Catastrophe Remembered:
Palestine, Israel and the Internal Refugees

Nur Masalha (editor)

Zed Books 2005
A book review by Danny Yee © 2008
Catastrophe Remembered is about the Palestinian refugees inside Israel: not the 700,000 or so who were evicted in 1948, but the ones who lost their homes and land but remained in Israel and became Israeli citizens. As Nur Masalha puts it in his introduction:
"Acquiring the paradoxical title of present absentees, the internally displaced had their property and homes taken by the state, making them refugees and exiles within their own homeland."
They make up perhaps 15% of the Palestinians in Israel.

Masalha also contributes the first essay, which describes the formal apparatus of dispossession: the Military Administration that lasted from 1948 to 1966, the Absentee's Property Law of 1950, the operation of the quasi-government Jewish National Fund, and so forth. He looks at some of the resistance: the long struggle for return of the villages of Kafr Bir'im and Iqrit, the creation in 1992 of an umbrella National Association for the Defence of the Rights of the Internally Displaced, and nakba commemoration.

Hillel Cohen also covers the government's appropriation of land, paying particular attention to attempts to destroy or preserve identity.

"Israel did not mention the origins of the internal refugees in the formal statistics. They were not included in the UNRWA registry, and the abandoned villages did not appear on maps. It goes without saying that no museum was established in Israel to commemorate life in the villages which no longer existed."

Nihad Boqa'i takes a sociological approach, looking at the patterns of displacement. Refugees have tended to group by village of origin or by extended family, creating new localities within refugee camps and host villages. Their social, economic, and political integration has varied: in some cases members of the second and third generations are both better integrated into host villages and more committed to their villages of origin.

Isma'el Abu-Sa'ad covers the Palestinian Bedouin in the Negev, who have been treated worse than most of the internal refugees, subject to forced urbanisation and subject to special institutions of control, including what is effectively ongoing warfare against them by the paramilitary Green Patrol. A 2003 plan for the Negev continues this, with intensification of coercive measures for Judaising and de-Arabising the land.

Five essays offer fragments of oral history. Isabelle Humphries presents stories from refugees in Nazareth. William Dalrymple talks to refugees from the Christian village of Kafr Bir'im. Mahmoud 'Issa argues for the centrality of oral history for understanding rural Palestine, and presents some of the experiences of refugees from the village of Lubya, looking at life before 1948 as well as the nakba and life in exile.

"Throughout much of the twentieth century the majority of the Palestinians were fellahin, peasants. Their experiences in the fields, in their villages, in wars, and in exile are almost totally absent from history writing and much of recent historiography."

Jonathan Cook contrasts the indigenous 'Ayn Hawd and the artists colony 'Ein Hod, the village that used to be 'Ayn Hawd. And Eitan Bronstein looks at Jewish Israeli awareness of the Nakba and the internal refugees, and in particular the work of the organisation Zochrot.

The last two essays consider the internal refugees in a broader context. Ilan Pappe explains why the internal refugees will need to be included in any lasting settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And Terry Rempel evaluates Israel's treatment of its internal refugees against the United Nations' Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (1998).

Catastrophe Remembered is a collection of essays, not a comprehensive study of the Palestinian refugees in Israel. But it provides an important overview of a topic that is largely neglected in the media focus on the West Bank, Gaza, and the external Palestinian refugees.

January 2008

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%T Catastrophe Remembered
%S Palestine, Israel and the Internal Refugees
%E Masalha, Nur
%I Zed Books
%D 2005
%O paperback, index
%G ISBN 1842776231
%P 300pp