Ed. Nur Masalha (ed), 'Catastrophe Remembered: Palestine, Israel and the Internal Refugees'

IssueJune 2006
Review by Sarah Irving

Amidst the horrors visited on the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, the fate of the “Palestinian citizens of Israel” is often forgotten, by those who see Israel solely as the Jewish state it aspires to be, and by those working to raise awareness of the plight of Palestinians. Even organisations such as Sindyanna, a fair trade co-operative of Palestinian and Jewish Israeli women in the Galilee, have appeared on the boycott lists of less enlightened solidarity organisations.

Hopefully this book will help to change that. Edited by prolific London-based Palestinian academic Nur Masalha, and dedicated to the memory of Edward Said, it is an excellent reader on the subject, bringing together as it does a wide range of essays. The first section gives the outline facts - the history, numbers, laws and debates. These chapters are necessarily dry but worth the effort, as they provide the framework for the stories that come after. The bare facts themselves are illuminating, such as the early laws of the state of Israel, which barred the leasing of land to Arabs. Second class citizens, anyone? The third section follows on from this, placing the situation of Palestinian Israelis in the context of international peace negotiations.

The second section puts the colour inside the lines of the statistics and documents, and is what makes this book really powerful. Isabelle Humphries, a long term resident of Nazareth, provides a series of vignettes, stories and local poems which illustrate the pain and discrimination of Palestinian life in Israel, while well known author William Dalrymple describes the effects that a legacy of massacres and displacement has had on the Palestinians who struggled to survive in their villages. Jonathan Cook's chilling article describes the casual daily racism of many Israelis, paired as it is with appropriation of Palestinian culture and crafts, as well as their land. Nevertheless, there are some positive notes here - including Eitan Bronstein's account of the organisation Zochrot, which takes Israeli Jews to visit places of historical significance to Palestinians and redresses the imbalances of mainstream historical discourses.

Israel's arguments against its critics often include the claim that it is the Middle East's only democracy. This book illustrates why that claim is so shallow, based as it is on a situation which denies full rights to a significant portion of Israeli citizens, denying them everything from adequate water supplies to the validity of their memories and history.

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