The Crimes Have No Period of Limitations

This morning I bet with my Israeli friend that the international community will ask Palestinians for forgiveness by the 90th anniversary of the Nakba, the large catastrophe when Palestinians were expelled from 418 villages. My friend, on the other hand, argued that there was nothing for which to ask for forgiveness. I am not so sure that I will get to experience the 90th anniversary of the Nakba, but it is quite probable that my friend will.

I told him that I saw in front of me how the young forthcoming American president in 2038 will be working on yet another memoir, how Sweden’s foreign minister sits at a retirement home in Italy and welcomes his grandkids, how the president of France looks back on a fantastic career and how Blair long ago gave up the idea of a land for Palestinians.

But I also saw how children and grandchildren together had created a movement, a movement of justice, a movement that demanded that one should ask for forgiveness collectively, forgiveness for decades of crimes. Asking for forgiveness is what one has done in the past. One has asked for forgiveness from the native Indians in America, from the native population in Australia and from the oppressed people in Southern Africa.

It has often begun with the large thinkers writing books, historical books, books that retell what actually happened. During my whole lifetime in Sweden we have had access to Sven Lindqvist’s writing. He has in recent years come out with, among others, three books. Three books about death, about occupation, suffering and oppression, about the great crimes of humanity. The titles of his books say it all: Exterminate all the Brutes (1992), Terra Nullius (2005) and Intention to Exterminate (2008, not yet translated to English). As far as I am aware, however, Lindqvist has not yet dealt with the crimes that are currently being committed in Iraq, Sudan, Congo, Palestine. It is always easier to write about crimes that happened long ago than to write about crimes that are still being committed.

When the books have begun to be written some additional time usually needs to pass. The ones who participated and committed the crimes, or were spectators to them, become old and some have already died. A new generation grows up and the crimes against humanity have no period of limitation. Even what one was not told, will always remain. For the young and conscious around the world, a difficult time begins. The crimes float up, stay on the surface for a short while and then sink away, only to return and disappear again. One can put them down for a short while, but they survive and are resurrected. In movies, documentaries, PhDs, essays and articles, the crimes are described in another time. The young, the beautiful, the ones who have the future in front of them meet the evil and more and more of them begin to understand that what the old people had told them were just the fragments, unconsciously censored. Perhaps someone had tried to protect, tried to cover, tried to conceal.

Scandinavians, Jordanians, Americans, Libanese, French, Israelis, Palestinians, Germans and Brits will now collectively and individually search into the past. They will find the millions of documents that exist about the dispossession that today has gone on for 60 years and which in 2038 will be called Nakba 90 years. In 2038 everything will be one click away. Just the word occupation or expulsion will give millions of hits.

Then, one will find Haaretz articles, BBC and CNN film clips from 2008. Clips and series that describe how the Al Kurd family was expelled from its house, how the sick old man in the house was prevented from calling an ambulance, how the woman moved into a tent on a piece of land that she rented from a Palestinian neighbor, how soldiers on repeated occasions brutally tore down the tent, smashing the furniture to pieces and with the Caterpillar ripping up the fence around the private plot of land, and how the man on Sunday died from a heart attack in the hospital. The old man did not get to experience his last weeks in his home but was thrown out together with his wife in the middle of the night. Reading between the lines or in the film clips, one will also be able to see the cowardice of the power in the form of teenage soldiers with automatic weapons surrounding a powerless elderly woman and her sick husband. Does one also see how the soldiers in that moment lose everything, everything that can be called humanity, while the woman who has lost everything, has everything left.

Then one will also understand that the Al Kurd family had its home in the eye of the storm. If one sat on the family terrace that they for eight years had been forced to share with the settlers, the US Consulate was 895 steps away, the Swedish Consulate was 465 steps away, Blair sat in the front stalls 412 steps away and would have been able to hear when the Caterpillar ripped up the fence around the plot of land that the family had rented to set up a tent. The woman, the expelled, who was not even allowed to live in a tent, a tent below her house. The Brits are on the other side of the street, at the same distance as the Swedes are also the Spaniards, the Italians, the Belgians, the French and the Turks.

Now a woman leads the Al Kurd family. Everyone goes to her. She is the one the large TV channels want to interview. The family has been expelled previously. The first time, in 1948, she was not yet born. She has only heard the horror stories of the first Nakba, the catastrophe. Now the stories are revived, now she begins to understand what her parents had been through. Now she has the starring role.

This is repeated almost every day in Jerusalem. And we are onlookers, we are co-actors, we can never say that we did not know. We look on as Palestinians are forced away from the 419th village, the village called East Jerusalem. The lists are long of the thousands of homes to be demolished, of the families to be removed. The Al Kurds are just one of very many families. It began a long time ago. Now the soldiers are in a hurry. New orders have been distributed and the young soldiers are just obeying their orders.

Since we all know, all journalists know, every literate person knows, everyone who can hear knows, all presidents and foreign ministers know, all children and grandchildren will know. No one will be able to get away. Of this one will tell and for this the young will ask for forgiveness.

MATS SVENSSON, a former Swedish diplomat working on the staff of SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, is presently following the ongoing occupation of Palestine.  He can be reached at






Mats Svensson’s new book, Apartheid is a Crime: Portrats of Israeli Occupation will be published in the USA on January 6, 2020.