Rattling the Cage: A little respect for the Nakba

While we Jews are celebrating what the War of Independence did for us, can't we show a bit of magnanimity to the Arab citizens who are mourning what it did to them?

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
It's touch-and-go now whether Israel Beiteinu's "Nakba law" will make it through the Knesset, but even if it does, I have no doubt it will be struck down by the Supreme Court. The law would make it a crime, punishable by up to three years in prison, to publicly mourn the 1948 Palestinian Nakba ("catastrophe"), which a small but influential minority of Israeli Arabs do around Yom Ha'atzma'ut. The Nakba law is a gross violation of freedom of expression, something the Supreme Court wouldn't tolerate. Still, the controversy is making Jews and Arabs in this country hate each other just a little bit more, so Israel Beiteinu is getting what it wants. Among Jews, the debate seems to be between nationalists who say the State of Israel shouldn't allow citizens to brand its creation a "catastrophe," and liberals who say such gestures are infuriating but, for the sake of democracy, must be allowed. Yet even the liberal argument here is misguided, because when Israeli Arabs speak of the catastrophe of 1948, they don't mean the creation of the State of Israel, they mean the price that Palestinians, including themselves, paid for it. By nakba, they mean the 700,000 Palestinians who became refugees; they mean the 400-odd Arab villages that Israel bulldozed after the War of Independence; they mean the loss of their national home. HOW DO I know this? Because this is what Israeli Arabs, ranging from Labor Party voters to Islamic Movement election boycotters, have told me. Mahmoud Abu Rajab is a veteran newspaper editor in Nazareth who usually supports Labor, but who also has good things to say about the Likud. Yet even he says Israeli Arabs are entitled to mourn what happened to them during the War of Independence. "The time of Israel's creation was a time of catastrophe for Arab citizens. That's something no one, neither Jew nor Arab, can deny." Ibrahim Shawahna is a Hadash supporter who spends Yom Ha'atzma'ut going to the site of a former Galilee Arab village, now an IDF base, where his wife's family lived before 1948. But though he commemorates Nakba Day, he does not want to overthrow the state. "This is our country and I won't be part of any attempt to destroy it. What I want is equality." Even Hashem Abdel Rahman, the former mayor of Umm el-Fahm and a member of the Islamic Movement's radical "northern faction," told me that when Israeli Arabs say "nakba," they don't mean the birth of Israel. "That's a mistaken notion," he said, adding that he even "recognized the State of Israel." These and other Israeli Arabs I talked to had no need to lie; with few exceptions, they complained openly and bitterly about a history of injustice. BUT GO tell Israeli Jews that Nakba Day is not a call to insurrection, that while Israeli Arabs are not Zionists, and while they have loads of resentment, they are not enemies of the state. Go tell Jews here that with very, very few exceptions, Israeli Arabs are and always have been nonviolent, and that on balance, they are Israel's victims, not victimizers. Good luck. The Jewish public has gotten so it can only believe the worst about Arabs, even the hapless ones in this country; thus, a memorial march to the site of a Galilee village that got erased after the War of Independence is seen as an act of subversion. You don't have to read polls to know that Israeli Arabs are becoming more radical in their attitudes. And what should we expect? The October 2000 riots were a bloody disaster for them, not us, and ever since then they've been basically ostracized. They've watched the Palestinians get bashed up by the IDF, most recently and ferociously in Operation Cast Lead, and now a demagogue who's built his career on their backs is the country's foreign minister. What better time to introduce the Nakba law? The Jewish public has to understand that 20 percent of the citizens of this country were part of the losing side in the War of Independence, and that they lost a great deal. The Jewish public also has to admit that since that war ended, the civil status of this minority has never been anything but separate and unequal. We cannot expect members of this minority to have warm, patriotic feelings about the state. We cannot expect them to forget what the creation of Israel cost them, personally and nationally. Like nearly all Jews, I blame the Palestinians, including those who remained in what would become Israel, for starting the war that proved to be their catastrophe. But we shouldn't be so egocentric as to expect them to agree with us. What we can rightfully expect, though, is that whatever Israeli Arabs think, whatever they wish, they not turn to violence. And with rare individual exceptions, they haven't. They protest, but they don't revolt. They aren't a threat to this country - not even on Nakba Day. While we Jews are celebrating what the War of Independence did for us, can't we show a bit of magnanimity to the Arab citizens who are mourning what it did to them?