Memory and the return of history in a settler-colonial context: The case of the Palestinians in Israel

Nadim N. Rouhana, Areej Sabbagh-Khoury

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

5 Scopus citations


On May 15, 2012, the day Palestinians commemorate the anniversary of the Nakba, Palestinians in Israel declared a general strike. Although Palestinians in Israel have used national strikes before to protest various Israeli policies against them, this was the first national strike to commemorate the Nakba. This event symbolized, more than any other, the “return of history” - the return of the Nakba as an emergent defining force of the current national, political, and cultural consciousness of the Palestinians in Israel. In this chapter, we trace the return of history as a process that has become integrated into the transformation of Palestinian political consciousness. We examine how Palestinian history, particularly the history of the dismantlement of Palestine and the ethnic cleansing of the majority of Palestinians from their homeland - known in Palestinian historiography as the Nakba - has gradually started to occupy the center of the present political and cultural experience and discourse of the Palestinians in Israel. The chapter examines why the Nakba, the defining experience in modern Palestinian history and politics, was, until the mid-1990s, silenced in the “official political sphere” of the Palestinians in Israel (Sabbagh-Khoury, 2010). The chapter will also try to explain when and why history returned to take an active and conscious central place in Palestinian political discourse, and, more recently, political behavior and cultural activities. We argue that there has been a discernible progression from a silenced collective memory around the Nakba to its gradual return as a salient force in the modern political consciousness of this community. We trace this progression and examine the various manifestations of this return, which, we argue, reflects a dramatic transformation in their present collective consciousness. We then briefly address the political implications of this transformation. The Return of History and Collective Memory We define the “return of history,” for an identity group, as the process in which a dormant past is reconstituted and becomes a constitutive force in present collective consciousness and in envisioning the political future. The return of history can become a collective force for political and cultural change, particularly in cases of dominated groups whose domination is rooted in a history incompatible with that of the dominating group(s). In our case, the return of history is not merely the revival of the memory of the past.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationIsrael and its Palestinian Citizens
Subtitle of host publicationEthnic Privileges in the Jewish State
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages40
ISBN (Electronic)9781107045316
ISBN (Print)9781107044838
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2017.


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