Issue No.
169, May 2012 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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The Martyr Tree, by Ismail Shammout.
Love and Homeland, by Ismail Shammout.

Stolen Rights vs. “Sacred” Truth Who is a Victim? Who is a Victor?*
By Dr. Norma Masriyyeh
If we were to look for a suitable headline for the past few months, i.e., since the beginning of the new year, we would immediately declare that it is the age of “Proclamation of Defiance in the Face of All,” by Israel both as a government and as an occupier.

Along with this challenge, new Nakbas (catastrophes) are being stockpiled on top of the long list of consecutive Nakbas that Palestinians have had to experience since the beginning of the twentieth century.

Nowadays, as we commemorate the sixty-fourth anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, we assert our victory over the scheme of expelling us from history and stripping us of the legitimacy of our national existence, identity, and collective memory as a nation. Our national memory is helping us to develop an awareness of the close and profound association between the duty of land liberation and that of human liberation. Memory in its nature is an enemy of oppression; there is no force that is capable of defeating memory or conscience. The Palestinian experience is distinguished for possessing the characteristics found in collective experiences.

All that we aspire to in the future is an end to the abnormal reality in which we are living; this aspiration overlaps with the question of Mahmoud Darwish, which is directed to every Palestinian who lives on the land of historical Palestine: “Can one live a normal life in an abnormal reality?”

This little question continuously preoccupies our minds and revolves around living, survival, the past, and the present, all for the sake of attaining and living a normal and regular reality in the future.

The big question, however, lies in the struggle to interpret the past: Who has done injustice to whom? Who apologises to whom? How?

This leads to a number of dilemmas: the inability to distinguish between Al-Nakba and the War of Independence; the incoherence between theological myth and modern democracy; the practices of the other towards having absolute hegemony over the history, land, and memory.

In a country hijacked by myths, we, the Palestinians, exist in a place where a state of emergency has become a permanent characteristic; it is an abnormal reality. There are many causes of death here, among them “the ache of life,” as Darwish tells us. It is so because Palestinians are constantly required to defend their reality against an occupier myth in which metaphysics intersects with history and envelops the Zionist political activity in an aura of sacredness and holiness. This was transformed into a source of legitimacy to dominate the Palestinians and completely overlook the Palestinian presence.

The subject matter of this paper raises two questions: What is a myth? What is the counter-myth?

The answer to these two questions looks like someone who is swimming against the current in the ocean of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is in the realm of pre- and post-Nakba; of confusion between legitimate resistance and terrorism; of the conflict between “them” and “us,” of the struggle between selective justice and absolute justice.   

On this fertile ground there have flourished differences between the Zionist-Israeli myth and the Palestinian counter-myth, our own myth. Two versions of the same history. Which one contradicts the other? Why, how, where, and until when? 

With astonishment, Mahmoud Darwish replies: “Why is it that we Palestinians were dragged into a conflict over the legitimacy of existence - our existence?”

The history of the Jews starts with a religious myth and only stops after it erases historical facts, including us, the Palestinians. It would seem that nothing had ever existed before the history of the Jews and that after the Jews, nothing would ever exist again.

Darwish protests the Zionist exploitation of religious hegemony for the sake of achieving earthly hegemony so as to support its myth. “I’ll search in mythology and archaeology and in every -ology for my old name. One of the goddesses of Canaan will side with me, then swear with a flash of lightning, this is my orphan son.”

Here on the land of Palestine, both past and future have been invaded and reconciled. Throughout the long-lived conflict, the force of knowledge rather than the force of arms has been used to reshape the conscience of the Jewish people to legitimise the establishment of Israel and waive Palestinian legitimacy.

No wonder the term “transfer” is frequently reiterated by both official and unofficial sectors of Israeli society, whether leftist, rightist, or moderate. All dream of banishing the Palestinian people. They consult among themselves about whether to carry out this transfer directly or indirectly. Or whether to pursue a quiet and low-profile transfer rather than a silent transfer.

Then a question must be raised: Why do Jews and Israelis view Palestinians as “wreckers” of the Jewish dream? Is this a cause or a result? The question, however, remains: Who destroyed whom?

Indeed, it is the outcome of fake mobilisations of Israeli consciousness through using various allegations based on the power of knowledge on one side and the militarisation of life and mind on the other side. Thus, the Jews and Israelis were deprived of the opportunity to know the full truth, through nurturing a purposeful indifference and silence about what was inflicted upon the Palestinians and who caused it.

This indeed contradicts the resultant knowledge, which is the orientation of state citizens towards “right-knowing,” “right-doing,” without any mystification of their popular perception and the falsification of both their conscious and unconscious knowledge. This culture is the dark and grim outcome which is as horrible as the crime of taking over the land of Palestine, including its seas and skies. 

Accordingly, we may understand the reason why the Israeli government and its people refuse to recognise their moral obligation and their responsibility for the displacement of Palestinian Arabs in 1948 who live in exile, the diaspora, and refugee camps. The moral impotence of Israel since the Nakba has made it the country with the highest record of UN condemnations - 500+ times - and ironically, a country with the highest number of protective US Security Council vetoes - 100+ times.

Israel, however, in practicing violence and force, is disregarding or intentionally forgetting that, when it besieges the other, it in fact besieges itself, since it actually sees the truth through the lens of the absolute rather than through the lens of the relative. Because of these allegations and falsifications, the place was turned into a myth; the expulsion of Palestinians in the Zionist-myth consciousness did not exist.

The Zionist myth centres on allegations concerning the land and the people of Palestine: 1. The Jews have a historical and religious right to Palestine! 2. The vacant and empty land has been waiting for the Jews to return after two thousand years! 3. Jews have the task to modernise backward/deserted Palestine! 4. The Jews are the only victims and their catastrophe is distinguished from the catastrophes of the rest of the world! 5. Israel is the only democracy in the heart of the slumbering and backward Middle East - a Middle East that is hostile towards Israel!

These allegations carry within their folds a double standard discourse which leads Israel to overlook the theory of the “rebounding malice and vindictiveness” of its actions against the other, as stated by Hannah Arendt; this shall inevitably damage Israel as an entity.  

Two discourses, the military discourse and the victim discourse, have accompanied Israel since its establishment. They are concurrent as if they were one statement. It becomes obvious from these two discourses how criteria and standards are confused in making and passing judgmental evaluations on the Palestinians. By the same token, the Israeli political discourse is “stripping” the Palestinians of every attribute recognised by the resistance state, such as heroism, bravery, self-sacrifice, and longing for freedom and independence.

In the Israeli political discourse, this quality is turned over and distorted; the occupier consequently turns into the “victim” and the “occupied” are the “executioners.” This serves to draw a distinction between “terrorist” and “ freedom fighter,” and between individual terrorism, group terrorism, and state terrorism.

After all, it is worth remembering that UN General Assembly resolutions provide the legal permissibility for Palestinian “terror.” GA Resolution 1514 (XV) of December 14, 1960, provides basic rights and principles of self-determination to all peoples under colonial rule. The methods to achieve this are provided in GA resolution 3070 of November 30, 1973. The resolution, after reaffirming the inalienable right to self-determination of all people under alien subjugation, reaffirms “the legitimacy of the people’s struggle for liberation from alien subjugation by all means, including armed struggle.” The American Revolution, which relied on armed struggle to achieve self-determination, made this method permissible. 

At the pre- and post-Nakba stages, we have always been the second party of the Zionist movement and Israel… the other side of the other side.

Through this dual process which is intertwined with myths and divine geography backed up with fake allegations, we wonder how Israel could, in today’s world that is witnessing information and communications myths and the recession of traditional references, continue to adopt the religious myth and revolve in its own orbit, which it has created for itself. The divine geography of the Promised Land has become a past moment/stage that was deleted by the advanced spiritual history of the Jewish prophets themselves.

After 64 Nakba anniversaries and 45 Six-Day War anniversaries, we see that land size continues to decrease while the number of inhabitants increases. We plant while they uproot; we excel in education while they want us to be ignorant; we build while they demolish; we remain steadfast while they launch “disciplinary campaigns” here and there; we refuse to draw an equal line between the executioner and the victim and the killer and the killed. Didn’t Darwish tell us: “The killer is the killed (victim) too!”

The Zionist project incorrectly estimated the extent of Palestinian rejection of and resistance to its occupation policies and practices. These policies are not justified by the drifting of the ordinary Israeli citizen behind the dominant current only.

In short, the Israelis are rejecting the rules of the game: “an eye for an eye.” Rather, their motto is “a jet against a bird,” as Darwish puts it, or “a tank against a rock” and “bullets against a slingshot.” How could peace free Israelis from the siege of arms, fortress mentality, existential anxiety, show of force, apartheid wall, raids, and incursions here and there?

The occupation and the occupiers are interfering in the intricate details of our lives and our deaths. They hold our dual existence and death in order to suffocate us and completely control us; for example, they waste our time at the checkpoints; they seek to dominate our fate, progress, and development on all levels; they target our time to reinforce their immunity against the masses - us. Israel is an exception. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Israel has created the largest number of checkpoints.

The scope of this paper does not allow for full coverage of all the violations of the Israeli occupation against the Palestinians: land, water, trees, etc. Israel seeks to stamp us out and expends great effort in trying to mystify our young generations regarding the reality of Palestine, in general, and Jerusalem, in particular. Israel aims to create a new geographical awareness among the young generations so that they will cease defending the past reality. The occupation works continuously to change and Judaise the historical, archaeological, cultural, and ecological features of the place, as it banished its inhabitants. The banners say to us, “You were not here.” The confiscation of history, names, and heritage is a means used by the occupier to kill us. Mahmoud Darwish says that they’re whispering: “We will not execute them in one shot … we are still in the first chapter of the novel. We shall kill them gradually little by little. It will be enough for now to execute the horse …”

We Palestinians reject the language of force and military violence in the face of the slaughter of our human security and in relentlessly redefining us once and again as “terrorists,” “wanted,” “killers,” “burdens,” “cancers that must be annihilated,” “serpents,” “cockroaches,” “viruses,” and “haystacks.”

The Palestinian people live under the threat of being killed and arrested; we live under the threat of siege, land confiscation, and settlements. Our only “guilt” is that we were born Palestinians on the land of Palestine. We were meant to belong to this place and time; our roots are deeply embedded in this place. Darwish stresses that the racist practices that target our history and existence shall not intimidate us since “We are the grandsons of the spirit of this place. We are born here, and here we will live if the lord is still alive. And every place far from God and His earth is an Exile.”

The Palestinian came from this place and not to this place; he stands in it and not on it; he is capable of being one in a group and a group in one. The Palestinian question is one, and the issue of identity, especially in the life of any people, is non-negotiable over an ideological, political, and intellectual disagreement between those who support and oppose it.    

However, Israel remains the “victim” in the eyes of the world; and it accuses us of “violence,” and labels the Palestinian Arab victim as the “terrorist.” Didn’t Israel act on confiscating the role of the victim from the Palestinian as was the case with Mohammad al-Dura and many other male and female martyrs, both individuals and groups? In this regard, Santiago Alba Rico notes, “Merely the sound of a very low weeping may be labelled as “anti-Semitic,” the image that shows Muhammad al-Dura’s father holding fast to his son’s dead body is one of the means of the conspiracy against “the chosen people.” They do not allow anyone to take away the image of victim from the Jews (Yitzhak Laor).

In Palestine, there is a rebelling injustice roaming in its streets, villages, and camps. It is there before the Wall in Bil’in, Nahaleen, Walaja, Jerusalem, Hebron, and other places. Through our uprisings, Palestinians embody a thriving feeling of nationalism and patriotism in order to say to the other: We have been the sons of this place ever since the beginning of humanity, and we are here to stay. “Our existence here is so deep and firm, like a firm and everlasting green olive tree in spite of the siege of the occupation bulldozers.” In sympathy with the holy olive tree, Darwish protests: “Those new soldiers are surrounding it by bulldozers and uprooting it from the earth’s depths. They win over our grandmother which was turned and its branch spread deep in the ground while its root sprung in the sky… why weep… why scream?”

This long-lasting occupation has not forced us to disappear within the folds of forgetfulness just because we are the busters of the Zionist dream. We refuse to disappear.

Through our steadfastness, the Palestinians have exposed the falsehood of the classical Zionist slogan, “A land without a people for a people without a land,” which forced us into exile and the diaspora. Palestinians have jumped back on the wagon of history following the journey of exile and survival conflict (1948-1964). By this resurgence, we have begun to regain what was stolen from us and from future generations. They used to chant before the invaders, “Vive la vie ” in anticipation of the sun’s journey …. Darwish elucidates their style.

“The [Palestinians’] style in crossing streets from time to another provoked speculation. Who are these who, when they see a palm tree stand silent and prostrate themselves on its shadow? Who are these who, when they laugh, disturb others?” And when they insist on the right of return, the right to live a normal life, etc., they also disturb the other!

The dilemma that is facing the Israelis is as horrendous as the Nakba inflicted upon us…. It is far from being the utopia envisaged by Herzl for this state. The disintegration of Israeli society, the deepening rift between the manifestations of polarisation and the high tax that the occupiers have to pay for their occupation, both theoretically and practically, reaffirm what Yossi Sarid once said, “We thought that we occupied the territories, but we later found out that the territories are the ones who occupied us and not vice versa.”

The tsunami of international solidarity and the movements of peaceful resistance over the past years have revealed the true face of Israel and what’s happening on the ground in Palestine. This has allowed the public to question the validity and credibility of Israeli allegations, lies, and myths as mentioned above.

The stereotypical image of Israel has started to change due to its policies towards the Palestinians, on one side, and its regional isolation, in light of the regional changes and the Arab Spring, on the other side. Consequently, we notice that Israel is starting to be transformed into a right-wing state with more nationalist and religious attitudes and, in a paradoxical way, with a neoliberal economic policy.

It is internal colonisation that causes a human being to wander in endless mazes. The Palestinians, ever since their Nakba, have been heading towards a clear goal, which is to free their homeland and themselves at a time when Israel is still arrogantly revolving aimlessly around itself. Darwish emphasises: “Let us go together to what we want to be since history is a pathway, no identity can ever survive by itself out of its own closed self. This is the ‘genius ghetto.’ As for what is humanly familiar… It shall only be achieved by the voluntary exit of the self to the other.”

We are very close to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state; the Palestinian Spring is about to blossom in order to create a contemporary mythical structure out of its own elements in order to fulfil the long-awaited dream of a sovereign Palestinian state. What we need on the 64th anniversary of the Nakba is more than the knowledge that we will gain our rights in the future.

“When would the Israeli opt for the myth of life and love in place of building barriers, walls and the hegemony policies aided by the arts of destroying itself and ours. The Palestinian, however, has fully exhausted hope by his determination to transfer himself from being “pathetic” to being “a source of envy.” In fact, the Palestinian won the admiration of the viewers and disappointed the occupier despite the Wall. Darwish comments by saying:

“This snake” as he named it: “seeks to lay its eggs right in the middle between our inhale and exhale. {However} with a little effort of looking, we see what is above it: we see the sky….. We see planets gently watching us. We also see beyond the snake wall. We see Veto curators afraid of what we do behind what is left to us of small walls…”

The present is still wide open … the previous 64 years have witnessed heroic popular epics of steadfastness, resistance, and mobilisation against the liquidation of the traces of the Nakba in order to provide for coming generations the right to live in freedom and dignity on our homeland which is our birthplace.

What is our duty with respect to raising the awareness of future generations? What shall we teach these generations in order for them to become conscious of the truth of the struggle? To be more conscious of what? Why? And whose right is it actually? Is it the right of the one who is stronger? Or the one who has more arms? Or the one who is more authentic and reliable in the news arena? Or is it the right of those who fake history? Or of those who are knowledgeable? Or of those who are ignorant?
When the future generations realise the full truth, there will not be any space for imagination, falsification, or myth, but rather an insistence on bringing up generations on hope for fulfilment and the search for a future embodiment of identity. It shall make us what we really are and not what others want us to be.

“The heroism of the Palestinian people has turned what is everyday into legendary through their steadfastness in the face of the political death scheme, and their longing for a life that is only manifested by attainment of full freedom.” During our long journey in search of a more radiant reality for Palestinians, no matter where it may be found, we became firm believers that history does not reshape itself, but it teaches lessons.

History and poetry are inseparable in Darwish’s works. This is the reason I chose his poems and prose in my paper. He has moved in a collective horizon in a collective experience. The individual destiny and the collective destiny are integrated into one destiny. He wrote to bond the place in the language and to protect the Palestinian reality from the myth. He wrote about the Palestinian myth instead, and demanded that the Palestinian “scream to let his voice be heard; shout in order to prove that he is still alive and kicking and that life on this land is still feasible.” Darwish has written the story of an entire people through the myth and the counter-myth, and the meaning beyond them in order to convey this meaning to Palestinians everywhere by telling them that their freedom is inevitable.

After all, it is enough for us to know that Darwish is one of us, and still living within us. 

Dr. Norma Masriyyeh is a researcher and associate professor in political sociology at Bethlehem University. She can be reached at normah@bethlehem.edu.




Darwish, Mahmoud (2009). Almond Blossoms and Beyond. Translated by Mohammad Shaheen. Northampton, MA: INTERLINK Books.
Darwish, Mahmoud (2007). The Butterfly's Burden. Translated by Fady Joudah. Northumberland, UK : Bloodaxe Books Ltd.
Darwish, Mahmoud (2007). The Hesitant Homecomer, Selected Essays. Beirut: Riad El-Rayyes Books S.A.R.I. [Arabic].
Darwish, Mahmoud (2010).  Absent Presence. Translated by Mohammad Shaheen. London: Hesperus Press Limited.
Said, Edward (1999). The Pen and the Sword: Dialogue with David Barsamian. Translated by Tawfic Al-Asadi. Damascus: Cana'an Publishing House [Arabic].
Carey, Roane and Jonathan Shainin (eds.),(2002). The Other Israel Voices of Refusal and Dissent. New York: The New Press.  
Chomsky, Noam et. al. (2003). Globalization and Terror: America's  War on the World, The American Foreign Policy and Israel.
Translated by Dr. Hamzeh Al-Mazini. Cairo: Madbuly Library [Arabic]. 

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