Lovely pictures, but the slogan betrays a misunderstanding. Israel has no problem with most of these pictures because the dominant Zionist story imagines that it modernised the ‘poor, primitive natives’. What Israel obscures is any sense of urban Palestinian development and organised, modern bourgeois life, such as the pictures of organised demos in the early part of the 20th century. Many Palestinians today misunderstand Israel’s logic of colonial suppression. The early Zionist slogan was not, ‘A land without [any] people…’, but rather, “A land without A People…”. Israel never denied that there were people living in Palestine, but that those people had a unified identity and expected independence as part of global decolonization. (Ironically, both nations deny the integrity of each other as unified nations, but that’s a whole different story about modern nationalism). Israel imagines the Palestinians as pre-modern peasants or bands of migrant Arabs who belong anywhere in the Middle East. It obscures the fact that Palestinians had large noble families and that Palestinian cities modernised during the early days of the British Mandate. Israel was too caught up with nation building and providing for Jewish refugees, to appreciate concurrent processes and consequences of decolonization happening in the region and around the world. Ironically, the Jews were so profoundly uprooted and cosmopolitan that they couldn’t properly appreciate the cultural significance and status attached to family land ownership. Palestinians, as well as Israelis, need to wake up to the fact that Palestinians have their own history of modernisation, and multicultural urban life independent of Zionism and colonialism. Palestinians need to own this independent history and be proud of it rather than relying on a contingent identity as righteous victims. Some Palestinians, such as those who work in the Jaffa archives, are doing precisely this work among the people on the ground. There are Jewish-Israeli historians and NGOs doing it too.
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