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Theft of the Nakba Narrative - Left Curve

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Zionism is a movement founded in the late 19th

century by secular European Jews—known in Israel as

Ashkenazim—to colonize Palestine. There is a direct

affinity between the destruction of Cairo by the French

Napoleon, his looting of its libraries and execution of its

scholars, and the contemporary

destruction of Lebanon,

Afghanistan and Iraq accompanied

by the looting of their

museums. Such devastation is

echoed in the erasure of

Palestine since 1948, and appropriation

of its culture, up to the

demolition of Gaza's schools,

university and more than a

hundred mosques in 2009.

In this paper, I argue that

Israeli Zionist intellectuals, even

while portraying themselves as

progressive, have taken an active

part in the erasure of Palestine, recently accomplishing it

through the appropriation of the Nakba narrative.

European Jews ethnically cleansed Palestine in 1948—

the Nakba (“Catastrophe”, Arabic)—by expelling nearly

800,000 indigenous Palestinian Arab inhabitants and

demolishing more than 500 villages and 13 cities. The

Zionists continue this ethnic cleansing today, along with

Shavuot (Jewish Harvest) holiday dance, using Palestinian

“Tabaq” (“Straw Tray”). Kibbutz Baram, basketball yard, 1977.

Published in Left Curve no. 36 (2012)

www.leftcurve.org

The Theft of the Nakba Narrative by the Israeli Academia

(Lecture Notes)*

Rahela Mizrahi

Introduction

Ashkenazi Zionist Artists wearing Palestinian clothes: appropriation of physical property

while absenting the human being paves the way for the future ethnic cleansing:

Boris Shatz, the Bezalel Art Academy

founder, 1908.

Reuven Zelicovici (Rubin) the artist and

Israel’s first ambassador in Romania, 1912.

Menashe Kadishman, “The Shepherd”

wearing a cloth made of the Palestinian

Kufiya material, 1995.

the looting, or Sareqa (Arabic), of Palestinian collective

cultural property.

• The Israeli cultural system, especially the academic

field, gobbles up Palestinian food, clothing, crafts, fine

art and critical writing, even the narrative of the Nakba,

and re-produces these in favor of

the Zionist colonial project. It

does so even as it presents itself

as being aware of the ongoing

Israeli ethnic cleansing of

Palestinians from Palestine.

• The Israeli academia is the

most important producer of this

white colonial racial thinking,

masquerading it as racially

unmarked Jewish humanism.

• One can discern several pat-

terns in the appropriation of the

Palestinian Nakba narrative by

Israeli researchers:

1. Israeli writers often use critical texts, mostly postcolonial

ones, in a sophisticated way that initially

appears progressive but actually turns these texts into

a direct extension of the Zionist colonial policy itself.

The writings of Palestinian Edward Said, for instance,

are often appropriated for this purpose.

2. Palestinian and Arab intellectuals have written about

* The article consists of notes and images used in a slide lecture given by the author at the Nakba Day conference of

the Arab Cultural Association, “Projections of the Nakba on Arab Culture”, on May 13,2009 held in Sakhnin, Palestine.

54


cultural appropriation since the 1930s. Discussions of

cultural appropriation, however, appeared in North

American and Western European academia only in

the late 1980s, and traveled to Israeli academia at the

end of the 1990s. Paradoxically, it is the Israeli academics

who are recognized as pioneers in the discussion

of the cultural confiscation of Palestine. The

Palestinians’ own research and writing about the

takeover has been completely overlooked in the West.

3. Both Israeli academia and the Israeli fine art establish

ment—the subject of my MA dissertation—have

merged Zionist content with Western avant-garde

ideas. Curators, artists, museum managers, art historians

and critics have helped absorb Western intellectuals

into the Zionist narrative.

55

The Yemeni Shoshana Damari sings

“I am from Safed” written by the Poles

Vilenski and Alterman, who are using

the Arab Jewish performer as a means

to indigenize themselves.

There are three distinguishable phases to the Israeli

appropriation of Palestinian heritage.

In the first phase, the Zionist movement, and then

the State of Israel, made great efforts to indigenize the

European Jewish colonizers. They associated their culture

with the local heritage, claiming, “the return of an

Phase 1 - A

Artwork by Tzivi Geva

“Kufiya No. 25” 1990.

Phase 1 - B

4. Rosemary Comb argues that researchers who study

and define the culture of the Other without being

deeply familiar with it commit an act of cultural violence.

In most Israeli writings about Palestinian art,

Arabic resources are almost completely absent.

5. The Israeli intellectuals’ fashionable confessions of

the cultural appropriation and ethnic cleansing of

Palestine create the illusion of self-criticism. The

recurring pattern is as follows: First, the Israeli inflictors

commit the crime of expelling residents, destroying

towns and usurping culture. Afterward, they deny

the violence. Later, when there is no danger, they

confess their violent deeds—an act that wins them

international forgiveness and legitimacy, along with

widespread acceptance of the facts they have produced.

The Israeli Kufiya, 2007.

indigenous people to its homeland after two thousand

years.” This phase primarily involved the theft of various

elements from Palestinian heritage that were then redistributed

all over the world as ancient Jewish heritage.

For example: The Palestinian Kufiya.

Left: The first days of the Ein Hod Artists Colony. Right: Yitzhak Danziger 1977 “environmental art” project Oak tree planting ceremony in

memory of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) elite unit Egoz who died in combat in the Golan Heights in the 1973 war.

After the Nakba, the Israeli intellectuals dedicated

their work to supporting the seizure of Palestinian land

and physical property, and de-Arabizing all of the above.


The first project is an art exhibition entitled

“Kadima: The East in Israeli Art.” It was held at Israel’s

national museum in 1998, which openly examined the

phenomenon of cultural appropriation. Kadima boasts

about using the writings of Edward Said and the term

“Orientalism.” Like the Israeli academics, the Israeli art

establishment has started to admit to the role of art in

the Zionist strategic appropriation of Palestinian heritage.

Gratziela Trachtenberg, the project’s academic

adviser and main catalog’s author, wrote: “The Arab is a

means of returning to the ‘Jewish past,’ because he was

considered to be the one who preserved some of the

Hebraic costumes in his heritage.”

Phase 2

Left: David Ginton 1997: Two Flags on Two Fields, 120 x 86 cm, wax on canvas

Right: Metzer-Messer, 1972. Earth, each hole 80 x 80 x 80 cm. Environmental art project of Micha Ulmann.

In the second phase, after the 1967 war Israeli intellectuals

devoted themselves to representing the conflict

between Israel and the people of Palestine as a symmetric

struggle between two indigenous people. Such a representation

supported the official discourse adopted by

Israel’s Ashkenazi Left, who called for “two states for

two peoples”. At this phase the Israeli intellectuals repre-

In the third phase, since the end of the 1990s, Israeli

intellectuals have fully admitted to the Nakba, and have

even produced research on it—rewriting history as a

Phase 3

Third Phase Appropriation in Israeli Fine Arts

sented themselves to world intellectuals as progressive

and opposed to the occupation. For them, the occupation

meant only the 1967 seizure of the remaining 22%

of Palestinian land. The intellectuals also declared the

Israeli soldier to be a victim of this occupation (see

Shohat 1989).

consequence. My research examines several projects on

art and art criticism from this phase, but due to space

limitations I will discuss only two:

Art project 1

To the East (Kadima):

Orientalism in the Arts in Israel.

Catalog of the exhibition in

Israel Museum 1998.

Head curator Igal Tzalmona wrote: “Eliezer Ben-

Yehuda [the Hebrew language reviver] considered the

Arabs, and the Bedouin in particular, a descendant of the

ancient Jews, as well as the Yemeni and the Sephardic

Jews, [...] as if they maintained a Torah-era lifestyle.

They have all become empty and transparent signifiers,

stuffed with Zionist contents and turned into biblical

figures. In the Zionists’ view, the land was given to the

Jewish colonizers in advance. By this logic they can

reclaim place.” Tzalmona even wrote: “The production

of ‘Betzalel’ was an integral part of the Zionism propaganda

system.”

56


Is this a direct admission of Israel’s colonization of

Palestine? Probably only as a civilized veneer. The late

researcher Sara Hinski claims that the Kadima text is not

a critical text, as it may seem above, but a direct extension

of the Zionist colonial policy itself. Hinski says:

“The use of the term ‘Orientalism’ as was coined by

Edward Said, and as adopted by Tzalmona, in the context

of Israeli art, forces Tzalmona to admit implicitly

Art project 2:

Palestinian Art by Gannit Ankori

Publisher: Reaktion Books,

London, 2006.

The second project is

Palestinian Art, the book of

Gannit Ankori, Hebrew

University’s Art History

department chair.

Palestinian historian and

artist Kamal Boullata

recently claimed that

Ankori plagiarized the first

three chapters of her book

from his writings. Ankori v.

Boullata (2006) is not just a

legal case concerning this

plagiarism, but it is first

and foremost a case of the

appropriation of the

Palestinian voice, mainly the Nakba narrative, told to the

world from a Zionist Orientalist perspective. In this way,

57

that the Israeli cultural-political space forms a culturalcolonial

web of links [...] Although Kadima flaunts its

critical maneuver of exposing and deconstructing Israeli

Orientalism, the exhibition itself operates as a typical

Orientalist representation [...]. The exhibit dialectically

and cunningly deploys the idea of colonialism: it reasserts

the Western-ness of the spectator, without hurting

his moral base.”

Ankori and scholars like her in Israeli academia portray

themselves as the courageous few Don Quixotes, fighting

the windmills of Zionism. Ankori masquerades the

book as a pro-Palestinian radical text. In the wake of this

case, the Association of Fine Artists of Palestine issued a

statement entitled: “They Do Not Only Steal Our Land,

But Also Our Blood, Sweat and Tears.” They affirmed

that the first three chapters of Ankori book are plagiarized,

and thus break basic academic ethical rules. They

continue: “We must realize that such insidious practices

are perpetuated by some Israeli researchers, who appoint

themselves to speak for Palestinians, claiming they can

only be understood in the context of colonialist framework.

At the same time, Israeli authorities are continuing

to seize the remaining lands in our country, and burying

its actual history in the process.” In 2007 Ankori

received the Polonski Award for creativity and innovation

in the field of humanities for this book.

Examples of Israeli Academics Appropriating the Nakba Story (Three Books):

While conducting my research I have encountered a

flood of Israeli academic publications that tell the Nakba

story, directly or indirectly. Many of them are Ph.D. or

MA dissertations. This organized and massive occupa-

Batya Disenchik in

“Maskit” Fashion show:

Dress, Gaza

embroidery on cotton,

the 70s.

Fashion design:

Penny Litersdorf

Embroidery design:

Marie-Therese Kagan

Loaned by Ruth Dayan

• • •

• • •

tion of the subject precludes Palestinian researchers from

writing their own dissertations on the Nakba.

I will discuss three books that have recently been

issued by the Israeli academic presses:

The first book: Maskit: A Local Fabric, 2003. Editor:

Batia Doner. Publisher: Eretz Yisrael Museum, Hebrew

and English. This book tells the history of Maskit.

Maskit was a textile company founded by Ruth

Dayan, wife of Moshe Dayan, IDF commander-in-chief

during the 1967 ethnic cleansing of Palestine and an

extensive collector of Palestinian local archaeological

artifacts, against UN conventions. Maskit employed the

Jews that Ashkenazi Zionists transferred to Palestine

from Arab and Muslim countries, as well as indigenous

Palestinians skilled in producing crafts from their own

heritage to produce folkoloric, expensive high fashion.

Maskit distributed Palestinian traditional embroidery

and Kufiya dresses all over the world, marketing

them as works of ancient Jewish heritage. It flourished

when the Zionists completed the 1967 occupation of all

of historic Palestine. Dayan’s assistant described this

occupation as a gold mine.

Doner is keen to add Sara Hinski’s writings to her

bibliography, usurping their contents in the process.


Book 2:

Sanctification of Land:

Jewish Holy Sites in the

State of Israel by Doron

Bar, 2007. Publisher:

Yad Ben-Zvi and Ben

Gurion Institutes for the

Research of Israel and

Zionism, at Ben-Gurion

University of the Negev.

Ben-Zvi, an academic expert on Jewish diasporas in

the Muslim World, was the second president of Israel,

and Ben Gurion was the first prime minister. The Nakba

was their brainchild.

The book discusses the mechanism of the Ministry

of Religions, established by Ben-Gurion. The Ministry

of Religions—a secular Zionist institution—confiscated

Palestinian land sites, appropriating the religious customs

of Mizrahi (“Oriental”[Hebrew], from Arab and

Muslim countries ) Jews to validate this seizure.

In exposing this, Bar is ostensibly progressive in

exposing the appropriation mechanism, but it is a veneer.

He seems quite supportive and even proud of this

Zionist success story.

• • •

Book 3:

First published as: Matai

ve’ekh humtza ha’am hayehudi?

(When and How was the

Jewish People Invented?)

by Shlomo Sand, Publisher:

Resling, Tel Aviv, Hebrew,

French and German. 2008.

Published in English as:

The Invention of the Jewish

People, (Verso, 2009).

Shlomo Sand, a professor at Tel Aviv University,

asserts that the Jews were not one people, but communities

belonging to different peoples. They adopted the

Jewish religion in various stages of history.

The fly in the ointment here is that, firstly, Sand

also claims that the Palestinians are not a people.

Second, Palestinian and foreign researchers have already

raised similar claims since the mid-nineteenth century

and the beginning of the twentieth century, but Western

academia has considered their research non-scientific

and thus ignored or marginalized them. Although

Western academia is aware of these claims, Sand does

not explicitly mention any of them—nor does he quote

or engage with Palestinian scholarship. He represents

himself as a pioneer discoverer, and is accepted as such.

Sand won the French Journalists’ Award in 2009 as a

result of his book.

58


Israeli academia systematically floods the bookshelves

with Nakba narratives. Nevertheless, these narratives

are still an integral part of the Zionist project to

erase the Palestinian civilization, so that it can be produced

as Israeli academic texts. I am an Arab-Jew. I have

witnessed the parallel complete erasure of the Arab-

Jewish civilizations by Ashkenazi Zionists. The extent of

the academic cultural appropriation that our communities

have lived through is discussed by other members of

this panel. I therefore echo and support the Palestinian

call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

59

End Note by the author: Rahela Mizrahi signed the

Palestinian call for the cultural boycott of Israel in 2006.

She has a degree in fine arts from the Betzalel Academy in

Jerusalem and a Master’s Degree in Arabic Language and

Literature. She has completed her Masters Degree without

thesis due to the demand of Tel Aviv University to drop the

part which discusses the Israeli academia in her Master’s dissertation

about the “Patterns of Expropriation, Conversion,

and Appropriation of Palestinian Heritage through Israeli

Art”.

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