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Israel Remains Divided

The first time Israel hypnotized me, it was with the litter of history’s artifacts sitting untouched by the side of every highway.

Israel’s history was so rich, we were taught, that the rubble of limestone houses lining Israel’s highways can come from any empire between the Ottomans and the Ancient Israelites. How incredible, I thought, that these ruins have preserved themselves so well over thousands of years; our Israeli tour guide explained that it was because much of Israel were uninhabited for many years.

Years later I returned to Israel on a study tour. I asked the same questions about similar ruins on the unidentifiable stretch of highways. My Palestinian tour guide answered “Most of these ruins are from the Nakba.”

Nakba, meaning ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic, is the word Palestinians use to refer to Israel’s ethnic cleansing of their people in Israel’s Independence War. The word ‘Nakba’ is banned from Israeli school’s textbooks. Groups that commemorate the Nakba are deprived of government funding. Any mention of the Nakba will draw charges of treason from the Israeli public.

Israel censors the ethnic cleansing in its past because it knows it couldn’t exist as a Jewish State if it kept its Palestinian majority inside its borders. It is a necessary crime for the Zionist dream of a Jewish State. If Israel admits the crimes of the Nakba, it admits its nation is birthed through an inevitable but unforgivable sin.

Liftah is the Nakba’s Pompeii, a preserved but abandoned Palestinian village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Liftah occupies less than a blip in Israeli consciousness, and so has remained mostly untouched. It is no more than a statistic among the 450 villages obliterated during the Nakba. The ghost town is open to the public, but remains hair-raisingly silent.

However, an old Yeshiva classmate tells me that, to him, Liftah’s fate was no secret. We were classmates years before, and he now studies in a yeshiva next door to Liftah, where he’d often escape with his new classmates to drink, strum guitar, and sing religious hymns in the evenings.

“We knew what happened there,” he tells me, choosing a euphemism over blunt and honest words. “It was tragic, you know, but it was a different time.”

Perhaps the Nakba was from was a different time, and so perhaps it is forgivable, but Israel continues to deny its guilt, censor dissent, and so makes no effort to repair or to apologize for the ethnic cleansing in its history.

A confidant of Bibi Netanyahu and member of his senior cabinet, Tzachi Hanegbi, threatened Palestinians in July with a new ‘Nakba.’ Israel rewrites the history books to say the Nakba never happened, while simultaneously threatening to repeat the Nakba’s history.

Until Israel looks out of the windows on its own highways, and digs up its national foundations, Israel will remain divided from her Palestinian neighbors.

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