Tue, May 16, 2006 - Page 9 News List

The Palestinians remember as the great 'nakba' continues

With millions still living under occupation or in exile, what Palestinians call their `nakba,' or catastrophe, remains at the heart of their national identity

By Karma Nabulsi  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

This denial of Palestinians' worth has been demonstrated again in the way western media studiedly ignore their daily suffering.

Since last month, more than 40 Palestinians have been killed by the army -- most of them civilians, at least eight of them children -- with the most perfunctory coverage in the western press. Schoolchildren blown to bits while playing in Beit Lahia, like Mamdouh Obeid; Eitan Youssef, a 41-year-old mother from Tulkarm, shot in front of her children because troops "thought they saw a suspicious movement"; an old man, Musa Sawarkah, herding his flock in Gaza, gunned down; a taxi driver, Zakariya Daraghmeh,"accidentally" shot in the back in Nablus. Each one a story unheard, untold.

The predicament of life under military occupation is usually recognized in principle, but life in exile has its own characteristics, and continues to create its own bitter experience for Palestinians. Most young Palestinians today live not in the West Bank or Gaza, but in the immediate region outside of historic Palestine in the Arab world: stateless, ID-less, jobless, without the international legal protections of other refugees from other countries. Theirs is often a relentless struggle to live any kind of life at all.

The younger generation, wherever they are, possess a common character created through these harsh conditions of exile and passed on through others' memories of place names, old liberation songs, photographs of eternally absent relatives, intimate domestic connections and objects -- above all, the rusted key to the front door of the lost house, never seen.

As the French philosopher and sociologist Maurice Halbwachs first noted, human memory is an entirely collective engagement. In his book La memoire collective, published in 1949, four years after he was executed at Buchenwald, Halbwachs was the first to recognize that memory itself is never really individual.

Last year, young Palestinian activists helped to organize more than 100 meetings in refugee camps and exile communities in more than 28 countries. The idea was to bring Palestinians together -- whether under occupation or in exile -- to discuss the things they want to do next.

I participated in many of these gatherings and witnessed the promise of this generation replicating something of which they have no first-hand experience themselves, for it is rarely talked about and is as yet unwritten: the secret history of the previous generation of Palestinian resistance activists and fighters. Their current endeavors echo the same practices, the same spirit and the same direction.

Although these huge meetings held last year were all organized locally, the transcripts -- from places as far apart as Australia, Iraq, Egypt, Sweden, Lebanon, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Greece -- show that a shared conversation is happening.

Palestinians are reclaiming their past -- of the nakba and dispossession -- and at the same time preparing the next phase of their fight for justice. By some miracle of the general will, every Palestinian has somehow, through different journeys, arrived together at the same place.

Karma Nabulsi is a politics fellow of St Edmund Hall, Oxford University, and a former Palestine Liberation Organization representative.

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