- Catastrophe Remembered: Palestine, Israel and the Internal Refugees: Essays in Memory of Edward W. Said
Catastrophe Remembered is an anthology that forthrightly presents the Palestinian narrative and sense of victimization at the hands of victorious Zionists and Israelis. The volume is dedicated to the memory of the Palestinian-American literary scholar, Edward Said; its essays both salute and draw upon Said's contributions to literary theory and to Palestinian studies, and they continue Said's legacy of articulate advocacy on behalf of the Palestinians. [End Page 165]
Readers sympathetic to Said will recognize this anthology as a worthy tribute to this prominent engagé intellectual. Its eleven articles, written by scholars and journalists of Palestinian, Israeli, and international origin, address a number of controversial issues: the birth of Israel and the resulting internal refugees, their history, the legacy of their habitations and names, the uses of memory, the special significance of oral histories, the development of identity, and Israeli attitudes to Palestinian memory.
Said's detractors, on the other hand, are many. Some of these critics have viewed Said with deep suspicion, and others have vilified him with the title "Professor Terror"—whether for the incitement they perceived in his outspoken views or for having once committed the offense of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers across the Lebanese border. These readers will find little to impress them in this volume, or to change their minds about who is to blame for the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli impasse.
But for anyone who is open to learning more about aspects of the conflict that relate to Israel's Arab citizens and the social and historical issues that affect them, this anthology is a valuable introduction to a greater body of literature. The core of the collection is the section on "Palestinian Oral History and Memory." This is a key entry-point for anyone wishing to understand the Palestinian narrative and how it is distinct from its rival Zionist-Israeli counterpart, which is much more embedded in diplomatic documents and written memoirs ("zikhronot").
The essay by Mahmoud 'Issa, a Palestinian refugee historian living in Denmark, illustrates why oral history is so central to the Palestinian narrative. During the Oslo years 'Issa returned for the first time with a group of Palestinians from Denmark to Lubya, the Galilean village of their origin, and he movingly recorded their spontaneous responses to revisiting the place of their youth. As a peasant society, it still flowed with the rhythms of the seasons, sowing and planting, cultivating and harvesting. The visitors recalled the surfaces of the land in astounding detail; they remembered the local folklore. Pieced together, their various recollections corroborated each other, revealing a distinct Palestinian existence centered on village and clan. The reader begins to sense the enormity of their sense of loss.
One particularly eye-opening contribution to this anthology is by Eitan Bronstein, who writes about Israeli-Jewish awareness of the Palestinian "catastrophe"—known in Arabic as al-Nakba. Through his organization Zokhrot (Hebrew for "remembering" in the feminine plural form, to deliberately underline its non-hegemonic, conciliatory undertones), Bronstein is committed to teaching the history of the Palestinians and their commemoration of the Nakba to Israeli Jews. Zokhrot's motto, "To commemorate, witness, acknowledge [End Page 166] and repair," succinctly captures the essence of its mission of reconciliation through historical awareness (website: http://www.nakbainhebrew.org).
Bronstein cites Foucault to argue that recognition of Palestinian reality need not negate Israeli reality. Indeed, he acknowledges and understands the difficulties that Jews and Israelis face when attempting to come to terms with Palestinian identity and historical claims. This connects with some of the introductory remarks penned by the book's editor, London-based Nur Masalha:
For Palestinians a main reason for the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the failure of the Israeli state to acknowledge the 1948 ethnic cleansing and dispossession of over 750,000 indigenous inhabitants of Palestine and their descendants. So long as this historical truth is...