70th Anniversary of Nakba: Nakba As Stubborn Trauma

By Manal Abu Haq.

IMG-20180423-WA0004نحن لم نبك ساعة الوداع! فلدينا لم يكن وقت ولا دمع ولم يكن وداع! نحن لم ندرك لحظة الوداع أنه الوداع فأنى لنا البكاء! طه

محمد علي

We did not weep / When we were leaving –/ for we had neither/ Time nor tears, / and there was no farewell/ We did not know / At the moment of parting / that it was parting, / so where would our weeping / have come from?

Taha Muhammad Ali, Translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, Gabriel Levin

To this day, many Palestinians around the world hold keys to the houses they left behind in Palestine, and customarily present them at demonstrations or large events as concrete proof of ownership. The vast majority of these houses have been either demolished or renovated in a way which completely obliterates their origins. New residents arrived who established, and continue to develop, an existence and hold on this land. A new collective was created – the Israeli collective, one that believes this land is rightfully theirs.

The majority of Palestinian refugees, especially those living in the refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank or in Arab countries, continue to dream and hope for the day when they will be able to return to their pre-Nakba homes. They stubbornly insist on holding on to this dream even after 70 years. Holding on to this dream, its connection to reality being as it may, and the probability of its being fulfilled being as it may, is a defense against “falling apart”, an insistence on preserving memory and national identity, and a defense against descending into a hopeless melancholic state.

In psychoanalytic theory, a person who has experienced trauma is thought to perhaps repress the traumatic events, with the aim of living life as though they had never occurred. While these defenses may initially be adaptive, at the same time, the person might experience intrusive memories, engage in problematic behaviors such as acting out, and utilize rigid defense mechanisms, such as dissociation. The traumatized individual may find it difficult to take responsibility for their life and to feel fully integrated; as such, they may continue to live in a cycle of trauma. One clinical method that has been found useful for trauma therapeutically is remembering the difficult events in detail. This may include working through and mourning loss alongside creating an externalized representation (artistic or linguistic) for heavily traumatic events.

In this same vein, many Palestinians invested serious efforts in preserving the memories and events of the Nakba, and some created archives and collected materials and testimonies around its events. But these archives, books and other written materials, along with the libraries where they were kept, were confiscated by the Israeli military government and declared secret army material. Some examples of this are the testimonies about the massacre in Deir Yassin, the library of the Orient House in East Jerusalem and the Palestinian archive in Beirut which the army took over. Materials IMG_4951.jpgfrom these were shown recently in a 2017 film by Rona Sela, called Looted and Hidden – Palestinian Archives in Israel.  In addition, the Nakba law, a law which forbids mentioning the Nakba or commemorating it in any way, was passed by the Knesset a few years ago.
Not only, then, were the Palestinians expelled from their homes and on a larger scale, their homeland, but, to this day, the state of Israel uses excessive force to erase any memories or proof of these events. That is, the State does so by confiscating materials meant to preserve the memory of the Nakba and forbids, through legislation, the marking of the memory of the Nakba. It is as though the State is wanting to say, “This never happened. The Nakba is a Palestinian collective hallucination.”
Clinically, one might see this as an act not only of physically disinheriting Palestinians from their homeland, but also psychically preventing them from any meaningful chance to heal and grow. By erasing, persecuting and destroying any memory around the Nakba, the present-day situation perpetuates the Palestinian experience of the Nakba as an everyday event, ongoing until this very day.
Not only, then, were the Palestinians expelled from their homes and on a larger scale, their homeland, but, to this day, the state of Israel uses excessive force to erase any memories or proof of these events. That is, the State does so by confiscating materials meant to preserve the memory of the Nakba and forbids, through legislation, the marking of the memory of the Nakba. It is as though the State is wanting to say, “This never happened. The Nakba is a Palestinian collective hallucination.”

In this context, one can adopt the definition of the Nakba as a “stubborn” trauma, a phrase coined by Efi Ziv describing severe and continuous trauma. Unlike traditional traumatic events that are thought to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, Palestinians therefore continue living within the trauma, as they experience, alongside land confiscation, physical injuries and killing, everyday instances of humiliation and abjection from the Israeli apartheid authorities.

Manal Abu Haq is a clinical social worker (M.S.W.) and psychotherapist working with children, adolescents and adults in East Jerusalem and Ramleh. She works as a therapist both in the public sector and in private practice. She is an active member of Psychoactive – mental health professionals for human rights where she is on the steering committee of the program for politically sensitive psychotherapy and the child detainee evaluation project, and is member of the child arrest project. Manal has led workshops and classes on politically sensitive psychotherapy and has presented in several conferences on topics to do with the psychological and the political. Manal is special editor for Born-Equal.net.

One comment

  1. I am particularly grateful for this short analysis – very accurate to my sense, after a recent 10 day mental health tour of Palestine with the USA-Palestine Mental Health Network, of how vital shared speech and candid communications can be, to preserve a non-violent, dignified (rather than humiliated) mode of resistance that might still yield to respect, under hospitable circumstances. Today I also finished reading a powerful and important paper by Rita Giacaman of Birzeit University on “reframing public health in wartime” that addresses the same ongoing, remorseless traumata that you refer to briefly here. (See her presentation in full at http://jps.ucpress.edu/content/47/2/9.full.pdf+html)

    Without being able to name the Nakba, the past and perpetually present big and small traumas must continue to plague and deracinate without framing context, leading to deteriorations in safety for Palestinians and Israeli Jews alike. The erasure of genocidal history is familiar from Armenian history, and I believe that Armenian populations in Old Jerusalem have had to agree not to mention that aspect of their own history, in order to live in relative security within the city. In the USA, we have only this decade managed a museum of African American history in our capital and a museum devoted to the white suprematist violence of lynching.

    There is a paragraph repeated within this essay, however, which may lead to some confusion. (I hope there is not also a paragraph missing!)

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