On May 14, 1948 the state of Israel proclaimed its independence, establishing a national home for the Jewish people following the horrors of the Holocaust. However, for Palestinians this proclamation was fundamentally tied to the Nakba or ‘catastrophe,’ a term used to mark their displacement, dispossession and subsequent occupation by the Israeli state.  This cycle of violence has bound these nations together in a relation of incommunicability and incommensurability, making ethical dialogue and the witnessing of the other’s trauma difficult.  As Edward Said (1984) wrote, Palestinians and Israelis are tied together in a situation where they cannot be “expected to drop the quest for national identity and go straight to a history-transcending universal rationalism.  Each of the two communities, misled though both may be, is interested in its origins, its history of suffering, its need to survive” (47). Yet Said (2000) believed that the best potential for understanding and transcending this divide lay with Palestinians and Israelis living in diaspora who, unlike their counterparts in Israel and the Occupied Territories, do not “live under the daily pressure of occupation and dialectical confrontation” (208).  Working from this premise, this project examines the contribution Palestinians and Israelis living in Canada can make toward first acknowledging and then understanding each other’s memories of trauma in an effort to heal this divide and move peacebuilding efforts beyond the current stalemate of political negotiations.

Building upon Said’s (2000) assertion that the “bases for coexistence” (205) between Palestinians and Israelis is “an equal willingness for compassion and comprehension” (209), this project investigates the conditions of this divide and develops a method for bridging it through storytelling. My theoretical approach to storytelling begins with Hannah Arendt's (1978, 1998) distinction between “fictional” and “real” stories, the former created and manipulated by authors such as government institutions, while the latter emerge from individuals’ courage to “act and speak…to insert one’s self into the world and begin a story of one’s own” (1998 186).   This project explores these two forms of storytelling by first critically analyzing how conflicting master narratives of collective memory concerning the Holocaust and Nakba have contributed to the construction and maintenance of the Palestinian/Israeli divide and second by examining how the sharing of personal counter-memories of the Holocaust and Nakba might foster the occasions and “conditions of possibility” (Culhane, 2011, 258) necessary for politico-ethical engagement and witnessing between Palestinians and Israelis currently living in their respective Canadian diasporas.

To assist in the latter goal, I have developed a family photograph-based storytelling methodology that creates a safe and productive space where Palestinian and Israeli participants can ethically engage and witness each other’s trauma through the exchange of personal and/or familial accounts of the Holocaust and/or Nakba.  This method uses family photographs to help identify, deconstruct and confront the national and familial myths they perpetuate, thus requiring viewers to move beyond the limits of their intimate familial world toward the political potential of the public realm (Arendt; Hirsch; Kuhn; McAllister; Musleh-Motut).

This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.