Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Palestine Nakba: Decolonising History, Narrating the Subaltern, Reclaiming Memory

Book Review: The Palestine Nakba: Decolonising History, Narrating the Subaltern, Reclaiming Memory

"To write more truthfully about the Nakba is not just to practice a professional historiography; it is also a moral imperative of acknowledgement and redemption." The Palestine Nakba: decolonising history, narrating the subaltern, reclaiming memory' (Zed Books, 2012) dismantles the myths structured by Zionism and sustained by an acquiescing narrative, furthering recognition of Palestinian legitimacy which surpasses remembrance.

Nur Masalha's research provides a meticulous framework through which the Palestinian struggle for memory exceeds the conventional definition of resistance tainted by the enforced oblivion of Palestinian narrative. Through analysis of various academic works which are compared and contrasted to various Palestinian narratives, Masalha elevates subaltern memory to prominence, highlighting a continuous rupture exacerbated by euphemisms which attempt to diminish the Palestinian problem.

The various memory conflicts expounded upon in the book stem from Israel's insistence upon manipulating Palestinian history in an attempt to thwart Palestinian consciousness, not only within the dispersed national dimension. The international support which Zionism harbours enables the occupying power to maintain the endorsed alienation from Palestinian existence and memory, which is erroneously supported in the West through a selective discernment of what constitutes genocide, thus displacing Palestinian history while supporting Zionist ambiguity and denial of the Nakba. The collaboration both at the Zionist governmental and academic levels portrays a reinvention of Jewish historiography 'divorced from collective memory' as the obsession of rewriting history in order to construct the fabrications of Jewish nationhood strive to eliminate the authenticity of Palestinian memory, hence the importance of reversing the traditional approach to history by returning to the subaltern memory – a component which is particularly vital in securing the Palestinian narrative which has already suffered appropriation and destruction of archived historical material.

Zionist historiography justifies Jewish independence by expounding upon oriental stereotypes, thus promoting Palestinian displacement and the elimination of the indigenous population in order to maintain the myth of the barren land. The Nakba, described by Israel as the war of liberation, is relegated to a segment of history within the Israeli narrative which is either denied or else misrepresented in a manner which seeks to divest Palestinians not only of their legitimate rights to land, but also of their existence. The settler-colonial memory supported by the Plan Dalet created colonial terminology which justified the occupation supported by imperialism. The justifications endorsed and promulgated by Israel reflect the lack of anti-colonial debate to the point of distortion concerning the actual commencement of the colonisation of Palestine which liberal Zionists claim had started in 1967. Masalha, however, traces the origins of colonisation back to 1882, when the concept of forced transfer had already formed part of Zionist ideology. Marginalising Palestinians by declaring them a segment of the Arab population furthered their displacement in terms of historical visibility enhanced by Zionist manipulation of language supporting a fictitious common history among settlers while justifying the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians through the colonising of remnants of indigenous memory.

The imposition of Jewish collective memory designed by Zionism is a focal issue through which the colonisation of Palestinian identity and collective memory can be challenged through subaltern memory and the processes through which it ensured remembrance remained enshrined within a resistance which protected its people from the sequence of oblivion. The subaltern has presented a challenge to Zionist efforts to appropriate Palestinian territory. Toponymy, the destruction of Palestinian sites and their reinvention into places of allegedly Jewish significance aided by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), the demolishing of villages in an attempt to invalidate Palestinian claims, massacres, internal forced displacement and the millions of Palestinian refugees have been minimised within the Zionist narrative to strengthen the alleged connection "between the days of the biblical Israelites and the modern Israeli state". However, the intention to construct a state upon remnants of Palestinian territory is challenged by the strength of Palestinian memory. Despite eradication of Nakba discourse from Israeli debate which intentionally fails to associate the violence unleashed upon Palestinians as pertaining to Palestinian memory, Palestinians have struggled from the periphery for their right to memory within a context which the Israeli narrative deems obsolete.

Masalha highlights the urgency expressed by Palestinians in asserting their historical memory in various mediums of dissemination. With a discrepancy between Israeli and Palestinian narratives regarding documented collective memory, Palestinians have embarked upon a process of unification within various experiences of the Israeli occupation which reflects the colossal predicament of refugees. Israel's vast archives and destruction of Palestinian documents led to unjustifiable claims of Palestinian memory as unreliable, hence the importance of asserting oral tradition to reconstruct the ostracised history, particularly the atrocities of the Nakba. Masalha states that "The overall bias towards Israeli 'archives' and the lack of sufficient attention given to Palestinian oral history have contributed to silencing the Palestinian past ... As is the case with other subaltern groups, refugee oral testimony is a crucial source for recovering the voice of the victims of ethnic cleansing and for constructing a more comprehensible narrative of the experience of ordinary Palestinian refugees". The urgency also reflects the necessity to rapidly depart from the colonial perspective in a manner through which Palestinians are able to author their own history, as well as counter Israeli perspectives that Palestinians should acknowledge responsibility for the Nakba.

The continuity of trauma necessitates the validation of oral history within Palestinian collective memory, in order to challenge the conventional Israeli historiography supplemented at various levels including education, by Israel's security agency, Shin Bet. Palestinian oral history is disassociated from any ideological project, however it should be allowed the space to flourish and challenge the manipulation of discourse through recollection of Palestinian trauma. Exposing Israeli patriotism as a force intent on the obliteration of the indigenous population in turn provides the initial deconstruction of oblivion processes which tend to have further ramifications than the obvious process of forgetting. Indifference plays an integral role in the dynamics of oblivion – recognition of subaltern memory significantly challenges the exclusion of the Nakba from any political platform including the alleged peace process. Masalha's arguments for a coherent counter hegemony that dispels Zionist manipulation of language, history and memory, based upon recognition of the Nakba and efforts to maintain its protection against denial especially with the international community portray the need to comprehend and maintain a wider commitment to the Palestinian struggle against Zionist and imperialist oblivion. More