Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory

Edited by Ahmad H. Sa'di and Lila Abu-Lughod

Columbia University Press


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Pub Date: April 2007

ISBN: 9780231135795

416 Pages

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Pub Date: April 2007

ISBN: 9780231135788

416 Pages

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416 Pages

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Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory

Edited by Ahmad H. Sa'di and Lila Abu-Lughod

Columbia University Press

For outside observers, current events in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank are seldom related to the collective memory of ordinary Palestinians. But for Palestinians themselves, the iniquities of the present are experienced as a continuous replay of the injustice of the past.

By focusing on memories of the Nakba or "catastrophe" of 1948, in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were dispossessed to create the state of Israel, the contributors to this volume illuminate the contemporary Palestinian experience and clarify the moral claims they make for justice and redress.

The book's essays consider the ways in which Palestinians have remembered and organized themselves around the Nakba, a central trauma that continues to be refracted through Palestinian personal and collective memory. Analyzing oral histories and written narratives, poetry and cinema, personal testimony and courtroom evidence, the authors show how the continuing experience of violence, displacement, and occupation have transformed the pre-Nakba past and the land of Palestine into symbols of what has been and continues to be lost.

Nakba brings to light the different ways in which Palestinians experienced and retain in memory the events of 1948. It is the first book to examine in detail how memories of Palestine's cataclysmic past are shaped by differences of class, gender, generation, and geographical location. In exploring the power of the past, the authors show the urgency of the question of memory for understanding the contested history of the present.

Contributors: Lila Abu Lughod, Columbia University; Diana Keown Allan, Harvard University; Haim Bresheeth, University of East London; Rochelle Davis, Georgetown University; Samera Esmeir, University of California, Berkeley; Isabelle Humphries, University of Surrey; Lena Jayyusi, Zayed University; Laleh Khalili, SOAS, University of London; Omar Al-Qattan, filmmaker; Ahmad H. Sa'di, Ben-Gurion University; Rosemary Sayigh, Lebanon-based anthropologist; Susan Slyomovics, University of California, Los Angeles

Nakba provides crucial insights into the Palestinian-Israeli situation yesterday, today, and, perhaps, tomorrow. This is a voice which needs to be heard by everyone interested in resolving this conflict.

Ahdaf Soueif, author of The Map of Love

The catastrophic expulsion of the Palestinian people from their homeland in 1948 is a historic injustice that demands the attention of the entire world. Americans, Israelis, and Jews in every nation must especially give heed to this astonishing collection of masterful essays. Far from being a melancholy assemblage of anger and self-pity, this book is a major political and scholarly achievement, reflecting deeply on the traumatic roots of national identity, the role of memory and amnesia, history and mythical narrative, legal doctrine and eyewitness testimony, women's experience, men's business, and lost places found again in song, story, and film. This is essential reading for anyone who longs for a just settlement to 'the question of Palestine,' the question of the Middle East, or, indeed, the establishment of a world order of peace and justice.

W. J. T. Mitchell, The University of Chicago, and author of What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images

These essays form a formidable, thoughtful, and incisive collection. The analyses here engage trauma studies, the problem of the historical construction of memory, and the ways politics seize upon and efface memory for the purposes of establishing historiographical control over the past. These writings are pervasively critical, in the best sense, demonstrating at once the difficulty and the necessity of memory. At stake in this volume is not only how to tell the story of this dispossession but also how to tell the story of why this story has become untellable in so many quarters. Here one finds lament, anguish, anger, and political demands for justice in a set of analyses that are thoughtful, self-reflective, and complex.

Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor, University of California at Berkeley

The Nakba is a continuous presence in Palestinian life. The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967 and the denial of Palestinians of the right to self-determination make the Nakba a living memory. This book is a combination of scholarly work and testimony. Claims of memory are part of the struggle for justice, and justice for Palestinian victims begins by recognizing their right to speak.

Elias Khoury, Global Distinguished Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, New York University, and author of Gate of the Sun

This is a voice which needs to be heard by everyone interested in resolving this conflict.

Palestine News Agency

Essential reading...

Al Awda California

Essential for anyone interested in testimony and history.

Gershom Gorenberg, BookForum

[A] moving collection of writings on the expulsion of the Palestinian people from their homeland in 1948... Highly recommended.


The editors... have compiled a collection of impressive contributions that weave together the rich and changing tapestry of Palestinian memories.

Randa Farah, H-Levant

Persuasive, and passionate... [Nakba] provides a welcome addition to the literature.

Tareq Y. Ismael, Biography

Insightful, provocative, and thought-provoking contribution.

Current Anthropology
List of Illustrations
Note on Transliterations
Introduction: The Claims of Memory, by Lila Abu-Lughod and Ahmad H. Sa'di
Part I. Places of Memory
1. The Rape of Qula, a Destroyed Palestinian Village, by Susan Slyomovics
2. Mapping the Past, Re-creating the Homeland: Memories of Village Places in pre-1948 Palestine, by Rochelle Davis
3. Return to Half-Ruins: Memory, Postmemory, and Living History in Palestine, by Lila Abu-Lughod
Part II. Modes of Memory
4. Iterability, Cumulativity, and Presence: The Relations Figures of Palestinian Memory, by Lena Jayyusi
5. Women's Nakba Stories: Between Being and Knowing, by Rosemary Sayigh
6. The Continuity of Trauma and Struggle: Recent Cinematic Representations of the Nakba, by Haim Bresheeth
Part III. Faultlines of Memory
7. The Secret Visitations of Memory, by Omar Al-Qattan
8. Gender of Nakba Memory, by Isabelle Humphries and Laleh Khalili
9. Memories of Conquest: Witnessing Death in Tantura, by Samera Esmeri
10. The Politics of Witness: Remembering and Forgetting 1948 in Shatila Camp, by Diana K. Allan
Afterword. Reflections on Representations, History, and Moral Accountability, by Ahmad H. Sa'di

Read the >Introduction to Nakba.

About the Author

Lila Abu Lughod: Professor of Anthropology and Women's Studies at Columbia University. She has published or edited many books including: Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society (California, 2000); Writing Women's World: Bedouin Stories (California, 1993); Remaking Women: Feminism and Modernity in the Middle East (Princeton, 1998); and, Dramas of Nationhood: The Politics of Television in Egypt (Chicago, 2004). Although most of her ethnographic research has been on Egypt, she has begun to publish on Palestinian documentary film, ethnography, and memory. Her articles have appeared in journals including the American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Social Text, and Feminist Studies. Ahmad H. Sa'di: Lecturer in the department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University, Israel. His work has focused on democratic politics and issues of citizenship, the impact of local political organizations and personalities on the course of political and social history, on the problems of majority/minority relations, and on labor and economic conditions of Israel's Arab 'minority.' He has published numerous articles in journals including Sociology; Work, Employment and Society; International Journal of Intercultural Relations; Social Identities; Arab Studies Quarterly; Asian Journal of Social Sciences; Social Text; The Japan Center For Area Studies Review; Israel Studies; and British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. His most recent work has been on Al-Nakbah in Palestinian collective memory.