The personal accounts of Palestine's most painful point in history, which Palestinians have been recounting for 65 years, have been confirmed time and again by UN reports, resolutions, historians and military archives. The Nakba, our catastrophe and dispossession in 1948, cannot be denied. In order to achieve peace, it is time for Israel to recognize its responsibility for this crime, as a first step towards accountability and a just solution to this conflict.
An apology will not destroy Israel. Yet, it would be a first step towards making amends for the crimes of the past, acknowledging the wrongs of the present, and creating the space needed to work towards a just and lasting peace.
Israelis are living in a state of denial. The fact that their textbooks don't recognize the rights of the Palestinian people or the Nakba does not change the fact that we were here, are still here, and will always be here. Israelis need only to look as far as some of their most internationally renowned historians to realize the difficult truth that, before many of them were born, the birth of their country came at the expense and suffering of another people. Benny Morris, Tom Segev, Ilan Pappé and others have challenged Israel's traditional narrative and founding myth. They are not guided by a desire to destroy Israel but by a desire for truth. For these historians, like many people in the world, the notion that 750,000 Palestinians simply grabbed as many of their belongings as they could carry and voluntarily left their homes to live in refugee camps makes no sense.
There was nothing voluntary about this process. Hundreds were killed. Thousands were forced out at gun-point. Tens of thousands fled in fear for their lives following news of horrific massacres by Zionist militias, including in neighborhoods like Deir Yassin in Jerusalem and al-Tantoura in Haifa, where even women, children, and elderly Palestinians were not spared.
The Nakba is not just a tragic moment in history to be buried in the past or commemorated once a year. It has been an ongoing process from that time against all of the Palestinian people, through Israeli governmental policies which have led to prolonged exile, oppression and discrimination. Palestinians are physically divided; all facing different realities and fears.
The Palestinian grandfather in the West Bank fears that he will wake up to find his olive trees uprooted, his crops torched or his livestock slaughtered by Israeli settlers who live illegally on his land and enjoy protection from the Israeli military forces. His granddaughter worries about being harassed and humiliated by foreign soldiers at checkpoints. These soldiers dictate whether she can go to school or not on any given day.
The Palestinian student in East Jerusalem, distinguished from his friends, relatives and fellow countrymen in the rest of the Occupied State of Palestine by Israel's imposed ID system, worries about going abroad to study in case he returns to find that his ID has been confiscated, no longer allowing him to return to his home country. His father fears the day when his family is forcibly evicted from their home, to make way for illegal Israeli settlements, or simply to demolish the building under the pretext of impossible bureaucratic requirements.
The Palestinian girl in Gaza, who, at the age of six, has already lived through two major military assaults on that small piece of territory, suffers the psychological damage resulting from those experiences.
The Palestinian man in Israel, living in his ancestral land yet systematically discriminated against due to nationality and religion in almost every aspect of life, worries about his children's future in a State which insists on defining itself as Jewish.
The Palestinian grandmother, having been forced to spend her entire life in a refugee camp, wonders now whether her grandchildren will see their homeland during their lifetime.
It is time for Israel's government to recognize its historical responsibility for causing the Nakba and the ongoing consequences of that crime, and to begin working towards justice for those whose lives were torn apart in 1948 and who remain in exile today.
Recognition does not mean denial of Israel, it means beginning a process of righting wrongs; a process which must fulfill the inalienable rights to the Palestinian people, including the implementation of Palestinian refugee rights, without which there can be no genuine or lasting peace. It all begins with one small step.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi is a Member of the Palestinian parliament, Member of the PLO Central Council and leader of the Palestinian National Initiative.