Amnesia by decree
Istico Battistoni - 26/04/2010
On the 16 March 2010 something serious occurred in the land of Israel. No, I am not referring to the latest developments in the occupied Palestinian territories, like the announcement for the umpteenth time of new illegal settlements around the Holy City, or the excavations around the Al-Aqsa mosque looking for archaeological proof to justify contemporary Zionist narrative, or even the inclusion in the closed military zone of rebel villages resisting the advancing Separation Wall like Bi'lin, and I am not even referring to the publication of the latest tragic statistics by the Palestinian Authority, showing the poverty rate within the borders of Gaza to be at 70%, and 52% of unemployment of the active population.
Something more subtle, slippery and violent has started: the removal of memory by an act of law, placing the pedagogy of amnesia in the realm of public policies. Something which is not simply undermining the rights of an Arab to live as a full citizen, but is also deleting the right to exert the faculty of honouring and drawing nourishment from the roots of his own history, so dear to the poet Ugo Foscolo.
Soon, remembering the history of the land where the local Arab communities lived in the years before the institution of the Israeli State will become a punishable offence. An-Nakba , the “catastrophe” which culminated with the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages and the escape or ousting of hundreds of thousands of their inhabitants shall not be remembered any more, nor used as alternative historiography to the celebration of the Israeli “Independence Day”. In fact, the Knesset has approved the first reading of a bill which is due to impose administrative and financial sanctions on local authorities (meaning: towns where Israeli Arabs live) which organize events to commemorate those tragic days, and to aggravate the fiscal regime for associations promoting the same events(1).
To someone this legislative episode might appear a minor detail, and in fact it did not draw the attention of many Western journalists, but for me this legislative episode is the most insidious and devious declaration of hostility that a colonial apparatus could conceive. Limor Livnat, minister of culture and sport, has declared: “If we do not give them the opportunity to remember the past, they will stop rebelling!”. Let us remove from people the faculty to cultivate memories, and we will make them obedient subjects of the engineers of oppression. This way, they will accept the Gaza lager, the celestial and indivisible Jerusalem, the transformation of Arab youth in cheap proletariat, the “bantustanization” of Arab villages and a life without ambitions, except the one of reaching “their” Paradise. A perfect logical operation in the eyes of those who wish to establish a New Racial Order. Has anybody the intellectual honesty to believe this operation will be really possible and succeed?
There is not anything worse than violating the intimacy of memory; it is like if we were preventing someone from breathing, waiting for his decease through asphyxiation. We have in front of us a policy of denial of the right to exist taken to its extreme consequences, a policy good only for producing generations of uprooted humans, who will one day be more loyal than the King, and will maybe sing the praises of the Zionist Myth more than a Jewish immigrant. After the Judaicization of the Mizrahis, the Jews who were living in Arab countries and who, once landed in Israel in the Fifties, were “de-Arabized”, losing connection with the Arab language and culture where they were raised, the new secret plan of the Israeli Establishment is perhaps the transformation of the Israeli Arabs in Jews. A plucky operation which could pave the way to the homogenization of the Israeli citizenship in one single ethnical and cultural entity: that is, in fact, the premise for perpetuating an idea of State based on racial discrimination, which prevails in Israel today. The discussion going on in the governmental circles on another project of law, named the “Loyalty Law”, is an evidence of this. This measure would foresee that any person requesting the Israeli citizenship makes the following oath of allegiance: "I pledge to be loyal to the State of Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state, to its symbols and values, and serve the State, as required, be it by military service, or alternative service."
In a report recently published, Coalition Against Racism and the Mossawa Center consider that the current Knesset is the most racist one ever in the history of Israel. In the first three months of this year only, 21 bills were submitted in the parliament including discriminatory elements against the Israeli Arabs. The number of laws that discriminate against Arab citizens proposed in the current Knesset bypassed all previous years, increasing by 75 percent.
Many Israeli citizens have announced civil disobedience against the “Nakba Law”. Zochrot , an Israeli association which tells Jews the stories of Arabs chased away from their homes, and plant signposts with the names of the vanished villages with the aim to rebuild remembrance and prepare reconciliation, would be one of the victims of the legal measure. Representatives of the Parents Circle , a Palestinian-Israeli organization gathering the relatives of victims of the conflict from both communities, have already declared their active dissent. Will they be crushed by the machine of repression of civil liberties, which, after having knocked down Palestinians, is posing a threat to Israelis?
The experience of History in Action shows that the reconstruction of the remembrance is the pre-condition of any attempt of a lasting reconciliation and peace. History in Action is a group of historians and history teachers from Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia who rewrite the different historical narratives to face the past with equanimity and dispassion, thus weakening the foundations of ethnical-racial propaganda. The collective preparation of a regional history book after the last wars will contribute to the reconciliation process in the Balkans.
Denying the right to memory, and with it all its emotional, cultural, social and psychological relationships, means digging deeper fractures inside Israel and publishing an edict of Non possumus against any prospect of coexistence between the communities of that land, blessed by God, and cursed by men. I am terribly scared by the idea that we do not pay attention to it, or we behave as if it were an internal issue. It is not an internal issue, it is the beginning of something horrible.
A verse of “Dei sepolcri (The sepulchres)” of the poet Ugo Foscolo which narrates the places where the heroes of the defeated Troy were buried, through Homer’s blind eyes, says:
“One day you will see
A blind beggar erring under your
Age-old shades, and groping he will
Penetrate the graves, and embrace the urns, and
Question them. The secret caverns will groan, and
Everything will narrate the tomb.
Ilium twice razed and twice risen again
Splendidly on the silent streets
Thus making the last trophy more beautiful
To the magic Pelides”.
Enemy of Civilization is who hinders the search for solace in the earthly life by talking to your own dead and nurturing the memories of your own past. Oh yes, the graves and the ruins, covered by noise, rabble and the prickly pears, will one day speak.
(1) Legislative proposals in Israel go through three readings: the first one to decide whether the Knesset shall deal with the matter, the second one to examine the proposal in its details, the third one to definitively approve it.
English review: Jonathan Parker