The Ugly Side of Israel’s Independence

Joharah Baker


MIFTAH, April 20, 2010

For Palestinians, some things can never be forgotten. On the contrary,
we would not dare allow ourselves to forget them lest we do a huge
injustice to our people and to our history. This week, as Israel
prepares to commemorate 62 years of independence, we Palestinians also
mark the flip side of that celebration, that terrible anniversary of Al
Nakba, which will always be scorched in our memory as a reminder that
some injustices will remain so, irrespective of the years that have
passed.

Anyone who takes a peek into the Palestinian reality today and then
listens to the gallant speeches given last night by Israeli officials
on the occasion of Israel’s Memorial Day would think the two sides were
living in some sort of parallel universes.

"On this blessed occasion, I want to say in the name of the state of
Israel at large: We do not seek war," Israeli President Shimon Peres
told the families of fallen Israeli soldiers. "We are a nation that
yearns for peace," he said, "but knows and will always know, how to
defend itself."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also moved his crowd with his
warm and sticky notions of peace. "Not a day has passed [since the two
wars of 1948 and 1967] on which Israel did not extend its hand in peace
to its neighbors, "and our hand is still outstretched." Since the man
was basically speaking to the converted, there was no immediate
rebuttal, no questioning of this so-called outstretched hand and no
demand for an explanation as to why Israel continues to occupy and
brutalize an entire nation.

For answers to these questions, one only has to look beyond the
Israeli-manufactured wall that lines the de facto border (also
Israeli-manufactured) and snakes along and inside much of the West
Bank, completely encircling Jerusalem, where all of this back-patting
was going on. For the Palestinians, Israel’s Independence Day is an
open wound, oozing and festering until it breaks open each year when
Israel proudly raises its glass to its own birth.

For the past 62 years, Palestinians have been grappling to make sense
of the reality they were forced into that fateful year of 1948. They
have struggled, resisted, turned to violence, opted for peace
negotiations and formed a government on a land that was still under
foreign military rule. Through all of this, they have more or less
maintained a unified stance when it comes to the right of return of the
refugees who were kicked out or fled their homes during the war.
Originally, some 800,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled their homes
in fear of massacres by Jewish gangs and found, just days later, that
the borders had been closed to them, barring them to return to their
villages, towns and cities. That was 62 years ago. Today, the only
thing that has changed is their numbers, which are in the millions.
Approximately five million Palestinians who are either first generation
or descendants of refugees have yet to be allowed to return home or
paid compensation for the homes, land and properties stolen from them.
Theirs is the longest-standing refugee cause in the world and this
week, Israel’s Independence week, only rubs salt into a deep and
painful wound.

Back to the other parallel universe and nothing seems awry. Huge
Israeli flags adorn homes, cars and shop buildings throughout the
country as Israelis (many of whom live in the original homes of the
aforementioned refugees) prepare to barbeque, vacation and celebrate
their good fortune of being born Israeli.

So, what will it take for the world to see that these two parallel
worlds cannot coexist peacefully in this present form and that Israel
cannot possibly, in all conscience, take such immense pride in its
independence while it continues to oppress a another nation? Of course,
there are those Israelis who see through the façade and know that an
injustice must be righted before Israel or the region at large can ever
be graced with peace. The refugee issue, among so many other issues, is
at the forefront of obstacles to any comprehensive solution. Israel
refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing in terms of its establishment
much less offer a fair solution to the refugee problem itself. Whenever
approached, even the most leftist of Israel’s leaders do not accept a
refugee return to what is now Israel. The most generous of them may
offer financial restitution or even a limited amount of refugees to be
absorbed by the Israeli state but nothing more.

What is even trickier is dealing with this issue internally. Earlier
this month, a number of Palestinian factions and individuals were up in
arms over Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s interview with Haaretz in which
he said refugees would be welcomed in a newly established Palestinian
state. This was understood by some as Fayyad’s relinquishment of the
right of return, a compromise tantamount to treason in the Palestinian
context.

Whether this is what Fayyad meant or not (he simply said refugees would
have the right to reside within the state of Palestine), the fact
remains that the refugee issue must be resolved for peace to prevail.
It has been 62 years and the world has turned a blind eye to the plight
of millions of Palestinians forced from their homes and barred from
ever returning. Israel feels no obligation to account for the atrocity,
probably because it can do so with impunity. Still, it is not hard for
the world to see the horrors that Israel created as a price for its
independence. All one has to do is look at the desolate conditions of
Palestinian refugee camps both here in Palestine and in neighboring
Arab countries. As long as refugees and their descendants continue to
languish in squalid refugee camps, still stubbornly holding on to the
original keys to their homes, Israel’s "outstretched hand" of peace is
no more than a slap in the face.

Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department
at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and
Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mid@miftah.org
.

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