Remembering the Nakba: ‘A conflict of narratives’

Dina Ezzat , Monday 13 May 2024

History has been unethically manipulated to align with the Zionist narrative, both preceding and following the 1948 Palestinian Nakba, stated Atef Abu Seif, a Palestinian author and minister of culture, lamenting that insufficient efforts have been made to reverse this plight.

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Abu Seif was speaking about the Israeli-Zionist attack on Palestine’s cultural heritage at a seminar marking the Nakba. The event was hosted by Alternative Policy Solutions, an American University in Cairo research centre, on 12 May at the old campus, Tahrir Square.

The Israelis, and others including the British who controlled historic Palestine until the eve of Nakba on 15 May 1948, have done everything they could to misrepresent Palestinians as a rough and uncultured people. This misrepresentation continues to persist today.

“This is obviously by design to represent pre-Nakba Palestine as a deserted land with no people,” Abu Seif stated. “And there is nothing further from the truth given the cultural hype that Palestine had prior to the Nakba.”

In Palestinian cities, Abu Seif noted, there were cinemas, libraries, theatres, and so many cultural events that attracted top Arab artists, especially from Egypt. This, he said, was not just in the early decades of the 20th century, but began “from the late decades of the 19th century.”

“However, so much was destroyed or stolen upon the Nakba. The idea was to eradicate every possible evidence that testified for the presence and life of a Palestinian people on the land of Palestine prior to the Nakba,” he said.

In fact, “the cultural Nakba was designed to justify what came about [with the Nakba] especially in the Western consciousness,” he added.

According to Abu Seif, books, “especially school books recounting the history of Palestine,” were burned or partially destroyed to remove the names or initials of their Palestinian owners. Cinemas and theatres were converted into restaurants or bars “to erase any trace of Palestinian cultural existence on the land.”

“Personal libraries were stolen as part of wider house robberies,” he said. Author and poet Hanna Abu Hanna, born in Palestine in 1928, found the best part of his personal library, lost during the looting of his house by Zionists in 1948, in a used books market a few years later, Abu Seif pointed out.

Similarly, the volumes of recordings at the radios of pre-Nakba Palestine were either destroyed or looted, he added. “It was a systematic and deliberate scheme of cultural erosion… that started with erasing all evidence of Palestinian cultural existence and moved to imposing [an Israeli] imprint all across,” he stated.

This, Abu Seif added, included the names of villages and streets. “Arab names were removed and replaced by Hebrew names.”

Meanwhile, many Palestinian historic sites were destroyed. “Even the cemeteries of [Muslim and Christian] Palestinians were eradicated as part of an attempt to negate the [pre-Nakba] Palestinian existence in [historic Palestine],” he said.

This is all part of the “conflict of narratives,” Abu Seif stated.

“The Israelis wanted to remove the Palestinian narrative.” Unfortunately, most Palestinian bodies, including in the academic sphere, have fallen far short of doing what is needed to adjust the narrative and tell the Palestinian history as should be told. “It is really unfortunate that there is no department for Palestinian history studies in any of our universities in Palestine,” he said.

However, a project is underway to establish a Palestinian foundation to collect, write, and recount the Palestinian history as it should be told, he noted.

Abu Seif had lived in Gaza with his family. On 7 October 2023, he was planning to celebrate Palestinian Heritage Day from Gaza for the first time. However, with the launch of Hamas’ Operation Al-Aqsa Flood and the subsequent launch of the new Israeli war on Gaza, on the same day, the event was cancelled.

Abu Seif is the author of several titles, the most being The drone eats with me – A Gaza diary (May 2015). The book recounts the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza and delves into Abu Seif's personal experiences growing up in Gaza.

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