Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Liberal Wimp's Guide to Celebrating Yom ha-Atzma'ut and Remembering an-Nakba

Of all people, Bradley Burston in Haaretz summed up a lot of my feelings on this, the 60th anniversary of founding of the State of Israel, and the commemoration of the Nakba. Of course, I reject totally his symmetry between us and them. But he obviously is not in the mood for celebrating. Read the article here

The other day I was asked whether I recite the Hallel prayer with a blessing on Yom ha-Atzma'ut. That is traditionally a demarcator between enthusiastic religious Zionists and more halakhically cautious ones; of course, the ultra-orthodox don't recite it at all. This is what I told the questioner: There is a famous midrash on the parting of the Red Sea, where the Almighty rebukes the angels who are singing His praises by saying, "My creatures (i.e., the Egyptians) are drowning, and you sing a song of praise?" Now God may allow recently-freed slaves to rejoice over the downfall of their oppressors. But surely not that is not the ideal. And when those who are drowning in sea are not oppressors but innocent victims of, according to the Zionist narrative, Jewish liberation -- then how can any decent person rejoice?

The answer is that despite the sixty-year old (100 + year old?) Nakba, there are some positive elements to the Jewish state founded sixty years ago, that imperfect regime that engaged (and engages) in ethnic cleansing and dividing up the spoils of war. In fact, they are too numerous to mention.

So here's the liberal wimp's list of things to do to celebrate Israel's Independence Day:

1) If you can't have a mangal (barbecue) at least eat felafel. It's a good Palestinian dish that Israeli Jews have -- what else? -- appropriated from them. When you eat it, have a special kavannah that you are eating it for the sake of uniting the Palestinian and the Israeli Jewish people.

2) If you live outside of Israel, don't attend any of the community celebrations honoring sixty years of Israeli independence. Or if you do, hand our t-shirts that say, "Happy Birthday, Israel" on the front, and "Remember the Nakba" on the back. Be prepared to run fast.

3) Buy five copies of the powerful English translation of S. Yizhar's Khirbet Khizeh and send it to family and friends. This is a short powerful book that brings home the Nakba in a way that Elie Wiesel's Night brought home the Holocaust to me forty years ago.

4) Honor the Palestinian and Jewish activists who labor day and night to bring justice to the Palestinians inside and outside of Israel. "The day is short and the labor is long." There are so many groups whose work allows wimpy liberals like me to sleep a little better at night. May God bless them all.

But a special blessing this year to Gabi Eldor, of the Jaffa Arab-Jewish theater, Yosef (Pappe) Allo, a Jerusalem activist, Sa'id el-Uqbi, a peace activist, Sherry Bashi, Gisha (organization that works to provide access for Palestinians, Beni Gefen, peace activist, Alon Lee Green, labor activist, Giora Segal, educator and teacher; Yigal Ezrati, the Arabic-Hebrew Theater in Jaffa, Lilia Pether, foreign worker activist, Ehud Shem Tov, Social TV. (Please forgive the misspellings. These activists were honored by lighting the torches at the Alternative Torch Lighting Ceremony sponsored by Yesh Gvul

5) Give a donation to the Obama campaign. All right, I know this one is cheezy. And I don't have many illusions. But of all the candidates, he has the most potential to do something, which I don't believe he will do, to bring justice, which I don't believe will happen, to the Palestinians.

That's all. Note that I didn't post this until the day was over. My bad.

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