Thursday, 16 June 2011

On my way home from Israel

On my way home from Israel earlier this month I picked up a copy of the Jerusalem Post for 3 June 2011 at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. The main editorial concerned the planned 'Naska' (setback) demonstrations due to take place on June 6 to mark the anniversary of the start of the 1967 Six Day War. The article reflected on the Nakba (Catastrophe) demonstrations that had been held on Israel's Independence Day in May when Palestinians had attempted to cross Israel's borders in an act of 'return' to their 'lost homeland'. A number of Palestinians had been shot and killed and many others injured as Israel repelled the incursion. The Israeli government had blamed Syria and Iran for orchestrating the demonstrations. This is a claim now hotly contested by Palestinian groups and with no evidence for it given by the Israelis. Now the IDF was gearing up to deal with the repeat performance and promising not to be caught off guard again.

It was not until I was back in London and on the Heathrow Express to Paddington that I read the following paragraph in the Jerusalem Post editorial:

Few if any of these people can reasonably be defined as refugees since they have never set foot in Israel, let alone been expelled. They are instead the descendants of the several hundreds of thousand who left Israel after the Palestinians failed to snuff out the Jewish State at its birth and who paid the price of their leadership's disastrous mistakes and foolish intransigence.

Unfortunately, few, if any, Palestinian leaders have been willing to face the verdict of their failures, nor have they had the courage to tell these 'refugees' that they will never recover the homes and orchards of their imagination. Palestinian refugee descendants have instead been living on a vague idea of restoration and return, carrying with them, either figuratively or literally, the old keys to their families' former homes in Acre, Jaffa and Haifa.
As I sat on the train I reflected on what made this passage so astonishing to me and what a perfect illustration it was of the catastrophic failure to recognise our own features in the faces of our cousins, the Palestinians.

For a moment let's leave aside the disingenuous way in which the editorial writer has described the events of 1947-1948 and the true manner in which the refugees 'left' their homes. I can recommend plenty of Jewish Israeli historians who have been putting the record straight on this for the last 25 years. Let's also leave aside the writer's argument that might is right: 'we won, you lost - now deal with it!'

What really strikes me here is that the mistake the Palestinians are making is not that they have left it far too long to make such claims to the land of their ancestors - but rather that they have not waited long enough!

From my own experience of growing up in a Jewish family that marked and celebrated our history and festivals each year, the Palestinians need to cherish their memories for a lot longer than 63 years. They need to keep their memories and their 'keys' for a further 2,000 years and integrate those memories into their prayers and liturgies and continue to mark their historic loss of homeland. They must long for their return from Exile for many more generations before we can take them seriously! Then perhaps they can return to the Land and demand that they have a superior claim to settle there than whoever may be living on the land in the year 4,011! That approach seems to work so much better.

I am of course being a little flippant here.

The point I really want to make is that if we have any hope of arriving at even a partially just  peace settlement our first step must be to recognise each others' humanity and the strong parallels in our respective national and individual narratives. In doing so each side will have to adapt its own sense of itself and its story. That will be a painful but ultimately creative and rejuvenating process. We need each other to acheive this. Certainly, Jews need the help of our Palestinian cousins (also the off spring of Abraham) to reclaim the ethical heart of Judaism.

I will continue to read The Jerusalem Post - if only for a regular fix of aggravation!

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