On the Exclusion of the Palestinian Nakba from the “Trauma Genre”

The extensive literature on trauma, social suffering, memory and loss has so far excluded consideration of the Palestinian Nakba, in spite of its place in world politics, its many similarities to other cases of social suffering, and the unusual feature of its continuation and escalationmorethansixty yearsafter the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland. This paper examines this exclusion through reviewing the genealogy, theoretical orientations, and institutional supports of the “trauma genre,” from its crystallization in the early 1990s, through its expansion up to today. The idea of the way the communication of suffering is facilitated within “moral communities” is invoked as one kind of explanation of the trauma genre’s failure to consider the Nakba.


A Palestinian woman, twice displaced, first from Palestine in 1948, and then from Syria in 2012, gave the following testimony:

I was six and a half when we left [Palestine]. We were in Wadi Salama near Bint Jbeil, between two mountains, staying under the olive trees. People were harvesting the wheat. My mother covered us with wheat stalks. Israeli planes came and bombed the olive trees and the cactus. They bombed everything. My uncle was killed. Where could we go? We slept on the road [cries]....I was crying, “Mama, I want to drink.” There was a Lebanese policeman. The pool was as large as this sitting room. It had a tap. I said “Uncle, uncle! Give me some water.” I still remember. I was six and a half. He said, “I can’t give you water until the sergeant comes.”

My family stayed here [in ‘Aynal-Hilwa], I married someone from Syria....To Yarmuk! Yarmuk! We were fine in Yarmuk. But where is it now? Now people are scattered, some here, some there. Those who had money left, those who had a car left, but the poor—where can they go?

The war started . . . problems . . . bullets. We weren’t afraid. They attacked the camp for two or three days. The young men of the quarter stood at every entry; they didn’t let them come in to the houses. There were bullets near our house. We weren’t afraid. The airplane came and hit its target. We weren’t afraid. Then mortars started coming down, in front, behind, all round us. Houses collapsed. The doors flew; the windows went. We left under the shelling. We went to Khan al-Sheikh, me, my daughter-in-law, her children, and my children. There wasn’t time to take clothes, just the kids. As we were leaving, a mortar came down between us and the pharmacy.

We stayed a month in Khan al-Sheeh, and then we came here. We didn’t want to leave Syria—does anyone want to leave their home? My husband is still there. My daughter is there, she is married and has five children. [cries] There! In Damascus! And my other daughter. Everybody is somewhere. Here, there’s no work, no food [cries]. My other son stayed there in his house, under the shelling. Yesterday, there was fighting [in Yarmuk].

Someone asks: Do you expect to go back to Yarmuk?

The speaker begins to cry:

What can I tell you? Before we left my husband gave me the key and said, “Take the key in case you don’t find me when you get back.” At least, let us go back to Palestine!1

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