(This text includes expressions that may give an uncomfortable feeling for the readers. It is a quite personal text and therefore I have chosen to write it exactly the way I feel).
When I was around 23 years old several days before me and my partner left to a trip abroad with an uncertain destination, my father turned to me and asked in a weird way if everything was okay with my body functions. I did not understand what he meant until he made clear that he was referring to my sexual functions. Wow, it was surprising. I think I even remember the exact place this conversation was held on. It was at Kibbutz Bahan were we lived, somewhere in between the room where I stayed and my parents' house, near the kibbutz's kindergarten. I told him that everything was ok, it always has been ok and that I did not understand why was he worried all the sudden.
"Did you ever notice the scar you have there?" he asked me. "A scar? Oh, yes, something very small. I thought I had it since I was born. Anyway, it never bothered me". And he continued: "It's time for you to know what it is about". Of course it began to interest me very much.
"As you know, you were born in Mendoza Argentina, from a non Jewish mother. Her family did not know any of the Jewish traditions, so we didn't circumcise you and neither your brother. When the opportunity came along to immigrate to Israel and live in Kibbutz Bahan, we met at our house with the agent of the Zionist movement. He was a kibbutz Bahan member, who explained us about the kibbutz, the life there, and the admittance policies. He informed us that the kibbutz held a special general assembly, in which was discussed the question of admission to mostly non-Jewish families. Except for me, a kosher Jew, all three of you were born non-Jews according to Jewish orthodox law. The kibbutz decided to accept us with the condition of having converted you all to Judaism. We told the messenger that we were willing to accept this requirement, and consequently we asked him about the necessity of performing the circumcision to you and your brother. We were said that it was not mandatory, but it would be better if you go through it."
(Pause: In the Argentinean culture, I have understood from a very early age, that if someone says you better do something, it means that if you don't do it, you're going to in trouble with them)
My father continued saying: "That was the limit I could not cross so I refused, but your mother decided to do everything that takes to leave Argentina because of the difficult economic situation we lived in, and migrate to Israel in order to begin a new life in the kibbutz. She travelled with you to Buenos Aires, and visited the clinic that practiced circumcision for Jews before their departure to Israel, or soon after birth. She found it adequate, so she phoned me and asked to send your brother on a plane to join you and her. And I did it. Incidentally at that same flight was traveling a famous guitar player in Argentina called Ataual Payupanky, and he volunteered escorting your brother to Buenos Aires. There, you two have gone through circumcision." "But I was five years old and do not remember anything! How could it be?" I was shocked.
"Yes, and there's more. Your brother's wound cured fast, but your cut went a little wrong and left a stubborn wound. For two weeks we had to change your bandage several times a day. To do that, I would sit on a chair and we'd sit you on my lap, and I had to hold you back trying to keep you still. Both your mother and me would cried while she treated your wound." "Thank you for telling. It's seems about time.... but I do not remember any of it."
Having forgotten the ingrained wound in my own body, four decades later I founded an organization which aims to deal with our collective amnesia. The moment of our birth as Israelis, the formative moment of becoming Israelis, this is the truly painful wound from that period that we have forgotten; the terrible harm done to the inhabitants of the land where a state for Jews alone was established. The Israeli collective memory doesn't forget its own victims: something like one percent of the Jewish population at the time; but it has almost completely forgotten the price paid by the Palestinians.
Today I understand that this forgetfulness of the Nakba stems from the trauma burned at our own collective body (some would call it soul). So as to continue this project which began at 48', by preventing the return of Palestinian refugees and mobilizing the entire population of Israelis to join the army without asking questions, we should forget how this state was established. We must tell ourselves a story of heroism such us: 'few against many', about the land which was empty, and to argue that they were the ones who started the war etc. That's the only way to continue maintaining this occupation (which began at 1948), and hold on to ourselves as democratic and enlightened. Forgetting the Nakba is due first of all, because we can not see ourselves as conquerors and expellers. If I see myself as an occupier, it would hurt me; as it might hurt when I remember the cut of my foreskin. Similarly, if I remember the Nakba I won't be able to effectively serve the continuing ethnic cleansing, so I'm bound to forget it, and hence we have forgot the Nakba.
To illustrate this argument one can read Amnon Neumann's public testimony, which was a Zionist soldier in 1948 that took part in the occupation and expulsion of several villages at the south of the country. When he reaches the most dramatic moment in his testimony, he refers to the horror that the residents of the village named Burayr had to go through. I asked him to elaborate on that, but he said to me he could not verbalize it "because there was a slaughter and I did it."
There are testimonies of a massacre committed by Israelis soldiers to Burayr residents in 1948, and Neumann confirmed it by a very clear hint that his own hands took part in it. He could not say it openly because he participated in it and he knows there is no moral justification for it. He chooses to shut a part of the Nakba not (just) because he felt pain for the Palestinians victims, but mostly because his body is sunken in atrocities and this is difficult for him to utter. So this case could be understood as a private case for a general phenomenon.
The entire Israeli collective that was established as a result of the state creation shared the Nakba in various physical ways. With their bodies the Israelis inhabited Refugees' homes, cultivated their fields, looted their property and so on. Therefore, the decision to forget the Nakba is first of all a narcissist choice, and only secondary something that happened out of guilt and shame towards the Palestinian people. Consequently, from that moment Palestinians began to be constructed as The Other: the other that has sinned, that opened the war and paid the price for it, and The Other that some of us feel great guilt for him. Because of this we should understand the recognition of the Nakba as Israeli-Jewish interest and concern, and only secondarily as a matter of solidarity with the Palestinians. The acknowledgment of the Nakba is essentially a critical understanding of our selves' construction as Israelis, and only secondarily as a way of dealing with the atrocities occurred to the Palestinians.
The Great I (S), the Israeli collective as a perpetrator has integrated the Palestinian victim physically, making the disconnection between the two impossible. It is the origins of this physical scar printed on our bodies what we have to expose. It hurts, so we can understand the great resistance coming from Israelis to acknowledge it.
This little scar on my penis finally taught me an important lesson. For the first time I write this, and perhaps, the first time I feel that it hurts me there. I'm not sure I can recreate the pain but now I understand why I forgot it: to become bodily an Israeli.
Around three years ago, during one of the meetings with my supervisor who helped me as Zochrot's director, the subject about my circumcision came out. I told him that I ask myself: How come I, who forgot such traumatic physical event when I was five, founded an organization that deals with our collective Israeli amnesia? He suggested that I should write about it and learn from it. Here I wrote, and indeed I learned.
I have three sons; their bodies are intact and uncut. When Leandro, my elder son, or maybe it was Gal, the second, was three and a half years old we were peeing together in the bathroom. A paternal male experience I enjoy to this day: seeing my little boy from up down, pissing together and crossing the streams that splashes everywhere. That was the first time he noticed the difference between mine and his. Right away asked me whether we could switch them, so he'll have like mine and I'll have like his. So early on he understood that his, is one considered defective. I said I would have loved my own to be like his penis; but basically, his mother and I didn't want to hurt him unnecessarily.
English editing: Magdalena I. Goldin