Palestinian Commemoration in Israel
Calendars, Monuments, and Martyrs
Tamir Sorek



The Monodrama Herzl Said tells the story of Khaled Majdalawi, a Palestinian history teacher in the Israeli school system. Khaled was a single and lonely man, cautious and obedient. He preferred to cite from textbooks rather than express his own views and feelings. He always carefully followed the official curriculum of the Israeli Ministry of Education and even rejected requests of his students to discuss the painful history of the Palestinian people. One day following a confrontation with a student who accused him of being a “Zionist,” he was suspended and lost his dream of becoming a school principal.

Performed in Arabic with Hebrew subtitles, Herzl Said was first publicly presented in summer 2009 at the Eighth Masrahid Festival where it won first prize. The play presents the fear of the authorities, caution, and silence of the Palestinian citizens of Israel (approximately 17 percent of its 8.1 million citizens in 2013) and the difficult conditions under which they construct their historical remembrance. Khaled’s character represents a common type of Arab teacher in the Israeli school system, one shaped by years of strict surveillance under the military government (which lasted until 1966), and then only partly liberalized after its removal. In the play, Khaled engages in a series of dialogues with key figures from his life, including his dead parents and an agent of the General Security Service (Shabak). Beyond telling his personal story, the play considers the impact of the first days of the al-Aqsa uprising in October 2000 when twelve Palestinian citizens of Israel were shot dead by the Israeli police.

A year before the play’s public debut, the playwright Iyad Barghuthi invited me to attend a rehearsal in the old city of Acre. After the rehearsal I joined an informal conversation between Iyad, the actor Ghassan ‘Abbas, and the director Munir Bakri. This was literally a conversation behind the scenes of the production of commemoration and collective memory. Ghassan voiced concern about the scene in which Khaled lists the names of the victims of October 2000 while the Israeli flag displays on a screen behind him, as if he blames the flag for their deaths. Ghassan wondered whether they were “going too far” in commemorating the event, whether this scene might provoke angry reactions. Iyad and Munir were unsure—and then all eyes turned toward me. As the only Jew in the room, I was asked to assess the extent to which the scene would hurt the sensitivities of Jewish Israelis. I found the situation ironic since I had considered the play itself to be a protest against this self-censorship exercised by so many Palestinian citizens of Israel. And yet, at the point that the play’s protagonist breaks through the barrier of fear, his creators had become hesitant and wondered whether the barrier should be pushed in a less aggressive way.

In the end the scene was left unchanged, but even four years later in an interview in 2012, Iyad remained unsure if this was the right decision. He finds the scene too direct and therefore artistically unrefined, and he is ambivalent about the extent to which he is interested in antagonizing a Jewish audience:

I think that the content might annoy people so I said, “Let’s not annoy them so they won’t disqualify the play from the very beginning only because it is critical against the establishment or the Zionist narrative.” But at the same time, when I think about it—let them be annoyed, why not? My buddies and I are annoyed every time we hear a narrative that denies us [. . .] I want people to listen and give a chance to a different voice because in my view it has a truth, and anger seals the ears and the eyes shut. To a certain extent, however, I regret this since [I tell myself], “Why do I feel sorry for them at all—let them pay with their nerves, that’s all.” This is part of my dissonance—on the one hand I want to have channels of cultural dialogue, but on the other hand I am really convinced that the channels are actually blocked.1

Khaled Majdalawi’s fear in the play and the moment this fear is conquered are two aspects of a particular phenomenon I investigate in this book—how Palestinians in Israel construct their collective memory and how they display it publicly. Similarly, Iyad’s dilemma over what to include in the play and my own expected role in evaluating the possible reactions to the play, illustrate the interactive and relational nature of this process.

The encounters of Palestinians in Israel with the Israeli state apparatus and with Jewish Israeli citizens of Israel, as well as their political status as Israeli citizens, have driven them into three discernible modes of action: (1) caused them to disguise or carefully select their public displays of collective memory out of fear, (2) motivated them to contrast their narrative with the dominant narrative of Jewish Israelis as a form of protest, and (3) inspired a desire for a dialogue with Jewish citizens of the state. Hence, Palestinian commemoration in Israel is at the same time a practice of political protest, a subject of surveillance by the authorities, and a sphere of dialogue with, and defiance of, Jewish Israeli citizens and the state. The combination of these factors is reflected in cross-pressures that shape Palestinian commemoration in Israel as cautious and vigilant. Commemoration vacillates between commitments to pan-Palestinian solidarity, emphasizing the uniqueness of Palestinian citizens, as well as blatant defiance and a pacifying tone. While the narrative, historical references, and symbolism of this commemoration have been embedded in Palestinian and Arab contexts, its discursive boundaries have been defined to a large extent by the political status of its producers as Israeli citizens.


During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and the subsequent mass expulsions that lasted until October 1950, approximately 85 percent of the Arab Palestinians who had lived in the areas of Mandatory Palestine that ultimately were subjected to Israeli sovereignty were driven outside the borders of the newly established state of Israel. In the process, hundreds of Palestinian villages were completely destroyed, and the larger towns and cities lost most, if not all, of their Arab populations. Between 700,000 and 800,000 Palestinian refugees took shelter in the remaining parts of Palestine still under Arab control (the Gaza Strip and the West Bank), as well as in the neighboring Arab countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, as well as elsewhere. These events are known in the Palestinian vocabulary as the Nakba (Arabic: catastrophe), and they constitute the key episode in Palestinian national history.

Those 156,000 Palestinians who remained under Israeli rule could not escape the dramatic consequences of the Nakba: about one-sixth of them came from nearby villages that were destroyed and depopulated. Subsequently they became internal refugees; many others lost their lands to Israeli state expropriations even though they remained in their villages; and families were torn apart never again to be reunited. Most Palestinians in Israel suddenly found themselves under strict military rule that dictated most aspects of their lives; and finally, they shared the drastic and sudden devaluation of their status from an established majority in the country to a subjugated and discriminated against minority.

While the Nakba has constituted the major anchor of contemporary Palestinian national identity, it has also created borders, both physical and mental, between Palestinians. Israel prevented the return of those Palestinians who fled or were expelled beyond the armistice line. Those who were able to secretly return were unsafe. After the first Israeli census in November 1948, and the distribution of Israeli identity cards or temporary residence permits, Israeli security forces conducted sporadic searches for Palestinians who, for various reasons, had not registered during the census and therefore were considered illegal aliens and were forcibly expelled across the border.2 Hence, during the first years of the state’s existence, an Israeli identity card (and later citizenship) provided crucial, even if imperfect, protection from expulsion beyond the armistice line. Gradually, expulsions stopped, but those without Israeli identity cards still faced difficulties in obtaining jobs, collecting government food rations, or legally marrying.3 Under these circumstances an Israeli identity card became a valuable asset and a means of survival for a member of the Palestinian minority.

In 1966 the military government that had been imposed on Palestinians inside Israel was formally removed, only to be quickly exported to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip the following year after Israel’s occupation of those territories. Since the beginning of the military occupation that began in 1967, more than half of the Palestinians in the world live under various segments of the “Israeli control system.”4 The territory under this control system, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, is ruled by ethnocratic principles that preserve Jewish domination while dividing Palestinians among various subgroups with different levels of civil rights, political rights, and economic opportunities.5 This internal hierarchy places Palestinian citizens in an intermediate political status between Jewish Israelis and Palestinian non-citizens and ensures their relative benefits vis-à-vis their fellow Palestinians. To be sure, Palestinians in Israel suffer from blatant, systemic discrimination,6 but compared to Palestinians who live in the militarily-occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip, they are far less vulnerable to arbitrary violations of their rights. As a result, differing existential conditions among the various Palestinian communities have led to a growing discrepancy in the collective self–image of both groups.7

Over the long term the salience of citizenship developed beyond merely existential instrumentalism. “In an endeavor to survive,” observed the political scientist Amal Jamal, “Israeli Palestinians integrated components of their national and cultural identity with their new identity as citizens of the state.”8 Furthermore, Palestinian citizens have become part of a political community they share unequally with Jewish citizens. Palestinians in Israel also share various segments of the public sphere with Jewish citizens, albeit awkwardly, such as universities, hospitals, and soccer stadiums. Most adult Palestinians in Israel are bilingual and consume Hebrew media. In fact, a 2007–2008 survey of hundreds of members of the Arab elite in Israel (artists, authors, bankers, educators, civil activists, and university professors) found that 75 percent of them read both Arabic and Hebrew newspapers.9 That figure is lower among a representative sample of the general population (survey from 2005), yet 63 percent of Palestinians reported that they read Hebrew newspapers at least irregularly.10 Palestinian exposure to Hebrew radio and television broadcasts is also significant, further supporting that at both elite and popular levels, Palestinians in Israel are highly aware of, and keenly interested in learning, the Jewish Israeli perspective.

The main purpose for the consumption of the Hebrew press by the Arab public is not simply gathering information since respondents expressed a high level of distrust in the Hebrew media. Rather, it is based on the need to know what is happening in the immediate social and political environment, especially the positions and arguments developing among Jewish citizens.11 At the same time, as the Palestinian intellectual Azmi Bishara has commented on the Hebrew language used by Arabs in Israel, “The tool has become a part of the person who uses it.”12 In other words, it is very difficult to draw a clear line between purely instrumental use of the language and its implications for identity.

These conditions have salient implications on both the content and form of Palestinian commemoration in Israel. First, because they have much more to lose, the level of self-censorship prevalent among Palestinians with Israeli citizenship far exceeds that of other Palestinians. As I explore in this book, this self-censorship has diminished in the twenty-first century, but it has not disappeared. Second, the close proximity and frequent exposure of Palestinians in Israel to the Jewish Israeli perspective makes Jewish Israelis a highly relevant audience for Palestinian commemorative discourse, whether it aims to confront or to engage. Jewish sensitivities have a direct effect on how Palestinians in Israel negotiate a public image of the past, and their familiarity with the Jewish Israeli internal vocabulary enables them to communicate with Jewish Israelis in ways that are unavailable to other Palestinians. The title Herzl Said, for example, refers not only to the founding father of the Zionist movement (which is common knowledge among Palestinians), but also to the Israeli version of the children’s game Simon Says. The title is directed toward both Jewish and Arab audiences, conveying criticism of the authorities of the Jewish state for their expectations that Arab citizens be obedient subjects; at the same time it criticizes the common tendency among Arabs to fulfill this role.


This book traces the various ways that Palestinian citizens in Israel have negotiated their collective identity—as both Palestinians and Israeli citizens—through development of historical remembrance, political calendar, and shared martyrology. Over the past two decades, dozens of scholarly books about the Palestinian citizens of Israel have been published. Most of them have focused on the political organization of the Palestinians or the policy of the state toward them;13 others examined particular spheres including the economy,14 education,15 the media,16 urban exclusion,17 generational issues,18 the role of intellectuals,19 collaborators,20 cuisine,21 and sports.22 Most of these books have referred to commemoration and collective memory sporadically but did not make it a central theme. This lacuna is significant because as I illustrate in this book, the creation of a political calendar that provides a cyclical structure for political mobilization and a distinct pantheon of martyrs that fuels political protest have both played a central role in the gradual process of post-1948 recovery and empowerment.

For Palestinians in Israel, the creation of a political calendar is a form of control over time—an especially valuable asset when control over public space is extremely limited. Furthermore, collective memory can transform historical events into political myths,23 and a collective calendar has a decisive role in this transformation and in maintaining collective identities.24 “As a cycle of holidays specifically designed to commemorate socially marked events,” writes the sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel, “the calendar year often encapsulates the conventional master narratives constructed by mnemonic communities from their history. By examining which historical events are commemorated on holidays, we can identify the most sacred periods in a group’s collective past.”25

Let us examine, therefore, what is included in the particular political calendar of the Palestinians in Israel. Among the long list of dramatic events that shaped their history, four commemorations have been gradually canonized on the political calendar: the 1956 Kafr Qasim Massacre (the execution of forty-seven Palestinian citizens who were not aware of a curfew imposed on their village); Land Day in 1976 (a country-wide strike and protest against Israeli government confiscation of Palestinian land, during which Israeli police killed six Palestinians); the October 2000 killing of Palestinians in Israel, and the Nakba.

These four events share several characteristics. They have been commemorated annually, for at least fourteen years, with mass processions and extensive coverage in the local and regional Arabic media. All major political streams among the Palestinians in Israel—communist, nationalist, and Islamist26—take part. Finally, these events are commemorated either exclusively by the Palestinians in Israel or in a distinct manner within Israel.

Figure 1 illustrates the percentage of Arab citizens who have reported participating in commemorative events since 2003, showing a sharp increase in Nakba Day and Land Day events. In addition, the ratio between those who reported participation in commemorative events and those who joined a general political demonstration has also gradually increased, indicating that the mass participation in political demonstrations is overwhelmingly dominated by commemorative events.

Figure 1. Percentage of Arab citizens who reported participation in political events by year, 2003–2012


One of the theoretical underpinnings of this book is collective memory. The term “collective memory” has been used by different scholars to describe different phenomenon, and this terminological vagueness makes it necessary to clarify my own approach. My use of the term overlaps, in all or in part, with what was termed “historical memory” by Maurice Halbwachs,27 “appropriated memories” by Karl Mannheim,28 “cultural memory” by Jan Assmann and John Czaplicka,29 and “popular memory” by the Popular Memory Group. Using Halbwachs’s distinction between autobiographical and historical memory and the parallel distinction made by Mannheim between personally acquired memories and appropriated memories, it is important to emphasize that this book deals only with the latter, namely historical memory which was not personally acquired. A memory of an individual is ‘collective’ not because it is shared by every individual in her/his group but because it was acquired through certain social institutions (family, education system, political parties, etc.) which are identified with this group. The 1917 Balfour Declaration, for example, is not part of the autobiographical history of any of the Palestinians or Israelis who live today, but it is certainly part of the historical remembrance of many of them who learned about it as part of growing up as Palestinians or Israelis.

Assmann and Czaplicka distinguished between “communicative memory” which includes those varieties of collective memory that are based exclusively on informal, mostly personal everyday communication, and “cultural memory” transmitted through formal cultural formations (rites, monuments) and institutional communication (recitation, practice, observance). The events marked on the collective calendar of Palestinians in Israel are remembered in all these forms, but their mere anchoring in the collective calendar, their “monumentalization,” or their inclusion in formalized curricula, is part of a conscious endeavor to include them in a long lasting cultural memory.

Most important, collective popular memory is a contested terrain in the constant struggle over hegemony.30 This terrain is occupied by many actors with various agendas and diverse narratives who compete over the construction of the past. There are real processes of domination in the field of historical remembrance: at any given moment, certain representations achieve centrality, visibility, and prestige; others are marginalized or muted.31 The apparatus of the State of Israel, the various Arab political parties and extra-parliamentary movements, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Arab local councils, Arab and Jewish Israeli non-governmental organizations (NGOs)—all these actors, each with its own agenda, have competed over shaping historical remembrance and collective memory among Palestinians in Israel.


My methodological choices are informed by the distinction made by the Popular Memory Group between the two main ways a sense of the past is produced: through public representation and through private memory.32 Similarly, the sociologist Jeffery Olick distinguished between two approaches in the study of collective memory: an “individualist” academic culture, which is based on aggregated individual memories and a “collectivist” one that focuses on collective commemorative representations.33 Although individual remembrance and public representations of the past are partly autonomous, they are also mutually dependent because the study of popular memory “is a necessarily relational study.”34 Aggregated private instances of historical remembrance are both products and reflections (even if as a mirror image in certain contexts) of public representations. In this regard, I look carefully for the roads that connect the two.

Therefore, I am guided by a holistic approach that considers the production and reception of meanings as interrelated. I utilize diverse research methods that examine different aspects of collective memory from different angles and in various spheres with an emphasis on the struggle over meaning between numerous actors. This combination diminishes the risk that methodological choices would overshadow the subtlety of the phenomena under investigation.

In addition, I tried to avoid a common tendency to look at 1948 as the starting point of the history of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. The contemporary predicaments and challenges of the Palestinians in Israel are the results of a long history, and its roots can be traced back at least to the early days of the Palestinian national movement following World War I. Although Palestinian citizens of Israel have developed a distinct repertoire of collective commemoration, this repertoire cannot be evaluated properly without a reference to its historical development since those days. Therefore, I researched the Arabic press from the 1920s to the 1940s, diaries, memoirs, as well as secondary sources, in order to understand the development of the Palestinian collective calendar and martyrology under the British rule of Palestine (1917–1948).

Since the first commemoration on the national calendar of the Palestinians in Israel is the date of the massacre at Kafr Qasim in 1956, I began my investigation of the post-state period from that year. I read the reports covering the four major anchors of the collective calendar in nine Arabic newspapers in Israel from 1956 through 2014, as well as other important dates on the calendar (for an outline of the other dates, see Chapter 6). This path of investigation is especially important from the early 1980s because newspapers in Arabic have been a key element of the independent Arab public sphere in Israel since that period.35 With the beginning of the twenty-first century, the internet emerged as another major sphere of constructing historical remembrance and therefore I searched and followed the references to these events on numerous websites operated by Palestinian citizens of Israel with diverse political orientations. More sporadically, I followed the broadcasts of an Arabic radio station, reviewed memorial books published locally, and educational materials published by the Follow-Up Committee for Arabic Education (FUCAE). In addition, I watched three ceremonies in Kafr Qasim (in 1986, 1999, and 2006) recorded on film. To compare Palestinian historical remembrance inside and outside Israel, I also read two bulletins of Palestinian organizations and one private Palestinian newspaper published outside Israel.

While the newspapers and commemorative books provide much insight into the historical development of Palestinian commemoration, they cannot provide the point of view of the state apparatus attempting to suppress, manipulate, or contain it. This perspective can be found in the files at the Israel State Archive. I reviewed relevant correspondence of the Advisor to the Prime Minister for Arab Affairs, the Ministry of Education, and protocols and correspondences of Arab local councils. Obviously, I did not have access to many still-classified documents, and the most recently released relevant material available is from 1984. To understand contemporary modes of surveillance, I drew on my interviews with relevant functionaries and the protocols of the Knesset assembly.

A significant part of the investigation of more recent developments is based on face-to-face interviews. Between 2001 and 2014, I conducted more than ninety interviews with key Arab and Jewish “memory actors,” namely, individuals who are directly or indirectly involved in the public struggle over historical remembrance. Among the interviewees were activists involved in organizing commemorative events and Jewish legislators who acted to ban these events; Arab educators who attempted to bring the Palestinian national narrative into public schools and functionaries in the Israeli Ministry of Education who sought to monitor and circumscribe these attempts; and local activists, mayors, journalists, directors of youth summer camps, artists, as well as others.36 Most of these interviews took place at the homes of the interviewees, many others at their workplaces, and a small number in a café. In rare cases, I conducted the interview by phone. The length of most interviews ranged between one hour and two hours. Depending on the circumstances, some of these interviews were recorded and transcribed.

In addition, I attended commemorative events in various Arab localities—Land Day events in Sakhnin and Deir Hanna, the memorial procession in Kafr Qasim, al-Aqsa Day in Sakhnin, Memorial Day for the massacre in ‘Aylabun, Memorial Day for the 2005 assault in Shefa‘amr,37 and the March of Return commemorating the Nakba. In 2009, 2011, and 2012, I visited youth summer camps run by two Arab political parties. I followed the production of national historical remembrance in these camps, as well as the governmental attempts to monitor them.

During my ethnographic work, as well as during interviews, I faced the challenge of gaining the trust of my direct interviewees or of other people around me. As a Jewish Israeli man who speaks Arabic—with this profile I could have easily been sent by the Israeli Shabak under the guise of an academic researcher38—some of my initial contacts with people was often met with suspicion. Many of my interviewees were public figures who are used to being interviewed (mayors, members of local councils, authors), a factor that made them less suspicious than the average person. However, in other cases, I had to be creative.

First, whenever possible I did not contact people directly but rather through mutual acquaintances with the help of Palestinian friends, some of whom I have known for many years dating back to our student days at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Palestinian social networks are very dense, and in many cases my distance from the actor I wanted to interview, including leaders of the Islamic Movement, was no more than one degree of separation.

Second, while contacting organizations I attempted first to gain the trust of the individuals at the top of the formal or informal hierarchy, hoping that they would open other doors for me. This was especially important in my ethnography at one of the summer camps, where one of the members of the camp crew protested my presence in the camp. The acting director who defended my presence won the argument by mentioning the name of a highly regarded person in the party who had invited me to visit the camp.

Third, I worked to establish my academic status early in any interaction: I presented myself at the first instance of contact as Dr. Tamir Sorek (Israeli culture is informal and I do not use my title in other contexts), used my business card, repeatedly referred to my American home institution, and provided copies of my published articles. In cases where I expected a high level of suspicion, I brought a copy of my first book in Hebrew to leave as a gift. Obviously, this mode of presentation was more effective when the interviewees themselves had some familiarity with the academic world, at least as students. Although hypothetically these tactics could have been used as well by the Shabak, I was surprised to find how well they lessened suspicion. The frequent interpretation of my publications as sympathetic to Palestinians in Israel in all likelihood was also helpful.

With time I learned not to display too much knowledge about their organizations to my interviewees. Although I gained this knowledge from the inter-net or from other interviews, sometimes it caused them to feel that they were under surveillance, and I learned to restrain my tendency to demonstrate my familiarity with the field. Nevertheless, the challenges of ethnographic research emphasize the need for additional channels of investigation and the examination of additional spheres.

Surveys with representative samples provide a bird-eye view of social phenomenon. In July and August 2008 I conducted a nation-wide, questionnaire-based survey of 530 Arab and 515 Jewish citizens in Israel through phone interviews.39 The respondents constituted representative samples of their respective adult populations.40 An individual-centered survey methodology allows for inquiry into how private remembrance correlates with certain social and political orientations, an issue highly relevant to the literature about the collective memory-national identity nexus that rarely has been investigated by this method. These correlations, if found, might be evidence of the replication, reflection, contradiction, or even dialogue between private remembrance and public commemoration. Beyond this survey I analyzed raw data from related public opinion polls conducted between 1996 and 2009 by the Guttman Institute at the Israel Democracy Institute, Modiin Ezrahi, and Dahaf Institute.

Finally, a comparison of the Palestinians in Israel to other cases is crucial for developing sociological insights. While this book does not present a systematic comparative analysis, it does reflect sporadically on the parallels and differences between the commemoration among Palestinians in Israel and similar cases. The important task here is to decide what constitutes a similar case. Looking for studies of ethno-national groups that face similar dilemmas and challenges led me to the conclusion that any attempt to classify the political status of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel would have to acknowledge some of the extreme and even idiosyncratic characteristics of their condition. This makes a comparative discussion an especially challenging task. I suggest viewing the Palestinian citizens of Israel as located on the far margins of two categories of cases: “trapped” minorities and colonized peoples. In both categories they stand out as a particularly unique or extreme type. Many of the peculiar dynamics of the production of their collective memory and public commemoration can be understood by taking into consideration their location on this taxonomic juncture. Thus, it is crucial to explain these peculiarities before taking a closer look at this commemoration.


The anthropologist Dan Rabinowitz considers the Palestinians in Israel a “trapped minority”:41 a segment of a larger group spread across more than one state, citizens of a state hegemonized by others and whose political power is limited by their non-affiliation with the dominant ethno-national group. This category includes Kurds in Turkey, Turks in Bulgaria, Russians in the Baltics, Armenians in Azerbaijan, and many others. Implicitly, this concept echoes the sociologist Rogers Brubaker’s “triadic nexus.” Brubaker observed that the collective identities of certain minorities are frequently shaped by the combining influence of a nationalizing state under whose sovereignty they live, an external kin-state (or motherland), and the institutions of the ethno-national minority.42 The Arab-Palestinians in Israel seemingly have several Arab kin-states around Israel (Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon). The attachment to these states is mainly in the form of cultural affinity and expressions of solidarity in times of crisis, but it lacks a concrete political dimension. Since 1948 none of these states have seen the Palestinians in Israel as potential citizens as many kin states tend to do.43 Like Kurds, Tamils, and other ethnic groups with sporadic, partial, or unfulfilled national aspirations, Palestinians in Israel do not have an external sovereign kin nation state as a subject of patriotic sentiments. They have been influenced, however, by a vibrant Palestinian national movement whose political, military, and myth-making activities since 1948 mostly have taken place outside the internationally recognized borders of Israel.

Looking at other cases of trapped minorities, the development of diverse collective self-images among Palestinians who live in different political contexts is not surprising because formal citizenship rarely remains merely formal. Even when such a minority is politically mobilized, maintaining citizenship is frequently part of the political vision. The geographer Oren Yiftachel defined this form of mobilization as “ethnoregionalism,” which is “ethnonationalism in constraining political and territorial circumstances.” It is distinct from conventional ethnonationalism by its lack of drive for ethnic sovereignty and by the tendency to reconcile ethnic and civil elements of identity. At the same time it is distinct from civil mobilization by its emphasis on the protection of a specific homeland territory and by its demands to restructure the ethnic foundations of the polity and not merely to redistribute its material resources.44

There are many examples of the far-reaching implications of formal citizenship on the collective identity and memory of trapped minorities. Basques in Spain and France, for example, have developed different orientations of identity;45 the status of Hungarian communities as citizens of Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia has differential impact on the ways they commemorate the Hungarian national past;46 the commemoration of Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland has become a rhetorical battlefield between Irish Republicans and Catholic leaders supporting constitutional nationalism in Northern Ireland.47 The narrative of the young generation of the Russian-speaking minority in Latvia regarding the Soviet conquest of the country is influenced by the official Latvian national narrative, indicating that these Russian-speakers gradually are moving away from the views of their contemporaries in Russia on the Soviet history of the Baltic States.48

Although Rabinowitz presented Palestinians in Israel as a prototypical trapped minority, if we follow his definition strictly, we would find that in multiple aspects they constitute an extreme case, and the peculiar combination of these aspects makes the Palestinians in Israel a unique case: the social boundaries between them and the majority society is particularly rigid; their national narrative is diametrically opposed to the state narrative; their territory is central to the national narrative of their trans-border community; they face an exclusionary nationalizing policy; they are part of a stratified system of an active colonial project; and they face the anxiety over the reversibility of power relations by the settler society. Each of these dimensions of exceptionality or extremity has direct implications on the production of historical remembrance.

First, the social boundaries between Arabs and Jews in Israel are exceptionally rigid, with almost no gray area. The number of individuals who would define themselves as both Arab and Jewish in Israel today is negligible. Even when it is done, usually this self-labeling is considered a political statement and is not socially approved. From 1949 until the late 1960s, approximately 900,000 Jews immigrated to Israel from Arab countries. There is a scholarly debate as to what extent the title Arab-Jews was relevant to this population before the immigration,49 but there is no doubt that by now most of the third generation does not speak Arabic and firmly rejects the Jewish-Arab label. The combination Jewish-Palestinian is even less common.50

A crucial indicator for the social distance between Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel is the lack of intermarriage between them. While intermarriages affects approximately one in four ethnic Hungarians in Romania,51 one out of ten Kurds in Turkey,52 more than 40 percent of the ethnic Russians in Latvia,53 and one out of ten couples in Northern Ireland at the end of the twentieth century,54 the number of Arab-Jewish mixed marriages is negligible. Family is an important site for the production of vernacular national narratives, and when intermarriage is common there is more room for developing alternatives to “zero sum game” national narratives commonly produce by elite rhetoric. The diametrically opposed elite narratives in Transylvania, for example, are frequently not reproduced in the nuclear mixed Hungarian-Romanian families.55 The almost complete absence of mixed families in Israel significantly diminishes the opportunities for the development of these alternative narratives.

Second, the level of alienation of the Palestinians in Israel from the official state narrative is incomparable to most other cases. Diametrically opposed historicization might characterize the experience of trapped minorities in general.56 There is no other case, however, where the total contradiction and the zero sum game relations between the narratives are as extreme as in the Israeli-Palestinian case. In the common Palestinian national narrative, the creation of the State of Israel is the direct cause for the destruction of Palestine.

Although the creation of Northern Ireland was done against the will of most of the local Catholic population, it was not followed by the uprooting of 85 percent of them. Unlike the Nakba for the Palestinians, the Irish civil war is only one event in the long chain of Irish national history. Similarly, there is no existential contradiction between the founding mythology of Estonian and Russian nationalism. The disagreement is about specific historical episodes, not about the actual existence of the other nation. The Kurdish national movement in Turkey demands self-determination but does not consider the mere existence of the Turkish republic as a terrible injustice. Therefore, while the production of a counter-hegemonic memory by a trapped minority frequently has the potential to be perceived as challenging the very legitimacy of the state,57 in Israel the production of this memory is seen frequently by Jewish citizens as an existential threat.

Furthermore, unlike Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan where the Russian minorities are either not allowed or are unable to form their own independent parties, Palestinians in Israel do have ethno-national parties represented in the parliament, but they lack any practical political power. Since the end of the twentieth century, parties representing the minority ethno-national groups in Northern Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and other countries have been part of the ruling coalition at least part of the time. A parallel scenario in which an Arab party joins the Israeli government belongs to the realm of fantasy. Thus the inability to influence the allocation of material resources has pushed Arab members of parliament to overemphasize themes of identity and national narratives.

The third dimension of exceptionality of the Palestinians in Israel is the status of the territory they inhabit in the collective narrative of their national community. Trapped minorities differ in the relative importance of their territory in the canon of their kin state or their broader ethno-national community. There is a difference between minorities who live in territories with little importance to the core national narrative, such as Russians in the Baltic states, and Hungarians in Transylvania, a territory that has a respectable status in the Hungarian national mythology.58 Here, again, Palestinians in Israel are located on the extreme edge of a continuum. Pre-1967 Israel is considered in the Palestinian vocabulary as the dakhil (Arabic: inside). In the Palestinian national canon of poetry and literature, this territory is the subject of longing and passion, especially among the secular elements that dominated the Palestinian national movement until the early 2000s. The location of the Palestinian citizens of Israel at the core territory of the Palestinian national mythology carries the potential for tense disputes with Jewish citizens.

Fourth, Israel has never attempted to assimilate Palestinians. Rogers Brubaker distinguished between assimilationist and differential nationalizing discourse and practice,59 and Israel’s policy toward its Arab citizens belongs to the latter category beyond any doubt. Palestinian citizens were even encouraged to maintain a separate education system in their own language (up to high school level), as long as the content was supervised by the state. In the long term, the reluctance of the state to truly “Israelify” its Arab citizens contributed to their alienation from the state and to the development of a separate national identity and collective memory.

Fifth, beyond being a trapped minority, the Palestinians in Israel can be considered an indigenous dispossessed colonized group, like Native Americans in the United States and Canada, aboriginal people in Australia, or Maoris in New Zealand.60 As such, their collective memory is dominated by themes of dispossession and humiliation, themes that are tightly linked to concrete political demands in the present and that further intensify the struggle over the representation of the past. Here, again, the Israeli-Palestinian case is at the margin of the category. Israel is not a typical colonial project, since it lacks a metro-pole; economic gains were not an important drive for colonization; and the settlers shared a pre-existing proto-national identity. However, the most important distinction for analyzing the construction of historical remembrance is that the colonial element in Zionism is still active. Land allocation and investment in infrastructure by the state are still subjugated to the unilateral aspiration to strengthen the power of the settler community.61 Under these circumstances the lines between protest over past and present dispossessions are especially blurred.

Furthermore, since 1967 millions of Palestinians who are not citizens live under Israeli military occupation, which by itself ensures the continuation of the colonizing project. Palestinians in Israel constitute a minority only if we consider Israel in its pre-1967 border as a separate political unit, an assumption which is increasingly challenged by scholars who suggest that between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea there is one state in which Palestinians are dominated by different means.62 The numbers of Arabs and Jews in this territory are roughly equal. Even if we do accept that this territory should be analyzed as a single political system, the numerical inferiority of Palestinians among Israeli citizens is meaningful and relevant for understanding their political discourse and practice because most of them do take seriously their Israeli citizenship. Therefore, the comparison to other trapped minorities is still pertinent. None of the other trapped minorities is embedded in such a fragmented and stratified system of control.

Finally, unlike native communities in the United States and Australia, Palestinians in Israel have to deal with the anxiety of the settler community over the reversibility of the demographic ration and the power relations. The Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling argued that the Zionist settlement enterprise has been seen as a process that could go in only one direction—that of increasing control over territories. Decreasing control has been considered likely to initiate decolonization, in a manner similar to the “domino theory.”63 In the case of the remembrance of 1948 and the issue of Palestinian refugees, the concern of reversibility is even greater than in the case of retreat from a certain piece of land. Since actual return of the refugees would mean the end of Jewish dominance and control in Israel/Palestine, even the slightest symbolic gesture raises the fear of entering a slippery slope that would end Jewish national sovereignty. Therefore, while the celebration of the indigenous narratives that negate the “founding moments” of the nation can be tolerated or ignored by the dominant groups in the United States and Australia,64 in Israel this Palestinian counter-narrative has been frequently followed by anxious reactions.

The year 1948 is both the time of the birth of the State of Israel and the year of Nakba, but it is also the time when “the Palestinian citizens of Israel” began to emerge as a political and social category. Their pre-1948 past has immediately become specific contested terrain: the state made an effort to disconnect its Palestinian citizens from their pre-1948 national history, and to make pre-1948 national martyrology and memorial days be forbidden knowledge. At the same time Palestinian intellectuals have tried to bring these elements back to the public sphere. Our journey begins, therefore, with exploring Palestinian national commemoration under British rule.


1. Interview with Iyad Barghuthi, 3 March 2012.

2. Robinson, Citizen Strangers, 74–84.

3. Ibid., 111.

4. Kimmerling, “Boundaries and Frontiers,” 265–84.

5. Yiftachel, “Ethnocracy.”

6. On the predicament of Palestinians in Israel facing the ethnic character of the state, see Ghanem and Rouhana, “Citizenship and the Parliamentary Politics of Minorities in Ethnic States.” For details about current days discrimination, see Haider et al., The Equality Index.

7. Jamal, “Palestinian Dynamics of Self Representation.”

8. Jamal, “Nationalizing States,” 447.

9. Jamal, Arab Public Sphere in Israel, 97.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid., 99.

12. Bishara, “He-‘Arvi ha-Yisraeli,” 176.

13. Landau, Arab Minority in Israel; Stendel, Arabs in Israel; Kaufman, Arab National Communism; Ghanem, Palestinian-Arab Minority in Israel; Bashir, Land Day; Bauml, Tsel Kahol-Lavan; R. Cohen, Strangers in Their Homeland; Reiter, National Minority, Regional Majority; Frisch, Israel’s Security and Its Arab Citizens; Haklai, Palestinian Ethnonationalism; Jamal, Arab Minority Nationalism; Pappé, Forgotten Palestinians; Peleg and Waxman, Israel’s Palestinians; Schueftan, Falastinin be-yisrael; Robinson, Citizen Strangers.

14. Lewin-Epstein and Semyonov, Arab Minority in Israel’s Economy.

15. Al Haj, Education, Empowerment, and Control.

16. Jamal, Arab Public Sphere in Israel.

17. Rabinowitz, Overlooking Nazareth.

18. Rabinowitz and Abu-Baker, Coffins on Our Shoulders.

19. Ghanim, Livnot et ha-uma me-hadash.

20. H. Cohen, Good Arabs.

21. Gvion, Beyond Hummus and Falafel.

22. Ben Porat, Biladi Biladi; Sorek, Arab Soccer in a Jewish State.

23. Zerubavel, Recovered Roots, 9.

24. Cressy, Bonfires and Bells; E. Zerubavel, “Easter and Passover”; E. Zerubavel, “Calendars and History”; Y. Zerubavel, Recovered Roots.

25. E. Zerubavel, “Easter and Passover,” 316–317.

26. For this typology, see Ghanem, Palestinian-Arab Minority in Israel.

27. Coser, “Introduction: Maurice Halbwachs 1877–1945.”

28. Mannheim, Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge.

29. Assmann and Czaplicka, “Collective Memory and Cultural Identity.”

30. Popular Memory Group, “Popular Memory.”

31. Ibid., 255.

32. Popular Memory Group, “Popular Memory.”

33. Olick, “Collective Memory: The Two Cultures.”

34. Popular Memory Group, “Popular Memory.”

35. Jamal, Arab Public Sphere in Israel.

36. Inevitably, my focus on actors who hold a certain level of public power is reflected in an imbalance of the gender distribution of the interviewees, given the extreme overrepresentation of men in positions of power.

37. In August 2005 an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) deserter killed four Shefa‘amr residents in a calculated attempt to prevent the withdrawal of Israel from the Gaza Strip. For more information, see Chapter 5.

38. On a similar problem, see Rabinowitz, Overlooking Nazareth. It is noteworthy that this suspicion is based on a concrete social reality—at an early stage of my academic career, after my first articles had been already published, Shabak representatives contacted me and suggested that I utilize my academic credentials to collect information for them. I firmly rejected the offer and have never received a similar offer since then, but the incident taught me the extent to which I must work hard to gain trust in my fieldwork.

39. The reliability of telephone interviews for the Arab minority in Israel has been frequently criticized. It has been argued that Arab respondents are suspicious and tend to feel threatened when being asked questions with a potentially political connotation (especially by phone), and that their answers might reflect a tendency to satisfy the authorities (Smooha, “Suvreys among the Arab Population in Israel”). As Smooha notes, however, in surveys he has taken since the mid-seventies, the high rate of support for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO: considered a terrorist organization by Israeli law until 1993) and a long list of anti-establishment attitudes indicate that, collectively, the Arabs in Israel are not a frightened public.

40. The survey was conducted by the B. I. Lucille Cohen Institute for Public Opinion Research at Tel Aviv University. The samples were based on a proportional sampling of statistical areas, within layers defined by religion, geographical region, and socioeconomic status. In the second stage, numbers of households were sampled from each statistical area. In each household selected for the sample, one adult aged eighteen or older was interviewed. The response rate was 35 percent, which is compatible with the known response rate of phone interviews in Israel. Arabs were interviewed by native Arabic speakers and Jews were interviewed by native Hebrew or Russian speakers. The phone conversation typically lasted no more than ten minutes. The questionnaire was part of a larger research project about memory and identity among Jews and Arabs in Israel, and this book uses only answers to specific questions from the survey.

41. Rabinowitz, “Palestinian Citizens of Israel.”

42. Brubaker, Nationalism Reframed, 4–6. The homeland is “external” since it is beyond the political boundaries of the state even though “the trapped minorities” do not see themselves as living outside of their homeland.

43. Csergo and Goldgeier, “Kin-State Activism.”

44. Yiftachel, “Between Nation and State,” 289.

45. Bray and Keating, “European Integration and the Basque Country,” 139.

46. Brubaker and Feischmidt, “1848 in 1998.”

47. Conway, Commemoration and Bloody Sunday.

48. Cheskin, “History, Conflicting Collective Memories, and National Identities.”

49. For an evaluation of the applicability of the term in various contexts, see Goldberg and Bram, “Sephardic/Mizrahi/Arab-Jews.”

50. Historically in the mandate period, this was not an issue as it reflected Palestinian citizenship.

51. Brubaker et al., Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity, 299.

52. Gündüz-Hoşgör and Smits, “Intermarriage between Turks and Kurds.”

53. Monden and Smits, “Ethnic Intermarriage in Times of Social Change.”

54. Wigfall-Williams and Robinson, A World Apart.

55. On the gap between national and vernacular perspectives and on ethnically mixed families in Transylvania, see Brubaker et al., Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity.

56. Rabinowitz, “The Palestinian Citizens of Israel.”

57. For example, some of the Soviet war monuments built in republics that gained independence in the post-Soviet era became contested sites between the Russian ethnic minority and the new nationalizing states: Smith, “Woe from Stones.”

58. Csergo and Goldgeier, “Kin-State Activism.”

59. For this distinction see Brubaker, “Nationalizing States Revisited.”

60. For studies that analyze the relations between the State of Israel and its Palestinian citizens from the colonial paradigm, see Zureik, The Palestinians in Israel; Shafir and Peled, Being Israeli; and Robinson, Citizen Strangers.

61. Yiftachel, “Ethnocracy.”

62. For examples of analyzing the territory between the sea and the river as one unit, see Yiftachel, “Ethnocracy”; Meron Benvenisti, “The binational option,” Haaretz, 7 November 2003; and Yehuda Shenhav, Beyond the Two-State Solution. For an example of considering Israel in its pre-1967 borders as the relevant unit of analysis, see Smooha, “The Model of Ethnic Democracy.”

63. Kimmerling, “Exchanging Territories for Peace.”

64. Lyn Spillman, “When Do Collective Memories Last?”