In 1948, 700,000+ Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes in what would become the state of Israel. Since the declassification of Israel’s military archives began in the 1980s, historians have been able to form a fuller picture of these events. Drawing on the new research, Al-Nakba: The Palestinian Catastrophe 1948 was the first documentary to look squarely at the systematic depopulation of Palestinian villages, the sporadic atrocities perpetrated by Zionist militias, and the new state’s efforts at preventing Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes after the war. Watching Al-Nakba a few years after its release was a revelatory experience for me, and the film has lost none of its power in the years since (I often assign it to my undergraduates today). As the Palestinian refugee crisis has been left to fester, a just resolution remains central to any future peace settlement. Film-makers Benny Brunner and Alexandra Jansse deftly navigate this challenging moral terrain by presenting us with the voices of those who lived through the events. Al-Nakba presents the tragedy of 1948 on a human scale. The stories of families and ordinary people offer a powerful riposte to narratives that have sought to silence this chapter of history. It is a model of film-making as historical witness.
* Kristofer J. Petersen-Overton, Professor of Politics, Babson College