Thursday, May 8, 2008

Israel's Memorial Season

On Thursday Israel wraps up its season of memorial and independence days celebrations. Independence Day also marks the Nakba (though in no way officially).

I find it hard not to be impressed by the display of solidarity you see on Israel's streets when the memorial sirens blow, three times over the course of a week. All action stops for just a moment—like a freeze frame in a movie. For me, it is a moving experience. (Rela Mazeli's companion JPN piece today examines in detail the complicated phenomenon of the siren inside Israeli Jewish society)

Yet I also feel ambivalent and critical of the message behind these days. The twenty percent of Israelis who are Palestinian Arabs are not only not part of the memorializing and celebrating, but their Nakba (Catastrophe) is suppressed and ignored in favor of the official Jewish Israeli narrative.

The seamless transition between Memorial Day and Independence Day deliberately underscores the dominance of the military in Israeli society, from its founding until today. Israel's military victories, which took Palestinian land and lives, including those of Palestinian citizens of Israel, are celebrated without examination of their consequences, including occupation of Palestine and militarization of Israeli society. Thus also for Jewish Israelis, there are those who don't feel like celebrating.

Gideon Levy's piece below nicely captures this ambivalence. Also below are announcements from three of Israel's peace groups: Yesh Gvul, Combatants for Peace, and Zochrot, as examples of ways that Israelis are marking Memorial Day and Independence days in alternative events that honor all of the victims of violence since Israel's founding, by renewing the struggle for a just peace.

--Rebecca Vilkomerson

Haaretz, by Gideon Levy, May 4th, 2008

In a short period of seven days the State of Israel dictates three times what its citizens should feel: They should grieve twice - on Holocaust Remembrance Day and on Memorial Day, and to be happy once - on Independence Day. These three days are commemorated in Israel with near zealous totality, a sort of missionary sanctity that appears to be intensifying over the years, including the issuing of fines to anyone violating the holiday's laws.

The inspectors who check up on feelings fined thousands of people who opened their coffee shops and restaurants on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, including in Arab Jaffa. There is no democracy that mobilizes its forces to such an extent as to dictate to its citizens what they should feel and how they should behave on Memorial Day. Similarly, no other media like the Israeli media, rallies with such absolute commitment to the task, dedicating most of its print pages and hours of broadcasting to these three customs.

This missionary activity has lately also taken on a character of persecution: Had Avram Grant not worn a black arm band with a yellow Star of David on his arm while he coached his English team on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, a ridiculous sight in the eyes of many, and exemplary for others, and rushed the next day to his Champions match at Auschwitz, one can only imagine that he would have been denounced and ostracized in Israel, at least like a singer who did not serve in the Israel Defense Forces. These are troubling signs that only undermine the essence of our sacred national holidays.

The Holocaust must be remembered, and it is imperative that we honor the memory of sons lost in battle, but not by coercion and persecution. It is unfortunately true that without state intervention these dates would not be observed. Were Israelis given the freedom to decide, some of the centers of entertainment would be open on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day and on Memorial Day, and the special character of these dates would quickly dissipate.

It is of course legitimate to also ask: So what? If this is the wish of some Israelis, what is wrong with it? But the wish of the state to shape a national heritage is understandable - to establish national holidays and to maintain a tradition, in a society that is relatively young and made up mostly of immigrants. There is a huge difference from this approach to the totalitarianism in place.

The problem is that these dates are not really part of the tradition of a not insignificant portion of Israelis. Holocaust Memorial Day is perceived by some of the Mizrahi Jews as a memorial day for Ashkenazis; the Memorial Day for the IDF fallen is alien to at least part of the ultra-Orhodox; as for the Arab citizens, who constitute a fifth of our country, not only are they estranged from two thirds of these dates, but they are also hostile. Not only are the dates of our catastrophes not the days of their catastrophes, but the day of our celebration is the day of their great national disaster. No amendment and no law will alter these eternal facts.

But the state does not only make do with imposing these dates on that same community that feels alienated or hostile to them. It also uses oppressive methods when it tries to prevent them from freely expressing their genuine feelings. If the national decree on the memorial days of the majority is to be sad and to be happy during their days of celebration is acceptable, it is not acceptable to bar the minority to also express its unique national feelings. A siren during the Memorial Day for the IDF fallen? Then why not a similar siren for the Nakba (the Palestinian term for what happened to them after 1948) in the Arab towns and villages in memory of their casualties and displaced persons?

Late last week the Nazareth District Court had to intervene to allow the Islamic Movement to hold a memorial for the Palestinian Nakba in Kafr Kana. Ilan Gabrieli, the head of the local council appointed by the Interior Ministry, argued that this constitutes a "political event," which should not be allowed in the community. Why is commemorating the Nakba "political" and celebrating Independence Day is not?
No less ridiculous are- the right-wing spokesmen who are railing against the court's decision - Gideon Sa'ar, who established that the ruling is "morally bankrupt," no less, and Zevulun Orlev, who said that it "belittles the Declaration of Independence." That same declaration that established the state "will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture… ." Remember?

After 60 years it is now time to be mature. There is no longer a need to forcefully impose or to prevent national sentiments. Israel is sufficiently mature to commemorate with the majority what is relevant to the majority, and to allow the minority the freedom to express its feelings. The Jewish National Fund, which recently rescinded its promise to Zochrot, a non-government organization, to commemorate the names of lost Palestinian villages on the historic sign posts it puts up, only highlights our weaknesses: The land is still burning under our feet. The local council head who tried to prevent the memorial for the Nakba ("The Catastrophe"), failed to prevent the Arab citizens from feeling that Independence Day is the day of their catastrophe - it really is. Must there be happiness on Independence Day? Only to those who really feel it.

Combatants for Peace

The independent memorial ceremony of "Combatants for Peace"

"I chose not to join my bereaved family… I wanted this day, when we are all supposed to remember, to be a day of thought, and reflection, a day to look not just back, but also forward, to the future…"

Elik Elhanan, combatant for peace, brother of Smadar, killed in a Jerusalem suicide attack, in September 1997. She was 14 at her death.

On Tuesday 6th May, 2008, on Memorial Day eve, at 21:00 pm, the "Combatants for Peace" movement is organizing an Independent Memorial Day ceremony, at Tmuna Theatre, Soncino St. (nr. Hamasger), in Tel Aviv.

At the ceremony, which is taking place for the third year, we shall remember all victims of violence in our area, by saying clearly that
war is not decreed by fate, and the most honourable way to respect the fallen is by a stubborn struggle to stop war and work for peace.

During the event, members of the "Combatants for Peace" movement, the "Family Forum", Israelis and Palestinians will all speak.
Literature and dramatic scenes will also be performed.

Songs by the artists Shlomi Shaban, Jorge Samaan and Amir Lev

Yesh Gvul invites you to an

Alternative beacon lighting Ceremony

For a more just, more equitable and more deserving Israel

Please join us at this 11th annual ceremony, on Wed, 7.5.2008, at 7:45 PM, at Emil Grunzweig Square (facing the Prime Minister's Office) in Givat Ram, Jerusalem.

Transportation from Tel Aviv (and back) : 18:00, El-Al Terminal (Arlozorov Train Station)
(The ceremony will end at around 21:30)

During the ceremony beacons will be lit, calling for an immediate cessation of senseless violence and of the Occupation regime that generates it, advocating a correction of the wrongs caused by Israeli society, urging an improvement in our attitude towards the weak and the needy among us, and expressing hope to peace with all our neighbors.

The list of beacon lighters will be published and circulated on Monday, and will also appear on the Yesh Gvul website:

For photos and reports from last year's ceremoniy, click here:

The ceremony presents an alternative to an official, whitewashed nationalistic ceremony taking place at the same time on Mt. Herzl. Your presence will encourage the becaon lighters to continue their activism for peace human rights, and will signal to Israeli decision makers that that there are many who will not buy their empty slogans.

A Different World Is Possible!


Eve Of Israel Independence Day

On the eve of the Israel's Independence Day, Wednesday May 7th at 8:00 pm, Zochrot will commemorate 60 years to the Nakba with a closing for the exhibit "Amnesia" including a screening of two films:

still life

A film directed by Diana Allen, an interview with Said Otruk a refugee from Akka in Arabic with English subtitles.

Selected parts from the last interview with Edward Said

In English without subtitles

Following the screening an open discussion will take place
61 Ibn Gvirol St., Tel Aviv
(corner of 13 Maneh St.)
Tel. 03.6953155

Israel's Independence Day
On Israel's Independence Day, Thursday 5/8/2008, we'll mark 60 years to the Nakba.

In the morning (11:00 am) we will join the refugees of the village Miskha and visit their village. We'll hear the uprooting story and will erect a sign noting the village.

In the afternoon (3:00 pm) we'll join the Return march organized by the Refugee Committee of the village Saforia, near Nazareth.

Gathering at 15:00 pm for the Return march next to the gas station "AlMsharef" at the Western entrance to Nazareth, in the direction of Shfaram.

To sign up for the transportation:
office 03-6953155, Umar 052-8743099

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News blog:
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