Memory and oblivion in Israel

Ramona Wadi

Middle East Monitor  /  April 25, 2023

To commemorate the 75th anniversary since the establishment of Israel’s colonial enterprise, the National Library of Israel has embarked upon a new project themed “Operation Diary: the Founding Generation for Israel’s 75th”. The project, which is being carried out in collaboration with Israel Hayom, seeks personal diaries of 1948 written by “the men and women of the nation’s founding generation with the aim of creating a unique historical collection”.

Meanwhile, as Haaretz reported in 2019, Israel’s Defence Ministry is keen to keep many details from 1948 away from public scrutiny, including documents that had already been previously declassified. According to the former director of Malmab, the Israeli Defence Ministry’s secretive security department, removing documentation had one objective: “to undermine the credibility of studies about the history of the refugee problem.”

While “Operation Diary” is still in its initial stages, the project’s description is indicative of further erasure of Palestinian memory. It remains to be seen what material will be preserved at the archives, yet the language used – notably the term “founding generation” – is likely to gloss over the colonial nature of Israel’s founding, which would also distort the 1948 Nakba.

Considering the Zionist colonial project, and the willingness of the settler-colonists to become part of the ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Zionist paramilitaries, what memory is Israel searching for? If the diaries will include narratives of Zionist participants in the 1948 Nakba, how does this further shape Israel’s collective memory, which is already obstructed by the colonial state’s erasure of Palestine? The diary collection will include writings of Hannah Senesh, who was a Zionist and also a member of the paramilitary group, Haganah, for example. If Israel is founded upon the massacres and displacement of the indigenous population, as well as the destruction of Palestinian towns and villages, what purpose will these diaries serve for the Israeli colonial enterprise, unless they attest or contribute to, Israel’s official Zionist narrative?

The project may be indicative of even more efforts to conceal the gaps in Israel’s political and historical narratives. “Operation Diary” presumably will bring a more mundane and personal account of Israel’s founding; possibly detached accounts, as well, depending on the circumstances of the writer, the location, the desensitization to, or affinity with, Zionist ideology. In terms of historical records, personal accounts would shed light on the individual experience of a shared history.

However, with Israel’s erasure of Palestinian memory, as well as the erasure of its own violence to ensure Palestinian narratives are further restricted, the diaries can be utilized by Israel to divert attention away from its colonial foundations.

What the National Library of Israel is terming “founding generation” has other connotations for Palestinian memory, and Zionist collective memory remains incomplete without the Palestinian input of what happened prior to, during and after the 1948 Nakba. So, as Israel constructs its memory initiatives under the guise of leaving a legacy for future generations, how far will Israeli oblivion extend to, in the years to come? The more Palestinians are eliminated by Israel, the more Zionist history remains incomplete.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger; her writing covers a range of themes in relation to Palestine, Chile and Latin America