Theft of the Nakba Narrative - Left Curve

Theft of the Nakba Narrative - Left Curve

Theft of the Nakba Narrative - Left Curve


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Zionism is a movement founded in <strong>the</strong> late 19th<br />

century by secular European Jews—known in Israel as<br />

Ashkenazim—to colonize Palestine. There is a direct<br />

affinity between <strong>the</strong> destruction <strong>of</strong> Cairo by <strong>the</strong> French<br />

Napoleon, his looting <strong>of</strong> its libraries and execution <strong>of</strong> its<br />

scholars, and <strong>the</strong> contemporary<br />

destruction <strong>of</strong> Lebanon,<br />

Afghanistan and Iraq accompanied<br />

by <strong>the</strong> looting <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

museums. Such devastation is<br />

echoed in <strong>the</strong> erasure <strong>of</strong><br />

Palestine since 1948, and appropriation<br />

<strong>of</strong> its culture, up to <strong>the</strong><br />

demolition <strong>of</strong> Gaza's schools,<br />

university and more than a<br />

hundred mosques in 2009.<br />

In this paper, I argue that<br />

Israeli Zionist intellectuals, even<br />

while portraying <strong>the</strong>mselves as<br />

progressive, have taken an active<br />

part in <strong>the</strong> erasure <strong>of</strong> Palestine, recently accomplishing it<br />

through <strong>the</strong> appropriation <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Nakba</strong> narrative.<br />

European Jews ethnically cleansed Palestine in 1948—<br />

<strong>the</strong> <strong>Nakba</strong> (“Catastrophe”, Arabic)—by expelling nearly<br />

800,000 indigenous Palestinian Arab inhabitants and<br />

demolishing more than 500 villages and 13 cities. The<br />

Zionists continue this ethnic cleansing today, along with<br />

Shavuot (Jewish Harvest) holiday dance, using Palestinian<br />

“Tabaq” (“Straw Tray”). Kibbutz Baram, basketball yard, 1977.<br />

Published in <strong>Left</strong> <strong>Curve</strong> no. 36 (2012)<br />

www.leftcurve.org<br />

The <strong>Theft</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Nakba</strong> <strong>Narrative</strong> by <strong>the</strong> Israeli Academia<br />

(Lecture Notes)*<br />

Rahela Mizrahi<br />

Introduction<br />

Ashkenazi Zionist Artists wearing Palestinian clo<strong>the</strong>s: appropriation <strong>of</strong> physical property<br />

while absenting <strong>the</strong> human being paves <strong>the</strong> way for <strong>the</strong> future ethnic cleansing:<br />

Boris Shatz, <strong>the</strong> Bezalel Art Academy<br />

founder, 1908.<br />

Reuven Zelicovici (Rubin) <strong>the</strong> artist and<br />

Israel’s first ambassador in Romania, 1912.<br />

Menashe Kadishman, “The Shepherd”<br />

wearing a cloth made <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Palestinian<br />

Kufiya material, 1995.<br />

<strong>the</strong> looting, or Sareqa (Arabic), <strong>of</strong> Palestinian collective<br />

cultural property.<br />

• The Israeli cultural system, especially <strong>the</strong> academic<br />

field, gobbles up Palestinian food, clothing, crafts, fine<br />

art and critical writing, even <strong>the</strong> narrative <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Nakba</strong>,<br />

and re-produces <strong>the</strong>se in favor <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> Zionist colonial project. It<br />

does so even as it presents itself<br />

as being aware <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> ongoing<br />

Israeli ethnic cleansing <strong>of</strong><br />

Palestinians from Palestine.<br />

• The Israeli academia is <strong>the</strong><br />

most important producer <strong>of</strong> this<br />

white colonial racial thinking,<br />

masquerading it as racially<br />

unmarked Jewish humanism.<br />

• One can discern several pat-<br />

terns in <strong>the</strong> appropriation <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Palestinian <strong>Nakba</strong> narrative by<br />

Israeli researchers:<br />

1. Israeli writers <strong>of</strong>ten use critical texts, mostly postcolonial<br />

ones, in a sophisticated way that initially<br />

appears progressive but actually turns <strong>the</strong>se texts into<br />

a direct extension <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Zionist colonial policy itself.<br />

The writings <strong>of</strong> Palestinian Edward Said, for instance,<br />

are <strong>of</strong>ten appropriated for this purpose.<br />

2. Palestinian and Arab intellectuals have written about<br />

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

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


cultural appropriation since <strong>the</strong> 1930s. Discussions <strong>of</strong><br />

cultural appropriation, however, appeared in North<br />

American and Western European academia only in<br />

<strong>the</strong> late 1980s, and traveled to Israeli academia at <strong>the</strong><br />

end <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1990s. Paradoxically, it is <strong>the</strong> Israeli academics<br />

who are recognized as pioneers in <strong>the</strong> discussion<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> cultural confiscation <strong>of</strong> Palestine. The<br />

Palestinians’ own research and writing about <strong>the</strong><br />

takeover has been completely overlooked in <strong>the</strong> West.<br />

3. Both Israeli academia and <strong>the</strong> Israeli fine art establish<br />

ment—<strong>the</strong> subject <strong>of</strong> my MA dissertation—have<br />

merged Zionist content with Western avant-garde<br />

ideas. Curators, artists, museum managers, art historians<br />

and critics have helped absorb Western intellectuals<br />

into <strong>the</strong> Zionist narrative.<br />

55<br />

The Yemeni Shoshana Damari sings<br />

“I am from Safed” written by <strong>the</strong> Poles<br />

Vilenski and Alterman, who are using<br />

<strong>the</strong> Arab Jewish performer as a means<br />

to indigenize <strong>the</strong>mselves.<br />

There are three distinguishable phases to <strong>the</strong> Israeli<br />

appropriation <strong>of</strong> Palestinian heritage.<br />

In <strong>the</strong> first phase, <strong>the</strong> Zionist movement, and <strong>the</strong>n<br />

<strong>the</strong> State <strong>of</strong> Israel, made great efforts to indigenize <strong>the</strong><br />

European Jewish colonizers. They associated <strong>the</strong>ir culture<br />

with <strong>the</strong> local heritage, claiming, “<strong>the</strong> return <strong>of</strong> an<br />

Phase 1 - A<br />

Artwork by Tzivi Geva<br />

“Kufiya No. 25” 1990.<br />

Phase 1 - B<br />

4. Rosemary Comb argues that researchers who study<br />

and define <strong>the</strong> culture <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> O<strong>the</strong>r without being<br />

deeply familiar with it commit an act <strong>of</strong> cultural violence.<br />

In most Israeli writings about Palestinian art,<br />

Arabic resources are almost completely absent.<br />

5. The Israeli intellectuals’ fashionable confessions <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> cultural appropriation and ethnic cleansing <strong>of</strong><br />

Palestine create <strong>the</strong> illusion <strong>of</strong> self-criticism. The<br />

recurring pattern is as follows: First, <strong>the</strong> Israeli inflictors<br />

commit <strong>the</strong> crime <strong>of</strong> expelling residents, destroying<br />

towns and usurping culture. Afterward, <strong>the</strong>y deny<br />

<strong>the</strong> violence. Later, when <strong>the</strong>re is no danger, <strong>the</strong>y<br />

confess <strong>the</strong>ir violent deeds—an act that wins <strong>the</strong>m<br />

international forgiveness and legitimacy, along with<br />

widespread acceptance <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> facts <strong>the</strong>y have produced.<br />

The Israeli Kufiya, 2007.<br />

indigenous people to its homeland after two thousand<br />

years.” This phase primarily involved <strong>the</strong> <strong>the</strong>ft <strong>of</strong> various<br />

elements from Palestinian heritage that were <strong>the</strong>n redistributed<br />

all over <strong>the</strong> world as ancient Jewish heritage.<br />

For example: The Palestinian Kufiya.<br />

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

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

After <strong>the</strong> <strong>Nakba</strong>, <strong>the</strong> Israeli intellectuals dedicated<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir work to supporting <strong>the</strong> seizure <strong>of</strong> Palestinian land<br />

and physical property, and de-Arabizing all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> above.

The first project is an art exhibition entitled<br />

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

national museum in 1998, which openly examined <strong>the</strong><br />

phenomenon <strong>of</strong> cultural appropriation. Kadima boasts<br />

about using <strong>the</strong> writings <strong>of</strong> Edward Said and <strong>the</strong> term<br />

“Orientalism.” Like <strong>the</strong> Israeli academics, <strong>the</strong> Israeli art<br />

establishment has started to admit to <strong>the</strong> role <strong>of</strong> art in<br />

<strong>the</strong> Zionist strategic appropriation <strong>of</strong> Palestinian heritage.<br />

Gratziela Trachtenberg, <strong>the</strong> project’s academic<br />

adviser and main catalog’s author, wrote: “The Arab is a<br />

means <strong>of</strong> returning to <strong>the</strong> ‘Jewish past,’ because he was<br />

considered to be <strong>the</strong> one who preserved some <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Hebraic costumes in his heritage.”<br />

Phase 2<br />

<strong>Left</strong>: David Ginton 1997: Two Flags on Two Fields, 120 x 86 cm, wax on canvas<br />

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

In <strong>the</strong> second phase, after <strong>the</strong> 1967 war Israeli intellectuals<br />

devoted <strong>the</strong>mselves to representing <strong>the</strong> conflict<br />

between Israel and <strong>the</strong> people <strong>of</strong> Palestine as a symmetric<br />

struggle between two indigenous people. Such a representation<br />

supported <strong>the</strong> <strong>of</strong>ficial discourse adopted by<br />

Israel’s Ashkenazi <strong>Left</strong>, who called for “two states for<br />

two peoples”. At this phase <strong>the</strong> Israeli intellectuals repre-<br />

In <strong>the</strong> third phase, since <strong>the</strong> end <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> 1990s, Israeli<br />

intellectuals have fully admitted to <strong>the</strong> <strong>Nakba</strong>, and have<br />

even produced research on it—rewriting history as a<br />

Phase 3<br />

Third Phase Appropriation in Israeli Fine Arts<br />

sented <strong>the</strong>mselves to world intellectuals as progressive<br />

and opposed to <strong>the</strong> occupation. For <strong>the</strong>m, <strong>the</strong> occupation<br />

meant only <strong>the</strong> 1967 seizure <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> remaining 22%<br />

<strong>of</strong> Palestinian land. The intellectuals also declared <strong>the</strong><br />

Israeli soldier to be a victim <strong>of</strong> this occupation (see<br />

Shohat 1989).<br />

consequence. My research examines several projects on<br />

art and art criticism from this phase, but due to space<br />

limitations I will discuss only two:<br />

Art project 1<br />

To <strong>the</strong> East (Kadima):<br />

Orientalism in <strong>the</strong> Arts in Israel.<br />

Catalog <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> exhibition in<br />

Israel Museum 1998.<br />

Head curator Igal Tzalmona wrote: “Eliezer Ben-<br />

Yehuda [<strong>the</strong> Hebrew language reviver] considered <strong>the</strong><br />

Arabs, and <strong>the</strong> Bedouin in particular, a descendant <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

ancient Jews, as well as <strong>the</strong> Yemeni and <strong>the</strong> Sephardic<br />

Jews, [...] as if <strong>the</strong>y maintained a Torah-era lifestyle.<br />

They have all become empty and transparent signifiers,<br />

stuffed with Zionist contents and turned into biblical<br />

figures. In <strong>the</strong> Zionists’ view, <strong>the</strong> land was given to <strong>the</strong><br />

Jewish colonizers in advance. By this logic <strong>the</strong>y can<br />

reclaim place.” Tzalmona even wrote: “The production<br />

<strong>of</strong> ‘Betzalel’ was an integral part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Zionism propaganda<br />

system.”<br />


Is this a direct admission <strong>of</strong> Israel’s colonization <strong>of</strong><br />

Palestine? Probably only as a civilized veneer. The late<br />

researcher Sara Hinski claims that <strong>the</strong> Kadima text is not<br />

a critical text, as it may seem above, but a direct extension<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Zionist colonial policy itself. Hinski says:<br />

“The use <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> term ‘Orientalism’ as was coined by<br />

Edward Said, and as adopted by Tzalmona, in <strong>the</strong> context<br />

<strong>of</strong> Israeli art, forces Tzalmona to admit implicitly<br />

Art project 2:<br />

Palestinian Art by Gannit Ankori<br />

Publisher: Reaktion Books,<br />

London, 2006.<br />

The second project is<br />

Palestinian Art, <strong>the</strong> book <strong>of</strong><br />

Gannit Ankori, Hebrew<br />

University’s Art History<br />

department chair.<br />

Palestinian historian and<br />

artist Kamal Boullata<br />

recently claimed that<br />

Ankori plagiarized <strong>the</strong> first<br />

three chapters <strong>of</strong> her book<br />

from his writings. Ankori v.<br />

Boullata (2006) is not just a<br />

legal case concerning this<br />

plagiarism, but it is first<br />

and foremost a case <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

appropriation <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Palestinian voice, mainly <strong>the</strong> <strong>Nakba</strong> narrative, told to <strong>the</strong><br />

world from a Zionist Orientalist perspective. In this way,<br />

57<br />

that <strong>the</strong> Israeli cultural-political space forms a culturalcolonial<br />

web <strong>of</strong> links [...] Although Kadima flaunts its<br />

critical maneuver <strong>of</strong> exposing and deconstructing Israeli<br />

Orientalism, <strong>the</strong> exhibition itself operates as a typical<br />

Orientalist representation [...]. The exhibit dialectically<br />

and cunningly deploys <strong>the</strong> idea <strong>of</strong> colonialism: it reasserts<br />

<strong>the</strong> Western-ness <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> spectator, without hurting<br />

his moral base.”<br />

Ankori and scholars like her in Israeli academia portray<br />

<strong>the</strong>mselves as <strong>the</strong> courageous few Don Quixotes, fighting<br />

<strong>the</strong> windmills <strong>of</strong> Zionism. Ankori masquerades <strong>the</strong><br />

book as a pro-Palestinian radical text. In <strong>the</strong> wake <strong>of</strong> this<br />

case, <strong>the</strong> Association <strong>of</strong> Fine Artists <strong>of</strong> Palestine issued a<br />

statement entitled: “They Do Not Only Steal Our Land,<br />

But Also Our Blood, Sweat and Tears.” They affirmed<br />

that <strong>the</strong> first three chapters <strong>of</strong> Ankori book are plagiarized,<br />

and thus break basic academic ethical rules. They<br />

continue: “We must realize that such insidious practices<br />

are perpetuated by some Israeli researchers, who appoint<br />

<strong>the</strong>mselves to speak for Palestinians, claiming <strong>the</strong>y can<br />

only be understood in <strong>the</strong> context <strong>of</strong> colonialist framework.<br />

At <strong>the</strong> same time, Israeli authorities are continuing<br />

to seize <strong>the</strong> remaining lands in our country, and burying<br />

its actual history in <strong>the</strong> process.” In 2007 Ankori<br />

received <strong>the</strong> Polonski Award for creativity and innovation<br />

in <strong>the</strong> field <strong>of</strong> humanities for this book.<br />

Examples <strong>of</strong> Israeli Academics Appropriating <strong>the</strong> <strong>Nakba</strong> Story (Three Books):<br />

While conducting my research I have encountered a<br />

flood <strong>of</strong> Israeli academic publications that tell <strong>the</strong> <strong>Nakba</strong><br />

story, directly or indirectly. Many <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>m are Ph.D. or<br />

MA dissertations. This organized and massive occupa-<br />

Batya Disenchik in<br />

“Maskit” Fashion show:<br />

Dress, Gaza<br />

embroidery on cotton,<br />

<strong>the</strong> 70s.<br />

Fashion design:<br />

Penny Litersdorf<br />

Embroidery design:<br />

Marie-Therese Kagan<br />

Loaned by Ruth Dayan<br />

• • •<br />

• • •<br />

tion <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> subject precludes Palestinian researchers from<br />

writing <strong>the</strong>ir own dissertations on <strong>the</strong> <strong>Nakba</strong>.<br />

I will discuss three books that have recently been<br />

issued by <strong>the</strong> Israeli academic presses:<br />

The first book: Maskit: A Local Fabric, 2003. Editor:<br />

Batia Doner. Publisher: Eretz Yisrael Museum, Hebrew<br />

and English. This book tells <strong>the</strong> history <strong>of</strong> Maskit.<br />

Maskit was a textile company founded by Ruth<br />

Dayan, wife <strong>of</strong> Moshe Dayan, IDF commander-in-chief<br />

during <strong>the</strong> 1967 ethnic cleansing <strong>of</strong> Palestine and an<br />

extensive collector <strong>of</strong> Palestinian local archaeological<br />

artifacts, against UN conventions. Maskit employed <strong>the</strong><br />

Jews that Ashkenazi Zionists transferred to Palestine<br />

from Arab and Muslim countries, as well as indigenous<br />

Palestinians skilled in producing crafts from <strong>the</strong>ir own<br />

heritage to produce folkoloric, expensive high fashion.<br />

Maskit distributed Palestinian traditional embroidery<br />

and Kufiya dresses all over <strong>the</strong> world, marketing<br />

<strong>the</strong>m as works <strong>of</strong> ancient Jewish heritage. It flourished<br />

when <strong>the</strong> Zionists completed <strong>the</strong> 1967 occupation <strong>of</strong> all<br />

<strong>of</strong> historic Palestine. Dayan’s assistant described this<br />

occupation as a gold mine.<br />

Doner is keen to add Sara Hinski’s writings to her<br />

bibliography, usurping <strong>the</strong>ir contents in <strong>the</strong> process.

Book 2:<br />

Sanctification <strong>of</strong> Land:<br />

Jewish Holy Sites in <strong>the</strong><br />

State <strong>of</strong> Israel by Doron<br />

Bar, 2007. Publisher:<br />

Yad Ben-Zvi and Ben<br />

Gurion Institutes for <strong>the</strong><br />

Research <strong>of</strong> Israel and<br />

Zionism, at Ben-Gurion<br />

University <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Negev.<br />

Ben-Zvi, an academic expert on Jewish diasporas in<br />

<strong>the</strong> Muslim World, was <strong>the</strong> second president <strong>of</strong> Israel,<br />

and Ben Gurion was <strong>the</strong> first prime minister. The <strong>Nakba</strong><br />

was <strong>the</strong>ir brainchild.<br />

The book discusses <strong>the</strong> mechanism <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Ministry<br />

<strong>of</strong> Religions, established by Ben-Gurion. The Ministry<br />

<strong>of</strong> Religions—a secular Zionist institution—confiscated<br />

Palestinian land sites, appropriating <strong>the</strong> religious customs<br />

<strong>of</strong> Mizrahi (“Oriental”[Hebrew], from Arab and<br />

Muslim countries ) Jews to validate this seizure.<br />

In exposing this, Bar is ostensibly progressive in<br />

exposing <strong>the</strong> appropriation mechanism, but it is a veneer.<br />

He seems quite supportive and even proud <strong>of</strong> this<br />

Zionist success story.<br />

• • •<br />

Book 3:<br />

First published as: Matai<br />

ve’ekh humtza ha’am hayehudi?<br />

(When and How was <strong>the</strong><br />

Jewish People Invented?)<br />

by Shlomo Sand, Publisher:<br />

Resling, Tel Aviv, Hebrew,<br />

French and German. 2008.<br />

Published in English as:<br />

The Invention <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Jewish<br />

People, (Verso, 2009).<br />

Shlomo Sand, a pr<strong>of</strong>essor at Tel Aviv University,<br />

asserts that <strong>the</strong> Jews were not one people, but communities<br />

belonging to different peoples. They adopted <strong>the</strong><br />

Jewish religion in various stages <strong>of</strong> history.<br />

The fly in <strong>the</strong> ointment here is that, firstly, Sand<br />

also claims that <strong>the</strong> Palestinians are not a people.<br />

Second, Palestinian and foreign researchers have already<br />

raised similar claims since <strong>the</strong> mid-nineteenth century<br />

and <strong>the</strong> beginning <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> twentieth century, but Western<br />

academia has considered <strong>the</strong>ir research non-scientific<br />

and thus ignored or marginalized <strong>the</strong>m. Although<br />

Western academia is aware <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se claims, Sand does<br />

not explicitly mention any <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>m—nor does he quote<br />

or engage with Palestinian scholarship. He represents<br />

himself as a pioneer discoverer, and is accepted as such.<br />

Sand won <strong>the</strong> French Journalists’ Award in 2009 as a<br />

result <strong>of</strong> his book.<br />


Israeli academia systematically floods <strong>the</strong> bookshelves<br />

with <strong>Nakba</strong> narratives. Never<strong>the</strong>less, <strong>the</strong>se narratives<br />

are still an integral part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Zionist project to<br />

erase <strong>the</strong> Palestinian civilization, so that it can be produced<br />

as Israeli academic texts. I am an Arab-Jew. I have<br />

witnessed <strong>the</strong> parallel complete erasure <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Arab-<br />

Jewish civilizations by Ashkenazi Zionists. The extent <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> academic cultural appropriation that our communities<br />

have lived through is discussed by o<strong>the</strong>r members <strong>of</strong><br />

this panel. I <strong>the</strong>refore echo and support <strong>the</strong> Palestinian<br />

call for <strong>the</strong> academic and cultural boycott <strong>of</strong> Israel.<br />

59<br />

End Note by <strong>the</strong> author: Rahela Mizrahi signed <strong>the</strong><br />

Palestinian call for <strong>the</strong> cultural boycott <strong>of</strong> Israel in 2006.<br />

She has a degree in fine arts from <strong>the</strong> Betzalel Academy in<br />

Jerusalem and a Master’s Degree in Arabic Language and<br />

Literature. She has completed her Masters Degree without<br />

<strong>the</strong>sis due to <strong>the</strong> demand <strong>of</strong> Tel Aviv University to drop <strong>the</strong><br />

part which discusses <strong>the</strong> Israeli academia in her Master’s dissertation<br />

about <strong>the</strong> “Patterns <strong>of</strong> Expropriation, Conversion,<br />

and Appropriation <strong>of</strong> Palestinian Heritage through Israeli<br />


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