American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Review: Stories from Exile
Collecting Stories from Exile: Chicago Palestinians Remember 1948
(An Oral History Project Video Documentary); 28 min.; 1999; for loan from AFSC video library, 617/497-5273; purchase, $20, from AFSC Chicago, 637 S. Dearborn, 3rd Floor, Chicago IL 60605; 312/427-2533
Hilda Silverman is a member of the New England AFSC Middle East Peace Education Committee.
I love this video and the oral history project of which it is a central and shining part. I marvel at the complex threads deftly interwoven in a documentary that is less than half an hour long. It is the culmination of a year-long project in which two college-age Palestinian women, Mai Khader and Mahasen Nasser-Eldin, collected oral histories from Chicago-area Palestinians who had experienced the Nakba-the Palestinian catastrophe occasioned by the birth of the modern State of Israel and the 1948 war. Excerpts from interviews are interspersed with archival footage; also included are candid and illuminating discussions among the interviewers and members of a small committee drawn from the AFSC and the Arab-American Action network, co-sponsors of the project, about issues that emerged during the process. Among them are differing meanings of "resistance" held at times by the older interviewees and their young interviewers, varying experiences of diaspora Palestinians and those who remained in historic Palestine, and questions about the significance of the stories and how the telling of them would change things. Through these discussions we see the young people grow and change-personally, politically, and in terms of respect for their elders.
In a telephone interview, Jennifer Bing-Canar, producer-director of the video and director of AFSC Chicago's Middle East Programs, shared with me her profound sense of privilege in being able to witness those changes over a year's time. In addition, she spoke of a significant tribute to the video-the comment by Marty Rosenbluth, a film-maker with extensive experience in documenting aspects of Palestinian lives, that the piece "models what people can do." Indeed, the most important value of this project would be if it inspired Palestinians and other Arab young people to undertake their own projects of collecting and documenting experiences of the Nakba. This would further the goal of "reclamation" of a denied history eloquently called for by Edward Said in quotes that frame the video at its beginning and end. While he doesn't mention the Oslo process by name, it is clearly on his mind when he laments the fact that Palestinian leaders have now "in effect made a deal with the Israelis and Americans to forget officially and renounce what happened to them in 1948 and beyond." He sees it as "doubly important for the younger generation of Palestinians to say 'That's not the full story, and we want the full story.'" Said makes a compelling case for getting beyond "amnesia" and "self-mutilation" to reclaim that crucial past as "the only way to restore ourselves as a people."
I have long felt that there is a parallel need on the Jewish side-that the only way for us to restore ourselves as a people is to fully acknowledge our role in the denial of the Palestinians' story and in silencing the voices that would tell that story. For it is we and our parents and grandparents who-from some combination of ignorance and pride and fear-contributed to the relative absence of Palestinians from our national narrative and to their almost total demonization where they did appear. Some initial steps have been taken by the Israeli "new historians" who over the past fifteen years have provided much-needed correctives to the previous deep distortions in Israeli histories of 1948; for the first time now even Israel's classroom textbooks are reflecting these changes. Still, there have been few acknowledgments of the extent to which mass expulsion of Palestinians was integral to the success of the Zionist project, and even fewer calls for deep and profound atonement.
The interviewers and the video-makers focused not only on the horrors of the stories told but also on the textures and rhythms of the ordinary lives that were so profoundly interrupted. I was reminded of the remarks of American Jewish writer Irena Klepfisz in April 1988, at the height of Israel's brutal repose to the Palestinian Intifada, on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising: "I have concluded that one way to pay tribute to those we loved who struggled, resisted, and died is to hold on to their vision and their fierce outrage at the destruction of the ordinary life of their people. It is this outrage we need to keep alive in our daily life and apply to all situations, whether they involve Jews or non-Jews. It is this outrage we must use to fuel our actions and vision whenever we see any signs of the disruptions of common life: the hysteria of a mother grieving for the teenager who has been shot; a family stunned in front of a vandalized or demolished home; a family separated, displaced; humiliation of a people whose culture is alien and deemed inferior; a people left homeless, without citizenship" (from Dreams of an Insomniac: Jewish Feminist Essays, Speeches and Diatribes, The Eighth Mountain Press, Portland, Oregon, 1990).
I don't know if there were consistent differences of age, class, or education between the men and women interviewed, but I did note that the women spoke in Arabic which was then translated while the men spoke in fluent English, and with a quite extraordinary degree of openness and self-awareness. They told of a pervasive sense of depression after having to leave Palestine, of a sense of having failed and been responsible for that failure, of having felt alternately devastated and hopeful for many, many years.
Both at the national and local levels AFSC has made a determined effort to increase the meaningful participation of young people in its work. I can think of few contexts in which such inclusion is as significant as in this oral history project.
This video would be useful for all audiences-teenagers and older-whatever their previous level of understanding about the subject matter. Particularly for those with little prior knowledge, however, either a well-informed discussion leader or a moderately comprehensive study guide would be essential. Such a guide is currently being developed, with background material, biographical information, and a list a resources. It should be available by early October.