Nurit Peled-Elhanan: Nakba Day speech

The Palestine Project
6 min readMay 22, 2024

Good evening to you all,

I thank the Combatants for Peace who invited me here. I have been told that the evening is inspired by liberation. Indeed, liberation is the key to life in this place, where half of its inhabitants live under the illusion of liberation while the rest of the inhabitants have not known a single day of liberation in their lives. The reason for this situation is one: racism. As part of the Nakba, which has been ongoing since 1948, more than 35,000 people: children and the elderly, women and men, doctors and nurses; journalists, scientists and researchers, artists and athletes, and babies in incubators have been killed in Gaza in the past six months simply because they are Palestinians. And the Palestinians are considered by the Jewish masters of this place to be superfluous on their land. In the West Bank,18 communities of shepherds are expelled from their homes, dispossessed of their land, and many are killed daily in violent raids by racist settlers. Israeli citizens are persecuted, denounced, sacked and tortured because they are Palestinians, friends of Palestinians or supporters of Palestinian rights. That’s racism.

Israel’s citizens are mourning and weeping for the victims of the brutal massacre in the communities down south; they fight tirelessly for the release of the forsaken abductees in Gaza. Billboards blame the prime minister for the deaths of 1500 people. But many of these people do not remember for a moment, and do not think that we should remember, the thousands of abducted Palestinians, including dozens of children, languishing in Israeli prisons, without anyone being informed of what their crime was or demonstrating for their release. Nor do they remember the 35,000 victims of the current attack on Gaza. This is deeply ingrained, fundamental racism, the product of many years of education. Israel’s children are being taught, generation after generation, to see neighbours and fellow citizens as a problem, not as human beings. And those who are defined as a problem do not deserve respect, consideration or civil and human rights. Because by nature problems need to be solved. They do not deserve to be considered.

Palestinians, whether citizens or subjects under Occupation, are perceived by Jews to be members of an inferior race. A race for whom one should not have compassion, a race that should not be treated ethically or within the law — those are reserved for Jews only, or, more precisely, for white Jews only. With these perceptions, once children reach the army, they set out to actualise the goals of taking over their neighbours’ lands.

We must free our children from this education. Replace it with an education that sees neighbours as unique, special, courageous human beings who manage to live and raise families in the hellish conditions imposed on them by the Occupation regime. People with whom you can talk, socialise, do business with, and develop a life together as we have had in this place beforehand. Walid Daqqa, peace be upon him, the prisoner who did not let the chains on his wrists bind his spirit, wrote from within the prison walls: To sense people and feel their pain — this is the essence of all human civilisation. Once we ceased to feel it, we dropped out of civilisation into the abyss of barbarism. Unfortunately, since its establishment, Israel has been ruled by the barbaric notion that it is possible to clear out people as one gets rid of weeds; that problems can be solved by force, violence, bombing, destroying homes upon their inhabitants, the murder of children and grandchildren. Even if the killing and destruction are carried out today by means which are technologically more and more modern and more and more sophisticated, this technological development does not attest to progress but to sophisticated barbarism.

The efforts, brainpower, money and knowledge invested in the industry of death, if invested in ways to bring hearts together, would bring progress, prosperity, and liberation from fear and racism. Fear, and the racism it engenders, are the building blocks of the cruellest and longest Occupation ever. And it is this occupation that brought upon us the massacre of October 7, and it is the basis of the ongoing massacre that’s been continuing since October 8 and the foundation of all the massacres that preceded these two.

The Occupation feeds on racism which underlies nationalism that divides people into us and them. We must free ourselves from this division, free ourselves from the laws that state that this land is some sort of a colony of people, most of whom do not live here, and adopt the notion that the land belongs to everyone who lives on it and tills it. We must teach our children that expelling people from their land is a crime. The writer and human rights champion Sami Michael, peace be upon him, fought all his life for Jewish-Arab partnership and never stopped criticising the racism and ethnic nationalism that we dragged over from Europe to here. In order to free ourselves from nationalism, we must free ourselves from blind loyalty to symbols and flags that are nothing but tools that turn people into incited mobs, blindly obeying even when each of them knows that the regime brings us only destruction, and only death. We must teach children that both those in authority and the ruled should, like every human being, gain respect. To teach them that between a commandment and obedience there is a moment when each person must decide, according to the values in which they were raised, whether the commandment is worthy of obedience, and if it is not, it must be refused.

We must teach them to say No! no to violence, no to evil, no to racism and no to the perception that there are superior and inferior people, necessary and superfluous human beings, no to the idea that there are those who deserve to live and those who have to die.

This liberation will open our eyes to know that the two sides in this place are not Jews versus Palestinians, but on the one side all of us, those gathered in this place today, those who will participate in the joint memorial ceremony, the prisoners without trial, the abductees from every side, the dead and those mourning the dead, and on the other side are those who benefit from racism, violence and death.

For too many years, death has had dominion in this place. For too many years we have been ensuring the upkeep of the ground of the Holy Land with the blood of children, and it, like any other ground, does not distinguish between blood and blood, between us and them. It imbibes the blood of those killed on October 7 and the blood of those killed yesterday in Gaza with the same zeal. Too many years of stupor, contempt for everything that is different, feelings of superiority, contempt for the lives of those who differ from us in their religion, skin colour, or language, have brought us to the low point we are at today. This low point marks the beginning of the end of human civilisation and perhaps the end of our existence in this place, because, as Sami Michael made clear, “We have no place in the Middle East in the future since we made ourselves detestable to it, after we have stressed day and night that it is detestable to us, and we may lose it all.”

Only if we free ourselves from this revulsion, from barbaric perceptions and from racism will we perhaps gain true freedom, because freedom, as Walid Daqqa wrote, has no nationality or skin colour.

Translated by Sol Salbe, Middle East News Service
[Professor Peled-Elhanan has had a chance review the translation]

Hebrew original: