Saturday, May 14

Israel's 63rd Independence Day

David Ben-Gurion (First Prime Minister of Isra...Image via Wikipedia
This may be the last Independence Day celebrations within Israel's indefinable borders.

It is not as scary as it sounds. The Arab Spring has new popular mantras. The fight for democracy, human rights, equality and freedom are threatening the old tyrants that have been ruling the Arab countries for many years. Hate for Israel and the desire for its destruction are not slogans of the Arab spring. The Arab nations are seeking drastic changes to the autocratic tyranny that oppressed them for many generations.

The evil anti-democratic autocrats of Tunisia and Egypt have been overthrown. Libya's evil dictatorship, under Muammar Qaddafi, is in the throes of civil war which will be protracted and bloody. Syria's President Bashar Assad, the evil tyrant, is also facing great opposition to his regime and is murdering hundreds of demonstrators in cold blood. Unrest is spreading to Yemen, Bahrain and no autocratic tyrant in the Middle East can rest without impunity. The Arab spring will reach them too sooner rather than later.

Bearing all these remarkable changes in mind, Israel cannot afford to be complacent. The future outcome of these incredible changes is not clear apart from the fact that the old despotic regimes are on the way out.

Independence Day celebrations have come and gone with its usual speeches by various Israeli Government leaders patting themselves on the back reiterating the same mantras of Israel's achievements and that it is a Jewish democratic state as if they were telling us something new.

Israel's leadership has failed to unite all Israeli citizens, irrespective of race, colour or creed. The reason is an historical one and the pain of the past cannot be erased simply by avoiding it or passing legislation making it illegal for Israeli Palestinians to commemorate their version of what happened in 1948. This version is Al Naqba or "catastrophe" which is part of the Palestinian narrative of tragic events that created a severe refugee problem compounded with hate for Israel.

How wonderful it would be if all Israeli citizens unite with patriotism and pride for the country that is their common native land. Those who are perceptive notice that Israel's Jewish and Arab population is just as divided as before. While Jewish Israelis are filling and littering the national parks with barbecues and celebrating with plastic hammers and canisters of foam spray, the Arab villages have no Israeli flags and they keep a very low profile. Surely something is not normal here.

Instead of uniting Israel's citizens the Israeli government is dividing them. Pledges of Allegiance to Israel are incumbent on non-Jewish Israelis. Laws are passed making the commemoration of Al Naqba illegal creates divisions between Jewish and Palestinian Israelis.

Why can Israel not afford to allow their Palestinian minority to commemorate their pain in the way we commemorate our pain? Palestinian Israelis have their history which is no less tragic than our own. All it does is make further dents in Israel's already threatened democracy. The Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman triumvirate ruling Israel is doing its share to fragment Israel's citizens even further.

Israel is well established and is in no danger of ceasing to exist. It does not need draconian laws to ensure its survival or to create animosity between the Jewish majority and Arab minority.

Instead what we are getting are ugly trends of racism such us the refusal to rent apartments to Arab students studying in Israeli colleges or universities. It even has the "Kosher" stamp of approval of rabbis in high positions in Israel's religious establishment. Our ancestors were persecuted by the Nazis. Almost all Israelis have lost a member of his/her family through Nazi terror. Are our collective memories only revived on Holocaust Day? Israel’s treatment of foreign workers through the “revolving door” policy is inhuman. Will they "contaminate" the Jewish majority if they are given the right to remain in Israel? The religious "paragon of virtue" Eli Yishai - the Interior Minister, is doing all in his power to deport these foreigners and their children born in Israel and speak no other language other than Hebrew.

The list of unjust discrimination goes on and on and this is a threat to Israel's democracy.

A country that does not have a common patriotism with which all its citizens can identify has failed in unifying its people.

From the occupation beginning in 1967 to the day after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1994, Israel used a covert procedure to banish Palestinians by stripping them of their residency rights. This was revealed in an official document drawn up by the Israel Defense Forces’ West Bank headquarters. Surely here we have a sophisticated form of "ethnic cleansing" a term much maligned in Israel but in practice is part of the "final solution" to the Palestinian problem.

Israel's right wing policies and lack of foresight to move towards the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel is also a catalyst that prompted the so-called signing of an agreement between Hamas and Fatah. There are other reasons as well which I mentioned in a previous article. There is nothing more dangerous than no decision in regards to ending the occupation.

There is no doubt that the enlarging of existing settlements in the West Bank serves to maintain the status quo and the occupation. The actions on the ground, despite Bibi Netanyahu’s lip service to the contrary in his famous Bar Ilan speech, in practise indicate business as usual.

At no time is it more important than it is today to unite Israel's citizens.  Failing this, Israel risks isolation in the world as it becomes identifiable with apartheid South Africa's abominable race policies.

A start could be made by recognizing the Palestinian narrative of Al Naqba rather than banning or suppressing it. Al Naqba should be the starting point of dialogue alongside the Israeli narrative. Palestinian identity and symbols should be part of the Israeli experience and be included in Israel's national symbols. Emphasis in education on both narratives should begin in integrated Arab/Jewish schools and teachers should be trained to deal with this subject when the pupils are still in their junior levels. Neither side need to compromise on their culture or identity but take pride in what they are.

Secular subjects should be taught to mixed Arab and Jewish classes. Perhaps separation could be for the purpose of religious instruction.

Naturally the right tools are required to initiate a change in the educational approach. This can only be achieved once there is peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Perhaps the air has been cleared for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians since Hamas and Fatah signed an agreement. Despite the great rift between Hamas and Fatah, the former had no alternative. Syria is in turmoil and Iran is showing signs of revolution. Hamas is seeking a new sponsor as the old sponsors are weakening.

In September 2011, a Palestinian state will be declared by the UN General Assembly. Israel will have no alternative but to accept this. Hamas will modify its attitude towards Israel in order to get world support. Instead of wasting time and refusing to negotiate with the Palestinians, Netanyahu should not condemn the Hamas-Fatah agreement. He is wasting precious time and wasting another opportunity. Hamas will find a way to negotiate even if it takes a back seat position in order to save face. In practice, it has agreed to the moderate Fatah leadership to carry on negotiations with Israel.

Israel should also reach out to the Arab demonstrators in the Arab world who are searching for values that are close to ours. We need to support them in their fight for freedom and at the same time we must end our old mantras of support for territorial aggrandizement and end the occupation.

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t. Allen said...

I think the possibility of peace would actually be possible if both Israel and Palestine admit guilt. Although I am not a zionist, I do believe that every nation of people do deserve to have a land of their own I do not believe that any land should have been taken by force.

In a sense I do believe that Obama is right for the call that the Israelis should return back to the 1967 borders. Any land that they acquired since then is illegaly obtained, and it makes them no better than the ones who stole the land FOR them.

Jess G. said...

I think that if both Israel and Palestine give up and decide to unite with the United States to come up with a solution that does not involve conflict and war, these places might actually be at peace and land might actually be divided equally. I think it's unfair for someone to just take one's land without permission just because.