It’s time progressive Jews started talking about ‘the Nakba’

Over the past few years much progress has been made by groups such as Jewdas and Yachad in bringing the Israeli occupation of the West Bank to the forefront of our community’s relationship with the State of Israel.

Within progressive Jewish communities, it has become completely normalised to be openly opposed to the occupation, and there are now very few, if any, liberal or reform rabbis who would hesitate before criticising the State of Israel’s handling of the occupation.

The significance of this achievement must not go unmarked. For years, British Jewish opponents of the occupation were side-lined and excluded from communal life. Those who dared to suggest that Israel might not be the utopia we had been led to believe were labelled as self-hating, anti-Semitic extremists. For the most part, those days are behind us, and the progressive Jewish community needs to recognise the pioneering role that certain Jews played in holding steadfast to the facts while under attack, thereby clearing the path for us to follow safely.

Entering the 50th year of West Bank occupation, it is vital that we turn the increasingly strong verbal condemnation from the progressive Jewish community into concrete action. That means fewer open letters and more protests and actions aimed at disrupting our community’s logistical and financial support for the occupation. (Yes, that does mean supporting BDS!)

However, while it has now become safe, if not ‘cool’ for progressive Jews to criticise the West Bank occupation, those who dare discuss the Nakba and question the creation of a Jewish State are still subject to the same abuse and exclusion they faced when they initially raised the issue of West Bank occupation.

We are not only entering the 50th year since West Bank occupation, but also rapidly approaching the 70th year since what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba – ‘the catastrophe’ – that is, the creation of the State of Israel.

While it is commonplace for Jewish children to learn about the West Bank occupation in their shuls, youth movements and even on Israel tour, the story of the Nakba is yet to be absorbed in to the progressive Jewish psyche.

There is good reason for this: learning about the Nakba reveals uncomfortable truths which almost inevitably lead to the conclusion that the creation of the State of Israel is immensely regretful.

It is not safe yet for any British Jews, even progressive ones to talk about the Nakba. I can understand if you want to wait; the harassment and exclusion we’ve received, even from Jews who are now anti-occupation, has been incredibly draining.

Despite this, I urge you not to wait.

The only way we can normalise talking about the Nakba is by doing just that – talking about it. Don’t wait until it’s cool, but do it now, put yourself on the line.

So here is my challenge – learn about the Nakba. And teach your children about the Nakba. Invite an uncensored Palestinian speaker into your youth movement, let us hold a workshop in your shul, and next May, replace your Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration with a sincere Nakba commemoration.

About the Author
Joely is student organiser for Jewdents, a left-wing student group
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