The Palestine Nakba: Decolonising History, Narrating the Subaltern, Reclaiming Memory

By Khoury, Laura | Arab Studies Quarterly, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

The Palestine Nakba: Decolonising History, Narrating the Subaltern, Reclaiming Memory


Khoury, Laura, Arab Studies Quarterly


Nur Masalha. The Palestine Nakba: Decolonising History, Narrating the Subaltern, Reclaiming Memory London: Zed Books, 2012. 288 pages. Hardcover $34.95

Reviewed by Dr. Laura Khoury

The Arab-Israeli struggle is less than a century old, but Arabs and Israelis have not been combating in the field only, or engaged in an acute case of "war of maneuver," as the word "struggle" might, prima facie, indicate to those (un)informed by an inherently biased media about the Palestine question. They have also been struggling in almost every imaginable arena. Historiography is at the forefront of this confrontation and it entails more than mere legitimacy, but even existential value. There is much of the past events and episodes of history, some of which occurred thousands of years ago. For even debating, and by implication reconstructing the far past, is very much informed by the events and the episodes of the current conflict itself. The clash of accounts, this time by scholars and historians, therefore, is a central factor of the conflict.

Masalha belongs to a group of scholars who represent a counter-hegemonic historiography for the purpose of decolonizing history and recognizing that the root cause of the conflict is in the Nakba. He objectively narrated the Nakba as it happened. He understood the depth of the catastrophic traumatic Nakba in terms of disintegration, fragmentation, destruction of society, depopulating major cities, dramatic rupture in history, ethnic cleansing, de-Arabisation, destruction of historic Palestine, redistribution of Palestinians, their shattering, displacement, and removal. He specifically discloses the orchestrating of the transfer (by Weitz in 1940), the Israeli narrative of denial (by Golda Meir in 1969), the myth of Jewish return after two thousand years of exile among Zionists, the erasure of ancient Palestinian place names, disappearance of Palestine from the map, and dismantling of Palestinian society.

Myth making is an integral part of nation building, argues Eric Hobsbawm (2012),1 but in the case of the Arab-Israeli struggle and due to the settler-colonial nature of Israel, myth making has been devastating to the "Other." Dispelling myths is central to Masalha's work, starting with the invention of a nation that is based on the employment of the Zionist project of collective memory by being highly selective in manipulating certain elements of the religious past to the myth of the nonexistence of Palestinian archives. Masalha exposes the colonial realities that the European Zionist narratives invented which made the Zionist settler-colonial project unique; the Zionist superimposing Hebrew toponymy to de-Arabize Palestine, the selective reconstruction of antiquity by establishing the science of archaeology as an epistemological strategy to construct an Israeli Jewish identity that privileges Israeli science par excellence, and to dispel the alienation of new citizens. Along with that came further cleansing of Palestinian sites, reconstruction of Muslim shrines as Jewish shrines and appropriating the many Palestinian place names.

Dr. Nur Masalha is a recognized specialist in the field of Palestinian refugee studies. His research in the past in the form of books and research articles equipped him with the necessary specialization and breadth of knowledge, deep research, and well-integrated conceptual thought of the concept and trauma of Nakba. This current book The Palestine Nakba is a higher and deeper reflection on all that he wrote and others added in the field due to his stress that the Palestine Nakba is a site of Palestinian collective memory. For example, he devotes in his past works special focus on the refugee problem, the concept of "transfer" in Zionist Mythology, "politics of denial," new Israeli historiography, and the systematic nature of Zionism in destruction. This book advances and stresses the significant role oral history played in reviving the memories of the Nakba and the significance of the act of memori ci de or the act of killing those memories. …

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