- The Palestine Nakba: Decolonizing History, Narrating the Subaltern, Reclaiming Memory
Born in 1957 in the Galilee and with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a PhD in politics from SOAS (University of London), Nur Masalha is Professor of Religion and Politics at St Mary’s College (University of Surrey, UK) and Director of its Centre for Religion and History. He has held other research and teaching positions in other universities in England, including SOAS, and in the Middle East, including Birzeit University.
He is also the editor of Holy Land Studies: A Multidisciplinary Journal and the author of several eye-opening and frank, scholarly books on Palestine-Israel, the latest being the one under review here, about which Rashid Khalidi says, in a blurb on its back cover, it is “The most comprehensive and penetrating analysis available of the catastrophe that befell Arab Palestine and its people in 1948.”
Nur Masalha does not merely write the history of the Palestine-Israel conflict as it has often been presented, one event after another. He goes beyond the events — sometimes before they happened to analyze their motivations, sometimes after they happened to analyze their results, and always above them to analyze how historians have recorded them with their own biases. He finds that much of the history written and unquestioningly accepted is that of the conquering colonizers which suppresses the voices of the colonized and continues to propagate untruths and even myths, hence the need to decolonize history, narrate the subaltern, and reclaim memory.
Throughout his book, Masalha calls what happened to the Palestinians at the hands of Zionists in 1948 by its Arabic name, Nakba (i.e., catastrophe), to denote the dispossession of their land and homes, the destruction of the fabric of their society, the ethnic cleansing they forcibly suffered in order to make room for new immigrant Jews, the deprivation of their human and civil rights, and the conscious and willful attempt to obliterate their centuries-long connection to Palestine. Masalha, like all Palestinians, calls this historic national catastrophe Nakba because there is no name more apt for it, just as Shoah or Holocaust is the name most apt for the horrors suffered by Jews at the hands of the Nazis.
Masalha goes to great lengths to show that this Nakba was not a happenstance that occurred in the socio-political vacuum or chaos as the British Mandate over Palestine was ending on May 15, 1948 but, on the contrary, that it had been purposefully planned long before, in the last decades of the 19th century and onwards when Zionism was growing in Europe as a Jewish movement to colonize Palestine. He also shows that the Zionist policies and actions leading to it have been assiduously continued by Israel since 1948, not only by acquiring more Palestinian land beyond the UN-designated borders and by massacres of Palestinians like those in Qibya (1953), Kafr Qasim (1956), Samo‘a (1960s), Hebron (1994), and others — and even those in refugee camps outside Palestine such as Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon (1982) — but also by creating new Jewish settlements on confiscated Palestinian land. In all this, Masalha explains, Zionism justified such policies by mobilizing the Hebrew Bible into a conquering colonial ideology speciously equating modern Palestinians with biblical Canaanites that had to be supplanted by divine mandate.
In agreement with Israeli historian Ilan Pappé in his The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006), Masalha elaborates on what he calls memoricide, the Zionist attempt to kill all memory relating to Palestinians in their historical homeland. He even gives in detail how Israel, between 1948 and 2011, looted Palestinian records, archives, and library collections — both public and private — in order to eliminate all memory of Palestine and to silence Palestinian voices. Among others, these included the Palestine Research Center established in Beirut in 1965, which was systematically looted by the Israeli army during its invasion of Lebanon in September 1982; they also included the archives of...