Update Lia Tarachansky has filed a video report for The Real News on the suppression of Nakba commemoration in Tel Aviv.
Two extraordinary events in recent days tell us a lot about Israel as it marks 64 years of existence on top of the ruins of much of Palestine.
Last night in Tel Aviv, police forcibly prevented a group of Israelis from peacefully and silently commemorating the Nakba – the 1948 systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestine – as other Israelis celebrated what they call “Independence day.”
This came just days after hundreds of Israeli high school students caused consternation by loudly cheering for Nazis as they watched a play on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Police violently suppress Nakba commemoration
Last night, Israeli police besieged the headquarters of Zochrot, in Tel Aviv, preventing dozens of activists from carrying out a silent action in which they intended to hold signs on Tel Aviv’s “Rabin Square” bearing the names of Palestinian villages ethnically cleansed in 1948.
Three people were arrested.
Zochrot – whose name means “remembering” in Hebrew – is an organization that works to educate Israelis about the Nakba. However, Zochrot has gone beyond commemoration, for example working on projects which visualize how Palestinians can implement their right of return to their original homes in practice. There is more information on Zochrot’s website.
On Wednesday night, as Zochrot activists explained, their goal was to hold a peaceful action. Police, however, forcibly suppressed the event, arresting several people, who tried to read out names of the villages. The stand-off can be seen in this video footage.
Last year, Israel passed a law to punish institutions or municipalities that commemorate the Nakba. And although less visible, that is the greater repression than the spectacular police action in Tel Aviv, because it is hundreds of Palestinian institutions and schools that Israel is attempting to force into silence:
Lia Tarachansky’s report for The Real News
Cheering for Nazis
If Israelis who commemorate the Nakba and call for the implementation of the right of return certainly do not represent the mainstream, what about another group of Israelis?
In a story headlined, “Students cheer Nazis at Holocaust Remembrance Day play,” The Times of Israel reported:
“You embarrassed the Jewish people and the Holocaust,” actor Oded Leopold said from the stage of the Cameri Theater last Thursday, lashing out at hundreds of high school students after they repeatedly disrupted a play dealing with the Holocaust on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
According to the report:
During the play “Ghetto,” which portrays the life of Jews in the Vilna Ghetto in the early 1940s at Tel Aviv’s Cameri Theatre, students in the audience made fun of the actors and shouted offensive remarks toward the stage. Some laughed and cried out encouragement during scenes depicting Jews being killed by Nazis, and when a kapo beat a Jew. Calls of “hit him harder” and “well done” were heard from the audience.
The term “kapo” refers to Jews who collaborated forcibly or willingly with Nazis to persecute other Jews. It came to the fore recently when a professor used it to attack Jewish students who participated in the boycott, divestment and sanctions conference at the University of Pennsylvania last February.
Teacher defends students’ behavior
The Times of Israel article notes that actors, and even the Israeli minister of education condemned the students’ behavior, but more interesting is the inaction of teachers, one of whom even lashed out at those who criticized the students:
Avi Kalma, director of the Cameri’s educational department, told Maariv that it was normal for students to disrupt plays from time to time, but what happened on Thursday was different. “You would think it was a comedy” based on the students’ reactions, he said, noting that thousands of students saw the play that week and only this group acted in such a manner.
Some of the actors, including Natan Datner and Rami Baruch, said the educational staff “didn’t lift a finger” to try to stop the catcalls. You expect students to know who’s good and who’s bad, “but they didn’t,” said Baruch.
But Rinat Meron, a teacher from Rishon Lezion, wrote a letter condemning Leopold’s castigation. The actor’s reaction was extreme, she wrote to the theater’s management. “Reactions from students are not in any way a disgrace to the Jewish people.”
This might have been an ‘isolated incident,’ but it is one amid a growing number of documented instances of extreme racism and ultra-nationalism, from rabid rallies against African migrants led by legislators, to crowds of youths in eastern occupied Jerusalem’s streets, or in Malha shopping mall shouting “Death to the Arabs.”
Another aspect of the lack of compassion – confused with strength – in the militarist, ultra-nationalist Zionist ethos, is the joy that some Israelis openly expressed at the deaths of a group of Palestinian children in a road accident.
And while Israeli police and occupation forces at best do nothing to stop the racist mobs, and at worst protect or encourage them, it was the Nakba commemoration that Israeli police turned out in force to prevent.
Given the amount of propaganda Israel puts out about how its existence is justified by the “Never Again” lesson that comes out of the Nazi holocaust, Israeli youths ought to be imbued with compassion for Holocaust victims and anger at the Nazis.
How could any actually identify with Nazis to the point of cheering them on? One of the anti-Semitic themes long present in Zionist thought is the notion that Jews in “exile” – living in the European native lands before the establishment of Israel – were weak and effeminate. Zionism sought not just to create a Jewish state in Palestine, but to fashion a new, Palestine-born “Sabra” Jew who was tough and militaristic.
This attitude was manifested in contempt for Holocaust victims and survivors who were somehow seen as to blame for their own fate. As holocaust scholar Israel Charny explained:
These undesirable aspects were expressed in juxtaposed attitudes of contempt by the Israeli youth in their slang expressions in the 1940s and 1950s for the survivor immigrants – “galuti,” “gachaletznik” (disdainful terms relating to the European origins of the survivor) and “sabon” (soap) [a reference to Nazis making soap out of human bodies of their victims]. The denial and repudiation of their own vulnerability were seen in the Sabra self-image of mastery and invincibility.
Obviously, the kinds of racist outbursts we are increasingly seeing are not universal. But the point is they are not rare either. Indeed aggressive racism and Nakba denial in Israel are far more common than the phenomenon of the Zochrot activists who were attempting another kind of discourse by trying to commemorate the Nakba.
If I were to hazard a guess, it is the Israeli state’s repressive answer that would undoubtedly be met with the greater public approval.