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