Sunday, May 18, 2008

Some Nakbalogy and Nakbalotry from Joseph Massad

Massad's latest, via Al-Ahram, is a sort of giant invocation to the Palestinian deity Nakba. He asks, "What are the political stakes in reifying the Nakba as a past event, in commemorating it annually, in bowing before its awesome symbolism?" The mistake, according to Massad, is failing to realize that the Nabka lives. "The Nakba is in fact much older than 60 years," Massad explains, "and it is still with us, pulsating with life and coursing through history . . . " When does the Nakba properly begin?
I hold that the Nakba is a historical epoch that is 127 years old and is ongoing. The year 1881 is the date when Jewish colonisation of Palestine started and, as everyone knows, it has never ended.
This business of discovering the beginning of relevant history is an important part of the Nakbalogist project. What about the various 19th century Arab plunderings and the 1837 earthquake in Safed, the site of the first printing press in the Ottoman empire, events that led, along with some pre-Zionist aliyot, to the establishment of a Jewish majority in Jerusalem before Massad's magical cut-off date? Never mind--we live in the age not of history, but of narratives. The Palestinian one is the Nakba and not only does history not begin until 1881, it never progresses beyond 1881. As Massad explains "Much as the world would like to present Palestinians as living in a post-Nakba period, I insist that we live thoroughly in Nakba times." Massad also makes a great deal of the fact that "Nakba" is a Semitic word with a three-letter-root:
While the Nakba has been translated into English as "catastrophe", "disaster", or "calamity", these translations do not fully grasp the active ramifications of its Arabic meanings. The Nakba as an act committed by Zionism and its adherents against Palestine and the Palestinians has rendered the Palestinians " mankubin ". English does not help much in translating mankubin, unless we can stretch the language a bit and call Palestinians a catastrophe-d or disaster-ed people.
Of course, what Massad is doing with the word is perfectly intelligible in Hebrew, but anything Jewish having to do with Palestine must be held to be Colonialist, and Colonialism doesn't involve three-letter-roots. How menuchevet!

To the Nakbalogist, the Arabness of Palestinians is a sore-point:
The survival of the Palestinians after the Nakba started, and despite its assiduous efforts to efface them, has made the Nakba a less than successful Zionist victory. It is in this context that Israel's insistence on calling Palestinian citizens in Israel "Israeli Arabs" is designed to silence their Palestinian-ness. Zionism's insistence that Palestinian refugees be settled and given the nationality of their host countries is aimed also to erase their name.
Perhaps I can't object to this point since the converse is certainly true--insistence on the name "Palestinian" is obviously meant to erase the "Arabness" of Palestinans and hence their kinship with other Arabs. How else could one describe one born and grown old among his linguistic and religious kinsmen as a "refugee," a non-participant in the triumphs of Arab-nationalism but rather one of the eternal "mankubin"?

Nakbalogists who think they have English readers uncomprehending of three-letter-roots almost never suggest any actual post-Nakba reality. The post-Nakba reality, of course, involves the end of the ancient Jewish presence in the Middle East, something that a narrative of eternal Nakba inflicted by Jews on Palestinian victims could never admit. Massad accordingly treats us to a thoroughly dishonest non-admission:
Palestinians are often reminded that "much greater" peoples than they have opted for self-displacement from countries that denied them rights to a country that granted them rights, namely European Jews themselves who came to visit the Nakba upon the Palestinians. If Palestinians in Israel want to remain in Israel, they must accept the normalcy of the Nakba and must acquiesce in their new status as mankubin who cannot and will never have equal rights with Jews. Their refusal of the effects of the Nakba is what makes Palestinian citizens of Israel want to reverse its effects by calling on Israel to repeal its racist laws and become an Israeli, rather than a Jewish, state.
Palestinians would accept an "Israeli" state, a Medinat Yisrael? Oh well, Nakbalogists are nothing if not conceptually agile.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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