Imagining justice in Palestine

Elias Khoury in the Boston Review:

Eliaskhoury_1sOn February 14, 1948, during the 1948 War—called the War of Independence by Israelis, and the Catastrophe (Nakba) by the Palestinians—the Palestinian village Sa’sa’ was invaded by the Palmach, the elite unit of the Haganah, precursor to the Israel Defense Forces. The villagers did not resist, but thirty-five houses were destroyed and 60-80 people were killed.

Israeli historian Ilan Pappé describes the incident in his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, drawing on a report by the commander of the battalion responsible for the attack. Pappé—along with Benny Morris, Simha Flapan, Avi Shlaim, and others—is a member of the group of “new historians” who have, since the ’80s, devoted their energies to reexamining their country’s founding myths and thus enlarged the space for critical discussion within Israel about the Palestinian tragedy. According to the report, a village guard in Sa’sa’ found himself caught in a verbal crossfire. Instead of asking, “Who is there?” (min hada) when the soldiers approached, he asked, “What is this?” (iesh hada). An Israeli soldier who happened to know Arabic replied, inverting the two words, “Hada iesh.” His use of “iesh” was not the Arabic, however, but the Hebrew in which it means “fire.” Thus mixing the two languages, he replied “this is fire,” before killing the astonished Palestinian.

The deadly reply was a mirror of the question, and the ways in which the response was understood and misunderstood—a mixture of knowledge and ignorance, real bloodshed and imaginary projections—reflect the intricate interdependence of identity that comes into play in both Palestinian and Israeli literatures.

More here.