Trump's Nakba


First published at From the River to the Sea

Israel has massacred at least 52 more Palestinians this morning.

The victims, shot in cold blood, against no loss of Israeli life, had come to the illegal barbed-wired border of Gaza to protest the Trump Administration’s decision to commemorate the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem one short, symbolic day before the anniversary of Israel’s founding massacre: the 1948 Nakba, in which thousands of Palestinian were killed, and 750,000 displaced, to make way for the new Israeli state. The fresh dead bring the death toll of the Palestinian “Great March of Return” to more than 100, and the wounded to more than 2,000.

This new slaughter, then, is Trump’s Nakba.

Indeed, the decision to move the US Embassy is a Zionist strike against the heart of Palestinian resistance, Palestine's claim for recognition, and Palestinians' claim for peoplehood. Its timing not only coincides with, but celebrates, the originary violence of Israeli settler-colonialism well documented in Ilan Pappe’s indispensable book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. 

The capital move likewise signifies a particular form of United States Zionist support for Israel, wedding Christian restorationist zealots and their fantastic dreams of a Christian homeland to the Israeli Zionist fantasy of statehood in the desert: “A land without a people for a people without a land,” as the well-worn genocidal slogan goes.

Hence the Trump Administration’s support for Israel signifies both a continuation of longstanding support for Israel as its “watchdog of the Middle East,” but also an egregious recapitulation of US support for, and execution of, slow genocides elsewhere in the world: its own massacres of Native peoples; the Black holocaust of the slave trade; annexation, starvation, rape and murder of indigenous populations in US colonizing wars against the Philippines, Cuba, Vietnam, Iraq, among others. Trump’s Nakba revives the ghosts of US support for mass killings of repressive states in South Africa, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Myanmar, Zaire, Syria. 

Today’s killings and now weeks of slaughter by Israel of Palestinian civilians are also a fresh reminder of the violence generated by the modern state of Israel against its opponents, a violence endemic to its founding.  As Ronan Bergman documents in his new book Rise Up and Kill Firstthe state of Israel has assassinated more figures that any state since 1945. The violence now being deployed against individual Palestinian protestors — targeted assassination by another name — has been refined over time through use against Palestinians in the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the First and Second Intifadas, and the political organization Hamas, not to mention the thousands killed in the daily routine of settler-colonial discipline and rule.

Trump’s Nakba is also characterized by a particular confluence of neoliberal Zionism and abject anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia indexical to our time. It is a sequel to his attempted “Muslim ban” and border wall, one which emulates precisely the Apartheid Wall across Israel. It comes burnished by personal Zionist family ties: Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and "representative" to the Middle East, is the scion of a family with deep ties to the real estate industry in Israel. The Trump Administration is now considering for an “unpaid position” in the White House for Ken Kurson, former editor of the New York Observer, a newspaper owned by Kushner, and which routinely publishes pro-Israel stories and attacks on the critics of Israel, despite being a for-profit “entertainment” newspaper (full disclosure: I was the subject of one of The Observer’s own smear pieces for my role in supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement against Israel. The story’s author, Paul Miller, is president and executive director of the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center, a Zionist organization, and routinely writes hit pieces on, for example, the BDS movement for The Observer).

Diplomatically, the Trump Administration has followed the hardest of Zionist lines by literally refusing to recognize Palestinians as a political entity or their historical claims on Jerusalem. State Department head Mike Pompeo’s role in advocating the Embassy move to Jerusalem has enabled the Netanyahu government’s most right-wing Zionist elements to full-throatedly celebrate the move. The specter of a US–Israel victory dance on the graves of fresh Palestinians is precisely what Pompeo means when he declares, as he did yesterday, that the US State Department is “going to get our swagger back.” 

As for the resistance itself: the Great March of Return clearly occupies a space in the collapsing world of organized Palestinian politics: between the comprador farce of the Palestinian Authority and the instability of Hamas, which swings between endorsing the martyrdom of the protest, and advocating a  deracinated version of “non-violence” in the face of Israeli settler-colonialism. The resistance also occupies a literal space between the memory of the Nakba — tomorrow’s 70th anniversary — and the political vestiges of the First and Second Intifadas. Both are ghosts resurrected by the specter of today’s violence; one longs for the political coherence and collective unity of the latter in the face of the resurrection of the former.

Similarly, Trump’s Nakba — the conjoining of the erasure of Palestinian genocide to a new round signified by the embassy move — indexes the inevitable conjuncture within a settler-colonial matrix always dedicated to the disappearance of oppression’s history. The legal ban on public commemoration of the Nakba in Israeli society is the mark of Palestinian death and erasure as a constituent element of the Israeli state. As Israeli academic Ariella Azoulay has argued:

The repression and disavowal of the Nakba by Israeli Jews is a denial of a constitutive element of their experience….the story of the victims and the story of the perpetrators are but two sides of the same story about the last years of Mandatory Palestine and the first years of the Israeli State 

It was to break through this doubling silence that the late, great Edward Said insisted on producing a counter history, what he called “Zionism from the standpoint of its victims.” As Said wrote, “Zionism has hidden, or caused to disappear, the literal historical ground of its growth, its political cost to the native inhabitants of Palestine, and its militantly oppressive discriminations between Jews and non-Jews.” 

Trump’s Nakba is only the most recent effort to refuse Said’s demand: the ground of the new US Embassy in Jerusalem is the ground of the disappeared in Palestinian history. 

To be true to Said and his own memory, we must stand today alongside every victim of Israeli state violence in Gaza. We must speak out. We must speak up. We must say no more to the violence, and silence, of the new Nakba.