PALESTINE AND PALESTINIANS The Palestine Nakba: Decolonizing History, Narrating the Subaltern, Reclaiming Memory, by Nur Masalha. London and New York: Zed Books, 2012. 288 pages. £19.99 paper.
Reviewed by Issa J. Boullata
Born in 1957 in the Galilee and with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a PhD in politics from SOAS (University of London), Nur Masalha is Professor of Religion and Politics at St Mary's College (University of Surrey, UK) and Director of its Centre for Religion and History. He has held other research and teaching positions in other universities in England, including SOAS, and in the Middle East, including Birzeit University.
He is also the editor of Holy Land Studies: A Multidisciplinary Journal and the author of several eye-opening and frank, scholarly books on Palestine-Israel, the latest being the one under review here, about which Rashid Khalidi says, in a blurb on its back cover, it is "The most comprehensive and penetrating analysis available of the catastrophe that befell Arab Palestine and its people in 1948."
Nur Masalha does not merely write the history of the Palestine-Israel conflict as it has often been presented, one event after another. He goes beyond the events - sometimes before they happened to analyze their motivations, sometimes after they happened to analyze their results, and always above them to analyze how historians have recorded them with their own biases. He finds that much of the history written and unquestioningly accepted is that of the conquering colonizers which suppresses the voices of the colonized and continues to propagate untruths and even myths, hence the need to decolonize history, narrate the subaltern, and reclaim memory.
Throughout his book, Masalha calls what happened to the Palestinians at the hands of Zionists in 1948 by its Arabic name, Nakba (i.e., catastrophe), to denote the dispossession of their land and homes, the destruction of the fabric of their society, the ethnic cleansing they forcibly suffered in order to make room for new immigrant Jews, the deprivation of their human and civil rights, and the conscious and willful attempt to obliterate their centuries-long connection to Palestine. Masalha, like all Palestinians, calls this historic national catastrophe Nakba because there is no name more apt for it, just as Shoah or Holocaust is the name most apt for the horrors suffered by Jews at the hands of the Nazis.
Masalha goes to great lengths to show that this Nakba was not a happenstance that occurred in the socio-political vacuum or chaos as the British Mandate over Palestine was ending on May 15, 1948 but, on the contrary, that it had been purposefully planned long before, in the last decades of the 19th century and onwards when Zionism was growing in Europe as a Jewish movement to colonize Palestine. …