Co-memory and Melancholia

Co-memory and Melancholia: Israelis memorialising the Palestininan Nakba

Ronit Lentin
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Co-memory and Melancholia
    Book Description:

    The 1948 war that led to the creation of the State of Israel also resulted in the destruction of Palestinian society when some 80 per cent of the Palestinians who lived in the major part of Palestine upon which Israel was established became refugees. Israelis call the 1948 war their ‘War of Independence’ and the Palestinians their ‘Nakba’, or catastrophe. After many years of Nakba denial, land appropriation, political discrimination against the Palestinians within Israel and the denial of rights to Palestinian refugees, in recent years the Nakba is beginning to penetrate Israeli public discourse. This book explores the construction of collective memory in Israeli society, where the memory of the trauma of the Holocaust and of Israel’s war dead competes with the memory claims of the dispossessed Palestinians. Taking an auto-ethnographic approach, Ronit Lentin makes a contribution to social memory studies through a critical evaluation of the co-memoration of the Palestinian Nakba by Israeli Jews. Against a background of the Israeli resistance movement, Lentin’s central argument is that co-memorating the Nakba by Israeli Jews is motivated by an unresolved melancholia about the disappearance of Palestine and the dispossession of the Palestinians, a melancholia that shifts mourning from the lost object to the grieving subject. Lentin theorises Nakba co-memory as a politics of resistance, counterpoising co-memorative practices by internally displaced Israeli Palestinians with Israeli Jewish discourses of the Palestinian right of return, and questions whether return narratives by Israeli Jews, courageous as they may seem, are ultimately about Israeli Jewish self-healing rather than justice for Palestine.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-322-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Introduction: living in the shadow
    (pp. 1-19)

    Feelings of doom have accompanied the preparations for my visit to observe the 60th anniversary of the Nakba and Israeli independence. It feels like my last chance to witness the contradictory rituals of the Israelis celebrating their independence and the Palestinians marking their catastrophe. I will be staying with my soul sister Nitza who persuaded me to extend this visit to encompass both ‘ the march of return’, held, as in previous years on Israel’s Independence Day (this year falling on May 8 in Saffuriyya), and Nakba Day, held on May 15, the day the British officially exited Palestine in...

  5. 2 Memory sites, postmemory, co-memory
    (pp. 20-44)

    In ‘Categorial murder, or, how to remember the Holocaust’, Bauman (2004a) argues that despite the common belief that the success or failure of any political struggle ‘hangs on the effort to keep the memory alive’, memory is a mixed blessing. The past, Bauman argues, is a bagful of events and memory always selects and interprets, and the resurrection of the past, keeping the past alive, can only be attained through the active choosing, reprocessing and recycling work of memory. ‘Torememberis tointerpretthe past; more correctly, to tell a story is meant tostand forthe course of...

  6. 3 Memory and melancholia
    (pp. 45-65)

    In the final chapter of my novel on the women of my mother’s family,Night Train to Mother(Lentin 1989), I locate Hetti in Haifa’s downtown Palestinian quarter. Hetti is based on my great aunt Rebecca, whose baby daughter and husband died in Transnistria – a reservation between the rivers Dniester and Bug, today in Moldova, where the Jews of Bucovina were deported by the Romanian fascist authorities during World War II – and who came to Israel with her son in the 1950s.

    As I write in Chapter 2, I spent my childhood ‘playing with the Holocaust’; Transnistria was a silent...

  7. 4 The fall of Haifa: telling autoethnographic stories
    (pp. 66-86)

    In April 1948 the Jewish militia, the Hagana, overcame the Palestinian population of Haifa, bringing about the fall of Arab Haifa and the decimation of its Palestinian community. As Pappe writes, the conquest of a small village and the expulsion of its inhabitants is not a small thing. The army expelled whole families who were separated within hours from their belongings, minimal as these might have been, and from their heritage. However the expulsion of an entire urban neighbourhood is catastrophic and traumatic, not only for those expelled but for their society and nation. The ‘cleansing’ of the rural areas...

  8. 5 The road to Damascus
    (pp. 87-105)

    Any attempt to understand the contemporary use of the term Nakba among leftleaning Jewish Israelis¹ requires tracing the development of the historiography of this contested term which I deal with in Chapter 6. In this chapter I discuss the construction of the reawakening of the Israeli Jewish memory of the Nakba as a ‘road to Damascus’ tale told by post-and anti-Zionist Israeli Jews – the realisation that the story of the birth of the state was not a story of liberation and redemption but involved the colonisation and subjugation of another people. For Benvenisti and for me, as for many others,...

  9. 6 Historicising the Nakba: contested Nakba narratives as an ongoing process
    (pp. 106-126)

    In Chapter 5 I discussed Israeli Jewish scholars, activists and writers speaking about Palestine in general as part of the construction of a specific Israeli-Jewish self. I now turn to a central strand of Israeli research on Palestine and the Palestinians, the revisionist histories of the 1948 war, spearheaded in the 1980s by historians Benny Morris and Avi Shlaim, and political scientist Ilan Pappe. Pappe, whose political credentials include robust support for Palestinian self determination and the one-state solution, posits the importance of ‘history from below’ and of historical alternatives to Zionist history as a way of contributing ‘to a...

  10. 7 Zochrot: Nakba co-memory as performance
    (pp. 127-152)

    In this chapter I analyse the co-memorative practices ofZochrot, established in 2002 by a group of Israeli Jewish peace educators ‘who believe that the Arab-Israeli conflict is prolonged by overlooking the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948’ (Bronstein 2005a: 219), and committed, in its own words, to ‘ remembering the Nakba in Hebrew’, as a case study of the complex relationship between Israeli Jews and the Nakba.Zochrot’s activities imply a seemingly unproblematic intertwining of dispossession, memory, and responsibility, but it is worth asking, yet again, whether, in relation to events one has not experienced, it is possible to speak of...

  11. 8 Conclusion: Melancholia, Nakba co-memory and the politics of return
    (pp. 153-172)

    In publicising its activities,Zochrotemphasises the shift from denial to Israeli acknowledgement of the Nakba, rightly arguing that denial is no longer tenable. Chapter 7 discussed the performance of co-memory through an analysis ofZochrot’s commemorative practices. This chapter revisits the link between melancholia, race, memory, identity, and politics. Zionist state memory construction involved the creation of myths in the foundation of culture, society and nation (Ohana and Wistrich 1996: 19). The ‘new historians’ regard Zionism as a mythic grand-narrative that constructed an entirely fictive ‘invented tradition’ of national unity. For the ‘new historians’ the Zionist settlement project is...

  12. References
    (pp. 173-187)
  13. Index
    (pp. 188-191)