Challenging history's taboos: what Palestinians--and Israelis--can't say.

Author:Daoudi, Mohammed S. Dajani


The Holocaust (Shoah) and the Nakba (al-Karitha) share three characteristics. First, both terms mean catastrophe, disaster or calamity. Second, both tragedies have left deep scars in the psyche of their victims that are difficult to heal. And third, both events are taboo. In Palestinian society, you can't discuss the Holocaust, and in Israel, increasingly, you can't talk about the Nakba.

The Nakba is the term used to describe the loss of nation, state and national identity, the displacement of more than 800,000 refugees and the demolition of hundreds of villages and residential neighborhoods, before and during the establishment of the State of Israel in 1947-8. In the Jewish world, the same event is celebrated as the War of Independence.

While there are Palestinians taking great risks in working to break the Holocaust taboo in Palestinian society--writing in Arabic about the Holocaust, having Palestinian students visit Yad Vashem and Nazi death camps--tragically, at the same time, some in Israel are working to make the 1948 Nakba a taboo within the Jewish community.

Does acknowledging one undermine the other? Can't the taboo against talking about both be broken? If so, how? But maybe one should first ask, "Why should it be broken?" Why should people take risks to break taboos? After all, doing so can earn taboo-breakers the label of traitor. It can bring shame to them and their family, if not immediate threat to their personal safety. It's a little like being a whistle-blower, but much worse, since the whistle--blower is viewed as betraying one unit in society--such as the company where he or she works--while the taboo-breaker is seen as betraying the whole society. The taboo-breaker and the whistleblower have one thing in common: They both believe they are serving their society.

I have some experience with this. I have taught about the Holocaust in Palestine and have taken students to Nazi concentration camps, to visit Holocaust museums and to participate in Holocaust memorial ceremonies. Such activities may seem the right thing to do for any decent person in the world, but not in the Muslim world, not in the Arab world, and in particular, not in Palestine. There are many reasons, but one main reason lies in properly understanding the Nakba. The dominant Palestinian narrative erroneously attributes the Nakba to die Holocaust--as if, had there been no Holocaust, there would have been no 1948 Nakba and no State of...

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