Colonial Amnesia in Palestine - Christian Noakes | An Spréach

Within most—if not all—struggles for national liberation is an often-ancient collective memory filled with inspiring heroes, martyrs, and guiding ideals. This is apparent in the mythology of the Fianna which has inspired generations of Irish people to resist the tyranny of British imperialism and assert their right to their land and culture. However, collective memories also provide historical and ideological cover for imperialism. Just as memory can be a means to liberation, it can and does serve in the hands of the ruling classes. This sort of telling of history is highly revisionist and requires purging history that de-legitimises colonization and exploitation more generally. In this ongoing political and ideological process large chunks of history are seemingly forgotten in service of imperialist powers. Revisionism absolves and even glorifies the past rulers in favor of more current ones. 

The Zionist colonization of Palestine reflects such weaponized imperialist memories. Underlying colonization is the continued dispossession of Palestinians. A central component is that of revisionism which serves to erase Palestinian history—and thus Palestinian claims to their own land. By refusing to acknowledge the long history of Palestinians, Zionist forces claim exclusive rights inherent in ethno-religious apartheid states. To assert their exclusive ancient right, Israeli state and private institutions regularly destroy Palestinian communities and history in the process of “verifying” Zionist claims of ownership.

This selective or reconstructed memory also includes covering up the foundations of British imperialism on which the Israeli state was erected in 1948. For the British, colonization of Palestine was, to quote former British Governor of Jerusalem Ronald Storrs, an opportunity to establish a “little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism.” Such a statement reveals the western foundations of Israel and the function of Zionists as administers of imperialism. By purging this memory from collective memory, the state of Israel is emboldened to claim indigenous status which it uses to displace indigenous Palestinians.

The continued Zionist campaign of colonization and ethnic cleansing relies on an ancient memory plagued with a convenient case of amnesia. The Zionist narrative is one that evokes King David while seemingly forgetting much of the history leading up the founding of Israel in 1948. Gone are the many concentration camps the British used to detain Palestinians when they dare resist displacement subjugation. Gone is the memory of the Deir Yassin massacre and gone is the full memory of the Nakba which is framed as as Israeli independence rather than ethnic cleansing. In constructing a new memory of the land, the Zionist narrative encourages consent from segments of Israeli society thereby providing willing participation of Israelis as both colonizers and military occupiers. In imperialist centers like the US and Britain, it also bolsters support for a system of apartheid. 

Such revisionist tendencies of imperialism necessitate the preservation and passing on of a more honest memory of struggle. National liberation, from Jerusalem to Belfast, must always include confronting revisionism at all levels - from the rewriting of history and folklore to the physical destruction of the people’s material history and culture. Only then can people adequately confront the insidious ideology supporting imperialism. 

From Issue 3 of An Spréach Magazine, Jan- Mar 2019.