For Palestinians, Every Day Is Nakba Day

We owe Palestinians what we demand of them: recognition of our right to an independent state, and compromise for the sake of a shared future.

As this month began, Israel marked Yom Hashoa, the annual day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust. At the sounding of air-raid sirens, the nation shut down and stood in honor.

Who was it for, this day of remembrance? If you ask those Israelis who lost parents, sisters and brothers, grandparents to the Nazi genocide, if you ask people whose parents survived Auschwitz to somehow raise families and resurrect something of a life, they will likely tell you that Yom Hashoa is not for them.

Nakba Day - AP
A boy marking Nakba Day in Ramallah with a symbolic “key” to his home. AP

The survivors and their families don't need a day like this. For them, every single day is Yom Hashoa.

The commemoration is for the rest of us, those of us fortunate to be able to go about our lives most of the time without thinking about the unfathomable tragedy embodied in the concept of the Shoa and the loss, the grief, the sacrifice that it conferred on its survivors and their descendants.

Exactly a week after Yom Hashoa, the country stunned itself once more, as Yom Hazikaron marked the fallen of the nation's wars and the victims of terror murders. And once again, the bereaved families invited to official memorial services will tell you that this is not for them. They have no need of a day like this. Their wounds, no matter how old, are still too fresh. For them, every single day is Yom Hazikaron.

This year, a third day of remembrance fell exactly a week later. It was Nakba Day, commemorating the displacement and dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs from their homes in the 1948 war that established the state of Israel, and the ensuing loss of hundreds of their villages effectively erased by the Jewish state.

It may be fair to assume that Nakba Day is not for the millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendents in Gaza, in West Bank camps, in Lebanon and Syria and Chile and San Francisco. For them, every single day is Nakba Day.

No, Nakba Day is for the rest of us, who go through our lives thinking that we can afford not to give it a second thought. And so it is that Israel's government - in its zeal to blot out the very concept of the Nakba, in its paralysis in the face of an unprecedented Palestinian drive for statehood, in its inability to anticipate a Facebook-organized mass march past minefields and razor wire and assault-rifle bullets on a northern border – has inadvertently but irrevocably established 2011 as the Year of the Nakba.

And so it was that this month, large numbers of Israelis - many of them for the first time, many of them against their will – found themselves marking Nakba Day.

It's about time. Just as many Palestinians are now beginning to study the Holocaust and the broader realities of the Mideast conflict, and are studying the challenges of a two state Holy Land based on 1967 lines.

What we stand to learn from the three memorial days, each of them singular but all three intertwined, is that we remain, both Arab and Jew, prisoners of our own narratives. In an understandable drive to forge their national and cultural identities, Israelis and Palestinians have ethnically cleansed their own narratives, expelling and erasing that which is messy, morally indefensible, tactically self-defeating. If there is ever to be a solution to the conflict, we must free ourselves from the narratives that rest in part on the lies we like and the truths we don't.

There will be those in Israel who will immediately dismiss the Nakba Day march as a stunt, a diversion. Just as there is a new chorus of voices on the right citing the resurgence of interest in the Nakba as proof that Arabs will never make peace with Israel.

But a recent poll of Palestinian public opinion coinciding with Nakba Day, indicates a willingness for compromise and a rejection of violence as a means for ending the conflict. The survey, by pollster Nabil Kukali, shows that more than 60 percent said that to a certain degree they expected a peace agreement with Israel in the coming year, and that nearly 70 percent oppose launching Qassam rockets against Israel.

There will be those who argue that Jews owe Palestinians nothing in connection with the Nakba. Not true. At the very least, on Nakba Day and every other, Jews owe Palestinians what Jews demand of Palestinians:

Acknowledgment and compassion for the depth of their grief, the magnitude of their loss. Respect.

We owe Palestinians an honest recognition of their history. We owe Palestinians an apology. We owe Palestinians admission of wrongful acts committed at a time of terrible events.

We owe Palestinians what we demand of them: recognition of our right to an independent state, and compromise for the sake of a shared future. A just and mutually agreed peace. We owe Palestinians, in short, what we owe ourselves.