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Jewish Journal

50th Anniversary of ‘Calamity’

by Larry Derfner

March 12, 1998 | 7:00 pm

Palestinians have an official term for whathappened to them when Israel gained its independence 50 years ago:"Nakba," or, in English, "Calamity." In the failed Arab attack on theJews in 1948, some 600,000 Arabs fled the land or, in tens ofthousands of cases, were expelled.

The Nakba is an event burned into the memory ofall Palestinians. In a low-key way, with lectures and exhibits, theyare commemorating it in some cities of Gaza and the West Bank. It isa somber, bitter commemoration, in starkest contrast to thecelebrations Israel has in mind.

The 600,000 Palestinian refugees of 1948 leftabout 100,000 Arabs behind -- those who did not flee. These 100,000have grown to nearly 1 million today -- Israel's Arab citizens, who,ever since the intifada, have become more open and defiant abouttheir identification with their former countrymen -- in many casestheir blood relatives -- now living in the territories. As AmericanJews say of their relationship with Israelis, so Israeli Arabs say oftheir relationship with the Palestinians: "We are one."

That leaves the question: When Israel's Jews arecelebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of their country,what will Israel's Arabs be doing?

Mourning the displacement of their Palestinianbrethren and protesting the 50 years of discrimination they'vesuffered themselves, say Arab members of the Knesset and otherleaders of the community.

As Israel has its committee to plan theanniversary celebrations, Israeli Arab leaders have set up apreparations committee of their own. During the panel's meeting thisweek, members considered declaring Israel's Independence Day, May 15,as "The 50th Anniversary of the Palestinian Calamity." Proposals weremade to treat it as a day of mourning, and to publish a "Black Book"that listed the Arab villages which emptied out and vanished duringthe war.

No coordinated plan has been adopted, but,clearly, Israeli Arabs see their country's 50th anniversary as a dayof anger and grief. "What exactly does Israel want me to celebrate?"said Knesset Member Taleb a-Sanaa, who recommended that Israeli Arabsmark the day with "a minute of silence in memory of all thePalestinians killed between 1948 and today."

MK Toufik Khatib said: "On Independence Day, we'llstay home because it's a holiday. But we definitely won't becelebrating. No Arab will be joyful. We have no part whatsoever inthis whole thing."

During its celebrations, Israel will not beaddressing the alienation of its Arab citizens. "Our job is to planthe events, not to try to solve the Arab-Jewish conflict," said NavaInbar, spokeswoman for the 50th anniversary coordinatingcommittee.

For the most part, the events will not make anydistinctions between Jews, Arabs or any other national group. "Thefestivities are for all Israelis," Inbar said.

However, there will be parades for Druze andCircassian Arabs -- who serve in the army, unlike the Moslem andChristian majority among Israeli Arabs. A special event for Bedouinsin the Negev, many of whom also serve in the army, will be held aswell.

One "encounter" between Israeli Jews and Arabs isscheduled to "give expression to the culture and social influence ofArabs in Israel, and to mark the achievements, contributions,problems and dilemmas of Arab citizens," according to theprogram.

But, overall, said a source close to thepreparations, "there won't be any 'affirmative action' -- not forIsraeli Arabs or any other particular group."

At the Israeli Arab committee's meeting, it wasnoted that there will be massive protests in Arab countries tocoincide with Israel's Independence Day. A "Million Man March" iseven being discussed among Arabs abroad.

Some Israeli Arab leaders said that they fullyunderstood why Jews should be celebrating the founding of Israel.They just expected Jews to understand why Israeli Arabs would not bewaving flags and cheering.

"The Jews are celebrating the 50th anniversary ofthe state? Mabruk [congratulations], I hope they have a great time,"said MK Abed al-Malik Dahamshe, leader of the country's MoslemBrotherhood. "But as members of the Palestinian people, we would belying if we said [Israel's] 50th-anniversary celebrations apply tous."

The theme of the holiday is "Together in pride,together in hope." It is meant, above all, to be a unifying event.But it appears that this 50th Independence Day will not unifyIsrael's nearly 1 million Arabs with its nearly 5 million Jews; itwill instead divide them all the more deeply. It will remind theArabs that the Jews' victory was their loss, their Nakba. And nothingcan be done to soften that memory. No Jewish-Arab dialogues, nospecial holiday events can change history.


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