On Fiery Birth of Israel, Memories of 2 Sides Speak

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As Israel celebrated its Independence Day last month — an event that Palestinians call the nakba, the catastrophe — the videotaped accounts of Mrs. Natur and Mr. Tamir are part of efforts to preserve the narratives of both sides of the war that led to Israel’s tumultuous birth in 1948.

While historians debate the reliability of first-person accounts given decades after the event, advocates argue that they give voice to ordinary people’s experiences of historic times. ...

On the Jewish Israeli side, an ambitious new project called Toldot Yisrael is trying to reconnect with the Zionist story, which many Israelis feel is overshadowed by the narrative of Palestinian displacement.

Modeled on Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which interviewed about 52,000 Holocaust survivors, the project is collecting firsthand accounts of the arrival of the Zionists and their struggle to create a Jewish state. One account was that of Harold Katz, a Harvard Law student and World War II Navy veteran, now 85, who volunteered to help illegally smuggle Holocaust survivors by ship to pre-state Palestine. “We couldn’t just sit in law school while history was being made,” he said. “We had to do something.”

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