oslo, both sides agreed that they could work it out together. So why go back to this dream of all the Palestinian refugees coming back to their homes? It's a dream that cannot come true.

Abu Sway: You are using double standards. You just mentioned that it's the right of the Jew to return. That's a double standard. It's the right of the Palestinian to return.

Pogrund: Let's round off. Can we put 1948 to rest? Or are its consequences just too deep?

Abu Sway: Through and through, it's not past. We are not done with it. The consequences are still with us. The Palestinian refugee problem is the most serious problem that we now need to address. I think the Arab Peace Initiative and Arab politicians have misled the Israelis by using vague language in order to agree with Israel. Israel cannot be the decision-maker concerning the future of a Palestinian state. It's international law that counts. We have UN resolutions. That's it. The Palestinian refugees' very humanity is denied. They have the right to go back. Don't deny the Palestinian the right to dream like every other human being. We can get the Palestinians out of the Diaspora only with a solution that confirms their humanity.

Baram: I don't purport to solve the problems between Israelis and Palestinians, and nobody here has purported to do so. Secondly, the more we discuss the ideological differences between us and the Palestinians, not only on religious grounds or on national grounds, the more we come to the conclusion that an ideological reconciliation is necessary for educational purposes. But here it is not practical. At the moment, we have to aim at something less than peace. We have to aspire to get some practical agreement to alleviate the immediate oppression and hardships that daily plague the lives of the Palestinians, so as to make life sufferable here. It is impossible to convince the other side of your sincerity, not even about peace but about a ceasefire if you continue with the oppression. Therefore we have to take serious practical measures to end the oppression before we can think about an ideological reconciliation.

Ozacky-Lazar: I don't want to repeat myself, but I often think what would I feel and do if I were a Palestinian. And I meet so many Palestinians… I go to the West Bank and I used to go to Gaza, and I feel such deep empathy. Maybe I don't express myself well. It's not a double standard; I really believe that we can use the same standard for all of us. I really believe that maybe one day there will be one state here because we have so much in common; because of the conflict and the situation here, we don't even see it. We don't use the talents of both peoples to make this place prosperous. Last year, after 25 years in the Jewish-Arab educational and coexistence activity, I turned to work on environmental issues because I feel that the environment is something on which both sides must collaborate. It's another way of working with Palestinians about issues that are common to us. I feel such despair when I sit with Palestinians who talk only of the past.

Abu Sway: It's not past.

Ozacky-Lazar: I know, but some vision of a better future for the next generation… Based on the facts on the ground, Israel is a very strong country - I hate to say it - not only militarily but economically as well; the whole world is aware of that.

Abu Sway: You are using this as a scarecrow. You are asking Palestinians not to ask for their rights because Israel is strong.

Ozacky-Lazar: No, I am just saying that one should be aware of reality and suggest that we should work together to build a better future.

Abu Sway: So don't bring in the issue of Israel being a powerful country. Don't bring it to the table.

Ozacky-Lazar: What can you do to get rid of the occupation?

Abu Sway: One state with a Green Party and you are part of it and I am part of it, and I'll vote for you as the head of this party.

Ozacky-Lazar: To achieve this, we need to work together.

Nusseibeh: I think it's not just 1948. I think it's long before that. It's the whole international scene that often plays out in this part of the world; World War I in 1914 is still being played out. You don't get rid of the past. There are many different conflicts. This conflict is a continuation serving some kind of role for the international community here. It's important to remember that people here are very similar. Further back, people lived together and worked together and got along fine together. The current situation is a power imbalance. The trouble with power imbalances is that they make people forget both their own and the other's humanity. People get humiliated, and get filled with hate and resentment. The people who are doing the humiliating also lose sight of the humanity of the people they are humiliating. That's where you get to education that we talked about, to really look forward to creating a vision that, even if it's not obtainable in the near future, at least it's something that can lead out of this present mess.