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Our celebrations, their tragedies

By Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz 05/08/2000

These are difficult days for the Palestinians in general and for Israeli Arabs in particular. Between Holocaust Day and Independence Day, with Memorial Day for IDF fallen in between, they swing from alienation to hatred - remote from the festive Israeli experience and celebration of statehood. It is difficult to expect them to feel any differently.Although more Arab voices are being heard advocating a closer study of the Holocaust in order to gain a deeper understanding, our Holocaust Day is not their day. Many of them believe the Palestinian people was the secondary victim of the Jewish Holocaust. They paid a heavy price for the wrongs done to the Jews. Many Palestinians are willing to accept the power of the Holocaust experience, but they also ask that their suffering also be recognized. Without comparing our Holocaust to their catastrophe, they are worthy of that recognition. But Israel is not yet mature enough to demand of itself what it demands of the whole world: recognition of suffering.

Does the fact that the Holocaust was the most horrific of all human tragedies in history erase all other national tragedies? Aren't the 3,677,882 (according to UNWRA figures) Palestinian refugees living in exile part of a national tragedy? And the 1,194,512 refugees living to this day in 59 refugee camps in four countries, isn't that a tragedy?

Families torn apart forever, the social and cultural fabric of a nation rent asunder, 417 villages wiped off the face of the earth - can any of this be brushed aside?

Take for example the fate of an elderly refugee, Hadija Mehajna of Jenin. She was born in the village of Majdal, on whose ruins the town of Migdal Ha'emek was built. She carries the memories of her lost village with her to this day.

Her brother Hussein lives in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria and she has not seen him in 33 years. Her brother Ali lives in Saudi Arabia and she has not seen him in 25 years. Her brother Mahmoud lives in Zarka, her brother Hassan in the Jenin refugee camp, and her son Mahmoud was executed in the Black September events in Jordan.

Her son Lutfi lives in Israel, in Nazareth, and her other seven sons have all been administrative detainees in Israel. What should this old woman, whose tragedy began on the day of our celebration, be feeling this week? Is her tragedy not worthy of recognition, empathy, to say nothing of taking responsibility?

One week after Holocaust Day, the siren is heard once again and this time it calls upon us to remember our fallen soldiers, who were killed in the struggle against them and their brothers, a struggle in which justice was never the exclusive heritage of one side alone. Israel remembers, among others, the soldiers who occupied their villages, the pilots who bombed their relatives in the refugee camps in Lebanon, and the undercover soldiers who killed their sons.

And then Independence Day celebrations begin. There is no other point in the bloody history between Jews and Palestinians in which there was more of a zero-sum game than in 1948. Everything we gained in that war, they lost. A nation without a country arrived in a country without a nation and conquered it, both militarily and culturally. The flag flown on Independence Day is not their flag. Our anthem is not their anthem.

At first they found themselves lost, paralyzed by the trauma. In his story "The Opsimist", Emil Habibi tells of those who flew two Israeli flags - just to be on the safe side. For our part, we completely ignored what they must be feeling on that day. We only wanted them to fly our flag and celebrate our joy, which is a celebration of their tragedy.

Fifty-two years later, things have changed. They have more self-confidence and national awareness, and Israel is strong enough to release them from the burden of our celebration. Now we must put an end to their stilted artificial receptions in honor of the holiday and allow them, on the day of our celebration, to remember their tragedy. It's time we stopped being shocked to see a poster declaring our Independence Day as their catastrophe.

A country with 1,100 monuments, almost all in memory of the Jewish fallen, can find a way to respect the suffering of the other within its borders, even if it continues to evade all responsibility for it. There is no more fitting time than the days between Holocaust Day and Memorial Day and Independence day, when the Zionist ethos both celebrates and weeps.

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