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Hassan Mneimneh Responds to Dania Khatib's "Mutual Recognition between Palestinians and Israelis"


Also available in العربية

November 16, 2018

Read the original article here.

Dania Koleilat Khatib points correctly to the mutual recognition of narratives and grievances as the direction for the de-escalation and ultimate resolution of the Middle East conflict. She also argues convincingly that the party with the upper hand is in the position to engage first. She thus calls on Israel to recognize the Nakba, the dispossession and forced exile of Palestinians at the moment of creation of the State of Israel. Her call would gain in strength and effectiveness if it is widened to encompass the full context of the confrontation.

The Middle East conflict is indeed a struggle between Israel as an actual powerful thriving state and Palestine as a putative one, still lacking many fundamentals for an actual emergence ― both competing for overlapping if not identical real estate. Undoubtedly, Israel has here a distinct advantage, both in its own capacity and in the external support it is provided, in particular from the United States. The Israeli narrative, that of achieving self-empowerment and independence after a long history of persecution and exclusion is eminently compelling, notably when the birth of Israel is implicitly or explicitly as a redemption of history, in the aftermath of the genocidal crime of WWII against European Jewry.

Khatib rightly notes the gap in this narrative from an indigenous Palestinian and regional Arab perspective, through which the Nakba is ignored, minimized, or even blamed on the victims.

It may be, however, useful to call on Khatib, and Arab political culture at large, to highlight the Nakba as a human tragedy standing on its own merits, and to avoid falling into potentially problematic equivalencies.

When judiciously applied, equivalencies may offer a path to mutual humanization; however, when perceived as false, they may also deepen the divide. Undoubtedly, the Nakba left a scar in the Palestinian and Arab psyche, as a affront to liberty, dignity, and property. It forced up to a million Palestinians into exile, and remains the defining event in the national consciousness of many million Palestinians. The Holocaust, on the other hand, was an abject and direct assault on the life and humanity of the Jews of Europe, designed and executed to eradicate them. It murdered more than six million Jews, and obliterated Jewish presence in much of the continent. The equivalency does not hold; some may find it offensive and consider that it merely reveals a lack of appreciation of the magnitude and moral depravity of the crime of genocide committed by the Nazis. Nor is it needed to be invoked. The appreciation of the Nakba is not in need of a bargain.

However, the Middle East conflict has another aspect in which Israel is the weaker party. Jewish Israel seems to have escaped its European torment only to fall into a novel state of ostracism and demonization, often invoking the same language and semiotics of the now-receded European antisemitism. Arab political culture has metastasized anti-Zionism into an exclusionary ideological stance that converges European antisemitism and a radical Islamic theology into a denunciation of the Jews in the collective as an agency of evil.

Since recognition of grievances is to be mutual, it is the threat anchored in Arab political culture and with which Israel is repeatedly faced ― of removal, eradication, and expulsion to another continent ― that ought to be addressed as a counterpart to the moral injury of the Nakba. Both this threat and the suffering caused by the Nakba are largely dismissed or minimized in the opposing political culture, and both are in need of being empathically recognized as substantive, as a first step towards reconciliation. The material aspects of the Nakba should certainly be considered, assessed and resolved, but again in the wider context, often bypassed in Arab political culture, of regional responsibilities to all the victims of forced displacements, including Jews from Arab lands.

From the macro to the micro, equivalencies may be perceived as false and thus incite discord: Menachem Begin is honored in Israel for his role in its history, despite the excesses in his early militancy, and which may be cast as terrorism. Even when presented with the best of lights, the experience of Dalal Mughrabi is limited to an action that resulted in the death of the innocent. Her life story may be considered as a reflection of national despair. However, to enshrine her as a hero and to celebrate her as a role model is in dissonance with the need to recognize the suffering and grievances of the other side ― which is indeed, as Dania Koleilat Khatib indicates, the path to reconciliation.

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