Monday, September 7

How do you say 'Nakba' in Hebrew?


MCC partner Zochrot recently had an exhibition highlighting the erasure of the Arabic language from Israeli society. Hebrew, which is spoken throughout Israel, and Arabic, which is spoken by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, have many similarities linguistically. Zochrot’s exhibition consisted of putting up words in Arabic with both their transliteration and their Hebrew equivalent throughout a popular shopping area.

This is significant because it exposed Israelis to some of the similarities they perhaps weren’t familiar with. In addition to the linguistic connection, Zochrot emphasized the history of 1948 and what Israelis refer to as their Independence Day and Palestinians refer to as ‘al Nakba’, or ‘the Catastrophe’.

There were pictures with explanations in both Hebrew and Arabic about certain events; for example, immediately following the war, a Jewish shop owner moved in and changed this formerly Palestinian flower shop into a Jewish store. You can see ‘Jasmin Flowers’ written on the store sign in English, and on the left side of the picture, in Hebrew, the words ‘Jewish store’. Zochrot uses pictures and stories such as these to highlight the connection between what was a disaster for the Palestinians and what the Israelis see as a day of celebration.

In Israeli society questioning Independence Day is extremely threatening; to Israelis, it feels as if one is questioning the existence of the Jewish state. The term ‘Nakba’ is almost never heard, and if it is, it comes with negative connotations. That is why the following moment was so significant.

Because the exhibit was spread throughout a shopping area there were people who had come specifically for the exhibit as well as people who had happened to come shopping on this particular day. One such family was passing by when a small boy of maybe 5 years old turned to his father:

Dad, do you know how to say ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic? ‘Nakba’.

Here was a young boy being exposed to the idea of the Nakba at a young age, and without being told that the word itself was dirty or a threat to his existence. He saw the pictures around him, and even if he didn’t understand everything that was being explained, he was exposed to what is considered a dangerous idea in Israeli society in a safe, comfortable, mundane environment.

Will that boy grow up to understand the connection between the founding of the state of Israel and the pain of the Palestinian people? Will he see the Nakba as a threat to his existence or an expression of another people’s grief? These are questions that we aren’t able to answer now and will probably never know the answer to, but we know that if MCC partners like Zochrot weren’t doing the hard work of preparing the ground for peace we’d find it more difficult to hold out hope that one day the peoples of this region will live in peace.

'Nakba' in Arabic with its transliteration in Hebrew as well as its translation, 'ason'.

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