Terror is the real Nakba

Palestinians consider the birth of the State of Israel a catastrophe, a “nakba.” It’s their Holocaust Day.

The two Palestinian terrorists who went on a rampage at the Sarona restaurant complex in Tel Aviv must surely consider Israel, and Tel Aviv, a catastrophe. The beaches, the night clubs, the museums, the hotels, the high tech vibe, the restaurant where they ordered brownies before murdering Jews– it’s all a catastrophe.

Palestinians are taught that the very existence of Israel is a catastrophe.

I wonder, though, what Yousef Jabarin thinks about Israel. He’s the Palestinian bartender from Umm al-Fahm who served the terrorists those brownies before they did their murderous act. Is the country that gave him his job a “catastrophe”?

I also wonder what Arab terrorists must think when they see fellow Arabs like Jabarin living freely in that “catastrophic” country called Israel. How dare you work for Jews? How dare you look so happy serving us those brownies?

When Palestinian terrorists come to Israel to murder Jews, they’re showing their hatred not just for Jews, but for what the Jews have built: A civil society where Israeli Arabs can work and live freely, where they have more rights, legal protections and economic opportunities than in any Arab country in the Middle East.

For any Arab who has been taught to hate Jews, the fact that Arabs are better off living in the Jewish state must be a real source of embarrassment.

It’s the catastrophe of humiliation.

This is what must drive the murderers nuts — the realization that for Arabs like Yousef Jabarin, Israel is not a nakba but a miracle.

It is Jew-hating terror that is the real nakba.

A settler’s Nakba

Dispatches From Judea and Samaria: first in a series

How does a passionate, religious Zionist who is also committed to Israel-Palestinian reconciliation and dialogue deal with nakba, the Arabic term for the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the founding of Israel?

On one hand, I feel no guilt whatsoever over the displacement of more than a half-million Palestinians during our War of Independence. I have no doubts about the justice of the Jews’ return to our historic national land, as promised throughout the Torah and dreamt about by generations of Jews. Yes, the events of the 1948-49 war were indeed tragic — for both sides. But they occurred in the context of a war — a war started by the Arab states, lest anyone need reminding, and they occurred alongside another human tragedy similar in kind and scope: The destruction of millennia-old Jewish communities across the Arab world.

Furthermore, the whole proposition of nakba is problematic insofar as it sets up Israel’s creation as a zero-sum game: Israeli independence as a disaster for the Palestinians. When Palestinians say the “disaster” of 1948, they do not mean the disaster caused by a series of poor decisions made by Arab leaders to attack the nascent state, or the years of abuse Palestinian refugees have suffered at their hands ever since. Good for Israel equals bad for Palestine and vice versa.

WATCH: Palestinian activist Ali Abu Awad and West Bank settler Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger tell their stories of personal transformation.


That construct leaves little room for connection or relationships between Zionists and Palestinians, and no room for me. For all Israel’s faults, I think Israel has done a pretty good job in the areas of democracy, economic advancement and even human rights, an area in which Israel is routinely singled out for criticism. I am proud of our accomplishments over the past 67 years, made in the face of difficult circumstances, and make no apologies for living here.

I am proud of our accomplishments over the past 67 years, made in the face of difficult circumstances, and make no apologies for living here.

But in recent years, I’ve left that discussion behind. As I’ve built relationships with Palestinians, I’ve tried hard to replace the traditional Israel-Palestinian discussion — justification, accusation, debate, argumentation — with a new conversation, one based on empathy, connections, relationships. In contrast to my previous attempts to reach out to Palestinians, over the past year I have made good friends on the other side of the separation wall, individuals with whom I share values, hopes and fears, and especially a love of this land.

What, then, is the right way for an unapologetic religious Zionist — and a settler to boot — to balance the unmitigated joy I feel over the return of our people to the Land of Israel with the Palestinian experience of May 14, especially if just two weeks ago I asked my Palestinian friends to share in my celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut?

My friend Ali Abu Awwad does not describe the events of 1948 with his mind. He describes them with his eyes.

Although 15 years have passed since he dedicated his life to reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians (that transformation happened after he was shot by a settler in 2001, a month before his brother was killed during an oral altercation with an Israel Defense Forces soldier at the height of the Second Intifada), Abu Awwad’s description of his years as a rock- and Molotov cocktail-throwing activist during the First Intifada conveys the heat and intensity of his teenage hatred for everything Israel.

But that sense of fury is absent when the topic of conversation moves to his father’s departure from al-Qubayba, a village of about 1,200 people near the present-day Israeli town of Lachish, where Ali’s grandfather served as imam. Instead, he talks about the events of 1948 with a tangible sense of personal history and a wistful sense of deep longing for the family home that was destroyed long before he was born in 1972.

“My dad was about 22 at the time, and they walked from there to Tarkumiyeh, near where the military checkpoint is today, a distance of about 10 miles. They thought they would be gone for only a few days, but they realized quickly that they couldn’t go back. After a few weeks, they moved farther toward Hebron, and eventually settled in Beit Ummar, near where the bodies of the three yeshiva students were discovered last year,” he says.

“[To many people], accept[ing[ the term nakba is not only to accept the fact, but is also to accept the notion of who was guilty. Therefore, even to mention the word nakba as part of the Jewish vocabulary is basically to accept a narrative that undermines the legitimacy of the State of Israel to exist,” says Rabbi Donniel Hartman.

That is a tough mental barrier to get around, but an essential one if we are to reset the rules of engagement between Israelis and Palestinians. Israel’s birth was not synonymous with disaster for the Palestinians, but by opening up to Palestinians’ collective memory, we pave a two-way path for Palestinians to create receptiveness toward our celebration of our return to the Land of Israel.

Palestinian activist Ali Abu Awad and West Bank settler Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger will tell their stories of personal transformation at Pico Union Project on May 28 at 7:30 p.m. Free. For more information, visit www.picounionproject.org

Andrew Friedman is a member of Shorashim/Judur, a grass-roots movement of local Israelis and Palestinians creating relationships and friendships in Judea and Samaria, as well as of the Interfaith Encounter Forum.

On Independence Day, thousands of Arab-Israelis march for Palestinians’ right of return

(JTA) — Several thousand Arab-Israelis at a protest march in the Galilee on Israel’s Independence Day commemorated Palestinian villages destroyed in 1948.

Near Tiberias, the participants in Thursday’s March of Return, as organizers called it, carried Palestinian Authority flags and chanted slogans on the need to fight court-ordered demolitions of homes of perpetrators of terrorist acts, according to the news site Ynet.

Israelis celebrate their country’s independence on the the Hebrew date of Israel’s declaration of independence, the fifth of Iyar. The holiday was celebrated this year a day earlier out of consideration for Jews who observe the Sabbath.
In 1948, the year that Israel was established, Iyar 5 fell on May 15. Palestinians commemorate May 15 as a day of mourning, which they call Nakba Day. Nakba is the Arabic word for catastrophe.

Israel’s victory in its War for Independence resulted in the departure of approximately 700,000 Palestinians from present-day Israel.

Officially, the Palestinian Authority is conditioning a final peace agreement with Israel on the return to its territory of any refugees still alive and at least 3 million of their descendants, which the Palestinians say have a right to settle in Israel as well. Unofficially, negotiators say Ramallah will agree to compromise on what it calls the right of return.

“The march is the biggest event to commemorate the Palestinian Nakba and to call for the implementation of the Right of Return for the Palestinian refugees and the internally displaced,” organizers of the event from the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced wrote in invitations to the march.

Zochrot, a Tel Aviv-based group devoted to raising awareness to the Nakba among Jews, arranged for transportation from Tel Aviv to the march.

Organizers did not say why April 23 was selected over May 15.

Filmmakers on a mission to tell Palestinians’ stories

This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

A new generation of Palestinian filmmakers is intent on telling “the people stories you don't hear about” rather than staying true to form with films charged with political messages such as “Israel's Occupation” or “Nakba” (the great catastrophe, referring to Israel).  While some insist that it remains their mission and obligation to tell the world about their struggle, other moviemakers seek to broaden the horizon and defy the stereotypes.

“Despite the fact that we make news headlines, I think many Palestinian films failed because they focus on the political story, rather than a personal story,” director Enas I. Al-Muthaffar told The Media Line.

“Human stories have come out of Palestine, too, including films that show what it means to live in this place as a human being,” she explained.

Al-Muthaffar, a director, writer and producer listed by the International Movie Data Base (IMDB) with 20 credits, says Palestinian films have been received better internationally because the audience “wants to get closer to the people that news headlines speak about.”

“If you monitor the progress of the last ten years, you'll see that Palestinian cinema is progressing in quantity and quality,” Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad told The Media Line.

The two-time Academy Award-nominated director — “Paradise Now” (2005) and “Omar” (2013) — received the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film for the first, the story of two childhood friends who are recruited to carry out a bombing in Tel Aviv.  The latter is about a young Palestinian who is recruited as an informant after he's tricked into an admission of guilt-by-association in the wake of an Israeli soldier's killing. For Abu-Assad, filmmaking is a form of expression and the reason he became a director in the first place.

“I don't make movies to entertain, but movies have to be entertaining. I don't have a message, but I want to share emotions and thoughts, and I want to make people think about their situation and the situations of others,” he told The Media Line.

Palestinian-American Osama Abed, a recent graduate in media studies, plans “to give something other than the sad sympathetic Palestinian victim narration that is constantly told,” even if it means being controversial.

“Palestinians are no exception from the rest of the world. We smoke. We drink and we have sex. So why can’t we talk about it?” the 25 year old Abed asked The Media Line.

Other Palestinian filmmakers use the medium to try to break the stereotype of how Arab women are depicted.

Amber Fares’s inspiration to tell the story of the “Speed Sisters” came from the idea that these women were doing something that was completely unexpected. “When you think of Palestine you do not normally equate it with race car driving, let alone women racing,” she told The Media Line. Fares says she saw this documentary as an opportunity to tell a surprising story from the Middle East that people all over the world could relate to. Plus, it just seemed like such a cool story.

“On the surface, 'Speed Sisters' is a film about five women race car drivers from Palestine, but at its core, it is a film about the human struggle to break through the obstacles in our lives and follow our dreams,” she said.  

Al-Muthaffar says that the greatest achievement for Palestinian cinema came in 2007, when three films were made under the label of “Palestine.” “That’s the maximum, two films are lucky, but on average it’s one a year,” she said, adding that some Palestinian films are shot in Jordan.

Such statistics is the reason Fares says that in the early stages, she relied on friends and people who believed in the project.

While “Speed Sisters” is scheduled to open December 1 at the Ajyal Film Festival in Doha, the Lebanese-Canadian who considers herself “Palestinian at heart” says it took her five years to bring her film to the screen.

“Most of the issues that we faced were financial. It was a bit difficult for us at the beginning to raise money to make this film,” she said.

“The difficulties are endless, they don’t stop,” director Buthina Khoury told The Media Line. Despite applying to various funds in Europe and the Arab world and participating in a number of screenwriting, directing and producing workshops, she has yet to raise the money to make “Green Almonds,” a family story that she says reflects Palestinians as humans — a story that she believes in very much.

Khoury believes that political elements could be the reason for the delay in getting the money to make the film. “It reflects the tragedy of a Palestinian family that tries to live in Palestine despite the hardship. The producers are not ready to show Palestinians with this humanistic image,” she says. But she will keep trying.

Khoury’s struggle began before she entered the profession of filmmaking.  In the mid-1980s, with no film schools in Palestine and the Arab world busy with political issues, she went to the United States where she received a BFA with honors in filmmaking from the Massachusetts College of Fine Arts. She returned to her home in Taybeh, on the outskirts of Ramallah, to make movies. Having completed four documentaries and a short, she has been struggling since 2010 to get her first feature length movie made.

It is not uncommon to hear of Palestinians studying abroad since there are no film programs or film schools at home. Al-Muthaffar studied film in Egypt for just that reason. Growing up, she watched Egyptian films because “Egypt was the capital of film in the Arab world.”   

But unlike Egypt, Khoury says, Palestinian films have not yet reached the point of entertainment. She says that she and her colleagues have a “one thousand per cent responsibility” to carry the Palestinian cause.

“Cinema is a peaceful tool that can be used to express our points of view of the struggle itself. It can travel easily and is universal.  If one picture is worth a thousand words, then one film is worth one thousand political discussions and negotiations,” she said.   

Visual artist Khaled Jarrar, a 38-year old resident of Jenin, says Europeans and Americans make movies about their own social issues like the environment or drugs. He uses art as his format and his voice. “Here we have our own problems. For me, it’s not just politics, it’s about life,” he told The Media Line.

Jarrar’s first short video — “Journey 110” — was selected at several international festivals and art galleries such as Basel Art 41, Instant Video and the London Film Festival. He has set up exhibitions of his photos depicting the Qalandiya and Howara Israeli military checkpoints.

His project “Live and Work in Palestine” included creating the first unofficial Palestinian stamp that he used to stamp official passports of people from all nationalities around the world.

With 14 films under her belt (“Salt of this Sea,” “When I Saw You,”) and gearing up to direct a movie next year,  Annemarie Jacir believes that film is much more than just entertainment and that it “awakens senses and defends life.”

Jacir expects more “beautiful films” to emerge because of the “many incredibly talented Palestinian artists.”

“I just watched a documentary film by a Palestinian woman which is truly an incredible film — difficult and important,” she said.  Jacir has been working on the project for perhaps eight years. “This kind of dedication is what makes so much of Palestinian films so strong — artists who take the time to work on their craft rather than working quickly,” she said.

Looking back, Fares says in the last few years many stories from the Palestinian Territories have broken through and had mainstream global success. “It's also been exciting to see the growth of opportunities by Arab film institutions and festivals,” she said.

Although Khoury does not consider Palestinian cinema to be an industry yet, her evaluation is that compared to other Arab-world filmmakers they are doing much better.   “Although we’ve never existed as a state, we make films which have won awards,” she says.

But still looking ahead, Fares says the main challenge remains.

“Because of the Israeli occupation and the difficulty of securing permits to attend pitching forums, it can be more difficult for Palestinian filmmakers to build relationships in the funding and distribution worlds,” she said.

Has Israel become a Democrat-Republican issue?

About a decade ago, my rabbi was promoting congregational AIPAC involvement.  His argument went that AIPAC was not necessary for our local liberal Jewish Congressman, who was a member of our synagogue.  If he ever did anything anti-Israel, the rabbi always had the option of reporting that fact to the Congressman’s mother.  However, he stated that AIPAC was necessary to make Israel’s case to the Congressman from northeast Louisiana, in other words, the Congressman for the folks from Duck Dynasty.  Ten years later, it seems that the pro Israel lobby needs to change its focus from the Congressman in northeast Louisiana to the one south-central Los Angeles.

In a recent CNN/ORC survey taken from July 18 to July 20, 2014, Americans had a favorable view of Israel, 60%-36%, which would appear promising.  When the data is broken down, there is some cause for concern.  Republicans viewed Israel favorably by a margin of 67%-31% and Independents 63%-35%.  Democrats, however, only viewed Israel favorably by a margin of 49%-48%.  In asking about the justification for Operation Protective Edge, Republicans viewed Israel as justified by a margin of 73%-19%, Independents 56%-36% and Democrats 45%-42%.  Looking at the data, Republicans and Independents are strong supporters of Israel; Democrats not so much.  The trend is alarming.  The key question is why?  What has happened to cause the gradual movement of Democrats from the pro-Israel camp?  There are of course, notable Democrats strongly supportive of Israel from Chuck Schumer to Alan Dershowitz, but if they are not the minority within their own party, they may well soon be. 

I have come up with four reasons to explain the polling data.  The first is moral relativism.  Since World War II, Democrats have never been comfortable in framing issues as good vs. evil.  They had trouble with the Cold War and Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire or George W. Bush’s Axis of Evil.  The fact that there would no need for Operation Protective Edge if Hamas did not fire thousands of rockets into Israel in an attempt (albeit ineffective) to murder as many innocent Jews as possible seems to be lost on certain Democrats.  To frame the issue as Hamas = evil and Israel = good is not a major intellectual breakthrough.  You just need to have a moral compass that finds indiscriminate murder as evil.  Democrats have no problem labeling Republican domestic policies as immoral, such as with the war on women, but their morality seems to go astray as soon as it is applied to the international arena.

The second reason is President Barack Obama.  As the ostensible leader of the Party, the President’s opinions on Israel matter a great deal.  Despite Republican claims to the contrary, Obama is not inherently anti-Israel.  He has approved Iron Dome funding and presided over unprecedented levels of security cooperation between the United States and Israel.  On the other hand, the President is not instinctively pro-Israel either.  One only has to look at his administration’s recent involvement in the cease fire negotiations regarding Operation Protective Edge, which the Israeli security cabinet described as a “betrayal.”  This is not a new issue for the President; Obama has been dogged since he first ran for President about whether he is supportive for Israel in his gut; i.e., the kishkes test.

The third reason is what I call the “Jimmy Carter” issue.  This issue stems from the Democrats being hardwired to support the underdog.  In that framework, all they see is a powerful western colonial Israel oppressing an indigenous third world Palestine.  However in framing the issue as such, Caterites consistently fail to understand the history of the conflict, how the United Nations voted to partition what was then Palestine into a Jewish State and an Arab one, how the partition resolution was accepted by the Jewish community and rejected by the Arabs, who then assembled the armies of five nations to launch a war with the avowed aim of driving the Jews out of Palestine.  The fact that they failed is now described as the “Nakba” or catastrophe.  Carter sees this issue in terms of South African apartheid, which is evident by his book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”  Despite Carter’s support for Hamas and his being absolutely and completely wrong about Israel, there appears to be an audience for him within the confines of the Democrat party.

The fourth reason is Jewish Democrats themselves.  J Street is a lobbying group that portrays itself as “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace.”  What they have done successfully is peel off liberal Jews from AIPAC and other pro-Israel organizations.  You can find Israelis with views similar to J Street; you would not even call them hard left.  The difference is that J Street uses its influence on US policy towards Israel, while Israeli leftists, whose children serve in the IDF, use their influence on the democratically elected government of Israel, who is responsible for the safety and well-being of its citizens.  There is debate within the Jewish community about the “Pro-Israel” component of J Street, but you cannot debate that J Street has made it acceptable within the Jewish community to lobby the United States government to apply pressure on Israel.  It is not a giant step to conclude that they have not done as good job within the liberal community of making the case for Israel as they have in making the case for pressuring Israel.

How can we change the Democrats outlook towards Israel?  The data does not say that they are anti-Israel, but the trend is worth noting.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Historical experiences and perception

Brief synopsis: The most puzzling aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be that after 65 years of violence, enmity and suffering, it remains unresolved when coexistence is inevitable and a two-state solution remains the only viable option. Although there are many contentious issues that must be specifically addressed, directly impacting every conflicting issue is the broader psychological dimension of the conflict, which makes it increasingly intractable. To mitigate the conflict, we must first look into the elements that inform the psychological dimension and how to alleviate them as prerequisites to finding a solution. This is the second of six articles; click here for the first article.

Underlying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are the scars that each side carries from their respective traumatic pasts. Their perceptions of each other were engendered by their independent religious traditions as well as their historical experiences as they related to one another. Unfolding events – violence, mutual recrimination etc. – between Israelis and Palestinians over the past seven decades, however, have made it virtually impossible for them to settle their differences. Maintaining an adversarial mindset toward each other has thus provided the justification and rationale to perpetuate their historical grievances through constant rancorous public narratives, placing the blame for the continuing discord on the other.

The Jewish experience throughout the Diaspora was one filled with discrimination, persecution, anti-Semitism, and expulsion culminating in the Holocaust. The genocide perpetrated during the Holocaust was surely something new in history: never before had a powerful state turned its immense resources to the industrialized manufacturing of corpses; never before had the extermination of an entire people been carried out with the swiftness of an assembly-line. The fact that many Jews were prevented from avoiding death camps by immigrating to Palestine added yet another layer to the horrific experiences of the Jewish people. The Jews have carried the scars of this past with them and still hold to the view that it can happen again unless they remain vigilant and relentless in protecting themselves at any cost. With this past in mind, the establishment of the state of Israel was seen not only as the last refuge to provide protection for the Jewish people but also the realization and hope of both secular Zionism and biblical prophecy (i.e. the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland). Thus, religious and non-observant Jews believe this trust must be guarded with absolute and unwavering zeal.

Yet, this historical sense of victimization and injustice has served to nurture the allegiance that each Israeli feels towards the state and each other with naturally-engendered, negative emotional sentiments towards the enemy. From the Israeli perspective, the establishment of Israel on the heels of the Holocaust was seen (and continues to be viewed) as the last chance to create a refuge; they must therefore remain on guard to protect Jews’ welfare and wellbeing wherever they may live and at whatever cost. This sense of being victimized resulted from an intentional infliction of harm in the past, universally viewed as utterly unjust and immoral. Yet, it has led to a lack of empathy towards perceived enemies; for example, it manifested itself in Israel shirking responsibility for the Palestinian refugee problem and violating human rights, all the while promoting self-righteousness.

Compounded, these conditions inherently endure, particularly when accompanied by extensive and continuing violence against Israel and growing concerns over national security. They are further strengthened by the Palestinians’ public narrative, which openly promotes the rejection of the very existence of the state. The Palestinians, for their part, have hardly made any serious effort to comprehend and appreciate the psychological implications of the Jews’ historical experience of religious persecution. Instead of understanding the Israeli mindset that was formed by the horrific past, the Palestinians have either denied the Holocaust altogether, or bemoaned that it did happen. It is not that the Palestinians should be held responsible for the Jews’ historic tragedy, but they failed at a minimum to appreciate the Israelis’ mindset in effectively dealing with the conflict.

For the Palestinians, the experience of the Nakba (the catastrophe), precipitated by the 1948 war, was no less calamitous. From their perspective, they were living in their own land, albeit for centuries under Ottoman rule and then under British Mandatory authority. They are absolutely convinced that during the 1948 war they were forced out of their homes by Israelis (in fact, many were encouraged to leave by their Arab brethren and return “following the defeat of Israel” for the spoil.)

Either way, over 700,000 Palestinians found themselves as refugees, an experience that has lasted for decades and continues to endure, leaving an indelible impression on their psyche; currently, nearly 5 million Palestinian are refugees. This traumatic experience served to bind Palestinians together in the same way that the Jews coalesced following the Holocaust, with each side believing their tragic historical experiences are unparalleled in scope and magnitude. The fact that the Arab states manipulated the Palestinian refugee problem over many decades to their advantage does not change the reality on the ground; it did not alter the Palestinians’ mindset, their perception of what the Israelis have done, or their sentiment and disposition about their plight.

Subsequent and frequent violent encounters between the two sides, especially after the 1967 war, further aggravated the Palestinian refugee problem. This war not only created another wave of refugees, but also set the stage for a bloody confrontation, during which many thousands lost their lives on both sides. The Israeli settlement project provided daily blows to Palestinian pride while demonstrating the futility of their efforts to stem Israeli encroachment on their territory, especially in the West Bank. The occupation and the repeated humiliation of the Palestinians further deepened their resolve to oppose the Israelis at whatever cost, but all was to no avail. The Israelis have proven to be a formidable foe and the Palestinians’ resentment, hatred and animosity have naturally only increased.

Israelis have never fully understood the significance of what the Palestinians have been enduring, how this has impacted their psychological dispositions, and why they have shown no desire to reconcile their differences with Israel. Israelis often argue that since nearly 800,000 Jews left their homes (or as many believe, were forced out) across the Arab Middle East and North Africa and largely settled in Israel, the Palestinian refugees must be considered a de-facto swap with the Jewish refugees. This view not only dismisses the historic trauma experienced by the Palestinians, but also disregards their national aspirations to establish a homeland of their own, especially in light of the 1947 UN resolution (known as the Partition Plan) which called for separate Jewish and Palestinian states. This psychological fixation, reinforced by public narratives and education in schools, has prevented either side from coming to grips with the inevitability of peaceful coexistence.

Understanding the Israeli and the Palestinian mindsets from the historical perspective is central to appreciating their respective resistances to change, which is detrimentally empowered by their historical experiences, especially if they continue to harbor political agendas that overshoot what they can realistically attain. That is, will their historical experiences, bequeathing a sense of mutual victimhood, be mitigated by the changing reality, or will they hold onto it until they achieve their objectives, however illusionary they may be? Indeed, do the Jewish people’s and the Palestinians’ unprecedented historical suffering – although they do not fall into the same category – somehow ontologically elevate them from “victims” to “Victims,” guaranteeing them, and by extension contemporary Israelis and Palestinians, an unconditional status of moral untouchability?

The French philosopher Alain Badiou is right to suggest that we need to question the presumption “that, like an inverted original sin, the grace of having been an incomparable victim can be passed down not only to descendants and to the descendants of descendants but to all who come under the predicate in question, be they heads of state or armies engaging in the severe oppression of those whose lands they have confiscated” (Polemics, 2012). Indeed, the victim mentality has become a political tool in the hands of those who seek to promote their interests at the expense of the opposing political parties, not to mention the enemy.

The Palestinian culture of victimhood, on the other hand, was equally divisive in that it perpetuates the refugee problem by promoting popular refusal of permanent resettlement. Palestinian leaders have also used it as a tool for public indoctrination, ensuring that the Palestinian plight remains central to any political and social discourse. Palestinians and their leaders have carefully and systematically ingrained their victim mentality in the minds of one generation after another through the media, schools and places of worship.

Israelis and Palestinians alike (especially those who, like Hamas, seek the destruction of Israel) must become more self-critical in their use of victimhood; both sides need to realize that neither has a monopoly on the position of “the victim,” and neither is granted a morally unimpeachable status as a consequence of their historical experiences or the shifting realities on the ground. The effect of adverse historical interaction, however, can be mitigated over time or reconciled through dialogue, eventually leading to changes in perception.

Notwithstanding their traumatic historical experiences, neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians can or should use history to foreshadow the present requirements to make peace. Historical experiences can be both instructive and destructive; a student of history must learn from past experiences but not emulate them and thus obscure a contemporary reality that can no longer be mitigated short of a catastrophe, in particular Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. The Palestinians have every right to demand the immediate end to the occupation and live with dignity; Israel has equal rights to satisfy its legitimate national security concerns. These two requirements are absolutely compatible and provide the only basis on which to build a structure of peaceful coexistence.

Without denying the Jews’ and Palestinians’ sense of victimhood, perpetuating their conflict ironically creates new generations of victims, robbing them of their future only because their elders want to cling to the past.

Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

Majority of Israeli Arabs prefer to live in Israel

The vast majority of Israeli Arabs are reconciled with the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and even exhibit a degree of patriotism, according to a poll released Thursday.

The survey by Haifa University found that nearly one in seven (68.3%) preferred to live in Israel than anywhere else, even a future Palestinian state. It found that 57.7% are reconciled with Israel as a Jewish democratic state whose day of rest is the Sabbath on Saturday and Hebrew is the main language.

“I wouldn’t say that the Arabs are Israeli patriots. What we found was that they said that Israel was a good place to live in. They have benefits in Israel. They have the rule of law. They have democracy. They have a modern way of life. And all this they appreciate and this is their pragmatism,” Sammy Smooha, the University of Haifa professor who conducted the survey, told The Media Line.”

“When they say they reconcile themselves with the Jewish state this doesn’t mean that they prefer a Jewish state. They prefer to have a bi-national state. This also doesn’t mean they justify a Jewish state,” Smooha added.

The poll of 715 Israeli Arabs released Thursday found that 80% blame the Jews for the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” of the expulsion of most (over 700,000) of the Palestinians from Israel during the 1948 war. It also found that 38% participate in events marking the Nakba.

Smooha, who has been monitoring attitudes among Israeli Arabs for more than 30 years, told The Media line that there has been a steady erosion of faith in Israel’s democracy over the years.

Still, it found that the Israeli Arab public-at-large was less extremist than its leadership, he said.

“Their leaders reject Israel as a Jewish democratic state, whereas our studies over the years have found that the Arab public say that while they prefer a bi-national state, they are reconciled with reality and say they have to deal with it,” Smooha explained.

Extremism was not absent from the survey. Nineteen percent of Israeli Arabs denied Israel’s right to exist, as opposed to 11% who expressed a similar view in 2003. Fifty-seven percent of Israeli Arabs said that they would support a referendum that defined Israel as a “Jewish, democratic state that promised full civil rights to Arabs,” compared to the 70.9% who said they would support such a referendum in 2006.

“This poll confirms the continued trend of the hardening of Arab attitudes and the worsening of Arab Jewish relations, but also shows that there is a lot of pragmatism among the Arabs and the framework for Arab-Jewish relations is still in existence and still solid,” Smooha said.

He defined the framework as the acceptance of the state of Israel and the Palestinian state alongside.

Ali Haider, co-director of Sikkuy, an organization pushing for civic equality in Israel, was more skeptical. He said it was important to have surveys to examine trends, but he disliked terms like “co-existence,” “pragmatism” and “alienation.”

“We talk about equality and shared public space and respect of identities,” Haider told The Media Line. “The Palestinian minority in Israel from 2000 until now feels some kind of frustration from the government and Jewish society, especially after the last election,” which highlighted a right-wing agenda.

“Israeli Arabs feel that the government in Israel is working against them. Current trends reflect to the Arabs that they are not welcomed and their citizenship is threatened,” Haider said.

He was referring to the so-called “Nakba Law” which imposes financial damages on any state-funded institution sponsoring a Nakba-related event; imposed civil service; incitement against Arab leadership; and increasing racism by right-wing Israeli leaders.

“I don’t know to which national group we are patriotic, but we want to be citizens of Israel; but on the other hand, we want to keep our Palestinian identity and feel part of the Palestinian people and also citizens of Israel,” Haider said.

“This combination is very complicated. I think that identity is not something static. This is dynamic and people can have at the same time more than one identity and this is the issue.”

Report: Israeli, Lebanese naval forces cooperating

Israel’s navy is reportedly cooperating with its Lebanese counterpart to prevent foreign ships from approaching Israeli waters.

Israeli naval officials say their cooperation with Lebanon has increased, according to a report in Haaretz.

In advance of Land Day last month, Lebanon reportedly beefed up its naval patrols and barred ships from approaching the maritime border with Israel. Lebanon also reportedly has assisted Israel in driving away fishing boats that approach Israeli waters with the result that “significantly fewer” such ships now approach Israel’s border.

The cooperation is apparently conducted through an international body, through which Israel relays information about boats closing in on its maritime border. The information is then relayed to Lebanese forces, which drives the ship away.

Israel reportedly is expecting pro-Palestinian flotillas to approach by sea in advance of May 15, when Palestinians mark the anniversary of the Nakba, the “catastrophe” of Israel’s birth.

David Suissa: Nakba Is in the Eye of the Beholder

While the world media was buzzing on May 15 about the Arab demonstrations marking the “Nakba” (catastrophe) of 1948, I was listening to a commencement address by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu at Pomona College in which he lamented, among other things, America’s inability to reduce its addiction to oil. At one point, Chu spoke eloquently about a future in which electric cars would be mass-produced, and how this might ignite an environmental revolution that could “save the planet.”

As he spoke, I thought of an article I had read on JPost that morning about an Israeli initiative to reduce global dependency on oil. The company Better Place unveiled the first electric car to be sold to the Israeli market — the Renault Fluence ZE. According to the report, “Israel will become, along with Denmark, the first country in which Better Place’s rechargeable, zero-emission vehicles will be sold commercially.”

I couldn’t help connecting the dots. On the one hand, there was the “catastrophe” of Israel’s creation in 1948 as expressed by Arab demonstrators, and, on the other hand, there was a miracle country with the potential to help “save the planet.”

Which one is it, a catastrophe or a miracle?

It’s easy to cop out and say we must recognize everyone’s narrative. If the Palestinians see the birth of Israel and the subsequent displacement of Arabs as a “catastrophe,” well, then, as Gideon Levy of Haaretz proposes, even Jewish schools in Israel must mark Nakba Day. As Levy wrote, “On that day it would be possible to tell our pupils that next to us lives a nation for whom our day of joy is their day of disaster, for which we and they are to blame.”

Personally, I’m more aligned with Jeffrey Goldberg, who calls the Arab “disaster” of 1948 “largely self-inflicted because the Arabs rejected the U.N. partition plan for Palestine, attacked the just-born Jewish state and then managed to lose on the battlefield.”

In other words, the Arab definition of “catastrophe” is that they failed to destroy the Jewish state at its birth.

Regardless, though, of how one sees the Nakba, it’s clear that the Nakba mindset nurtures bitterness and resentment — elements that are hardly conducive to planting seeds of peace and reconciliation. How can an Arab student want to have a healthy and respectful relationship with his Jewish neighbors if he is encouraged to see that very Jewish presence as a mark of Arab failure — a mark of enduring Arab shame? And if he is encouraged to see this Jewish creation as something that must be corrected, or even reversed?

If you ask me, the real Nakba day for the Palestinians is the day Hamas created its official charter with hate-filled, anti-Semitic tracts like this one: “For our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave, so much so that it will need all the loyal efforts we can wield, to be followed by further steps and reinforced by successive battalions from the multifarious Arab and Islamic world, until the enemies are defeated and Allah’s victory prevails.”

This Hamas “catastrophe” was made even more relevant recently with the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. As French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy lamented in The Huffington Post, prospects for peace have now “gone by the wayside with the rehabilitation of the only party concerned that is still proclaiming that ‘the fulfillment of the promise’ shall not come until ‘the Muslims’ have not only ‘combated’ but ‘killed’ all ‘the Jews.’ ”

The plain, ugly truth right now is that there is no peace on the horizon. But many of us, including presidents, pundits and peaceniks, cannot accept that truth, so we ignore inconvenient facts or just spin them into glimmers of false hope. As Saul Bellow once wrote, “A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.” 

Beyond all this gloomy talk, perhaps the biggest disaster of all is the inability of the Arab world to see the Jewish state as anything but a cursed presence. Call me a cynic, but I don’t think peace has a chance when Arabs still see the birth of Israel as a Nakba. In fact, I dream of the day when more Arabs will see the birth of Israel as a Fursa (“opportunity”). That would be the day Israeli Arabs discovered a messy and imperfect Jewish democracy that allowed them the freedom to speak up, and gave them rights and opportunities they could find nowhere else in the Middle East.

I even have an idea for who could lead this little movement: George Kerra, the Arab Israeli judge who sentenced the former president of Israel, Moshe Katsav, to seven years in jail for sexual aggression against a former female aide.

Think about that. A Middle Eastern country that is hated and threatened by its neighbors, forced to constantly fight for its life, manages to create a civil society where no one is above the law and where anyone can become a judge. Oh, and a society that still finds time to work on things like an electric car that could “save the planet.”

You want to endorse calling the birth of that nation a catastrophe? Don’t count me in.

David Suissa is a branding consultant and the founder of OLAM magazine. For speaking engagements and other inquiries, he can be reached at {encode=”suissa@olam.org” title=”suissa@olam.org”} or davidsuissa.com.

Words Matter — Obama’s Next Challenge

By the time this article is published on May 19, President Barack Obama will be putting the final touches on his policy speech on the Middle East, scheduled for the same day. Many see it as an important speech, for it could signal a dramatic shift in U.S. policy in the wake of the Arab uprisings, the demise of bin Laden and the resignation May 13 of George Mitchell. For Israel, though, the crucial test is whether Obama will take bold steps toward a lasting peace in the Middle East or merely express his displeasure with the now-stalled “peace process.”

Regardless of which side we blame for the current stalemate, be it Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for not launching a diplomatic initiative to test Palestinians’ readiness for peace, or Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, for rejecting direct negotiations in the hope for a better deal through the United Nations, one thing has become clear before our eyes: The Palestinian concept of a two-state solution has turned into something so fundamentally different from its Israeli counterpart that the very idea of a “peace process” is now an oxymoron — a process tormented by two conflicting visions of “peace.” One side sees the process as a road toward “ending all claims,” while the other sees it as an opportunity for reigniting unrealizable claims.

Nothing made this clash of vision more transparent than the Nakba marches and celebrations that took place May 15 in Gaza, Ramallah, Lebanon and Syria, all the way to Jerusalem and even Jaffa. If in previous years the overriding protest theme was “occupation, occupation and occupation!” this year it was entirely “return, return and return!” Those who have not noticed the change and still believe in the mantra, “They do not mean ‘physical return,’ they will settle for a spiritual surrogate of ‘return’ or some token humanitarian gesture,” were not listening to what the Palestinians are saying, loudly, boldly and uniformly throughout the protest demonstrations, or even to what their spokesmen are saying, over and over again, to the Western media: “return, return and return!”

I am not speaking here of Ismail Haniye, Hamas’ prime minister, who told 10,000 Muslim worshipers on the morning of May 15 to pray for an end to Israel. I am speaking of the PA encouraging Hamas demonstrations in the West Bank, as long as they call for the destruction of Israel and not for overthrowing the PA administration, and I am speaking of Fatah Central Committee member Nabil Shaath, who on May 12 said,  “We oppose any U.S. peace plan which wants us to waive one of our most basic rights, and that is the right of return for refugees.” Finally, I am referring to Abbas, who summarized the Nakba Day events as “a turning point in the Israeli-Arab conflict.”

One is naturally wondering whether Obama believes that this widening conceptual gap can be bridged through negotiations and whether he is aware of how adamant Israelis are vis-à-vis the unfeasibility of “the right of return” (this includes all leaders of the Israeli peace camp, even the most liberal editors of Haaretz). One also wonders, of course, what the president can do to give the “peace process” a semblance of common purpose, and how he can definitively tell the Muslim world where America stands on this key issue.

While most analysts fear the president will attempt to decriminalize Hamas and continue to pressure Israel on settlements and other nonissues, I am more optimistic. With the peace process in shambles and the two-state solution in danger of extinction, the president must boldly confront the obstacle of Arab rejectionism.

This is still possible. On May 9, for example, he surprised us with an unprecedented statement for Israel’s Independence Day. If in his Cairo speech of June 4, 2009, Obama’s rationale for Israel’s creation began with the Holocaust (“The aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied”), listen to what he said on May 9, 2011: “Sixty-three years ago, when Israel declared its independence, the dream of a state for the Jewish people in their historic homeland was finally realized.”

Is this merely a stylistic change of speech writing or a deeper understanding of Jewish history and the core issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict? Whatever the case, we must admit that the reference to “their historic homeland,” aside from being unprecedented from this administration, is also something that no Arab has ever accepted and that most Israelis view as the key to both “peace” and “peace process.”  For the process to move forward, the president’s commitment to this refrain must be clear not just to American Jewry but to the Arab audience as well, from Morocco to Bahrain.

Obama’s words matter, because it is only a strong and unambiguous American affirmation of Israel’s indigenous status in the Middle East that can awaken Palestinians to the realization that legitimacy is a two-way street. You cannot earn for yourself what you deny to your neighbor.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (danielpearl.org), named after his son. He is a co-editor of “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” (Jewish Lights, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.

State Dept. confirms Israel’s arrest of an American

The U.S. State Department confirmed that Israel arrested an American citizen, reportedly during a Nakba Day protest.

A State Department statement on Tuesday in response to a query from a journalist during the daily briefing the day before only would confirm that Israeli authorities had arrested a U.S. citizen.

“Privacy constraints preclude us from providing additional information about this individual’s case at this time,” the statement said.

A reporter in the briefing the day before identified the arrested man as “Qumsiyeh” and said he was a Palestinian-American academic arrested over the weekend during protests in the West Bank.

Pro-Palestinian blogs said Mazin Qumsiyeh, a political scientist, was arrested during a nonviolent march in al-Walaja, a village near Bethlehem, on Sunday.

Demonstrations were held Saturday and Sunday throughout the West Bank, Israel, Gaza and on Israel’s borders marking Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948. As many as 14 people were killed Sunday trying to breach Israel’s borders.

Arabs regard the resultant exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians as a “nakba,” or catastrophe.

U.S. warns citizens to avoid ‘Nakba’ protests

The U.S. embassy warned Americans to avoid demonstrations this weekend marking “Nakba Day,” when Palestinians and Israeli Arabs mark their losses in Israel’s Independence War.

“As always, please be aware of your surroundings and remember that protests intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence,” said the notice sent Thursday by the embassy.  “Avoid areas of demonstrations and maintain a high level of vigilance and situational awareness while traveling to mixed Jewish and Arab neighborhoods.”

The notice listed planned demonstrations near Israeli Arab towns like like Umm el Fahm and Nazareth and mixed neighborhoods like Jaffa, as well as in the West Bank.

Tensions were already rising on Friday, as the demonstrations were launched. Ha’aretz reported that police in Jerusalem had arrested 11 Palestinians.

“Nakba,” meaning catastrophe, marks May 14, the secular date in 1948 when Israel declared independence.

Palestinians mark the day to commemorate the flight from the nascent state of hundreds of thousands of their forebears as a result of the ensuing war.

Israel’s military chief reviews Nakba preparations

The head of Israel’s military, Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, toured the West Bank to view preparations for Nakba Day.

The military expects major Palestinian demonstrations on May 15 for Nakba Day, or Catastrophe Day, referring to the establishment of the modern State of Israel.

Gantz visited the OC Central Command Wednesday. Extra units have been moved into the area to train ahead of the weekend.

In addition to calling for large demonstrations, Palestinian groups are calling for civil disobedience.

Israel’s military is concerned about the possibility of clashes between Palestinians and settlers at Nakba Day marches and protests, which could begin on Friday.

A Facebook page that was removed after receiving tens of thousands of “likes” had called for a third Palestinian intifada on May 15. Several copycat sites sprung up in its wake.

Groups petition Israeli high court to annul Nakba law

Two Israeli human rights groups have petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to overturn the so-called Nakba Law.

The law, passed in March, enables the state to fine local communities and other state-funded groups for holding events that mark what the Arab community calls the Nakba, which means catastrophe, referring to the creation of the Jewish state of Israel. Fines, deducted from a group’s operating budget, could equal up to three times the event’s sponsorship cost; repeat violations would double the fines.

Adalah, a legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel, and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed a complaint with the Supreme Court on Wednesday, less than a week before Israel Independence Day, which some segments of the Arab community observe as Nakba Day.

The complaint asks the court to issue an interim order suspending the implementation of the law until a decision is made, which would free organizations and communities to observe the Nakba Day next week.

The law is “unconstitutional and should be annulled, as it violates the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and equality, and severely infringes on the rights of Israel’s Arab citizens to preserve their history and culture concerning the Nakba,” the organizations said in a statement.

“This is an ideological law aimed against the national identity of Arab citizens in Israel and against their collective memory,” said attorney Sawsan Zaher of Adalah. “It harms their legitimate status as equal citizens and punishes them for having a different identity and being the ‘other.’ The incitement and racism against Arab citizens, and the alienation in Israeli society, stand to increase as a result of this law.”

Nakba Removal From Classrooms Spurs Threats

Israeli Arab leaders threatened to “revolt” after Israel’s education chief said the word Nakba would be removed from their classrooms.

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar made his announcement Sunday as part of a briefing on the start of the 2009-2010 school year. Nakba, which means catastrophe in Arabic, is used in the Arab community to describe the birth of the State of Israel.

School begins Tuesday throughout Israel.

“[T]he word Nakba, whose meaning is similar to Holocaust in this context, will no longer be used,” Sa’ar said. “The creation of the State of Israel cannot be referred to as a tragedy, and the education system in the Arab sector will revise its studies in elementary schools.”

A textbook teaching the Nakba in third-grade Arab classes was introduced two years ago by then-Education Minister Yuli Tamir of the Labor Party.

The Follow-Up Committee on Higher Education, which represents the Arab public on education issues in Israel, at a news conference Monday said it rejected the decision and would refuse to implement it in Arab schools.

50th Anniversary of ‘Calamity’

Palestinians have an official term for whathappened to them when Israel gained its independence 50 years ago:”Nakba,” or, in English, “Calamity.” In the failed Arab attack on theJews in 1948, some 600,000 Arabs fled the land or, in tens ofthousands of cases, were expelled.

The Nakba is an event burned into the memory ofall Palestinians. In a low-key way, with lectures and exhibits, theyare commemorating it in some cities of Gaza and the West Bank. It isa somber, bitter commemoration, in starkest contrast to thecelebrations Israel has in mind.

The 600,000 Palestinian refugees of 1948 leftabout 100,000 Arabs behind — those who did not flee. These 100,000have grown to nearly 1 million today — Israel’s Arab citizens, who,ever since the intifada, have become more open and defiant abouttheir identification with their former countrymen — in many casestheir blood relatives — now living in the territories. As AmericanJews say of their relationship with Israelis, so Israeli Arabs say oftheir relationship with the Palestinians: “We are one.”

That leaves the question: When Israel’s Jews arecelebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of their country,what will Israel’s Arabs be doing?

Mourning the displacement of their Palestinianbrethren and protesting the 50 years of discrimination they’vesuffered themselves, say Arab members of the Knesset and otherleaders of the community.

As Israel has its committee to plan theanniversary celebrations, Israeli Arab leaders have set up apreparations committee of their own. During the panel’s meeting thisweek, members considered declaring Israel’s Independence Day, May 15,as “The 50th Anniversary of the Palestinian Calamity.” Proposals weremade to treat it as a day of mourning, and to publish a “Black Book”that listed the Arab villages which emptied out and vanished duringthe war.

No coordinated plan has been adopted, but,clearly, Israeli Arabs see their country’s 50th anniversary as a dayof anger and grief. “What exactly does Israel want me to celebrate?”said Knesset Member Taleb a-Sanaa, who recommended that Israeli Arabsmark the day with “a minute of silence in memory of all thePalestinians killed between 1948 and today.”

MK Toufik Khatib said: “On Independence Day, we’llstay home because it’s a holiday. But we definitely won’t becelebrating. No Arab will be joyful. We have no part whatsoever inthis whole thing.”

During its celebrations, Israel will not beaddressing the alienation of its Arab citizens. “Our job is to planthe events, not to try to solve the Arab-Jewish conflict,” said NavaInbar, spokeswoman for the 50th anniversary coordinatingcommittee.

For the most part, the events will not make anydistinctions between Jews, Arabs or any other national group. “Thefestivities are for all Israelis,” Inbar said.

However, there will be parades for Druze andCircassian Arabs — who serve in the army, unlike the Moslem andChristian majority among Israeli Arabs. A special event for Bedouinsin the Negev, many of whom also serve in the army, will be held aswell.

One “encounter” between Israeli Jews and Arabs isscheduled to “give expression to the culture and social influence ofArabs in Israel, and to mark the achievements, contributions,problems and dilemmas of Arab citizens,” according to theprogram.

But, overall, said a source close to thepreparations, “there won’t be any ‘affirmative action’ — not forIsraeli Arabs or any other particular group.”

At the Israeli Arab committee’s meeting, it wasnoted that there will be massive protests in Arab countries tocoincide with Israel’s Independence Day. A “Million Man March” iseven being discussed among Arabs abroad.

Some Israeli Arab leaders said that they fullyunderstood why Jews should be celebrating the founding of Israel.They just expected Jews to understand why Israeli Arabs would not bewaving flags and cheering.

“The Jews are celebrating the 50th anniversary ofthe state? Mabruk [congratulations], I hope they have a great time,”said MK Abed al-Malik Dahamshe, leader of the country’s MoslemBrotherhood. “But as members of the Palestinian people, we would belying if we said [Israel’s] 50th-anniversary celebrations apply tous.”

The theme of the holiday is “Together in pride,together in hope.” It is meant, above all, to be a unifying event.But it appears that this 50th Independence Day will not unifyIsrael’s nearly 1 million Arabs with its nearly 5 million Jews; itwill instead divide them all the more deeply. It will remind theArabs that the Jews’ victory was their loss, their Nakba. And nothingcan be done to soften that memory. No Jewish-Arab dialogues, nospecial holiday events can change history.