February 21st - "Different Kinds of Return: Nakba and Independence through Personal Letters" with Dr. Shay Hazkani

Francis Scott Key Room 2120
Thursday, February 21, 2019 - 4:00 PM to 5:30 PM
How was the establishment of the State of Israel as a Jewish state—on the ruins of Arab Palestine— perceived by ordinary Jews and Arabs in real time? This talk, part of a larger project to write a social-cultural history of the 1948 War, attempts to answer this question by examining personal letters of Jews and Arabs written from Palestine in 1948-1949. These letters show that a preoccupation with “return” became the cornerstone of many reflections in the immediate aftermath of the war. Yet return meant very different things to different groups, and among the various classes and ethnic groups within these categories.
For many Jews, the establishment of a sovereign state through the use of force was a “Jewish return to history” after two millennia of exile. Many sought to celebrate the militaristic ethos which developed in Zionism, and even draw pleasure from exercising violence “like all other nations.” Still, some Jews who came from America, Europe or North Africa to fight in solidarity with the Yishuv were not at ease with the new Jewish society established in Palestine. They wished to return to their former homelands, some because they believed that collective violence against civilians could not be reconciled with what the saw as the essence of Judaism, and others because they were appalled by the racism they suffered.

Meanwhile, Palestinians who fled the country or were expelled by Jewish forces sought their own return—to Palestine. They tried to make sure their fields and orchards did not go fallow and some also started contemplating their defeat, and why Arab nationalism had failed to secure Palestine for the Arabs.

Dr. Shay Hazkani is an Assistant Professor in History and Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. He researches the social and cultural history of Israel/Palestine, with a focus on Mizrahi Jews in Israel and the Jewish communities of the Arab world. His current  book project focuses on personal letters of Israeli and Arab soldiers from the 1948 War. His work has appeared in the International Journal of Middle East Studies and in Israel Studies Review, and he also publishes historical pieces in the Israel-daily Haaretz. Dr. Hazkani earned his PhD degree in History and Judaic studies in 2016 from New York University, his Master’s from the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University and his B.A in Middle Eastern Studies from Tel Aviv University.