Zochrot was founded in 2002 by a small group of Jewish-Israeli activists who sought to broaden the recognition of the Nakba and the Palestinian refugees’ right of return within Israeli society, and to inspire Israelis to take responsibility for the Nakba – the deliberate, violent uprooting and dispossession of the Palestinian people in 1948.
At the height of Second Intifada and the collapse of the Oslo Accords, even Palestinian society within Israel has lost all trust in political processes, while many Jewish-Israelis declared that “there is no partner”. It was then that Zochrot’s founders realized that Israeli society’s refusal to learn about the Nakba and its tendency to ignore the rights of Palestinian refugees were the root causes of this stalemate. This process,from the very beginning, lacked any goodwill, honesty or recognition of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.
The Nakba, or catastrophe in Arabic, is the common designation given to the hostilities and tribulations that began after the approval of the UN Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947. They led to the uprooting of some 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and communities – about 85% of those living within the borders of what became the State of Israel. Most of these deportees and their descendants still live as refugees without citizenship throughout the Middle East, in the West Bank, in Gaza and all over the world, and are still prevented from returning home. A few have remained in the area that became the State of Israel and were forced to become Israeli citizens, however, they are actively disallowed from returning to their destroyed towns and villages, let alone repossessing their lands, which have been expropriated by the State for Jewish-only settlements.
As late as the beginning of this century, these refugees and internally displaced persons were still largely ignored by Israeli discourse. Although remnants of Palestinians villages are scattered across the country, most Israelis were not familiar with the word Nakba and never thought of their country as having been established by war crimes. They were certainly not called upon to take responsibility for these crimes and reconcile with the past. Instead, Israelis learned to believe in mendacious but seductive myths of “few against many” and “a land without people for a people without a land”. Zochrot was born out of this understanding, comprised of activists who had themselves been educated within the Zionist paradigm.
This realization dawned in a tour in Canada Park, built by the Jewish National Fund on the ruins of the Palestinian villages of Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba, all of whose inhabitants were expelled in 1967. It was there that the idea was conceived to post signs commemorating the villages erased from space and time within Israeli memory as a way of revealing the truth and taking responsibility for the future. With the establishment of Zochrot, this concept was extended to the hundreds of villages and towns destroyed since the beginning of Zionist settlement in Palestine to this day.
Revealing the silenced and denied historical truth has been a major aim of Zochrot ever since its founding. Despite its activist stance that lies beyond the boundaries of Israeli consensus, we have managed to raise the term Nakba on the agenda and make it a household name, opening the eyes of thousands of Jews belonging to multiple and significant groups in Israel and making them rethink their past and present.
We do not settle for sharing historical information and educating people about their past, however. The Nakba is not a historical event but an ongoing process aiming to uproot the entire Palestinian people from its homeland. For us in Zochrot, it is important to highlight this fact and call for the realization of the Palestinian right of return, which we view as the key for the decolonization and de-Zionization of the space, and for achieving a just and sustainable solution to the conflict. Zochrot was established at a time when many – Israelis, Palestinians and others – have lost all hope for reconciliation and a peaceful solution in the space between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan. Our position is the exact opposite: we insist on hope as a radical stance. Our hope, however, is not disconnected from reality and from historical facts, and we therefore emphasize that in order to achieve a solution, we have no choice but to look at the roots of the conflict with honesty and courage and to take responsibility for injustices past and present.
Zochrot remains the only organization that focuses on recognition of the Nakba and support for return in Israeli society. Over the years despite our reliance mainly on modest donations from the public and non-governmental funds, Zochrot has managed to complete a methodical and comprehensive project of developing and disseminating information about the Nakba in Hebrew. Our extensive database includes testimonies by dozens of Nakba survivors as well as testimonies of Israelis who fought in 1948 and were courageous enough to talk about war crimes in which they had participated.
Tens of thousands of Israelis have taken part in our tours to Palestinian villages, towns and neighborhoods depopulated and destroyed in 1948. This enabled them to study a history of their own space, of which they have been completely unaware, and also to start thinking about return not as a problem but as a solution. Thousands of others have taken part in our courses, workshops, learning groups, conferences, discussions and activities.
In 2014, Zochrot launched iNakba – a mobile app that allows the user to navigate to depopulated Palestinian locales and study about their history. This is a unique tool that draws the invisible map of this country – the one destroyed and kept away from view. Tens of thousands have used the application, including Palestinian refugees seeking to revisit their villages of origin. Relaunched in 2022, the application represents our vision for decolonization and creating a space of justice and equality, as well as our call upon all Israelis to take responsibility and take part in the process.
Today, Zochrot is a registered association with five employees and dozens of members and volunteers, mostly Israeli Jews, and a broad community basis of participants and supporters in Israel and worldwide. Zochrot holds workshops, conferences and study groups for examining and developing practices of return, believing that it is not enough to acknowledge the refugees’ right to return but that it is important to consider the arrangements and actions that will enable return and support the future lives of the returning refugees and all other inhabitants of this country.
Zochrot views return as a prolonged and complex process that includes not only the physical repatriation of all refugees who so prefer, but also their adequate, respectful and dignified integration in a shared and equal Palestinian-Jewish society. According to this broad and long-term view, return begins long before the actual repatriation and continues long thereafter.
In its tours, direct actions, campaigns, dialogues in Israel and worldwide, and in its informational activities, Zochrot remains one of the only groups in Israel that dares to imagine and share a radical and coherent vision of justice for all the country’s inhabitants and returnees.