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Sunday, May 11, 2008

For Palestians, mourning

For Palestians, mourning

By Yousef Munayyer May 11, 2008

COMING TO TERMS with one's own history is often difficult. For a state this process is even harder. During this month the State of Israel celebrates its 60th year. For Palestinians, however, this is not a time of celebration but rather a period of mourning for their tragedy in 1948. On May 15, Jewish communities will hold many celebrations while Palestinian communities will be holding vigils just across the street. To this day these dual narratives have not been reconciled and this failure lies at the very foundation of the saddening conflict we have today.

Walking through Israel today you can still see many signs that a different people once inhabited the land. Open fields filled with stones and boulders mark the areas where Palestinian villages once stood. Ordered formations of cacti still stand where Palestinian farmers demarcated the edges of their farming land. Even the names of some Palestinian villages have been changed Hebraicized into the names of Israeli cities or towns - Al-Yibna became Yavne, Al-Dayshum became Dishon.

Israeli historians have debated whether the 700,000-800,000 Arabs who were living in Palestine before the war of 1948 left voluntarily or through systematic depopulation. What is not disputed, however, is that the inhabitants were not permitted to return to their homes and villages after the war and, in their place, Israel absorbed 1 million Jewish immigrants, more than doubling the population of the state in a single year. Many of these immigrants moved into homes built, owned and previously occupied by Arabs who are now refugees unable to return.

After the war, the State of Israel was constituted as a nearly homogeneous Jewish territorial entity. Yet the public consciousness of what led to this reality, in both the United States and Israel, is minimal. Many still believe that the State of Israel was created on a barren land. Some Israeli historians have made use of newly opened military archives to detail an account of the war in 1948 that differs from the traditional state narrative. Still these voices have had little effect. The people of Yavne and Dishon, like the people of Manhattan or Chicago, are rarely conscious of where the names of their cities came from, let alone know anything about the previous inhabitants.

Sixty years ago a movement among the Jewish people achieved its stated objective. Finally, a state for Jews was created. The Zionists believed that only in a state where Jews could protect and defend themselves would they be safe from the horrors of anti-Semitic Europe. Surely marking this achievement is a reason to celebrate. However this achievement, only three years after the fall of the most despotic and destructive anti-Semitic regime the world has ever known, led to the creation of another "superfluous" people.

The right of return to their lands remains an integral part of Palestinian demands. Israel demands its continued existence as a near homogeneous Jewish state making the Palestinian right of return unacceptable.

To this day both Israelis and Palestinians mark May 15 for different reasons. One side celebrates, the other mourns. Palestinians must realize the significance of the creation and existence of a safe haven for world Jewry. Likewise, Israelis must realize that the creation of a safe haven for Jews in no way justifies the dispossession of another people.

I ask, why is it imperative for us to understand that Jews must be made safe in a state formed for them at the expense of another people? This is simply confirming the Zionist movement which dispossessed the Palestinian people of their homeland in order to create a majority Jewish state. This will never work for one very reason, NO ONE would be willing to be driven for their own homes for the "safety" of another when their "safety" should be wherever they are which is true for every human being, INCLUDING Palestinians. This action of creating a Jewish states at the expense of another just creates another wrong! It can be achieved only by force, which is precisely how it was done and precisely how it maintains itself as an embattled state-furthering their claim to victimhood. Jews need to be safe in the countries where they are from, Europe, the US and elsewhere, not be told it is ok to steal from another so they can be safe which will NEVER happen for very real reasons. How many Americans would go for this if their own country was taken over? I don't think very many. Yet we as a nation give billions to this misadventure rather than calling it for what it is, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people who have not been allowed for 60 years to return to THEIR homes which have been taken over by FOREIGNERS!

The time has come for the one state solution and the right of return to be implemented so that this land is TRULY a democracy.

Negotiators talk about borders, settlements, roadblocks, terrorism, self-defense and a host of other tangible and easily measurable variables on the road to peace. This process results only in a separation of people but not a genuine peace. Only a common sense of truth and reconciliation between both parties can lead to lasting peace. This anniversary is a good place to start.

Ten years from now, when the 70th anniversary of the war is upon us, we can only hope that Israelis and Palestinians are much closer to a common narrative about 1948. If not, they will both simply remain on different sides of the same street that they will eternally share.


Yousef Munayyer is director of information and technology at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

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