Our America: : What is Nakba Day?
- By Michel Moushabeck
This speech was given by Michel Moushabeck on May 15, 2018, at a rally organized by Jewish Voice for Peace in front of the Town Hall in Northampton, MA. The event was organized to commemorate the 70th anniversary of al-Nakba and show solidarity with the protesters in Gaza.
The Pioneer Valley has been my second home for the past twenty-six years. I am very grateful to be part of this wonderful community. But I say the Valley is my second home, because my first home is Jerusalem and my homeland is Palestine. In 1948, my family was expelled from its home in West Jerusalem during the Nakba at the hands of the invading Zionist forces. They were forced to abandon everything, while still carrying the key to our house. My family is now scattered all over the world constantly moving from one non-place to another.
If I were to meet any of you in a pub or a bar and you asked me to describe my family’s story in one sentence I would say: exile and starting over; exile and starting over; and exile and starting over. I would probably add a clarification: that I did not repeat those words three times because I had too many beers. But my family’s experience of multiple exiles—from Qatamon, to East Jerusalem, to Amman, Jordan, to Beirut, Lebanon, to New York—is not unique; it is but one of the many sad episodes of “being Palestinian.” Our stories of exile, displacement, and injustice will live on, as will all our beautiful memories of our homeland.
Before my father died, he handed me the key to our house in Jerusalem. My memory of that day is as vivid and bright as a silver coin in the sun. I will always remember it. He looked at me with his kind eyes and said: “This is the key to our house in Qatamon; the house belonged to my father and now it belongs to you, your children, and grandchildren.” Of course, my father was not naive. He knew all too well that our house in Palestine is gone—forever. But he wanted to make sure that I tell my children, so that they will tell their children, about our Jerusalem home.
Seventy years ago today, the State of Israel was established and the Palestinian state of despair and homelessness began. Palestinians refer to this day as “al-Nakba,” the catastrophe that resulted in the ethnic cleansing of nearly 750,000 natives and the destruction of more than 500 Palestinian villages and towns. May 15, 1948 is a date forever etched in our collective memory. No one can forget what happened in the run up to that fateful day. During that time, the world witnessed one of the largest forced migrations in modern history.
Today, Israel’s founding strategy of the forcible removal of the indigenous population continues. For decades Palestinians have been prevented from exercising their rights to freedom and self-determination; for decades they have endured horrific conditions of apartheid and brutal military occupation; and after decades, the hope of recovering even a small portion of their historic homeland has slipped away. And Palestinians know that the worst is yet to come, especially under the Trump administration and the ultra-right, extremist government of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Yesterday, as the US and Israel grotesquely celebrated the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, at least 60 Palestinian protesters who stood up to demand their rights never made it home. THEY NEVER MADE IT HOME. They were killed by high-velocity Israeli sniper bullets. Those killed were not mere numbers. They have names. They are men; they are women; and they are children. They have families; they have loved ones waiting for them; they have memories. They never made it home. They also had dreams and aspirations of freedom and equality.
In Gaza nearly two million Palestinians have been stuck in one of the planet’s most wretched and most densely populated areas, denied freedom of movement, denied the ability to sustain a functioning economy, denied water, denied electricity, repeatedly pummeled with the most sophisticated military weaponry on earth, and left to rot in the most notorious open-air prison that ever existed.
When I heard the news of the carnage in Gaza I was unable to breathe. The outrage I am feeling right now is suffocating. I am furious and heartbroken. The pain I feel for my family and friends in East Jerusalem, in the West Bank, and in Gaza is overwhelming. Every Palestinian casualty is a crushing defeat for humanity.
The level of Palestinian despair is at an all-time high. Palestinians continue to be colonized; Palestinian lands continue to be confiscated for illegal settlement building; Palestinian refugees continue to be exiled; and Palestinians living inside Israel continue to be discriminated against. Under the watchful eye—or intentional blindness—of its greatest ally, the United States, Israel has not only continued but has intensified its inhumane policies and violations of international law.
The Nakba did not end in 1948; it continues to impact Palestinians everywhere. Al-Nakba Day serves as an important reminder that until Palestinians get freedom, until they achieve equal rights, and until Israel adheres to international law there can be no hope for peace.
I am confident that the pen we use to tell our stories is mightier than the sword of colonization and injustice. Seventy years of displacement and repression have not been able to silence or break the will and resilience of Palestinians living under occupation on in the Diaspora. The firing of live bullets by Israeli snipers has not been able to stop Palestinian protesters from marching. They remained steadfast even as tear-gas canisters rained down on them from drones. Tens of thousands kept gathering. Tomorrow, the day after, and the day after that, Palestinians will march again.
Yesterday, at the US Embassy opening in Jerusalem, Jared Kushner stated, referring to the Gaza protesters, “those provoking violence are part of the problem and not the solution.” To Jared Kushner I say FUCK YOU with capital letters. It is the president of the United States and his representatives who are to blame, for violating international law.
Yet even at a time when the governments of Israel and the United States no longer pretend to care about human rights or international law, I see hope. I see hope in the younger generation, who are not giving up on the struggle for freedom. I see hope in Palestinians the world over—feeling empowered and raising their voices and not afraid of speaking truth to power. I see hope in the growing support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement as it continues to pressure Israel. And I see hope here in the US as well; the discourse continues to change as a result of the important work of organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace, the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and others who are educating the public and demanding action from our elected officials.
Seventy years after the Nakba, Israel has not succeeded in erasing Palestine. We have not forgotten, and we’re not going away. Every Palestinian alive or yet to be born shall continue the fight. Going forward, your voices are the most important tool in the fight for freedom and equality to all. It is also our duty as US taxpayers to uplift the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice, and equality, to demand that our elected officials hold Israel accountable for its atrocities, and to work for an end to the ongoing US complicity in Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights.
MICHEL S. MOUSHABECK is a publisher, editor, writer and musician. The founder of Interlink Books, he is also the author of several books including Kilimanjaro: A Photographic Journey to the Roof of Africa and A Brief Introduction to Arabic Music, With Anna Botta, he was guest-editor of the Massachusetts Review special issue, MEDITERRANEANS.