Yael Dayan: I think the marking of 50 years is a little
artificial, because celebrating 50 years does not mean that every
50 years is really a turning point. I would say that the years from
1948 to 1967 were one era and the 30 years of occupation of the
Palestinians another era in our lives. I do not feel guilty about
1948 or about 1967, but I certainly do not think of the years of
occupation or of Israel's missing the opportunity for peace after
Oslo, as among our finest hours. I think of the decade between the
start of the Second World War and 1948, and I know what tragedy and
what effort Israelis and Jews went through in order to establish
this state. And it was not in our minds to replace or displace the
Palestinians, for the state was born with the intent of accepting
partition. The first 20 years were years during which, in spite of
external threat, we were concentrating on state-building, absorbing
immigrants. I am very proud of those years between 1948 and 1967.
However, I am very upset about the last ten years of the
occupation, which I regard as a missed opportunity.
Ibrahim Dakkak: Yael was saying that, as regards the
establishment of Israel, she does not feel guilty. I can understand
that in a way.
Khaled Abu Aker: That is the question for the Israelis. How
can they live with such feelings about times when other people
witnessed such a different fate, when they were forced to leave
their land, and suffered as displaced people, living in tents as
refugees? Maybe we can begin by talking about that 50th
anniversary. The Israelis are celebrating 50 years of independence,
or 50 years since the birth of Israel as a state. The Palestinians
consider this the Nakba, or Catastrophe. How can we find a balance
between the Nakba from the Palestinian perspective and the
existence of Israel?
Ibrahim Dakkak: It seems to me that the Nakba and
independence or the birth of Israel are really one story seen
through the eyes of two different peoples. What has been a success
for one party has been a failure for the other party, and here is
the problem. There is some kind of paradox in the whole thing, some
kind of irony. How could one people celebrate their independence
and the other celebrate their Nakba? How did this develop?
Yael Dayan: Because in the preceding years, the whole world
was not very involved with our own enormous Jewish tragedy. So the
question is, how can people not be sensitive to other people's
tragedies. I do not think it was fair to reproach us, certainly not
in 1948, when we were emerging from one of the greatest tragedies
of humanity which the world did not do much to avoid.
Nazmi Ju'beh: This does not relieve you of
Yael Dayan: Our sensitivity, like yours, comes from the
ashes. We were building what, for us, was a minimal corner where we
could hide from a terrible fate and find shelter. I am explaining
why, certainly at the time, there was no guilt or sensitivity. Now
you can ask me how, today in 1998, we can celebrate when other
people, today in 1998, do not yet have their homes. As a result, I
am certainly not celebrating the way I would like to. But in 1948,
when people came as refugees, they did not have the capacity to be
sensitive to other refugees.
Ibrahim Dakkak: You are confusing two things. You are
talking about your survival from the ashes in Germany and Europe,
which we know about, and your wanting shelter, which is a normal
But at the same time, you were not asking only for shelter. You
were asking for a state, a polity by all means. And it was only
possible to establish that at the expense of the indigenous people.
I find it difficult that somebody conscientious would really not
feel some kind of guilt. Now, if you do not have that feeling of
guilt, and we have our still very vivid memory, how can we
compromise between your lack of feeling guilty and our vivid
Mordechai Bar-On: Your problem, Ibrahim, is with the word
"state" because you immediately qualify my rights for
self-determination. For us, shelter was one element. We believed -
like you believe now that you deserve a state like every other
nation - that the only way to end the trouble of the Jews
throughout the years was to have a state. We looked upon that as a
basic right supported by the norms and values of the world at that
We do not feel guilt, but this does not preclude my feeling very
sorry about what happened to your people. My father came to this
country in 1924 and I was born here. For me, in 1948, this became a
zero-sum game. You win, I lose. That was the reality. You did not
want us to have a state. You did not want us to have the basic
autonomy that people deserve to have, as you deserve now.
The guilt only begins when you decided to stop the zero-sum game
back in 1988, when you decided in favor of a two-state solution.
Then you became the just side and we the unjust side - we as a
nation. But everybody who does not accept the two-state solution
loses his moral basis in this conflict.
Ibrahim Dakkak: Let's stop at 1948 and the story of shelter.
The Zionist movement, which was a political movement aiming to
establish a state, began long before 1948. That you came in and
wanted shelter, I can understand.
Yael Dayan: My parents were both born here, so I don't come
from anywhere. When you say indigenous, that is me as well.
Ibrahim Dakkak: I agree, but I am trying to differentiate
between a shelter and a movement which was aiming to come and
establish a state in a country that meant the displacement and
dispossession of the Palestinians.
Nazmi Ju'beh: Yael, there is just one problem in your
shelter theory, and it is that those who came to escape the Nazi
massacres fit exactly into the well-planned political program of 50
years before. They were just one small element in the building of
the Jewish state. They did not come just to find shelter, but to
implement this program.
Khaled Abu Aker: The Palestinians in general understand it
Mordechai Bar-On: The idea that the Zionist plan was mapped
out 50 years earlier is absolutely wrong. There was no map or plan.
Even if you end up concluding that my father was a villain when he
came here in 1924, that still would not help to make me feel guilty
because, in 1948, as you well know, the question was either that
you would have a state and we would remain a minority - and you
know how this minority would have felt here - or we would have
partition. We would have half the country with a state, and you
would have your own state. That was the question in 1948.
I think until the 1936 Palestinian rebellion, most of the Zionists,
not all, honestly believed that we could come here and build
something together. They should and could have known better. The
idea that they must have a state was only that of Jabotinsky for a
long time. It was only in 1936, 1937 that most of the mainstream
Zionists also understood that there had to be a partition of the
land. It was clear that we could not have a state on all of the
Ibrahim Dakkak: I do not think that your father was a
villain. I know you are an indigenous person. To go back to two
points: One is that even the Balfour Declaration spoke about a
shelter, a home.
Mordechai Bar-On: A national homeland, yes.
Ibrahim Dakkak: That did not mean in any way a state. But
things developed, or were fabricated in one way or another, to
develop into a state. The other point, related to the establishment
of the state is that, while the Jews were running from massacre in
Europe, they created a similar situation here in one degree or
another. This is not an accusation in the absolute sense, but while
they were trying to salvage their position or liberate themselves
from their catastrophe, at the same time they created a catastrophe
for others. How can you reconcile the sufferings of the
Palestinians with the success of the Zionists?
Khaled Abu Aker: Israel became a reality in 1948, and
Palestinians became refugees. Many massacres were committed against
them. How do you explain this?
Mordechai Bar-On: I can tell you my formula. You ask about
moral obligation or moral responsibility. The Nakba occurred as a
result of inevitable processes in which we, the Israelis and the
Zionist movement, played a very important part, including the
weaknesses of your leadership. But certainly, if not for us, it
would not have happened. Therefore, of course we were a very
important factor in creating your suffering. But I cannot feel
regret or guilt because that would imply that I could have avoided
it. I had nothing to do but defend myself. But I certainly can
recognize that my existence here, and the Zionist movement, caused
you a great evil. Evil happens whether you are guilty of it or not,
or whether the picture of how you see that evil occurred is more
We Israelis should certainly feel a moral obligation, to begin as
quickly as we can to rectify the evil, above all by allowing you a
state and by stopping settlements in the territories, which have
nothing to do with Zionism. For me - and for many people - Zionism
ended with the creation of the State of Israel and my agreement to
divide this country into two. The reason I am in the peace movement
is as a result of my feeling of moral responsibility as part of
what happened here.
Danny Rubinstein: I have a question for our Arab colleagues.
Do you think the 1948 rejection by the Palestinian side of the UN
resolution to partition or divide the land here was a mistake?
Would things have looked different now if the Palestinians had
accepted it at that time?
Ibrahim Dakkak: I am not a historian, and to assess
historical facts like this one is very difficult. Now, at this
moment, I can see it was a mistake, but the burden of that mistake
should not be shouldered by the Palestinians.
Actually, others were more responsible for that than were the
Nazmi Ju'beh: It is always easy to ask this question after
50 years. I actually asked my father this question several times
because he lived in that generation. He said, "Somebody comes to
your home and occupies one room of your two-room apartment. You are
challenged to lose the whole house or to give up one room. You
don't want to give up your rights. At that moment you are under
great pressure and emotionally unable to take an objective,
fully-thought-out decision." So I think now, looking through the
eyes of the status quo and the present political situation, that it
is easy to say, Well, it was a mistake not to accept the partition
of the land at that time. But as I said, let us try and see it also
through the eyes of the generation who lived here, which had
struggled for 30 or 40 years for independence at that time.
Now, I do think it was a mistake. But if you ask me how I
understand the Zionist claims at that time, I would say that it
would not have made any difference whether we had accepted the
division of Palestine or not.
Reading the Jewish Zionist literature of that period, the plan was
clear. It was not just to accept the division of the country
between the Palestinian and Jewish populations, but rather what
they had in mind was the expansion of Jewish control over the whole
country. Even had the Arabs accepted the partition proposal, the
Jewish forces would have expanded in order to unify the areas of
Mordechai Bar-On: I think to say that something that
happened in the past was a mistake is only legitimate if it could
have been avoided. A mistake is something that, had you been more
clever than you were at that time, you could have avoided. From
this point of view, I think the word "mistake" for the Palestinians
is irrelevant. It was not a mistake because there was no way they
could have reacted differently. You mentioned the emotional side,
but it was not only that. We, the Jews, were not sure we could win
that war. Why would the Palestinians assume they would lose if they
went to war? They had a good chance in February or March of
Had I been a Palestinian leader, calculating that we are double the
number, we have all the Arab states around us, Britain partially
standing by our side, it was not crazy to think they could overcome
the Israeli attempt to establish a state. And in March, the United
States withdrew from support for partition. So I do not think that
any human being could then have foreseen and understood what would
actually take place.
Ibrahim Dakkak: Whatever the old generation did, good or
bad, we should now deal with what we have today and what we can see
for the future. How can we transform the Nakba into something
different, and the jubilation on the other side to be more
realistic about the facts on the ground?
Nazmi Ju'beh: The declaration of the State of Israel was the
result of a long, long march for many decades by the Zionist
movement. The Palestinian struggle against the British Mandate and
early Jewish settlers in Palestine at that time ended in
catastrophe, that was the Nakba for us, not just the declaration of
the State of Israel. It was the failure of our struggle to reach
its aim of a Palestinian state during that period.
Mordechai Bar-On: The struggle between Zionists and Arab
Palestinians was completely unavoidable. We wanted to believe
otherwise for a long time. But when you think about it now, there
is a tragedy of the Zionist movement having come to life under a
set of values which were colonial in their general nature. The
world, the Western world for sure - the Third World as a political
factor did not exist then - did not think much about the
implication of the Jews coming back here. So what if there were
some Palestinians? That was very much the psyche of colonial
thinking at the time. And it happened in so many other parts of the
world, why not here? Why do the Palestinians deserve a state of
their own? The Arabs already have so many.
Then, the Palestinians developed their own national thinking. The
resulting clash was unavoidable and could not have been settled in
a different way. Our history is part of our identities. You want to
maintain your separate identity, and justly so, and the Nakba will
remain a very important part of your identity. The problem is, how
can we each incorporate the suffering of the other into our
thinking about the past. I think this is possible.
Khaled Abu Aker: I would like to ask Dr. Ju'beh to explain
why the Palestinian national movement was defeated.
Nazmi Ju'beh: It is a very complicated question, for the
Palestinian people was associated with different political streams,
like Pan-Ottomanism, Pan-Arabism, Greater Syria, etc. I think we
began increasingly to see the development of a Palestinian national
movement with a specific kind of political program during the
uprising of 1929 and onward. At that time, the Jewish Zionist
program was at least 30 years ahead of us in its political planning
and I do not accept Bar-On's analysis, because I think there was
always an aim of establishing a Jewish state. I see the Palestinian
movement as insufficiently mature, even till the end of 1948, to
lead us at that moment to any kind of independence. The nature of
that movement, its origins and the ideology it was presenting were
bound to lead us to defeat.
Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about the independence
of Israel, especially on Israeli TV with T'kuma and other such
programs, and I think some license has been taken with what
happened in 1948. You talk about the Arab armies that invaded the
small Jewish community of Palestine, and you know how many Arab
armies there were. But they had fewer weapons than the Jewish
forces. Abdul Qader Husseini, one of the most prominent and
practical leaders of that period, had 300 weapons under his
supervision. A few months before his death, he went with money from
the local population to the Arab world bargaining for weapons and
came back empty-handed. As for Haj Amin Husseini, his leadership
was inadequate. His political program was not clear. His slogans
were empty and simplistic. So I do not believe that, even had he
got more military support, he would have been capable of leading us
to any success.
Yael Dayan: I would like to put this in another dimension
because we are talking about you and us. Let us examine, for a
moment, Israel within the international context and the
Palestinians in Palestine within the international - including Arab
- context. What comes to my mind is that, in 1948, and especially
between 1948 and 1967, it was not just us against you. It was not
our leadership against your leadership. After this big defeat in
1948, why did your leadership not begin to correct itself in the
next 20 years? You had East Jerusalem. You had the holy
Ibrahim Dakkak: Who is we?
Yael Dayan: Indigenous Palestinian people. Did you fight the
Jordanians the way you were willing to fight us? What I am asking
is, you experienced one defeat in 1948, but as a defeated movement,
there followed 20 years when we were out of the picture; you
existed under Jordan, and as refugees in Arab countries, but you
also existed in Jordan and in Egypt, more or less in the context
that we are talking about today. There was a possibility of
Palestine when, for 20 years, the State of Israel existed within
the 1948 borders.
I am asking - not just to be controversial - what happened to your
movement during the years that Israel was a fact and Palestine was
not born yet? What happened to the movement, to the leadership, to
the struggle? Was the defeat 20 years' long or 50 years' long? And
we are to blame for all of it?
Ibrahim Dakkak: You were always in the picture simply
because of the refugee problem. We had our memory. Our history was
not absent from our minds.
Nazmi Ju'beh: I want to go back to what I think is a very dangerous
statement that Yael made. In Kurdistan, the national movement for
independence made tremendous mistakes. They failed throughout their
history to establish a national state in Kurdistan. But that does
not give anybody else the right to establish a state on their land
because they made a mistake.
Yael Dayan: I am talking about what happened between 1948
Nazmi Ju'beh: Maybe we did something wrong. Maybe we did not
fight in the proper way against Jordanian occupation. But that does
not legitimize Israeli occupation on the one hand, and on the other
hand, it does not take our rights away.
Yael Dayan: Certainly not.
Khaled Abu Aker: How can we compromise at the expense of
people who still dream of returning to their homeland? They still
have the key to their house. They left their village, their town,
their city, but they still keep their key and they still dream of
returning to their home.
Nazmi Ju'beh: The Nakba is not over. Yesterday I drove from
Erez to Nablus. Along the road all the settlements are still under
construction. New houses are being added from Beit-El to Kdumim.
They are building settlements everywhere.
So the Nakba, in my feelings, in my physical, tangible, daily life
is still there. It is not fair to ask me to stop thinking about the
Nakba as long as such activities are still taking place. When we
have an answer for someone who has been sitting in southern Lebanon
in a refugee camp for 50 years, then I will be ready to finish with
the idea of Nakba.
Yael Dayan: We agree, but if you tell me these people from
southern Lebanon have to go back to Acre, I will tell you that
reality prevents it. If you tell me that we have to put an end to
Kdumim and Beit-El, I agree with you.
The question is how far back you want Israel to go. On the one
hand, you are saying it is irreversible. Israel is there. On the
other hand, I agree with you absolutely that settlement in the
territories after 1967 is not only illegitimate, not only unjust,
but has to be removed or undone. Is this what your Nakba is today?
Is Kdumim your Nakba today? Or the compensation or acceptance of a
certain number of people back to pre-1967 borders?
Khaled Abu Aker: Which means the Right of Return according
to the United Nations.
Yael Dayan: Yes. But we are not talking about a million
Palestinians coming back to pre-1967 borders because our reality is
also irreversible and cannot be undone. So we are back to where we
are today. Only this government is not moving toward peace and
maybe it has to be forced to move. We are back to agreeing that
some things are irreversible and what we have to agree on is what
should be made reversible, and there, we together will have full
international support on borders, on refugees, on the division of
water, on settlements and on other subjects.
Mordechai Bar-On: I do not have any demand that you should
forget your Nakba. But I think you have to permit me to
differentiate between the Nakba that you suffer now and the Nakba
of the past, because until 1967, the situation was completely
different. From 1967 on, slowly, slowly, larger numbers of Israelis
have begun to understand that the time has come to stop the
suffering of the Palestinian people. Since 1988, since 1993, since
Oslo, half of the people do not want settlements and are prepared
for a Palestinian state.
You cannot blame me now for what Netanyahu and his colleagues are
doing. But if you have a dialogue with me and not with Netanyahu,
then you have to realize that there is a great difference between
what is happening now - when we certainly agree to a large degree
with what you say - and what happened in the past. And as for what
happened in the past, I for one do not think you should by any
means give up your memories of disaster. We are not going to give
up our memories of the Holocaust. It is part of our upbringing,
part of our identity. There is no question here in this room that
we all agree that, unless there is a Palestinian state and a
solution one way or another to the refugee problem and Jerusalem,
the story is not at an end and the Nakba continues. We agree on
Ibrahim Dakkak: I believe the Israelis should plead guilty
for what has taken place here in Palestine. They cannot run away
from that because we have our memory which is the other side of the
guilt feelings that you deny.
I am not saying you are villains. There were Jews here before your
father and grandfather. They were living here all the time and they
were part of Palestine and they were Palestinians. Then the West
started to think - among them Herzl himself, who was a westerner -
of dominating this part of the area. Jerusalem was the gate through
which they wanted to come. In part, the Jews were part of a whole
process whereby different European countries, Western countries,
collaborated to create this situation which we call the Nakba and
you call liberation.
Yael Dayan: Is it reversible?
Ibrahim Dayan: It is not reversible, in my opinion.
Yael Dayan: If not, where do we go from here?
Khaled Abu Aker: Do you believe that the Israelis have to
accept the fact that there is a kind of moral responsibility toward
Yael Dayan: Not in 1948.
Mordechai Bar-On: A hundred percent, yes.
Yael Dayan: Moral responsibility is a different thing.
People find the solution to moral responsibility by saying there
was an offer of partition and the Palestinians treated it as a
zero-sum game. I am being honest. I believe there is no guilt on
the part of the Israelis. To say you should feel guilty, is an
emotional process. Moral responsibility is a logical thing. So
let's separate the two.
Ibrahim Dakkak: I would like to address the point which Yael
raised concerning reversibility and irreversibility, which brings
us to the present day. The problem that we face now is that there
is no way to reverse certain things. For example, the State of
Israel, for the time being, is here. We cannot say that it is not
here and it has to disappear by a magic touch. But the maintenance
of the State of Israel and the continuation of the Palestinians'
inability to establish their own state and to solve the issues of
the refugees and the settlements and other problems, will make the
issue of reversibility a headache for the Israelis as well as for
In other words, instability will continue in the area, probably
forever. The lack of ability on the Israeli side to appreciate or
to understand or to share in the feelings of the Palestinians about
their loss is something which cannot be forgotten by the
Palestinians. If there were ways by which we could forget, after
1967 it became impossible to forget. It became irreversible.
All the problems of Israel are our problems in the end, and our
problems are your problems. We are in the same boat. If we cannot
think positively in terms of trying to find some kind of compromise
or reconciliation for our two positions, I think you will have to
live in hell and we will have to share that hell with you.
Yael Dayan: I agree on the emotional side. I do not agree
politically. I agree that compromises should be made. There are
people among the Israelis - and among the Palestinians - who think
we have it all or we will have nothing. The majority of both the
Israelis and the Palestinians support compromise. We are not going
to draw borders here, but we certainly agree that there must be a
two-state solution and a sovereign Palestine, and there is no
question in this room and among the majority of Israelis about
that. But the other questions, the emotional questions, I think
that is something that has to do with the education of both
Khaled Abu Aker: What do Israelis know about the suffering
of the Palestinians and building the Israeli state at their
Yael Dayan: I am saying what we have to do here is a
reversal of the historical process. We will not have a proper
relationship and peace if we wait another 50 years for the slow
development of understanding and education. Let's have peace,
acceptable to both sides and with compromises on both sides - on
territory and refugees and water and so on - and then we will begin
the real process of reconciliation.
We cannot achieve reconciliation on the basis of inequality. You
accept Israel because it is a fact. But once you really accept
Israel - and I really accept Palestine, once it is established -
from there we should start working hard, maybe for decades, on
rereading our own history and the history of the Palestinians. We
have a lost generation. I go to a lot of Israeli high schools and I
am disgusted at the reactions, the primitive thoughts, the lack of
knowledge, the total ignorance and racism and hatred and fear. And
anything that is based on fear cannot produce confidence, and the
fear is there because of the extremists in both societies.
Nazmi Ju'beh: I think there is a problem with this argument
in that you do not feel - till now at least you have not shown -
any kind of responsibility for the Nakba. I am not talking about
guilt feelings. I am talking about responsibility. If you, till
now, do not feel responsible for 750,000 Palestinians who were
deported in one way or another from their homeland, many of whom
are still living in refugee camps as a result of the establishment
of the State of Israel, then we have a problem. I am saying you
have to show responsibility for the fate of those people.
Mordechai Bar-On: You do not have a problem with me. You are
speaking to me as somebody in the peace movement in Israel.
Ibrahim Dakkak: Where can we go from here towards the
future? To my mind, there are two starting points. One is that
there is something which is irreversible. History has created
something which we have to live with. My question is not how the
Israelis feel about what the Israeli government is doing nowadays,
but the moral responsibility connected with the principle of
establishing a Jewish state in Palestine.
Are we heading nowadays towards a situation like the one which
existed in South Africa? I am trying to see the future. I want
peace to prevail for the coming generations. How can we establish
peace, peace of mind and security for the generations to come? This
is our challenge.
Nazmi Ju'beh: I feel rather frightened about the future. I
think Israel never dreamed of such acceptance in the region,
recognition from the Palestinians, recognition from more or less
the Arab world with very few exceptions, as was associated with
Oslo. But this new stream in Israel with Netanyahu and his extreme
right-oriented politics and coalition is leading us again to a
pre-Oslo period. What Netanyahu did was reverse history. This means
things are reversible. I do not know how deep the reversal is, and
as I said, that is a very ugly perspective for the future.