Israelis memorialising the Palestinian Nakba
Author: Ronit Lentin

The 1948 war that led to the creation of the State of Israel also resulted in the destruction of Palestinian society, when some 80 per cent of the Palestinians who lived in the major part of Palestine upon which Israel was established became refugees. Israelis call the 1948 war their ‘War of Independence’ and the Palestinians their ‘Nakba’, or catastrophe. After many years of Nakba denial, land appropriation, political discrimination against the Palestinians within Israel and the denial of rights to Palestinian refugees, in recent years the Nakba is beginning to penetrate Israeli public discourse. This book explores the construction of collective memory in Israeli society, where the memory of the trauma of the Holocaust and of Israel's war dead competes with the memory claims of the dispossessed Palestinians. Taking an auto-ethnographic approach, it makes a contribution to social memory studies through a critical evaluation of the co-memoration of the Palestinian Nakba by Israeli Jews. Against a background of the Israeli resistance movement, the book's central argument is that co-memorating the Nakba by Israeli Jews is motivated by an unresolved melancholia about the disappearance of Palestine and the dispossession of the Palestinians, a melancholia which shifts mourning from the lost object to the grieving subject. The book theorises Nakba co-memory as a politics of resistance, counterpoising co-memorative practices by internally displaced Israeli Palestinians with Israeli Jewish discourses of the Palestinian right of return, and questions whether return narratives by Israeli Jews are ultimately about Israeli Jewish self-healing.

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Living in the shadow
Ronit Lentin

This book starts by presenting the deconstruction of the myths presented which enabled the denial of the destruction of Palestine. Questions of guilt, responsibility and accountability are regularly debated in Israel in relation to Nazi culpability. It also reviews the layers of denial the story of the Nakba encountered. It investigates Nakba co-memory practices from an anti-Zionist rather than Zionist standpoint. Jeffrey Olick explores the moral agonies of German defeat, the most consequential for Germans. There is a link between denial and ‘working through’ in the exploration of the co-memorative work by Israeli Jews. Moreover, this book interrogates the potentialities of internal emigration, questioning whether such co-memoration ultimately appropriates the Palestinian memorising voice. It then presents an Israeli-Jewish story about Palestine.

in Co-memory and melancholia
Ronit Lentin

This chapter links the theoretical foundations and politics of social memory in relation to the building blocks of the current ‘memory turn’ in the social sciences to social memory in the Israeli context. It also places memory as social, constructed and mediated and it is divided into three main themes, theorising memory in spatial, temporal and social terms. It then pursues a temporal line of inquiry, beginning from Marianne Hirsch's notion of ‘postmemory’. It reiterates memory as a social process. Collective memory is often equated with official memory, popular memory and cultural memory. Claiming the authenticity of collective memories is very evident in Pierre Nora. The Nakba embodies an unbridgeable gap between two qualitatively different periods, pre- and post-Nakba, making generational time a third key element of memory time for Palestinians. It is suggested that it is more apt to think of Nakba commemoration by Israeli Jews as co-memory.

in Co-memory and melancholia
Ronit Lentin

This chapter describes the psychic reproduction of Nakba comemory by Israeli Jews. It discusses Sigmund Freud's ‘Mourning and melancholia’. It reports Haim Bresheeth's rereading of Freud. It then develops Bresheeth's line of inquiry about Palestinian film-making about the Nakba. The preoccupation of some Israelis with Palestine and the Nakba may provide a creative way of assuaging the melancholia engendered by the destruction of Palestine. Haim Guri's work depicts the illusory paradox of the simultaneous Israeli Jewish melancholic yearning for the loss of Palestine and the delusion that conquest means co-existence. It is suggested that the shadow of the Palestinians' pre-1948 existence and of their dispossession impinges in ways which cannot always be accounted for rationally, resulting in grief which is not necessarily given to a successful resolution of mourning work, resulting rather in ongoing melancholia which pushes some of ‘us’ into the arms of a like-minded political (or comemorative) community.

in Co-memory and melancholia
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Telling autoethnographic stories
Ronit Lentin

This chapter describes the author's responsibility—as the daughter of one of the pre-state Hagana soldiers who conquered Haifa. It discusses Yosef Nachmani, one of the architects of Jewish settler-colonialism in Palestine. The Salzberger family history shows how biographies often tell larger social stories. Benny Morris argues that Nachmani's story reveals Zionism's Janus face. The Palestinian story tells of Haifa gradually developing from a fishing village to a major seaport due to its strategic importance for both the British, who had a mandate to govern Palestine between 1919 and 1948, and the Zionists. The Israeli story narrates Haifa as a model of co-existence. It is believed that it was the legacy of the author's father as a migrant and his assigning the author the role of an oppositionist from a very young age that shaped his lifelong career of political dissent and solidarity with his Palestinian sisters and brothers.

in Co-memory and melancholia
Ronit Lentin

This chapter describes the construction of the reawakening of the Israeli Jewish memory of the Nakba as a ‘road to Damascus’ tale told by post- and anti-Zionist Israeli Jews. It tries to fathom the preoccupation of Israeli scholars with Palestine and the Palestinians and asking, after Saul Friedländer's theorisation of Nazism, kitsch and death, whether the Israeli left's preoccupation with the Nakba might harbour a degree of prurient fascination with Israeli atrocities. It then reviews the distinctions between the terms anti-Zionism and post-Zionism. Friedländer's argument is that there is a ‘new discourse’ on Nazism that denotes a kind of aesthetic titillation borne out of the association of Nazism with death. The prominence of the Zionist discourse means that the Israeli Damascene narratives often struggle with the tellers' self-definitions. David Grossman uses his observations to envisage a better future.

in Co-memory and melancholia
Contested Nakba narratives as an ongoing process
Ronit Lentin

This chapter addresses the revisionist histories of the 1948 war, spearheaded in the 1980s by historians Benny Morris and Avi Shlaim, and political scientist Ilan Pappe. It places the Nakba accounts of the Israeli ‘new historians’ with Palestinian narrations of the Nakba. It then moves to literary forms of Israeli Nakba commemoration and discursive representation. It briefly describes some accounts of the Nakba in Israeli literary narratives, from the early 1948 generation melancholic writings to works by contemporary writers these narratives gave their Palestinian protagonists a voice. Pappe is exceptional among Israelis writing on the history of 1948 in reciprocating. The waves of Palestinian Nakba historiography are explored. Moreover, it explains Osmosis by Eshkol Nevo and La Maison Dajani by Alon Hilu. Yosefa Loshitzky's discussion of victimhood as the main component of Israeli identity focuses on melancholia.

in Co-memory and melancholia
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Nakba co-memory as performance
Ronit Lentin

This chapter places Zochrot within what is seen as the ongoing crisis of the Israeli resistance movement. It reports the performative nature of its postmemory work. It also discusses the role of the Palestinian witness-victim in the telling of this very Israeli-Jewish story, and suggests that a more fruitful line of inquiry would be to excavate the testimonies of Israeli perpetrators. It is proposed that the relationship between Palestinians and members of the Israeli resistance movement is at best problematic. Zochrot's performance is a performance of Nakba co-memory. Many Palestinian activists welcome Zochrot's co-memorative work, albeit critically and conditionally. Questions of appropriation and of using the ongoing occupation and oppression of the Palestinians as a tool for expressing Israeli dissent are beginning to be debated in a variety of media.

in Co-memory and melancholia
Ronit Lentin

This chapter reviews the memory and melancholia nexus through several prisms. It starts by asking whether Israeli-Jewish Nakba co-memoration ultimately serves to construct activists' Jewish identity with melancholia being not for the land or the lost Palestinians, but rather for an uncomplicated and idyllic lost Jewish Israeli identity. It then revisits Nakba co-memory as a politics of resistance and counterposing co-memorative practices. It asks whether Israeli Jews engaged in the co-memory work what David Goldberg calls ‘racial melancholia’. National identity serves as an instrument of separating ‘us’ from ‘them’, as national identity, differently from all other identities, and demands exclusive allegiance and fidelity. The necessary conclusion of co-memorating the Nakba must be recognising the Palestinian right of return. Most Jewish immigrants to Palestine and then to Israel did harbour a vision of a new, free, Jewish life.

in Co-memory and melancholia