Saturday, May 23

Will Naqba Commemorations be banned?

Friday, May 15, 2009 - Powered by RAMALLAH, Occupied West Bank: Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's party wants to ban Israeli Arabs from marking the anniversary of the Nakba, or the Catastrophe in 1948, when 700,000 Arabs lost their homes in the war that created Israel. The extremist Yisrael Beitenu party said it would propose legislation next week for a ban on the practice and a jail term of up to three years for violators. "The draft law is intended to strengthen unity in the state of Israel...
The Naqba (catastrophe) is commemorated at about the same time of the year as Independence Day in Israel. Israelis celebrate Israel's establishment in various ways. They hold barbecues in public parks, family gatherings at home or visit military camps and they may go touring.

The Palestinians commemorate it as a day of mourning and disaster that befell them in 1948 when Israel was established. The time has arrived to come to terms with Naqba recognizing it for what it means to the Palestinians. Many Israelis deny that the Naqba occurred. Many Palestinians ran away from the war situation in 1948. It even reached a point whereby they refused to recognize the Palestinians as a people. Israel has no right to decide whether the Palestinians are a nation or not. This right to recognition as a nation is determined by the group of people themselves who view themselves as a nation with a common identity. The Israelis are also a nation no less than are the Palestinians. The Israeli nation is composed of Jews, Moslems, Druze, and Christians. Palestinians born and living in Israel view themselves as having two identities. A parallel situation exists in the Diaspora where Jews are citizens of the countries where they were born. However many maintain their identity as Jews. While the non-Jewish groups form only 20% of the population, this does not mean that they are not Israelis. The majority group determines the character of the state and it is superfluous to demand recognition of that for political purposes. I have enlarged on that in a previous post. The banning of the Naqba commemorations is not in the interests of the Palestinians nor Israel. A state such as Israel must protect the interests of all its citizens including the right to commemorate various memorial days peculiar to their own group identity.

The Palestinians also have their national days of mourning. Can one imagine if a law would be passed in the Diaspora forbidding Jews from commemorating the Holocaust because of pressure exerted by Holocaust deniers who claim it to be a provocation against the national interest? There would have been a severe reaction and cries of anti-Semitism would have been heard in the Jewish world.

The Naqba is a trauma for the Palestinians no less than the Holocaust is to the Jews. We must accept this as such. If the Naqba is commemorated peacefully and viewed as a day of mourning without violence or racial incitement then there is no reason to ban its commemoration.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's right wing Foreign Minister and his party, Yisrael Beitenu, wish to introduce a law forbidding the commemoration of Naqba. Those who organize Naqba demonstrations will be sentenced to imprisonment up to three years. This should be opposed by all those who believe in peace and coexistence.

If the government takes away the rights of Palestinians to observe their causes peacefully they will be forced underground and this will endanger democracy. It will also increase Palestinian hate for Israel and the violence against Israel.

Every nation has its identity and this identity is emphasized by its symbolic traditions whether it is religious or national. National tragedies as well as their achievements common to the nation in question is the glue that binds a nation together. This is true of both Palestinians and Israelis.

There is a tendency by the right wing in Israel to deny or belittle the existence of the Palestinian people as a nation. They also view them as being dysfunctional. After all, a nation is defined as such by the identity of the people who view themselves as a nation with a common identity and aspirations. This is true of both Israelis and Palestinians. Israel has no right to deny the Palestinians their right to observe their national day of mourning.

It would be desirable if both Israelis and Palestinians could discuss the Naqba and Israel's establishment and recognition whereby both sides could learn and understand each other better. Mistakes have been made by both sides which have cost a lot in terrible bloodshed.

The Naqba should be a day of reconciliation and introspection. The intransigence of both sides to come to terms with each other's rights to a state has resulted in unnecessary loss of life because of futile wars.

Denying the Palestinian people the right to commemorate the Naqba does not solve anything and will contribute to aggravate the volatile situation even further.

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