Nakba Law in action: Students must pay expenses for ceremony

A new law forbidding the commemoration of the Palestinian catastrophe prompted Tel Aviv University to charge students organizing a joint Israeli-Palestinian ceremony on May 14th in order to pay the security expenses.

A little over a year ago, the Israeli Knesset passed the Nakba Law, stating that institutions who receive state funding are not to permit any commemoration of the Palestinian catastrophe in 1948. During Israel’s War of Independence, 80 percent of the Arab population in what later became the State of Israel was displaced. Some of the Palestinians fled battle grounds, others were forcefully removed. None were allowed back, and their property was confiscated by the State of Israel. Palestinians mark their national catastrophe on May 15, the day following Israel’s declaration of independence.

A couple of years ago, the Knesset passed a bill aimed at limiting the discussion and commemoration of the Nakba entirely. The original bill ordered any person organizing a ceremony in memory of the Nakba to face criminal charges and a prison term of up to three years. The Knesset ended up passing a softer version of the bill, stating that any institution – even a Palestinian one – could lose state funding if it was to sponsor a Nakba-related event.

Tel Aviv University has permitted a Nakba memorial ceremony planned by Jewish and Palestinian students, but ordered it to take place just outside the university gates, in the main plaza. The university also forced the students to pay for the security expenses of the ceremony, contrary to the practice in all other events organized by students within the campus. The university cited the Nakba Law as the reason for this decision.

Haaretz reported today that Israel’s Minister of Education, Gidon Saar, urged Tel Aviv University to cancel the event altogether.

Needless to say, these developments cast a shadow on Israel’s self-perception as a democracy even within the Green Line. When mentioning an historical event at an academic institution is outlawed, one wonders what is truly left of freedom of speech.

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