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)
The Theft of the Nakba Narrative by the Israeli Academia
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
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
• 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
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.
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.
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.”
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
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
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
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,
The second project is
Palestinian Art, the book of
Gannit Ankori, Hebrew
University’s Art History
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,
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:
embroidery on cotton,
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.
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.
• • •
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.
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.
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