Israel, Palestine: Where Commemorations Are Split

JERUSALEM – In Israel and Palestine memory is a split matter, depending on which side of the map you come from. Especially this May, as Israeli and Palestinian leaders restart negotiating a border acceptable to their peoples.

In the past 20 years, both peoples have largely accepted the principle of a two-state solution. Last year, even the right-wing Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu formally accepted it. 

Meanwhile, in absence of an agreed border, every May, on their own and in different ways, Israelis and Palestinians are left marking the anniversary of the de facto creation of Israel at the expense of Palestine. 

In November 1947, the United Nations voted the partition of Mandatory Palestine into two states, one for the Jews and the other for the Palestinians. On May 15, 1948, the State of Israel was declared. 

In the wake of the 1948 war, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians either fled or were driven out of what would eventually become the state of Israel, and became refugees. Every May, Palestinians mourn their Nakba or "Great Catastrophe", the birth of the refugee question. They still have no state of their own. 

Most years, Israelis celebrate the creation of their state by the Hebrew calendar. The date does not always coincide with May 15. 

Palestinians continue to mark their tragedy by the Latin calendar every May 15. 

As usual, this year, Palestinian remembrance rallies took place in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the wake of another Arab-Israeli war, the 1967 war. 

Nationalist Arab Israelis also staged solidarity rallies in different parts of Israel. As usual, Israeli right-wing politicians threatened to take action against some of the speakers. 

Jamal Zahalqa, a legislator from the Balad party, raised the hackles of even mainstream Jewish Israelis when he told one rally, "The Israel-Palestine conflict will never be resolved until the refugees are allowed to return to their homes in Jaffa, Ramleh, Lydda and the Galilee." 

The right of return of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their original homes in what became Israel is a long-held Palestinian demand. Almost all Israeli Jews object vehemently. For them, the return of refugees would destroy the Jewish character of their state, and also the two-state solution.

At another rally in Galilee, Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Islamist Movement, declared, "The day is not far off when the refugees will return to their homes in Galilee and the Negev, Haifa, and Akka. There is no substitute for the right of return. We will not repeat the mistake of 1948 and accept financial compensation instead of the right to our land." 

Salah attacked the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem as "a cancer of peace."

Retorted Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister and head of the ultra-nationalist Israel Beteinu ("Israel Our Home") party, "It is not Jews living in the West Bank that is a threat to the two-state solution, but such views held by Arab citizens of Israel." 

Lieberman, himself a settler, was elected on the ticket, "No Loyalty, No Citizenship." Other politicians in his party continue to advocate the "transfer" of Arab Israeli towns and villages close to the border line to the future Palestinian state should a two-state solution be "imposed" on Israel. 

"The place of people who advance such ideas like Raed Salah is behind bars," a minister from the Labor party, Benjamin Ben Eliezer, said bluntly. 

"But the majority of Arab Israeli citizens are loyal to the state and we are not exonerated from adopting policies that redress the discrimination against Arab citizens,” Ben Eliezer added. ‘’If we want to drive them away from extreme positions, we should do everything in our power to give them the opportunity to be fully integrated in Israel." 

As usual, the Israeli Left joined those rallies, trying to blend both Israeli celebration of independence and the Nakba into a single narrative which recognizes that Israelis must understand that Palestinian pain is a condition for true reconciliation. 

For the first time this year, over a thousand Israeli leftists marked that day on their own, in the center of their capital city, in a piazza of west Jerusalem which has a loaded name, Zion Square, a name which exalts the national ideology of the state of Israel.

The Israeli blue-and white flag was displayed. There was no show of Palestinian colors. 

This reflected a new trend emerging among left-wing Jewish Israelis that the day ought to be marked not just by wistfully hoping for that elusive day when both national interests will be at peace with one other, but by insisting that such peace is an intrinsic Israeli interest. 

"We too are true Israeli patriots," said Yoav, one of the demonstrators, "Our purpose of being here is not just to show our solidarity with the Palestinian right to a state, but how important this is for Israel’s own future well-being." 

"Getting rid of the settlements in the West Bank is not only a Palestinian interest, it’s an Israeli interest too," Yariv Oppenheimer, formerly of the Peace Now movement and one of the organizers of the rally, told IPS. 

"The ultra-nationalist dream of controlling the whole of the land has to be expunged so that Israel can focus on what it was established to be, a democratic home for the Jewish people," Oppenheimer said. 

Unlike other pro-Palestinian Israeli demonstrations which took place in Galilee and in occupied East Jerusalem, there was no interference by the police in the Zion Square rally and right-wing politicians were mute. 

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler

Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler write for Inter Press Service.