Israeli Independence Day
My apologies for another “heavy duty” post today. It’s sort of a “heavy” week here in Israel, with the Holocaust Memorial Day, followed a week later by the Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers and then, the very next day, Independence Day.
Today is Memorial Day. The saddest day in the year in Israel, as we mourn the loss of so many lives to the war. Memorial Day is as personal and intimate as it can be. Practically everyone has either lost someone, and/or knows many people who have. People go to work, but are allowed time off work to visit the cemeteries where dear ones are buried and where services are held today at 11.
In about 12 hours though, everything changes. Memorial Day is over and bam! It’s Independence Day! Celebrations galore, with shows, parades and fireworks. It’s weird, but you get used to it. In a way, it makes you “snap out” of what otherwise would turn into a national depression.
The Palestinian Naqba Day
As Independence Day sets in, many Palestinians choose to mark Naqba Day – the Day of the Catastrophe. It’s their day of national mourning. And this is actually what I wanted to discuss in this post.
I can relate to the aspect of Naqba Day which mourns what happened to the Palestinians in 1948. It doesn’t matter if they fled the country or were expelled, the fact remains that entire communities were uprooted and turned into refugees. A tragedy, not only on the national level, but on a very personal level as well.
The date for the Israeli Day of Independence was chosen because it’s the day when the “Declaration of Independence” was signed. It really is the date of the establishment of the State of Israel.
What about the Naqba? If it’s about the suffering of the Palestinian people, about their humane catastrophe – an aspect I think more Jewish Israelis should be aware of – then it should be commemorated sometime towards the end of May and the beginning of June.
When you set it up specifically on Israel’s Independence Day – following neither the Gregorian nor the Muslim calendar but the Jewish calendar! – you are sending us a different message. You are saying that the tragedy isn’t in the uprooting of people, but in the very existence of Israel.
That’s a big problem when it comes to the Israeli-Arabs – 20% of Israel’s population, full fledged citizens. It’s a huge obstacle in the way of peaceful co-existence. Here’s why –
1. It means Jewish Israelis can never join their Palestinian friends in mourning the tragedy of the Palestinian people. Not only because they’re busy BBQ’ing, but because you’re making it into an anti-Israel day.
2. It means 20% of the population is not supposed to identify with the official Day of Independence. There are Arab soldiers in the IDF for example, where does that put them?
3. It makes the entire thing into a contest, IMO. I see a lot of Arab families in our local Independence Day celebrations. They come in from nearby villages and towns in Wadi Ara – I guess their kids want to see the fireworks too. Why make them choose? Why can’t they have a day respecting their national tragedy – why can’t we all have a day commemorating that?
I respectfully call out to my fellow citizens, the Palestinians who make up 20% of the population of our country – let’s unite around human suffering, let’s focus on finding common grounds, rather than on separation and hatred.
I hope that someday, Israeli Arab and Jewish children will learn at schools together. They will celebrate the Day of Independence together, and they will commemorate Naqba Day together – on different dates.