Hassan Khader
Al-Hayat (Opinion)
May 24, 2009 - 12:00am

A quick review of the annual commemoration of the Nakba leads to the realization that there is a standard operating procedure repeated each year. Perhaps it is this very process of annual repetition that has shaped the Nakba Narrative into a kind of stable cognitive system that has evolved over time and has assumed the authority and power of Truth, to the point that any consideration of the catastrophe in a different light or language functions as a violation of sacred principles and is dismissed in favor of the comfort of familiar, albeit illusory, rhetoric.  
The problem is that this Narrative, which justifies its existence on the grounds that it prevents Palestine from being forgotten, actually manages to displace the historical truth. It allows the Nakba to become a tool of ideological and political exploitation on the one hand, and on the other hand converts our individual and collective relationship with the Nakba into a rhetoric and ritual of catharsis and mental purification that has more to do with psychology than politics.
Both of these phenomena disrupt our ability to connect the catastrophe to our actual realities. 1948 Palestinian exodus

Were we to graph this singular ideological system, then we would find that our Nakba Narrative stands at the intersection of three principles. The first falls under the rubric of “the constants,” the second conjures “the memory,” and the third could be deemed an “optimism of the will.”  
The constants range from rhetoric about an Islamic Palestine, to raising the issue of the right to return to the status of the sacred. These perspectives, and the spectrum of political and ideological variants that stem from them, are what place the Nakba above politics, or rather before it, and obstruct our ability to clearly grasp the fundamentals of our political realities. 
As for conjuring the memory, this seeks to transform the past into a constant present, each year recalling the names of the villages that have ceased to exist, the keys to the doors that are no longer standing, and the photographs of a paradise lost. In the meantime, what is missing is any critical evaluation of past and present realities. The present is reduced to the status of a transition phase, with almost no discernable features, only existing in the context of a past that has never ceased to be, and a future that cannot be imagined unless it fully recovers what once was. Here, too, time is placed above politics, or rather before it.

Finally, guns are presented as the best evidence for an optimism of the will! In order to conform with the two other elements, this aspect of Nakba Narrative must also therefore be raised to a metaphysical status in which it is not measured by the scale of costs and benefits, but only by the degree of dignity it supposedly adds, even if it causes the Palestinians to suffer more defeats, and adds calamity to catastrophe.  
Remarkably, the elites, who derive their political capital and an authority from this Narrative, are the most aware of the inherent contradictions it imposes that limit their ability to practice politics as the art of the possible. However, they are keenly aware that deviating from this Narrative involves significant political risks with unknown consequences, so they continue to pursue a kind of politics that is characterized by the contradiction between what is apparent and what is concealed. 

The best example of this is the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which slaughtered the proverbial sacred cow when it conducted direct negotiations with Israel in the mid-nineties. Despite the fact that the signed agreements shook the foundations of accepted Palestinian norms and expectations, the PLO did not fail to develop rhetoric that emphasized the extent of its continued commitment to, and perhaps even conformity with, the traditional Narrative, despite obvious contradictions.

This sort of contradiction resonates with the wretched individuals who were shaped by their experiences of the catastrophe and from the sense that the Narrative is still able to generate the requisite political capital, not to mention that it continues to be a great source of legitimacy and a tried and true technique to incite and mobilize.

Be that as it may, these contradictions impede the prospects of developing a relationship of transparency and mutual trust between the political elite and the public. In these times, whenever there is a desire to either join the social elite or rebel against them, the rebels and agitators do not need to craft any kind of alternative Narrative, all they need is to profess a more passionate attachment to, and deeper commitment to the protection of, the traditional Narrative which has become virtually sacred, which is, of course, a betrayal and distortion of it. However, as soon as they succeed in this quest, they are confronted by a contradiction at the first bend on the road, and this has certainly been the case with Hamas.  
There is a unique set of dynamics to this ring of contradiction, most which involve attempts to compensate for secretly deviating from the Narrative by engaging in more eloquent rhetoric that invokes the themes of the constants, the conjuring of memory and the supposed optimism of the will. All these compensatory gestures are effective only in preventing any accumulation of political wisdom, and lead us time and again to the same errors. Therefore, the Palestinians continuously return to square one, as if the sixty years of Nakba and a hundred years of conflict in and over Palestine, could not yield a moment of reflection or a single lesson learned.  
In order for the Narrative to succeed in thwarting progress, it must seem lofty and sublime, entirely consumed in the process of repeating and refining its particular theology and vocabulary. The collapse of the Palestinian national movement, and the disasters in education, health and human suffering in Gaza, are thus all rendered merely temporary problems that will pass and are not deserving of any attention. What is referred to as the “Israeli entity,” which has become a regional power to which the Arabs are seeking to adapt, is therefore rendered nothing more than a shadow in Plato’s cave, while the real object and the only truth is the constants. This is proven by the Narrative itself, and the fact that it is repeated tirelessly and meticulously year after year.


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