An Israeli day
A mature, wise and righteous nation should be able to understand that there are other people here, who cannot take part in celebrating an independence that pours salt on the open wound in their heart
By Avirama Golam
As soon as Passover ends, a heavy cloud of memory settles over the Israeli public. First there’s Holocaust Remembrance Day and then, a week later, comes Memorial Day. These two weeks are capped by Independence Day, a national celebration of living by the sword, despite the troubles of the past and the difficulties of the present.
This sad order of events used to hold a certain beauty, in its repetition of the suffering throughout Jewish-Israeli history and the revolution that Zionism represented. But in the last few years, the order has been distorted beyond recognition. The country’s schools, backed by right-wing and Zionist-Haredi propaganda, use the proximity of the two remembrance days as a manipulative tool saturated in nationalist kitsch.
The result is a raging lamentation that represents the Holocaust and the religious return to Zion as the sole basis for the establishment of the State of Israel, that minimizes Herzl’s secular political Zionism and that renders the activities of the socialist movements insignificant. A Diaspora rhetoric that transcends time and place has taken over the discourse concerning the revival of the Jewish nation in its land. This rhetoric combines victimhood with belligerence and existential fear with a vengefulness that justifies all wrongs.
Within such an atmosphere, it’s hard to imagine how an altogether different sort of memorial day during the same period will be able to play a role in the Israeli repertoire. Nakba Day, which takes place on May 15 and has in recent years turned into a kind of red flag waved in front of a right-wing bull, has ironically garnered more attention this year because of the recently passed and foolish law banning state-funded institutions from marking the day.
The issue of Nakba Day, a clear example of paranoia, shows the extent to which Israel has lost its head when it comes to ethics and values – and moreover, rationalism. The idea of describing the events of 1948 as a nakba, the Arab word for catastrophe, was born in Beirut and was accepted only half-heartedly by Arabs in Israel. But even without that concept, the genuine bereavement of this population is impossible to erase.
May 15 is a difficult day for every Palestinian, especially for the elderly who remember the declaration of Israeli independence, who remember being uprooted and torn away, who remember fleeing and leaving, who remember being expelled and becoming refugees – all the painful elements of the loss of the dream of Palestinian statehood and the turnabout that came with the establishment of the state of the Jews. The pain of the Arabs still in Israel is particularly complex.
Over the last few years, the Arab population has begun holding a brave and fascinating debate over the reasons for the tragic failure of 1948. Historians who document life before 1948, the villages that were decimated, the orchards that disappeared and the urban development that was truncated pose tough questions and are not afraid to discuss the responsibility of the Palestinian and Arab leadership for the failure.
Prominent among this historical research is Mustafa Kabha’s pioneering book “The Palestinians – A Nation and Its Diaspora”; Mustafa Abbasi’s scholarly article “Nazareth in the War for Palestine: The Arab City that Survived the 1948 Nakba”; and eyewitness testimony like that found in the autobiography of Nimer Murkus, the former head of the Kafr Yasif council, which starts in the 1930s and ends in recent times. Such resources provide critical historical documentation and create an opening for a profound discussion.
How foolish, then, is the Israeli paranoia that is now attempting to stifle such discussion. In what way would our strength have been undermined if we were able to admit, like these researchers and documenters of history, that justice is not entirely on our side? What part of our dignity would be lost if we were to bow our heads alongside the Arab citizens of the country on May 15, to show them that the joy of our independence is mixed with sadness over their catastrophe and to promise them – on this day that could become a pan-Israeli day of commemoration – that their equal civil status will heal, though not eradicate, their pain?
A mature, wise and righteous nation should be able to understand that there are other people here, who cannot take part in celebrating an independence that pours salt on the open wound in their hearts. A nation that seeks a future of prosperity and inclusion for itself and the minority living within needs to carve out a spot for this pain and seek a path toward reconciliation. A wise nation should know that it doesn’t have a monopoly on suffering and pain.
Apparently such mourning can be undertaken only by a nation that is sure of itself – not people who feel persecuted and frightened, who are full of anger and guilt. And certainly not its dismal leaders, who are taking the nation out of freedom and into the wilderness.