IMEU, Mar 10, 2008
The 48-year-old, who moved to Israel with his parents when he was five, founded Zochrot, an organization that raises awareness among Israelis about the Nakba, or "Catastrophe."
"When it comes to the Nakba and what was there before Israel was created, it's a big hole, a black hole and people don't know how to deal with it," he said. "It's perhaps the most important period of our life in this region and it's not really known."
Bronstein and his colleagues at Zochrot work to tell the suppressed story behind Israel's creation. They post signs of the names of the more than 450 Palestinian villages that were destroyed or depopulated when Israel was established in 1948. The work is all in an effort to educate Israelis about the story underneath the lands they live on.
Bronstein says the idea for Zochrot came after the Argentinean native visited Canada Park, an Israeli national forest built on top of four Palestinian villages destroyed during the 1967 War. Bronstein was amazed that the guide's explanation of the Park did not include any mention of this.
"I was surprised to see signs detailing the presence of Jews, Greeks, Romans and Byzantines on the land but no mention of Palestinians who had lived there most recently," he said. "I said to myself that we should come and put signs here. And then I thought why only here? We have to do it all over the country."
Because Zochrot's work challenges the orthodox narrative of Israel's creation, the group faces criticism from many Israeli Jews. Bronstein has received angry letters and threatening phone calls. Yet Bronstein knows that Zochrot is tapping into a current of Israeli society that wants to know the truth about their history. The signs Zochrot puts up are routinely taken down, but there are always more volunteers to replace them.
"What many Israelis know today, they know it's not all lies, but a lot of it is lies," he said. "Many Jews are really interested to know the truth."
For Bronstein it is critical for Israelis to understand and acknowledge what happened to the Palestinians in 1948.
"1948 was the year that constructed relations between Jews and Arabs, that made it okay for Israelis to shoot Arabs in 2000," he said referring to the 13 Palestinian citizens of Israel who were shot and killed by Israeli police during a protest against Israeli practices in the Occupied Territories. "You can't understand what happened in 2000 without understanding the Nakba. Anyone who understands what happened in 1948 cannot continue to be blind."
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