Are Israelis Now Appropriating the Nakba?

Nakba: when Israel was established, Palestine was erased. (Photo: File)

By Susan Abulhawa

Al Jazeera Stream contacted me a few days ago asking if I would participate on a show commemorating the Nakbe.  I would be the only Palestinian, the producer said, “to balance things out” amidst various Israeli voices.  Here’s the exact excerpt of the email:

“We are looking for a unique angle with which to cover this and one we were thinking of was looking at the Nakba through Israeli eyes and competing Israeli perspectives. We would also like to have a Palestinian guest join us on set however, to balance things out. As you noted, it would be 3-4 Israelis and just the one Palestinian – but as I said, the Israeli’s will include those very critical of Israeli society on this issue. We certainly wont have anyone in the discussion who flat out denies the Nakba.”

After thoughtful consideration and rumination on my initial impulse to refuse, I responded as follows:

“I have considered your invitation and it frankly pains me that you would conceive of such a forum.  However, I suspect that others may consider going the same route in the future and I am willing to come on merely to repudiate and discourage such a conversation from taking place again.  As such, I would appear only under the following circumstances:

1. I do not agree to any form of “conversation” with Israelis about the Nakba, and that must be made clear.
2. Per the above, the show must be split somehow whereby I would follow whatever discussion you had with them. I do not agree to any exchange with them; but i will agree to a discussion with the interviewer afterward about whatever is said.”

The producer went and found “another Palestinian who was willing to come on the show”.  He didn’t care to know why I objected.  But I care to make it clear to AJStream and to anyone who cares to know, why I find such a show appalling.

Since we must perpetually put our pain in the form of analogies in order to facilitate empathy, let me do that to start off.

Imagine Germany never acknowledged the Jewish holocaust.  Imagine, we are living in an era where Jews are still fighting for basic recognition of their pain.  Then imagine that on the day in which Jews engage in solemn remembrance of their greatest collective wound, television shows choose to feature German sons and daughters of Nazis in a discussion expressing differing views on whether or not and/or how Germany should deal with the memory of the genocide their country committed.  And imagine, of course, there is a token Jew “to balance out” such an ill-timed and inappropriate public conversation.

Unfortunately, what AJStream is doing is not without precedent.  After the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982, under the watch of,  and encouragement by, the Israeli army under Ariel Sharon, in which their Phalange proxy butchered over 3,000 unarmed Palestinian men, women and children, Newsweek featured an article entitled “Israel in Torment.” In other words, although Palestinians were again on the receiving end of the most savage violence to emerge from this “conflict”, Newsweek, like AJStream now, thought the most newsworthy topic pertained to so-called “dissenting Israeli voices.”  They thought it was more interesting to examine ineffable Palestinian pain through Israeli eyes!

One can cite endless examples of Israeli appropriation of everything Palestinian – land and home, heritage and culture, hummus and couscous, narrative and history.  Now, we see an example of appropriation even of our deepest collective wound.  When and how did the Nakba become the purview of Israelis?

Israelis have no place inside our pain, the anguish of our society that they themselves created and perpetuate still.  Why does AJ Stream think it’s appropriate, on this solemn remembrance day for Palestinians, to hold a discussion among Israelis about whether and how their country should acknowledge the savagery they perpetuated against the indigenous people of the land they now occupy?    And why, most importantly, would any Palestinian lend legitimacy to such an offense?

The vexing and unforgivable part of this is that some of us facilitate this kind of imperialism.  Should we call it ‘emotional imperialism’? colonization of our pain?  Palestinian organizations invite Israeli speakers to mark Nakba commemoration events.  Why?  Is there nothing sacred? Is there a shortage of Nakba survivors?  Of Palestinian historians, activists, or intellectuals? Can we expect that the Nakba will now be colonized by Israeli voices?  Is it simply that the Nakba commemoration only becomes real when Israelis say so, just as our history only became real when Israeli historians copied our books and published what we had said for decades?

The only contribution that Israelis should make to the Nakba discourse is an unqualified, unmitigated apology, followed by a conversation about restitution, repatriation, and compensation.  That’s it!   Inviting a public conversation with Israelis to discuss whether their country should recognize our humanity is offensive and hurtful as we gather to remember and grieve; and Palestinians and Palestinian supporters should not stand for it.

In the words of our beloved Mahmoud Darwish, “So leave…Our wheat, our salt, our wounds.” Leave our wound that you created.  Just leave what so little remains.

– Susan Abulhawa is the author of the international bestselling novel, Mornings in Jenin, and the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine, a children’s NGO.  Autographed copies of her book can be purchased here. She contributed this article to

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  1. I am very proud of such good Palestinian woman. This article should be reproduced and distributed to our Palestinian individuals be five years of age and 100 years of age in order to understand this evil Zionist and how much pain caused us. We should not communicate with such criminal people. We will go back to our country with such woman like Susan Abuihawa.

  2. I wonder if you know which Israelis were to be on the panel. Just curious. The way the panel was set up sounds exceedingly strange. The producer must’ve lost his mind.

  3. The point this author misses is the Nakba is alive today. Palestinians in the West Bank and in Israel continue to be victims of the ongoing ethnic cleansing campaign to rid the land of Palestinians. The Nakba is not an event of the distant past that out grandparents experienced. Palestinians of the diaspora see the Nakba as an event of the past because their only connection to it is their grandparents.

  4. Well done, Ms.Abulhawa, for saying no to mind games. Sounds like a cheap, crass shot at cashing in / trivialising a major tragic event in Palestinian history. Will it be quiz shows next? And why the unequal number of like minded participants? ‘Lamb to the slaughter’ comes to mind; how wrong they were, they’d have got a lion instead!.

  5. I’m surprised that Al Jazeera has put out such an ill-thought out programme. I would have thought that they would be more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Its strange and bizarre that they wish to put together a show with 3 Israelis to 1 Palestinian. Bravo for standing up and staying firm.

  6. Honourable Abulhawa, I really am at a loss for words because as far as “real news” goes, I really thought I could rely on Aljazeera. I truly am disappointed at how they played this out. My Thoughts and Meditations go out to you and all Palastinians who to this very day continue to live like refugees in their own land!

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